I've seen a bit of theater recently, so I thought I'd catch up with some of it briefly
Over the weekend, I went to see the British farce The Play That Goes Wrong. It's presented as if it's an amateur company putting on a murder mystery, and everything that can possibly go wrong does. The show is very thin -- the storyline is this is dismal drawing room mystery -- but a lot of fun. Oddly, I didn't laugh much (though the audience was in hysterics), yet I enjoyed it, greatly admiring the non-stop inventiveness of the stagecraft. (At one point, for instance, the lead actress gets knocked out, so the female stage manager has to take over carrying around the script. Then she gets knocked out -- and the regular actress has recovered enough to jump back in...but when the stage manger recovers she wants back in the place, so the two women stay on stage the rest of the evening competing with one another in the role. Believe it or not, it's even more convoluted than that, but it would be too much to describe...)
I also liked that they carry the concept into the Playbill – with double credits: one for the show, but also one for the 3rd-rate show within the show. So, they have a title page for that show with its fictitious production credits (most of which are the same person in charge of almost everything), and also bios for everyone in the cast, which are quite amusing. My favorite line was subtle, but wonderful – “Robert’s next performance will be as Godot in a newly self-written sequel to Beckett’s classic.”
Normally, I'd post a trailer of the production, which I was loathe to do with this particular play since I doubted it would give a sense of the evening. As luck would happen, at the 2015 Royal Variety Performance they performed almost 10 full minutes from the opening of the play! It's somewhat edited -- for example, when they knock on the door to come in, it's jammed, and for a minute or so they can't get on stage, until eventually the actors sneak on from around the wings. That's left out here, along with some other stage business and dialogue. But for the most part, it's all intact. Also, know that the play gets even more manic in the third act. This is just the "slow" set-up. And because the audience isn't there for the show, but rather for the Royal Variety eveyt, they don't get some of the gags going on, but overall it's a pretty good presentation of what takes place during the production. One final note -- only for the Royal Variety Performance there are several cameos that are not part of the actual show. But you'll see brief gags with Kylie Minogue, Josh Groban and a British comedian/actor I like, Jack Whitehall, who drops "snow flakes" at the end..
Moving on to other theater --
Two years ago, I wrote here about going to a play at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum. This is a wonderful outdoor venue in the forest around Topanga that was the home of the actor who, among many things, most famously played the grandfather on The Waltons.
There were two shows in their repertory season that interested me, but didn’t know if I wanted to make what is a bit of a drive twice – however I found that there was a Saturday both were being put on, one at 4 PM, the other at 8 PM, so I made a sack dinner and went to see them together, a couple weekends ago.
Note: I don't recommend this unless you have a seat cushion or perhaps one of those portable seat-backs that you can place on a bench. It was okay without either, but at the end of a long day sitting on what's basically a bench, I was nearly my comfort limit.
The two shows were Moby Dick – Rehearsed” adapted by none other than Orson Welles and Thonrton Wilder's classic The Skin of Our Teeth.” The first was well-done, but the play was just fair. It starts out like a rehearsal of a production of Moby Dick which was quite interesting and sort of fun, but then after about 10 minutes it just largely became a production of Moby Dick and was just okay. Well-staged and nicely acted, but I missed the clever "rehearsal" overlap and found the straight-forward adaptation only interesting at best. The other play was very enjoyable, not a great production, but again with very good acting and absolutely worth seeing. Actually both were.
I don't have a video of their production of either, but did track down a video from the Acting Company of Moby Dick: Rehearsed.
(Side Note: As it happens, I saw one of their plays in their first year of existence, at the Ravinia Music Festival, where they were in repertory. The Acting Company began life as the first graduating class of the Julliard acting school. The program's director -- and initial artistic director of the Acting Company -- was John Houseman, who -- to take this full circle -- had been partners with Orson Welles. And for that matter, Will Geer worked with Welles. Last Fun Fact: the show I saw that Acting Company do was the musical The Robber Bridegroom. It starred two graduates -- Patti LuPone and Kevin Kline. They are not in this video, which is from only a decade ago.)
I wasn't especially impressed by the debate last night, the first of two in Detroit. As one analyst put it, “You don’t going to convince voters that you should be president by debating the fine points of how you’ll pass a bill. You convince them by showing you’re a leader.” There was SO much policy debate. That's great on the Senate floor, not so much on a debate stage for the presidency with two dozen candidates.
I follow politics pretty closely. And honestly I can’t tell you all the differences between Medicare for All, Single-Payer, and the ACA with public option. Last week, I even asked a friend who knows such things to explain it to me, and he started to – but even admitted he didn’t even know all the differences. So, I suspect most viewers don’t have a clue, and the candidates are wasting time on the nuances. I completely understand that they want to differentiate themselves from one another, but it’s foolish. What I remarked before the debate to a friend I watched with is that someone on the debate stage (or all of them…) should say, “The point here is not which plan is better. ALL of these plans are MUCH better than anything Trump and the Republicans are offering – because they’re offering nothing. They want to end the Affordable Care Act. And all of you watching know this. So, whichever Democrat candidate gets the nomination, you know there will be a better plan offered, much better. What matters is that we beat Trump.”
As for the debate itself, I’ve grown weary of the number of people on the stage at one time, let alone for two nights. What's at stake is profoundly serious, nominating a candidate who can defeat Trump. I recorded it last night, fast-forwarded through the opening and breaks...and fast-forward through the last 20 minutes, stopping only on candidates who I think stand a chance of getting the nomination. The rest is distraction, and a waste of time. I probably will do that tonight for the entire debate, scrolling past most of it. It was a pleasure to see former Sen. Claire McCaskill on MSNBC, now one of their analysts, say afterwards how even she got exhausted by the debate. And there's still another one to go.
Happily, there will be more of a winnowing process for the next debate after these two in Detroit.. I understand why they all want to get on the stage -- there are candidates I like very much who likely won't make the cut next time. I'm sorry for that. But in the larger picture, I wholeheartedly support it. The debate stage isn't the foundation -- that comes from the campaign you're running to build the backing you need. Yes, it's very difficult, but then so is the job you're trying to get.
Yesterday, I came across a very interesting, different take on polling.
What this map does is look at Trump NOT by “Who will you vote for?” but his approval rating state-by-state in all 50 states. It was done after Mueller's testimony from Civiqs daily tracking polls and then converted from approval ratings into an Electoral College format. In other words, if Trump has a strong disapproval in a state, it’s marked heavy Blue. Solid disapproval in a state will color that state in basic Blue. Narrow disapproval is light Blue. And conversely, states where Trump has a positive approval are colored dark Red and so on.
To be very clear, none of this is meaningful. But it gives an indication of where things stand at the moment.
In the top categories of Strong Approval and Strong Disapproval, Democrats lead in “Electoral votes” compared to Trump by 216-62. (270 is needed to be elected.) In all categories regardless of how strong the approval and disapproval is, Democrats lead in “Electoral votes” by 374-164.
Again, this isn’t meaningful. Further, it's 15 months before people actually vote. And we know that for Democrats to win they not only have to stay strong, focused and aggressive, but perhaps more than anything can take absolutely nothing for granted. But it’s better to be on the 374 side than 164.
And given how Trump clearly has a strategy to appeal solely to his racist base and not reach out to moderates, it’s going to be incredibly difficult for him bring his numbers up and bridge that gap. Making his problem worse, his additional hurdle is that if for some bizarre reason he does try to appeal to moderates, he’s painted himself into such a corner that he’d now probably lose support from his racist base.)
More meaningful, though, is one particular result in a Quinnipiac Poll this week. Most media covered the Quinnipiac results of where things stood in the Democratic primary race, but the one number that stood out for me was different. It was how likely people were to vote for Trump. And 32% said that they would absolutely vote for him. That's low, but basic for starting foundation. However, more notable is that on the other end of the equation, the number isn't similar -- rather, a massive 54% said that they would NEVER vote for Trump. As one long-time campaign official said, the hardest figure to change is “I will never vote for a candidate”.
Now, of course, we don’t elect a president by popular vote. But in 2016, Hillary Clinton got 48% of the vote – so there is a 6-point increase that has to come from somewhere. Now, of course, some of this number could come from states that are already heavy-Blue. However, it doesn’t seem likely that there would be much increase from a state that is heavy Blue. Being so-heavily Democratic, they likely already got most of their Democratic votes. Yes, those states could conceivably pick up some support from alienated Republicans. But if that's true, it can be true in any state for any Republican. So, it seems more likely that the increase is spread across the board in all states, especially those that were the most toss-up, people who had voted for Obama but switched to Trump, or independents who voted Republican.
Again, none of even this is substantive. But having 54% saying that they would NEVER vote for Trump – however that number is derived – is a very strong starting point for Democrats and has to be a concerning issue for Republicans.
On this past Sunday's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, he had a detailed, blunt (needless-to-say) and very funny look at the new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
As Democrats prefer for the upcoming group gaggle in Detroit tonight and Wednesday, there has been a feature of many of these mega-group questionnaires that has cropped over the past few years that’s a major bugaboo for me. It’s a fairly recent phenomenon, brought about as a result of these events that fill the stage with overflowing candidates, making it a challenge to give every candidate a chance to chime in substantively. And so the moderators bring up a sort of “yes or no” question and asks for a show of hands to respond.
While it’s lazy and inappropriate for the moderators,my annoyance goes a step further. I not only blame the moderators for asking them, I blame the candidates for answering. What I’d love to see is a candidate not raise his or her hand, and when asked why they don’t agree, give an answer somewhat like this – “It’s not a matter of agreeing or not, it’s that I don’t believe in raising my hand to answer questions here. We are all running for President of the United States, which is a deeply serious job, and questions require answers and reasons for how we think, and why. Not a simplistic action that could be interchanged to respond to questions like, ‘Who wants pepperoni on their pizza?’”
This is an interesting, detailed article in Friday's Washington Post about rumors or possibilities that the original Disney animated film The Lion King (and its subsequent incarnations may have been plagiarized from a Japanese anime and comic book creator.
It turns out that this isn't a recent issue, but one that some people in the animation field have whispered about for years. I don’t know remotely enough to know the truth. There are certainly a lot of overlaps -- the opening two paragraphs of the article by Hannah Denham appear damning --
A comical warthog and wise baboon. An evil lion with a deformed eye and hyena henchmen. A lion cub that experiences profound loss, grows up under the tutelage of a talking bird, then reclaims his throne and his legacy.
-- as does the fact that the Japanese artist Osamu Tezuka and Walt Disney met in 1964, and Disney had expressed interest in adapting an earlier work by Tezuka. However, after reading the full piece, the sense I get is that the movie was not plagiarized in our legal sense (and in that of Japanese law and culture which are different, which in large part is why no one ever sued), but that perhaps there were some people who did know of the earlier work and may have possibly “inspired” them in part. Or not.
Oddly, for all the comments from animation experts and historians, I find a quote by of all people Matthew Broderick -- who did the voice of the grown-up Simba in the original film -- the most interesting in the article, not as proof of anything, but showing that awareness of the Japanese TV series was not limited.
You can read the article here.
It's difficult these days to find a comment that you find so galling it makes your teeth hurt. When you have racists tweets like Trump's about Rep. Elijah Cummings and "The Squad," for instance, you have a pretty high bar to get over. But for some reason -- perhaps because of how callous his words word and so thoughtless from someone, egregious as he can be, who we expect to know better -- this from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is teeth-aching bad to me. But that's what makes the response Steve Singiser, a contributing editor of Daily Kos, one that I like so much for its direct, pointed and spot-on correct bluntness.
Forgetting for the moment that Rep. Ilhan Omar is from Somalia and knows it FAR better than Rand Paul does -- I would suggest that he visit Somalia because when he returns he might appreciate the plight of poor and desperate people more who are in need of help from their government.
At this point, I would never say that “At last, Trump has crossed the line and gone too far!!” He’s crossed it too many time and has shown no limit to how far he’ll go. But every once in a while he goes SO far SO egregiously that it seems to jog people to push him to another level. And the sense I get is that latest racist attack on a minority member of Congress – and one that’s so virulent in its racist language and against a respected, long-established member this time in Rep. Elijah Cummings – appears to be one of those “crossed the line and gone too far” moments that prompted a more vocal reaction than usual.
A tweet from Sen. Jeff Merkley is just one small example. He wrote -- "Donald Trump is a disgrace to this country. Donald Trump is racist. Donald Trump doesn’t care about you or your family or your community. Donald Trump is a con man, and he only cares about Donald Trump." And there was also Sen. Chris Murphy who said he was now going to stop following Trump's Twitter account, adding how shocked he was that he was even saying that.
It's not that people are putting more weight on the racist slam against Rep. Cummings than against the young women of "The Squad." It's that that first series of racist attacks was the "set up," and (horrible as it was) one that we almost expected against young, first-term, minority women. It wasn't as expected against a male, 25-year veteran of the House. I also think that as visceral as the reaction has been to Trump over this, and would be under any condition, it wouldn't have been quite as powerful had not the previous racist attack been made against "The Squad" which also seemed to unite Democrats. And even offend independents and some Republicans. All the pieces fit together. But there always does seem to be a point where Trump not so much doesn't "finally go too far this time and cross the line" but has overflowed the cup and so there's no more room for him on "this level," and he's moved to another level. Charlottesville was one of those moments that moved to another level. His defense of separating migrant families in cages was another.
No doubt you've seen it, but this commentary on CNN by host Victor Blackwell is part of that moving of Trump to another level. We tend to be inured by tweets that admonish us that "Everyone needs to watch this." Everyone doesn't need to watch this. But it's one of the few such videos that is powerful and thoughtful enough to bear such attention.
From the archives, the contestants on today's Piano Puzzler are Beau Smith Pacheco from Addleboro, Massachusetts. For the longest time, I had hard time picking out the hidden song, though I thought I heard a couple possibilities. But a long ways in, it finally became absolutely clear, and I knew I had it right. As for the composer style, it danced between several possibilities...all of which were wrong. But the composer is very popular -- and one of my favorites. I just didn't think he wrote anything like this. One quibble -- not about the contest, but the discussion afterwards. The contestants didn't know the hidden song at all, though it's famous with several reasons why its pedigree should have helped -- yet neither host Fred Child or pianist Bruce Adolphe explained any of them. They only gave the name of the song. Not its larger context or perhaps who else famously recorded it, or maybe where it's from. (Sorry, I don't want to say more to give it away for those playing along.) At which point, if they had, the contestants might have said, "Ooohhhhh! Okay!! NOW I know what it is."
For those of you who didn't get nearly enough of listening to David Mandel yesterday, apparently this is The David Mandel Tour Month, because not only was he the guest on Al Franken's podcast, but Mandel is also the guest on this week's 3rd & Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America. As we learned from Al Franken, if you were taking notes you know that he was the showrunner on the HBO series Veep, and also wrote for Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. We get a bit more into his career here today, but in any regard I suppose that one good deed deserves another...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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