Saturday, December 11, 2010
White Christmas - Bing Crosby
Jingle Bell Rock - Bobby Helms
Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee
A Holly Jolly Christmas - Burl Ives
Do You Hear What I Hear - Bing Crosby
The Little Drummer Boy - Harry Simeone Chorale
O Holy Night - Andy Williams
Mele Kalikimaka - Crosby and the Andrews Sisters
And that's it. I did not forget Nat Cole's The Christmas Song. It's beautiful, but it won't stop me from turning off the ignition.
And speaking of Do You Hear What I Hear - how come that's the title of the song? It's not the tag of the first stanza of the song. That's Do You See What I See. It's not the tag of the final stanza of the song. That's Do You Know What I Know. It's not repeated any more often than any other Do You Whatever What I Whatever in the song. Who decided Do You Hear What I Hear was going to be the title? Should I worry about this? Should you?
And here's the deal about The Little Drummer Boy. First of all, with the Harry Simeone version available, there was really no need for anybody else to record the song. However, some people did. Some people keep doing it. Hey--that's their right. Be aware, though, you people who make up your mind to sing this song, that you damn well better know how to Parump A Bump Bum. There are a number of versions out there in which the Parump A Bump Bum is atrocious. Very few humans can pull off the Parump a Bump Bum required to make this song work. I think Crosby comes close in the version of The Peace Carol/Little Drummer Boy he sang with David Bowie on that Christmas TV Special he filmed in England about five minutes before he died. I think he lucked into a correct reading of Parump a Bump Bum because he was so embarrassed singing the song with David Bowie that he kind of turned his brain off and pretty much threw away the phrase, making it strangely effective. Truth be told, though, damn few singers can execute the phrase properly. My recommendation: leave the song alone. There's a perfect version out there already.
I see Die Hard turning up in lists of people's favorite Christmas movies. Okay. I'll buy that. I'm just pretty sure Sister Gonzaga would not have chosen it as the movie to show us back in the eighth grade at the Sacred Heart before sending us off for Christmas vacation.
If you're looking for a holiday film and you're kinda over some of the all-time favorites, I strongly suggest you get a copy of Ricky Gervais' 90-minute finale of his THE OFFICE. Gervais and Stephen Merchant decided to end their brilliant BBC series after only a couple of seasons, and fashioned this piece to tie up loose ends of the two most prominent stories the series featured--Gervais' David Kemp's attempt to live and love, and the "it has to happen but how?" romance between Tim and Dawn. And they set it at Christmastime. Frankly, the show is painful to watch, as Gervais and Merchant put Kemp through humiliations that would destroy most people--funny, but painful--but the astonishing two endings of the above-mentioned storylines make all the pain worthwhile. (Spoiler Alert) The moment when Tim and Dawn finally come together is as moving and as tastefully handled as anything you've seen in film or on television, ever. You can probably watch this without having viewed the two full seasons of Gervais-Merchant's THE OFFICE. But it is best appreciated knowing who these people are, and how they got to be at the point and time covered in the finale.
So the holiday season is sometimes a depressing one. Let's face it. Not everybody is filled with joy and cheer and the Yuletide is not always as gay as the song would make it out to be. But please, people, those of you who insist on putting those enormous blow-up Santas and Snowmen and Rudolphs out on your lawn--for the love of God, get up in the morning, go out to the lawn, and RE-BLOW THE DAMN THINGS UP! If a guy is having a tough time dealing with the season, for whatever reason, if he's down in the dumps and weeps uncontrollably as he drives to work while Mariah Carey blares out that all she wants for Christmas is him, there is NOTHING more emotionally deflating than seeing all these elves and reindeer out of air and sprawled on the lawn, waiting to be revitalized for the afternoon commute. COME ON PEOPLE! BLOW UP YOUR LAWN SANTAS! KEEP CHRISTMAS ALIVE!
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
I am in the Barnes and Noble café in Nashua, NH. As usual. Trying to work. Sometimes it's easy. Sometimes less so. Most times, I can achieve a level of concentration here I can't reach in a more private atmosphere. Today, at least at this moment, is not one of those times.
I'm in the only seat I could get near a wall socket. A seat near a wall socket is crucial at Barnes and Noble, because I have to plug in my computer. Yeah, I have a battery, but the computer is about four years old and the battery doesn't last all that long. So the wall socket is a must.
Unfortunately, today, I am sitting next to a couple of 20-somethings, a man and a woman (boy and a girl?), who are in the very first stage of chatting each other up. Emphasis on the chatting. And the conversation is as inane as any conversation I've ever heard. The most prevalent words emerging from their lips are the words "like" and "awesome." The conversation has evolved in the last thirty minutes from dogs watching him kissing his "ex" in bed (he made sure he emphasized the "ex" part) to his receding hairline, which is not really receding, which he knows, but which, since he brought it up, she feels compelled to defend. Points for him. (He's 26, tops, and he just used the phrase "If I could do it all over again…") You can, asshole! Twice!
Sitting on the table in front of her is a paperback entitled, "Personal Development for Smart People." From what I've heard of the conversation, she hasn't had a chance to begin reading yet.
Okay, he just said, "That was my first tattoo." She called it "cool." He thinks the lines are too thick. She doesn't agree. She thinks it's fantastic. He has absolutely NOTHING to worry about in terms of action later in the day. Or night.
Two more "likes," a "sucks" and a "basically." Classic.
I just took a quick glance in the guise of a look to the clock or something. She is wearing jeans and a shirt, each of which is full of carefully calculated holes.
As I said, this guy is In Like Flynn.
For those of you who enjoy century-old baseball references.
I'd really like to get down to work on this new play I'm writing, but I can't. I know--I should go home and lock myself in my room and concentrate. But I can't. I do my best writing in the cafe at B&N. That's just the way it is. I have to wait for these two to shut up, or else wait until another wall socket opens up so I can move.
These two shutting up is not going to happen. Not for a while. She just looked at her watch, gushed, and asked him if he knew what time it was.
He said, "I dunno. 11:30?"
She gushed again.
This guy knows exactly what he's doing. I think he told her he's an Emergency Medical Technician. Even if it's not true, it's gonna get him through this day. And night. I guarantee it. He's so smooth there's no question she's paying for dinner, too.
If they make it to dinner.
Maybe he parked his ambulance outside. That'd be quicker.
I wonder if she's gonna buy the book.
Friday, October 15, 2010
This is Eddie. Eddie is the shaggier of the brothers. A little lankier, a little longer than Timmy. If the two brothers walked into a doggie saloon, Eddie would be the one the girl doggies would slobber over. He'd lope up to the bar, casually order a Milk Bone (which he wouldn't have to pay for), and fake chew on it as he eyed the doggettes up and down the bar to select which he would grace with his charm for the rest of the evening.
And this is Timmy. Timmy's the stockier one, the fireplug. Timmy would be Eddie's wing man as they ambled into the doggie saloon. Timmy would not be concerned that the doggettes were slobbering over his smoother-looking brother, because Timmy knows, 1. He's the brains of the outfit and 2. Eddie's hand-me-downs are gonna be just fine for his purposes.
Eddie and Timmy, after about four months of allowing me to share their domicile, have adjusted to my presence. That is to say, they know my place in the household. I am the guy who tosses doggie treats at them all hours of the day and night. I am the guy who, when preparing his dinner in the kitchen, brings a little can of PikNik Original Shoestring Potatoes with him and who, as he stirs his soup or manages the franks in his George Foreman Grill, will sprinkle PikNik Original Shoestring Potatoes on the floor near the stove to keep Eddie and Timmy occupied while dinner is being prepared. I am the guy who, after he eats his breakfast in his man cave, will be very careless with the toast crumbs and the New Kellogg's "Simply Cinnamon" Corn Flakes (free with rebate for a limited time), so that the carpet in the man cave is replete with bits and pieces of toast and flakes ready for the little doggie vacuums to consume.
I am...Uncle Crumbs.
There are advantages to being Uncle Crumbs. For one, it means the dogs like me. True, it's kind of pathetic to be appreciated for your food scraps, but one takes what one can get in this life. Yes, I know that when Timmy scratches on my door mid-morning (Eddie never does the scratching. That's the wing man's job.), I know he's not visiting to shoot the breeze or catch up on the latest reading of one of my plays, but rather it's to see whether I've gone back to Lightly Sweetened Multi-Grain Cheerios, which he and Eddie find inferior to the new Cinnamon Corn Flakes. I mean, they will eat the discarded Cheerios, but, come on (they think), not only do the Flakes taste better, there's the damn rebate! But it does mean they visit, which is a good thing. I fear that if I cleaned up my act and stopped spilling my breakfast on the floor, I'd never see them again. But that won't happen. I'm something of a slob. They know it. They'll always be back.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
About a year ago, I was called in by CP Casting to read for an upcoming film to be directed by, co-written by, and starring Ben Affleck. As I recall, I initially read for the role of a Charlestown gangster leader whose flower shop fronted for his operation. I read the scene and was called back another time to read it again. Eventually, I was called in to read for another part, Arnold Washton, one of the guys guarding the stash of concessions cash collected at Fenway Park after a four-game series with the Yankees. In other words, if I got the part, I would be guarding a lot of fake Hollywood dough. My first few auditions were for the CP folks, my last one--a callback for "Arnold," was for Ben Affleck. I remember I walked into the audition room and stepped boldly to the table where Ben was sitting. I held out my hand, and it occurred to me that Ben was not expecting this. It also occurred to me that his not expecting this meant that he was going to consider me an asshole and not consider me for the part. I went through with the handshake, though, even though Ben's ball point pen stayed clumsily in his hand as he shook mine. Never ambush a movie star who's wielding a ballpoint pen. It's just not done.
Anyway, I read the scene for Ben, and I thought the reading went less successfully than the reading I did for the CP people but...that's the way it goes. As I walked out of the room, the woman who runs CP asked me if I would be available for a table read. A bunch of folks were going to sit around and read the script, see how it sounds. I said sure, of course, but that table read never came to pass for me. I was to read the part of the Charlestown gangster, a major supporting role, and, as it turned out, they didn't need me. But it was fun to be asked.
Anyway, I do get the part of "Arnold," and I do the shoot, which lasts two days and I think I covered all this in an earlier blog entry. Fast forward to last night, Tuesday, September 14, 2010, when the finished film is to be given its Boston premiere at Fenway Park, which is the location of the final heist of the film. I was amazed that they planned this. It's outdoors, in mid-September, and it's not a football game. It's a movie. Could it be anything but cold, uncomfortable, and possibly even wet?
Turns out, none of the above. A beautiful late summer day turned into a gorgeous late summer evening. My friend Sandra and I got into town early (I am a huge traffic beater, whenever I can swing it), and planned to have dinner before the premiere. We parked in the main Fenway Lot (FREE PARKING PASS!!!!!! ANYBODY WHO'S BEEN TO FENWAY KNOWS WHAT THIS MEANS.) and I looked across the street to the Cask and Flagon. Now, again, anybody who has gone to a Red Sox game knows that you just don't go to the Cask and Flagon before the game. Mainly because you can't get in there. To paraphrase Yogi--"Nobody goes there. It's too crowded." But I could see that there was plenty of room inside, and even though the C&F ain't the height of New England elegance, I thought we'd give it a shot, because I'd never get in there again. We found a table near the window which looked out on to Gate E, which happened to be the Gate those of us folks privileged to be invited to the premiere were supposed to use. We figured we could sit and watch the stars go by.
Well, we did sit and we did watch, but no stars went by. Unless you consider Jerry Kissel a star. I actually do. I think he's one of the best actors in Boston. But when you're looking for Jennifer Garner, Jerry Kissel just doesn't cut it. Still, it was fun to anticipate things that never happened. Eventually, we left the Cask and Flagon and became just another couple of non-stars waiting to get into the park. Finally, Gate E opened and we stepped inside, only to be greeted by scanners and pat downs and all kinds of "keep the terrorists away from the movie people" security. No big deal, but I did have a lot of change (I never go to Boston without dozens of quarters), and it was embarrassing filling up the plate that was whisked through the scanner. Took me twenty minutes to get everything back in my pocket. But I did, and we followed the throng up the ramp to Section 26, which overlooks the third base line.
Walking into Fenway, no matter how many times you've done it, or how old you are, is a thrilling experience. It is just one, big, damn, beautiful place. (To look at, not to sit in, but that's another story.) But rarely does one walk into an essentially empty Fenway, to see a mammoth motion picture screen mounted on scaffolding, and spanning the entire third base line.
At the conclusion of his really terrific speech, the film began. At first, it seemed like it was simply going to be an evening of people recognizing themselves and their friends on screen and doing the WHOOP! thing, but, though that did happen occasionally during the evening, by and large the audience watched the film with interest. It is beautifully shot, and the sound and sight systems set up for Fenway were excellent. The story may have a hole or two, but the performances, the humor, and the incredible (I use that word intentionally) special effects and action sequences make it a damn good show. I think it will do very well, and unless five other actors do bang-up work in supporting roles between now and Oscar time, I think Renner gets a nomination. If the film is a huge hit, look for Affleck, too, to get a nod, as director.
When the film ended most eveybody hung around a bit to watch the credits, and those of us with small roles were very happy when our names did appear. I had done two days on the film, and had one line as I was tied up by Affleck as he robbed Fenway. My line did not survive the cut, but ten seconds of me looking frightened in medium close-up did, and for that, I'm grateful. And there was my name. Up there on the screen. For the first time.
All in all, a truly cool evening.
And, oh, by the way, that part I had initially read for and was called back for--went to the great character actor Pete Postlethwaite. Why they'd want to use him instead of me....
And my parking space was sooooo good....I got outa town in no time.
Friday, August 27, 2010
First, the Bad News.
I really like Steve Carell (Wait, while I go to the Internet and check, once again, on the l's and the r's in his name.) Okay. Carell. I remember his earlier work on THE DAILY SHOW. And I remember how blown away I was with his performance in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. Who knew the guy had acting chops like that? And then there's THE OFFICE. I am now watching a lot of OFFICE reruns. The show itself is brilliant. Brilliant in a different way from Gervais' brilliant British version, but brilliant nonetheless. Brilliant in a decidedly American way. So the first time through these shows, it was the show--and the beautifully written and performed arc of the Jim/Pam relationship--that made the show work for me. Now, on my second time through, I'm recognizing how remarkably honest and funny Carell is in the show. Episode by episode he brings everything he's got to the table, and that's a lot. He is at once silly and ridiculous and pathetic and charming and...sad. Gervais does all this as well, it is true, but...Carell (and the OFFICE writers) need to be recognized for this wonderful character. Okay. All right. I love Steve Carell. I thought both he and Tina Fey were very good in DATE NIGHT, though I thought the writing let them down. Okay. All right. But the other day, in a theatre, I saw DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS.
Here's how I think the pitch meeting for DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS went down.
PITCHER: Are you ready? Guy wants a promotion. His boss says okay. But the guy has to bring an idiot to dinner so the boss and his cronies can make fun of the guy. DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS. Whatdya think?
PRODUCER: Are you sure this will...
PITCHER: Schmuck is Steve Carell.
PRODUCER: Make the movie!
And that's where the creativity stopped. The movie is a long exercise in badly considered and executed "comic" situations and hideously unfunny jokes. I am terrible at remembering specifics about movies, so I am unable to regurgitate the jokes for you here but, trust me, the writers are sophomoric and talent-free when it comes to getting to the heart of the comic matter. And the very talented (I think) and very witty Zach Galifianakis is wasted in a stooge role that is offensively underwritten. It takes a lifetime to get to the dinner, and when we do, we are treated to more of the same lame humor and patented "guy movie" cliches we sat through to get to dinner. My question: Did Carell and Paul Rudd and Galifianakis actually read the script before committing to the movie? Or did they, like the producer, just sign on with the pitch? I'm guessing the latter. Because all of those actors are much, much, much better than the material in DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS.
And then there's TRANSSIBERIAN.
(No matter how many times I type that title, the spell check always goes into Panic Mode, but as far as I can tell, that's the way it's spelled.)
This is a thriller I don't think anybody saw. Made in 2008 by writer/director Brad Anderson (THE MACHINIST, NEXT STOP WONDERLAND), it's a story about an American couple (Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer--yeah, playing an American), who are taking the Transsiberian Express from Beijing to Moscow after doing some social work in China. Along the way, they encounter an "interesting" young couple who attracts them in varying ways, and the results are far from pleasant for Woody and Emily. The plot involves the Russian drug trade and the shady way in which the Russian police force goes about its business. Eduardo Noriega and Kate Mara play the mysterious strangers on the train, and Ben Kingsley plays a Russian detective. The Lithuanian shoot stands in for Siberia, and the film is beautifully rendered.
More than all this, though, is the fact that TRANSSIBERIAN is a terrific thriller, and terrific thrillers are hard to come by. Most of the time, the plot line in current thrillers is transparent almost from the first reel. This movie, like Polanski's THE GHOST WRITER, is a current thriller that involves the viewer carefully, and then, about halfway through the movie, just grabs the viewer and takes him on an unexpected ride full of twists and turns that lasts until the very last frame.
TRANSSIBERIAN had the misfortune of opening the same weekend as THE DARK KNIGHT, the biggest opening in film history, and thus accounts for its relative obscurity.
But it's still out there, available to see, and I recommend it without reservation.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Anyway, I never had any real trouble with nuns. Well, one, maybe. Sister Annette. I'm not changing her name because there's no way she's still alive and if she is she deserves to be really, really old. She was my second grade teacher and, I swear to God, she had us thinking the Russians were out in the cloak room ready to pounce on us if we so much as sneezed during Arithmetic. Yeah. Russians. Russians were very big back in those days if you wanted to scare the crap out of kids. And Sister Annette knew what she was doing when it came to kid crap scaring. I remember back then that I was afraid of Protestants (that's just a level of paranoia I do not want to examine right now), but not nearly as afraid as I was of the Russians. Back then, our only option when it came to escaping the Russians was to "duck and cover." Or, in the case of those of us in the Sacred Heart School, to move single file down the stairs to the basement where the Russians, we understood, couldn't get to us. Sister Margaret Claire in the first grade and Sister Perpetua in the third grade never mentioned the Russians. Perhaps that's because they were older and Russians to them still lived under Tzars and hadn't procured the hydrogen bomb. But Annette--she knew Russians, and she knew that if she wanted something out of us, all she had to do was invoke the imminence of World War Three and we would comply. Another thing about Annette that bugged me was that, one time, she heard somebody talking in the boys' room. This was strictly forbidden. I have no idea how talking might have negatively affected urinating, but she seemed to believe it would and banned chatter from the lav. Anyway, she heard talking one day (I guess she was just outside the boys' room door, listening), and when we filed out of the lavatory, she lined us up against the blackboard and demanded to know who was the chatterbox. Nobody owned up. We all knew that whoever owned up was going to be fed to the Russians. Trouble was, I KNEW who was talking. It was one of the Mulligan twins. It didn't make any difference which one it was. They looked the same and acted the same and both had a habit of talking in the boys' room. And I knew it was one of them. And it showed on my face. And Annette was really, really good at honing in on a face that showed. So she looked me in the eyes, and asked me who was the talker. I opened my mouth. Nothing came out. The Mulligan twins were enormous, and all I could think of at that moment was either I tell on the twin that I can see and who can kill me, or I hope to God that Annette is lying about the Russians.
I was punished. No Russians. Just blackboard clapping or something, I forget. But I was held responsible for the bathroom gabfest, even though I never, ever said a word in there.
I think, though, that the Mulligan twin who did the talking gained a modicum of respect for me after that day.
I have no idea what happened to Sister Annette.
But I hope the Russians got her.
Monday, August 16, 2010
This is one of the main things you should not do with your Kindle. Step on it. When you step on it, it stops being a Kindle. The only thing it's really good for after you step on it is throwing it at librarians. Because it would be really ironic. Other than that, though, a stepped-on Kindle is useless.
I've stepped on a few books in my life, and the books remained readable. Not the Kindle. They don't tell you that when you buy the Kindle. They don't say, "Hey, you can't step on this thing, you know." If they had said that, I probably would have stepped on it anyway, because who thinks he's ever gonna step on his Kindle? Not me, baby. I had gotten into the habit of placing my Kindle on the floor beside my bed (because my night stand, which is a stool, can hold only my radio alarm clock, my reading glasses, and my iPhone), and I was diligently leaning up and over my bed to put my DVDs in alphabetical order...What, you don't have your DVDs in alphabetical order? What's the matter with you?...and after I had squeezed MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935) between THE MUSIC MAN (1962) and MY COUSIN VINNY (1992), I leaned back to admire my assiduousness and heard a tiny little "crack," which was my Kindle turning into a large coaster.
I contacted Amazon and, amazingly, even though the warranty had expired, they reported that they would replace my $350 Kindle for $89. I thought this was a good deal. But then I realized the brand new up-to-date generation Kindle was $189, so I ordered that one. It's smaller, I understand, which gives me a little better chance of not stepping on it.
But I'm guaranteeing nothing.
I just received a call on my cell phone. I monitored it, because I didn't recognize the number. When I checked the voice mail, I was advised that the call came from "Beverly Hills, California." Cool, I thought. Maybe my ship had finally come in. When my ship comes in, I am convinced it will come in via telephone. People don't write letters or send emails when they have "your ship has come in" type news. They call. I never look for anything exciting in the mail. But when the phone rings and it's from "Beverly Hills, California," there's always the possibility that something I wrote, somewhere out there, has been discovered and I will not have to go on relief. Or whatever destitution is called these days.
Well, it wasn't that kind of news, but it wasn't bad. It was Warner Bros., or somebody affiliated somehow with the Ben Affleck film, THE TOWN, inviting me to the premiere, which is going to be held in Boston on September 14. I had a couple of days as an actor on the film and when I returned the voice mail and learned about the invite, I asked the person if this meant my scene had made it into the movie. She couldn't promise me that, but she could promise me two tickets to the premiere. This is good. I may even shower that day.
I have switched my dinner hour repeats viewing from SEINFELD to THE OFFICE. My God, are those shows funny! I really think they should stop filming when Steve Carrell leaves after this season. Not that the writers and producers couldn't still come up with more funny situations but...what they'll have accumulated after seven or eight seasons, or whatever it is, is so GOOD, it could only be comparably lame, in my opinion. Gervais stopped his British OFFICE after two and a half seasons, and it's considered a classic. I think this American OFFICE will eventually be considered a classic series as well. So why not stop with Carrell's final episode? Please!!!!
I'm ready to read the sequel to THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.
But I can't.
I stepped on my Kindle.
And that's where the book is.
Now that I live in New Hampshire, it's become necessary for me to fling dog shit over the fence. I never did this in Lowell. I did encounter dog shit in Lowell, because the people who moved in downstairs had a dog and he would "contribute" to the front yard, but if I had flung his dog shit over the fence, it would have landed on the windshield of passing Nissan Sentras and would not have been appreciated. In Derry, though, our backyard fence features, on its other side, a mini-forest that belongs to my brother and sister-in-law and when Eddie and Timmy (the dogs) "contribute," all we have to do is get the little dog shit shovel and flick the DS over the fence into our mini-forest. My first two or three attempts were somewhat hazardous, in that I was using way too much wrist. When you are flinging dog shit over the fence, you MUST keep the wrist out of it. Or wear goggles. The wrist just makes the flinging way too treacherous. No. What you must do to properly fling dog shit over the fence, is you treat the little shovel like a shot put, stiffen your arm, brace your legs, and "put" the shit, with a hearty thrust, over the fence. I have to admit, I've become very good at this, so if you need a lesson in dog shit thrusting, please, give me a call. My rates are very reasonable.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
So much has been written over the past few days about my friend--our friend, everybody's friend--former State Rep Ed LeLacheur and his boundless enthusiasm for life and service, that nothing I can contribute here can really add much to his legacy. I do have two stories, though, from my experience with Ed, to pass along.
If you played baseball at any time in your life, you remember that one play that is the "best" you ever made. Some of you are lucky, in that the "best" play happened in a real game, a sanctioned game, maybe even a playoff game. Not me. The "best" play I ever made happened in batting practice.
We were at Manning Field. Probably a Saturday. The Sacred Heart Parish--"The Haht"--was putting together a softball team to play in the church league. Maybe the late 70's, early eighties, something like that. A bunch of guys were fiddling around before the first practice started, and the fiddling evolved into something of an organized batting practice session. You know--guy grabs a bat, takes a few swings, another guy grabs a bat. Not all that formal, but...organized nonetheless. For some reason, I planted myself at third base to shag whatever came off the various bats as I awaited my own turn. All I remember about the rest of that day is Eddie, taking his swings, lifting a pop foul behind the bag at third, which then drifted toward the corner in left. I sized it up, and started back to shag the fly. Shagging flies in batting practice usually means picking the ball up off the ground after the fly lands. But I saw that I could get to this pop up. It would not be easy, but...I don't know...for some reason I felt I needed to make the play. So I turned on the jets--don't laugh, I had jets then and when push comes to shove I have jets now--and I kept the soaring sphere (yeah, I've read purple baseball prose before, too) in sight as I peeked when I could at the chain link fence that separated the field from the parking lot down the left field line. I wasn't going to make it. The ball was going to hit the ground and my effort was going to be all for naught. (I try to do as little as possible for naught in my life.) My back was completely turned from the field. LeLacheur was probably leaning into the next batting practice pitch. Nobody was watching me. Still--I had to catch this ball. And just before it was to scrape the fence, I lunged forward and Willie Mays-ed the thing into my glove. Without question, the best baseball play I ever made. Nobody cared then. Nobody cares now. I know this. But Eddie's passing allows me to tell the story, because he was the guy who hit the ball.
My second and favorite recollection of Ed has to do with his infectious sense of humor.
It's another "Haht" story. This time, again in the 70's, it's the Sacred Heart Bowling League which met weekly at the Brentwood Lanes. A machine of a league coordinated by the late, great Frank Flynn, and we all had a terrific time. From this point on in the story, except for LeLacheur, I'm not going to name names. I think everybody's dead, but I'm still clamming up on the names. People have relatives.
Anyway, it's early in the evening and LeLacheur is there, yucking it up with the rest of the guys. At one point, one of the older guys in the league--big,blustery, pipe-smokin' Irishman--points to another guy about to roll. The other guy is also older, but smaller, quieter, and probably not all that Irish. Kinda reminded me of Donald Meek in the movies or John Fieldler on TV. Anyway, the blustery Irishman takes a look at Donald Meek and says to LeLacheur, "That's the pastor, isn't it?" Of course, it was not the pastor. Not even close. But Eddie saw an opportunity and took it. "Sure," says Eddie. "That's the pastor. Absolutely."
And that was it. For a while. The evening wore on and, for all intents and purposes, Donald Meek guy was the pastor to the Blustery Irishman guy. The rest of the bowlers in LeLacheur's group got into it, too, deferring all evening to Donald Meek guy--"Nice one, Father!" "Way to go, Father!" "Which Mass are you saying on Sunday, Father?" LeLacheur, the instigator, just let it keep going.
Until the end of the evening approached. At that point, Eddie pulled Donald Meek guy aside just before he was about to try for a spare and whispered something into his ear. Donald Meek guy nodded, and made his way to the lane. He took his duckpin ball, and lined up his shot. Blustery Irish guy watched. Donald Meek guy made his approach, rolled the ball, and missed the spare.
(In the interest of keeping the blog relatively clean, I'm misspelling the featured word in this upcoming rant.)
"What the eff was that!" Donald Meek guy roared! "Did you guys see that effin' ball! The effin' lane is effin' warped! I'm not bowlin' at this effin' place ever again!"
Blustery Irish guy blanched. I think he may have even dropped his pipe into his lap. Every bowler in the place, by that time, was in on the joke. Everybody roared.
Nobody, though, more than LeLacheur. I had never seen anybody more ecstatic in my life. His laughter thrust him away from the lanes, over by the bench near the front door, where he collapsed in an avalanche of guffaws.
To me, it wasn't just the idea of the gag that was brilliant. It was the execution. The timing. The patience it took to get from the set up to the delivery.
I will remember Ed LeLacheur for many things--including the fact that the last time I saw him, he came to see my play THE PORCH in Stoneham, and I believe he had a great time.
But this memory--which I call "That's the pastor, isn't it?"--is my favorite.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
I would like to introduce you to Timmy on the right, and Eddie, below. They are very sweet little dogs owned by my brother and my sister-in-law, and they live with all of us in Derry, NH. As you can see from a quick viewing, these dogs are not Idiots. However, they are living in a world
where Idiots abound, and they are not happy about it. Especially Eddie.
Earlier this summer, I was making daily trips between Lowell, MA and Derry as I moved from one place to the other, and as I toodled in my Sentra off the Exit 4 ramp, I would be greeted by two huge stores, both of which sported huge signs reading FIREWORKS! Two stores. Within 100 yards of each other. Each store selling FIREWORKS. I knew I was not in Kansas anymore. Or, maybe I was, I have no idea what the FIREWORKS situation is in Kansas.
Anyway....back to the doggies. These little guys are just the best tempered animals you could ever want to meet. Loving and playful and almost always silent. Just...perfect pets. Until the Idiots interfere.
Okay, so, you're a guy. And you're an Idiot. You're looking for something to enliven your dreary summer. Your options are few, because of the Idiocy. I mean, let's face it, you're not planning trips to Tanglewood or the Williamstown Theatre Festival. The Red Sox are wallowing around .500 and there haven't been any new episodes of COPS for weeks. What's a fella to do? Well, that's simple. A fella goes to one (or maybe both) of the TWO stores in town selling FIREWORKS, and he loads a shopping cart full of things that blow up and make a lot of noise. Because what else will enliven a calm and balmy summer's evening better than a shopping cart full of things that blow up and make a lot of noise?
So you get home and you unpack your goodies and you go out in the back yard and you wait until after 10pm, because what good is blowing up stuff early in the evening when everybody in the neighborhood is AWAKE? Ten o'clock rolls around and BOOM BITTY BANG BANG you are off and running, lighting up your firecrackers and cherry bombs and whatever the hell else it is you put on your debit card that rocks the audible universe. (I apologize for knowing no technical terms for the things that blow up and make noise, but my Idiocy is in another area altogether.) The night is alive with snaps, with crackles, with pops and with ungodly booms. Your summer is enlivened. Good for you!
I ask you (the reader, not the Idiot) now to scroll back to the top of this entry and re-introduce yourself to Eddie and Timmy. They live in a neighborhood where these noisemakers live. And the following is my interpretation of what they are "saying" to each other as they try to relax in their previously quiet little home. Anything below in small letters is a growl. Capital letters denote barking.
Scene: Eddie and Timmy sit in the living room, enjoying the blissful peace of a summer evening. Then...
Timmy: Oh, Jesus. Oh, what was that? Oh, Jesus. Oh, crap.
Eddie: WTF WAS THAT SHIT?
Timmy: Oh boy. Oh, boy. Not good. Not a happy thing. Bad stuff. Oh, boy. Bad shit going down.
Eddie: COME ON! LET'S GO TO THE WINDOW!!!
Timmy: Really? You think we should do that? All the way to the window? Closer to where the shit is?
Eddie: COME ON!!!!
They leap onto the sofa and look out the window.
Eddie: Okay, nothing. No more whatever that was.
Timmy: You think it's over, Eddie? You really think? Jeez, I hope so. Boy, that was god awful whatever that was.
Eddie: Ssh! Listen. Listen. (beat) Nothing.
Timmy: Okay. Good. Whew. Glad it was nothing.
Eddie: WTF??? WTF????!!!
Timmy: Oh, Christ! Oh, CHRIST! We're gonna die. I know we're gonna die!
Eddie: W. T. F??????????
Timmy: And I don't even know what dying is!
Eddie: COME ON, LET'S GO TO THE BACK DOOR!
Eddie: MAYBE WE CAN GET OUTSIDE AND ATTACK IT!
Timmy: Attack what?
Eddie: HOW THE HELL DO I KNOW, ATTACK WHAT? LET'S JUST GO. WE CAN'T STAY HERE ON THE COUCH.
Timmy: Oh, Jeez, okay...Oh, Jeez...Oh, boy...
They leap off the sofa and race to the back screen door.
Eddie: OKAY, WHOEVER YOU ARE OUT THERE, STOP THIS SHIT OR WE'LL COME OUT AND BEAT THE CRAP OUTA YOU!
Timmy: Oh, Eddie, do you really think that's a good idea, I mean, maybe they'll get madder and just...
BOOM BOOM BOOM!!!
Okay, you get the idea. I know nobody who reads this blog of mine is an Idiot, so I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but, my GOD...is there anything less productive, less constructive, and more dehumanizing than going out in your friggin' backyard POINTLESSLY setting off firecrackers and cherry bombs and other BOOMING things in the middle of the night and scaring the bejesus out of sweet little dogs?
Anyway...if you run across any Idiots who might benefit from reading this, please pass it along.
Friday, July 23, 2010
That way, the pressure of trying to come up with 250 words on one issue would be eliminated. Eliminating pressure is one of my main goals in life.
I finished reading THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and immediately brought up the Swedish film version on my Blu-Ray via Netlflix. (Of course, I checked out what Roger Ebert had to say about it first.) I enjoyed the book. I loved the movie. Usually the other way around with me. And just about everybody. The film, featuring a number of actors whose names I can't spell, eliminated a couple of the sexual dalliances featured in the book, in order to more specifically focus on the mystery unraveled over the course of 140 minutes. Subtitles, of course, but that's never bothersome after a couple of minutes. I will now read the second installment in the "Millennium Trilogy," and, after that, check out the second film. I know there's an American version on the way, though I can't imagine casting could be any more appropriate than what the Swedes managed. I like George Clooney, too, but...come on....his name is way too easy to spell for this story.
Speaking of sexual dalliances uncovered in film versions of best-selling novels--I'm reminded that, in Peter Benchley's JAWS, the Richard Dreyfuss character, Hooper, has an affair with the wife of Roy Scheider's character, Brody. How unnecessary that would have been to the Spielberg film. Besides, Lorraine Gary wouldn't have given Dreyfess a second glance.
I stayed up until 2 this morning watching the Red Sox beat Seattle, mainly because I couldn't believe they blew a five-run lead in the ninth. That kind of disbelief can lead to all kinds of insomnia.
Everywhere I drive this summer, there is construction. I had no idea there were that many orange barrels and cones in the world.
I am totally infatuated with my new GPS. I love being told where to drive. I had originally gone with the female voice (I forget her name--isn't that just like a guy?), but that became way too distracting. I kept wanting to go to dinner and then drive to the Showcase Cinema and see "The Kids Are All Right." So I am now taking directions from "Jack," the voice that shares my name. I like to mess around with Jack's electronic brain every once in a while, and I will disobey his instructions just to hear how many times he can say "recalculating" without getting pissed off at me. So far, every time!
I have set up the DVR to record the mini-series of Ken Follett's PILLARS OF THE EARTH this week. Ian McShane and Donald Sutherland. Hope it's as good as the book.
The end of my daily run these days, now that I'm living in the wilds of New Hampshire, is a relentless one-mile incline. The first few times I tried it, I kept my head down and just looked at the road, forcing myself to not stare up the road at the never-ending hill. Lately, though, I hold my head up and laugh derisively at the mini-mountain as I trundle my way to the top. I always bring my iPhone with me, though, in case my derisive laughter turns into a cardiac event. Never had to worry about that when I ran around the very flat Edsen Cemetery on Gorham Street in Lowell.
Monday, July 19, 2010
On another matter, I'm in Shaw's in Derry the other day, seeking out my beloved Waist Watchers aspartame free diet soda, when I see this kid, like eight years old, and not a miniature eight years old at that, sitting INSIDE the shopping cart his mother is hauling through the store. The kid (young adult) barely fits inside the thing, and his mother has to find whatever body-part-free nooks and crannies the lazy brat has left so she can stuff her various shopping items in them. He's sitting there, sucking on some kind of ice cream treat, while she's gathering foodstuffs and carefully inserting them in the parts of the cart where her son isn't. Okay, I'm coming down pretty hard on the kid when, truthfully, what the hell is this mother thinking? I hope she's thinking, "He'd better remember me when it comes time for the nursing home." And he'd better.
The cable went out for a few hours yesterday afternoon, during the Red Sox game. And...I didn't care. Goes to show you what kind of season they're having. Plus, I dropped two notches down from leading my fantasy league this week. It doesn't help to have Pedroia, Buchholz and Justin Murneau all on the DL at the same time.
I finished a short play which I hope will be part of the new Emerson College-Paramount Theatre event this fall. I utilized, once again, the two characters from my recent Boston Theater Marathon plays--Bethel and Clarice--who have been so beautifully played by Ellen Colton and Bobbie Steinbach. It's called CASTING AMANDA, for those of you keeping score.
From the "My Mother Never Threw Anything Out" department--I just found my father's draft card from 1944. He never entered the service, but from the card it looks like he was 1-A. Perhaps the events in Normandy slowed things down a bit. Plus, I think he was kind of the head of his household at that time.
Up until this year, I had not been in a swimming pool since 1973, when I broke down and took a swim in Gail Gilman's pool. Why, you may ask, if I'm such an aquaphobe, did I take a swim in Gail Gilman's pool in 1973? One look at Gail Gilman in 1973, and you'd have your answer. She asked me to. I did what I was told. Since that time, though, I've had no reason to indulge in any kind of waterfest. Now, though, with a beautiful pool in the backyard, I've come to see the attraction of a cool dip on a sweltering afternoon. "A Cool Dip On A Sweltering Afternoon." Sounds like the B-side of a bad Mel Torme 45.
I listened to the Original Cast album of CHICAGO as I ran today. We're kinda thinking of doing the show at Dracut High School next spring. I have my fingers crossed, 'cause I'd love to direct it. Listening to the album also reminded me of the great, great show business career turned in by the late Jerry Ohrbach, who played Billy Flynn in the original. A New Yorker who pretty much stayed there, he fashioned himself a career that, while based in the theatre, spanned movies and TV, including superb work on LAW AND ORDER and in Woody Allen's terrific CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS. He was the original El Gallo in THE FANTASTICKS and the original stage version of Chuck Baxter in PROMISES, PROMISES. And then there was 42nd STREET. And many other shows. Amazing.
Okay, I'm now guilty of over-using the word "amazing," and I will work to avoid using it in the future. I'm still trying to get the rest of the world off "awesome," but I'm failing miserably. Even when I suggest the far more jauntily tongue-tripping "wicked pissa" as a replacement.
Two entries in one week. I'm exhausted.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Clearly, I am not a dedicated blogger.
It's good that I have only eight followers, because, clearly, I am not a good leader.
I will try to improve.
Some random things to type about, relative to the last two and a half months...
I am typing this from a lovely deck overlooking a lovely back yard and a lovely pool in Derry, New Hampshire, where I now almost reside. I am in the process of actually moving ALL the stuff of my life for the first time in twenty-five years, and the undertaking is mammoth. I have thrown NOTHING away, and, while I'm getting better at discarding little bits and pieces of my life, I'm still a hoarder. I have until July 31 to gather and store what needs to be retained. I have moved and stored all my books and my vinyl. You know, the important stuff. Now, for the rest of it.
I have created a mancave here in my new digs. I have ensconced myself in a corner of the first floor of my brother and sister-in-law's house, and turned it into a combination screening room, library, kitchenette, sleeping quarters and semi-office. And the bathroom is only a few feet away. Eventually, the plan is to build a real office out over the garage. I may never leave New Hampshire again.
An exaggeration, but it is very, very nice here.
Just back from New Century Theatre at Smith College in Northampton where I directed my play TO FORGIVE, DIVINE as part of New Century's 20th Anniversary Season. I am co-founder of the theatre, along with Sam Rush. On July 18, 1991, we presented the first performance at New Century--my play JERRY FINNEGAN'S SISTER, featuring Chris Connell and Jenna Moscowitz. Jenna was in the audience for TFD last week and looked not a day over the 21 she was when she did the show. TFD, after battling through the smallish audiences over the July 4th weekend, played to big, responsive houses for the final five shows, and it was a wonderful experience, working with old friends Dave Mason, Sandra Blaney, Ed Jewett, Barb McEwen, and Catherine Bloch, and introducing the NCT audience to young Nora Kaye. Good show, I think.
Been getting some significantly favorable response from some savvy actor friends about my new play, AULD LANG SYNE. In the well-respected tradition of not jinxing it, that's all I'll say about it.
Anybody seen Kevin Bacon in TAKING CHANCE? Worth the rental. He's never been better, and the story, about a Marine colonel accompanying the body of a fallen soldier back to his hometown, is gut-wrenching.
And then there's the just-released documentary on Joan Rivers, entitled JOAN RIVERS, A PIECE OF WORK, which I highly recommend. It is honest beyond belief and Joan is funny as ever as she scratches and claws through a year in the business, battling a system that reveres youth and sidesteps performers of a certain age. Check it out.
Reading a couple of swell books on my Kindle: THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Larsson and THE MEN WHO WOULD BE KING, an examination of the life of DreamWorks SKG, by Nicole Laporte.
I'm glad THE CLOSER is back and I don't give a damn how much you don't like Kira's Southern drawl because the stories are interesting and well written and the acting is terrific. So there.
Among the vinyl I have successfully stored in my move is an album of John Kiley organ solos. Does anybody know who that is? Don't quote me on this, but I bet John played "Sweet Caroline" at Fenway before he passed away.
Okay, I'll try to save something and perhaps come up with another entry within the next three months.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
What some of the humans like to do, usually female humans who are at Barnes and Noble with mute friends or husbands, is grab a magazine from the rack, take it to a table, and read impertinent facts to the mute friend or husband. Interminably. Today, the female human who visited the magazine rack brought the current Red Sox Yearbook back to her table, which just happened to be right next to mine. And then she proceeded to broadcast to her friend the vital statistics, player by player, of most of the team members.
"Dustin Pedroia. Five-nine. A hundred eighty five pounds. Imagine."
Pause. Pause. Pause. Nothing from her friend. Then...
"David Ortiz. Six-five. Two hundred thirty five pounds." Pause. Pause. "Imagine."
Gotta tell you, they REALLY pissed off Jack Bauer a couple of weeks ago when they shot Renee through that apartment window, thus ending her two-year (excuse me, two day) stint on the show. Haven't the bad guys on 24 learned that it's just not a good idea to piss off Jack Bauer?
For those of you missing Renee, she has resurfaced as Annie Wersching in this month's Esquire. She is the featured player in the "Funny joke told by a beautiful woman" page. the joke isn't funny. It doesn't matter.
You know, you guys, when you drive by in your car and you see me running up by the Edson Cemetery or Shedd Park, and you honk your horn and I wave back as if I don't know who you are, it's because, most of the time, I don't know who you are, because I cannot see through the glare in your windshield. Nothing against you. It's just your windshield. But thanks for caring.
Disappointed in DATE NIGHT, which is one of the few movies these days I went out of my way to see. (It's easier, ain't it, to just wait for the DVD?) I couldn't be a bigger fan of Steve Carrell or Tina Fey. Each is at the top of his/her game these days. But the movie, with so much star potential, just kinda fizzles in its preposterousness. These are clever actors, and writers, and they are put through typical romcom/action movie moments through most of DATE NIGHT, and it wears thin fast. I wanted to like it. I really did. But I didn't. Sorry.
I did, however, really like Roman Polanski's GHOST WRITER, with Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan. Say what you want about Polanski, he knows how to make a thriller that keeps you guessing right up to the last frame of the movie. CHINATOWN. ROSEMARY'S BABY. Good stuff. Even idiots can make good movies.
I am currently leading my fantasy baseball league, which only means this is a fleeting moment of glory. There must be something very wrong about my being at the top of the league this early in the season. Reminds me of a photo the Globe took somewhere in the early sixties, at the first of June, with the entire Red Sox team, lead by manager Johnny Pesky and first baseman Dick Stuart, smiling into the camera, and with the photo captioned "Look Who's In First Place, Fellas!?
ABC'S MODERN FAMILY is the best new TV comedy in years. Performances are wonderful, the writing is incisive and witty and the comedy unrelenting. Ty Burrell, late of Kelsey Grammer's underrated sitcom BACK TO YOU, plays a young Dad and he is brilliant. And, best of all, Ed O'Neill is back on TV, in a vehicle that maybe even Al Bundy would appreciate.
So this year I'm losing 24, DAMAGES and LOST. That's a lot of TV to take away from a guy in one season. Maybe somebody will pick up DAMAGES, which still has some life in it. The only really bad thing about the end of 24 is that there's no way they can do something spectacular like kill off Jack Bauer. Because they're already planning the movie.
I've just finished reading Charles Van Doren's A HISTORY OF KNOWLEDGE, which I truly enjoyed. A thoroughly readable analysis of ideas over the course of human history. For a guy (me) who has trouble understanding Facebook, Charlie kept me involved and informed throughout the book. Kinda makes me think a little more of him after learning all about his escapades on the TV quiz show "21" in the fifties. See the Redford movie. You won't regret it.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
For me, it was the first time I'd watched an Opening Game in HD. This is an experience. Heidi Watney in regular definition is one thing, in HD, something else entirely. I think I'll just leave it at that.
The kid with the Herb Brooks speech? Kinda not a good idea. I mean, okay, good...he memorized a lot of words and somebody told him which ones to emphasize and a lot of people (Ellen Degeneres) thought it was cute and a lot of people thought it was classless. I just worry about the kid going back to kindergarten and dealing with fingerpainting time and milk break. I mean, doesn't everything after last night have to be pretty much down hill from here on?
Loved Pedro, as does Pedro. But that's all right. He did take a month and a half to walk from left field to the pitcher's mound, but he's just so damned lovable, he could get away with it. Fortunately, I had recorded it so I could fast forward. Not sure how I would have reacted if I'd had to watch it in real time.
Same deal with the anthem and Steven Tyler. Sue me. I fast-forwarded. Not Neil Diamond, though. Watched that whole "Sweet Caroline" thing. I think the way the owners cater to the pink hats is damn near offensive and this exhibition was right up there, but...had to watch. Don't know why. At least they edited the song. And I did like his Brooklyn Dodger plea on his jacket.
Pesky is great, though perhaps they should sit him in a box seat and bring the camera to him. I do envy his head of hair, though. Man.
Nice game. Turned out the way it needed to turn out. Scary, but we made it.
Oh, the fantasy stuff.
A friend in NY asked me to join his fantasy baseball league, so last night was the first night I participated. It took me a week or so to figure out what the hell I was doing, and when the Sox game started, I found myself in the very, very odd position of wanting the Sox to win, but wanting Jeter and Posado not to suck. Because they are on my fantasy team. As it turned out, I had a pretty good night. Both these guys did well, as did Pedroia, who is also on my squad. I don't know how I'm going to feel as the season progresses. I know, ultimately, I will choose rooting for the Sox over rooting for my Yankee players to shine. But last night's baptism of fire was a good way to introduce myself to the fantasy format.
I'm going to the game on Wednesday. I understand it'll be in the 70's again.
Fantasy, to be sure.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
What I will think about is the astonishing opportunity Dracut High School, and particularly the Head of the Music and Theatre Department there, Leon Grande, offers the students on a yearly basis. I've told Lee more times than I imagine he's interested in hearing that the DHS job is one of the most pleasant of my working year. Always. That doesn't mean it's an easy gig. Far from it. The kids can attest to that. I mean, when I started out with ANYTHING GOES 13 years ago, I had a full head of hair.
That's a total lie, but it reads well, so I'm going to leave it in.
The job is pleasant for me because of the care Lee takes in providing his students with the chance to work with the greatest musical theatre creations of the 20th Century. The material we've worked with over the years is classic. FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, LES MISERABLES, SOUTH PACIFIC, GUYS AND DOLLS, THE MUSIC MAN, WEST SIDE STORY...these are the best of the best, and exposing young theatre students to this remarkable catalogue of musical theatre is important not only for them and their theatre education, but it's also crucial because it ingrains this exceptional, vitally American, musical art into the minds and hearts of these kids who, forgive me, are exposed on a daily basis to music that really isn't music. Come on...it really isn't. Anyway...as we try to guide them through the machinations of the extremely challenging Leonard Bernstein music and Stephen Sondheim lyrics of WSS, it's heartening to know that they will remember this time, and they will remember and care about the music, the lyrics, and the show.
Don't get me wrong--these are high school kids. They have other things to do and care about than the annual musical. Lee and I and Phyllis George, the choreographer, must, on a daily basis, confront conversations like this:
"Jack...I don't think I can come to play practice tomorrow..."
"You mean rehearsal?"
"Yeah. I think I have a dentist appointment."
"You think you have a dentist appointment?"
"It's an appointment. My Mom told me that's what it was. I think it might be a dentist appointment."
"Why do you think that?"
"Because I have a toothache."
You get the idea. It's another world and Lee deals with it much more effectively than I do. But what I've grown to learn over the years is, despite the fact that the kids are distracted by EVERYTHING for the first nine weeks of rehearsal, they are listening to us, and, when their parents and other relatives show up on Opening Night, the kids will ACTUALLY DO WHAT WE HAVE ASKED THEM TO DO during play practice.
I mean, rehearsal.
Lee is retiring after next year's show, and the families of Dracut can only hope he'll be replaced by a person who cares one tenth as much as he does about his students, and musical theatre.
WEST SIDE STORY. April 8,9, 10, Dracut High School.
Friday, March 19, 2010
It's not that he makes bad movies. He makes relatively decent movies. Like UNITED 93, THE BOURNE UTIMATUM and even, I bet, GREEN ZONE, which is a movie I saw, sort of, the other day.
I say "sort of" because, while I did make it all the way through the film, I really couldn't watch all of it. No, it wasn't the violence, although there was that. I have no problem with excessive violence in movies as long as the story is told. It wasn't the story or the acting or the politics of the film. The WMD issue in Iraq is certainly an issue worth examining and GREEN ZONE does just that, with villains and heroes clearly placed in the political world established by the film.
No, it's not any of the above that made much of GREEN ZONE (and UNITED 93) difficult to watch.
It's the damn HAND-HELD CAMERA!
For God's sake, Greengrass, buy a dolly! Set up a shot in one place and put the camera down and leave it the hell alone! My God! You shouldn't go to the movies and get nauseous because your eyes are bouncing up and down in their sockets. And nausea is what ensues if you have my stomach and you try to watch GREEN ZONE. Every single scene is filmed by a hand-held camera, and when the movie is over, if you didn't know what the word "jostle" meant beforehand, you know it then. Thank heavens I didn't opt for the popcorn and soda before the movie, because each would have ended up on the deck of the AMC Cinema at the Liberty Tree Mall.
The first time I experienced this sensation was when I saw THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. I left that cinema (Showcase, West Springfield, MA) feeling sick, and I couldn't figure out why. Then I read the newspaper reports about all the people who fell ill at that film and I knew I was a victim of the same hand-held camera technique that Greengrass INSISTS on using.
Yeah, I know TV is now overrun with the same kind of camera work. Even the sitcoms have a lot of hand-held camera action. But it's different in a mammoth movie theatre. The reaction is visceral. And unpleasant. So Greengrass, either use a stationary camera or change your name, otherwise, you've lost me.
Monday, March 8, 2010
How did I ever watch this show before DVRs? Commercials and uninteresting (to me) awards are skimmed over effortlessly, or with only the effort it takes to depress one's thumb on the appropriate button on the remote. As long as you're able to hold off watching for a couple of hours, you can then watch the whole thing in 90 minutes or less. That dance sequence, for example, in my house, lasted twelve seconds.
What happened to Farrah Fawcett in the We Are The Dead section? Didn't she pass this year? Yeah, she did. About four minutes before MJ. She made movies. Where was she in the tribute?
What was George Clooney so pissed off about? The first couple of shots of him were funny, because it appeared as if his gloominess was jocular. Then, after about the twentieth shot of old George frowning, it became troublesome. We don't want George to be unhappy! This was his opportunity to be Nicholson (and where was he???). George, knowing he was gonna lose the Best Actor award to Jeff Bridges, could have yucked it up, totally relaxed, all night. But, nope...he just sat there seemingly annoyed. I'm worried. I hope everything is all right. Maybe he has too much MONEY!
Mo'Nique, who provided us with the most harrowingly brilliant performance of the year, fooled everybody by coming up with a dignified, contained, brief acceptance speech. Good for you, Mo!
Jeff Bridges, on the other hand, acted as if he'd just shown up at the affair by accident. I just don't understand why a lot of American actors (not the Brits--they're always prepared!) are so casual about the time they're given accepting these things. It's one thing to be loose as a goose, Dude. But, come on--review a few Tom Hanks speeches and be prepared! Like Sandy! Bullock was totally in control and terrific in her acceptance speech, even when she almost lost it when she was thanking her mother. And Waltz, too, was great accepting. Jeff! You let us down!
Now, tell me this...before she went out there, did Streisand find one of the Price Waterhouse guys and demand to know the winner of the Best Director award before announcing it? Or did she just have the cojones to go out there and practically give it to Kathryn Bigelow BEFORE she even revealed the winner? Would have been damned uncomfortable if she had opened the envelope and it said, "James Cameron." Fortunately, it worked out. Until Kathryn's speech. She, like Jeff, was overwhelmed and unfocused. Hate that. Her ex-husband was kind of obnoxious when he accepted for TITANIC, but I don't think he bumbled about as she did.
Really thought Steve and Alec were superb. Nice material, well-delivered. Some guy in the Herald today dumped all over them and said that the show should have been hosted by Neil Patrick Harris and Ben Stiller. That kind of criticism shows a decided lack of awareness of what show business and comedy is about.
Tina Fey and Robert Downey, Jr. Hysterical. I'm sure Fey wrote that bit. Is she or is she not at the top of her game? God, they were funny.
I didn't expect that Taylor guy to be so poised. Of course, out there as he was with poor, frightened Kristen Stewart, it was pretty easy to look poised.
I know Meryl's been nominated a million times, but how about Randy Newman? I think he's been nominated every year since Walt Disney died.
I'm still worrying about Clooney. Has anybody called him today?
Sandra Bullock needs a big, big sandwich. Man, did she look skinny. But sharp. SHARP!
Not a big HURT LOCKER fan. More of a fan of INGLORIOUS BASTERDS and UP IN THE AIR.
Maybe that's why George was dyspeptic. UITA won nothing, by my calculations.
I hope that's it.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Then, however, inevitably following the foot, comes the rest of the driver, and in his grubby little mitts is a piece of paper, maybe letter size not not letter stock--perhaps a paper towel. And it is burning. Fully and indisputably BURNING. Said owner of said foot then steps out of the cab of the BIG NEW truck and places the burning piece of paper on the ground.
Have I mentioned the wind?
There's wind. A lot of it. And when the paper hits the ground, BURNING, the wind takes the paper for a ride.
So I sit there in my Nissan (not a Toyota, thank God) Sentra, watching this BURNING piece of paper as it wends its windy way UNDER MY CAR.
I start beeping my horn, figuring the idiot who put the BURNING PAPER on the ground would see what was going to happen, get out of his BIG TRUCK and stomp on the paper.
But, no...Einstein just gets back in the truck. Where nothing is BURNING. Anymore. I assume.
I start to swerve my Sentra out of the way. Swerving was absolutely called for at the moment. I watch 24. I know what happens when open flame hits gas lines. I don't feel like blowing up on the Daniel Webster Highway.
I beep and honk some more. The BURNING PAPER gets closer and closer to the front of my car. IDIOT TRUCK GUY stays in BIG TRUCK. I lose sight of the BURNING PAPER. I figure it is under my car. I begin to consider leaving my vehicle. (I have done this before, but that's a story for another time.)
Fortunately, though, the light changes, and I am able to follow the IDIOT IN THE BIG PICKUP TRUCK through the intersection before his friggin' piece of BURNING PAPER gets under my car.
I know you won't read this, IDIOT BIG PICKUP DRIVER--but did you ever consider just stomping on the paper as you placed it on the ground? Did you see my Sentra four feet from you? Do you watch 24? Were you able to afford a television after you purchased your BIG STUPID PICKUP TRUCK?
AND HOW THE HELL DID A PAPER OF THAT SIZE--OF ANY SIZE--START BURNING IN YOUR PICKUP?
The only positive thing I could take away from this, other than the fact that I didn't get blown to smithereens, is that if I had been blown to smithereens, I think I would have taken IDIOT BIG STUPID PICKUP TRUCK GUY with me.
I don't trust BIG TRUCK GUYS. Never have. I don't believe they need trucks THAT BIG.
But if you do have a BIG TRUCK, and if you do, for some reason, start a fire inside the truck, KEEP THE DAMN FIRE TO YOURSELF, OKAY?
Friday, February 26, 2010
Ellison warmed the cockles of my heart, though, when, as the documentary approached its conclusion, he encountered a fan who proclaimed that his work, Ellison's work, was "awesome."
Harlan, who, at the time, was filling a plate with food, put down the plate, looked the fan in the face and told him that no, the Grand Canyon was awesome. The Sistine Chapel is awesome. His work was not. Awesome. He begged the fan to join in the crusade to return that wonderful word to its proper place in the lexicon. Because if pedestrian things, like lunch, lawn furniture and TV shows can be "awesome," then the word means nothing. It certainly doesn't mean what it means, which is "awe inspiring." Lunch cannot, really, inspire awe. Having a fun time at the mall can't be awesome. It cannot inspire awe. Really. It can't. No, don't argue with me. It cannot.
The last time I can remember when I could legitimately have used the word "awesome" was when I traveled to Toronto in the early 2000's for a Red Sox-Blue Jays series. The Sox swept all four games, but that was not an awesome accomplishment. I didn't drive close enough to Niagara Falls to see the Falls, which I'm sure were awesome, but because I missed them, there was nothing awesome about the drive. I was, however, sitting in the third base upper boxes when Manny Ramirez, who used to be a ballplayer, drilled a sad pitch from Chris Carpenter into the fifth--the FIFTH-- deck at whatever the hell they called that stadium back then. I had never, ever seen anything like the trajectory of the ball off the bat on that day, at that moment, and I remember turning to the guy next to me, probably a Canadian because he was on the Blue Jays side of the field (I took what seats they gave me), and I said to him, "Good God in Heaven." A mammoth blast. An astonishing athletic achievement. Certainly, truly...awesome.
But when I ask somebody if they saw AVATAR and they say yeah, it was awesome...
I have an unbelievably awesome desire to leap for his or her throat and wring some semblance of true awe into his or her brain.
The word is no longer simply overused.
It is universally abused.
I would like to call a moratorium on the use of the word "awesome." Maybe for ten years. That might do it. And then, we'll all meet at the foot of the Sphinx and look up and, in unison, we can all say the word again. At that point, perhaps, the word will have returned to its proper place in the world of adjectives, and no longer will we be tempted to describe things like American Idol, a trip to Milwaukee, or Lady Gaga as awesome.
Once that is accomplished, we can get to work on the various spellings of there, their and they're.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Well, first of all what I did on Sunday afternoons in February when I was a yoot was I probably whined. Because of what I had to do. Whining did me no good at all, because what I had to do had to be done.
And what that was, was...
I had to go to the old armory up on Westford Street in Lowell, MA. Not sure what time of day. Maybe mid-afternoon. And I had to march. With the Sacred Heart Band. We marched at the armory on Sundays in February and early March because we were preparing to march--really march--in the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade in Manhattan, and, damn it, if we were going to do that, we were going to practice.
And, of course, it wasn't just marching. It was marching and playing my trumpet. At the same time. Playing trumpet is not a very easy thing to do. At all times, as you pucker up to that mouthpiece, your lips and your tongue are in serious jeopardy of becoming bashed or pinched, especially when you are marching. Listen to a marching band sometime--any level of ability--and you will hear the occasional frightening sound emanating from a trumpet when the trumpet player steps in a pothole or some kind of bump in the road. And trust me, the sound you hear isn't nearly as painful as the pain of the player's pinched pucker.
But I digress, which I am very good at.
As I recall, I did everything in my power to get my mother or father to drive me to the armory early--like 45 minutes early--not because of any desire to warm up or practice puckering. No. What happened a half hour before the marching was the only fun thing February Sundays featured--the basketball playing.
That is, if we could find the basketball.
The armory was something of a basketball court. God knows who played there. But there were hoops and, somewhere in the bowels of that building, usually in the possession of a friendly (sometimes) custodian huddled in some dark basement cubbyhole listening to whatever sports were left to listen to on the radio on a February Sunday, a basketball. The first who showed up of those of us who wanted to play would seek out this elusive old coot and talk him into giving us the basketball. And we would choose sides and we would play. And we would play hard. Much harder than we would march. And we would sweat. So that by the time the marching started, we were ready for a shower that would never happen.
At starting time, the whistle would blow--the whistle either came from band director Ray Greeley, or drum instructor Al Gougen, or marching instructors Johnny Conlon or Jack Morris (not the Tigers pitcher), and we would reluctantly roll the ball off to the sidelines (giving the custodian something to do later in the afternoon), grab our various instruments, and line up.
Lining up was a big deal. We weren't the greatest musicians in the world, nor were we the most talented marchers, but, damn, could we line up. I was one of the privileged who got to be at the end of a line, and, therefore, got to lift my left arm up and wait for the seven or so kids in my line to align themselves as neatly as possible. Once the marching started, the line was shot to hell. But boy, could we line up with the best of them.
Then we would march in a circle around the armory. And around the armory. And around. And around. And around. And, I have to say, what we really didn't do, was march. We more or less walked. In tempo. Marching is a thing that the Sacred Heart Band pretended to do, but really didn't do. We called it marching, though, so we felt okay about it.
We'd march around and around for an hour, then take a break--more basketball, more sweating--and then we'd march again for another half hour, though this time the marching was more complicated. We counter marched! That meant that we eschewed the circle, and spread our lines across the width of the floor, and marched up and down. When you reached the end of the hall, you turned and marched back, cagily avoiding the line coming at you. Counter marching! It never really made a lot of sense. We probably did it just to keep our parents entertained. There's only so much entertainment you can get out of circle marching.
At the end of a total of two hours, we'd go home.
I don't think, after each session, we were any better as marchers.
Nor as basketball players.
But there was something about the anticipation of that real march down up Fifth Avenue on March 17 that made the armory Sundays exciting. We all knew we were focused on something special.
The armory isn't there anymore. There's a playground, I think.
And I bet--I swear to God, I bet--that underneath that playground is a buried room in which one can find a worn and beaten old basketball.
And probably a custodian.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
I was invited out there to direct the play and I was very excited because the great folks at Meadow Brook had arranged for TV's Cindy Williams--Shirley of LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY--to star in the show. And, what's more, Cindy talked her old friend and former TV co-star, Eddie Mekka ("The Big Ragu" on L&S) to perform in the show as well. It would be my first time directing TV stars, and I was a little anxious about it. Excited, but anxious.
Plus, Christos Savalas, son of TV's KOJAK, Telly Savalas, was going to play the gangster "Little Willie" in the show, and Kady Zadora, daughter of Pia Zadora, was going to play "Daisy," the innocent from Buffalo who gets mixed up in all kinds of jams.
KONG'S NIGHT OUT is a showbiz comedy about what I thought might have happened in the room NEXT TO the room where King Kong whisks Faye Wray out of the bedroom in the classic 1933 film. Folks have described it as a farce, and, yes, there are many doors slamming often in the play, but I think of it more as a screwball comedy. In any case, it requires comedians who know what they're doing out there. Cindy and Eddie certainly filled that bill, as did the rest of the cast.
Christos, however, had never set foot onstage in a play before. And he was acting in a very important part. He turned out to be the nicest young man in the history of show business and worked mightily to learn the set-ups and deliveries of all the jokes, and the dialect of the character, and he was terrific. Kady had had some experience and her "Daisy" was funny and charming.
Cindy and Eddie were a revelation.
First of all, Cindy is very reserved and quiet offstage. She shows up at rehearsal and finds her little corner and opens her script and goes to work. Eddie's a little more gregarious, but no less diligent about getting the job done. Time and again, as I'd be working with some of the other actors in the rehearsal room, I'd see Cindy and Eddie off on their own in another part of the room, going over and over a piece of business or dialogue to make sure it was honed to perfection. What a pleasure to watch professionals taking their artistic responsibility so seriously. And the work paid off.
When it came time to stage Cindy's entrance, I managed to set it up so that she would enter alone and have a moment to be seen by the audience. I assumed there'd be entrance applause. And there would have been. Except Cindy, very rightly, determined that it was not appropriate at that moment in the play for it to stop cold. So we worked the scene without a pause and, though the audience always tried to start applauding when she entered, it was never a full reaction, because Cindy just kept going!
Eddie Mekka is a dancer and a gymnast, and his producer character, Sig Higginbottom, in this production, ended up doing all kinds of stage flips and dives and pratfalls. I never anticipated that for the character, but all the bits worked beautifully.
When it came time to stage the curtain call, I had Cindy bowing last. She demurred, letting me know that the final bow should be taken by the actor playing her son, and she was right--but we ended up with Cindy bowing last anyway. Sometimes you just have to go with tradition and with what the audience expects.
The show ran for four weeks. I had to leave after the first weekend, but I continued to get reports that all was well. I'm still in touch with Cindy and Eddie and, in fact, I've just written a play I hope they'll do some day.
Just wanted to let you know what Shirley and The Big Ragu have been up to.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Would Jack Bauer SHUT DOWN CTU?
I don't think so.
24 will not abandon any episodes planned, they tell us, but...boy, you like to think the guy playing Jack Bauer wouldn't be responsible for something like this.
I'm probably shooting myself in the foot by saying this but...those of you left out there who still go to live theatre, would you do me a favor? Would you participate in a standing ovation ONLY if you felt the production you just saw was...and I hate to use this word, but I'm going to use it here...AWESOME? Standing ovations should be reserved for only the most astonishing performances in theatre. That's why God invented standing ovations. When I go to the theatre now, I think perhaps 60 per cent of the time the audience is standing applauding at the end of the show. This percentage is far too high. I'm thinking...what? One percent? Two, maybe, it should be? I mean, you're standing up, telling the cast that they blew your mind! Mind blowing is something that happens very, very rarely. Or, at least, it should happen very, very rarely. Otherwise, there'd be way too many people walking around with blown minds. I mean, if standing ovations have become de rigueur; if we stand for even the most ordinary of performances, then how can we tell an actor, or actors, that we have been genuinely moved beyond comprehension? Standing? Big deal! Happens all the time. What do you have to do? Stand up on your seat? A Seat Standing Ovation? And if that becomes de rigueur, what next? Taking off your clothes? A Stripping Ovation? I know. I have too much time on my hands. But I'd like, somehow, for standing ovations to go back to meaning something in the theatre.
I had a play of mine rejected by a local theatre today. No big deal. The Artistic Director explained that the play, THE PORCH, does not feature the kind of writing he likes to bring to his theatre. I understand. Artistic Directors have their tastes and they have the right to accept or reject any script that comes over their desks. The play has done well elsewhere and will do well again in other theatres. But it's a constant battle--finding artistic directors and literary managers who embrace...what can I call it?...the traditional form of theatre comedy that I write. I admit it. I learned what I know about writing from Ring Lardner, Neil Simon, Mel Brooks and Woody Allen. These gentlemen, for the most part, wrote and write comedies. They also wrote and write plays and movies about real people who happen to say funny things. Real people who deal with real situations that sometimes make the comedy hard to take. Real people dealing with...life. This is a hard sell these days, because when artistic directors and literary managers read my stuff, they see the jokes, and they don't often embrace the possibility that the characters are real. They think that, because the characters say funny things, they can't have authentic emotion and manage the challenge of living. It's the Curse of Sitcom. There have been so many bad sitcoms on television over the years, that when a theatre script shows up on an artistic director's desk, and it has that "sitcom" feel, it is, more often than not, doomed. It's a very distinct style, it's my style, and, as I say, it's a very tough sell.
I've reached the point where I know that if I can get my stuff to the audience, I'll be fine. I know them. And I have complete confidence that when a play of mine begins, they are going to know my characters. They're going to laugh a lot; and they are gonna get whacked with a hard life situation that they will understand, relate to, and embrace.
But getting there is a journey. Bless the artistic directors who embrace the style. They are few and far between.