Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lovesongs & Reproaches

A friend sent this announcement of Lovesongs & Reproaches - Passionate Conversations with God by L. William Countryman:

Those who have never had extended conversations with God, ranging from complaints and anger to love and joy, can draw upon a lifetime of such conversations as Countryman grapples with the reality of evil and loss, as well as hope for the fulfillment of life. The author takes liberties with the scriptures in order to explore them with new seriousness and argues with both God and scripture freely in the process. His poetic style takes its cue from the biblical poetry of the Psalms, Job, and the Song of Solomon, but moves freely in the realm of ordinary spoken English.

L. William Countryman is a biblical scholar, an Episcopal priest, and retired professor from Church Divinity School of the Pacific. He is known for spirituality works such as Living on the Border of the Holy, Forgiven and Forgiving, and The Mystical Way of the Fourth Gospel. His reputation was established by his classic Dirt, Greed, & Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


“If you would remember eternity, you would look only on the eternal. If you allow yourself to become preoccupied with the temporal, you are living in time. As always, your choice is determined by what you value. Time and eternity cannot both be real, because they contradict each other. If you will accept only what is timeless as real, you will begin to understand eternity and make it yours.”
-- A Course in Miracles

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sleepers Awake: American Ballet Theatre’s Sleeping Beauty


Because of its technical otherworldliness, ballet literally lifts our mythologies into other realms, which is where they belong and which are better places for them to be “read.” The story of the princess/goddess who sleeps and must be brought back so that we on earth can experience balance – a transformation after a resurrection – is the story of Eurydice or of Persephone, and it has been handed down to us as one of the most cherished romantic ballets. Indeed, Sleeping Beauty is one of the most glorious celebrations of the goddess of spring (the word “Easter” comes from the goddess “Astarte”). And there is plenty of influence this ballet has had on the art world; for one thing, it inspired two 9-year-old boys, Igor Stravinsky and George Balanchine, to pursue music and ballet.

So why do ballet companies keep cutting this ballet from four hours to two hours? Because they think we won’t sit still for it and that we’ll miss our train and that we’ll be bored. The Sleeping Beauty is the story of the incredible excitement over the birth of a girl (did you ever?) and about what happens to her and her realm, and it is a metaphor for how we reach enlightenment, justice, and true love. Part of our mythology, transferred to centuries of folk legend and then to ballet and other dramatic forms, it’s worth a little investment of time. The ballet has a long and extraordinary history. Even so, an abridged version can be a good idea: The cutting can be judicious and cause us to notice something we hadn’t before. Sometimes, as in the case of the American Ballet Theatre’s production, it’s just unfortunate.

Case in point: Although the ballet ends with the triumph of Aurora and her prince, the prince’s part is generally cut these days under the misguided assumption that women are the point (sorry) of this and other romantic ballets. But we need the men’s stories; they are integral to the myths behind them. If the character of Prince Desiré (as he is typically named) is left out, we know nothing about why 100 years has to pass before Aurora can wake up, we don’t know the reason for the transformation and what it changes, and we assume, wrongly, that the story is simply about one-upping a bad fairy, which it isn’t.

The prince represents, among other things, an improvement in human wisdom over that of Aurora’s father, whose ignorance causes the whole dilemma. The older fairy Carabosse is not invited to Aurora’s christening, and she takes revenge by prophesying Aurora’s death by spindle, a symbol of fate, which the king thinks he can overrule by banning spindles from his kingdom. Of course, he cannot trick fate, and his kingdom is lost along with the princess into the sleep of death.

When we do come across the prince in ABT’s production, he is doing what princes typically do in ballets: hunting, and he and his court play a game of Blind Man’s Bluff. When blindfolded, ie, blind, like any ancient prophet, the prince envisions Aurora’s castle and, then, Aurora herself. The prince is no incidental cipher in the story; he’s connected to Orpheus (as well as to male characters in the ballets La Sonnambula and even Balanchine’s Serenade). [George Balanchine’s entire point of view for much of his repertory was Orpheus and the prince in Act II of Sleeping Beauty.] The prince is the searching, melancholy prince, lacking something but not certain what, who upon seeing the vision of Aurora, and realizing that this vision satisfies his restlessness, sets out to find her and battle the obstacles. The trouble is, in cutting any insight into his role and the relationship between the prince and Aurora, ABT’s production misses a major poetic point: With the male in ascendance, so to speak, the female is available only in dream, her power quiescent. During the vision scene, he cannot touch her – and then he can. Why? Obviously, he has entered her realm, but it’s not just another segment of the dance that’s been handed down (ie, we do it because they did it). No, this is an important dramatic idea, and it must be made meaningful to audiences. Ballet can do this, as it is physically metaphorical and visual at the same time. So do it!

When the prince and princess finally come together, having awakened to a new wisdom, they take the throne together to rule in harmony (a revolutionary point since the king and queen are still alive!), heralding an age of enlightenment. But if you don’t know what they’ve gone through, and the production is just the “high spots”: christening, prophecy, rose adagio, curse, sleep, kiss, the end…this story is just a little golden bookish. Not only are huge swaths cut out of Tchaikovsky’s brilliant score, but we’ve been deprived of our own sense that something is missing and needs restoration, ie, the story. When they cut the prince’s knowledge that he’s missing something, and what might be at the root of it, they’re cutting us off, too.

In the interests of saving us time, then, the well intentioned ABT runs the risk of wasting it. This particular Sleeping Beauty, when it premiered in 2007, had a little trouble at first (it has been heavily revised), but it did awaken Gelsey Kirkland to return to ABT and that was perhaps a good instinct, although perhaps not the right person. Kirkland’s Stanislavskian tendencies may have driven Baryshnikov up the wall, but her insistence on infusing every step and every gesture and movement of the body with the character’s life, ie, every movement must have a reason, is necessary in contemporary romantic ballet because of this business of condensing them. I could see small examples of attention paid to such details. Even such a small segment as the King’s (Roman Zhurbin’s) fury at finding a spindle after he’d expressly forbidden them in his kingdom is clear without waving of arms and indignant looks but with the intelligent movement of his whole body.

Most ballet productions, as does this one, now do away with mime or cut it to a minimum believing the audience won’t understand it (Wrong! I saw a children’s production of Sleeping Beauty that emphasized the mime and in fact taught some to the audience, which the audience adored doing). Mime is distinctly related to the old Delsarte poses of nineteenth century theater history, which also influenced ballet in an attempt to link genuine emotion to the body. In romantic ballet, characters in first acts are usually defined by mime, or are “on the ground”, and in last acts by character variations (having reconciled air and ground). There are poetic and traditional reasons for this, but mime and the various character variations are the sections that contemporary productions tend to do away with, as they only appear to have little to do with the plot. This leaves the weight of storytelling to the dance alone. So if you’re going to cut the mime and the character variations, someone in charge with dramatic sensitivities becomes more important, for dancers need to think through their characters as well as perform turns on pointe and breathtaking leaps. The dance itself must convey the dramatic points through the dance rather than depend on any exposition. This is difficult when so many ballet companies think they are following a Balanchine model by separating dance from story consistently. The premise for this is false, but that’s a topic for another time. It is not enough to just dance, and it’s not enough to just act.

The evening I was at ABT, Aurora was danced by Xiomara Reyes, and she was absolutely enchanting. I could easily believe that this joyful, energetic bubbly girl full of life and curiosity and grace was sixteen. During the rose adagio, in which she meets and greets her suitors from the four corners of the earth (costume-wise, they all looked the same to me), she grew in understanding, grace, and balance (famously tested here) as she greeted each one. Even her finger movements varied, and they seemed to extend from her heart. She eventually danced full out, brimming over with happiness as she gained poise and hope, for what was there to fear? Well -- perhaps the conductor, Charles Barker, who took the tempo so-gotta-catch-my-train fast that Reyes’ phrasing, so expressive, couldn’t always complete the dance thought.

Maria Riccetto brought a warm grace to the role of the Lilac Fairy, and Nancy Raffa was marvelously maleficent as Carabosse, the crone and fairy, who appears and disappears with nice effects of fire and smoke. Herman Cornejo portrayed a solid, substantive prince, thoroughly capable of taking on Carabosse and making his way to the princess with solid dancing. These performers were quite capable of carrying through the dramatic intent of their role in the ballet.

Dramatic care was taken with the first act, but then things started breaking down. The trouble came in the vision scene, when the attitudes of Aurora to the prince lacked clarity. Characterization appeared to break down in a seeming rush to get to the party. This haste had a cascade effect on the final pas de deux: The steps were there, as were some flashes of character, but either the happy couple had it and lost it, or they didn’t have it yet. The battle with Carabosse also needed clarity. It was clear there was a battle and that Carabosse lost, but how either the Lilac Fairy or Prince Desiré were instrumental in that was anyone’s guess. It must have been fate.

This too consistent efficiency was evident in the visual aspect of the production. Tony Walton’s scenery (does this man get any sleep?) was quite lovely if literal in the first acts; his scenery for the last act was a little too lacy and “land of the sweets”, not to mention noisy – I thought Carabosse was coming back as a monster as the set changed for the last act. I liked the vibrant colors of costumes in the first acts, and in the last act, the Louis XIV-era costumes of the courtiers dazzled, but the women’s gowns looked hard to dance in. From a visual viewpoint, it didn’t seem that anyone was interested in the story, just putting out another ballet for the schedule.

Ah, and yet. Brief as it is, the Prince’s kiss is still profoundly moving. The kingdom transforms, the people wake up, and the prince and princess balance slowly and surely during the increasingly profound pas de deux, with the gentlest of fish dives. When they took their places in reigning stead, I knew they meant business.

One thing that should also be clear: As Aurora awakens, the fairy tale world comes alive again. Seeing these characters is an important part of the celebration. That’s part of the ballet tradition, it’s also part of the giddiness that results from the grand triumph of rebirth, and there is mythic justification for their resurrection. But aside from introducing a few characters (Cinderella and Prince Charming, Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, Puss ’N Boots and his girlfriend), the variations for these characters were cut to mere walk ons. The Bluebird and Princess Florine (Sascha Radetsky and Hee Seo) got to dance a nice variation, but the visionaries behind this production must have felt that if you’ve seen one variation, you’ve seen them all, and that was the one we got. When the prince and princess began their pas de deux, I found myself looking down at the program, incredulous that the dancers had made such an error. Hadn’t our little party just begun?

Well, here’s a suggestion, ABT: If you really want to make some cuts - Cut everything, cut the fancy scenery and the mime and the story and just about all the dancing, but keep in the search and the maturing, and you’ve got…Balanchine’s Duo Concertant, which is about 20 minutes if you take the tempo slowly. But American Ballet Theatre needs the full ballet alongside Duo, we as an audience need the full Sleeping Beauty, and an intelligent, poetic production of it. Well, I’m sure ABT’s working on it.

American Ballet Theatre’s Production of The Sleeping Beauty: Staged by Kevin McKenzie, Gelsey Kirkland, and Michael Chernov, after Marius Petipa. Music by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky. Set by Tony Walton. Costumes by Willa Kim, with Additional Designs by Holly Hynes. American Ballet Theatre’s spring season extends to July 3. Tickets are available through the company’s Web site,, or at the box office at The Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center.

Singer/writer Mary Sheeran’s novel, Who Have the Power, an exploration of cultural conflict, feminism, and Native American history set on the American frontier, was published in 2006 ( Her next novel, Quest of the Sleeping Princess, which unfolds during a gala performance of the New York City Ballet, will be published later this year. She has sung through several operas, cabarets, and song recitals in New York, including several performances of Songs From the Balanchine Repertory.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Mothering of God

“Not only does the mother metaphor bring us to a new ground of intimacy with God, it can also help us respond to a world at deep risk. . . The mothering of God reveals to us the God who suffers and feels and waits in order to create, birth, and heal. When we relate to this image of God, we’re more apt to make ourselves vulnerable, to incubate what’s dark, care for the wounded, the broken, and the alienated -- the motherless in our world. . . . Might it allow our feminine being to be as important as our masculine doing? Could a feminine metaphor of God help teach us to slowly grow the life of the Spirit inside us?”

-- Sue Monk Kidd, When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions

Friday, June 25, 2010

Cultivate patience

“Snow falls from the leaf at the exact moment that the force of gravity takes over. The willow bends into the strength of the wind. So, too, are our lives pulled and bent by the rhythms of nature. In order to be in harmony with this flow we must cultivate patience to wait for the right time to act or yield.”
-- Sage Bennet

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fear Not

“There is no greater disservice we commit in this life than living within the grips and confines of fear. . . No matter what happens, you cannot lose. If you let go of something or someone that has been divinely ordained for you, it will come back when you are ready to receive it. If you let go of something or someone that has not been divinely ordained for you, you are making room for the Divine to take its place in your life. There is never a good reason to fear that you are wrong or that you are losing. God in you will not deny Itself. It will be fulfilled. . . Fear is the insidious activity of the belief that there is something that God cannot do or does not know. . . Fear is how we act out our loyalty to family patterns that can eventually become the noose around our necks, that ‘hangs us up’ in life.”

-- Iyanla Vanzant, One Day My Soul Just Opened Up: 40 Days and 40 Nights Toward Spiritual Strength and Personal Growth

Monday, June 21, 2010

Drama Desk luncheon at Sardi's

Drama Desk luncheon panel at Sardi's Friday: David Zellnik, David Thompson, Tom Kitt, Chad Kimball, Montego Glover, Jeffry Denman and Christine Andreas.

Montego Glover, Christine Andreas and Chad Kimball

Chad Kimball and Montego Glover

(All photos by Les Schecter )

"No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself."

-- Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Broadway Grows More Serious

Musical theatre’s shift from being lighthearted entertainment to taking on timely topics such as racism, homophobia, mental illness and nontraditional families was explored by actors and creators during a spirited Drama Desk luncheon panel at Sardi’s on Friday.

“Musicals are rarely pure entertainment anymore,” said Scott Siegel, the panel’s moderator.

Certainly that is the case with the represented shows: Yank! is a World War II era love story between two men, soldiers in an Army where such relationships are strictly forbidden. The Scottsboro Boys portrays the horrific injustice of the famous case in which nine black teenagers where jailed for years on a trumped-up rape charge. Both shows had acclaimed Off-Broadway runs and are planning moves to Broadway. Memphis, which won this year’s Tony for best new musical, creates the challenges and tensions of an interracial couple in the 1950s South. Next to Normal, which won a Tony and a Pulitzer, deals with depression. La Cage aux Folles, which won the Tony for best revival, offers a loving family made up of two gay men, in a longtime partnership, who have raised a son together.

“The passion you bring collides with other passions,” said David Thompson, who wrote the book for The Scottsboro Boys.

In the case of that show, the creators were forced to deal with the facts of an actual episode in America’s shameful history of racism. But composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb “always felt there’s something left to write there,” Thompson said.

Because of the magnitude of the injustice, Ebb believed the only way to stage it as a musical was to tell it as a minstrel show, Thompson said. And then to trust the collaborative process.

“’You can’t write your own reviews,’ Thompson said, quoting Ebb. “’Don’t edit yourself.’”

Musicals are a good way to get a message across, said Montego Glover (in a photo from the show), because they are popular and accessible. Glover was nominated for a best actress Tony for her performance in Memphis,

“There’s a sense of discovery musicals can bring and it’s magical,” she said. And that gets the audience’s attention so a topic like racism can be explored. “We have to remember. We still have work to do.”

Jeffry Denman, Yank!’s choreographer who also plays a gay serviceman in the show, says the shift to more serious themes is part of “the evolution of storytelling, to make it different from the ones that came before.”

But the message should not be the main focus, he said. “As a choreographer, I don’t want anyone doing a step until the know why they’re doing it. It’s story, story; story and character.”

Thompson agreed. “It’s all about storytelling. Sometimes the message emerges much later than you think,” he said, joking, “I had brown hair when we started this.” (It turned gray over the long road to the stage.)

For David Zellnik, Yank!’s book writer and lyricist, the show started political and then became about the characters. In an era of controversy about gays in the military, the musical was a perfect form to bring the issue to life.

“Theatre is an event where you have an intersection with the world,” he said.

Because the message in Yank! is so implicit, the creators were able to concentrate on molding a show that would be a homage to 1940s musicals.

“We could focus on the joy,” he said.

Joy is what audiences seem to be finding in Memphis, said Chad Kimball (in photo with Glover), who was nominated for a best actor Tony for his role as a pioneering radio DJ who introduces black music to a white audience. He said he has never been in a musical for which so many grown men, who are usually dragged in by their wives or girl friends, have come up to him and said they really had a good time.

“Huey is so not your average leading man,” he said about his character. “He’s quirky and annoying at the same time. He’s not unlike me. He’s an every man.”

Next to Normal composer Tom Kitt said creating characters the audience cares about is essential in shows about controversial ideas, such as his is with mental illness.

And the characters must be believable. Denman said his character, Artie, was so different -- a confident gay man -- and seemed so real he asked the creators if he really existed. In making Artie true for the audience, he didn’t think about the theme and how it would play, concentrating instead on the words and music.

“Hopefully the theme will come bubbling out,” he said. “I try just to serve it rather than thinking about it.”

Glover was grateful for the opportunity to shape Felicia, her character, from the time she received the script six years ago. Both she and her character are from Tennessee (she’s from Chattanooga; Felicia’s from Memphis) and both want to be a singer. At table readings she made suggestions about how Felicia would say things and the script was changed because the creators were “relying on the fact I was born and raised in the South.”

“We share the same space, the same continuum,” she said, adding that her grandmother was Felicia’s age at the time the show takes place. ”Every single stitch of her I’ve had a hand in.”

Yet Felicia still speaks to her.

“I discover something new about her every single, spanking night and it’s been six years.”

Having both the actor and audience respond like that is the strength of musical theatre, said Christine Andreas, who plays Jacqueline in La Cage aux Folles.

“Musicals are supposed to reflect your reality. That’s what I was taught. People want to be moved and taken out of themselves.”

For her, the power is so strong she finds musicals are “a better alternative to church.”

I’m sure a great many people would say Amen to that.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

"Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity." -- Kahlil Gibran

Friday, June 18, 2010

Take a Letter, Maria: The Galilean Secret: A Novel by Evan Drake Howard


Ask yourself: Would a suddenly discovered document unquestioningly written by Jesus make any difference today? Even if we could confirm without any doubt that the man Jesus of Nazareth had written it? Do you think that it would cause peace or war? I wonder, too. Over the centuries, Jesus’ teachings have gotten caught up in so many interpretations and church creeds and angry politics, not to mention wars and crusades, and many people have their own personal Jesus with whom they pray, that such a discovery might prove more disastrous than miraculous. Even just by reading the gospels by themselves, it becomes hard to recognize the Jesus described there in all of what the churches have done with their theologies, private salvations, indulgences, prayer book controversies, baptism controversies, communion debates, and battles over who’s in charge and who should sleep with whom. And, of course, all the churches would have to approve the letter as written…you could almost write a sad comedy on this premise.

Well, that’s a story for another time. The discovery of such a scroll by Jesus is the premise of a new novel, The Galilean Secret, by Evan Drake Howard, a thoughtful and versatile writer, who perhaps strained a little too much in this story that has many strengths and weaknesses, and who was perhaps pushed a little too much by publisher and agent to write another Da Vinci Code. It’s a shame. Howard claims he got the idea for the novel when taking his child’s sixth grade class to Ground Zero and there envisioning the possibility of peace rising from those ashes, rather than war. But I fear marketing got in the way.

And no wonder. Causing perhaps as much if not more excitement than a letter from Jesus was the phenomenon of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code a few years back. Now, I read the book and I saw the movie, but I can’t for the life of me remember much about what The Da Vinci Code was about. It was a great read, a thrill a second – that I remember. But I came across the movie on television a few weeks ago, and seeing Tom Hanks, I had to think hard, Is that The Da Vinci Code? I couldn’t remember. For all the excitement it created way back when, it was just, well, fun. Like all fun things, it made a lot of money, and that means…imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

The Galilean Secret opens like a thriller, in the now usual Dan Brown style. A young Palestinian man, Karim Misalaha, scrambling through Qumrun, accidentally uncovers a document buried for centuries that, apparently, has been written by Jesus of Nazareth to Mary Magdalene. This is proven to just about everyone’s satisfaction very quickly, which is hardly likely, but that’s a weakness of the author’s idealism. Jesus’ letter comes to be accepted by all races and creeds and, after some gunshots and car chases and a death (and a love affair with an Israeli peace activist), peace and love prevail. Well, okay, I wish. We do have Jesus’ words in the gospels, and so I don’t know what a P.S. would do at this juncture. Also, Howard seems to throw authority to the Catholic Church when it comes to offering evidence that the letter is authentic, and no one seems to mind. Will all this bring peace and love?

Ah, but is peace and love the real point of this novel? This is where I fear some marketing forces got in the way. The one memorable aspect of The Da Vinci Code is that great question that dominated discussion of that book. You know, the question that was more important than anything else: Did He or didn’t He? Did Jesus have a sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene? Were they in fact – ohmigosh -- married? No one seems to be breathlessly asking, Was Mary Magdalene really the Apostle to the Apostles? Did she have the key to Jesus’ teachings? Was Peter clueless all along and not only clueless but ambitious? Is the church that was founded on Peter’s rock a forgery?

Howard has put some thoughtful effort into these questions, although the exciting adventures surrounding Karim get more attention. However, in a story that alternates with Karim’s, Howard creates another, set in the time of Jesus’ ministry. The resulting back and forth nature of the book is slightly annoying, but it does focus attention on what everyone in the book focuses on: Jesus and his message. Howard’s historical story is interesting, and his most interesting character is the book’s strength. That character is not Mary Magdalene, who is actually pretty whiny. No, the leading character of the historical story is Judith, a young woman who, although betrothed to one young man, Gabriel, ends up impetuously running off and marrying Gabriel’s brother, Dismas, a Zealot. In time, the story meets up with Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Judas. The tension of the story, ie, what keeps you turning the page, is that you know that somehow a letter that Jesus wrote to Mary Magdalene (and somehow everyone reads it but her!) is going to become important in our time too, and in the combined stories, you can follow the reasons for its writing and what happened to it. But most of all, you care about Judith and what happens to her. Alas, it is really easy to lose track of her story with all the car chases and commiserating Karim and his cohorts do about Jesus’ letter. But we want to see the movie, right? We need to have these scenes, right?

What does Jesus write about that got everyone so excited? What’s everyone excited about? Using the Genesis text of how God created women and men in God’s own image as support, Jesus writes in a rather Platonic vein that we are all both male and female, and that sexual problems result when we do not learn to balance our masculine and feminine sides. I got a little lost in there, so I can’t tell you how precisely that works, and there’s nothing in the gospels about this (but there is some evidence of this train of thought in the Gnostic writings, which is where there is some evidence suggesting a strong relationship between Jesus and Mary). Howard contrasts Jesus with Judas, and in the novel, Judas betrays Jesus because he was jealous of Mary Magdalene’s love for him. (All this time we’ve wondered, and it was just The Guiding Light?). Jesus credits Mary Magdalene for helping him discover his feminine side, and, with the help of that insight, Jesus chooses to follow his call and not give in to his sexual attraction and marry Mary Magdalene. Judas Iscariot is not able to do that, and both men confuse Mary Magdalene. No wonder she’s whining.

This book takes on an enormous burden. Howard has to put words in Jesus’ mouth that are not in Scripture, write a thriller with car chases and surprising twists, alternate that plot with the story of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection, deal with Jesus’ sexual attraction to Mary Magdalene, and bring together Jews, Muslims, and Christians at the end, which goes up to the year 2050. Whew! This is way ambitious, but Howard writes with a winning (if pedantic) sincerity and witih a strong background in Middle Eastern history that serves him well.

I kept wanting Howard to get back to Judith. Karim’s character was a little too annoying; even after he’d read the letter and been greatly moved by it, and puts his life on the line for it, he finds time and energy to feel guilty about his love for an Israeli peace activist who does exactly the same thing, and we have to read all those annoying paragraphs that were written just to put a romantic spin on the contemporary tale (and probably help the case for a movie). But with all the twists in the story, Karim’s plot is not as engaging as Judith’s character.

Even though he displays a curious lack of knowledge about women’s history in Jesus’ time, Howard emphasizes women’s importance in Jesus’ mission and his openness to them, and this is nice. Other characters are pretty predictable: Peter is dense as a rock. Judas is well intentioned but weak, Nicodemus is a wise convert, Barabbas is the raging rebel, and Jesus is the calm in the storm. (One interesting thing is that Howard goes out of his way to say that Jesus is really not handsome!) But Judith, the fictional character, is most engaging despite the weakness of the prose, because of her strong voice. And she’s the character we don’t know. We know what happens with just about everybody else: Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene, Barabbas, Judas, and for those who know their New Testament traditions: Dismas. And, if you know what happens with Dismas, it adds to the poignancy of Judith’s story.

What’s disappointing about the book is that Howard can’t carry it off, even as you know he can’t and wish he could. You read about people’s responses to Jesus’ letter, you read about people reading it and immediately being converted to what the letter says, but you – with one exception – never get to read Jesus’ words in what must have been a very lengthy document! (How did Jesus find the time and the supplies to scratch all that down?) Instead, we hear about it secondhand, summarized in, alas, a dull, uninspiring way. And when we do finally get to read some of Jesus’ words, it is, alas, disappointingly dull prose, so that you wonder what you’re missing when characters burst into tears and come to believe in his message at once. So the reader’s credibility is strained, and that’s a shame.

Despite the book’s dull tone, it is obviously thoughtful, earnest, and sincere, so much so that you want all this to be true, for the writer’s sake, and for Judith’s sake (not to mention for the sake of world peace!). But alas, the writer set himself up with a terrible challenge – writing as Jesus would. He can’t do it. It’s difficult to accept the whole premise, and I want to, so I feel cheated. It’s hard to see how Israel and Palestine will come to peace because of this really dull letter. Several obvious platitudes based on the letter that begin each chapter also don’t help. So, I feel left out of all the excitement that everyone in the book feels. Oh, well. But I do still wonder about Judith.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Know that you know

“Self-doubt is the fungus that grows into the cancer of worthlessness and inadequacy. . . Know that you know what you are doing. When you do what feels right for you, know that you know that it is right for you. . . Know that you are always, at all times, under all situations connected to the awesome, powerful, creative source of life. . . Knowing that you know is what some people call faith.”

-- Iyanla Vanzant, One Day My Soul Just Opened Up

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Lights are Bright on Broadway

Playwright Kia Corthron and actor Max McLean have been named recipients of 2010 “The Lights are Bright on Broadway” awards presented annually by Masterwork Productions, Inc. to individuals and organizations making a difference in the Broadway community through faith.
Corthron (Breath, Boom; Force Continuum), is being honored for her play A Cool Dip in the Barren Saharan Crick, which ran last spring at Playwrights Horizons (presented as a co-production with The Play Company and Culture Project) for its positive representation of an African preacher-in-training as he interacts with his host family and a troubled orphan in a drought-stricken rural American community where he studies religion and water conservation.
“I'm so honored A Cool Dip was chosen for the Masterwork award, but when I initially found out, I must admit I was startled,” Corthron said. “I had never thought of A Cool Dip as a Christian play - or a non-Christian play.  I had just written the character of Abebe as honestly as I could, and he seemed to be someone who would be wholly committed to his faith. At least one voice (among the many providing input along a play's path from germination to opening) suggested that the dramatic arc lead to Abebe's questioning his faith.  That never felt right to me, and frankly is a bit of a cliché in plays wherein Christianity plays a role.  (Abebe does question himself but never his faith.)  There is widespread intolerance - a sense of threat - in fundamentalist Christianity regarding people exercising individual freedoms, just as there is widespread intolerance -  a sense of threat - in left-progressive and artistic circles regarding Christianity in any form.  I have people close to me who are members of both flanks (as well as many in between), and while it was not my conscious intention, I would be truly gratified to know that A Cool Dip may have fostered some new understanding and compassion.”
McLean is being honored for his portrayal of C.S. Lewis’ famous demon extraordinaire, Screwtape, who coaches his nephew demon in training about the art of spiritual warfare. McLean co-wrote the adaptation of The Screwtape Letters with director Jeffrey Fiske.
“This comes as quite a surprise, McLean said. “As a Christian who tries to work daily to live an integrated life of faith and work, I am delighted to receive this recognition from Masterwork for our work on C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.”
McLean’s award will be presented following the Monday, June 28 performance of the show, which is running at the Westside Theatre. Corthron will receive her award June 30 at Playwrights Horizons.
“We’re excited to be able to honor examples of people making a difference through faith in the Broadway community,” said Lauren Yarger, Masterworks’s executive director. “Kia’s play helped promote an understanding of faith while Max’s helps people understand why they have such trouble with it!”

Last year's recipients were playwright Dan Gordon for Irena's Vow on Broadway, and Radio City Rockette Cheryl Cutlip, founder of Project Dance.

Masterwork Productions, Inc. is a faith based, non-profit organization which helps Christians and churches reach out through the performing arts by producing shows and events, booking artists, providing Broadway and theater reviews ( and training at workshops and conferences. For more information, visit

The Aesthetic Astronaut

Congratulations to former Back Stage colleague Roger Armbrust on these great reviews for his new volume of poems, The Aesthetic Astronaut.

Roger Armbrust’s contemporary sonnets plunge right to the core of both the matter and the reader. Through sound, vision and a plainspoken voice, these accessible sonnets create an immediate resonance within, bringing this poetic form to the everyday reader and begging each one to be read over and over again.
--Raymond Hammond, editor, The New York Quarterly

Roger Armbrust packs a tremendous amount of movement into 14 lines. This bobbing, weaving, trembling, shaking collection is long overdue!
--Amy Fusselman, author of 8 and The Pharmacist’s Mate

I have known and admired Roger Armbrust’s poems for many years. But when Roger met the sonnet… he quickly turned the window-like form into a window on a world – his. And what a rich, varied world it is. In the sonnet “Spring 2007 Evocations,” he writes about his daughter’s art. With a few substitutions in pronouns it might read: “… I marvel how he’s trusted/his heart, his growing skills of artistic eye/and graceful hand, transforming emotions/and intelligence into sonnets.” This is not to suggest all of the poems are delicate – they often display muscular rhythms and playful rimes – but he knows when they need to be just that.
-- H. A. Maxson, poet, author of On the Sonnets of Robert Frost: A Critical Examination of the 37 poems

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Brigadoon Gala Concert

I am grateful to Brian Lipton for taking me to the Irish Rep’s fundraising gala concert version of Brigadoon last night at the Shubert Theatre. It was so good to enter again that enchanting world of the wee Scottish village that comes to life only once every hundred years, and to savor those beautiful Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe songs that are among the most lovely tunes ever written for the theatre.

The magic began outside as bagpiper Jack Nisbet serenaded us as we gathered on West 44th Street. Once we had settled in our seats and hosts Matthew Broderick and Jonathan Cake had finished their not particulary entertaining opening chitchat, Nisbet returned, coming from the back of the theatre and leading the 40-member chorus onto the stage.

Melissa Errico (in photo) as Fiona lit up the stage with her radiance and that exquisite voice, especially in her show-stopping duet with Jason Danieley (Tommy) of “Almost Like Bein’ in Love.” The electric shock from that one alone was megawatt and the audience loved it.

The musical’s long book was shortened nicely. I didn’t ask the time when it was over -- I was floating too high to think about time -- but I’d say the lenght was about 90 minutes. The Irish Rep's artistic director, Charlotte Moore, directed.

Errico, who appeared in the Irish Rep's recent production of Candida, was joined, in addition to Danieley, by Don Stephenson (Jeff Douglas), Ciaran Sheehan (Harry Beaton), Christine Ebersole (Meg Brockie), Gordon Stanley (Archie Beaton), Jim Brochu (Andrew McLaren), Bonnie Fraser (Jean McLaren), Christopher Lynn (Angus McGuffie), A.J. Shively (Charlie Dalrymple), Len Cariou (Mr. Lundie), Kerry Conte (Jane Ashton) and dancers Karl Maier and Morgan McEwen.

Their voices, backed by a 20-piece orchestra, are still with me, filling my heart with “I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean,” “The Heather on the Hill,” “Come to Me, Bend to Me” and “There But for You Go I.”

Brigadoon, which was inspired by a European legend, opened on Broadway in 1947. It’s a fantasy story of two American men who stumble upon this mysterious village while hunting in Scotland during the one day it will appear before vanishing for another century. When one of them, Tommy, falls in love with Fiona, he must make the choice of whether to return to his life in New York or stay with his beloved and vanish with the rest of them when the day is over.

It’s a charming story, with such rich music, I wish it would be done again on Broadway. A revival with a revised libretto had been announced, with Rob Ashford to direct, but those plans have been dropped. I saw an excellent full staging by the Blue Hill Troupe in the fall Off-Broadway and thought then how right a new production on the Great White Way would be. Maybe some visionary producers were in the audience last night and will get the ball rolling. They can count on me to be in the audience!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Congratulations to Viola Davis

My favorite part of last night’s Tony Awards was Viola Davis’ acceptance speech for her best actress in a play honor for her work in Fences. She began in tearful praise: “You know, I don’t believe in luck or happenstance -- I absolutely believe in the presence of God in my life. I was born into circumstances where I couldn’t see it in my eyes, I couldn’t touch it in my hands -- I had to believe it in my heart.”

Actors often thank God in their acceptance speeches, sometimes almost as an afterthought, but I have never heard anyone sound as if the words were coming so deeply from the soul the way hers did. It's clear to see where she drew her strength for such a powerful, moving performance,

I also appreciated Denzel Washington’s comments when he accepted his best actor in a play award, also for Fences: “My mother always says, ‘Man gives the award, God gives the reward.’ I guess I’ve been given both tonight.”

I’ve asked Davis to give a theatre reflection at this year’s Broadway Blessing. She’s L.A.-based and Fences will have closed, so I don’t know if this will happen. Please say some prayers or keep your fingers crossed, which ever works for you. Better yet, do both! She would be a real blessing for our Blessing.

(Photo by: Joseph Maizulla/WENN)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Problem-solving and time

“. . . there is a defect in the approach to problem-solving more primitive and more destructive than impatiently inadequate attempts to find instant solutions, a defect even more ubiquitous and universal. It is the hope that problems will go away of their own accord. . . . This inclination to ignore problems is once again a simple manifestation of an unwillingness to delay gratification. . . To willingly confront a problem early, before we are forced to confront it by circumstances, means putting aside something pleasant or less painful for something more painful. It is choosing to suffer now in hope of future gratification rather than choosing to continue present gratification in the hope that future suffering will not be necessary.”

-- M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

Friday, June 11, 2010

All Kristin all the time

So glad to hear Kristin Chenoweth has been written into season two of "Glee." I really enjoyed her appearance in season one as April, a boozy, down-on-her-luck singer who returned to her old high school to sing -- and dance! -- with the glee club.

That quirky little show has grown on me. I've gotten volume one of season one out of the library twice and watched all of it both times. I'm looking forward to the release of the rest so I can catch up. It's not as addictive as "Ugly Betty" -- which my friend Mary likened to crack after I lent her my copy of season one -- but it's a lot of fun.

And, oh, isn't Matthew Morrison hot? I met him a couple of years ago at our Drama Desk cocktail party for nominees. What a cutie!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

One good deed . . .

My childhood friend Gina sent me this anecdote, an amazing example of what goes around comes around -- and around again.

His name was Fleming, and he was a poor Scottish farmer. One day, while trying to make a living for his family, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog. He dropped his tools and  ran to the bog. There, mired to his waist in black  muck, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to  free himself. Farmer Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.

The next day, a fancy carriage  pulled up to the Scotsman’s sparse surroundings. An  elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced  himself as the father of the boy Farmer Fleming had saved.

“I want to repay you,” said the nobleman. “You saved my
son’s life.”

“No, I can’t accept payment for  what I did,” the Scottish farmer replied, waving off the offer. At that moment, the
farmer’s own son came to the door of the family hovel.

“Is that your son,” the nobleman asked.

“Yes,” the farmer replied proudly.

“I’ll make you a deal. Let me provide him with the level of education my own son will enjoy. If the lad is anything like his father,  he’ll no doubt grow to be a man we both will be proud of.”

And that he did.

Farmer Fleming’s son attended the very best schools and in time, graduated from St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London, and went on to become known throughout the world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin.

Years afterward, the same nobleman’s son who was saved from the bog was stricken with pneumonia.

What saved his life this time?  Penicillin.

The name of the nobleman? Lord Randolph Churchill. His son’s name?

Sir  Winston Churchill.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The State of Grace

"Grace is the natural state of every Son of God. When he is not in a state of grace, he is out of his natural environment and does not function well. Everything he does becomes a strain . . . A Son of God is happy only when he knows he is with God. That is the only environment in which he will not experience strain, because that is where he belongs . . .

"When a mind has only light, it knows only light.

"The Kingdom of God includes all His Sons and their children, who are as like the Sons as they are like the Father. Know, then, the Sons of God, and you will know all creation."

-- A Course in Miracles

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Encountering the Sacred in the Theatre

Join Christians in Theatre Arts (CITA) for a three-day symposium in the heart of the New York theatre world, July 15-17:

* engage with NYC-based theatre artists and others from around the world.

*teaching sessions and panel discussions. (I will be offering one on the founding and growth of Broadway Blessing.)

*theatre performances followed by talk backs with the artists.

*small group networking and workshops.

Much of the benefit of the symposium will come from those leading sessions, but CITA is also a place where community happens (I’ve made such important friends and connections through CITA), and you will be able to engage with each other and with session leaders throughout the symposium.

Visit and follow the link to 2010 events and the symposium page -- registration and hotel information is online now.

Falling Apart in One Piece/The Language of Secrets

I’ve been enjoying the pleasure of staying home at night with a good book, something theatre critics don’t get to do much during the season, but which is a welcome change in this pre-Tony Awards quiet. I’m blessed with a friend, Angela, who keeps me well supplied, reading as she does practically a book a day, all recently released hard covers. She’ll call and say she’s leaving a bag of books with her doormen, then I pick them up and plunge in when I have the time. If I start one and like it OK but don’t love it, I give it to the library and try another. This way I always have that wonderful feeling of having a book I can’t wait to get back to.

From her latest bag I found one that I thought would be going straight to the library. I didn’t think I’d have any interest in a book entitled Falling Apart in One Piece: One Optimist’s Journey Through the Hell of Divorce. I’ve never been married, much less divorced. Angela has been happily married for three decades and never divorced, so I wondered why she chose that one. I started it, figuring I wouldn’t even get through the first chapter before passing it on, but right from page one I was hooked. Author Stacy Morrison is an involving storyteller, but what I liked even more was her insightful self-reflection as she considered her own personal growth.

“I decided the only way to rebuild was to start to understand who I really was, to love and forgive myself my failures, to move beyond all the dashed dreams to trust myself again,” she writes. “To dare to imagine who I might be on the other side of all of this. To hold my best idea of myself in my mind’s eye and walk toward her, instead of being distracted by the anger and hurt that threatened to take root in my soul and scar it forever.

“And that has been the journey of a lifetime: to decide who I am and who I’ve been and who I want to be, and to do all of that with compassion, both for myself and for my ex.”

Her book is indeed a journey, one in which she moves through pain into new life. It’s a resurrection story, and I always love those.

Another from this latest bag also involves a journey of personal discovery, but this time it’s fictional. Dianne Dixon’s compelling first novel, The Language of Secrets, drew me in immediately with its hints of a mysterious past lurking behind the consciousness of Justin, a young man in his early 30s who begins to explore why he has no memories of his parents or his childhood. Since his college days he has been telling people he was fond of his parents but not close to them. When his career brings him back to his old hometown he finds his parents have died and when he visits their graves finds one with his name on it, indicating he died when he was 3. Using alternating chapters to tell Justin’s story, as well as that of his parents, we learn the shocking traumas that Justin has suppressed for years. There’s so much sadness in this book, but, like Morrison, Dixon knows how to create healing and redemption. I hated to put this book down, and was sorry to finish it. It would make a great movie.

So, two more good books from all the great reads Angela has given me over the years -- The Help, Game Change, Sarah’s Key, Anne Tyler’s latest as soon as they come out. Tonight I’ll be starting a new one, looking forward to another journey with memorable characters. Thanks, Angela!

Monday, June 7, 2010



The relatively close confluence of The Royal Family, the Winter Olympics, and the Tony Awards got me thinking. Though usually the classiest, the Tony Awards are the stepchild of the award shows, looked down upon and barely tolerated by television industry executives. Ratings are generally low, and Hollywood stars are dragged in to sex up the appeal of the show. Producers of the big Broadway musicals want America to see numbers from their shows—it's the best commercial they've got to promote their production—but no one can figure out how to showcase the plays. The sports divisions of the television industry have got it right—they know how to get viewers. So with tongue firmly in cheek, my proposal for the Tony committee is TonyOlympics® 2010 …

“There is something stubbornly old-fashioned about the Tony Awards…it’s a yearly revival, “Brigadoon”-like, of a type of singing-dancing variety TV whose light otherwise went out sometime in the 1970s…”
—Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2009

At a recent press conference, Paul Libin, chairman of the Broadway League, and Theodore S. Chapin, chairman of the American Theatre Wing, announced that the 64th annual Antoinette Perry “Tony”® Awards, to be presented this year on June 13, will leave behind the “tacky ’70s forever.” Taking a cue from the wildly successful 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Chapin said that “we’re going to show the world that New York theatre lives in the 21st century.” Libin added, “We’re going to show everyone that Broadway knows all about peaks and valleys. And we don’t need to truck in a ton of snow to prove it. So stand back, folks. Welcome to the 21st century. Welcome to the Theatre. And Let The Games Begin!”

* * *

“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. This is Bob Costas reporting from the TonyOlympics® Center in the Crossroads of the World—Times Square, New York City. With the help of several of my esteemed colleagues, we’ll be covering some of the hotly contested, eagerly anticipated plays and performances of New York’s 2009-2010 Broadway season.

“It’s an honor to be here in the heart of the Theatre District. We’re here to witness some of our generation’s finest actors delivering performances of a magnitude that others can only dream of. We will witness some of the finest writing being done for the American stage. We’re about to see the Best and the Brightest. That’s what these Tonys® are all about. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.

“This is Broadway, folks, this is as good as it gets.

“And now, let’s go to the TonyBox® at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre where we’re about to watch the revival of The Royal Family by the great George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, starring Rosemary Harris, Jan Maxwell, and a host of talented, dazzling actors—America’s Finest. To guide us through the play, our commentators in the TonyBox® are three-time Tony® winner, revered actor Carol Channing, and the no-less revered, Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman. Carol, as the audience dawdles in the aisles, waiting for the last minute to take their seats, can you feel the excitement? Can you feel the emotion?”

“Gee, thank you, Bob. Yesh, of coursh we can feel it. This is truly a shpecial night and I don’t think I’ve ever felt such emotion in a public place. We’re in for something truly unique tonight, aren’t we, Morgan.”

“Yes, Carol, this is a New York story. This is a New York crowd. And it knows it’s about to witness History.”

“It’s a wonderful play about actors. About the theatre—”

“Yes, Carol, and speaking of the theatre, isn’t this night just so darn exciting? This play is full of wonderful actors—John Glover, Ana Gasteyer, Tony Roberts, and a host of others who know what they have to do, and they’re here to do it. Leading them all is Rosemary Harris, a terrific actress. She’s been through a lot, she’s hung in there, and she’s done her job. She knows what’s at stake here. She’s an anchor. She’s a pro. She’s English. And she has come to play.

“And, Morgan, thish isn’t her first exshperience with The Royal Family, is it.”

“That’s right, Carol, she played Julie in the 1976 revival and she’s playing Fanny, the grandmother, now.”

“Well, gosh, Morgan, here we are tonight watching Jan Maxshwell play Julie. She’s a real trouper. Been around for years really proving hershelf. She’s been nominated twice before for Tonys®, and the question tonight is, Can she pull it off? Will she schtick the landing?”

“They’re awesome talents, Carol.”

“And I think we can shay, Morgan, They’re here, they’ve been here before, they’re going for the gold—TONYGOLD®.

(The lights dim. An announcement is made to turn off cell phones. Audience members stand in aisles and continue to talk, text, and twitter. A royal fanfare is heard.)

“Oh, Morgan, what a lovely anthem—I feel in good hands already.”

“The lights are dimming; Carol…the tension is rising. Remember, folks, tonight anything can happen.”

(The set is revealed. There is a standing ovation.)

“Morgan, what can you tell us about this set?”

“A mistake, I think, Carol: too big, gaudy. It’s showy but I think it’s going to hurt them.”

“Oh, you old poop, I love it. I want to rent it and live in it forever! You know what it tells me, it tells me these people are rich! That maid? That butler? That housheboy? Mmmmmm…”

“Carol, as the secondary characters are introduced and we listen to a lot of exposition, tell us what you see here.”

“Well, Morgan, I think we’re off to a good shtart. The actors are really sholid tonight. They’re at home on the shtage—Glover, Gashteyer: real pros. Oh, oh…hold on—oh, here’s Roshemary making her entrance. Look at that power, look at that strength. Listen to those clipped vowels. She’s starting at a good pace—she’s known for pacing herself for the job ahead—and she knows what she has before her.”

“It’s all about experience now, and she’s got plenty. But where does she get this firepower? While these other actors are talking, let’s watch a video showing us Rosemary’s biography.”

(Video retrospective of Rosemary Harris. Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” plays under. Golden light falls on Ms. Harris standing, looking out the window of a well-used rehearsal room facing downtown Manhattan. She is in sweat pants. Tennis shoes. White hair pulled back in a pony tail. She is serious. Intense. Takes a drink of water from a Poland Spring bottle. Wipes sweat from her brow. She turns around, shakes out her hands, walks through her paces again. Stops. Winces and shakes her head. Goes back. Concentrates. Tries it again. Voice over: “Growing up in the conurbation of Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England, Rosemary Harris was a quiet girl with dreams of being a nurse. Tragedy struck early when her pug, India, died giving birth. Unable to help the dog’s suffering, Rosemary swore she would do good with her life and help people. When her older sister was cast as Lady Teazle in their Bishop Stammer Primary School production of The School for Scandal, Rosemary tried out and won the role of Lady Sneerwell. It changed her life. Leaving all thoughts of nursing behind her, she went to work in the Pig and Whistle pub to pay her way through the Fegg Hayes Academy of Dramatic Art. Shortly after her graduation, history was made in 1949 when Rosemary played Shylock in an all-female production of The Merchant of Venice at the Dorking Little Theatre. The eminent producer Sir Lew (“Uncle Lewie”) Grade was in the audience and took her to London, becoming her mentor. London, Broadway, Hollywood, she’s taken them all on. And now, here at TonyOlympics® 2010, Rosemary Harris has arrived.” We see her in the gold light at the window again. The Manhattan skyline behind her, Ms. Harris stares into camera. Voice Over: “No one else is as prepared as I am. I’m good, I know that. I have the determination. I’m ready.”)

“Look at her up there, Carol. Look at her drink that eggnog. Un-be-leev-a-ble! You’re not going to see better than that.”

“You’re right, Morgan. It’s all about aerobic shtrength. There’s something impressive about that. Oh…Hold on…Hold on…Here comes Jan Maxshwell. Look at her exshplode out of the gate! Look at that clean run all the way down the shtairs. The way she takes the shtage. She has arrived. She is here. She owns it.”

“Yes, Carol, she is a dynamo. One of the Best and Brightest. But tell me, at this point, how do these actresses look to you?”

“Well, Morgan, as you can shee, shtrength is critical to thish event. What it comesh down to is who can hold on.”

“Both these women understand their responsibility to themselves…their responsibility to Broadway. But tell me, is Harris beatable?”

“Well, Morgan, Harrish has the power to blaze. She’s an aweshome talent. And what she brings to this event is the title of champion. But Maxshwell has the fire…the desire… and the hunger…”

“And they both have what it takes to win TonyGold ®.”

“We’re coming up to the end of Act I now. Thish is a tricky routine for everyone, and what we’re looking for is extension, absorption, shpeed control, air.”

“Oh, look at Glover’s preparation and take off—he’s a master at this. But Harris is, too, and she’s thrown a double takeout and earned a key steal.”

“But, as the curtain falls, look at Maxshwell—she’s just turned the screw on Gashteyer’s third run with an almost perfect shlide! Beautiful!”

(Commercials. “We Are the World” video. More commercials.)

* * *

“We’re back at the TonyBox® and it’s the beginning of Act II. It’s a long play, Morgan, with three acts. A tesht for today’s theatre-goers. Can they endure it? Will they put up with it? Will the actors pull it off? Will the arc hold? Will the landings schtick? Will the circle be unbroken?”

“As the lights come up, we’re about to find out.”

“Oh, Morgan, Morgan. We have what may be a fatal flaw. Jan’s costume. The shkirt and blouse are not good. They are not flattering.”

“Carol, I think it’s a statement. And Jan is a pro. She knows what she’s here for. She knows what she has to do, and in my book she looks good whatever she’s wearing.”

“Oh—oh—she begins with a throw to Glover. Bee-oo-ti-ful! Look at that wrist action! Look at that shweep!”

“Look, they’re pleased with that—boom—bam—switch—perfect!”

“What was great was the freedom!”

“Jan is always dangerous. A dangerous and competitive veteran. This is what she does best.”

“Oh, this is a shuperb run!”

“She dug deep and found it.”

“She’s just laid down the gauntlet.”

“I’m tellin’ ya: She’s the powerhouse! She’s the one to beat!”

“Oh! Watch the unison on these shpins! They have a real synergy now!”

“Their main goal: to finish clean.”

“Here it comes, Morgan, the end of the act and the meltdown.

“Oh my God, she’s opening with a quad triple-toe-loop combination followed by a triple axel and triple lutz! I have never seen such a thing! This is great! This is hard, folks, this is real hard!”

“She is serving notice that she means businessh.”

“There is a lifetime of experience embodied in her.”

“She knows what’s at shtake.”

“She knows what this is about.”

“But what it all comes down to: can she schtick the landing?”

“It’s about endurance.”

“It’s about shtrength.”

“It’s about a killer instinct.”


“She’s bringin’ it in!”

”She’s shmokin’ it!”

“She’s on a mission!”

“She’s puttin’ it away!”

“She’s nailin’ it!”

“She’s shetting the shtandard!”

“She’s making a difference!”

“And she exsh plodes! She’s on the floor! The audience is going wild!”

“But it’s not over! She’s back! Oh, my God! She’s back! Can she do it? Can she?”

“The audience is on their feet! And— Oh—My—God! Yesh! The answer, Morgan, is yesh! As the curtain falls on Act II? Yesh, by God, she does schtick the landing!”

(Commercials. Toyota announces it will recall every car the company has ever made.)

* * *

“Well, Morgan, we’re back for Act III, and I have to tell you I’m shpent from that lasht act. What, I wonder, do we have in shtore for us nexht?”

“Well, Carol, these are the TonyOlympics®. Anything can happen. Meanwhile, feelings of euphoria persist.”

“So true, Morgan. But in this act everything hash to come together. They’ve all got to get in the moment and think about their technique. The mood changes—it becomesh more shober. Can the actors hold it together? We’re about to find out.”

“As the dialogue gets serious, Carol, let’s talk about Jan’s shoes.”

“Well, they’re darling, Morgan. Cathy Zhuber is the designer and I think they’re just shuperb.”

“Carol, Larry Pine has returned as the boyfriend trying to take Julie away from the world of the theatre. Pine is another champion, another pro—oh—oh—what’s this? ‘Zuma Monty Ballooloo’? That’s not in the script, Carol. He’s wobbled his mogul and this will cost him. It’s not fatal, but it will cost him…”

“These are the TonyOlympics®, Morgan, the pressure is intensh.”

“Look, everyone’s gone but Rosemary. Alone onstage. The great actress. It’s her moment. The theatre is quiet. Will she do it? Can she do it? Will she pull out all the stops?

“Yesh! Morgan, yesh! She does it again! She has gone for the gold!”

“A perfect heart attack, Carol! Night after night! Eight times a week! Twice on Wednesdays and Saturdays! Is there nothing this great actress can’t do?”

“She’s got the goods!”

“Watch closely: the likes of her will not pass this way again. This, folks, is the mark of a true champion.”

(The curtain falls. Members of the audience push and shove one another as they race to the exit, impeding the paramedics running down the aisle.)

“Carol, as the lights come up, I just have to say that what those actors did out there tonight is what the TonyOlympics® are all about. It’s in the judges’ hands now.”

“Yeesh, Morgan. And I have to say that tonight’s moments of wonder helped put away lasht year’s moments to forget.”

“So true, Carol. Now let’s go back to Bob Costas in the TonyOlympics® Center in Times Square.”

“Thank you, Morgan. Carol. It’s been quite a night. Someone will win, someone will lose. It’s the Thrill of Victory, the Agony of Defeat. As we take our leave, let’s listen as Dame Edna, Kristin Chenoweth, and John Lithgow sing “The Star Spangled Banner” in Shubert Alley with the entire New York City Police Department, the Gay Men’s Chorus, and the Abyssinian Baptist Church Women’s Choir. We’ll see you back here next time at TonyOlympics® 2010 with our hosts Mel Brooks and Anna Deavere Smith.

“Good night and God bless.”

Anthony Newfield appeared in the Tony-nominated Manhattan Theatre Club production of The Royal Family; other Broadway credits include Waiting for Godot and Tartuffe. He recently appeared as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird for TheatreWorks/Palo Alto, California. He has worked Off-Broadway and regionally (Huntington Theatre, Yale Repertory Theatre, The Shakespeare Theatre, Alliance Theatre, among many others) and received Florida’s Carbonell Award for his work in Bent. Internationally, he has worked in Ireland (Peer Gynt, Tom and Viv, and The Normal Heart) and in Russia, where he played Jim Casey in The Grapes of Wrath. He has made many film and television appearances, and his article about understudying, “Waiting to Go On,” will be published this summer in American Theatre magazine.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

An incredible goodness is operating in your behalf.

"Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us." Ephesians 3:20

“Today, remind yourself that nothing is too good to be true. Your great hopes can be realized. Your most wonderful dreams can come true. All that you really need, you can have. An incredible goodness is operating in your behalf. If you are living a paltry life, resolve to stop it today. Expect great things to happen. Confidently receive God’s abundant blessings. Do not think lack. Instead think prosperity, abundance, the best of everything. God wants to give to you, His child, every good thing. Don’t hinder His generosity.”
-- Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Finian's Rainbow -- new Broadway cast recording

I’m looking forward to gathering for a Tony party in Sutton Place next Sunday where I can cheer on my favorite shows and actors of the past season. One of these I feel most passionate about is Finian’s Rainbow, which I want to win best musical revival. I saw the show when it opened in the fall and had hoped I’d go back again during voting season, but unfortunately, despite rave reviews, it failed to draw a large audience and closed Jan. 17. I’ve been keeping my memories alive, though, with the cast recording, which does a first rate job of recapturing the magic of the live performance.

Right from the start, with the enchanting five-minute overture of Burton Lane’s music, the CD is a gem. Yip Harburg’s classic romantic songs -- “How Are Things in Glocca Morra,” “Look to the Rainbow,” “Old Devil Moon,” “If This Isn’t Love” -- evocatively sung by Kate Baldwin and Cheyenne Jackson, sound about as close to live as they can. The inclusion of quotes from Harburg and Fred Saidy’s book add to that effect. It’s always good to be reminded that “you’ll never grow old, and you’ll never grow poor, if you look to the rainbow beyond the next moor” and to always search for that faraway place that’s “a little beyond your reach, but never beyond your hope -- it’s out there, the hill beyond yon hill.”

The revival should still be running, but in its absence the CD is a gift. And its run will be forever, thanks to the folks at PS Classics who produced it. My fingers are crossed for next Sunday . . .

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Arizona's anti-immigration law

The following letter, by Arizona's Episcopal bishop Kirk Stevan Smith, appeared in The Huffington Post. Beautifully put!

In 2003, before becoming Governor of Arizona, then-Secretary of State Jan Brewer declared Arizona to be a "Golden Rule State." This teaching, common to most of the world's religious faiths, ("do unto others, as you would have them do unto you") was, as a result, imprinted on special license plates and made available to state drivers.

Just two weeks ago, now-Governor Brewer was honored by the Arizona Interfaith Movement for her work in promoting that value, received a plaque, gave a speech, and stood while being applauded for her work promoting the Golden Rule in Arizona. But by signing the recent anti-immigration bill SB 1070, I believe she now must give that award back.

Many religious leaders in this state feel that Governor Brewer and the Republican majority in our state legislature have not only pandered to our residents' pent-up anger, fear, and frustration with Washington's inaction on the immigration crisis, but have done so in a way that betrays our most deeply held values of justice and compassion.

Much has rightly been said and written about the civil and human rights implications of this new law. Under its terms, police officers will effectively be turned into Border Patrol agents, empowered to stop and interrogate any person whom they have "reasonable suspicion" might be in this country illegally. This must inevitably lead to racial profiling at the hands of overzealous officers, who will take it upon themselves to suspect anyone with brown skin of being a criminal. Not to mention the ruination of lives only because of the accident of birthplace.

But there is another side to this law that is terribly insidious -- the criminalization of any effort to aid or shelter fellow human beings in need. Although I doubt it was the intent of the writers, SB 1070 can be interpreted to make acts as simple as feeding the hungry at a church soup-kitchen, offering water on a 100°+ day, providing a pew to worship God, or even taking children of undocumented workers for a ride in a church-owned vehicle a felony offense.

I don't know any world religion that does not teach compassion, kindness, and love of neighbor. Jesus, for example, commands his followers to love one another as he has loved us. And that to give even a cup of cold water to one who is thirsty is to do the same to Jesus. There is nowhere in the Bible where we are asked to check that person's immigration status first. Human kindness is a central practice of faith, often learned in our very earliest years, and it is universally encouraged. Except, of course, in Arizona.

So basic is love of neighbor to my faith that I believe SB 1070 is in fact a violation of the First Amendment, the free exercise of religion. No government should have the right to punish its citizens for simply following the teachings of Jesus, Moses, Buddha, or Mohammed. For the law of God, the Golden Rule, trumps the state penal code, especially when that code is based on exclusion and hatred.

Either Arizona lawmakers will have to learn that constitutional and moral principle, or they will have to take the Golden Rule off our license plates.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

To Kill an American

  My friend Merwin Goldsmith sent me this commentary.

                               You probably missed this in the rush of news, but there was actually a report that someone in Pakistan had published in a newspaper, an offer of a reward to anyone who killed an American, any American.

                               So an Australian dentist wrote an editorial the following day to let everyone know what an American is . So they would know when they found one. (Good one, mate!!!!)

                               An American is English, or French, or Italian, Irish, German, Spanish , Polish, Russian or Greek. An American may also be Canadian, Mexican, African, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Australian, Iranian, Asian, or Arab, or Pakistani or Afghan.

                               An American may also be a Comanche, Cherokee, Osage, Blackfoot, Navaho, Apache, Seminole or one of the many other tribes known as native Americans.

                               An American is Christian , or he could be Jewish, or Buddhist, or Muslim. In fact, there are more Muslims in America than in Afghanistan. The only difference is that in America they are free to worship as each of them chooses.

                               An American is also free to believe in no religion. For that he will answer only to God, not to the government, or to armed thugs claiming to speak for the government and for God.

                               An American lives in the most prosperous land in the history of the world.

                                The root of that prosperity can be found in the Declaration of Independence , which recognizes the God-given right of each person to the pursuit of happiness.

                               An American is generous. Americans have helped out just about every other nation in the world in their time of need, never asking a thing in return.

                               When Afghanistan was over-run by the Soviet army 20 years ago, Americans came with arms and supplies to enable the people to win back their country!

                               As of the morning of Sept. 11, Americans had given more than any other nation to the poor in Afghanistan.

                               The national symbol of America, The Statue of Liberty , welcomes your tired and your poor, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores, the homeless, tempest tossed. These in fact are the people who built America

                               Some of them were working in the Twin Towers the morning of Sept. 11 , 2001, earning a better life for their families. It's been told that the World Trade Center victims were from at least 30 different countries, cultures, and first languages, including those that aided and abetted the terrorists.

                                So you can try to kill an American if you must. Hitler did. So did General Tojo , and Stalin , and Mao Tse-Tung, and other blood-thirsty tyrants in the world.. But, in doing so you would just be killing yourself . Because Americans are not a particular people from a particular place. They are the embodiment of the human spirit of freedom. Everyone who holds to that spirit, everywhere, is an American.

                         You may want to  keep this going!
                         Pass this around the World .
                         And pass it around again.  It says it all, for all of us.