Sunday, August 29, 2010

Truly blessed and duly grateful

The Doberman is pregnant. The fireman had just saved her from a fire in her house, rescuing her by carrying her out of the house into her front yard, then he continued to fight the fire.

When he finally got finished putting the fire out, he sat down to catch his breath and rest. A photographer from the Charlotte, North Carolina newspaper noticed her in the distance looking at the fireman. He saw the Doberman walking straight toward the firefighter and wondered what she was going to do.

As he raised his camera, she came up to the tired man who had just saved her life and the lives of her babies and kissed him just as the photographer snapped this photograph.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

How to Live a Life of Faith

Some people think faith means a skill of belief you must acquire before you can start calling upon God. That is not what faith means. Faith is simply the decision, each day, to act as if God’s promises are true and present in your life.

It is important to understand this quality of faith because faith is not a state of mind. It is a practice, a daily practice of calling upon God and trusting that he will respond—even when, sometimes, it seems he is far away.

How do you acquire this practice? By doing it. An easy way to start is simply to affirm your faith verbally. Say, “I believe. God is with me right now.” Even if you haven’t completely taken the words to heart, saying them will cause your mind gradually to follow along.

Then pray this prayer: “Dear Jesus, I place my life and the lives of my loved ones in the shelter of your loving arms. I’m going to trust you to care for us in every way today. You only want good for your children, so whatever happens, you’ll work today for our benefit.”

Once you have done this, approach each of the day’s tasks with the assumption that God is working beside you. The key is to hold on to this conviction even when events seem to be going against you. Remember St. Paul’s great promise: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

And don’t be surprised if living by faith brings you victory more quickly than you had expected. When you arm yourself with faith, you tap a wellspring of intellectual and emotional strength. Before you know it, you’ll be overcoming any calamities you face.

This essay appeared in Guideposts magazine.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

In support of the Islamic community center and mosque

August 24, 2010

Dear Sisters and Brothers in the Diocese of New York

I am writing to tell you that I wholeheartedly join other religious and civic leaders in calling on all parties involved in the dispute over the planned lower Manhattan Islamic community center and mosque to convert a situation that has sadly become ever more divisive into, as Archbishop Timothy Dolan recently stated, "an opportunity for a civil, rational, loving, respectful discussion."

The plan to build this center is, without doubt, an emotionally highly-charged issue. But as a nation with tolerance and religious freedom at its very foundation, we must not let our emotions lead us into the error of persecuting or condemning an entire religion for the sins of its most misguided adherents.

The worldwide Islamic community is no more inclined to violence that any other. Within it, however, a struggle is going on - between the majority who seek to follow a moderate, loving religion and the few who would transform it into an intolerant theocracy intent on persecuting anyone, Muslim or otherwise, with whom they disagree. We should all, as Christians, reach out in friendship and love to the peaceful Islamic majority and do all in our power to build and strengthen bridges between our faiths. We should also all remember that the violence and hateful behavior of the extremist are not confined to any one religion. Over the centuries we Christians have numbered more than a few among us who have perpetrated unspeakable atrocities in Christ's name.

I must admit that I also have a more personal connection with this issue. At the Episcopal Diocese of New York we know the leaders of this project, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan. We know that they are loving, gentle people, who epitomize Islamic moderation. We know that as Sufis, they are members of an Islamic sect that teaches a universal belief in man's relationship to God that is not dissimilar from mystic elements in certain strains of Judaism and Christianity. Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan are, without question, people to whom Christians of good will should reach out with the hand of hospitality and friendship, as they reach out to us. I understand and support their desire to build an Islamic center, intended in part to promote understanding and tolerance among different religions.

For these reasons I applaud the positions taken by Governor Patterson, Mayor Bloomberg and others and look forward to furthering the efforts to resolve this issue. I am convinced, aided and guided by the One God who is creator of all, that people of goodwill can find a solution that will strengthen, rather than divide, the human condition,

The Right Reverend Mark S. Sisk
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Let everyone sweep in front of his own front door, and the whole world will be clean."
-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wife To James Whelan

I was so glad to see that Teresa Deevy’s Wife To James Whelan, which opened last night at the Mint Theater, got such a great review in today’s New York Times. It would have received a rave from me if had been wearing my critic’s hat these days instead of my producer’s. I will be posting my interview with the Mint’s artistic director, Jonathan Bank, as soon as it appears in NCR.

I have never seen show at the Mint that wasn’t excellent, but this one is especially powerful. As the Times says, this production “is never less than compelling.” Hooray for the Mint for finding this forgotten play and bringing it to life. I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since I saw it last Wednesday. Stay tuned for my interview with Jonathan that will tell you more about this play and the two-year project dedicated to Deevy, who had had much success at the Abbey in the 1930s and who is largely unknown now. That was a huge loss for generations of theatergoers. Let’s hope that thanks to the Mint’s efforts she will never be forgotten again.

(In photo, by Carol Rosegg, are Janie Brookshire and Shawn Fagan.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Broadway Blessing 2010

James Barbour (in photo), Carol Hall, Anthony Newfield, Catherine Russell, Charles West, The Broadway Blessing Choir, Project Dance and other distinguished guests will be among the performing artists taking part in the 14th annual Broadway Blessing, 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 13 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The interfaith service of song, dance and story has been bringing the theatre community together every September since 1997 to ask God’s blessing on the new season.

This year’s event is dedicated to Lynn Redgrave (1943 – 2010), whose presence at a number of events in the Cathedral was always an inspiration and whose dedication to theater and the performing arts will offer inspiration for generations to come. She delivered a moving theatre reflection at last year’s Blessing, talking about her faith, her career and her battle with breast cancer, and offering a joyous recitation of Psalm 23. This year, the audience will sing that Psalm in her honor.

The evening will celebrate the 50th anniversary of two American classics: The Fantasticks and To Kill A Mockingbird.

The Fantasticks, which opened Off Broadway in 1960, has become the longest-running production in the history of the American stage and one of the most frequently produced musicals in the world. Charles West, a member of the cast, will join us to sing “Try To Remember.” West has appeared on Broadway in The Scarlet Pimpernel, Show Boat and Cyrano The Musical.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, published in 1960, remains as relevant today as it did a half century ago. Broadway Blessing welcomes actor Anthony Newfield, who recently played the role of Atticus Finch at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts in California. Newfield’s recent Broadway credits include The Royal Family and Waiting for Godot.

The Broadway Blessing Choir under the direction of Bruce Neswick, Director, Cathedral Music, will perform a number of hits from Broadway musicals from 1960, in keeping with the 50th anniversary theme, followed by an audience “sing-a-long”. The Very Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski, Dean and The Rev. Thomas Miller, Canon for Liturgy & Art from the Cathedral will be joined by Rabbi Jill Hausman of The Actors' Temple and The Right Rev'd Andrew St. John, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration (The Little Church Around the Corner), as officiants in the 75-minute program.

Founded and produced by yours truly, Broadway Blessing was conceived as a service of song, dance and story designed to seek God's grace on the new theatre season. Past participants have included Marian Seldes, Frances Sternhagen, Boyd Gaines, Edward Herrmann, Anna Manahan, KT Sullivan, Mary-Mitchell Campbell, J. Mark McVey, Tituss Burgess, Kathleen Chalfant, Billy Porter, Elizabeth Swados, Ken Prymus, Three Mo’ Tenors and Broadway Inspirational Voices.

Broadway Blessing is free; reservations are not needed. For more information please visit

Broadway Blessing is made possible by the generous support of the Church of the Transfiguration (Little Church Around the Corner) and many wonderful friends.

“The opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty.”
-- Anne Lamont

Sunday, August 22, 2010

“I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.”
-- Harry Emerson Fosdick

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Deep in prayer

I love it that the dog seems to be praying just as intensely as the little boy.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Another Parade in Town


I was ready to get up and dance before the curtain went up on Kate Weare’s newest work, Bright Land, at the Joyce Theater last week. That’s because The Crooked Jades, called “the finest string band in America” (The Boston Herald) were starting up “Gonna Write Me a Letter,” and I was about to hop up and hop to it when the curtain went up instead, and there they were, the rarest of beings, live musicians on a modern dance stage.

Two couples danced, giving us a combination of hip hop moves, partner interplay, and echoes of each other, sudden moves that could become violent, and the occasional, and getting-to-be-predictable collapsing.

Clothes seemed to be a metaphor for intimacy; a little literal and in other circumstances I would groan, but it worked because the dancers were careful and deliberate about the gesture. The women removed outer dresses and tossed them aside. Men were more subtle when they removed vests and shirts; the women generally took these and carried them away.

The musicians were excellent, and the relationship with the dances was blessedly subtle, which was a relief, that is when there was a relationship. Sometimes there didn’t seem to be any at all, for the refreshed bluegrass and traditional folk music was so wonderful that it dominated the performance. During “Goin’ to California,” however, the relationship grew more secure: the four dancers walked across the stage as exhaustion came on (I’m getting exhausted by exhaustion on the dance floor), the words “I am so tired, sing me to sleep” became the theme, exhaustion turned to love, transcendence, and hope, which was a nice final note, but too much had gone before, and the hope was on the muddy side. I didn’t believe it. I wished I did.

But -- most of the hope was in the music, which was death-defying marvelous.

During intermission, I turned to my friend Lynne and said, “Every new piece I’ve seen since the spring has been dark, dark, dark, and full of angst and fatigue. I wish they’d stop! I almost didn’t want to stay for another piece of dark angst, confusion, and fatigue.

Well, I wish I’d wished for a million dollars. But failing that, I got to see Monica Bill Barnes’ 2009 piece, Another Parade, a work that is bright, happy, fresh, playful, and completely original.

A woman pounced onto the bright stage to the music of JS Bach. Her feet were bare, the rest of her was sensibly garbed in a gray knee length pleated skirt and black turtleneck. She tried out steps, liked them if they worked, pouted and gestured vehemently to us when they didn’t. We were amused and curious. After reacting to the music, every so often, she referred to us with a “How’m I doing” expression or one of delighted triumph.

Then there were four of them, all wearing the same skirt and sweater garb in muted colors. Some people thought they were librarians. I thought of them as Catholic schoolgirls letting loose (and now you know all about me).

The performers were bright, wild, goofy. They shook their hips as if that was a great new discovery. Every so often, they pulled down their sweaters to show off shoulders or lifted their sweaters to show off their abs. And every so often, they opened their mouths as if to scream. I realize this all sounds odd, but you must believe me when I say that it all seemed weirdly coherent because the performers were so clear and coherent about what they were doing. They and we took a goofy pleasure at what was happening on stage, and the performers regularly checked in with us. Then, oh, why not, one of the dancers ran off stage into the audience and around the balcony and sat and watched the other three perform before re-joining them. As I watched, her watching the act took on poignancy. The idea brought the act of watching into focus. I know, it’s been done before, but this felt new.

The music switched from JS Bach to James Brown, Bobby Byrd, Bacharach/David, Joe South, Edward Holland, and others, and those girls/librarians kept us fascinated by their personalities, humor, and whatever were they going to do next. We were always interested in what that would be.

Finally, they ran into the audience and brought four of us back on stage (one man) and got them to shake their hips and dance. After a little nudging and our encouragement, they got into it. The newcomers were then directed to throw up their arms in victory, brightly colored confetti (some of which had been strewn on the floor throughout) falling down on them all. We cheered – hurray! For what? I don’t know! The audience members returned to the audience, and the four girls/librarians/kids at heart sauntered off. I think we even waved, like the guests at the Trapp Family Ball. Goodbye!

So no worries. Another Parade was the freshest looking piece in the Joyce two-nighter (and the oldest). I haven’t the faintest idea what it meant and I don’t care. We had a great time, and I certainly didn’t feel exhausted at the end! I don’t know if it was because it was fresh, witty, and well performed, or that it seemed in its way to celebrate the idiosyncrasies of individuality, the quirkiness and the shock of being human, which is really quite funny and quite poignant, both. And that is that.

Kate Weare Company. Artistic Director: Kate Weare. Bright Land. Choreography: Kate Weare; Costume design: Sarah Cubbage; Lighting design: Brian Jones; Dancers: Adrian Clark, Douglas Gillespie, Leslie Kraus, and Marlena Penney Oden. Musicians: Jeff Kazor, Lisa Berman, collin Gallahue, Charlie Rose, and Rose Sinclair.

Monica Bill Barnes and Company. Artistic Director: Monica Bill Barnes. Another Parade. Choroegrapher: Monica Bill Barnes; Costume and set design: Kelly Hanson; Lighting designer: Jane cox; Performers: Anna Bass, Monica Bill Barnes, Charlotte Bydwell, and Celia Rowlson-Hall.

Writer/singer 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.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

No Leader of the Pack


Everyone seems to have a take on Wonderland lately. That includes Andrea Miller and her Gallim Dance company, who appeared last week at the Joyce Theater to perform Miller’s powerful, witty, and terrifying work of that name. A dozen dancers in gray (imagine Victoria’s Secret washed to death) writhed, crawled, and romped together in a series of disturbing vignettes, during which one person frequently broke off to be different, albeit just as disturbing, for just a moment.

In the beginning, a few of the dancers pranced about the stage as horses, with the sound of a cheering audience and children laughing in the background. After loping and lolling about, they pranced off as another group emerged from the dark singing the "Mickey Mouse Club" theme song. M-I-C-K-E-Y…Why? I suspect it wasn’t for the usual reason.

The stage remained a dark place where the performers smiled, danced gregariously to jazz, and shook their heads outfitted with clumps of hair sticking out of skull caps – all kinda gothic you know, and like, pretty intense. Their dancing comprised shaking, writhing, and rolling – usually violently, but they were also usually cheerful and triumphant as they went about their circus life. Once a dancer shook vigorously and all the sweat rippled out in fierce droplets, and the woman next to me gasped. It was, yes, magnificent. We could have gasped all night. There was plenty else that was fascinating to react to. One dancer stepped on another’s palms-up hands as if they were stilts; a group formed a pyramid, which immediately crumbled. A dancer slid to the floor and lay there. Dead? Who can say? But it must have looked like fun because soon, one by one, they gleefully copied the death. Happy lemmings all. A performer lip synched to a song in a high register – it was eerie, like Joel Grey in Cabaret. A leg and foot served as a microphone, and the song, “Do you want to ride with my pack?” laid down the theme’s track with a force that made you need to look away, if only you could. They crawled toward us in the darkness, reached out, and conformed to the expectations of the music that kept changing for no reason, other than it changed – from Chopin (who didn’t make the program notes) to Black Dice and Joanne Newsome, among others.

As they moved on all fours around the stage, their stage being an exhausted one, I thought of the Donner Party, and that this exhausted, dark group would just give up and eat each other, and then most likely turn to us, with all smiles. At the end, one dancer fell like a wounded horse and struggled to get up as the pack cheered. The dancer pushed on, fell, rose again, and injured beyond remedy, struggled on.

Miller claims this disturbing, witty vision of pack mentality, was “deeply inspired” by an installation of artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s in Barcelona called Head On. The comparison between that artwork (easily found on the Internet) and Wonderland is to understand why Miller needs to point our attention to Head On in relation to her work. Cai’s work completes it. Head On shows 99 wolves charging and hitting into a glass wall. Cai describes it as “an installation that depicts certain types of collective behavior or collective heroism, tragic and brave.” After seeing Head On, Miller wanted to explore pack mentality in the human instinct. Of Cai, she added, “I felt like he did it in a way that was so powerful and simple. He was making a political commentary on [an]…historical moment where people fell into line, following leaders who were leading them astray.” That is Miller’s interpretation, and her understanding of such behavior shows little redemption, courage, or hope.

Wonderland is certainly a strong piece and one responds viscerally to the remarkable, muscled imagination that created it. It’s certainly darkly funny. Powerful yes, simple no. Miller’s response to a piece that had an immediately perceived beginning, middle, and end was to construct a forty minute piece where we only have the middle of the pack. We’re not sure how it started, and we know the ending may be bad – as Julie Jordan sings in Carousel – and we can’t get out of the middle and aren’t sure we want to. Was that the point of Miller’s Wonderland? Well, it made me think, and that’s good, except if we’re in the middle of the pack, do we want to think? Well, there’s a thought.

After Wonderland creeped off stage, Camille A. Brown’s company presented five short dances. It was unfortunate programming. Wonderland should precede our heading for the exits, but too late now. We saw an except from Brown’s New Second Line, a fast, happy, rubbery, energetic, and well done piece set against images of New Orleans folk enjoying a parade. I felt cheated not at seeing the whole piece; this was not enough, and I only understood what it was about after looking at the program notes. But the energy was wonderful. I enjoyed that the bodies in the company vary in size, just like real people. They are earthy and earthbound and human, with terrific energy. I liked Good and Grown, Brown’s well performed solo in torn jeans and t-shirt to a different version of "It Was a Very Good Year," its lyrics revised for a different sensibility and gender. Her movements were jagged, often slow and angular, at times sulky. As the song took her to later years, Brown showed luxurious balance and slower moves. The music arrangement became more rhythmic, but in either arrangement, she did not convey a comprehensive attitude – was she looking back? Forward? Or just dancing? The energy was also just fine and fun in Girls Verse 1, and in the sassy duet of Brown with Juel P. Lane in Been There, Done That, but I’ve seen City of Rain before in other modern dance companies: it’s yet another ensemble of dancers moving and rolling and stretching on the floor. Brown’s company showed us lots of vital, good dancing, but attitudes were out of focus, probably inevitable in a program of short pieces. Brown’s troupe is enormously interesting. I would love to see more.

Gallim Dance will appear at New York City Center’s Fall For Dance September 28-29.
Gallim Dance. Artistic Director: Andrea Miller. Wonderland. Choreography: Andrea Miller; Lighting design: Vincent Vigilante; Costume design: Jose Solis; Dancers: Paula Alonso, Billy Barry, Matthew Branham, Bret Easterling, Caroline Fermin, Andrew Murdock, Troy Ogilvie, Francesca Romo, Erin Shand, Dan Walczak, Jonathan Windham, and Arika Yamada.

Camille A. Brown & Dancers. Artistic Director: Camille A. Brown. Choreography: Camille A. Brown; Lighting Supervisor: Burke Wilmore, Philip Trevino. Dancers: Antonia Brown, Julia Eichten, Lisa Einstein, Belen Estrada, Jasmine Forest, Otis Donovan Herring, Juel D. Lane, Mate Natalio, David Norsworthy, Francine Elizabeth Ott, Mora-Amina Parker, DuJuan Smart Jr., Keon Thoulouis, and Clarice Young.

Writer/singer 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.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

James Barbour to sing at this year's Broadway Blessing

Broadway powerhouse James Barbour will sing at this year's Broadway Blessing, 7 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It's free, and you don't need reservations. Plan to come, and stay tuned here for more details.

In the show business world of ever-changing casts, Kate Burton, who had been announced as a possibility to present a theatre reflection, sends her regrets that she won't be able to make it this year. But we still have Charles West, Anthony Newfield, Catherine Russell, Project Dance, the Broadway Blessing Choir, a tribute to Lynn Redgrave, who gave last year's theatre reflection, and so much more.

"Our vocation is not to give visibility to our power but to God's compassion."
-- Henri Nouwen, Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Mockingbird Parables

New Book Offers a Unique Approach to the Enduring Spiritual Lessons of To Kill a Mockingbird on the Classic’s 50th Anniversary

The story of lawyer Atticus Finch’s stand against racial injustice in a small Alabama town told through the eyes of his young daughter, Scout, Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird is beloved for its indelible characters and moral courage. It is also rich with spiritual lessons that are as relevant today as they were when the book was first published in 1960, says Matt Litton, who takes a unique approach to mining those lessons in his new book, The Mockingbird Parables (Tyndale House, July 2010).

Litton sees essential characters and themes of the book as parables teaching about compassion, grace, courage, and the meaning of real community. “There are messages in To Kill a Mockingbird that allow me to hear parts of the gospel to which I had become deaf,” he says.

The novel is shot through with Christian themes, exemplified when Atticus tells Scout that because of his Christian values, he has to defend Tom Robinson: “This something that goes to the essence of a man's conscience—Scout, I couldn't go to church and worship God if I didn't try to help that man.”

Litton identifies parables in the themes of To Kill a Mockingbird, such as:

•Caring for our neighbors: Maycomb is a community with major warts (racism the most egregious) but there are also instances that demonstrate our responsibility to serve our immediate neighborhoods. Through stories of the town’s men coming together to fight a house fire; the pastor at Tom Robinson’s church shutting the church doors until a collection is taken up for Tom’s family; and Jem noticing a schoolmate’s hunger and inviting him home for lunch, we are reminded “what it means to be people who love and care for one another.”

•The role of women in faith: Scout Finch is a tomboy who prefers overalls to dresses and who refuses to fall into step with church and societal dictates about the role of women. Strong female role models—her neighbor Miss Maudie and the family’s housekeeper, Calpurnia—help Scout protect her spirit from being tempered by the expectations of others. “Scout displays a beautiful determination and strength unfettered by the teachings of her church and community,” Litton says.“As people of faith, we should recognize and encourage the strength, spirit, and God-given qualities of all people no matter their gender.”

•Atticus Finch as a model of Christian courage: Atticus defends an African American man falsely accused of rape in a culture where racism is so prevalent that he calls it Maycomb’s “usual disease.” As Miss Maudie says, Atticus is one of those people who will stand up and do the right thing even when no one else will.

“Atticus Finch teaches us that courage is far more than one heroic moment; it is a way of life and a principal guided by our faith in someone greater than ourselves,” Litton says. It’s a reminder to followers of Jesus that “courage is not fearlessness, but the sum of all the small decisions we make each day to move the world closer to redemption.”

•The Christian ethic of financial responsibility: To Kill a Mockingbird takes place during the Great Depression, and the characters practice a very different financial ethic than that which prevails in today’s culture. One character, Mr. Cunningham, a farmer with financial problems, is shown to be someone who will not borrow what he cannot pay back. It’s a value that was common in the 1930s but seems lost on us today, Litton points out.

Litton shows how To Kill a Mockingbird repeatedly reinforces how giving is essential to faith, with gifts often given by people who are poor and have little to offer. “The spirit with which the giving is performed demonstrates a deep sense of personal responsibility and respect for their neighbors. If we are to give as God would have us give, these attitudes should reflect the bent of our hearts,” Litton says

•Compassion: One of the greatest examples of compassion for a neighbor is portrayed in the character of Tom Robinson, who has made a habit of being neighborly to the lonely and abused Mayella Ewell. This compassion eventually costs him his life.

The book’s message of compassion is articulated by Atticus, who tells his daughter that people can never truly understand others unless they somehow climb into their skin and walk around in it. This is one of the charges of Christian faith, Litton says. “We have managed to relegate Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself to the periphery of our faith practice,” Litton writes, “Harper Lee articulates it through Miss Maudie, who points out that some people are so concerned with what heaven will be like that they never think about how they should live here on earth and what changes they might bring about even on their own street.”

•Parenting for Compassion: Litton, the father of four young children, looks to Atticus Finch as a parenting role model. Atticus parents with wisdom and an implicit sense of trust, allowing the immediate community to invest in the maturing of his children. Litton says there’s a lesson in that trust for today’s parents. “We might be mistaken by shielding children from our neighbors, buying into the idea that the world is no longer safe for them. I think our distrust has more to do with our own isolation. Maybe we don’t trust each other with our children simply because we do not take the time to know each other.”

The Mockingbird Parables is a deeply personal work for Litton. As a high school English teacher, To Kill a Mockingbird is a work he loves sharing with his students. It also reminds him of his late sister Rachel, a young woman with a Scout-like spirit who died unexpectedly. His goal, he says, is to echo the gospel’s call to put compassion into action, encouraging readers “to walk out your front doors and endeavor to truly know and love each other.”

About the Author
Matt Litton is a writer, educator, and speaker. He completed undergraduate work in English and Religion and holds a Masters of Arts in Education from Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville. He and his wife, Kristy, have four children. They live in Cincinnati.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind. Romans 12:2

“People often manufacture their own unhappiness by the negative manner in which they think about things. Work with
your mind, exercise disciplinary control, and re-slant your thoughts for happier living. Drain the mind, by consciously conceiving of yourself as dropping out every destructive thought, every fear, every inferiority feeling. Picture your mind as completely empty. Then start filling it with thoughts of God, and of Christ, thoughts about every good and pleasant thing. Practice this new habit regularly twice every day, morning and evening, to counteract the older and negative habit of allowing unhappy things to occupy your mind. In due course, unhappy thoughts will not feel at home in your mind, and happy thoughts will transform you.”
-- Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Secrets of the Trade

It’s no surprise that John Glover gives a smart performance in Secrets of the Trade, Primary Stages’ first show of the season that opened last night at 59E59 Theaters. What is unexpected is that Noah Robbins, his 19-year-old costar in this New York premiere of Jonathan Tolins' delightful new comedy, is every inch his equal.

At first all I could think of was Eugene Jerome, the smart-aleck, showbiz-loving New York Jewish kid in Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs. During intermission I found out why, because Robbins had played him in the recent short-lived Broadway revival. But that initial impression faded as Robbins took command of the role, turning Andy Lipman, a smart-aleck, showbiz-loving New York Jewish kid, into a wholly believable and likable character. His timing, delivery, gestures - everything -- were just right. Will there be a trilogy about this character as there was about Eugene? I’d go back.

Although the play, directed by Matt Shakman, wasn’t as strong as the acting -- the second act wandered a bit -- it managed to make engaging that much-done story line of adoring acolyte and aging star. In this case it’s Andy, a precocious teenager who wants to follow in the footsteps of his idol, Martin Kerner, a six-time Tony-winning writer and director.

A second plot involves Andy’s embracing of his homosexuality. For the most part, this is handled well, although tightening this development would make the second act run smoother.

The supporting cast members also handle their parts well -- Amy Aquino as Andy’s mother, Mark Nelson as his father and Bill Brochtrup as Kerner’s assistant -- and former theatre-struck acolyte -- Bradley.

I laughed quite a lot, which isn’t always the case when I see “comedies.” I liked the show business references, such as when Martin turns to his assistant, who has been working quietly at his desk while Martin argues with Andy’s mother, and says, “Bradley, you haven’t had a line in eight pages,” and the family humor, such as Andy assuring his mother she still has the power to push his buttons and make him feel guilty like no one else.

Mark Worthington designed the simple, workable sets, Alejo Vietti the simple, appropriate costumes and Mike Durst the effective lighting.

Tickets for Secrets of the Trade, which runs through Sept. 4, are available by calling (212) 279-4200. For more information, visit

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Chicago Blessing?

It has been my dream that Broadway Blessing would expand to other locations around the country and even to theatre cities like Dublin and London. What has been needed is someone there to get it going. Now that dream just might be coming true in Chicago.

Last month I did a 90-minute presentation on Broadway Blessing, the interfaith service of song, dance and story I founded in 1997 to bring the theatre community together to ask God’s blessing on the new season, for “Encountering the Sacred in the Theatre,” the Christians in Theatre Arts (CITA) symposium here in NYC. At the end, one of the participants, Les Rorick, who is studying acting in Chicago, approached me and said he’d like to start a Blessing in his city. How wonderful of him! We are e-mailing back and forth with ideas. If anyone in Chicago wants to help out, please get in touch with Les through Facebook. Prayers for this venture are appreciated. (And if anyone wants to start a Blessing in their city, please get in touch with me through Facebook or LinkedIn.)

For all those in NYC, mark your calendars for this year’s Blessing -- 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 13th at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, Amsterdam Avenue and 112th Street. I’m working out the details now, but so far the evening will include a theatre reflection by theatre, film and TV actress Kate Burton (in photo), whose most recent New York appearance was this past summer when she portrayed actress Katherine Cornell in A.R. Gurney’s new play The Grand Manner at Lincoln Center (final confirmation pending). Last year the theatre reflection was given by Lynn Redgrave, who this spring lost her battle with breast cancer. We will offer a memorial tribute to her this year.

Charles West, currently in the 50th anniversary cast of The Fantasticks, will sing “Try To Remember.”  Before The Fantasticks, he was in the Broadway casts of The Scarlet Pimpernel, Show Boat and Cyrano the Musical.

To celebrate another half century of a classic, actor Anthony Newfield, whose most recent Broadway credits include The Royal Family and Waiting for Godot, will perform a selection from To Kill a Mockingbird, the play based on Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which was published 50 years ago. Newfield recently played protagonist Atticus Finch onstage in California.

Also scheduled to appear: Catherine Russell, who was recently inducted into The Guinness Book of World Records for not missing a day of work since 1987. She has starred in Perfect Crime since its first performance on April 18, 1987 and has never, ever taken a sick day or vacation.  She will offer a reading about spirituality and God's love. Project Dance will perform to the hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”

The Broadway Blessing Choir under the direction of Bruce Neswick, Director/Cathedral Music, will perform a number of Broadway hits followed by a “sing-a-long”.  The Very Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski, Dean, and The Rev. Thomas Miller, Canon for Liturgy & Arts, from the Cathedral will be joined by Rabbi Jill Hausman of The Actors' Temple and The Rev. Mitties DeChamplain of St. Clement's Episcopal Church as participants in the 75-minute program.

Past participants have included Lynn Redgrave, Marian Seldes, Frances Sternhagen, Boyd Gaines, Edward Herrmann, Anna Manahan, KT Sullivan, Mary-Mitchell Campbell, J. Mark McVey, Tituss Burgess, Kathleen Chalfant, Billy Porter, Elizabeth Swados, Ken Prymus, Three Mo’ Tenors and Broadway Inspirational Voices.

Broadway Blessing is free and reservations are not needed.  

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."
-- Martin Luther King Jr.