Monday, December 31, 2012


Okay, I admit it. I'm superstitious. I know it doesn't make sense, but I've always been a little bit afraid of Friday the 13th. Now you tell me we're going to have a whole year of "13"? Saints preserve us!

What is it about that number that led some hotels to eliminate that floor and just go from 12 to 14? I mean, I'm not the only one with this irrational fear.

There are all sorts of explanations. Some say it is because there were 13 around the table at the last supper, Jesus and the 12 disciples. Or maybe it's because 13 is the first "teen" and we all know the teen years are the worst! Or the best, depending on your perspective.

And that's the whole problem. I looked back at 1913 to see what historical events had happened in that year. Was it an unlucky year? Some would say so. That's the year our country established the income tax as we know it today. And the year we established the federal reserve bank. Makes that fiscal cliff sound even more ominous, doesn't it?

It was the year Jesse Owens was born. And Richard Nixon. Woodrow Wilson became president with democrats in control of the house and the senate. King Tut's tomb was discovered. Gas was 8 cents a gallon and a new Model T cost $550. (About $14,000 in today's dollars.) Lincoln Highway, the first road across America, opened.

So, is that lucky or unlucky?

I mean, there are 52 weeks in a year, so we should have 13 months instead of 12. Then every month would be 4 weeks long. A typical television season has 13 episodes. It was the lucky jersey number of basketball giant Wilt Chamberlain. Our country began with 13 colonies and still bears 13 stripes on the flag. And that little country singer phenomenon Taylor Swift says 13 is her lucky number.  Who wouldn't want luck like hers?

We can't put the world in one of those hotel elevators and just skip 2013. Like it or not, it's the next floor. We have to step out and make our own luck. Good or bad. Or better. We can always strive for better.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sleeping on the water

        We arrived at "our place" (rented) in the Keys a couple of days ago, but before I post pictures of our new life, I wanted to share a story about our trip down here.
        Steve is known for seeking economical accommodations and I often tease him about the "bargain" that turned into a nightmare when we discovered the motel backed up to a railroad. A train went by at midnight and 5 a.m. and shook us right out of bed.
        But this trip's bargain may replace the train story forever. In his defense, I must give Steve several stars. He had already agreed to add about 150 miles to our trip from Michigan to the Florida Keys so I could visit the beautiful beach in Panama City. After a day and a half of driving, we arrived in Panama City about 2 p.m. Thursday and started looking for a motel on the beach. We had stayed there for three months two years ago, so we knew there were lots of reasonably priced hotels.
Fantastic view from our room.
         But we were traveling with a cat and none of the places we checked would accept pets. Steve had already been turned down at at least six places. We were even considering leaving the cat in the van overnight. But then we stopped at a runned down older place. I knew something was up when Steve returned to the car with a big grin.

         A deal, he said. The owner would accept our cat but the only room available had a problem. The roof had leaked and they were cleaning it up. They would rent it to us for $40 cash, under the table. That was the deal.
          The whole place was questionable. In addition to the people working on the roof, other workers were repairing the stucco walls. An older, grandpa sort of guy and a kid about 12 or so were building something that looked like bed frames out of 2X6. The hammering and sawing wasn't so bad but they were doing the work in the walkway so we had to dance around and through the project in order to get our stuff to the room.
          While we waited for the manager and her teenage son to sweep out the room and add an armload of threadbare towels, I walked along my beloved beach that I had walked so many times two years before. It was chilly, in the 50s and windy, but sunny and I had a great walk. I decided the surf sounded like the Earth's heartbeat. In and out, whoosh, whoosh.
       Although the building was tattered, and the property littered with soda cans and remnants of the roof repairs, the view from the patio in front of our room was spectacular. Right there on the beautiful beach. Out of the wind on the patio, with the sun shining,  it was warm enough to sit and have a drink, chat with a crazy tenant who lived in the room next door and watch the sun set.Families walked the beach and children giggled as they played on the raised deck over part of the motel. The next morning, the school bus would stop for those same kids, but when I saw them playing I thought they were on vacation. I had no idea they lived there.
         "This is where the poverty of the beach goes," said our next door neighbor, who kept his kayak in his room.
Steve vistis with our neighbor outside the room.
        Our room had ceramic tile on half the floor, under a table in front of a window that overlooked the beach, or would have if the window wasn't fogged up. The tile floor ran in front of a kitchenette with a rusted fridge and a greasy stove and a tiny sink, past an awkward partition into a little bathroom with a shower stall and a toilet that was hinky about flushing.
        In the center of the room were two double beds on carpet. We didn't even go over to that part of the room until we returned from the restaurant later that night. I sat on the side of the bed and removed my shoes. When I put my feet down on the carpet I couldn't believe the squish. The carpet was beyond soggy. The leaky roof had left the carpet in inches of water. When we pulled back the bedspread, half of one of the beds was soaked as well. I slept on the other half of the wet bed because it was on the edge of the carpet and I could get in and out on the dry tile. Steve slept in the other bed and had to wade in and out across a sea of smelly carpet.
              We had to laugh about Steve's "deal." I'm sure he'll bring it up anytime I suggest I want a room on water!!!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Next Big Thing

This week I am honored to participate in the Next Big Thing Blog Chain, featuring authors from across the United States, Canada and beyond. I’ve enjoyed connecting with authors such as Colorado mystery writer Pat Bertram, whose current big thing is working on an online serial with other writers.I was invited to join by A.F Stewart  of Nova Scotia, who is working on a steam punk horror story set in Halifax.
      We've been asked to answer a set of questions about our latest project, which for me is the December 1 release of One Shoe Off. This is the second book in the Jordan Daily News Mystery series. Like the first book, Great News Town, it is set in the pre-internet 1980s at a  small newspaper in a fictional Chicago suburb.

What is your working title of your book?
One Shoe Off
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Molly Zelko, a real-life, crime-fighting newspaper editor, disappeared in Joliet, Illinois, in 1957, leaving  her shoes behind as a sign she was nabbed by gangsters.  Her story is legendary in Joliet, and I became familiar with it when I worked at the Joliet Herald-News in the 1980s.  I wondered what would happen if the spirit of a powerful journalist from the past were to haunt the 1985 newsroom in my fictional Chicago suburb.
What genre does your book fall under?
One Shoe Off is a mystery/thriller. Zelda Machinko, the missing newspaper editor, tells her chapters in a gritty, first-person, present-tense voice, with an appreciative nod to Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane and all Noir mysteries.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Zelda tells me (don’t your characters talk to you?) that she should be played by Liz Taylor. Since Zelda disappeared in 1956, she doesn’t know that Liz isn’t around anymore. But I like to think Glenn Close would do a fabulous job. She's got grit and glamour, a tough combination. Investigative reporter Duke looks like a young Tom Selleck, with a bit of George Clooney’s dry wit. City editor Josie is a tomboy spitfire, looks like Ellen DeGeneres but tiny like Kristen Chenowith.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
As the spirit of a long-missing newspaper editor reveals her tale, the people and places of the past intertwine with the passions and problems of the present, the gritty gangsters of the 1950s collide with the government graft of the 1980s.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
One Shoe Off is self-published.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I’ve been toying with this story for several years, but just started writing in earnest about a year ago.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I love the series writing of Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Walter Mosely, Michael Connelly, and many others in which the development of the characters and their continuing relationships is as important to each book as solving the mystery. 
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The whole Jordan Daily News Series is inspired by my career in journalism, but this book especially is dedicated to the journalists I worked with over the past 40 years and their unflinching devotion to truth and justice.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
My books work on many different levels. If you just want a fast read and a satisfying story, it’s there. But if you like literary symbolism, you’ll find that as well. In this case, for instance, the title can be taken at face value. Zelda kicked off one shoe. But on a deeper level it describes a story in which everything is “off” just a little. People don’t do what’s expected, things don’t work out exactly right.

As part of the December launch of One Shoe Off, you can go to Goodreads to register for a giveaway. Five copies will be given away at the end of the month. Also at the end of the month, the Kindle version will have free downloads Dec. 26-30.

This blog chain will continue next week as more authors post about their latest projects. Let me introduce you to West Michigan career counselor and author Sue Maciak  and Illinois vampire romance writer Denise Unland. Click on their names to check their blogs now, and be sure to check back next week to read about their Next Big Thing.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Better than real

What is it about an impressionistic painting that captures something a photograph misses? Well, that's part of the magic of theater. It was my great privilege to see "War Horse" at Wharton Center on Saturday and it is beyond-belief fabulous. Yes, these are puppet horses, with puppetteers in plain sight. And yes, this is an epic story of war and destruction, spanning years and battlefields and several different countries. And yes, it is all done with a minimal set. And yet, it is so real. So heartbreakingly real. In the climactic moment when a German soldier and a British soldier come out of their fox holes and work together to free a horse tangled in the barbed wire, I cried like I never cried at a movie. I cried for the injured horse and for all the soldiers in all the senseless wars.  I love laughing in the theater, and I laughed at spots in War Horse. But when a play can make me cry, that's real. That's better than real.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Just for fun

Even when I'm not reviewing, I love to go to theater. Which is why I identify so well with "the man in the chair" in The Drowsy Chaperone. He loves musical theater so much that just listening to a recording of a favorite old musical brings it to life in his living room. I first saw this show on Broadway with Michigan's own Sutton Foster. Tonight I relived that experience at Cornerstone University.

What a delightful show! Catchy music, snappy dancing, flashy costumes, outrageous over acting, sappy love stories, terrible head-slapping comedy. (Not to mention Kyle Juresich as the groom skating around the stage blindfolded!) And, of course, a great man in the chair, played by local actor Greg Rogers. As he says, musical theater is a wonderful escape into another world, and The Drowsy Chaperone is an excellent example. This is a challenging show with lots of sets coming and going; one big production number after another, lightening fast costume changes and some demanding solos.But Producer Jennifer Hunter and her cast and crew did an excellent job.

I'm so glad I took a break from a thousand other things I should be doing during this busy holiday season and caught a performance tonight. The show continues through Sunday. Don't miss it!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Normal? What's that?

I have to admit I was a little doubtful going  to Thursday's opening performance of "Next to Normal" at Actors' Theatre. I worship the American musical, characters breaking into song because it's the natural thing to do. But singing about mental illness? I mean, we can't even TALK about mental illness. But somehow this show makes the singing seem perfectly... well, normal. And you know why? It's because they're not singing about mental illness. They are singing about love. And the hurt that love brings. This is a family ripped apart at the seams by love and hurt. And it all seems, well, understandable if not almost normal. "Powerful" everyone was saying as the show closed with a standing ovation. See my review.
BTW -- Sold out house. Standing ovation. Busses pulling up outside dropping off sections full of enthusiastic patrons. One bus load came all the way from Dayton, Ohio, to see this show on Thursday, a performance of  "A Christmas Carol" at Civic on Friday, and attend classes at Civic on theater arts. Tell me this is the New Normal for local theater.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Shoe Thing

I love shoes and easily have 'many more than I need (especially Merrells). But I'm no competition for Imelda Marcos or Cary Bradstreet on "Sex in the City."  But today I have 100 extra shoes in my kitchen.

I say shoes, not pairs of shoes because they're all facing the same direction, though I don't think they'd fit right or left feet. They're cookies. A kitchen counter full of red cookie shoes. They're all for my Sneak Peek Book Release Party tonight at Grandville Library. (6:30-8 p.m.) The cookies celebrate the publication of my new book, One Shoe Off.

It's about a newspaper editor that disappeared in 1956 leaving just a shoe behind.

Believe me, I have a lot more respect for the shoemaker now ... and the cookie baker too! The dough kept sticking and twisting. Sometimes it would stretch out so the cookie cutout looked more like a snake. And sometimes the thin pointed toe would get brown in the oven way before the rest of the cookie was done.

And I've been playing Lady Macbeth all afternoon, washing my hands and  repeating "Out, out drat spot," because my hands are stained with red food coloring!

Come join us tonight and take a bite out of crime... I mean, cookies.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pie school

I spent the morning in remedial pie school. My mother, 85-year-old Bobbie Merrell,  claims she failed pastry in her high school home-ec class, but everybody says Mom's pie crust is the best ever. So this morning, as she was preparing a pumpkin pie and a blackberry pie for tomorrow's Thanksgiving feast. I paid extra close attention.
She uses one cup of flour, 1/3 cup Crisco, and 3 tablespoons of water for each crust. Today we were making three crusts, one for the pumpkin pie and two for the fruit pie, so she started off with three cups of flour and one cup of shortening.
Secret #1: sift the flour. We've become lazy about that over the years but Mom always sifts the flour. Otherwise you get too much she said.
Secret #2: Use cold shortening. Cold. Mom put it into the measuring cup and put it into the fridge. Then when she decided that wasn't cold enough she set it in the freezer for a few minutes.
Secret #3: Cut shortening into flour with a pastry blender until all the flour has a bit of the shortening. Mom's old pastry bender is different than mine and does a fantastic job.
Secret #4: Use cold water. Mom used water from the dispenser on the fridge. And she's a little stingy on the water. Her mixture looked too crumbly to me to roll out on the pastry cloth, and I would have been tempted to add more water but she said to do so would make it tough.

Secret #5: Work quickly, and don't overwork. Lickity split, mom took a handful of her crumbly dough, rolled it out and then made quick patches. Working the dough too much will make it tough too. It doesn't need to look pretty to be nice and flakey.

Of course, the best part comes tomorrow, after dinner, when we get to eat pie!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Don't be alarmed, the play will go on!

Grand Rapids Civic Theatre's production of "A Christmas Carol" is an evening of fun and inspiration. But I have to admit the biggest laughs on opening night came from the mishaps.
      Just as the first act is really heating up, when Scrooge's long dead partner Jacob Marley calls upon his chums in chains from the netherworld to really scare Scrooge, billows of fog fill the stage. Chains are clanging. Marley is flying and skeletons are popping out of the closet. It's sheer bedlam.  So on opening night when a pair of strobe lights started flashing in the auditorium, at first it seemed like part of the special effects. Except for that ear-piercing squeal on the decibel level of something from the sound system of today's overly enthusiastic rock bands. We put our fingers in our ears, the required pose for many of today's "music" performances.  As the on-stage singing continued in spite of the squeal, we soon realized this wasn't a special effect. This was a malfunctioning fire alarm. The horrible sound continued for what seemed like forever, but was probably less than a minute. For the rest of the show, house manager Mary Jo DeNolf was stationed at the alarm controls in the lobby just in case it went off by mistake again.
      But the next mishap was on stage. Near the end of the second act, when the Ghost of Christmas Future shows Scrooge his own grave. His tombstone, with his name inscribed in bright red lights, opened up from a stage platform, and from the brief glimpse we saw it was an impressive marvel indeed. But no sooner had the stone showed its face but something snapped and BOOM! it was lying face down again. The show continued with Scrooge bemoaning the hidden grave, while backstage and under the stage someone managed to make sure the stone had slipped back into its place in the stage platform just in time to become a floor again for a chorus of singing citizens.
        As is the theater tradition, the show went on. I laughed on the way home to write my review, which gave only a brief, necessary mention of the mishaps. And I thanked my lucky stars that at least we had avoided the problems of the sick patron which beset a Broadway show earlier in the week.  You gotta laugh!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Getting the point across

This photo appears on the back of my new novel, One Shoe Off, which hits the bookstores December 1. I asked my friends on Facebook to guess what it is and lots of people assumed it had something to do with the shoe in the title. A shoe horn or some repair apparatus. A meat hook.  Or a hook for hay bales. But several also mentioned it looks pretty lethal.

When my journalist friends spotted the picture, the jig was up. Newspaper people recognize this as a spike. Back in the days before computers, a lot of paper piled up in a newsroom, especially on an editor's desk. All those stories typed on all that copy paper needed to be corralled. When an editor was finished with a story, he would put it on the spike.Evidently some must have used the spike to hold rejects... ie the phrase to "spike a story." But the editors I worked with used it as a way to file used copy, a sort of purgatory before the waste can where copy could be retrieved if there was a question later.

I remember spikes standing straight up and sharp, like a very long nail. And more than one person got nicked when they slapped a piece of paper on the spike.  The spike in this photo -- which I inherited from David Nicolette's junk drawer at The Press -- has been bent over to avoid such accidents, possibly in response to OSHA regulations.

The spike on the back of One Shoe Off represents that dangerous, lethal aspect of journalism. A spike figures into one of the scenes in the book when a reputed mobster confronts a crime-fighting editor. "Too bad she has to see blood before she regrets the damage she's done. Some people are like that. Blood's the only language they understand."

Friday, November 9, 2012

Christmas Carol chuckles

OMG is Christmas coming to Grand Rapids Civic Theatre! I visited the theater last night as part of the Inside Dish program that gives local media the inside track before each play opens. The official program for the evening was all about flying actors in the upcoming musical, "A Christmas Carol." We got to see Flying by Foy's patented harnesses that are specially fitted to each actor. Actor Michael Dodge calls the awkward underwear a "chastity belt," but it's so top secret that we were warned not to take pictures. 

But one of the fun things about being in the theater before opening night was seeing the backstage preparations without all the sets and costumes. And at this time of year those backstage preparations spill over into the lobby where boxes of ornaments are lined up waiting to be hung on the Christmas tree. Wreaths lean against the wall and garland stretches across the floor. And up on the staircase, executive director Bruce Tinker is stringing lights.

And who is that posing for pictures over by the Christmas tree? Why it's Scrooge (Steve Place) and Tiny Tim. (William Mathias). I even got my picture taken with a rather cheerful Scrooge.

That's just a hint of the festivity that awaits when Civic opens "A Christmas Carol" on Nov. 16. Never let it be said that Civic doesn't know how to celebrate Christmas.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Laughing for Newspapers

My newspaper career has been spent on the receiving end of  laughter while Miami Herald columnist  Dave Barry dedicated his newspaper career to making the readers laugh. Even when the subject is serious. I just laughed and cried over an item in his latest book, I'll Mature When I'm Dead. The item -- “A Practical, Workable Plan for Saving the Newspaper Business”  -- strikes very close to my heart. All of us in the business have seen our publications shrink and our friends lose their jobs. His very funny -- and frighteningly true -- analysis opens with  “The American newspaper industry is in serious trouble. How serious? Consider: In 1971, when I was hired for my first newspaper job, there were 62 million newspaper subscribers in the United States; today, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation, there are 12, an estimated five of whom are dead and therefore unlikely to renew. What the heck happened?” 

It's a topic everyone is talking about. Just the other day, I spoke to a luncheon group about my memoir Laughing for a Living. In the Q&A afterwards, everyone wanted to know why theater and other local entertainment wasn't getting as much coverage as before, why wire copy was replacing local copy, and basically "What the heck happened?"

I should have told them to ask Dave Barry. At least they'd be laughing.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Signing in the Waldenbooks by Parnell Hall

I'm usually laughing at theaters, but now that I'm writing books, and going to book signings, I have to laugh at the humor of Parnell Hall.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Laughing by the side of the road

I'm the last person who should write commentary on baseball, or a play about baseball broadcaster Ernie Harwell. But I have to admit Mitch Albom's one-act tribute to the Voice of the Detroit Tigers is an entertaining evening even for non-baseball fans like myself. Harwell, who died in 2010, was a likable character and Albom's play, Ernie, which opened last night at Wealthy Theatre, captures him very well. Michigan actor Will David Young bears an uncanny resemblance to Harwell and has his sorta southern drawl down pat. Albom's script is packed with Harwell quips like "two for the price of one" (double play) or "that one's long gone" (home run.) So to paraphrase Ernie, don't "stand there like a house by the side of the road" and watch this one go by. Performances continue through next weekend.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Grade A laughter

Laughing is my life's work. And I was working overtime tonight at "The Dixie Swim Club" at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. This show has some hilarious lines such as "You couldn't wear that dress to a phone interview." In my job as a theater reviewer, I see all sorts of humor. Slapstick. Campy. Insulting. Vulgar. But my favorite is witty repartee. Sassy barbs bouncing back and forth like a tennis ball. The kind of lines that sneak up and slap you silly. That's what you'll find at "Dixie Swim Club." And not a curse word in the bunch. Just good clean fun. Dive in. The water's fine.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Laugh lines

I'm not in any hurry to grow old, especially after getting a preview recently of what I will look like with a few more wrinkles. In preparation for "Dixie Swim Club," the season opening show at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, several of us were invited into the dressing room to use makeup to accentuate our wrinkles instead of covering them up. We learned some of the techniques that makeup artists will be using to help the five actresses in the show to age 33 years in two hours. In this photo, the laugh lines of talent agent Malinda Petersen have been accented with dark makeup. That's me, right behind Malinda. I'm a little concerned that I may have even more serious laugh lines since I've been Laughing for a Living for more than a decade. Oh well, every job has its downside. Check out some more photos from our evening of aging on Mlive. "Dixie Swim Club" opens Friday and continues through Sept. 22. It's about five women whose friendship survives 50 years, pregnancy, divorce, hurricane and dementia. Now that'll give you some worry lines!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Laughing at the City Club

Everyone always expects my book, Laughing for a Living, to be hilarious even though the title refers to my great luck to have a job that causes me laughter. But laughter is contagious and when I gave a presentation today at Women's City Club for a good crowd of about 70 people, we were all laughing at the life I've led. It was my first try at supplementing my presentation with Power Point, and I was afraid we'd be laughing at my technical failure. Thank goodness all went well. What a lovely, exciting place Women's City Club is. I've been there before as a visitor, but I was so excited to sign my name in a speakers book  that spans decades...and naturally, that's only one of many registers spanning the club's history of more than a century. The club is a venue for the upcoming Art Prize so if you haven't visited it before, be sure to stop in. The food is to die for.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

"Boeing-Boeing" takes off

There's nothing like a set with six doors to predict a successful farce. And when one of the doors has a little window for peeking, so much the better. Peeking through the door in "Boeing-Boeing," the latest show at Mason Street Warehouse, is a wisecracking French maid who's fed up with her playboy boss who's been romancing three different airline stewardesses. Yep, you guessed it. The playboy and a school chum keep stashing beautiful women behind different doors, hoping they don't run into each other, which of course they inevitably will. Catch my full review on Encore Michigan.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Twinkle, twinkle little star

Remember how Carl Sagan used to talk about the "billions and billions" of stars in the universe? Well, when you're talking about that many stars, one star more or less doesn't make much difference. But when there are only four stars -- as in the rating system used by The Grand Rapids Press -- one star can make all the difference in the world.

Last week, Circle Theatre opened a fantastic farce "See How They Run." If you read my review on Mlive, you know I gave it three stars -- which means it's a great show, recommended. But if you read the review in Sunday's Entertainment section of the printed Press, you saw only two stars, meaning an average show, take it or leave it. 

The printed review had a typo. A falling star, you might say. The Press will print a correction. Hopefully the stellar qualities of the show will shine through the words of the review like billions and billions of little stars. But just in case, be sure to spread the word. Yes, you should "See How They Run."

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Circle Theatre's latest farce, "See How They Run," is a non-stop riot of silliness. How do they run? Through the living room, over a body and out onto the balcony. They run into the kitchen. They run into the closet. They run up the stairs. They run in a clerical collar. They run in a night shirt. They run in bright green polkadot boxer shorts and socks with suspenders. They run circles around Circle Theatre and leave the audience breathless from laughing so much. For more details, catch my review on Mlive or in The Press on Sunday.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Do-it-yourself theater

I stopped in at Civic Theatre recently to meet with the kids in the Summer Repertory Program while they painted and sanded sets and got the costumes ready for Friday's opening performance of "Ramona Quimby", followed Saturday with "Schoolhouse Rock Live."  The kids, ages 14-19, seemed to be having a blast. They understand that their work behind the scenes won't get much recognition, but they know it takes more than actors to put on a good play. I always think a play's success depends on the enthusiasm of those involved, which should make SRT an award winner. Go ahead; you don't have to be a kid to enjoy these shows.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Lookin' for laughs

"An Inspector Calls," which opened this week at Hope Summer Repertory Theatre, is not one of those door slamming British farces. On the contrary, it's a drawing room drama, a moral dilemma constructed entirely of conversation. But the show does have a few moments of unintended humor. It's set in 1912 at the home of a wealthy mill owner, Arthur Birling. It's a new age, Arthur says, an exciting time, when business and scientific advances combine to create such a perfect world that there will never be another war. Of course, we know this glorious prediction is just a few years before the first of two devastating World Wars, and skirmishes around the globe too numerous to count. The audience can't help but laugh at Arthur's misguided optimism, even though we'd all give anything if he had been right. Check out the rest of the review on Encore Michigan.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Love story with laughs

Okay, those of you who missed a chance to accompany me to Tuesday's performance of The Wedding Singer at The Barn Theatre: Eat your heart out. It is '80s madness. The music, the fashions, the hair. And oh, the technology. Imagine thinking a bag phone is cool. And no one even knows what a CD is!Can't exactly say it was a simpler time, but it brings back funny memories. You'll find my complete review at Encore Michigan.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tragedy tonight! (and tomorrow!)

I'm not reviewing Heritage Theatre Group's production of "Medea" for any paying client, but it sounded intriguing, and since my good friend Sherryl Despres performs the title role, I had to take in Wednesday's dress rehearsal.  OMG. That's one intense experience. You can't expect a Greek tragedy to be fun, though Diane Rayor's translation is so down-to-earth in spots that Jason (Michael Dodge) made me laugh in his casual description of how a wife might feel if her husband takes a new lover. The Greeks weren't trying to make us laugh, their goal was catharsis, a purging of all those negative feelings, which they figured was almost as healing as a good laugh. They wanted to create a situation so revolting  that it would churn your insides and then expel it all in a freeing gush at the end. "Medea" certainly achieves that goal. The depth of Medea's seething anger is hard to comprehend, though Sherryl's performance did give me a few flashbacks to my own murderous thoughts as I went through divorce thirty years ago. Although her horrifying revenge takes place off stage, the detailed description of the deaths of her victims created the desired revulsion, topped by Medea's almost orgasmic delight at hearing the news. The obligatory Greek Chorus is particularly well done with CJ Namenye, Amy Groen and Stacy Schram singing the lines, in harmony, to original music by Todd Lewis. Unfortunately, most of the lines spoken off stage, before Medea enters, are lost, and even the off-stage interchange with her children later, though amplified, lacks believability. The costumes are beautiful and the set provides a variety of levels to keep the action moving. Kudos to director Karen Libman, all the cast and translator Diane Rayor for a truly tragic production.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Now that's a tragedy!

Should the translation of a classic Greek play like "Medea" be accurate or actable? Talk about a  to-be-or-not-to-be question. But Grand Valley State University Professor Diane Rayor has the answer. "My translations do both," Rayor told me. Good thing Rayor is writing the new translation of  "Madea" which Heritage Theatre Group will premier next week. Rayor has been fine tuning her translation after rehearsals trying to make the language more understandable and readable while preserving the accuracy. Although director Karen Libman and her actors are excited to be part of the process of honing the script, they've had to call a halt to any further changes with opening night less than a week away. See it at 8 p.m. July 12-14 and July 19-21 at Spectrum Theater.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Legally Laughing

The sky is exploding ever since they made fireworks legal in Michigan. And ever since the Augusta Barn made the next show legal .. that is, "Legally Blonde." ... the stage is exploding with a huge cast and more rollicking rock music than seems possible for a small pit band.. This is one of my favorite shows. Snappy songs with witty lyrics, and lots of heart in the story. The Barn's production bubbles with energy (see review) Besides, who doesn't root for the underdog? And this show has two dogs and plenty of ooos and ahhhs from the pooch fans in the audience.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fish tale

My friend Steve and I are vacationing in Upstate New York this week and were on our way to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this morning when I happened to see a few small red words on the map of New York: Gladding International Fishing Museum. "Oh, I wish I hadn't seen that," I said. Duty demanded that I tell Steve, who is a fishing fiend. After humoring him for a visit to a baseball museum (snore!) how could I possibly endure a stop at a fishing museum?

But I knew how much he would like it. Especially after we checked it out on my smart phone. While he was driving down the road to Cooperstown, I read to him about the octagonal 1860 Newton Homestead which housed the museum, according to hits on Wikipedia and Facebook. Then I read him a wonderful New York Times story by James Sterngold.

"To the uninitiated, true, it will look like a musty attic full of junk. They will also think it a particularly odd spot to house such a trove, lying as it does on a hill in a tiny village in Chenango County.
But to that person whose wellsprings of hope and patience run deep, who is bound up in the mystery of how fish can be persuaded to attack odd wood or metal objects with that distinctive viciousness, the collection is more evocative than a gallery of Monets."

His descriptions sold us, especially his ending.

" To my mind, the best are the stuffed fish. Topping the lot are a 42-pound salmon caught in 1930 and a 37-pound Muskie from 1937. The Muskie looks nothing like the vacant, limp creature that a dead fish is supposed to be. This one is moth-eaten and much the worse for wear. But it has a look in its eye, its dark wary eye, as though it were spying through the grasses of a lake bottom, lying in wait for something sneaky in red and white with menacing yellow and green eyes."

I was hooked, just like that poor fish. I didn't even notice that the New York Times article was published Aug. 2, 1987. Or that the New York map from Steve's collection was dated 1979-80.

So, after our tour of Cooperstown, and a little picnic lunch on a lovely lake, we asked our GPS "Sammy" to take us to the little town of Otselic. "Sammy" believes in as-the-crow flies navigation so she took us by the straightest route (only 45 miles from Cooperstown) but over mountains and down roads that became increasingly more narrow. By the way, "Sammy" didn't have the fishing museum in her list of attractions, but it was opened only three afternoons a week, according to the Times article, so I wasn't too surprised that it wasn't listed on the GPS. Once we made it to Otselic, which can't be called a town in anyone's vocabulary, we turned toward South Otselic, about 6 miles away. According to the map, the little red square marking the museum was between the two towns. We could hardly miss an octagonal house, could we? But there was no oddly shaped house. No sign about a fishing museum.

South Otselic proved to be much larger than Otselic and Steve, who is never afraid to ask directions, pulled into the post office and went inside. He returned a few minutes later laughing.

The museum had closed 20 years earlier!

The Gladding International Fishing museum was as tempting as that red and white fly with the yellow and green eyes -- and just as fake.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Three's a riot!

Summer theater usually has no shortage of comedies. I've seen a couple of great ones in the last week and another one, "Escanaba in da Moonlight," opens tonight at Circle Theatre. I mentioned "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" in an earlier post. It continues at Civic through Father's Day. Now, for the triple crown, I'd like to nominate a third show, "The Fox on the Fairway" at Augusta Barn Theatre. It's a pretty typical door-slamming farce with six characters running every which way. My review will be published tomorrow on Encore Michigan. The show runs for another week and will be followed by "Pal Joey" staring West Michigan's favorite soap queen, Kim Zimmer. Zimmer was in the audience of "The Fox on the Fairway" opening night and seemed to be having a great time. Barn producer Brendan Ragotzy announced Zimmer will be touring with "Wicked" on the West Coast starting in December.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Torture, back breaking torture!

See, this is a perfect example of the terrible job I have. First I went to the dress rehearsal for "A Funny thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. My circle at Grandville United Methodist Church had made plans to see the show so I went along. The next night, I returned to review the show. Oh, woe is me. Night after night of laughing. Actually, it's more than just fun. The music is quite catchy with nice wordplay. I love double entendre. So even a couple of days later I find myself humming "Everybody ought to have a maid" and I laugh again. Nice way for Civic to close the season.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Louder isn't better

What is it about today's sound technicians? Are they all deaf? I went to see the touring show Quidam, one of the Cirque du Soleil productions, and had a horrible time. Oh, the show was fantastic. Unbelievable contortions and athleticism. But I couldn't applaud because I had my fingers in my ears. The show was so loud that I kid you not the concrete beneath my feet was vibrating. Imagine what it was doing to all those ear drums. A show like this should come with a warning from the surgeon general's office: Warning. This show could be hazardous to your health. Don't worry. I'll never see another Cirque du Soleil. And I may never go to the Van Andel Arena again, either. My ears hurt for hours afterwards.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Funny Thing

A funny thing happened on the way to review Grand Rapids Civic Theatre's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."
 I had the wrong date.
So did my editor.We were both using the original schedule and expected the show to open next week, June 8. Then Tuesday I happened to see something someone posted on Facebook about June 1. I went to Civic Theatre's web site and sure enough. The opening had been moved a week earlier! We made the necessary adjustments. I went to Thursday's dress rehearsal with my church group and I'll be there to review tonight. Glad I did a no-notes preview on Thursday. I was laughing too hard to really pay attention! Maybe tonight I can catch everything I missed. At least I won't be running down the aisle wailing "I'm late, I'm late for a very important date!"

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Planning to laugh

I love reviewing theater. A close second is spending the day in a room full of reviewers discussing theater and planning for a great summer of reviewing Michigan theater. And that's what I did today. Some of the reviewers for Encore Michigan -- Donald Calamia, John Quinn, Judith Cookis, Martin Kohn, Bridgette Redman, Jenn McKee and myself -- met at Michigan State University today to plan the summer ahead and discuss the annual Wilde Awards which will be presented in August for the best in professional theater all over Michigan. Encore Michigan covers great professional theater from Mason Street Warehouse in Saugatuck and Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company in Grand Rapids to the Fisher Theatre in Detroit and Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea and the Michigan Shakespeare Festival in Jackson. And lots of other professional theaters in between. If you haven't discovered Encore Michigan, check it out. It's one-stop shopping for Michigan theater.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Where have all the flowers gone?

His name was Andrew H. Tullock. He's a great great uncle, the baby brother of my great great grandfather Samuel who hid out in the Missouri woods rather than fight for the Union or the Rebels in a war he didn't believe in. But Andrew took up a gun. He fought for the South to try to keep those dang Yankees from invading the family farm in Missouri. He lost a leg in the war, and ended up living with my great grandpa Samuel for a few years, until he died in 1869 as a result of his wounds. He was 31. Never married or had any children. I found his grave stone a few years ago. The graveyard is in the middle of someone else's cow pasture now. The stone had fallen over and was buried, overgrown with grass. But I scraped away enough to read the name. So on Memorial Day I think of Andrew and all the soldiers who died in wars not of their making. And I think about that song, "Where have all the flowers gone?" about the futility of war. "When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?"

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Share the fun

For more than a dozen years now I've been getting paid to have a good time in the theater. Last night I decided it was time to share the wealth -- not the pay which isn't that much honestly --but the wealth of laughter. I invited three local theater professionals -- Joe Dulin, Larry Young and Mary Beth Quillin -- to join me at a performance of "The Addams Family." and I think their reviews show a good time was had by all. The idea is to start a conversation about theater. It isn't about what I think. It's about sharing what you think. Theater is not a solo experience. Live theater is shared with the other members of the audience, and sharing our impressions is a way to add to the fun.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Smash Finale

So did you see it coming? Did you guess that Ellis spiked the smoothie with peanuts? And Karen would eventually calm down and claim the role we all knew she had to play as Marilyn Monroe? Somehow I knew all that would happen in tonight's season finale of  "Smash," but I didn't foresee that when Karen is singing the new finale song, Don't Forget Me, that Ivy would pull a real Marilyn memory with a handful of pills. Of course. It was perfect. Maybe you can't end a musical with a suicide (the great line from last week's episode) but you can certainly end the season of a hit television show with a suicide attempt. We only saw the pills. Will she take them? Will it be fatal? Tune in next year to find out.

The good news is Smash fans in West Michigan may not have to wait until fall to catch a glimpse of Megan Hilty who plays Ivy. She's planning a guest appearance in Saugatuck July 21 as part of a Broadway Breakthru workshop. Read all about it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cycle of life

Almost two months after we had to let Baby be put to sleep, we buried her ashes today next to a beautiful blooming azalea in the backyard of my son and daughter-in-law, Ryan and Angela Wallace. Baby was originally Angela's cat, so it seemed only fitting that her marked grave would be at their home. And it was appropriate too that our little ceremony followed a lovely Mother's Day dinner that Angela cooked for me and her mother, Pamela Barr. The wheel of life keeps turning. I spent the rest of the day planting flowers and vegetables and herbs. Life is so eager to grow, we only need to give it a chance. How blessed I am to have a healthy son, who married a beautiful, loving wife, who shared her adorable cat with me for eight years.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Having fun for a good cause

It might seem like Cystic Fibrosis is an odd topic for a blog called Laughing for a Living. But the family of 4-year-old Logan Tyler is having lots of fun raising money to defeat his disease. It was my privilege to share their story on the front page of today's Grand Rapids Press. Getting the word out is especially sweet because my son, Ryan Wallace, also has cystic fibrosis. He's 35, married, owns his own home and designs web sites. We thank the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and all the wonderful people who support it, for all the advancements that have lengthened his life and given him the hope of good days ahead. We cheered when they discovered the gene in 1989 and applaud every new discovery. It's like you don't really appreciate spring until you've had winter. And you don't know how wonderful life is until you've faced the possibility that it can be snatched away at any moment. Laughing is the perfect response when you're glad to be alive.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Happy Birthday, Laurie!

Extra, Extra! Read all about it. "Newsies" received 8 Tony Award nominations this morning including Best Musical, Best Choreography, Best Director and Best Actor for Jeremy Jordan. What fun! It's even more fun because Grand Rapids native Laurie Veldheer is in the cast. AND today is Laurie's Birthday. My story in Sunday's Press predicted a good showing. Congratulations Newsies!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Dust bunny bonanza

Did you ever wonder how much dust would accumulate if you didn't clean for four months? Welcome to the wonderful world of Snowbird Spring Cleaning. It's been a week since we returned to Michigan after spending the winter in The Keys and I'm just getting around to finding the house I left somewhere under all this unpacking.

Enough dust to write your name on tabletops? I've got enough dusty surfaces to write the entire constitution, and still accommodate all 39 signers. The exercise bike, which admitedly was never overused, has been tethered to the corner with a maze of cobwebs. The dust bunnies have built nests in the corners and we can expect a litter of baby bunnies any day. The toilet bowls have rings that remind me of the rim of seaweed on Florida beaches after a windy day. What's that about? Did the dust bunnies and spiders use the toilet while we were gone?

I swear I didn't leave my house this filthy. If I found Snickers wrappers and beer cans, I'd know homeless people had been camping here. But no unexpected refuse, just enough dust and dirt to plant a garden.

I could probably charge admission as a haunted house, but it might be more profitable to declare the house a hazardous waste site and apply for an EPA Superfund clean-up grant. Instead, I've been sweeping and dusting, and even laughing now and then when I feel the threads of a cobweb on my cheek. Another spider's home cleared away. Maybe they moved to The Keys for the summer.

Friday, March 30, 2012

So long Seuss-land

The most fantastical palm tree, with a bulbous trunk and leaves shaped like a ratted wig, sways next to the screened room of our winter getaway in the Keys. It looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. In many ways it symbolizes our storybook winter, with near perfect temperatures almost every day.

But it's time to pack up and say goodbye to Seuss-land. I'm in the midst of Snowbird Spring Cleaning, which means I'm giving our rented short-term home the kind of cleaning I could only wish it had before we arrived. I'm wiping out the cabinets and silverware drawer, mopping the floors, even under the beds where I've retrieved the hidden treasures of previous renters. Cleaning the window sills and wiping smudges off the woodwork. Getting up on a ladder to dust the fan blades. Erasing the evidence of our criminally ideal hibernation in this perpetual summer. After a three-day drive, we'll be back home and I'll enter the second stage of Snowbird Spring Cleaning, unpacking, restocking the fridge and returning to normal. Whatever that is.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Baby farewell

Baby wasn't supposed to be my cat. I sort of inherited her from my daughter-in-law eight or nine years ago. But with her pudgy little face and big green eyes, she easily nudged her way into my heart. We shared the same pillow many nights, and she was as much a part of watching television as the remote control. She's been my alarm clock for years, butting her head into mine precisely at 7 a.m. And when I was up late at night writing reviews from home, she would lay her head down on the keyboard and go to sleep.  She was always tiny, no more than 11 pounds, but she ruled the roost even after Cloudy, a tom cat twice her size, joined the family five years ago. She started loosing weight last fall and was barely over five pounds by January. Standard blood tests found no easy answers. We tried a few medications, dietary supplements. even found a vet to treat her during our three month stay in the Keys. She was weak and walked stiffly, but still managed to jump up on the sofa to watch television with me and climb into the bed at night. Until about 10 days ago. Since then we've been cheering every morsel we can convince her to swallow. This morning even giving her the daily medication seemed like too much to ask.  So I let Baby go. Baby Gray Cat, you will be so missed.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Counting on sunshine

Rain  chased us off the beach today but before we got home, 10 miles away, it had stopped and the sun was shining. Spending three months in The Keys has changed my view of rain. It's always temporary. Usually very temporary. And it's changed my view of sunshine. I wake up in the morning expecting it. Demanding it. Clouds? Certainly only enough to make the skyscape interesting and provide a brief respite from the searing sun. It makes me wonder how much of our temperament is based on the weather. Perhaps, centuries of long winters have made Michiganders such sturdy stock, delighted with the briefest rays of sun. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012


I MISS WEST MICHIGAN THEATER! The Keys may have better weather, but Grand Rapids has better theater. Last night I went to see a local community theater production of "Once Upon a Mattress" and I can only say once was more than enough. I have never seen a production, high school or community, with such universally poor singing. I don't dare name the theater, since they didn't ask for my opinion, but I kept shaking my head one flat, weak solo after another. I tried to understand how everybody could be so off base and I decided it was probably the recorded accompaniment didn't provide an easy melody line for these voices, and clearly their rehearsal training hadn't provided adequate help. The few singers who managed to be on key were weak and lackluster.Of course, they weren't using microphones, which can often bolster and add a little pizzazz to weak voices. I longed for the west Michigan theaters that always use live accompaniment. even if it's just a piano or keyboard. Actors', Civic and Circle all have music directors working with the singers to help them to hear their parts and often transposing songs if needed to accommodate an actor's range. They have dedicated sound crews that blend voice and music. Even a small theater like Master Arts, which doesn't use microphones, provides live accompaniment and the vocal rehearsal necessary to deliver powerful performances.  I know that in most of my reviews of West Michigan productions I have failed to credit the wonderful work of the music directors and sound crews. A thousand pardons. But please know that when I see good performers I know it's the result of good support.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Keys Disease

I've got a bad case of Keys Disease. I don't want to accomplish much of anything. It's hot and humid, too hot to sit around the house working on the computer. I need to be outside in the breeze, preferably in sight of the ocean where I can hear the wind whipped surf and take a dip when I get too warm. I am hypnotized by the sun poured like liquid silver on the surface of the water. I have baked my brain. I can barely put a sentence together, and that's before happy hour. Write a book? I swear on Ernest Hemingway's ghost it's just impossible. A friend who has spent the past 20 winters down here calls it Keys Disease. And even he isn't immune. Most people lose track of the date or the day of the week, but it's so laid back here that when I asked my friend if the weather would change much in March and he said. "What month is it?"

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Living in suits

There was a time when businessmen -- and women -- lived in suits. Times have changed and even when it isn't casual Friday, most business people have slipped the suit's snare. Personally, I've moved to the opposite extreme. I'm in my third year of retirement, and we're in our third month living in the Keys. It is so warm (85 degrees today) that I've taken to wearing my swim suit even if I'm not planning on swimming. This life "suits" me.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Learning from kids

I just finished the John Lithgow biography, Drama: An Actor's Education, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. One of my favorite stories happens in his early career when the 6-foot-4 actor is cast as Lenny, the large but simple man in John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" . Although he is better known for more debonair personalities, Lithgow found the opportunity of playing Lenny exciting. But the biggest challenge was the rowdy teenage audiences that came to the student matinees at Princeton's McCarter Theater. The play's tenderness and melancholy was lost on the rambunctious kids who laughed at all the wrong spots and made fun of Lenny.Lithgow took on the quest and by adjusting the show's pacing was able to squeeze out inappropriate laughter and comments. "By our last "Of Mice and Men" matinee, we had learned to cast a spell over an audience of teenage kids. They laughed all right, but only when we wanted them to. And when we wanted them quiet, you could hear a pin drop... By the end of our run the show had vastly improved. And I believe it was the student matinees that had improved it. We hadn't learned all that much from the adults who had come to see us, but those kids had taught us volumes."

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Bowl Sunday

Wings win!
Sometimes it's good to know my tastes are so popular. Steve and I were in Key West today. A rain storm sideswiped our original outdoor lunch plans so we were lunching inside at Hurricane Hole (appropriate for the weather) and the first thing on the menu, pulled pork nachos with black beans, sounded great so we shared a plate. Then we headed back to "our" key (three months and we think we own the place), Big Pine Key. Steve suggested stopping in at the chicken wing bar at Winn Dixie and taking home a pound for dinner during the game. Then I'm surfing the net to find out exactly when the game starts and I'm reading the story on the Huffington Post, and guess what? The number one munchie for the game is wings, followed closely by nachos.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Crazy time

It's been a good week. I added four more chapters to my next book, One Shoe Off. My chapters are short and I just finished Chapter 31 so I'm about a third of the way through the book. Until this week I've been rewriting and reworking the first 27 chapters that I wrote earlier so this is the first week since we came down to the Keys that I've really been creating. Writing fiction is so invigorating, but sometimes I think it's the closest thing to insanity. This week I've spent a lot of time in the minds of my characters. Trying to hear what they would say, understand what they would do. But after a while they become so real it is frightening. This morning, for instance, I'd been working on a scene, writing in my nightgown. I came to the end of the scene and decided to take a break and get dressed. The thought actually crossed my mind to close the door so my male character wouldn't see me undressed. Isn't that crazy? I suspect it's a lot like it must be for an actor digging deep inside themselves to feel what their character is feeling

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Last laugh

Today I received what may well be my last paycheck from The Grand Rapids Press. Everyone knows about the changes afoot at The Press. This week home delivery is being cut back to three days a week and the office is moving to Founders' Bank building. It's exciting in some ways, with all sorts of new delivery capabilities such as an "app for the ipad." That's something they never taught us in J-School. But the changes are scary too. Many great writers, editors and photographers have lost their jobs. Personally, I'm floating somewhere in limbo land. Officially, I retired almost 3 years ago but I've been covering local theater on a freelance basis, except during the winter months when I'm in Florida. I've been asked to continue covering theater when I return in April, but I'll have to decide if I can afford to take assignments at the rate the new company is willing to pay. Am I really willing to work just for the fun of it?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Joke's on me!

The latest laugh is at my expense. The Kindle version of my second book, Great News Town, is available free, today only, at the Kindle Store, as part of the Kindle Select program. Of course, that means I don't make any royalty on the books sold today, but I want to share the book with as many people as I can, especially since I expect to have the sequel ready by next summer. So Kindle readers, here's your chance. Don't blow it!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Oh I wish I were in Dixie...and I am!

Had a great time yesterday at the Marathon Community Theatre production of Dixie Swim Club. This is community theater at its best, and proud of it, where enthusiasm makes up for less than ideal costuming or body shapes. The audience is never completely convinced that these are five women meeting at the North Carolina Outer Banks for an annual getaway. We're always a little aware that these are local actresses, changing wigs and costumes to feign the passage of 30 years and reciting a script of one liners, but they are having such a good time that we gladly join in the masquerade. Okay, so the sound effects of an approaching hurricane were spotty and unconvincing, but Vernadette's tirade on the benefits of biscuits is so heartfelt and hilarious that theatricks really don't matter. This show is mostly about friendship and fun with a small amount of serious stuff and character development to keep your interest. Kudos to the cast and crew. BTW...what a nice little procenium theater, with about 150 seats, nicely designed and good crowd. I'll be back.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

January Monroe County

For play, not pay, I went to see August Osage County last night at the Waterfront Playhouse in Key West and have to admit I was a bit disappointed. This is a professional theater in the third week of a run and yet a couple of scenes were as sluggish as the first day off book. The actors stumbled over forgotten lines and sat around looking at each other. "Life is Long," a quote from T.S. Elliott, is the first line in the play, the implication being that life continues past the point of enjoyment, and unfortunately this production seemed to take that as stage direction. The play dawdles through three hours and 15 minutes, including two intermissions. I appreciated the artistic impact of the three-act format, and would not suggest altering that, but I think the Pulitzer Prize-winning play needs a little trimming. Don't get me wrong, it has powerful moments as well as funny ones.This is the story of an Oklahoma family full of secrets. It includes some spectacular portrayals, especially Joy Hawkins as the pill popping matriarch Violet. But there's a lot of slop around the edges that doesn't add to the characters or the impact, it just muddies everything. I will be interested to see how Actors Theatre in Grand Rapids deals with these challenges when it produces the show in May.