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End of this Road for now

Here we are at the end of this New England road trip and I’m attempting to write a post on my Smart phone for the first time in quite a while. Unfortunately it feels glitchy.

But it does feel good to have covered a large number of miles today, possibly my largest ever on a single day of traveling around in this part of the country.

And I think I do want to note an actual “wow” feeling that came at the end of the day when I reached my destination and fought back to realize how far of a distance had come since my start of the day.

crossing from Kittery ME into Portsmouth NH today

 
 

The inviting sands of crane beach (Ipswich, MA) today

 

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Closing Day at Grover’s Corners

Meanwhile back in Berkeley, California, today is the closing performance for the Shotgun Players production of Our Town. I was very pleased to be in the audience for this show on New Year’s Eve, and had meant to write about it here sooner… but it feels appropriate to give it a tip of the hat at the end of its run. Bay Area audiences were receptive to this particular version, as it extended two weeks from its original engagement and reportedly packed the houses throughout the run.

I knew going in to the show that director Susannah Martin (a past colleague) would probably bring her characteristically spare yet precise staging quality to the text. Surprisingly, as a native New Englander, this was my first time seeing the play live onstage. And the “once something comes into your life it reappears very soon” rule seems to be in full effect, as I will see it again in about a month in a high school production that a family member is directing, and am looking forward to comparing the similarities and differences.

with cast member and close friend Molly

with cast member and close friend Molly

This was a perfect play to close out the old year and bring in the new, with its themes of life and death and life events and the simple things that may or may not give way to big impact. It was the centerpiece of my short yet memorable visit back to the Bay Area itself, and I found myself appreciating the chance to take a moment and intellectually engage, in the midst of racing from place to place and attempting to cram as much as possible into a two day span.

The cast offered impressive ensemble work, led by Madeline H.D. Brown as the stage manager. I was initially drawn to seeing the piece after learning that theatre friends Molly, Don and Tim had central roles in the play, and they were supported by a skilled group of fellow performers, with El Beh a particular standout as Emily Webb. Again, like life itself, the play offered little snippets of events coming together (and in some cases falling apart), changes in families, questioning choices, regrets, delights, marriages, births, deaths, new beginnings and a sense of resiliency. Martin’s staging heightened the sense of everyday life, with the actors performing on a mostly bare set and occasionally sitting in or amongst the audience if they were not part of an onstage scene.

I deliberately chose a first row seat when I booked my ticket for the show, but I did not expect the side effect of intense and visceral engagement with the piece, and the art of telling a theatrical story, to come as a result of being right there with the action and the actors. As it was I found the play and the whole theatregoing experience that night to be a potent, inspiring and motivating reminder of what it is that we do as theatre/arts makers and why we do it. I’ll be continuing to remember that as 2015 unfolds.

Theatrical Throwback: The Year Of Magical Thinking

For this now – erratic series, this week I recall a play that attracted attention near the end of the 2000’s, but currently seems like it had its moment and will be “rediscovered” at some point down the road.

I came across Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking book in San Luis Obispo at some point in 2008, and can’t recall exactly what drew me to the story. Perhaps some wry acknowledgement of the New Yorker – Angleno’s observations from coast to coast while I was developing my own. Or an awareness of the then in – development (or recently opened?) stage version starring Vanessa Redgrave. I recall being taken with Didion’s prose and the intense story of losing both her husband (suddenly) and her daughter (gradually) over the course of a year.

I had the chance to see the stage version for myself sooner than I might have expected, at the end of a holiday trip home to Massachusetts in early 2009. A family friend and I met up at Boston’s Lyric Stage Company to catch their version of the production, starring North Shore local actress Nancy E. Carroll.

I don’t recall being especially enthralled by the production, given the downer subject matter, but I do think it was a rare example of monologue – based theatre, and a great opportunity for an actress to dive into sensitive, rich material.

Indeed, Redgrave suffered an unfortunate parallel of losing her daughter Natasha Richardson either while or soon after she was working on the play.

Film Flashback: Hocus Pocus!

As another Halloween proceeds towards a gusty climax here in Detroit, it seems appropriate to look back to a film that has come to define this holiday for many members of my generation.

Hocus Pocus also stands out in my personal cinematic history in that it was the first film I ever observed shooting, thus becoming my unofficial first extra-ing gig.

As an impressionable eight year old, it was very exciting to see bright Hollywood set lights on a familiar street not far from my family’s home in downtown Salem. The production had come into the area for a couple weeks of location shooting, turning a community center off Salem Common into a school, a house not far down that road into a main character’s residence, the Common itself into a brief visible character, and various areas around the city into backdrops for several short exterior sequences. They may have also traveled into nearby Marblehead for a few shots – I don’t recall for sure.

The film’s visit in October 1992 also happened to take place in the 300th anniversary year of the notorious Salem Witch Trials, so there was an extra – large level of pomp and circumstance around the town. The annual (and seemingly endless if you are a resident) Haunted Happenings festival was well underway.

I do clearly recall standing in front of the Old Town Hall with a modest crowd as the cameras rolled on an early evening crowd scene. The director asked us to make a lot of noise as he did a couple of panning shots, and so we willingly obliged. It was fascinating and surprising (again, eight year old point of view) to see the large construction lights illuminating a familiar area that didn’t usually get that much attention.

I also remember observing the film crew in residence around town for a week or two before and after the town hall scene, with much curiosity directed towards the film trucks around Salem Common and the presence of extra cars and crew members around other familiar locations. At the time, Massachusetts did not enjoy its current status as a regular destination for Hollywood filming, and so it was A Big Deal for anyone in the area to observe the production activities.

A handy Boston.Com guide to the local filming of the movie — amusingly claiming that “it’s a little known fact that some scenes of the film were really shot in Salem” — reveals that the filming I recall was the scene leading into the film’s Halloween party sequence. The filming locations are also referenced in another article, and I’m sure there are others.

Fans of the movie might not know or recall that the finished film arrived in theaters in the summer of 1993, just a few days before my 9th birthday, and was not a box office hit. Why Disney chose to bring an obvious fall – themed film into theaters at that time of year is inexplicable. The film eventually found its longevity in the home media market, first through a video release and then through a regular seasonal presence on cable channels.

A bit of film nostalgia and history on the now 21 year old movie:

  • Its IMDB trivia page says that star Bette Midler considers this movie to be her favorite film project.
  • Co-star Sarah Jessica Parker was just five years away from starting her most iconic and well – known role in Sex and the City, but was also an industry veteran by this point in time.
  • Third trio member Kathy Najimy performed a role originally intended for Rosie O’Donnell and led the cast representation at a 20th anniversary screening last year.

hocus-pocus illustration

Sassy tuneful nostalgia

I’m offering some short hot off the press impressions of an appearance this evening from singer-songwriter Cheryl Wheeler at the Ann Arbor Ark, which also functioned as a very belated first visit for me to the acclaimed local music venue.

Wheeler, who has long been a familiar presence on my family’s playlist, continues to shine in the live setting, treating the audience like old friends. However, this isn’t to say that she loses focus on the music — it seemed to be quite the opposite, as she worked very specifically from a (presumed) outline of songs from her catalog. She was quite generous in offering a range of personal anecdotes that mostly focused on East and West Coast experiences, whether walking with her wife and animals at Horseneck Beach in Massachusetts or driving the long haul from Seattle to California destinations (Petaluma and Santa Monica both got specific shootouts) and writing a song or two along the way. She expertly segued her narrative so that the last quarter or so of her concert focused solely on the music, after plenty of laughs and chat in the earlier part of the evening.

I’m pleased that Wheeler included “Driving Home” – one of my favorites of her recordings – and a few other of her older songs. She offered a subdued interpretation of “Aces”, another older tune, earlier in the evening, leading me to think she was choosing not to use her higher register, but later selections showed that range to still be in place and in excellent form.

Of course I also appreciated the strong New England feel of the concert. She even included her song “When Fall Comes to New England”, which was a frequent sight on my iPod playlist for a time, most notably during a series of driving commutes in Western Massachusetts in the summer and fall of 2007.

She got the most reaction out of the (nearly sold out) crowd before her final song, which she humorously prefaced with a “fake final” song of her fan favorite “Potato” (yes, that’s the song name) – explaining that she doesn’t like the forced tradition of the singer leaving and then being called back to the stage for “…just one more.” And so she proceeded with the most heartfelt tune of the evening (wish I knew the name) written in honor of her father’s 75th birthday.

Although some might say that Wheeler flies under the radar in her music career, she seems just fine with that and willingly capable of doing whatever she wants with her music, with a loyal and appreciative fan base that is right there cheering her on.