Saturday, November 26, 2011

I have found myself, over the past couple of years, watching entire series of old TV shows.  It's a fascinating, if time-wasting, exercise that offers glimpses not only into the creative process of these old shows, but also into the social context in which these shows were produced and presented.

My first complete series was THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW.  First of all, let me say that I think Andy Griffith is brilliant.  From his youthful parody recordings such as his country-telling of the ROMEO AND JULIET story, through his early Hollywood career making films like NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS and the outstanding A FACE IN THE CROWD, through his short Broadway stint in DESTRY RIDES AGAIN to his long-running television shows (don't forget MATLOCK), Griffith had an uncanny ability to find the pulse of the public and treat it with worthy entertainment.  

Ron Howard had to have learned film-making discipline from his many years with Griffith.  Jim Nabors' career was launched and catapulted through Griffith's insistence that he was a star.  Don Knotts became a television icon when Griffith wisely stepped back to serve as Knotts straight man when he realized his sidekick was getting all the laughs.  

Griffith simply knew how to make audiences happy.  His first television series--not really a sitcom, but rather more a subtle, sweet, episodic lesson in morality, friendship and understanding--ran from 1960 to 1968, when it morphed into MAYBERRY, R.F.D.  It made the mandatory transition from black and white to color in 1966.  Often, the storyline involved Howard, who played Sheriff Andy Taylor's son Opie, and who would invariably choose or be lured into doing something wrong--like sling-shooting a bird to death--and, in the final scene, would sit on the porch of the Mayberry house and learn right from wrong from Dad.  Griffith's Taylor, always gently firm, knew how to get his point across without hammering it home.  Whatever Opie learned, we learned.  And we tuned in the following week because we cared about the characters and believed in the truth the series evoked.  

The characters were memorable--Aunt Bee, Gomer Pyle, his cousin Goober, Floyd the barber (played by Howard McNear, who suffered a stroke after the first couple of seasons, was brought back by Griffith after he recovered, and was, if it's possible, funnier after the stroke than he was before it), Ernest T. Bass (the irrepressible Howard Morris) and so, so many others over the years.  Most unforgettable, of course, was Knotts' Barney Fife, possibly one of the five most iconic television characters in history.  There wasn't a second of Knotts' lunacy as the bumbling deputy that wasn't honestly rendered by the actor, who deservedly went on to win a slew of Emmys. 

It's difficult to pick a favorite episode of the over 200 produced, so I won't even try.  However, a favorite moment, which occurred many times in the life of the series, was the late-in-show porch sit with Andy, strumming softly on his guitar, harmonizing a hymn with Barney.  True, heartfelt, without embarrassment or apology, Griffith told his story.

Next time--Amos and Andy.  Yes.  That's what I said.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

9/11 Fund Raiser for Veterans

Wanted to let you know about an upcoming event. I've been playing in a September baseball game with a group of friends, many of them from Lowell's Sacred Heart Parish, for 30 years. This year, the game falls on September 11, and we'd like to commemorate our 30th Anniversary by honoring the memory of the victims of 9/11, and our Veterans. Below is the event's official letter. Hope you'll consider helping out:

Dear Friends,

As you are aware, the tenth anniversary of the tragedy of September 11th is upon us. The City of Lowell and Community Teamwork, Inc. Senior Corps programs will commemorate the 10th Anniversary of September 11th at a flag raising ceremony on Friday, September 9th. The observance recognizes the impact of terrorism on the surviving family members and friends of those who lost their lives or suffered otherwise on that day.

In addition, as a way of thanking those whose lives have been changed forever by the service they have given to our nation since that time, CTI’s Senior Corps programs are partnering with local Senior Centers to collect supplies that have been requested by local area veterans’ services. All items will be donated to benefit local veterans who are struggling.

To assist in this noble effort, a group of friends, many lifelong Lowellians and many from the former Sacred Heart Parish, are raising funds to support the CTI’s Senior Corps and our veterans. The interesting story about this group of friends is that for the past thirty years, they have gathered on the Sunday after Labor Day at ballparks across the City for a game of baseball. In fact, 2011 marks the 30th anniversary of the game. Of course, the speed and level of play has diminished over the years but the spirit of the players has not. A pre-game ceremony is planned to honor our Veterans, and Micky Ward will throw out the first pitch.

It seems fitting that as a way to give back to their community, and to show their gratitude to local service men and women that the players dedicate this year’s game to the heroes who now need our support.

The players seek to raise $5000 to be donated to CTI’s Senior Corps to be used to purchase much needed items for veterans living in Lowell. The funds will be raised in a number of ways including donations from players, friends and families, and from sponsorships from local contributors.

We know that you share our commitment to the spirit, pride, selflessness, generosity, courage and service of the men and women of our military forces. We respectfully request that you consider participating in our efforts by contributing an affordable amount to help our seniors help our heroes.

Thank you in advance for your support and contribution. Click below. You'll be taken to PayPal, where you can use your credit card to donate by entering an amount designated for "CYB."


The Sacred Heart Church Yard Boys

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I've been wondering what it would take to get me back on this blog. For some reason, I haven't been able to get my brain around anything worth typing here. Not that anything I've typed up to this point is worth the cyberspace it occupies. But I've been busy, working, and every time I considered blogging, I was just too damned tired or stressed or pissed off or frustrated or annoyed or discombobulated to get down to it. There was just nothing prompting me to get back up on the blogging horse.

Until last night.

Last night, for the first time in six years, I had a Burger King Whopper.

Six years ago, I lost 42 pounds over the course of about eight months. I did this by not eating crap. A lot of the crap I was eating at the time was Burger King Whoppers. I'd get out of a rehearsal or a performance late at night, probably having skipped dinner. I'd head home. A glance to the left off the Lowell Connector drew my baby blues to the glaring Burger King lights on Chelmsford Street. And toward those lights I would go, tummy gurgling in anticipation of another late night Whopper.

And with the Whopper comes the Fries. Everybody knows that.

I would make this Burger King pilgrimage often. Once or twice a week. And think nothing of it. Well, I'd think of it, because the belt buckle was gnawing at the burgeoning folds at my waist but…I devoured the Whoppers anyway.

Because the Burger King Whopper, you see, to me, is not really crap. The Burger King Whopper is, to me, the Greatest Food In History.

I'll tell you why.

In my first summer out of college, I worked as an actor at Theatre By The Sea in Matunuck, Rhode Island. Let me amend that. I was not primarily an actor. I was primarily a member of the Junior Company at Theatre By The Sea. There were about twenty of us--show biz hungry 20-somethings so early in our careers that we believed the torture TBTS management inflicted on us was par for the course. In fact, it may have been. Perhaps all summer theatres worked their apprentices like plow horses and pack mules. Perhaps all summer theatres called whatever they dubbed their Junior Company kids to the shop at 8 am, without breakfast, worked them non-stop until noon, then didn't serve them lunch, worked or rehearsed them from 1 to 5, then didn't serve them dinner before they shoved them onstage to appear as happy chorus cowboys and farmers in OKLAHOMA before summoning them again for a couple of hours after the show to do some more grunt work in the scene shop before bed. Yeah. All summer theatre was like this. Absolutely. That's what we told ourselves, anyway. Because we were working in theatre, and working in theatre is HARD. Right? Right!

Please notice in the paragraph above the effort I made to emphasize the lack of FOOD offered to us by TBTS. There was a restaurant attached to the theatre, yes--but we had to PAY FOR THE FOOD IF WE WANTED TO EAT IT. And few if any of us could afford that. We all PAID A FEE to be a part of the Junior Company, so there was no salary.

(Wait, that's not entirely true. I was cast as the Puerto Rican Delivery Boy in Neil Simon's THE GINGERBREAD LADY at the beginning of the season, the only JC member so blessed. As a result, I received my first check as an actor. Seven dollars and fifty cents. I don't consider that a feather in my cap, however, because of the life price I paid. You see, I was a fair skinned Irish kid who could do Simon riffs with a decent Latino dialect, so in order to play the Puerto Rican, I was also asked to blacken my blond strands by RUBBING SHEETS OF CARBON PAPER INK INTO MY HAIR. Anybody who knows me now or takes a look at my headshot knows how successful THAT experiment was.)

Bottom line: we had no food. Or if we did it was only the food we could muster up by trying to grab a half hour to walk or bicycle to the general store about two miles down the road to get some Wonder Bread and boiled ham, which we would fashion into sad sandwiches to stuff into our skeletal faces on our way to the next shop call or costume parade or photo session.

I know--the Whoppers--I'm getting to it.

Anyway, we did six or eight shows a week, I forget how many. But one of our show days, on Saturday, featured a matinee and evening performance. And in between shows, probably because there was some kind of Rhode Island child abuse law, TBTS fed us. Once a week. Just once.

Every Saturday, after the matinee, before the evening show, the truck drove up, opened and dropped the rear flap, and handed out the red, orange and white paper bags containing our sustenance. The same menu week after week.

Burger King Whoppers.

Never before, or since, have I tasted anything so desperately divine.

And last night, for the first time in six years, because I was late for a rehearsal and had to grab a fast dinner, I glanced off the highway, saw the Burger King lights, went there, and had myself a Whopper.

God Almighty, it was good.

Not quite as good as it was between shows of OKLAHOMA.

But damn, damn good.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cinema Shardiso

So I saw THE FIGHTER recently. Not a bad movie. Not a great movie, by any means, but not bad. I think the movie would have had more teeth if it had gone whole hog and admitted it was about Dicky and not Micky. I'm from Lowell, but I have had no interaction with any of these guys, so my observation is simply as a moviegoer. And if the movie had been about Dicky, then it could have turned on that phone call when Dicky discovered that Micky had listened to him about the approach to the Vegas fight. That happens, Dicky is redeemed, he cleans himself up, the movie is about him. On the other hand, I'm sure Dicky's story was a bit under-told, and perhaps his redemption might not be as viable as Micky's achievement. I don't know. Still, Bale wins the Oscar, over Jeremy Renner, who received the only Oscar nomination scored for a better movie, THE TOWN.

I am from Lowell, though, and I have to say this...

Watching THE FIGHTER prompted me to watch HIGH ON CRACK STREET, the searing, 59-minute documentary that is a crucial part of the plot of THE FIGHTER. Because it's a short film, you won't find it on Blockbuster or Netflix. But you can find it very easily online, and you can watch it for free on your computer.

So if you see THE FIGHTER....

...and then you see HIGH ON CRACK STREET...

...and you are from Lowell...

...then you can't be very happy about the way Hollywood has depicted your city.

Sure, both stories, interwoven as they are, are legit and worth telling.

But, my God...are these films the city's cinematic legacy?

Sure, Ricky Gervais' THE INVENTION OF LYING showed scenes of Lowell at its nicest. But it did not acknowledge the name of the city. So that doesn't count.

I've written a play about Lowellians, entitled THE PORCH. Perhaps sometime, some theatre in Lowell will stage it. So far, one has rejected it. Too bad. I think folks in the area would appreciate its message of hope and friendship. But I can't help at the moment.

I'm just sayin'...

There are Lowellians out there living sane, productive, and INTERESTING lives, and they have stories to tell. Paul Marion and other local writers pen wonderful material about the city.

But the rest of the world sees us in THE FIGHTER and HIGH ON CRACK STREET and...

I'm just sayin'...

I think I saw THE SOCIAL NETWORK and I think it was pretty good. I just can't remember all that much about it. I'll watch it again. If it takes Best Picture, that's fine with me. Besides, I am a huge fan of director David Fincher, whose SEVEN is one of my all-time favorite films.

Jeff Bridges is terrific in TRUE GRIT but it looks like he hasn't shaved or bathed since before CRAZY HEART. I don't think you should win back-to-back Oscars without changing your clothes. Good, solid movie, though, from the Coen Brothers, who stepped a little away from their customary quirkiness to tell an old fashioned western story extremely well. Hailee Steinfeld? Superb.

Colin Firth is probably going to win the Best Actor Oscar, but, for some reason, as good as he is in THE KING'S SPEECH, I had a little trouble getting past the technical acting-out of the stammering George VI. That's not fair, I know, but...that's my reaction. What I took away from that movie was the nuanced, moving, brilliantly subtle work of Geoffrey Rush. My God, is he good in this movie. Can't win the Oscar, though. Not with Christian Bale as competition.

Michelle Williams turns in a star performance in BLUE VALENTINE, which also features Tewksbury's Maryann Plunkett as Williams' mother in the film. Williams scored an Oscar nom, her second, for her work. But, for my money, the standout performance in BLUE VALENTINE belongs to Ryan Gosling, who breaks your heart as a man who just wants to be a husband and father, but who doesn't have the life skills to provide for his family. Just a beautiful job of acting.

I kind of have a feeling I saw INCEPTION, but I'm just not sure if it was a dream. I'll have to look for the ticket stub.

Okay, are you sitting down--I still say that the best film I have seen this year is TOY STORY 3. It is meticulously structured, hysterically funny, occasionally scary, and downright moving. There is a moment late in the film that I still can't believe happened, it was so fresh and surprising. It will be Best Animated Feature but...I think it needs to be considered as best of the year.