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Review: filler

It’s not easy to make an audience feel genuinely uncomfortable – in a good sort of way – but that’s exactly what William Goulet achieves with the world-premiere* of his play, filler.

Socio-philosophical conundrums abound in this very crafty piece of theatre, where power dynamics between people are stretched and swapped and layered and twisted in an endless variety of interesting ways.

At the center we have Adler, played by Ross Pivec, a grown man so meek he can’t even bare to open his front door when someone knocks. Pivec gives a superbly natural performance, rich with humanity and grace, despite his character’s achingly painful social shortcomings.

His domineering wife Marian, played by the lovely Gabriele Schafer, is a powerhouse of raw feeling who made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. She rides Marian’s arc from a desperate woman on the verge of boiling over all the way down to the depths of her own personal hell without skipping a single detail along the way. Watching her play the role of Marian is like watching Michelangelo build a cathedral – one brick at a time. (The only difference is that Marian’s cathedral comes crashing down at the end!)

The two of them have a dazzling interaction on stage. Goulet likes to play with our sentiments and confuse us about which character we like and which we don’t and why. At one moment, Pivec appears to be simply flawed and Schafer caring and almost motherly, but in the next, Pivec seems to be the voice of reason, while Schafer’s priorities have led her morally astray.

This sort of oscillation is an area that live theatre can handle better than almost any other artistic medium, and Goulet, the playwright, shows us how it’s done.

For our other dynamic, we have the mysterious brotherly duo of Kyle, played by Kyle Minshew, and Benny, played by Adam Hyland.

Minshew brings a truth to his portrayal of the neighborly carpenter that is transportive. He is straightforward, yet deeply nuanced, eminently trustworthy, and also a little frightening. Hyland shows us a tenderness and sensitivity that will warm your heart before he breaks it. His expressions alone are so on point that I imagine he could carry his role just as well if all his lines were cut.

The two together, like Pivec and Schafer, offer us a roundabout journey into the complexities of power dynamism, themselves constantly trading places between sweetly compassionate and utterly cruel.

Additionally, the set was amazing. Kudos are due to Christopher and Justin Swader, who created a beautifully immersive environment in which the tale could unfold.

The only aspect that consistently brought me back out of the story was the blocking. And, oddly, it’s not because it was baffling or inappropriate – but rather because I kept noticing it.

When a character crosses here or there, it should be so natural and obvious that one doesn’t consider it consciously, like when you get up from your desk to get a cup of coffee. You want coffee, and it’s over there. But if your body language reads “I would like some coffee now, and I see it’s on the counter over there. Let me just push by chair back, stand on my legs here, and swivel myself over, and…” then the illusion is lost. It only takes a fraction of slight deliberation to make an action appear “acted.”

There were also a couple moments when I felt the dialogue stretched the action of the story out a bit too far, but that could be my playwright’s nitpicking.

Ultimately, filler is a lovely example of how the power of theatre can inflict introspection upon its audience, and cause us to examine our own lives through the lives of its characters. And the exceedingly talented crew behind this show make it a pleasure to watch.

There are only a few shows left, so don’t forget to get your tickets here!

 

*An earlier version of the play was performed over a decade ago in Georgia, but the show has since undergone substantial changes.

 

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Telsacon 5: Journey to the Center of the Earth

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Over the weekend, myself and 1,500 other steampunk fanatics were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime journey. After taking all manner of airships to the rather unlikely meeting place of Madison, Wisconsin, we found ourselves happily arrived in London, England, towards the end of the 19th Century.

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Our host, Lord Bobbins, greeted us all at opening ceremonies with a jovial salutation – but things would take a sudden, dire turn as he revealed the purpose of our gathering. The world was in peril: we stood on the verge of utter resource depletion. But Bobbins had a plan: there might be a solution to our dilemma… but it was buried beneath the earth’s crust, in the center of the world.

In short order he had rallied us together: we would sail with him on his airship, the Freya (previously known as the Marriott Hotel), straight into the heart of the earth, and we would either return again laden with incredible new power – or we would die trying.

To spoil it for you, we didn’t die. (Well, most of us didn’t, anyway.) Furthermore, we were all quite surprised to find out that the center of the earth is, in fact, teeming with unlikely inhabitants, like this velociraptor:

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Lord Bobbin’s personnel, on the left with the huge gun, guides us on our first exploration of the Center of the Earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Along the way, we merrily indulged ourselves with diversion (for what else can dignified gentlemen and gentlewomen [and gentle-non-binary-peoples] do in such a situation?). For my part, the long-anticipated cinematic trailer to my fantasy series, The Chronicles of Gilderam, was given its world-premiere showing to a select audience of steampunk aficionados.

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My presentation: The Cinematic Book Trailer. I’m dressed as Owein Maeriod, the central protagonist from my book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m very sorry to report that it won’t be seen again until Ravencon this coming April, in Richmond, Virginia. It will one day soon be made public, but not quite yet….

We also, of course, made time for tea.

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Tea Dueling. I suggest you try it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aside from the quirky storyline of the event, and the incredible immersion effect which Bobbin’s crew created, AND the slew of amazing vendors to be found there, the most amazing part of Teslacon was the people in attendance.

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A farewell dinner with just a few of my new friends. Very thankful for the internet to keep us connected until next we meet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Myself with the minds behind Harren Press, Chris Powell and Jesse Duckworth.

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Prof. Adam Smasher, myself, and Bart Deboisblanc/Peter Capaldi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steampunk is an unusually inclusive arm of Fandom. The real impetus for steampunkers centers around imaginative creation, which can include anything at all.

In fact the weirder – the better!

Here’s a perfect example:

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Just an antique camera…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…with a steampunk twist!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Or this ingenious animatronic parrot. It moves and speaks so realistically, that this man should be termed a wizard for building it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This means that everyone and anyone has a home in the world of steampunk. And, as I discovered with great joy, when you put a bunch of those kinds of people in one place for a weekend, what you get is a magic and a human warmth unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

See all the photos here.

 

 

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Review: The Runner Stumbles

Lance Hewett directs Isle of Shoals’ entirely haunting rendition of The Runner Stumbles, a play by Milan Stitt. It appears in repertory alongside the original musical adaptation by Hewett and Bryan Williams, Edward the Second, and shares all but two actors.

The play runs through November 1st, and you won’t want to miss it. Above and beyond being an extremely satisfying theatrical experience, this show is also the perfect autumnal diversion – guaranteed to raise the hairs on the back of you neck and send shudders down your spine.

See this show if you’d like to get properly creeped out in time for Halloween, and if you’re looking for something to carry in your heart with you forever.

(Also, once you’ve seen it, don’t forget to vote on it for a New York Innovative Theatre Award!)

In The Runner Stumbles, Hewett offers us a brilliant examination of themes in juxtaposition, the main ones being: Guilt versus Innocence, Virtue versus Sin, Truth versus Contradiction, and Love versus Murder. This examination causes us to reconsider our own notions of these topics like a teacher leads a student: not by simply prescribing answers, but by providing the right questions so that we may suss out meaning on our own, and learn it all the more by having lived the journey.

And what a journey to live!

At its heart, The Runner Stumbles is a whodunit mystery. We spend most of the show trying to decide who and what we can trust, which is a lot of fun. To illustrate the story, we’re pulled back and forth across time and space a lot, and the protagonist/time-traveller who we follow is named Father Rivard, played by Jonathan French. That means French has to change energies, rhythms, moods, and tones at the drop of a hat – something which he makes look easy, even though it’s anything but.

At the start of one scene, French paces twice across the stage, and somehow he manages to convince me he’s been pacing for hours. It was so natural, so quick, I almost didn’t even realize he did anything at all. French’s character is a boiling stew-pot of internal conflict, and it’s a sheer thrill to watch him steadily bring the temperature up and up and up. In my mind he held back almost too much for the first part of Act I, but by its end – and definitely for all of Act II – French is flawless.

Amara Haaksman plays the radiant Sister Rita, the embodiment of Life itself – complete with all of its marvel as well as all of its faults. She and French achieve a supremely connective onstage chemistry. As they argue, you can feel the subtext strangling your heart even as the text-text meanders off in a completely unrelated direction. In and around their every interaction, you can sense them punishing each other like unhappy lovers. It’s a joy to watch.

The most natural performer onstage had to be Judi Polson. Her character, the simplistic, stock, token-Mid-Westerner, Mrs. Shandig, ends up defying your every thought and expectation. Somehow, despite that, she’s fantastically realistic and utterly convincing. A truly marvelous performance.

Stephen Ryan nails his role of Toby Felker, Father Rivard’s unorthodox legal counsel. With nothing more than a well-timed flash of his eyes, Ryan had us rolling with laughter. This extremely versatile actor shines brightly throughout his arc, inviting us, tricking us, changing us – a magician of theatricality.

The part of Monsignor Nicholson is wisely given to Arthur Lundquist. His smarminess is so deliciously smarmy! When he says the line, “Are you all hiding something from me?” the smile on his face will make your skin crawl.

Jacqueline Rosa plays Erna Prindle, who has the honor of turning herself onstage into the emotional ammunition which Father and Sister use to batter one another. She’s not just caught in the crossfire, she becomes the crossfire. And her later breakdown, at the hands of the relentless prosecutor played by Paul Chamberlain, is carefully measured and adroitly delivered.

Though the entire show is very well done overall, I did notice a gentle accrual of tiny lapsed details which hampered certain effects. There was a dinner freshly set that went completely untouched (almost certainly intentionally, but still I found it distracting). There was the line, “I don’t have time for tea,” said as the teacup is picked up and a cookie is dunked into it. Another spoken line referenced a letter, but the actor’s physicality displayed reading glasses instead. At one point a hand reached out to receive an offered object instantly, as opposed to in response, which would be more natural. Some of the sound effects came in and out a bit abruptly, and I don’t know anyone who uses a flask who can almost take a drink from it, but then put it away. (I’m reminded of the ancient rule of the theatre: “If you show a gun in Act I, it has to go off by Act II.”)

And finally, when Father Rivard first accidentally blurts out the revelation of his true, secret feelings, what probably should have been an incredibly profound moment slips past with noticeably little impact. I can’t decide on exactly why that happened, but my instincts tell me it had to do with a team effort to build up the proper momentum, and to react to it accordingly.

The piece does feel a little dated when it comes to its agenda in dealing with the definition of “Catholicism,” since the issues at hand are mostly from a by-gone era – the early 1900s. That’s fine in regard to general philosophical exploration, however it might make the show a little less accessible to some audiences.

The Runner Stumbles is a wonderful example of what happens when a powerful script falls into the hands of a highly capable cast and crew. When the lights came up for the bows, I was so caught up in the complex spiderweb of feelings that Hewett and his team had spun that I was certainly not emotionally ready to clap and smile and rejoice, and I might not be ready for some time.

But that’s what you get when you witness great theatre – it touches your soul.

 

 

 

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Review: Edward the Second

The prolific duo of Lance Hewett and Bryan Williams have crafted us a brilliant, new, musical treasure in Edward the Second.

Adapted from the 1594 work of Shakespeare’s biggest contemporary, Christopher Marlowe, Edward the Second is one of the earliest English history plays. The story centers around King Edward’s unpopular association with his low-born friend, Gaveston. Their relationship is presumably homosexual,* and Edward’s father, the late king of England, had banished Gaveston from the kingdom with his dying breath.

Well the first thing Edward does once he is king is re-instate Gaveston, and that marks the first of several bad moves he will make to help alienate himself from his lords, who eventually rise up in arms to depose him.

What makes this show exciting to watch are the plethora of stunning transformations that the characters undergo. What makes it fun to listen to is William’s masterful score – a delightful medley of styles from throughout the ages – sung by a choir of top-notch professionals.

*It is interesting to note that our modern notions of sexuality (and specifically “homosexuality” in this case) had not yet been culturally established in the era from which this show comes. Clearly there are familiar issues here, but to label this show as being about the stigmatization of gayness would be overly simplistic.

Fair Warning: There are Spoilers Below.

(But don’t worry about it too much. You’ll still enjoy the performance. In fact, this study suggests we enjoy things more after they’re spoiled.)

Our first interaction with the show is a haunting little tune issuing forth from the darkened stage. Methinks I hear James Horner or Danny Elfman. But no, it’s just Williams, toying with our sensibilities. Soon the stage is alight and filled with wonderfully-dressed medieval characters. Someone needs to shake the hands of Amara Haaksman, Janet Goldberg, and Lance Hewett for the convincing mixture of details that transport us to what feels like a real-life Middle Earth.

Next, a lot of exposition is delivered rapidly in chorus, while all the characters are introduced. I found it a bit hard to synthesize everything that was happening, which can be worrying for an audience, but the show quickly smoothes out its pacing and we soon learn that the essential story elements are actually quite simple and easy to follow.

That work is done expertly by TJ Punchard, who shamelessly grabs hold of the entire show, sets it squarely on his muscular shoulders, and sings the crap out of his part before our eyes. It’s a really nice blend of theatrical techniques, since the audacity of such a staging befits his character perfectly, and allows us to see immediately (though perhaps subconsciously) why all the nobles of England might find him a bit annoying.

As a playwright myself, I usually shudder at the thought of writing parts for 11 and 14 year olds, but my expectations are thrown right out the window by the dual performances of Benjamin and Theodore Errig. They are fantastic actors, and cherubic singers, both. In fact one of the best scenes in the entire show, in terms of dramatic power and effective acting, exists in a exchange between just the two of them.

Benjamin does an inspiring job of invoking a kingly nobility for such a young actor, and I’d be lying if I said he didn’t drive me to tears before it was through.

A trio of witches played by Natalie Bird, Amanda Quinn Baumler, and Erin Clancy-Balsamo bring the creepy on real hard throughout the story, appearing shifty and evil in strange, magical ways. Williams gives them countless Andrews Sisters-esque close harmonies, and they sing more as the singular voice of “destiny” than as individual characters. They are one certain instance of amazing casting, as their voices blend together mellifluously.

Storywise, it was a bit of a let down to hear the three ladies discuss all sorts of fanciful and creative ways in which they claim they could kill a person, only to end up using a pillow, rather ungracefully, to smother their only victim.

When she’s not busy costuming, Amara Haaksman is breaking my heart onstage as Queen Isabella. When King Edward coldly rejects her, his own wife, her sadness becomes my sadness, and I’m compelled to chase that lout of a king off-stage and throttle him by the neck, demanding to know how he could be so cruel to someone so innocent! But, like many of the character arcs in this show, Haaksman is merely playing me.

King Edward, played by the hugely talented Justin Randolph, accuses the Queen of having an affair with his enemy, Mortimer, so often that, after a while, the very same Mortimer becomes her only friend and ally – and consequently, her lover. Haaksman takes us on a the journey of the fallen angel, as she and Mortimer conspire to kill the king.

Randolph’s arc is another fascinating one. His relationship with Gaveston is calculated from the start to annoy everyone, especially the audience. We come to think of King Edward as incapable and immature. But as time goes on, Randolph strips his character bare – layer by layer – until we see his true essence in the dungeon at the end. King Edward is by then a sad, defeated soul who only ever just wanted to love and be loved. Randolph shows us that his extreme misfortune has come about not so much from his personal failings as a king, than from the inevitability of his situation. It’s really sad. But so well done.

Speaking of well done, Alex Mace takes us with his role, Mortimer the usurper, for another roller-coaster ride of characterization. The dashing Mortimer, trailing period-accurate hair everywhere, is introduced as an uncompromising loyalist to the late king, even though he’s dead and there’s technically a new king on the throne. But he’s not so one-sided; turns out he actually is in love with Queen Isabella (just as King Edward suspects), and once the opportunity arises, he makes his daring move to secure power (which he needs to get the Queen) for himself. By the end, Mortimer is a twisted, villainous caricature of his former self, and Mace brings us to that conclusion with aplomb.

One performance sure to reduce you to a puddle of tears is delivered by the actress with gigantic blue eyes, Anna Price, playing Lady Margaret. Beginning the show as the picture of innocence, she gets arranged to marry the unpopular Gaveston, only to discover he’s a really great guy. Things are looking up for her happiness when – what else? – her new husband is murdered. Suddenly, Lady Margaret is singing about “lakes of blood” and calling to “imprison their wives!” Her dramatic turn to the dark side could easily be unbelievable, if it weren’t for Price’s deft ability onstage not just to sell the story, but to bring it fully to life.

The shiesty Bishop of Coventry, played by David Gautschy, gives us the closest thing to comic relief in this show, and his twisted mouth and rolling eyes are flawlessly on-point.

Isle of Shoals keeps casting Stephen Ryan in powerful roles, and for good reason. He brings a highly nuanced and utterly gripping performance to bear with his character, Edmund, the king’s uncle. Nicely understated, but deeply severe, we in the audience feel a palpable moment of “oh, shit!” when the king tells him to get lost. It’s all thanks to Ryan’s carefully constructed role that we understand that King Edward has officially crossed the line.

Ryan, as well as George Michael Ferrie, Jr. and Arthur Lundquist, do the show a great service by “setting them up,” so that the other actors can “knock ’em down,” so to speak. Another fine example can be found in Jacqueline Rosa, who plays Alais, Clerk of the Crown. She’s constantly reinforcing the central action of any scene she’s in, making her character stand out, even in silence.

Many of the show’s most intense moments occur off-focus. When things get rocky between the king and the queen, watch for what plays silently between Randolph and Haaksman. It’ll give you shivers. All kinds of great scorny sneers get exchanged between King Edward and Mortimer, and Paul Chamberlain never lets up: you learn to keep your eyes on him, especially when he’s not the focus. He’s up to all kinds of interesting, thoughtful reactions whenever he’s on stage.

Act I ends with a massive choral explosion, but the same verve is not matched when we return to Act II. In fact, the second act opens to a slow song about dreams which I believe is a risky move, on the part of the playwrights.

In general, I tend to steer away from anything to do with the notions of “sleep” or “dreams” in any venture that strives to be entertaining, for the reason that sleeping and dreaming is what we do when we are tired and/or spectacularly bored. Aside from some very careful, deliberate, and conscious applications, I don’t think it’s too helpful to get your audience into a dreamy or sleepy mood during your show, and the start of a second act is a particularly vulnerable point in the structure. With that said, the actors did manage to pull me back on board soon enough, but I don’t think that opening sequence did them many favors.

When you don’t notice the blocking and stage movement, that’s a good sign that it’s working correctly. When it stands out, you’ve got an issue. One such issue occurred during one of the show’s very few comedic moments, when a very young courier needs help reading a letter. The person to help him is awkwardly positioned on the opposite side of the stage, forcing the young actor to cross, then to cross back again to return where he was. And with the repetitive nature of the joke, he crosses several times.

The problem here is that humor is naturally time-sensitive, and any delay – even a fraction of a split-second – can deflate the comedy like a hole in a balloon.

One place the blocking was especially good was during the coronation of Prince Edward Jr., where all the characters are fit onstage in one way or another. His father, locked away in a dungeon, is effectively represented just below the dais on which his son is being crowned. So near, yet so far.

Williams shows us he can do anything by throwing in a little barbershop for good measure, and “Base, Leaden Earls” is clearly Motown-inspired. His splendid vocal harmonies (for which I commended him in That Lady From Maxims) make a comeback, most reminiscently done in a lovely duet between Mace and Haaksman, called “The Seduction.” The show’s thesis, “It lies not in our power to love or hate, for will in us is overruled by fate,” is sung to a tune that may well have been ripped clean from the pages of a Rogers & Hammerstein musical.

Among the catchier of tunes from the show are “Reconciliation,” “The Passionate Shepard,” and the Lullaby, “The Prince Who Could Not Sleep,” the latter being particularly haunting.

With an impressive diversity of casting, Hewett & Williams pull together children sopranos, womanly contraltos, booming man-sound, and everything in between to form an enchanting tapestry of musical and theatrical variety.

The full choral sound is rich as hell.

All in all, the show is rife with transformative journeys that are a joy to watch unfold, and the story is told with unmitigated grace and an abundance of style. Bravo to all who were involved!

Edward the Second is up for New York Innovative Theatre Awards, so after you see the show, don’t forget to cast your vote here!

 

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Capclave 2014

Following a conference at Capclave, I invariably find myself torn between what to do first: write more or read more.

It has been made newly clear to me that I need to compose a number of short stories and submit them to everyone who has a submission process, plus I have come away with a fat stack of new words to ingest.

(Spoiler: I chose to write!)

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Some truly masterful writers got together for a photo… and look! I’m in there too! (Genevieve Valentine, Paolo Bacigalupi, Kevin Kelleher, Holly Black)

Bill Lawhorn and the folks at the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA) have again put together a stunningly rich weekend of immersion into the vasty world of everything related to SF/F (science fiction and/or fantasy) literature. It was truly amazing to get to meet the Guests of Honor: Paolo Bacigalupi, Holly Black, and Genevieve Valentine. Each was a delightful person, which might be a rarity in the field, as we discussed in a panel labeled “Abusing the Author.”

Paolo and Holly brandished their astounding expertise within the craft by dissecting the problems of volunteered stories and coming up with workable solutions in one segment, and Genevieve revealed the secrets to her literary success in another. (Hint: she can magically operate on as little as four hours of sleep a night!)

 

My attendance at the “No Means No” panel opened my straight, white, male eyes to an understated plight I knew very little about: harassment within fandom. For one tidbit, I didn’t even realize that Capclave had a printed Harassment Policy, or that the very having of one was entirely crucial to the success of every Con ever. I, having the good fortune to not yet be harassed, had just never thought about it. But the shared thoughts and experiences of panelists like Emmie Mears, Jean Marie Ward, Natalie Luhrs and Inge Heyer helped to educated me.

Lord Ramirez

Lord Ramirez

But my favorite of this year’s installments was the slew of classes taught by the fascinating Lord Ramirez, who is a master of seemingly everything. We learned about the societal implications involved in the constabulary restraint of feudal samurai,* the “hanky” codes of post-World War II-inspired homosexual biker culture, and proper technique when martially wielding a chain.

Amongst other things. (Lots and lots of other crazy things!)

Indeed, I found Lord Ramirez (and his extremely brave assistant, Fleur) to perfectly symbolize that which Capclave has come to be renown for: the exploration of some wildly interesting subject (that you might never have even known existed before), deconstructed in expert-level detail for your learning pleasure.

From this year’s Capclave, I have 30 pages of notes. And that’s just from the panels and workshops I was able to attend – for each one, there were one to four others occurring simultaneously. (If anyone’s interested in reading them, email me.)

If you are a writer, or a reader, or have any interest at all in the world of SF/F, I cannot make a better (or higher) recommendation for how to spend your time.

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My fat stack of new books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dodo parade, featuring Bluedo, the Azure Wonderbird

Dodo parade, featuring Bluedo, the Azure Wonderbird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Turns out humiliation plays a very important role in Japanese culture. If a person were being taken into custody, it would make a big difference to everyone involved if the ropes binding said person were plainly visible to onlookers, or if they were subtle instead, and whether or not the ropes were knotted instead of wrapped up.

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Lasagna Quest: Cucina di Pesce

It occurred to me some time ago (while dining at an Italian restaurant and ordering the same things that I always order at every Italian restaurant: bread, Caesar salad, and lasagna) that if I was going to taste the same items from every place I visited that offered them, I might as well record my thoughts and, just maybe, the end result will offer something of a helpful comparison of a variety of different takes on a classic meal.

In that spirit I present to you Part One of my Quest for Lasagna! I will rank my experience using the following 5-point scale for simplicity’s sake:

  1. Garbage
  2. Edible, but otherwise unremarkable
  3. Decent
  4. Delicious
  5. Biblical manna from heaven

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Cucina di Pesce – East Village

87 E 4th St., New York, NY 10003

 

 

 

Bread: 5

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The first course is always bread, and Cucina de Pesce’s bread was awesome, featuring a nice, dark crust – rigid and thickly crunchy. Its doughy innards were aerated by huge bubbles, and altogether it had the consistency of a genuine ocean sponge. It comes with a white bean dip that’s pretty tasty, but oil was particularly complimentary (and theirs tasted almost sweet).

Caesar: 3

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The lettuce was thin and delicate, almost frail, but not sickly. The dressing was a little watery in viscosity, but flavorful. Its croutons were extremely crunchy – made in the style of prepackaged croutons – yet these were clearly homemade.

Lasagna: 4

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I think a lot of food is best when served too hot to eat, which this one was. Each bite remained tethered to the dish via long, thin strings of cheese. Full and meaty, this lasagna was very satisfying. It sat in a 3/4th-of-an-inch deep moat of melted mozzarella, and the internal ricotta was, though economically applied, rich and hearty. It might have scored even higher, but the 5-7 layers of pasta within it had just ever-so-slightly passed al dente.

Service: 5

When I asked for oil and parmesan, our runner, Julio, returned with it promptly – PLUS the black pepper I had forgotten to mention. That level of impeccable service instinct was maintained throughout the experience. He, along with our server Justin, were incredibly polite and attentive.

+1 Bonus: Calamari

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They had non-fried calamari! Hurray! AND it’s delicious. Not chewy, but tender, with a lovely consistency and a nice, flavorful degree of char. Served with a very tasty, zesty arugula/tomato salad, this dish was quite pleasing.

+1 Bonus: Ravioli

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The seafood ravioli were succulent: nice, thick al dente pasta shells – blackened with squid ink – and filled with a sensible amount of cheese and seafood, topped with a fresh basil leaf and smothered in a dark red marinara. The ink adds an interesting (mostly after) taste of earthy, almost alkaline flavor.

Cucina de Pesce: 19 / 20

 

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Review: “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” from Piper Theatre

Brooklyn’s Piper Theatre company is awesome enough to put on free summer shows at Park Slope – and most recently they’ve mounted a ferocious production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, the rock musical by Michael Freidman and Alex Timbers.

Lay yourself out on the astroturf, pour yourself a plastic cup of wine, and steel your sensibilities against the whirlwind of rock music, outrageous comedy, dripping-wet sex, and gut-wrenching historical atrocity that is about to melt your face.

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Bloody Bloody is, at its heart, a ballsy juxtaposition of interpretive historical commentary tempered by really, really dark comedy – one of the few kinds of humor that can make something like genocide laughable. With dark comedy, the less funny the situation would be in reality, the more funny it is within the joke – and with central themes like slavery, ethnic cleansing, and bigamy, well, this show had me rolling with laughter!

Sean Coughlin leads as the titular President, and it’s a joy to listen to him rock out. You’ll notice he uses a handheld mic throughout the show (which he sometimes keeps in a holster on his hip) – an appropriately rockstar choice, made even all the more rockstar by the fact that he’s using it because he destroyed two other face-mics by rocking too damn hard!

Coughlin expertly rides the fine line of his character, which oscillates between “most righteous hero ever” and “most despicable villain ever,” for the duration of the show.

Will Schnurr is credited as John C. Calhoun, one of our nation’s Founding Fathers, but his most powerful part is really the role of Black Fox – the Native American who betrays his own people to help Jackson subjugate them, works as his crony for years, but later pulls a Darth Vader and turns against his former Master – causing calamity to strike.

Indeed, the theatrical heart of the show is a beautiful exchange between Coughlin and Schnurr onstage that will haunt me forever….

Schnurr is a master performer, as Piper clearly knew, casting him in a variety of supporting roles throughout the show. He shines blindingly in each of them: from a throwaway ad lib (“Don’t worry about it!”) that absolutely killed, to his perfect portrayal of “The Transmittal of Syphilis” in approximately one-and-a-half dance moves, to his selling – and I mean SELLING – bigamy with a mere shimmer of his eyes… Schnurr is the type of actor who works onstage.

Actress Lynn Craig plays Rachel, the romantic foil to Andrew Jackson, and is just the right mixture of sex appeal, raw talent, and deadpan comedienne to sell it flawlessly.

The story’s narrator, played by Su Hendrickson, is delightfully ridiculous, occasionally inserting herself into the history she’s supposedly telling, only to earn Jackson’s dreadful ire. I don’t want to give away what ensues, but she’s got some seriously hilarious moments all to herself.

Jay Paranada is the embodiment of comedic relief, drawing show-stoping laughter from a singular roll of his massive eyes, and, later, dissolving the entire show into a blubbering, banana-eating mess via what felt like an unrehearsed ten-minute psychological meltdown on stage – to incredible effect.

Piper’s ensemble for this show is a throbbing sixpack of youthful energy, hemorrhaging sheer vocal power from start to finish (including an actual child, played by the delightfully sprite Hal Hobson). My only critique for the actors as a whole occurred in one or two mishandled straight-man roles; wherein a joke was delivered, but not responded to with proper timing, causing a lessening of its comedic result. The straight-man role is essential to quirky jokes being funny at all, since what the audience is actually laughing at is not the absurdity of joke by itself, but at that absurdity crashing into the brick wall of a contrary reality, which is the duty of another character onstage to represent. Often the straight-man side of a joke is harder to pull off than the goofy side.

Writing-wise, there are a couple popular music inserts into the show that, as a writer of musicals myself, makes me a little sad to listen to, while I watch the extremely talented members of the orchestra sit quietly by, waiting to play again. The numbers do have an appreciable effect within the show, but I wish the music team could’ve come up with original (or otherwise performable) music to use in those cases.

And as much as I laughed at this show (which was a lot), I didn’t find every joke appealing. Primarily I felt an overabundance of gay jokes was a bit tiresome, especially considering that the issue of gayness was beyond the purview of Bloody Bloody’s already extensive catalogue of issues-with-which-to-deal.

The story of former American President Andrew Jackson is a deeply interesting (and totally twisted) tale, one which we would all do better to listen to closely.

NOW’S your chance to see it done really, really well!

Particularly since it’s completely FREE (donations are suggested) – you have no excuse not to go, this Thursday July 17th, Friday the 18th, or Saturday the 19th – at 8pm.

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Iowa in the Spring: the Lesson of the Robin

Nothing puts the glory-driven, drug-fueled, multi-cultured, 8-million-strong blood orgy of New York City into perspective like a trip back home to ye olde Iowa.

2014 May Kennedy Park, Badger Lake, Fort Ddoge, IA IMG_1392

 

 

 

Kennedy Park, overlooking Badger Lake

Fort Dodge, Iowa – June 2014

 

 

 

Back home, the jolly residents who inhabit the windmill-strewn Fields of Opportunity have simple cares. When a typical Iowegian awakes (an hour before sunrise), they make a determination such as, “I shall walk the dog first, then read the physically-printed newspaper which someone carries across my massive lawn to deposit upon my doorstep, then I’ll make myself a rounded breakfast before attending to my job which exists in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, after which I’ll have a whole afternoon and then an entire evening to fill with watching TV, attending rehearsals, and/or leisurely socializing. I must remember not to have more than one light beer before I drive myself home!”

Their counterpart in New York, however, is thinking this: “Jesus Christ! It’s that goddamn alarm. Is it already 3:30?! I’ve only got a few minutes to shower, dress, and smoke a bowl and then it’s off to fight for a spot on the subway. I’ll grab some streetmeat on my way to work, where I shall slave in the claustrophobic crucible between a numberless drove of entitled customers and the deluded fancies of my boss, Mr. Hyde. As soon as I’m done I plan to achieve a state of blacked-outedness, after which I can only hope I don’t fall asleep on the train ride home again, for tomorrow is an early day.”

My dear cousin, Amy, was married to a charming man, Luke Moffitt, and I was given the honor of presiding over the ceremony – my third opportunity to officiate. That was the reason for my 6-day vacation from the City. But the result of it was surprising. Outside of wedding things, I divided my time between my immense family (led by two 88-year old grandmothers, Margaret Walsh and Betty Kelleher) and various medical appointments from doctors who can tell me the future because of their first-hand knowledge of my ancestry.

The whole effect of it resounded with a single message:

“You are transient. One day – sooner than you’d like to think – you will die. Better make the most of it while you can.”

The message was not so conveniently written down like this, but was rather spoken to me by a series of pictures I took while in Iowa.

Years ago, one particularly bold robin mother was daring enough to built her nest right between the garage door of my mother’s house – and the front door. This was a noisy spot, through dry, by which at least a handful of humans would walk by several times daily – within arm’s reach of the robin’s precious light-blue eggs. Every time you pulled a car up, the mother flew away fearing for her life. But her robins were born and raised there, and afterward the nest was taken down.

Turns out, though, that baby robins remember where their nest was as a chick, and often return to that very spot to build their own nest. That is exactly what has been happening ever since – despite each nest being destroyed for them – and this is what I found upon my arrival home:

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I took frequent pictures, and the transformation I witnessed in 6 day’s time was startling.

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While I took the pictures, mommy would squawk feebly at me from the driveway, a bit of worm hanging out of her beak. “Get the fuck out of the way,” she said. “I’ve got to feed those damned creatures.”

2014 May trip to iowa robin family 5 IMG_1394

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lesson of the Robin culminated with a story from a dear friend of mine, Parker Quail, who was relating to me a bit of writing advice he’d received long ago. “I want to be a writer,” he had told a visiting author in Iowa City. “Do it, man,” the author returned. “You’ll be dead soon.”

And so I flew back to NYC with a heavier heart that I had left with. It can be quite thoroughly distracting to work at a job, and to busy ourselves with the currently pressing matters of life. But when I’m 88 and my grandson has taken the rocket ship all the way from Enceladus just to chat with me, I will want to have something to tell him that’s a bit more interesting than, “One time I worked a job for years.”

So I’m gonna write that book as fast as I can, and then I’m gonna write the next one, and then something else. And so forth, as hard as I can, for as long as I can. Because to do anything else would be a waste of something extremely precious.

And, thankfully, I now have a slightly more accurate understanding of what “precious” means.

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George R.R. Martin’s “A Throng Enticed with Fliers,” or Capclave 2013

On Frigga’s Day, just before the tenth moon, in the year two thousand and thirteen, a secretive meeting known as Capclave convened for its annual conference of Sci-Fi and Fantasy writers in the dreary far reaches of Mary’s Landing, along the coast of the mighty Adlantric Sea.

Digital ravens had been dispatched with e-fliers to proclaim the news: Lord George R.R. Martin would be the Guest of Honor. Nearly 34 score were in attendance on that rain-soaked weekend; sorcerers of imagination, conjurers of verse, wizards of the page – “writers” as they termed themselves. And a few of their friends.

Lord George could certainly draw a crowd, but not because he was anointed by some ceremony, nor was he heir to any throne. What made George admirable was that he was exactly like those gathered to see him – a humble fantasy writer – with only one minor difference… he had used that selfsame artistry they all practiced to achieve the highest decoration of literary distinction: an HBO mini-series.

To be respected for one’s craft is the shared dream of writers and artists everywhere, after all.

One such artist, Kevin Kelleher of Dodge, Son of Stephen, Son of Leo, trekked to Mary’s Landing with his companion, Laura of the Greater Dee’Cee Metropolitan Area, to see what Capclave was all about. He brought a stack of business cards and the only remaining unsold copy of his book, Chronicles of Gilderam, Book One: Sunset, along with his own personal copy, which he was rereading in preparation for writing the sequel.

A great deal of learning awaited him there. The conference was divided into panels, each like a mini master class on a particular topic, with up to six or seven occurring simultaneously. They were typically an hour long, and ran continuously from morning until late at night for three days.

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The Capclave mascot Dodo 

 “Where reading is not extinct”

 

 

There were topics explored by experts as esoteric as “Aircraft Carriers in Space!” wherein Naval Analyst  Christopher Weuve gave a studious explanation of what aircraft carriers are in reality, how they’ve been portrayed in popular science fiction, and how most of that crossover makes no sense whatsoever. There was a deep conversation and workshop of the fictional portrayal of warriors and war (common tools of Sci-Fi and Fantasy) presented by three actual Marines, Janine K. Spendlove, Ron Garner, and Brian Shaw – all of whom are accomplished writers beyond their various tours of duty. There was an incredibly serious discussion of different magical systems used in storytelling, tips and tricks regarding publishing and profiting abounding, and the insightful opinions of a doctor of particle physics, Catherine Asaro, on the accuracy and technical details of Faster-Than-Light space transportation… among other sundry topics.

In the early evening of Frigga’s Day, Lord George gave his first appearance: a reading from a short story (for George that can be anywhere from 30,000 to 80,000 words) due to appear in an upcoming anthology. The great conference room, filled to the brim and hushed like a morgue, listened intently to the sing-songy, whistle-ridden leprechaun-speak of the author’s voice.

At its conclusion, George rose from his table on the stage and started for the hall – hotly pursued by a swelling drove of writer/fans. He didn’t make it far before he was beset by them, who, in their introversion, calmly and quietly swarmed Lord George with camera phones at the ready. For a group of fantasy zealots, this lot was surprising well-mannered. Lord George graciously and most generously shook the hand of every single one of them, and posed for pictures.

It was only a few short minutes before Kevin of Dodge found himself stubble-to-beard with the Exemplar of Literary Success, the man termed the American Tolkien, a self-described scribe of fake histories… Lord George of Jersey.

“How did you like Iowa?” Kevin asked as he approached. He had earlier discovered that George had lived in Dubuque, Iowa, for a spell in the seventies and eighties, teaching writing. “It was nice,” George answered. “I’m from Iowa,” said Kevin. “Can I get a picture?” He agreed:

kevin&george

“Can I give you my book?” asked Kevin of Dodge, proffering his brightly-colored novel to Lord George. “Sure.” “Here, let me sign it for you,” said Kevin. They opened the book to its first page, and there saw Kevin of Dodge’s writerly signature and seal. “Looks like you already signed it,” observed George. “So I did. Well, there you go. And might I say…” then Kevin proceeded to spew forth a rapid spate of unrehearsed and obsequious – albeit honest – compliments about what George’s writing meant to him. George thanked him, and then turned to next person in line.

Kevin wandered away with a feeling of accomplishment. Now George R.R. Martin had a copy of his book. George R.R. Martin had his book. He owned it. It was his. Whether or not George ever read it was out of his control, but just that he accepted it was enough. Kevin of Dodge, the young writer from the Mid-Westeros, could leave Capclave a happy writer indeed.

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But the saga of Kevin and George does not end there. A few hours later, while passing the hotel bar, Kevin sighted George having a drink with a few colleagues at a table. After using his waiterly training to judge the proper amount of Guinness left in George’s glass to warrant an early refill, Kevin bought two beers. He carried one to George and said, “Might I buy you this beer?” “Oh, thank you,” said George, and they clinked glasses.

Then one of George’s consort spoke up, “Well, what about the rest of us?” she joked. Laura joked back with an offer of shots, which was well received by the cheery bunch. So then this happened:

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The shots were brought to George’s table and distributed amongst everyone there seated. By the grace of Lady Stephanie and her twin sister, Lady Sondra, Laura and Kevin were granted a seat at the table between them and one Lord David Axler of House Bannister, Castellan & Steward of Lamprey Pyes; Maester of Bee Stings, and quite a jocular fellow.

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George’s old friend was there as well, Syr Gardner Dozois, a legend in the world of Sci-Fi/Fantasy writing, accompanied by his wife, Lady Susan of Casper, yet another writer. Gardner is a seriously funny guy, though all record of his wit from that night has been washed away by drink and laughter.

Kevin and Laura caroused with the congenial bunch until, one by one, they all retired – exhausted by a full day of festivities and in need of sleep for another two yet to come. Kevin would retire too, and dream resplendent dreams of a world full of hope and possibility. The next day he would wake and dutifully return to Capclave excited to take more notes from the experts in his field, and it seemed nothing could get in the way of his inevitable literary successes….

Until Kevin reached into his backpack to retrieve his book, and found instead the fresh copy he had brought to give away. After a panicky search of the only other possible locations, Kevin had to face an uncomfortable reality: he had given Lord George his copy of Gilderam. The author’s personal copy. The first one he had ever received from the publisher. The worn, beaten, ragged copy he had carried for half a year. And the one which, to Kevin’s horror, he remembered he had scribbled out lengthy passages of for a reading he’d given months ago.

Should George ever try to read it, and – gods forbid – should he actually enjoy the damn thing enough to get as far as page 70, he would encounter massive “edits” where some ass had X’ed out huge swaths of paragraphs for no apparent reason. Some of them were probably crossed out so well as to be effectively redacted.

The reader’s confusion alone would be sufficient cause to throw the book into a fireplace and foreswear the author’s name forevermore…. George could not be allowed the chance to read that book. But how to swap it with the new one? George was slated for further events, but Kevin had no guarantee that he’d be available to speak to him, and the discussion of “Sorry I gave you the wrong book, but would you mind running back up to your hotel room and switching it for me?” didn’t strike him as a very graceful strategy.

Saturn’s Day came and went. All went well at the conference, and Kevin and Laura managed to acquire an invite to this exclusive whiskey-tasting party hosted by the the most generous teetotaler in the Seven Kingdoms, Lord Master Howard Beach:

whiskey tasting party

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More writers and their interesting friends were met. The Day of the Sun arrived, and Kevin groggily and now rather hung-overly returned to Capclave for its final day. After much deliberation, Kevin decided to write George a short letter explaining the mishap, and in it he urged George to retain his original, but to beware of and forgive the defacement of its pages.

After the conclusion of the last panel, Kevin of Dodge fled to George’s final engagement, a signing, expecting to find the man at the end of a miles-long line of fans. Instead, George was seated with two other people at his signing table, and the vast conference hall was largely deserted – the event had already ended. They were merrily chatting when Kevin approached.

“What am I signing?” asked George, fishing for the proper pen. “Nothing,” said Kevin. “I just wanted to give you this,” and he handed him the calligraphied note. Seeing he had more opportunity than he’d expected, Kevin went on to explain what had happened, and thereby rendered the note redundant.

“Oh, that’s no problem,” quoth George. “Write down your address and I’ll send it back to you.” Kevin gave him the proper copy, and added his address to the note. “You’ll have to excuse us now,” said George, “we were in the middle of talking about the female anatomy. I’m sure you understand.” And Lord George returned his attention to his friends at the table.

Verily, Kevin of Dodge understood.

As he and Laura returned to their island home in the State of the Empire that night, Kevin recounted all of the blessings he’d encountered at Capclave. The friends, the stories, the teachings…. But far above them all, one thought dominated the rest: “George R.R. Martin has two copies of my book….”

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George R.R. Martin gets the opportunity to meet Kevin Kelleher

At this year’s Capclave – an annual clandestine meeting of nerdy writers – the widely popular author George R.R. Martin will have the rare chance to rub elbows with the writer behind the wildly acclaimed new fantasy series, Chronicles of Gilderam, yours truly….

I’m Kevin Kelleher, by the way.

Martin and Kelleher share many traits in common. Both are the authors of esteemed high-fantasy stories. Both have taught in Iowa, though Martin left the state a few years before the other would be born in it. Both have never actually read the other’s books, and finally, neither one has yet encountered the other.

Their meeting is sure to be filled with raucous banter (the kind writers only use with other writers. Mine usually includes a few Gresadian epithets. I’m looking forward to his Valantian accent), devilish insights, alliterative insults, a jovial embrace or two, and certainly some witty …witticisms.

That’s assuming Martin can first get past the throng of screaming fans, of course.

 

 

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  • wise words

     
    JESTER: His Majesty's son, Prince Artemis and Lady Fallowmore!

    PRINCE: Please, just call me Artemis. I don't need that title.

    JESTER: All right...the "Artemis" formerly known as "Prince," and Lady Fallowmore!

    -Kevin Kelleher, "The Madrigal Dinner"

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