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Viewing Blog: Judd Lear Silverman's Blog, Most Recent at Top
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Playwright-Director-Author Judd Lear Silverman's various thoughts on life, art, politics, religion and events upcoming in the New York City area
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1. Using Our Grief to a Purpose



Grief is indeed a part of life, but if it is not also an instrument of change, then perhaps we miss the lesson it is teaching us.

That said, while I feel that we as a nation must share our hearts and our comforting thoughts with the families of those so brutally killed in Newtown, it would perhaps dishonor the victims if we put a lid on our anger and our grief.  A far better use of these feelings would be to channel the anger into action that will help prevent such a thing from happening again.

I am not a hunter and can't even bear to deal with a mouse in the house.  I am not a marksman and stink at any eye-hand coordination computer game.  Yet I can understand that those who use guns for food and for skill-based sport--and who have proven their sense of responsibility--would want to be allowed to have those instruments for their hobby, even though I personally would not want to even touch one.  I can even see my way to understanding why people might want a gun in their home for protection (although I suspect most folks are lousy shots and, again, I wouldn't want one for all the fish in the sea.)

But multi-round ammo clips and automatic weapons are not about marksmanship or about hitting a particular topic for sport or sustenance.  They are for one thing:  killing, and killing as many targets at one time as possible, as quickly as possible.  These weapons belong only in the hands of a "well-regulated militia," meaning the military or the police who are using them presumably as a last resort to stop an onslaught invasion.

They should no more be available to the public than a tank should be available for personal use just because we also have cars.

I am not suggesting that members of the NRA (who contribute mightily to most political campaigns to make sure their cause is supported) are not likewise grieving the senseless loss of life in these shootings in Littleton, Aurora, and Newtown.  I would even like to think they grieve about the constant gun violence in Harlem or other economically-challenged neighborhoods, where the children have become so used to the idea that they will lose a friend, a cousin, a brother or sister to gun violence or the stray bullet in the crossfire that they have numbed themselves to the presence of guns.

But I am suggesting that they are more concerned about their right to buy whatever they want whenever they want and wherever they want over the rights of innocent people to live their lives without fear.  When restrictions and background checks are considered an threat to their liberties versus a protection for the good of society, then they are letting ego get in the way, reflecting the overwhelming 21st century trend of "let me get mine and the hell with everybody else."  Second amendment champions continually refuse to look at the time and the technology of the period when it was written, and in doing so, they ignore the spirit in which the amendment was intended.  They were not sanctioning a free-for-all; they were trying to establish protection for the citizenry. And now, in this 21st century, we should be protecting the citizenry first and foremost.

In these recent horrific and senseless shootings, the weapons used were bought legally (even if “borrowed” without permission).  Most times, these weapons were used by those with severe psychological disturbance—and the treatment of mental illness is yet a whole other subject to be discussed as a nation.  But the fact is that these weapons of massive and rapid attack are readily and easily available for anyone to lay their hands on.  If there is true societal insanity, this is it!

So yes, even in this time of national grief, we’d better use our anger versus letting it subside, because after years and years of letting it all pass, we have not passed any meaningful gun legislation.  If there is any sense in this senselessness, we will use our passion to revamp not only our all-too-easy access to weapons but how we as a nation deal with our anger and our own internal violence.  Let us learn at least SOMETHING from this brutal and senseless tragedy and take action to minimize the chances of it happening again tomorrow.

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2. FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE ELECTION



Society is a place where we come together for certain benefits of protection and development, and we fashion rules that will allow all the diverse components to function as one.  The world’s population is growing exponentially, and there are simply too many of us trying to coexist without some kind of regulation, some sort of rule of law.  In order to keep this a balanced society where all have equal chances, opportunities for health care, education, and employment must be equal for all.  Some will rise and some will not, admittedly, but if the deck is stacked by those in control as to who will thrive, then equal footing has NOT been provided, and the divide between the haves and the have-nots grows ever wider.  If this controlling group is secretive and acting without transparency, then the chances for opportunity being skewed is even greater.  On one hand, you could argue this is following natural law, “survival of the fittest.”  On the other hand, you could argue that if the social contract does not serve the masses, then what is the point of belonging, which ensures that chaos and mayhem will ensue.  Much of this controlling power is vested in economics, but quotients of respect are just as important in this equation.  The chasm between the top minority and the vast majority grows wider and wider.  This situation does not favor the survival of a society, and history has shown over and over again that failure to keep an equitable respect for all has led to that society’s disintegration.  This is not a recommendation for anarchy or revolt—but it IS an observation that the majority will tolerate the abuses of a self-serving minority for only so long.

So be aware on Tuesday, whomever you vote for, that you are looking not for just leadership, but balance—balance of power, balance of opportunities, balance of protections.  We cannot tolerate any lack of transparency at this point in our precarious history, and those who will lead us MUST have the interests of all in their minds and, yes, their hearts, otherwise we are heading off the cliff.  We deserve a safe environment, both financially and ecologically.  We deserve equal rights, regardless of race, gender or belief.  We deserve access to health care and decent education and jobs, and the system should support all who wish to work with initiative versus doling out help to only those already in “our set.”  Regulation, contrary to the opinion of those who wish to operate without it, is a necessity to provide equal opportunity for all.  Lack of it, as shown again and again, has led to disaster.  As Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  It would be so nice to think we actually can learn, change and grow.

VOTE as if your future depended on it—because it does.

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3. Time to Really Look at What's at Stake

Yes, this is clearly a campaign ad, no denying that, but it really sums up something very important: people can say that the economy is the issue, but really, it is the amalgamation of all the factors that give everyone equal opportunity within the economy that's at stake here. Only by protecting everyone's rights will we solve the economic situation. Years of benefiting only a select few individuals with very little transparency--backroom deals behind closed doors--precipitated the crisis with which we struggle. As a society, we are indeed better off because of the last four years--and we would be far better off financially as well IF there hadn't been blockage of virtually every job stimulus package by Republicans in the House who rarely presented counter proposals but merely said "Getting rid of Obama is job one." The Republicans decried raising the debt ceiling after having supported it in their administrations over and over again, merely to try to precipitate a government shutdown they could blame on Obama. And the reduction of our credit index came NOT because we had debt, but because it was clear that the Congressional gridlock, so bitterly concerned with power versus the protection of the American people, portrayed an venal ineffectualness; there was no desire to make the situation better. Who in their right mind would give a positive credit rating for that kind of behavior? And finally, while Romney one day points with pride to his accomplishments in Massachusetts and then the next totally disavows them, it should be noted that there were a record number of Gubernatorial vetoes which the legislature actually overturned in order to make these positives happen! Check the record and remember the words of Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."Yes, this is clearly a campaign ad, no denying that, but it really sums up something very important: people can say that the economy is the issue, but really, it is the amalgamation of all the factors that give everyone equal opportunity within

So watch this message--and really look at where you are four years later, on all counts, and figure out why.

http://www.YouTube.com/watch?v=tjF6VzxeCwY

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4. If you don't know where you fit in . . .



If you are gay, he's said he opposes your having the same rights as heterosexual citizens.  (Even though he once said there's no one more supportive of protecting gay rights than he is--but that was another campaign . . . or was it?)

If you are a woman, he's said you don't have the right to choose what is right for you and your body, and if you are raped--well, truthfully, it's hard to know just WHAT he thinks about that.  (What happens in Des Moines stays in Des Moines, I guess . . .)

If you've cut $716 billion in administrative costs from Medicare and placed it into accounts to fund future Medicare funding, you're Obama--no, wait, you're Paul Ryan!  Or you're Obama.  (I get so confused.)  Besides vouchers are wonderful things, if they're honored . . . and everyone knows that the supply and demand laws of economic theory don't apply anymore, so you're sure to get good rates when there are fewer and fewer companies providing coverage for specific procedures.  And hell, your local providers LOVE dealing with out of state insurance companies, it's so easy to collect that way.  (What?  Oh, we'll talk about that later . . .)

If you are a teacher, you are a corrupt union member and should listen but not be heard at meetings about teaching, because he knows what makes for a good education--and if you can't afford to pay for it yourself or can't get a loan, then ask your parents for the money.  (What would a teacher who works with kids day in and day out know more than the Romneys and the Christies of the world anyway?)

If you are poor, elderly or in the military, then you're a slacker, part of 47% not paying federal income tax--even though someone's only paying 13-14% versus the 33% most Americans pay (and would have only paid 10% if he claimed the deductions his tax bracket provides for him, but having said he pays 13% had to swallow that one).  You are dependent on the government by choice and you have a victim mentality.  (What, you still pay sales tax, state tax, city tax?  Shhhhhh!)

If you are a Palestinian, then you have no interest in peace efforts.

If you were helped by Planned Parenthood, good for you . . . someday, you'll unearth a pamphlet that can help some poor teen.  (It'll be found at a flea market or a yard sale.)

If you thought there was going to be a 20% tax increase on the middle class . . . keep wondering.  (His opponents on the primary debate stages still remember that one, along with offers for $10,000 bets.)

If you are in a financial hole that you can't get out of, it's because these past four years--not the policies of the previous eight years of hidden Wall Street deals that favored the banks and screwed the middle class American--put you there.

If you need healthcare from him, you hopefully got it from him in Massachusetts because he's not helping you out anymore.  (But not to worry, folks, Bain Capital owns several HMOs that are sure to give you the best deal . . .)

If you can't afford special education programs or you're growing up in a poor neighborhood or don't have cable, don't worry, you can't get vitally important education programs on PBS that enrich the culture . . . oh, that's right, I guess you won't be able to after all . . . (Oh, and again, Bain can fill your educational needs with all their fine Clear Channel programs, like the always factual and informative Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck programs . . .)

If you're wondering what he really thinks . . . He will say it all with a smile and with vehemence--but he will spray it with non-stick cooking spray beforehand so that no facts are left to cling behind, to identify what he actually believes.  And if you are writing down what he is saying today, write it in vanishing ink because he will say something else tomorrow.

If you think he's lying, you're wrong.  He's just "living in the moment."

If you think you have no way to stop him, you're wrong.  Vote.

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5.



PAY NO ATTENTION TO THAT MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN

Okay, I have to say it, no matter how hard I resist.  (This election year is the most exhausting on record, especially for those of us who never thought ourselves particularly "political.")

This idea that 47 percent of the population cheats by not paying taxes (coming from a man who salts his money away in foreign accounts and is loop-holed into the smallest bracket) is obscene and the ultimate reflection of what we will get from a Romney presidency.  Even if the money is refunded, I have still given it to the government for use until my refund (and in my case they owed me, not the other way around--which is often the financial situation of the majority of the 47 percent).  I also pay into social security, Medicare, sales tax, and state and city tax.  We don't really know much about where or what Mr. Romney pays, do we? For a man so under fire for his own taxes, the choice to make this statement alone is clearly poor judgment--and despite it being a hidden recording (which I do not approve of), it was not a private statement but at a fund-raising dinner, a public event.  When one is obfuscating non-stop, it is way too easy to put one's foot in one's mouth, which this candidate does with great regularity.

Also--doesn't one join a society for its infrastructure?  Its ability to administer such commonly used and needed items as healthcare, education, roads, protection and shelter?  Safe food?  Government by its very definition was not designed to keep people out but to protect and serve its membership.  This is not dependency or freeloading entitlement--these are the benefits of living in a country, the fiber and responsibility of any society to take care of its members, not just the exclusive elite.  It is often the conservative Republican defense to point to cheaters and scofflaws (and away from themselves doing larger scale versions of the same thing!), but an honest look at the average American would prove that there are not the number of cheaters the right claims, that there are people with legitimate needs.

As for his plans for the country, his game book?  Details will be available AFTER the elections.  He and Paul Ryan seem to think this is an appropriate answer, one size fits all. The only headline he seems to be willing to commit to is 12 million new jobs in the next four years--which sounds impressive until you realize that all economists of both sides have said that if either candidate did NOTHING, this would still be the projected rate of increase for the next four years.  Either the Romney team has no concrete plans for how they would fix the economy or they know that once declared no one would like it (or vote for them).

Again, Mr. Romney's disdain for the people of this country is clear--the people he loves are those in his own tax bracket, and his care doesn't extend much beyond that (other than to court votes, so he and his cronies can go back to what they were doing during the Bush years.)  His campaign continually comes up with new plans to "re-introduce" the candidate--don't you think we've already had enough introductions?  If he's not let us know who he is by now, then he never will.

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6.



The Failure of Education Following a Business Model

Okay, business is a process of buying and selling consistent product, and it is crucial to the economy, granted. It succeeds when it dishes out the same at the lowest common denominator to everyone. But there is a HUGE mistake when it is applied to education, where the business model fails consistently—and it is proven every year by the "improvements" modern administrators and politicians add to it and the test results that follow. Education is not about dishing out the same to all, sink or swim. It is about stimulating all to find their own voice, individuation, and CAN be done when standardization is not the sole deciding factor of a successful teacher. It can be done one-on-one and it can be done with a large class, as history has shown us from the little red schoolhouses that used to be the norm in this country, providing Nobel laureates, Pulitzer-prize winners, and future world leaders. Education's equal opportunity should be in its stimulation of all, not in its doling out of a restricted curriculum and its success measured in digitally-scored testing. If you want to know why we have slipped educationally as a nation, just compare and the results are brutally clear. Of course, developing a group of individual thinkers is terrifying to politicians and bureaucrats, as they are harder to control than sheep. But then again, those who would enforce their power never see the greater advantage of having an educated, powerful, creative electorate. (Then again, these folks also think government should function that way and approach it in the same, mind-numbing way.)

As a new year in education begins, let’s honor our future with creative teachers who open doors and imaginations first over those who are aim for the highest percentile test scores. Let's aim for the highest-quality, happiest-learning students.

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7.





WHO DEFINES AND DESCRIBES THE "HAVE-NOTS"

All banter aside, one topic comes up that needs to be stressed.  There is an assumption that those who work in and are familiar with investments are the ones who deserve rewards for their risk-taking.  I don't disagree with that, but then there is a fundamental failure by many to understand other kinds of risk and other kinds of risk-takers who "invest" with a different kind of capital. There are artists who often forgo more profitable lines of income for what they believe enhances, informs and enlightens--they are not poor schnooks who couldn't get it together, but people who have a vision and risk their own financial security for what they believe contributes not only to their own enlightenment but to the richness of life for others.  There are teachers who are highly-functioning, well-educated people who work with the underprivileged or the challenged or simply with students exposed to the lowest common denominator "business plan" version of education out there today in order to bring them into the world with some sense of purpose, hope, initiative, dreams.  None of these artists, teachers, and dreamers expects that their efforts will garner a financial windfall, and indeed, not all of their efforts are monetary or artistic successes, but the reward of contribution to the society is the primary goal, and the occasional success of these social goals is gratifying.  Still, many of the rules created by the business class and the PAC-bought politicians not only penalize these kinds of contributors but seeks to nullify the growth of opportunities both for artists and the future leaders of America they teach or help to shape.  They lump artists and teachers into some kind of "loser" category, and penalize their visions by keeping affordable healthcare out of reach, driving the cost of dwellings up, and reducing the availability of societal services down.  When faced with accusations of inequity, the conservatives immediately point to the handfuls who abuse the system parasitically, without any real examination of whom they seek to penalize.  The "have-nots" are easier to disregard when they are faceless and dismissed--less guilt involved.  When one is condescendingly lectured by a fiscal conservative about the splendors of financial risk deserving all the rewards or told by the politicians who court them that all "waste" will be eliminated so their constituents can make more and more money, there is something vitally wrong, since our leaders need to represent the interests of all--THAT is what our founders sought, not the greatest control and power in the hands of the few, and those who hide behind this flag-waving falsehood are merely trying to divert attention--this is the land of opportunity for all who participate in all ways, not just for the privileged few.

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8.


Things I learned from Solitaire

When struggling to find meaning in meaningless things—or when trying to procrastinate from doing things you’re afraid to tackle--one sometimes wanders into the good old modern American pastime of computer Solitaire.  If you’re like me, you feel incredibly guilty, even as you sit like an addict, playing “just one more game” because you just know that this time, you’ll get it right, the cards will come crashing to bits (on the computer, that is!) and you’ll feel some sense of justification having allowed far too much time to go by that you could have been “productive.”  It is then, and only then, that you stumble away from the computer like a drunken sailor, dazed by the endless flashes of cards and the even more endless range of choices made semi-rapid fire.  A diversion has attempted to become therapy, but ultimately, it has been just a guilty distraction.

Under these circumstances, I tell myself that the game is actually both a training and a discipline and that I do strengthen and teach myself through constant practice.  If that which does not kill us makes us stronger, then multiple games of Solitaire (logically) will teach many life lessons that will be useful later on.  Here, then, is a list of things I learned from far too many games of Solitaire.
 
  1. There are no foolproof strategies.
  2. Even the best choices don't necessarily end in a win.
  3. Cheating at Solitaire feels very unsatisfying—because every player at the table knows you did it, so you didn’t really get away with anything!
  4. It helps to observe everything and to take every opportunity that comes along--you never know where it will lead.
  5. You can't always predict what's coming next, so best to play the hand you're dealt as best you can.
  6. Eventually, you will win one, so you have to remain patient.
  7. Sometimes you have to go through a lot of possibilities in order to get to the right one--it's not a waste, it's the process of discovery.
  8. Sometimes it is better to go with your gut and just keep the momentum going versus trying to get it right.
  9. Celebrate the surprises, and don't leave before the celebration is done.
  10. Losing is just one more experience to strengthen you, because you do survive it.
  11. Sometimes it takes only one card to change the tide.
  12. Sometimes, the healthiest thing you can do is walk away.
  13. Winning feels good, so enjoy it, knowing full well that you will be starting all over again in just a few moments.

9.

GREETINGS FROM A BUSY PLAYWRIGHT

First, my apologies to the 3.6 people who follow this blog regularly and have been disappointed at the recent meager output---last March?  Really, Judd?

Next week will be the world premiere of my full-length play, SUPERHERO BLUES, which so far has been a wonderful experience.  Under the direction of my good friend, M.R. Goodley (and with costumes by the always invaluable Cat Fisher), a really wonderful cast has been laboring to bring this script to life.  They are a talented, diverse and highly-competent crew with an excellent senses of humor (which is necessary when struggling to memorize all the stuff I throw them!).  I think they will provide you, our potential audience, with a rollicking good time, as well as moving you occasionally as well.  I'm only sad that there are only four chances for you to see them and their wondrous work (unless the world works in mysterious ways . . . )

But I need to take a moment to say what an interesting creative year 2012 has been so far. Unlike most years when my plays are done out-of-town and where I don't get to see or work on them, this has been a remarkable string of time where the plays have been done in NYC and I can actually attend rehearsals and really develop the pieces to (hopefully) their full potential.  No matter how many readings you may do of a piece, it is in the rehearsal room that you really get to polish, adjust and hone that which is still halfway on the page and halfway in your head.  I cannot express how grateful I am to the directors and casts of Change of Venue, The Proposal, and yes, Superhero Blues, for the chance to shape and experiment and for the good nature shown in taking these cuts and changes and running with them.  The feedback has been invaluable, and the audiences will never know just how much their effort has made the meager script a possibility.  This is really a major part of the joy of creating live theater.  (Thanks also of course to Blue Roses and the reading of Crackers--where we had only one day to explore just what makes that play tick.) I am indeed a lucky playwright.

At any rate, for those of you who willing brave the trek to Brooklyn--really, we don't bite that hard and it's kind of sensuous at that!--here's the information for catching one of the four performances:

The Gallery Players
present the world premiere of
SUPERHERO BLUES
by Judd Lear Silverman
produced by Dominic Cuskern
directed by M. R. Goodley
with
Trey K. Blackburn, Linnae Caurdy, Elizabeth Gee,
William Goldberg, Maribel Martinez,
Richard Mays, Quinlan Pozner, Oliver Thrun
costumes by Catherine Fisher
lighting by Scott Andrew Cally
sound by Jacob Subotnick
production stage manager: Jodi M. Witherell
stage manager: Tim Sheridan

June 21-24th, 2012
Thurs- Sat at 8 pm, Sun at 3 pm
Tickets $18 • Seniors & Children 12 and under $14
The Gallery Players, 199 14th Street, btwn 4th /5th Aves
(in beautiful Park Slope, Brooklyn!)
Tickets galleryplayers.com or 212-352-3101



Hope to see you there!
10.


LOST YOUTH

In the last ten days, the news has been overwhelming, both with the senseless murder of a young man in a hoodie and the legal case involving a young man with a violin and a young man accused of tormenting that young violinist due to his sexual orientation, resulting in his suicide. A waste of our beautiful young people.

Young men will be young men. Where are WE to protect them as they learn? Where are we as a society when we allow them to be brutalized?

Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin wasn’t safe to go out for a bag of Skittles in his own neighborhood. Yes, George Zimmerman appears to be to blame for the actual death (as far as we can know from the news media versus actual evidence), and there are certainly questions about the speed of the investigation that followed. But what’s almost more disturbing is that Zimmerman was known to be a little too heavily into this vigilante mode, having many previous times called into the police about other “suspicious characters” he found on his self-appointed neighborhood patrols. Why wasn’t HE being watched? When Zimmerman called in with his report, he was told by the police NOT to follow Martin and not to take action—yet somehow he wasn’t charged or even investigated. Trayvon Martin was our son, our student, our future—left to the hands of some self-deputizing, gun-toting citizen—a bully, when you come right down to it. And nothing was done.

Over a year ago, a young gay musician at Rutgers named Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge, supposedly after being “outed” by his roommate, Dharun Ravi, who reportedly captured Tyler’s sexual encounters on his web cam and shared it with his friends. (The circumstances and what Rhavi did are now in question, despite the verdict—but more on that in a moment.) But the question is: what were the contributing factors? While Ravi’s drawing attention to Tyler’s private moments with an “older” man was no doubt one part of the equation, there are other things to be considered. Tyler had only recently come out to his parents, shortly before going off to Rutgers. No matter how wonderful his parents may be, there IS always a difficult period of adjustment when one proclaims oneself gay. It doesn’t make things better or worse, just different, and it takes time in a society where one’s sexuality apparently isn’t one’s own business. Add to that the actual “affair” that took place: a young gay man’s first tentative explorations can frequently lead one to an older partner who may be charming or have more experience but who may not be the best choice for a “relationship,” and in our first tentative searches, we look for Mr. Wonderful perhaps to help validate the realization of our sexual choice. Yet as with all searches for the right partner, it is less likely to happen right away and we make mistakes. The first mistakes hurt the most.

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11.

WHO ARE WE BECOMING?

Anger only begets more anger. Hatred feeds upon hatred. Self-interest leads to the self-serving.

There is a serious need to put the brakes on, America, and look at who we’re becoming. While the Middle East is full of countries where the people are asking for their voice and their vote—after years of our encouragement—we in the meantime are reverting to a nation of greedy shouters, calling out
“Everything for ME” or “I better grab mine before someone else gets it.” We are entitled to do whatever we please. Through our own self-involvement and self-interest, we are truly becoming a mean nation.

It starts with small things—pushing people out of the way on a subway car or running over someone’s foot with a double-wide baby stroller. But soon it escalates.

A man gets executed on Death Row because the verdict said so—despite the recanting by 7 out of 9 witnesses, the basis of the whole case, not to mention that there is a man who has openly bragged of doing the deed himself. The plea to reconsider from world citizens, ranging from Presidents to Popes, fell on deaf ears. Somehow, “reasonable doubt” seems an inconvenience in the face of ego, pride, and an attitude of “I made a decision, I can’t be wrong.” And so a possibly innocent man is killed by the judgment of other men.

A soldier who has served his country heroically in Iraq is booed by an audience when asking about the change in the DON’T ASK DON’T TELL policy. And that crowd response is cheerfully encouraged by the potential candidates for our next Commander-in-Chief.

Activities like raising the Debt Ceiling are decried by folks who swear that Ronald Reagan and their other past heroes were Gods—despite the fact that Reagan raised the debt ceiling more times in his administration than any other President. But then, these are the same folks who block this administration's attempts and then try to blame the current administration for not fixing the problems created by the previous administration. It’s not about trying to do the right thing. It’s about insisting on being the one who’s right.

And no ideologue seems to be blameless in this self-serving rush. Unfortunately, this egotism is the one thing that is truly bipartisan.

If you deserved equal land rights, rights to the land of your birth, and you had even been told you have equal land rights, then you might be upset if the area was continuing to be settled deliberately by others while the talks and negotiations are still going on—and those arbitrating were doing nothing to stop it. Yet we think it odd when people pursue official recognition of statehood at the UN in order to put the debate on an even keel?

Let’s go ahead and set up hydraulic fracturing around the reservoir while, after years of asking, we STILL don’t know the chemical compounds being used (proprietary, don’t you know, like the special sauce of a Big Mac), and there still is no consistent, effective method for cleanup of the waste products. After all, if

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12.



WAY UP NORTH


Just back from another amazing trip to Alaska, my fourth within two years. How wonderful a place it is--breathtakingly beautiful!

And how sad it is that the first thing everyone asks about back in the lower 48 is the ex-governor (whom the Alaskans are exporting to Arizona soon). It is not that ex-Governor Palin--wait, how long was she Governor for?--it's not that any one single aspect of Gov. Palin's agenda upsets Alaskans to the point of rebellion, it's that along the way she became this ramrod conservative party-liner, spouting rhetoric and jargon along a narrow point of view, all conservative, all the time. (I'm told this wasn't always true of her before she became so spotlight- enamored).

Whereas a key trait I've found in most Alaskans (be they natives or subsequent immigrants) is that they have a VARIETY of opinions on all kinds of subjects, and no person is a one-trick pony: no one sticks to a strict party line like a safety blanket. Most of the folks I've met do many, many different things with their time, their talent, and their passions. They might be a taxidermist who practices Buddhism and dances ballet. The joy of sitting at an Alaskan dinner table discussion is that when discussing multiple issues, you cannot predict where each person will stand on any given subject. A fiscal conservative may end up also being pro right-to-choose or anti the war or pro gay marriage, etc. Alaskans are independent thinkers, deciding topic by topic what they believe, and they are usually articulate, well-read and well-informed, not to mention hugely involved in many cultures and the arts. It is a land of creative thinking and living.

I've just returned from the 19th Annual Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, one of the truly amazing treasures of the national theater scene. Almost 300 playwrights, actors, designers, and directors assemble for a theater "boot camp." From dawn till dusk (which at this time of year is 2 am!), you have play readings, topical workshops, professional theater productions, and even a wild and crazy fringe festival. We talk, we read, we theorize, we party and we celebrate a like-minded creativity. Plays from the Conference go on to productions all around the world, which is not surprising since participants are sometimes international (like my roommate this year, the gifted Jack Dickson, who came all the way from Glasgow!). And whether you're Marshall W. Mason or, well, er, me (trying to come up with extremes of the deservedly known and the unknown), all share in a splendid camaraderie that celebrates the art of play writing. The Conference also provides attention to a very special aspect of theater. Unlike too many movies made for mass consumption, a play can take a very small idea--about relationships or tribal ancestors or the financial state of the world or mother-daughter conflicts or t

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13.


CHANGIN’ TIMES

When it comes to the world’s stage, America has long had a bit of an ego complex: we are the paradigm for Democracy. We are the good that can happen when people have a voice. We are the exemplar for how other nations should behave.

Well, inevitably, a still (relatively) young nation is bound to have the ego and the preening pride of a teenager, which is what we are when compared to some of the world’s older sovereign nations. And we’ve had the energy and the bucks to back up our boasts, and, with a teenager’s heart, we’ve often been passionate and sincere in our desire to do good for others.

But in the same way that people who don’t let go of that teenage ego as they mature (or rather don’t) can shift from passionate to disturbingly pedantic, we as a people stand potentially guilty of the same over-weaning behavior, the same naïve assurance curdling into egotistical grand-standing.

If we put our money and our beliefs where our sometimes too big mouths are, then we are cheering for the people of Cairo, not because they’ve got it all figured out (as yet) but because they finally awoke from their apathy and said, no, we don’t like what’s going on and we’re not going to take it anymore. They demanded change. And while there were some skirmishes and mistakes made in the protest process, they were minor compared to the major task they were accomplishing. It is particularly significant that when some rioters started attacking national treasures, the crowd reminded them that these were the people’s treasures, Egypt’s treasures, and promptly created a people’s detail to surround the museum to protect the contents and NOT sacrifice them as part of the demonstration. This spoke both of a national pride and a realization that the art of the past is a vital and necessary part of our culture today. We should salute our brethren in Egypt, regardless of whether we are Catholic, Muslim or Jewish, because we support human rights, human kindness, the desire and the right to raise our families, to celebrate life and to live in peace and earn an honest living.

Many Americans have been strangely speechless this week, especially in certain usually noisy corners of Washington. On one hand, an open display of a fight for Democracy that was not instigated by us was a shocker, and we couldn’t take any credit for it. On the other, since we had supported the Mubarak regime, a regime that apparently had outraged so many that this was the result, we didn’t know what to say, especially as Mubarak had been our ally in the war on Terror, so that till now we didn’t want to ask too many questions about what else was going on. Fears have been expressed that maybe the new regime, still to be determined, may not be as favorable to our friendly “wishes.” They may not leap to our defense each time, and they may not be as generous with passages through the Suez, which could have a financial effect at the gas pumps. The question is: do we, the American people, really believe that any people have a right to their own voice, or do we support them only as long as it serves our interests? If their wants differ from ours, will we still support their right to choose?

Meanwhile, there are folks here in this country striving to eliminate NPR and the NEA and all financial support to our national culture, as if it were some senseless frill to be cut from wasteful spending packages. These are the same folks who refuse to enact legislation against animal cruelty

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14.


INSPIRED WORK

While great art stands the test of time, great artists survive not only by how their work is viewed over the years but also how their work influences other artists and audiences, sometimes even beyond their own lifespans. In a sense, they stay living--if you define living as the ability to interact and affect the thoughts, emotions and actions of others, which is the ultimate connection we all strive for in our daily lives. Artists of all stripes manage this neat trick. Just recently, sitting in Starbucks (yes, Starbucks!), upon hearing Ella Fitzgerald singing over the sound system, my mood and rhythm were changed entirely, my brain connected with the lyrics she sang, and, yes, at least for that moment, Ella was still with us. I've often found that upon viewing a Monet, a Van Gogh, a Gauguin--alright, gang, fill in your favorite here!--I am transported to another place. For those who favor the time-continuum theory, it's an example of recognizing a connection that exists in time, going beyond the merely linear. And certainly this is true of great writing, wherein our minds become hospitality suites for the words and imagination of some of the great literary lights, who live as long as we provide them hosting space in our heads. Thus we continue to rally to thoughts and emotions engendered by the works of Ibsen, Chekhov, and Shakespeare.

Certainly, Tennessee Williams manages to affect us in this way and continues to do so as we approach the centenary of his birth this coming March. Works like Streetcar, The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Night of the Iguana, Summer and Smoke, and many more continue to fill theaters across the globe, while some of his lesser-known works continually pop-up like amazing gifts, often receiving more positive responses than they did in their initial productions in his own lifetime. But also of late, he has stimulated more creativity in the theatrical community, inspiring another generation of writers to explores his themes, his characters, and his poetry to create new work that is at once both original and tinged with the poetry, magic and humanity that one finds in each piece of Williams' work.

This weekend, a special opportunity to see and feel this influence will be available to New Yorkers when Blue Roses Productions, that sterling group devoted both to the works of Tennessee Williams and the development of work by new and gifted playwrights, will present a wonderful 90-minute bill at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex on West 36th Street. Tom's Children is a splendid collection of work inspired by Williams' poetry, with each playwright creating a new piece from their own imagination (versus adapting the poetry literally into a stage tale). The result is a refreshing, powerful and often humorous assortment of plays that take the audience through many realms while maintaining that wonderful sense of humanity (and sometimes inhumanity) that is the cornerstone of the master's work. Erma Duricko, artistic director of Blue Roses, conceived, curated and directed the bill, assembling work from such gifted playwrights as Kara Lee Corthron, Richard Cottrell, Gary Giovannetti, Dawson Moore, Craig Pospisil, Tom Matthew Wolfe and John Yearley. All have distinct and distinctly different voices, yet their work is of an unusually high quality. (I can say this becau

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15.


THE DAY THE INANIMATES REBELLED

Maybe the fairy tales and cartoons have it right. Once the lights are out, all the inanimate objects we assume to be soulless come to life. Maybe all that is made of matter must have its own internal energy that holds it together—and that energy is active and alive when we’re not looking, or else it’s too tiny for us to observe. In any event, it is amazing how little we clumsy, cumbersome humans actually control. (Perhaps our dogs only let us think we control them out of love. Cats, on the other hand, always remind us who is boss.)

There is always garbage that deliberately misses the can and papers that refuse to land where you put them, computers that refuse sleep mode (but then again, we know they have brains), and clothing that gets hooked on doorknobs, railings and even nails in desperate attempts to stay behind. There are pens and keys that roll off desks into shoulder bags and briefcases below who act as their getaway cars. How often have you seen something wrap around another item, say a paper clip or something equally twisted, and you know you couldn't have caused that to happen consciously if you tried in a million years?

But for those of a certain age—those of us requiring pharmaceuticals for daily maintenance—there is “the pill chase.”

Pills, growing more costly by the day. must be taken at regularly prescribed times, providing microscopic effects barely discernible but perhaps vital to our survival. One could argue that these pills have the power to cloud our minds and judgment as easily as they may be designed to clarify it or to thin our blood. If they don’t want to be taken, they have the power to make us forget.

And then sometimes, there is The Great Escape, the day that tablets once carefully counted by pharmacists now decide to make a run for it from the plastic tower that holds them captive. A child-proof cap is (finally) removed by folks who are way past childhood. And once you are momentarily distracted, by a phone, a clock, a remembrance of something you must put on your to-do list once you can find it . . . out the pills leap, as if spring-loaded, rolling in multitudinous directions like cattle escaping their pen. Their intrinsic value, combined with their actual cost and their legally-prescribed dosages, make you, the poor dumb human, scramble, as you try to coax back each little escapee. Fears and anxieties of germs and dirt, not to mention house-keeping guilt, add to the conundrum as these missiles enter into unchartered territories of the kitchen floor. And will you actually swallow this pill that is now tainted by its freedom? Thank god there’s dryness, maybe nothing will stick to it, being as you can’t clean it off after all . . . . oh, please, God, let the five-second rule be true and not something we just made up to salve our neurotic souls . . . And even when retrieved, they may not all go docilely back into their light Lucite corrals.

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16.


GENTLEMEN, BE SEATED!

With the passing of Fred Ebb in 2004, one might have assumed that the canon of Kander and Ebb had come to its logical completion, a remarkable trove of treasures that includes such heavy-hitting masterpieces as CABARET and CHICAGO, as well as ZORBA, WOMAN OF THE YEAR, and KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN among many others. John Kander’s thrilling, pulse-pounding show music was always a seamless match with Ebb’s witty, acerbic, sometimes achingly beautiful lyrics. When combined with the very human and often challenging themes they chose for their musicals, the effect was usually dynamic and even dynamite, surely earning them a secure place in musical theater history. Some of us are particular champions of their scores for THE HAPPY TIME and STEEL PIER, while others no doubt promote the likes of THE RINK or THE ACT or 70, GIRLS, 70. (All fans got a little bit of satisfaction from their hit Off-Broadway sampler, AND THE WORLD GOES ROUND.) Their film, television and special events material has yielded numerous numbers to the pop culture songbook, including “My Coloring Book,” and “How Lucky Can You Get”-- while “New York, New York” seared its way into the public consciousness and became the de facto theme song for one of the world’s best loved cities in 1985. One doesn’t think of Liza Minnelli, Chita Rivera, Joel Grey, or Bob Fosse without the material of Kander and Ebb. Digging a bit deeper, the career of Barbra Streisand has significant chapters involving their creations, and even Sinatra covered their tunes. So there would certainly be no shame if 2004 marked the end of the story.

But it didn’t. In fact, their output for the balance of this decade has been rather astonishing (with most of the projects, of course, in the pipeline prior to Ebb’s death), providing more high profile projects than most writing teams create in a whole career. CURTAINS, a loving tribute to show business tales, backstage legends, and whodunits, was a moderate hit, providing a range of terrific comic specialty numbers and touching torch songs, as well as providing David Hyde Pierce a Tony-winning turn as theater-loving police detective. ALL ABOUT US, their adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH, has had several regional tryouts with the hope that fine tuning will eventually lead to a fully-working production, and their musical version of Durrenmatt’s THE VISIT has seen productions in Chicago and D.C., giving Chita Rivera yet another amazing role. Ebb’s voice has continued both in the lyrics and in the conceptions of these shows. For the work that remained to be done, long-time partner Kander fleshed out the finishing touches as if he were channeling his collaborator of 40-plus years.

THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS shows that their sense of drama--the power of injustice, and how the media and the system feed on hype for their own sake--is still clearly in full

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17.


JUST ANOTHER DAY IN THE U.S.A.

Yes, it's campaign time again. Did it ever leave? It seems like campaigners on both sides of the fence lingered on like hungover party guests, unwilling to leave or cede that the "party's over, it's time to call it a day." (Thanks, Comden and Green.) I suppose if you loiter around from one campaign's finish until the next one's start, the "party" never really ends.

The latest screaming point--surprise! surprise!--is once again health care reform. Democrats are pointing to the accomplishments in health care as the cornerstone of their first two years in power, while Republicans are denying any gains in overall benefits to the public and are pushing for a total rollback/repeal if they are restored to their "rightful places."

Just another day in the U.S.A.

Don't the Republicans promising repeal realize that shouting "rewind" without presenting REALISTIC alternate plans arrogantly reveals the issue as one of power? Or that it reveals them to be favoring big business interests over the interests of those they are sworn to represent? And are they cynically counting on the fact that the voters won't do their own thinking, research, reading? (Are they right?)

Once again, it seems demonizing opposition is the sole objective of both parties--versus truly
presenting and exploring valid alternatives, which most folks would be open to hearing. If the Democrats and the Republicans agree on one thing, it's silencing the moderates within their own parties! Discussion and discourse seems to be the last thing they want, and certainly without any better ideas to provide than their current nebulous policies and planks, they don't want to highlight their own lack of answers. It is laziness, combined with cynicism, hate-speech and the very worst kind of rabble-rousing.

It is funny that some of the very people who, say, favor Creationism over Evolution, nonetheless seem to support might is right and the spoils going to the most powerful. We, as a country, are nothing if not ironic.

One plank of John McCain's campaign two years ago (a classic of the Republican health agenda) would allow insurance purchases across state lines for services not covered in a home state. This is apparently one of the few ideas being revived and touted in the Republican's lovely new 5th Grade-level picture book being used as a marketing tool. (Does a picture of the Statue of Liberty or a bald eagle really solve not having enough money to pay for my prescriptions?)

However, the Republicans continually sweep under the rug the reality--that providing said availability doesn't guarantee a lower price. In fact, when any company becomes one of the sole providers of a particular coverage or service or product, the price goes up! It's a basic law of supply-and-demand economics. A similar ploy was made when the Bush administration changed prescription plans for seniors. It's one thing to open the field of opportunities, but if companies have unfettered, unregulated options as to WHAT they choose to offer (based no doubt on what makes them the most money), they won't offer those products that aren't highly profitable to them, regardless of public need--and therefore the drugs most needed will be sold by a handful of companies at the HIGHEST price possible. Once again, the general public is victimized, especially those on fixed incomes. (Free market economies are wonderful--unless your personal buying power gives you

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18.


PAY SOME ATTENTION TO THAT MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN!

They don't want us to notice.

But have you noticed that the folks who are attacking Obama for being disappointing are actually the same exact folks who fought against his getting in in the first place? Responding vehemently to any idea of his, irregardless of what it was, as wrong and worthy of Hitler?

Like they were ever really open or listening? Like they've changed their minds? Like THEY are disappointed?

They like to create the illusion that people are turning against the President--they foment disenchantment--but they are actually the same opponents he always had!

And they are the same people who keep shouting "We must go back to the way we were, the people we are."

But . . . weren't they the folks who got us into this financial mess anyway?

Many Tea Party folks want to go back to "the way they were" circa 2000--not 1776, when the forefathers wanted to take care of ALL Americans, guaranteeing free speech, freedom of religion, and a welcome to all who wanted a better life. Who, indeed, is more the true American?

Worst of all, these are the people who speak "American values" and yet treat the office of the Presidency and the man who holds it with disrespect unprecedented in American politics.

Are we cured of a decade's worth of policies that sent us into wars, gave tax benefits to the wealthiest few, saw health care costs spiral out of control, and gave the oil companies and the pharmaceutical companies carte blanche? No. Are we recovered from years of unregulated bank activities and unsecured mortgages? Educational systems devastated by massive cuts to arts, physical education and culture? No.

And were we promised these would be cured in less than two years by the incoming President? NO. NEVER. In fact, over and over again he told us that these were not quick cure situations. (No "mission accomplished" stunts going on here.)

And were any attempts to resolve these situations welcomed by the party who lost their majority, putting the good the country before party politics? No.

Interestingly, articles in The Times and The New Yorker continually point out that the folks who are funding the Tea Party movement, the Coalition for America, the Glenn Becks and the Sarah Palins are the very same folk who stand to lose from the policies designed to protect the common man versus the tycoon. Their backing comes from the very folks who thrived while the system was brought to its knees. The Tea Party movement claims to be the party of the little people, but check out their demographics--do you see an America of many races, creeds, economic strata? This is America? Well, maybe it's THEIR America, but there's no sense of US.

Most of all, DO YOU HEAR ANY NEW IDEAS? I continually point out that what I really would welcome is discussion, a sincere sharing of possible solutions. I'm not content with how things are at present, nor do I feel all my concerns are addressed by this administration. I would so welcome good ideas from both sides of the fence. THAT would be constructive. But personal invective is used as a smokescreen. Whoever shouts loudly enough wins . . . right?

19.

NORTH CAROLINA ADVENTURE

I’m not a big traveller—I like being places but I hate the “getting there.” Nonetheless, I took a JetBlue flight this weekend (thanks for great service!) to Carrboro, NC, where The ArtsCenter, a really wonderful place where art, music, theater and dance combine, presented the 9th Annual 10 By 10 Festival, an evening of ten ten-minute plays performed by ten actors, with a ticket price of only $10. My play, CLOSET CASE, opened the evening and was enormously well-received, under Chris Chiron’s concise and clever direction. Kenneth De Abrew and Lori Mahl (who along with Chris appeared in the other nine plays), were wonderful as a man who finds a strange woman living in his closet—and the woman in question! It’s an odd, absurd comedy, based on a “true” news story out of Japan. The whole evening was beautifully directed and acted—and FUNNY and thought-provoking. On my evening, I was part of an audience talkback with four other playwrights, having a panel discussion with those who stayed after the show (for discussion and a wine-and-food reception). It was a really terrific evening, largely due to the quality of the work and the wonderful people I met on the journey. People who still wish to see the show, by the way, still can—as it plays Thursday-Sundays thru July 25th (Th-Sat eves at 8, Sun Mat at 3). The ArtsCenter at the Triangle, Ste G, 300 East Main Street, Carrboro, NC (919) 929-2787

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20.


BACKWARDS RECIPROCITY
(or letting the old folks in!)


It is clear that most new theater companies, at least in New York, are created by and for young(er) artists. That makes sense. After all, it is hard, HARD work, requiring energy and determination--often requiring every waking hour of life when you're not at work at a "rent job" to make enough money to pay for the damned thing! (Breathe.) It is not LIKE having a second job, it IS a second job. (I know--I was there once. Kinda still am, but that's another discussion.)

It also makes sense that artists spending all this time and energy on forming a company would deal primarily with issues, concerns and aesthetics that please them and their target age group. After all, to put in THAT much hard work and make that many sacrifices, you surely are going to want the messages and the work to be something you care about artistically. Makes total sense.

But oddly, while plays used to feature a range of characters of different ages, there now seems to be an overabundance of plays with "twenty-somethings" as the only characters--and as the sole target audience. (Even "thirty-something characters" are having a harder time.) And when festivals of one-acts, etc., come along, any plays with "mature" characters get swept under the rug, and if these plays do appear, they get buried while plays about "coming of age" and "getting laid" seem to sweep. (Or as a fellow middle-aged theater artist said to me recently, "If I have to watch one more f%&-ing coming of age play, I'm gonna yell 'fire" in the theater!") Again, I guess understandable--but a little sad. (Which? The old fogey reaction or the youth bias? Um, I'm not quite sure!)

Understand, I KNOW that I'm getting older. There is definitely a new generation in charge. And no one wants to spend their 20s in their parents' basements--it is time to get out there and explore! It is your right, as it has been EVERY generation's right. This is finally a time when your opinion matters MORE than the heavy-handed authority figure who's been ruining you life for . . . okay, see, I do understand and if you don't deal with it NOW, you never will!

But when you don't include a mix in your mix, you lose out in several ways. You lose out because middle-aged audiences still DO like to see theater, and not just conservative "Broadway" fare. Older audiences have needs to see their lives and interactions explored, too--and they will pay cold hard cash to see it! And just as we are reminded about youth as we watch the stories you crave, so might you learn a few things in preparation for your middle years--not to mention that it might help you connect with a whole other generation that you will be entering sooner than you think! By doing plays with older artists also involved (yes, we write, direct, act, design and even sweep floors!), you set up connections that may serve you when other projects, sometimes decently funded, come along. Doing plays with mixed age groups really does reflect life--and might do something for yours. And finally, though not guaranteed, older audiences may have some disposable income that can be sent your way--but they want to feel that at least sometimes they get to see themselves in those plays, and not just as the rotten parent!

To put it another way: you know how much you hate it when older softwar

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21.



WHAT'S HIDDEN, WHAT'S REVEALED

With an able assist from the MAD MEN design team, first-time director and fashion designer Tom Ford ably evokes the early 60s, with all of its awakenings and phobias, in a stunningly moving and simple tale, A SINGLE MAN, now available on DVD (and no doubt various cable outlets). Based on a Christopher Isherwood novel, the film received largely critical acclaim both here and England, yet inevitably missed many viewers to its "art house" scope. In fact, it no doubt would have escaped most viewers note, were it not for the splendid, Oscar-nominated performance of Colin Firth, playing the sad and understated college professor George Falconer, a mostly-closeted gay man (this is 1962) who has lost his lover of sixteen years in a car accident and has been forbidden by the lover's family to attend the funeral. The film spends a day in the life of this forlorn man--a particular one, where from the start it is clear he plans to end his life--and follows him through his path of trying to put his life in order. If this sounds painful, it is--so many times you want to scream out to him to stop and look at all the possibilities. But the film is so engrossing and so easy to identify with that you'll find yourself fully drawn into Falconer's experiences. As you would expect from this production team, the visuals are continually breath-taking: sensual and spot-on. Yet they never pull you out of the emotional tug provided by Firth's marvelous performance, duly deserving of the accolades it received. You so much want to reach out and help this man--and show him that life is worth living. The screenplay by Ford and David Scearce is never overly maudlin, and each time Falconer starts to move towards self-pity, a twist occurs that provides both a fresh look at life's opportunities and also some truthful comic relief. While small cameos are provided by the likes of Lee Pace (PUSHING DAISIES) and Mad Men's Jon Hamm (as a phone voice), strong support is provided by Nicholas Hoult (all grown up from ABOUT A BOY, where he was the kid befriended by Hugh Grant) as a persistent student, Matthew Goode (as the departed lover), and by Julianne Moore (in another amazing, Golden Globe-nominated performance) as the professor's long-time, somewhat boozy friend. To tell you too much more story-wise would be to give too much away, although admittedly the film is more character study than plot-twister. But you will be moved, teased, torn and in many ways healed by the lovely, direct storytelling. If you missed it in the theater as I did, you will be very happy to catch up with it in the comfort of your own space (which may ultimately be the ideal way to view this film.)
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22.


A FILM TO WATCH FOR

For the second year in a row, I was lucky enough to attend the New York International Latino Film Festival, sponsored by HBO. (Last year's LOVE SIMPLE, a charming unpretentious romance, is slowly going on to a real life and, I believe, is now available on iTunes.)

This year, one of the real gems is the debut film of twenty-seven year old William David Caballeros, a multi-talented gentleman who directed, shot, edited and scored a really wonderful documentary entitled AMERICAN DREAMS DEFERRED. Caballero, a NYU film school grad, decided that the well-stream of his art and soul was his family, with all their trials, tribulations and dysfunctions, and so he chose to make a documentary about them. Risky, that--turning the camera on your family. (My mom won't allow even snapshots and when she does, she makes a face--even did that in family wedding photos!) Not only do you risk potential alienation, but then the process for the artist to pick and choose from so many, many personal details becomes a painful process. Objectivity can go out the window or shut the artist down completely. It turns out, however, that the love and pride that all of them feel for him (the family calls him David) creates a trust and they open up for the camera with astonishing honesty and feeling.

The film never sugar coats, and there are moments in the lives portrayed that are harrowing, dark, and painfully sad. Problems of chronic illness, drug abuse, violence, sex abuse and aging are revealed, but they are infused (as they are in life) by the joys and complications of true caring that comes from family ties. The sense that no one will ever be abandoned, no matter how difficult the trials, is truly awe-inspiring and a testament to the strength of family. And as with any family, humor is the survival key and a moment can flip from dark to light--and then possibly dark again--in an instant. But what makes the film so rich and astonishing is the sense of love that continues through truly difficult circumstances. The director's parents share a devotion through the father's many years of devastating illness, and this is revealed so movingly, both in actions and in certain moments of stillness, that the audience was audibly moved to tears. And a scene where his hospitalized father sobs that he doesn't want his son to go back to New York shows a directness and depth of emotion rarely seen on screen. That we were moved to such a depth of emotion not by editorial or artistic manipulation but by simple, direct honesty--the sign of a wise film maker. His grandparents, his aunt and her children, his cousins, are all intimately a part of Caballeros' life--and of his documentary, and by concentrating on nuances only a close intimate would know, he creates an enormously revealing portrait.

It is not the generalities of each of our lives that makes a work universal. Ironically, it is those unique details specific to our experience that make us connect, as we recognize the truth about our lives and the depths of our feelings. With its use of incredibly intimate candid detail, AMERICAN DREAMS DEFERRED is an absolutely remarkable portrait of love and family, an ultimately uplifting and moving experience that anyone who's ever been a family member will find riveting.

There is one more showing in the New York International Latino Film Festival--Saturday at 1:30pm at the Chelsea Cinema, West 23rd between 7th and 8th Avenues. But hopefully, this w

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23.


MENTAL ANOREXIA

Being boring has never been popular, to be sure. Brevity is the sole of wit.

Lately, however, it seems that the number of words is of more concern than the quality of the words, the richness of thought. There is no patience for a real exchange of ideas. Being short-spoken is valued over accurately or flavorfully getting a point across. No one has time to talk something through, and intelligent, respectful difference of opinion is dismissed as a waste of time. It seems far more important to find out about Heidi’s divorce from Spencer than to discuss education, drilling for natural gas and oil, healthcare, the economy, art. (Why talk in person at all when we can text each other?)

Surely, there has always been a need to streamline. But the tendency to go for the shortest answer can be short-sided, and worse, lacking in imagination. Don’t ask people to explain themselves. Don’t ask people to read. Don’t ask people to be creative, and for God’s sake DON’T challenge them to do something they think they don’t want to do, even if they don’t know what it is. The resistance to stretching one’s imagination has become the American anathema. We have forgotten how to listen.

Celebrity was never intended to be an art form unto itself and is different than pop culture. PEOPLE magazine, though diverting, should never replace great literature in our society. This is not an unfair swipe at PEOPLE—it was never intended as art. It is mental potato chips, pop corn, a snack for the brain—but it is no substitution for a truly great and nutritious “meal.” Right now, our cultural and educational systems are fostering mental anorexia.

The problem is most prominent in our classrooms. Instead of bringing our youth into adult discussions, we seem to be content reducing our concerns to the lowest common denominator. Attempts to get kids to stretch their minds (taking more patience and time) are discouraged, and if kids whine, fearful of not meeting the task and therefore refusing to do it, we capitulate immediately and stop the activity. We calm them down to stop their whining—which I guess makes it easier for the adults. More time is spent on “classroom management,” finding ways to keep students controlled, docile—usually at the expense of igniting their imaginations, creativity and energy. Certai

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24.

SCOUNDREL TIME

It always strikes me as ironic that the flag wavers who want to return the country to its "glory days" seem to ignore the very tenets the country was founded upon--freedom of speech, freedom of religion, creating a haven for those fleeing oppression, everyone getting a fair chance. These are the very reasons the forefathers built America. The tea party wants less government, yet complains there's no oversight. They want their own rights protected--but not the rights of others. They talk of Christian values, family values, yet their platform denies help to those less fortunate. They want their stocks, their homes, their jobs and bonuses protected, but see no value in laws or efforts to protect the rights of all--apparently, there is only so much to go around and they want what they deem their share, even if it means that others go without. We are slipping to 12th in the world in terms of college graduation rates, yet this nation cuts back on education constantly: on cultural education, on languages, arts and music--and then they wonder why we're doing so poorly in our test scores! The Tea Party wants to repeal the health care bill when we are the only "civilized" country that does not think it's a government's duty, a society's duty, to take care of all citizens in need. They support the profiling laws of Arizona and are trying to repeal a law fundamental to our founding--that those who are born in America no matter what the circumstances are Americans. Glenn Beck trumpets religious values, yet pushes a selfish and self-centered agenda. Socialism is used as a fear-mongering tactic, while Capitalism is pushed as a God-given right--even though the greed of the past decade that flourished through capitalistic indulgence has brought our economy to wrack and ruin. Any system has its imperfections, to be sure, but somehow, Beck and Palin seem to demonize anything that does give them personal free rein, even at the expense of others. Co-opting religious and high-road rhetoric is the name of their game. (They even feel entitled to trample on Martin Luther King's historic day for their own political gain.) But in the end, it is scoundrel time.

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25.


ILLEGAL "SKINNING"?

Yes, we live in a lethal, violent age. But have you noticed the exponential increase going on in "skinning"?

Initially, it was done for protection, supposedly for the betterment of the species. But now, it's out of hand!

Everywhere you look, someone is selling "skins"--iPod skins, blackberry skins, laptop skins, cellphone skins! You begin to realize it's as bad as when exotic hunting went wild in the late 19th century (until endangered species laws took hold). Why, I just passed a table on the street with cellphone skins just lying there, so many that they were practically giving them away, they'd created so many! And the skins being traded on the Internet run into the hundreds of thousands--daily! Soon, they'll be just for decoration--like zebra rugs or wall-mounted antlers!

Please, people! These mini electronic devices were born as our friends, for the betterment of society. They mean us no harm. True, if allowed to grow at their current rate, they will overrun the population--people will stop actual live communication as they retreat into an electronic, "virtual" world, obsessed with the latest tweet, text message, or (gulp!) blog. Teens and even fully-grown adults will become so addicted that they cannot put their text devices down for two seconds to give their full attention to those in the room! (Thumb injuries will skyrocket, as will surgeries to repair them--not too mention increased eye damage and "crow's feet" from all the squinting!) But to skin these creatures makes no sense at all and is just plain cruel! The number of silicone particles destroyed alone could feel an entire nation of computer chips!

Have a heart people--stop the thoughtless skinning of defenseless electronic devices! (What, they're not thoughtless? You mean they're using me . . . RIGHT NOW? . . . Quickly, I must alert the

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