Thursday, December 19, 2013

Have you seen this tree?

     
Somebody stole my Christmas decorations!
        I know that sounds like a poor imitation of a great Dr. Seuss classic, but evidently the Grinch is alive and well in the Florida Keys.
        The land of scraggly pine, leafy palms and plentiful poisonwood seems an unlikely setting for a holiday hooligan. I doubt the The Keys have ever seen snow. Even in the last ice age. That's what makes it so attractive to Michigan snowbirds. This is our third winter in The Keys, and our second year renting the same house. Since we knew we were returning, and the owner only rents to a limited number of friends and family, we decided to leave some bulky items -- a kayak and a  bait freezer -- as well as a small box of Christmas decorations. The kayak and freezer were waiting for us, but the Christmas decorations disappeared.
         This wasn't a box of rare German glass ornaments or crystal. Just a plaid tablecloth, a fake flower centerpiece, a lighted table decoration and a small wooden tree  I miss that tree. It was only a foot tall, but I purchased it at a craft fair 25 years ago when my son was just a little kid. It's a puzzle tree, made of carved pieces that fit together in several different tree-shape configurations.It was a conversation piece at many holiday celebrations. And now it's gone.
         Losing the Christmas decorations won't spoil my holiday. I learned the lesson of the Dr. Seuss story. Christmas isn't about stuff; it's about friends, family and faith. If someone out there is so deprived (depraved?) that they need my decorations to be happy, then I donate them gladly. I have my health, my guy and faith in God. And thanks to The Keys, I'll probably be enjoying beautiful weather on Christmas, too.
          So, enjoy my decorations, Mr. Grinch.
        

Friday, December 13, 2013

Lucky 13

I know Friday the 13th is supposed to be bad luck, but  this one has been pretty fantastic so far. We're enroute to our winter home in the Florida Keys. We left Wednesday morning in a go-back-to-bed blizzard. But Steve was determined to get on the road. Barely a half hour east of Grand Rapids the blizzard waned. We still had a little snow off and on all though Ohio and into Kentucky. When we got up Thursday morning it was a bone chilling 6 degrees. It was only a little better when we awoke this morning in Macon, Ga. A whopping 22. But as the day progressed, the sun came out and the frost disappeared. We visited with a friend in Jacksonville, Fla,where shirt sleeves were adequate. Steve changed into shorts and sandals for a tour trolley in St. Augustine. It feels so good to be warm again.

I am hopeful we've seen the last of frost, at least until April Fools when we return to Michigan!

And hopefully this Friday the 13th will be a lucky inspiration for me to finish the final chapters of Full Moon Friday, my next book in the Jordan Daily News series. It is set on a Friday the 13th that coincides with the full moon. I plan to release the book next June when the full moon will once again coincide with Friday the 13th.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Natalie times four

       

Excellent. Extraordinarily entertaining evening.
        I just can't say enough good things about the Natalie MacMaster/Donnell Leahy show I saw last night at the City Opera House in Traverse City.

         The very pregnant MacMaster -- baby #6 is due in April -- presented her usual high energy, fast fiddlin' of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, complete with interludes of her high stepping jigs and her amazing knee spins. She was joined by her husband of 11 years, Donnell Leahy, whose fiddling style is more classical, with showy, broad strokes and long, lingering notes. Then for a real treat, three of their children came out and played their little violins and danced some pretty fancy steps. The oldest daughter is following the MacMaster tradition, and will be giving her mother competition before long.
          Add outstanding piano accompaniment and guitar picking by the members of their band, and it was a footstompin' fanfare of music as good or better than any I have ever seen. All this in the beautiful, intimate setting of the City Opera House. Extraordinary evening. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

50 Shades of Gray

OK. Maybe 50 is an exaggeration. But you can expect to see lots of shades of gray in the costumes and sets of Grand Rapids Civic Theatre's upcoming production "The Giver," which opens Friday, Oct. 18. Based on Lois Lowry's Newberry Award-winning book, "The Giver" is about a utopian world without pain or fear (and probably no wrangling Congress to shut down the government.) But there's also no real joy ...and no realization of color. It's kind of like an old black and white movie, infinite shades of gray, long before that title took on such a sexy implication.

Don't expect Civic's production to be as shocking as "Fifty Shades of Gray," but expect a story with surprising depth about the choices one must make when facing adulthood. Director Pamela Steers recommends the show for middle school and older. She is pictured above with Jim Chervenka in the title role and Jake T. Goldberg, who portrays Jonas, the young man chosen to learn The Giver's secrets.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Can't stop singing those songs

   
I never claimed to be a singer, but when I'm alone in my own home -- watch out. Doing the housework Wednesday it was an off-key "Sherry, Sherry baby, Sherry." Loading the car in the garage Thursday  it was "Oh, pretty baby! Now that I've found you stay. Oh, Pretty Baby, Forgive me when I say..." at the top of my lungs. And petting my  cat, a quiet "As long as love can survive, I thank God I'm alive..."
    It's all because of "Jersey Boys." I saw the show Tuesday at DeVos Performance Hall and it won't let me go. I had seen it once before in Chicago, but if anything this touring show was even better. More electric.
     I sang a couple bars of  "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man" for my mom on Skype and it was good enough that she quickly remembered the songs of The Four Seasons. "Oh, yeah, I know those songs," she said.
     Last night I woke up at 3 a.m. and all I could think of was "Late December back in '63, what a special time for me, as I remember, what a night."
     If you didn't catch this show, the good news is you have five more chances this weekend: tonight and double performances both Saturday and Sunday. But be warned, the music will follow you home.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Good multiplied

    
When I was raising my son in Toledo, one of my friends was Jane, a young mother from Kentucky. I remember she used to send her daughters outside to play with a kiss on the top of the head and the words "Be good." (You have to imagine a southern drawl for the full effect)
       I was reminded of Jane today as I left the day-long Ted -X Macatawa meeting in Holland. "Do good" people said to each other instead of  "goodbye." 
      The day had been overflowing with "good" ideas. Improvements in our education system, a company run by retired executives aimed at providing clean water for third world countries, tips for the perfectly "imperfect", breaking out from the 'hood, creating products intended for reuse instead of waste, telling our stories, helping injured veterans be creative.
      It's hard to decide what "good" to do first. Little things like taking my morning tea on the deck and watching the sunrise instead of at my desk reading emails. Finding that dulcimer I put away and giving it another try. Calling an old friend to see how I can help. I was inspired with several major project ideas that will take longer to implement, but today, listening to all that enthusiasm, my ideas sounded doable. 
       In the impersonal tech world of Facebook and Twitter, it's inspiring to see people coming together simply to hear people talk about ideas. And then to talk to other people about what they heard. Talk. Talk about good. Better. Now. We can.Good.
      
      

Friday, September 6, 2013

Crazy good

I've never been one for horror movies. I don't like to be scared silly. And if I anticipate somebody's about to get hurt in the movie I'm watching, I close my eyes.

But I couldn't take my eyes off "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," the latest offering at Circle Theatre. It's a horrifying story, yet there's an unspoken pact somehow between actors and audience that there will be no blood. The murders will be hinted, even laughed about, but never actually seen.

Instead we see the eyes. The fear. The hate. The greed and plotting. The helpless vulnerability. And you just can't turn away from it. It's mesmerizing. Oh, my skin is still crawling.

See it ... if you dare.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

It's a mystery to me

Peanut gallery high above the stage.
Grand Rapids Civic Theatre is a fun house. Just think of all the good times you've had there watching plays, taking classes. But tonight media members saw some of the building's spooky secrets in a special Inside DISH tour.  Of course, a bit of mystery was the general idea. The next production is "Sherlock Holmes" and as the great detective would say, the game's afoot. 

As media members wandered through the props stored in the labyrinth basement, Dr. Watson popped up. He was more than a little agitated that Holmes had stuck him in the basement. Holmes himself popped out of the fancy stage right dressing room which was added in 1979 for Tony Award-winning actress Julie Harris when she presented "The Belle of Amherst" at Civic. Harris, who died Saturday, is also featured in a photo in the lobby.

But the spookiest part of the tour was a trip to the "peanut gallery" on the third floor, high above the balcony that most guests see. This is where blacks and other minorities were seated until the 1920s. Now the bleacher seats are used for storage and spotlights. But it was an ugly peek into entertainment history that was particularly meaningful on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Saga of the lime green jeans


The capris (pre-stain)  at  Coast Guard Festival
Last spring, I heard that lime green was the "in" color this season. It looks good with my red hair, so when I spied a pair of lime green capris at a flea market, I tried them on. Perfect fit. Good price ($10). Although I didn't have any tops to wear with them, I bought the lime green capris.
      I managed to find a few things in my closet that worked well with the green jeans as I called them. They received several compliments at the Asparagus Fest in Empire, Mi., where I looked painted green for the occasion.
      On a July shopping trip, I bought two new shirts to go with the green jeans which were fast becoming my favorites. I'd only had a chance to wear one of the new shirts when disaster happened: I spilled a glass of red wine on a camping trip and ruined the green jeans.
       I stripped them off immediately and washed them in cool water. No luck. Someone said they had seen a TV spot that made a wine stain disappear with  a spray of Dawn detergent and peroxide. I made a trip to town, bought both, and treated the stain again. Still no luck.
        Once I arrived home I used my favorite stain remover: Oxyclean. Still no luck. The stain was getting lighter and I imagined I could wear the capris around the house or camping and no one would notice much.
        Then I decided to give it one last try. I filled my washer with hot water. Added 1/2 a cup of bleach and a little detergent. Agitated it nicely so it was well mixed and added my capris. Well, you know the result.
       Good ol' bleach took out the stain.
       But it also removed most of the lime color. The only thing green now is the pockets which didn't bleach out for some reason.
       So now that I've spent a small fortune on tops to go with lime capris and cleaning preparations to remove a stain, I no longer have any lime capris.
        There's a lesson in there somewhere.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Grand Vision

As J.P. Morgan would say, "If you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford it."
I thought of that often this week as I spent a fantasy day at Michigan's magnificent Grand Hotel.

The cost of a room -- we're talking the basic, B&B rate, with a view of the fire escape out back -- is about ten times what I normally pay for motel accommodations at Red Roof or Motel 6.   But don't we all envy the lives of the rich and famous? And once in a while it's fun to pretend we aren't just ordinary middle class folks who do have to ask "How much?" So, my friend Mary Kay and I splurged on one night at the Grand Hotel.

It was extraordinary -- and surprisingly ordinary. The expansive view from the front porch is fabulous, with Lake Huron all around, the Mighty Mack bridge in the distance, a sumptuous garden below complete with a sparkling fountain and flowers everywhere. Even the carpeting in the parlor echos the geraniums on the porch.

Our third floor room was a glorious explosion of the red and green flower designs used throughout the building with two canopy double beds built so far off the ground that I almost needed a step stool to climb aboard. And this is where the fantasy falls apart. The bed is too high to sit on to tie your sneakers so you have to use the bright green tub chair which had been used so often for that task that it wobbled on a broken spring. Although we could hear a large air conditioning unit rumbling below for the public areas, our room was stuffy so we kept our windows open.

We decided to add a full dinner in the main dining room -- at $70 a piece -- and a $40 half-bottle of wine that afforded each of us a glass. A jazz combo playing during dinner helped to muffle the chatter. The food was good -- I had prime rib, Mary Kay ordered the whitefish -- but both of us have had better meals for much less. Our desserts were extraordinary -- my red velvet cheesecake tasted as good as it looked, though Mary's bread pudding fell shy of a rum-sauced pudding she ate in New Orleans.

We loved our dress-up evening -- coat and tie are required for gentlemen age 12 and older. After dinner we walked the porch to settle all that food then walked from lounge to lounge listening to a dance orchestra in one and a piano man in another.

I was surprised how many guests brought children, many of them stroller-size or darling little tie-wearing toddlers. The children were amazingly well behaved and their parents seemed to really enjoy their company. They played giant chess on the porch and croquet on the lawn. Parents danced with their kids. And the next day in the swimming pool, the kids had a great time climbing on a giant red and white snake that stretched across the pool.

Although we had a great time, it's not something we will ever do again. A friend of mine says something is worth whatever people are willing to pay, and the Grand Hotel simply isn't that grand. So for those of you unable to cough up $600 for one day of fantasy, don't worry. You aren't missing that much. The $10 fee to enter the grounds now seems like a tremendous bargain to me because strolling the porch and garden is by far the hotel's best attribute. If you want a little more, the hotel offers a lunch buffet for the public ($40) that includes admission to the grounds.

Then you can get the best of the Grand Hotel and spend the night in cheap motel accommodations on the mainland where the air conditioner works and you can sit on the edge of the bed comfortably. Isn't it great to know that rich folks may pay more but they don't always have it better?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Trifecta

     
It all started with "Big Lake, Big City," a sassy modern noir mystery for stage by Keith Huff (whose writing credits include "A Steady Rain" on Broadway, "House of Cards" for Netflix and television's "Mad Men.") My friend Pauline suggested we take a train to Chicago for a matinee performance at the Looking Glass Theater. A day trip. How could I resist?
        Then theater fan Pauline suggested maybe we could spend the night and catch two plays. The dark psychological thriller "Belleville" at Steppenwolf was added to the itinerary. Can't beat Steppenwolf. I'm willing to try anything they offer.
        Then Pauline got a good deal at a downtown hotel (the wonderful Wit), so the trip grew to two nights. Our Wednesday schedule was open. We thought we might walk over to Navy Pier for dinner and fireworks. Or catch something at the Shakespeare theater there. Or maybe a blues club.
         The Wit is just around the corner from The Goodman. Tickets for its latest extravaganza, a new musical version of "Jungle Book," weren't available online or at Hot Tix, but as Pauline keeps saying, you never know until you ask. So after checking into our hotel room, we stopped by The Goodman and happened upon half-price tickets in the middle of the mezzanine. I don't get better seats as a reviewer.
        In two days we racked up three wonderful shows. Broadway couldn't be better. "Jungle Book" is a snazzy, jazzy light-hearted musical, that's just a shade shy of four star perfection. It's headed to Boston next. I suspect a little fine-tuning of the  "story book" scene that opens and closes the show, may send it to Tony Award history.
        "Belleville" is wonderfully acted and engrossing, but it leaves too many questions about this poisonous romance. What's he doing now? Why does she say that? What IS this story about?
         "Big Lake, Big City" remains the shining star of the visit. Perfect casting, ambitious sets  (a Ferris wheel scene and "smokin'" bodies) and witty, laugh-out-loud comedy.
          "Belleville" and "Big Lake, Big City" continue through Aug. 25, "Jungle Book" closes Aug. 18. I recommend all three. Get 'em while it's hot!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Grand Canyon of Leenane

     
Question: If a tree falls in the forest and only 38  people are there to hear it, is the crash any less magnificent? Put another way: Would the Grand Canyon be less grand or Niagara Falls less spectacular if only a precious few knew these places existed?
      I don't think so.
      The measure of greatness is not always in the size of the crowd of admirers. 
       Which explains why award-winning director Fred Sebulske and his award-winning cast of Rose Anne Shansky, Amy Kaechele, Craig Hammerlind and Dylan Harris are pouring their hearts and talents into "The Beauty Queen of Leenane."(Read review) This dark Irish tale is being presented one more weekend at the intimate Dog Story Theater. If you enjoy absorbing acting and a well-written drama with plenty of humorous moments, then you'll want to be sure to get one of the 50 or so seats available at each performance. Otherwise, you could find out the Grand Canyon was here, and you missed it!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

R+J=Hot stuff

When I see a really great show, I just can't stop telling people about it. That's the effect of Hope Summer Repertory's "Romeo + Juliet." Smokin'! This contemporary interpretation of the classic Shakespearean tragedy is great on so many levels. It makes use of modern media including gigantic video screen and cheeky little tweets from @bardofavon. The fight scenes are fantabulous -- with athletic somersaults and pop stands. The characters are well developed, with better connection to the audience than you usually see in Shakespeare. And the lovers -- whew, you'll believe these two are in love. Check out my review . The good news is there are six more performances in repertory, with the final one on Aug. 8. Be sure to catch one.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Gone fishing!

 
Is your summer busy? What with yard work and travels and squeezing in a few warm weather musts like farmers markets or barbeques or outdoor concerts, the summer disappears too fast. I mean, what happened to June? The next thing I know it's July and I haven't found time for a bike ride or an ice cream cone or paddling around the lake behind my house.
     So when my guy Steve insisted I drive all the way to his place in northern Michigan to finally use that fishing license we bought a month ago, I felt a little exasperated. I don't have time, I told him. I'm giving a presentation Tuesday to the Word Weavers group in Allendale. I need to go through my notes, practice my power point, collect hand outs.
      And there's that book I'm supposed to be writing. Full Moon Friday is the third book in my Jordan Daily News Mystery series. It's scheduled to come out June 13, 2014 -- the last Full Moon Friday the 13th until 2049. A year isn't a lot of time to write a book and get it edited and published, so I need to stay on track. I'm getting into some really fun parts of the story and I enjoy my writing time.
      And one of these days I've got to sort out all that medicare paperwork they've been sending me. I turn 65 in October so I need to figure out my alphabet of options: Part A, B, C and D. And clean the garage. And call a plumber about that pipe in the basement. And...
       But sometimes, when you love a guy, you got to make time for him and his passion -- fishing. So Saturday, for the first time this summer, I went fishing. It wasn't exactly slamma jamma, which is the way Steve likes to catch fish. We ended up with 32 keepers, more than enough for a nice mess of fish and plenty of left overs. But it took us all day.
           We caught a lot of little perch that are more of an irritation because you got to keep taking the hooks out of their mouths, trying not to hurt the squirmy little things, throw them back, replace your bait and do it all over again, without really adding to "the catch."
      And then there's the big irritations -- usually a rock bass or some other fighting fish that Steve says is fun to catch (we differ on the definition of fun) but also gets thrown back. Saturday Steve caught a whopper. A huge needle nose gar that looks like a prehistoric monster -- and it is. This is the kind of  fish Fred Flinstone probably brought home to Wilma. But Steve's gar just messed up our lines, tied them in knots and forced him to get out the pliers and scissors and redo some rigging. (after the ugly fish was returned to the water, of course.)
      But sitting back in the boat for six hours -- enjoying the sun and the Lake Leelanau scenery, exchanging lazy meaningless small talk with Steve and his grandson Mitchell, and getting lost in slow summer  moments to just think about clouds and ripples and whatever -- I remembered why I like fishing and why I need to make more time for it in my life.
       Slow down, just sit. Or as the minister said this morning at Church in the Park: Let go and Let God. Echoed in a song from "The Full Monty"--"Let it go, let it go, let it go."
  

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Key

I don't usually write in verse, but after spending a week at the Peninsula Writers Summer Retreat on Glen Lake, I felt inspired:



The key is on the table
When I arrive at cabin 5
The large green plastic tag
Is a remnant of the motel era
Before magnetic passcards frustrated entry
Until swiped just right
for a green light.

Shoil is already there unloading her red gas hog,
Claiming the cushy chair in the corner,
Rearranging the furniture to her liking.
Trish comes next with a printer the size of a baby grand
Then little Wendy who flits around like a glowing Tinkerbell
Except when she disappears into her den.

Shoil must have turned on the light over the sink
and for seven days and nights it watches us
Fixing ribs, tacos, soup and spaghetti
And boxes and bottles and more boxes of wine
WaRshing dishes with a capital R
Setting a buffet to share with friends
And the key is still on the table.

When the sun sets behind the gator
The sink light remains on
Inspiring the tapping of keys
Listening to the secrets of Cabin 5 shared in a circle
Waiting for the smokers who sneak outside
Guiding the late night potty run
And sending off the early morning walker

Trish who talks with her hands
Decides midweek to move the table
Squeak, screech, hobble, hobble
In front of the couch
As a home for her computer and creating
While watching the lake
But the key remains on the table

She adds a green light to the deck
In case Gatsby comes to call
And swims and shivers her way to a raft in the sun
The tower of TP on the back of the stool
Only dwindles by two --amazing
Until Wendy confesses she’s been holding in

Shoil packs first, plotting a course from
Glen Arbor to TC to Lansing and beyond
Then Trish takes one last drive around the lake,
Tells Carol’s poem with her fingers,
 and fades into the night.
The final day finds Wendy and Sue
Using the table as packing central
Dividing up celery and cashews
Praying for pitched recyclables
Drinking the last of the wine.

Time to find the switch
to turn off the light over the sink
Wheel the suitcases, haul the printer
And cooler and boxes and bags
There’s a new green light on the deck,
To remind Gatsby and the literary world
We were here
But as we close the door
The key is still on the table

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Breadcrumbs

 
Remember how Hansel and Gretel left a trail of breadcrumbs when they went into the woods so they would be able to find their way home?
   Well, I just returned from a whirlwind visit to Colorado and I felt like I was leaving a trail of bits and pieces of myself for some yet-to-be-determined purpose.
    Some of the leavings were intentional, such as the book I was reading. I enjoyed Boone's Lick by Larry McMurty of Lonesome Dove fame. I'm familiar with the Boone's Lick trail in Missouri which attracted me to the book in the first place. But the story is told from the perspective of a 14-year-old boy, so I gave it to Steve's 14-year-old grandson, Trevor, a lanky lacrosse player in Steamboat Springs.
    But most of the crumbs I left behind were a combination of debris and dementia. Like the water bottle left at the security checkpoint at Denver International Airport. It joined overflowing bins of toothpaste, soda bottles and toothpaste that violated the 3-ounce limit. Or the swimsuit I forgot hanging to dry in a condo bathroom in Winter Park. Or the breath mints I left on the kitchen table at Steve's son's home in Conifer. The hand lotion on a coffee table in Winter Park. The reams of notes I brought along for a long-distance phone conference on Michigan's upcoming Wilde Awards, no longer needed and pitched in a Colorado wastebasket.A business card handed to a woman who asked about my books at a Steamboat party.
    I gathered a few crumbs as well, mostly hugs and kisses and laughs with relatives and friends. A few pictures. Memories.
     But will the trail grow cold, the bread crumbs disappear, before I head that way again?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book of Mormon

        Can you enjoy a play but not like it? Can you learn from something you find repulsive?
         I had the opportunity to travel to Chicago over Memorial Day weekend and see The Book of Mormon. I went with my eyes open. I knew this was going to be very tongue in cheek ...to the point of gagging.
         I knew I would be offended by the language, and I was. This is comedic cursing, using four-letter words not because they are appropriate to the context but because they aren't, and therefore it's funny. It's written by the same team that created the uber offensive animated series, South Park.
         Although the play lampoons organized religion, especially the Church of Latter Day Saints, it's actually more insulting to African cultures because the most offensive behavior is reserved for  the villagers who are being visited by LDS missionaries.
         But even in this context, I found little nuggets of truth in the story--the way Christians sometimes act like people ought to be able to ignore biological urges that go against the teaching of the church,  the way the message of salvation can sometimes seem irrelevant to current problems, and the way some Christian tales seem as conveniently  fictional as "Star Wars."
         I don't turn to musicals for religious teaching, but I believe all creativity emanates from a central fount of truth and inspiration. I think these creators were making fun of musicals as much as anything, and yet the songs are snappy and fun, the dancing was great, and the plot, though predictable, actually works pretty well. So I suppose enjoying it means I missed the point.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The new normal

One of my favorite children's books is Leo the Lop. My son Ryan and I often read this delightful story about a lop-eared bunny who wants desperately to have nice tall ears like the other bunnies. He feels defective because he's different. He tries all sorts of machinations to make his ears look like other bunnies' ears until he finally realizes that lop is normal for him.

Looking for Normal, the latest offering from Actors' Theatre, is the adult version of the same story. (See review) A man feels defective because he believes he is a woman trapped in a man's body. He decides to go through a sex change operation which reminds me so much of all the efforts Leo made to look "normal."

But unlike Leo who finally accepts himself as he is, the man in Looking for Normal goes through hormone injections, electrolysis and reconstructive surgery to make himself "complete." And that's nothing compared to what he puts his family through in trying to cope with their feelings for this man turned woman. The situation is a real test of love and friendship. The ultimate question is does gender really matter? Can you still hang out, drink beer and watch the game with dad if he's wearing a dress? Can your son still inherit the family farm if he's a she?  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dog Gone it!

  
Even a cute little blonde dressed in bright pink can be upstaged by a dog, even a little dog whose legs look too long for his body and whose pointy little ears keep flopping over. That was the lesson offered this week at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre's DISH.
      Breighanna Minnem, 19, of East Grand Rapids,  was dressed in hot pink from head to toe to welcome dishers and talk about the upcoming show, "Legally Blonde."  She'll be portraying Elle, a California Valley Girl who takes Harvard by storm to reclaim her man.  But Elle's purse-size pooch, CeZar demanded most of the attention at the DISH event, wrapping his pretty pink leash around the actress and eventually riding off on his owner's shoulders. In the play, CeZar will have to share the scene-stealing with Jake, his gigantic canine buddy with a tongue a big as CeZar. 
       The dogs are an important part of the story, Breighanna, says, because the story champions individual differences and accepting people, and dogs, just the way they are. 
       In recognition of the importance of pets, Civic will sponsor an Adopt-a-pet event on opening night, May 31, with representatives of the Humane Society bringing in kittens, dogs and various other "creatures" for audience members to adopt.  Don't worry, you don't have to take your new pet into the theater. That would be way too much upstaging. You can purchase the pet and pick it up at the Humane Society on Saturday.
      

Monday, May 20, 2013

The other shoe drops...

     Earlier this year I reported that my book, One Shoe Off, was in the running for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. In the semi-final round, however, trimming 100 mystery candidates down to five, One Shoe Off did not make the cut.  I thought I would keep the bad news to myself, but friends have been asking, so here's what the Publisher's Weekly reviewer had to say:
      

The prose is above average in this complex, ambitious novel, but the characters are too flat and the action is too episodic to hold a reader’s attention. Josie Braun, divorced mother of an eight-year old son, is city editor of the Jordan Daily News, a newspaper published in the Chicago suburbs in 1985. Josie and her colleague Ormand “Duke” Dukakis, a married reporter and recovering alcoholic with whom Josie had a brief affair the year before, investigate a murder discovered at the same time that veteran reporter Maggie Sheffield suffers a massive stroke. While conducting the investigation and helping to care for Maggie, Josie finds clues -- one being a woman’s distinctive red shoe -- that might solve the mysterious disappearance 30 years earlier of news editor Zelda Machinko, herself a crime investigator. As Josie learns more about Zelda, eventually even dreaming of her, Josie finds that the crimes of the present are linked to those of the past. Unfortunately, even though she appears in only a few flashback scenes, Zelda, with her refreshingly frank, sometimes cynical, and always snappy first-person narration, is a much more interesting character than the bland Josie, whose story is told in the third person. Moreover, Duke’s constant animal-centric exclamations such as “Walrus whoppers!” and “Pigeon paste!” are never as clever as the author seems to imagine, and quickly grow tiresome. One finishes this novel wishing that the author had told Zelda’s story instead of Josie’s, or at least given the scene-stealing Zelda equal time. 

   Obviously not a winning review, but not horrible either. In fact, as a reviewer myself, I have to agree that Zelda is definitely more punchy than Josie, though I'm not sure I'd want to build a series around her. So, there you have it friends. The other shoe.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Anything Goes!

The world has gone mad today
And good's bad today,
And black's white today,
And day's night today, 


Sounds  like a pretty good description of 2013 doesn't it? Well, would it surprise you to know that Cole Porter penned those lyrics about that wild and crazy time...1934?

Last night when I was reviewing the new Broadway Tour at DeVos Performance Hall, I couldn't help but enjoy the great lyrics in Porter's songs, his ridiculous rhymes as well as his amazing vision.

In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows,
Anything Goes.

Good authors too who once knew better words,
Now only use four letter words
Writing prose, Anything Goes. 


Friday, May 10, 2013

The show goes on

I am constantly amazed at the talent in this town, and I've never been more amazed than this week seeing "The Wedding Singer" twice at Circle Theatre.
I went to Wednesday's dress rehearsal with my church group and then gladly returned Thursday to review. Such energy. Such powerful singing voices. How do they sing and execute those tricky dance moves at the same time? And the characters! Every cast member is a standout.

So I'm a little surprised that some of the cast members take exception to my review pointing out the extra challenge that was overcome in the execution of the opening number Thursday. I know things go wrong in every performance; things I never see; things of which the audience is blissfully unaware. But since I did notice that one of the performers was struggling with a "wardrobe malfunction",  why shouldn't it be mentioned?

The point is not that a problem arose; the point is that it was handled with such grace and professionalism.

I know performers deal with much bigger problems than a costume snag, so perhaps they don't think it's worth mentioning.  But it is in coping with ordinary realities, like wardrobe malfunctions, that we're able to connect on a very human basis.

Theater is about creating illusion, but why pretend those illusions happen without overcoming obstacles? This isn't the movies where you can stop the camera and reshoot the scene. Theater is real time. The actors and the audience breathe the same air in the same room. And if a real live dancer is able to maintain the illusion when her costume isn't cooperating, those real people in the real audience are real impressed.


Friday, May 3, 2013

It's none of your business

What would you do if you discovered a homeless woman living on your neighbor's porch? And what if that neighbor is a grouchy hermit who never comes outside or lets anyone in? And what if you discover that neighbor is hiding another woman with horrible scars all over her face?

It's starting to sound like one of those spooky Gothic mysteries by one of the Bronte sisters. But it isn't. It's a new play, "Four Wounded Women," by Grand Rapids playwright Mike Smolinski (who as a sidelight happens to be homeless himself right now as one of the residents evacuated from the flooded Plaza Towers).

Stark Turn Players premiered the show Thursday night at Dog Story Theater. With a raised stage in the corner,  warm period furnishings and a strong, experienced cast, the 90-minute show seemed much more like traditional theater than some one-weekend experiment in a 50-seat black box.

In writing my review for The Press last night, I got so caught up in groping with the questions brought up by the play that I barely mentioned the fine performances. Mary Brown is especially good as the awkward, fearful and witty Helen, the homeless woman. But there are also fine performances by Sherryl Despres as the assertive Meryl with an underlying neediness that's just below the surface; Teri Kuhlman as the irascible Ruth, who also has her soft side; and Kim Zoller as the delicate but damaged Joy who turns out to be just as protective of Ruth.  Every actor does a fine job from Elizabeth Schaub as the snippy paper carrier to Patrick Bailey as the thundering husband and, of course, Frank VanPelt as Sam, the sane, steady--and sorta sexy -- delivery man who goes beyond the call of duty in his concern for his customer.

Which brings me back to those questions. What would you do? Should you step in, call the police? Would that help or hurt? Or is it none of your business?


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Be there and be square

      
Sometimes I feel like I'm riding the crest of a wave -- even when West Michigan isn't in the middle of a 100-year flood. I'm referring to the rising tide of would-be authors.
         "Celebrate the Mitten," Kent District Library's second annual writers' conference, was a sell-out today, with 200 people gathering at the Cascade Library to hear Michigan authors such as Mardi Link and D.E. Johnson talk about their craft, and publishing representatives from Arbutus Press and StoryLook Design offer advice for improving their work. I was pleased to be included on the panel with such talented, and successful writers.
        But I was also impressed by the writers who filled the audience: humorist Myron Kukla,  former Press food writer Kathy Carrier,  animal advocate Janet Vormitag, writing coach Tricia MacDonald. There was a poet trying to sort out how panels on copyediting and covers applied to her. A Pakistani filmmaker passed out DVDs of his latest work. A scientist said he needs an editor to help with words; a suited businessman easily won best dressed; a woman with a PhD in English bemoaned the lack of editing. They brought folders stuffed with their stories and drawings. One woman said she had written a musical, complete with script and songs, and just needed a theater to try it out. Another was trying to promote her beautiful hardcover book about the history of a lighthouse.
         I like to think the speakers provided some encouragement and answers for these hopeful scribes.  But none of us could offer the secret handshake for getting their creative treasures published and into the hands of the readers they so desperately desire.
        At the end of the day, the panelists gathered to sign and sell their books. Three people in a row asked if I could take credit cards. I don't. But Mardi Link plugged a quarter-size white plastic square into the top of her phone and in an instant she was doing business. So I learned something too. If I'm going to stay ahead of this flood of talent, I gotta be square.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Bye, bye 155

  
On a snowy February day more than 23 years ago I walked into the Press building at 155 Michigan St. for the first time. Today, on a sometimes sunny, sometimes snowy April day I walked those familiar halls for the last time.
     Like the mixed weather, I have mixed feelings about the end of an era. Of course, my era at The Press officially ended almost four years ago when I retired, but I continue to freelance. Now the building has been sold, the remaining newsroom employees -- copy desk and high school sports desk -- will move to new offices in Walker next week. The reporters have been operating out of the downtown hub for more than a year. 
   Today about 100 of us gathered for one last potluck. Oh, they always had the best potlucks. A few of the people who came today still work at the new M-Live media group that has replaced The Press. But most were folks like me who no longer work there but  have way too many memories in that building. '
   I remember coming down that elevator the night we bombed Iraq the first time, back during Desert Storm, and I remember thinking, "Is this it? Is this the beginning of another World War?" Then one morning 10 years later when I boarded that elevator, another passenger said he had just heard on his car radio that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I went up to the newsroom and watched in disbelief as the towers crumbled. I've shared so much more than potlucks with those people.
    We gathered one New Year's Eve for Y2K, not sure if our computers would work through the night. Year after year we watched Santa parades line up by our parking lot, Festivals unfold on our doorstep and Celebration on the Grand fireworks explode overhead.
     For some of those there today like Pete Demaagd and Ann Wells, this is not the first building they have outlived. They said goodbye to the former buildings of The Press and The Herald. And I know that Publisher Dan Gaydou is right. The Press and M-Live Media Group are moving into an exciting new era.
     But that doesn't keep me from mourning the place where I spent so many hours for the past 20 years. Or from thinking that the flag flying at half mast in front of the building is symbolic of the loss I feel.
     Nevertheless, getting together with those friends is always a celebration. Who would have thought that one day the Honeytones, a local band composed of former Press writers Charley Honey and John Sinkevics and copyeditor Jerry Seim, would set up in the middle of the newsroom and play while we danced?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wet Tortugas

   The Dry Tortugas weren't very dry when we visited Tuesday.
Tracks for the cannons.
 Unlike the "dry" counties of the Bible Belt, the adjective doesn't mean the Tortugas don't approve of liquor sales. It comes from the fact that there is no fresh water on the island chain about 70 miles west of Key West. When Fort Jefferson was built there before the Civil War,  the plan to create a system of cisterns to  collect fresh water didn't work very well because it doesn't rain much there, and salt water seeped into the cisterns that were dug.
    But it rained Tuesday, and not that quick misty tropical rain that dries up almost as fast as it falls. It rained that cold, dreary all-day sort of drizzle. A rain like I expect  in England but never in the Keys. We saw more hours of rain on Tuesday  than in both the winters we've spent in the Keys put together.
     Nevertheless we had an enjoyable trip. The old brick fort is huge. It's surrounded by a moat walk that's like snorkling without putting your head in the water. The coral has built up along the moat wall and you can walk on top of it and just look down at beautiful plants and fish, like an aquarium at your feet.
      Fort Jefferson is most famous for being the prison for Dr. Samuel Mudd who was convicted of helping John Wilkes Booth assassinate President Lincoln. It was a Union fortress during the war, along with Ft. Zachary Taylor in Key West. But now it's a national park best known its bird nesting grounds.
You can walk around the fort on top of the moat wall.