Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday Sundries, 14

1. I wrote the other day about my adventure: falling in the coffee shop, visiting a dentist and an oral surgeon. Well, at the office of the dentist, Dr. Hoover, I sat in an examination room waiting for him to have a minute to check me out, and right outside the window was a bird feeder, which, during the time I was there, had attracted about 650,000 sparrows. I don't think I've ever seen so many sparrows in one place, but they were there, en masse, and were having a delightful time flinging and eating seeds. Occasionally a blue jay arrived for a look, a squirrel that apparently couldn't read (bird feeder). But the sparrows pretty much ignored the interlopers. Oddly, though, every time I would change my position, they would fly off to the other side of the driveway--all of them, all at once. Something about me alarmed them. Surely they couldn't have seen my face all that well?

2. Yesterday was one of those song-in-my-head days. I don't know how it got there, but there it was: "Magic Moments" by Perry Como. I didn't remember a lot of the lyrics, but, hey, what's Google for? I looked up some stuff about the song--and here's Como performing it on YouTube. He released it late in 1957, and it was #7 for all of 1958. The year I was in eighth grade, the year I was falling in love for the first time (well, the 8th grade version of love!), the year I found "Magic Moments," the soundtrack for my nascent emotions. By the way, sitting below "Magic Moments" on the 1958 top hits? "At the Hop" (Danny and the Juniors, #20), "Yakety Yak" (The Coasters, #21), "Tom Dooley" (The Kingston Trio, #28), "Great Balls of Fire" (Jerry Lee Lewis, #36), "Peggy Sue" (Buddy Holly, #50), "Johnny B Goode" (Chuck Berry, #73). And on and on. Here's a link to the entire list.

Como's lyrics are innocent beyond belief, aren't they? It's just absolutely unthinkable that a song like that could be a hit today. Check them out below ...

Magic moments
When two hearts are carin'
Magic moments
Memories we've been sharin'
I'll never forget the moment we kissed
The night of the hayride
The way that we hugged to try to keep warm
While takin' a sleigh ride
Magic moments
Memories we've been sharin'
Magic moments
When two hearts are carin'
Time can't erase the memory
Of these magic moments
Filled with love
The telephone call that tied up the line
For hours and hours
The Saturday dance, I got up the nerve
To send you some flowers
Magic moments
Memories we've been sharin'
Magic moments
When two hearts are carin'
Time can't erase the memory
Of these magic moments
Filled with love
The way that we cheered whenever our team
Was scoring a touchdown
The time that the floor fell out of my car
When I put the clutch down
The penny arcade, the games that we played
The fun and the prizes
The Halloween hop when everyone came
In funny disguises
Magic, moments
Filled with love
Snooky Lanson

My dad didn't like popular singers for the most part--he abhorred, for example, Snooky Lanson, who was a regular on Your Hit Parade. And Dad was the first one I ever heard call The King "Elvis the Pelvis." And when he saw rocker P. J. Proby on TV, he said this, First time I ever saw teeth on a horse's ass. But Dad would watch The Perry Como Show (1948-1963); I think he liked Como's genial, unpretentious manner.

Anyway, the song is out of my head today--though it brought back memories of lonely times in my room, listening to the radio, of sock hops and dances at Hiram School, of that piercing adolescent yearning I just did not know how to diminish.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Test and Schools: Are We about to Turn a Corner?

In today's (Saturday's) New York Times I was happy to read an op-ed piece by Joe Nocera, "Imagining Successful Schools" (link to Nocera's column), a piece that asked the sorts of questions that have been troubling me for years--back to the early 1990s, not long before I retired from public education, when Ohio began its long love affair with "proficiency tests." It was only a matter of time before some dunderheads began to get the idea, Hey, we can use these tests to assess teacher competence!

And so it happened. And Nocera's column revisits some recent research that shows the folly of it all. Most alarming: Good veteran teachers are leaving the profession; many bright young people are deciding not to enter it at all. Of course there are still some wonderful teachers out there--bright, dedicated, compassionate. There are some in every school building in the country. But, as Nocera shows us, it's manifestly not because we're encouraging anyone to be there. In fact, we are arranging things so that the very people we want to attract are saying no thanks and pursuing other careers. Can't say that I blame them.

In my own experience, here's what happened on standardized tests. Most kids did about what they usually did in class; a few did better; a few did worse. But what I noticed (not from my building principal, who was too wise to be fooled by all this stuff)--especially from the central office--was a greater and greater concern with the test results. With scores.  Some years my kids did well (I taught English, and my 8th graders took tests on reading and writing), some years not so well. It was just like any other school activity: Some years I had great play casts, other years not so great. Same thing in sports, music, art, whatever. Normal variability.

But what I knew was this: I worked just as hard as I could, every year. I always had the kids do lots of reading and writing--and, later on, "test preparation" (what a waste). So when they did well, I was happy; when they did not so well, I felt bad for them. But I tried never to let those scores--good, bad, ugly--"get to me."  I didn't give myself too much credit when they did well--nor blame when they didn't. There are just too many other variables--powerful ones--that affect kids' scores.

And soon testing proliferated (and testing companies were raking in the $$$). One of my grandsons, now in fourth grade, has already taken more standardized tests than I did in my entire school career--kindergarten through grad school. His school focuses on test preparation--as so many school districts must because of all the public attention surrounding the tests (results published in the local paper, etc.). Maybe it's time for some courageous administrators (that term is not an oxymoron!) to step forward and say We are not focusing on test preparation but on education in this building!

Anyway, I'm hopeful that Nocera's article is an early sign that the test-glacier is melting. And that we'll return to the world of sanity, a world where young people want to go into teaching to help kids become learners for life--where young teachers get kids excited about reading and writing and science and math and music and drama and art and ...  We need to use tests principally for diagnostic purposes. As I've written before, we need to  make the profession of teaching an attractive one, not the repulsive one that it certainly is now.

Friday, August 29, 2014

"Ups he jumps ...."

When I was a wee lad and would take a fall, my dad, if he witnessed the event, would launch into a little rhyme:

Hooray for Robert Rumble!
He doesn't mind a tumble.
Ups he jumps and rubs his bumps
And doesn't even grumble!
Hooray for Robert Rumble!

I'm not sure what therapeutic value the rhyme had--but as I think of it now, I miss my dad a lot--and I wish he'd been around earlier this morning when I took a tumble in the coffee shop.

I was walking back to the counter for a re-fill, tripped on something, and realized I was not going to recover from the fall. (Can't tell you what happened to the coffee cup?!?) I tumbled right into the counter where I was headed, my lower lip and jaw making hard contact just below the line of my lower teeth.

And then I was on the floor, dazed, and people were gathering around asking me if I was all right, and some friends were helping me to my feet, staying with me until Joyce came. There was blood. Pain. The fear that I'd done some serious damage to my lower front teeth.

I called my regular dentist: out of town till Tuesday. Joyce and I drove over to her dentist: out of the office. So we drove down to the office of Dr. Hoover--who, coincidentally, about 30 years ago treated our son for a serious injury from a batted baseball (no, 'twas not I who hit it)--and he worked me in right away. He said he couldn't see any damage to the teeth, but he said I needed stitches, inside and out. So his office set me up with an oral surgeon in Solon, Dr. Reppas, who also worked me in right away.

He gave me about 7,000 shots in my gum and lip, then, when I was thoroughly numbed, gave me about ten stitches in my inside lip, and a few outside as well. Panoramic X-rays showed no further damage. Then ... off to get four Rx's.

I managed a smoothie for lunch (and supper); then, after supper, Joyce suggested that what I "needed" was some Stoddard's frozen custard, which seemed to me to make lots of medical sense.  So off we went for that.

Oh, I also took four-hour nap after taking some meds.

The pain seems manageable right now--though I am on a pretty big med for it--and the oral surgeon said I could start to eat normally (though carefully) as soon as tomorrow. (Though I'll probably--for medical reasons only--need some more Stoddard's in the coming days.)

Meanwhile ... I'm grateful for friends who wait, for my wonderful wife, for some accommodating dental professionals.

But I wish I could hear my dad chant about Robert Rumble: Then I know I'd be better soon.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Computer Bedlam

I've been having computer trouble today. Computers were supposed to make things so much easier, you know ... you remember? Take the grocery store, for example. Scan each item. Up pops the price. Etc. Except, of course, the cashiers are constantly having to call for price checks, or manipulate items so that their scanner can read the bar code. When I was a kid, Mr. Jones, our grocer (yes, that was really his name), had an old-fashioned (not then--now) manual cash register. We took items to the register; he hit a couple of keys; the prices popped up like pieces of toast. Off we went to sip our Grapette and down our donut. No price checks. No bar codes. Just ... efficiency and speed.

When computers work correctly, of course, they're hard to beat. (Think: John Henry and the steam drill.) We can keep track of our finances, find just about anything ... like the full lyrics to a song from the 1950s that, incomplete, is playing in our heads. Like get back in touch with people we haven't even thought about in decades. Like entertain the NSA officers "listening" in ...

But then there are those days ... like today ...

I'd become a fan of OneDrive, Microsoft's cloud wherein I store a lot of my writing. It's so convenient. I can access OneDrive from my iPhone or iPad or computer, enabling me to edit text just about anywhere (like when I'm supposed to be paying attention to what the person across the table is saying to me). A real time-saver. When I'm at Starbucks, say, I can enter changes in a review or some other text I'm working on, and when I get home, there those changes, now on OneDrive, are available to download and print at my convenience.

Except, of course, when I can't.  Like right now. Like for the past two hours.

Over at the coffee shop this morning I made some changes in a review I'll be filing on Sunday with the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I thought of a better way to open the review, did some rearranging of paragraphs and sentences, saved it to OneDrive, walked home, where I ... can't do a Damn Thing because OneDrive won't open. This webpage is not available is the message I'm getting now--and have been getting for Eternity.

It's no real crisis--not yet. I have the typescript of the review, the penciled changes. I can re-do it here at home. Instead, I keep hitting "reload," hoping, hoping, hoping ...

And remembering those Dark Days in the mid-1970s when I was writing my Ph.D. dissertation. I wrote it all with a pencil, then typed it--revised and typed it three different times--on an IBM Selectric (pencil-editing after each 400-page draft emerged; I typed about ten pages/hour, so it took about forty hours to type each draft), then paid a friend to type the final draft (I was sick of it).

A computer would have changed all that, right? Unless I'd stored my most recent draft on OneDrive ...

IBM Selectric

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tuesday in Chagrin (Falls)

I got an email the other day from a former student--one who is among my most former of students--John Mlinek, who was in my seventh grade class now and again during my first year (1966-1967) and who performed in the first two plays I directed at the Aurora Middle School (The Founding of Aurora; or, The Grapes of Wrath, spring 1967; Our War for Independence; or, 101 Ways to Be Revolting, spring 1968). Both shows I wrote with groups of middle school students; both we performed on the gym floor in the old middle school. In the first, John played the Rev. Ku Klux (clever, eh?), and in the second he was King George III. (I posted something the other day about John: Those kids from 1966 are turning 60 this year--impossible, impossible, impossible.)

One of my favorite memories of my entire teaching career: At the end of Revolting, King George III (John), whupped by the colonists, comes prancing into the gym dressed like a hippie and preaching "peace" while the soundtrack boomed "Georgy Girl," a recently popular song by The Seekers. (If you don't know it, here it is, via YouTube.) The crowd of middle schoolers in the bleachers went nuts. It might have been the biggest reaction to any moment in any of the 30+ plays I directed.

Anyway, John and his wife, Kim (who live near Cincinnati), were in town because Kim, now a technical director for televised sporting events, is going to be doing the Browns game this week (check it out: every image you'll see in that will come to you courtesy of Kim!). So we decided to meet in Chagrin Falls, at the bridge, at 5:30, and then decide what to do for supper.

We met. We decided. Rick's Cafe, which, it turns out, is a place John had always wanted to go but never had. (He, Kim, and Joyce munched ribs; I, morally superior, ate a salad with chicken pieces--and stole fries when I thought no one was looking.)

Hours flew as we rehearsed memories from years ago, as we talked about our lives then and now. At some point we drifted over to the popcorn/ice cream shop across the road, and while a dark thunderstorm edged in from the west, we licked cones (I ate moral yogurt, not immoral ice cream) and postponed our separation until Armageddon was upon us.

And off we drove--Joyce and I to home, John and Kim to Cleveland. While the heavens shuddered and flashed. And memory did the same.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Time for a Laugh--Bring in the Eunuchs

Yanna McIntosh and Geraint Wyn Davies
in Antony and Cleopatra, Stratford Festival


Noun--1. a castrated man, especially one formerly employed by Oriental rulers as a harem guard or palace official.

1350-1400; Middle English eunuk < Latin eunūchus < Greek eunoûchoseunuch, chamberlain, equivalent to eune-, stem of eunḗ bed, place of sleeping + -ochos keeping (akin to échein to hold

Shakespeare was wise enough (most of the time) to include a little comedy with his tragedies. And so we have the grave-diggers in Hamlet, Roderigo in Othello (things don't work out well for him!), the Porter in Macbeth, and on and on.

I'd not seen Antony and Cleopatra in a few years, and when I saw it on Sunday last, I was surprised during a scene when Cleopatra's eunuch (Mardian) comes in for a little good-natured (?) ribbing in a couple of places.

In 1.5, Mardian, entering, says to Cleopatra, "What is your highness' pleasure?" And she replies "I take no pleasure / In aught an eunuch has." (Chortle, chortle.) A little more of an exchange. Then Cleopatra asks him, "Hast thou affections?"

MARDIAN:  Yes, gracious madam


MARDIAN: Not in deed, madam; for I can do nothing ...
Yet I have fierce affections ....

And later, in 2.5, we get this. Charmian, Cleopatra's principal attendant, says her arm is sore; she cannot play.

My arm is sore; best play with Mardian.

As well a woman with an eunuch play'd
As with a woman. Come, you'll play with me, sir?

As well as I can, madam.

And when good will is show'd, though't come too short,
The actor may plead pardon

Here, we even get a reference to something "short"; hmmmm, wonder what that is?

The eunuch has been a comic figure throughout the history of drama and literature--and film. Check out this "eunuch test" devised by Mel Brooks (via YouTube). And the Broadway hit A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (which opens with the rousing song "Comedy Tonight") features a comic pair of eunuchs. And on and on. Oh, and they're also often sneaky, knavish types. (Fans of Game of Thrones know about the duplicitous eunuch Varys--see below.)

Anyway, we've all laughed and shuddered at eunuchs--and we all know the close kinship between laughter and shuddering. The best comedians and writers of comedy (like Shakespeare) have always danced upon that frail line that separates the two.

And on Sunday last, watching the eunuch scenes in Antony and Cleopatra, the audience laughed heartily at the lines I've quoted above--and at the stage business the director had added (some was very naughty, as you might imagine!).

I sort of laughed, too, out of habit, I suppose. For I'd already realized that I was the subject of the humor, the secondary target of the comedy. Because, you see, since my first injection about a year ago of Lupron--a drug that retards the progress of my advancing prostate cancer--I have been a eunuch. A chemical one. But very much the brother of Mardian, if not Varys.

TO BE CONTINUED (unfortunately) ...

Stratford Sundries (from home), 7

Monday, 11:15 a.m.

1. Saturday night and Sunday we saw two fine productions: King Lear and Antony and Cleopatra, respectively. Lear--featuring Colm Feore in the title role and Stephen Ouimette as the Fool--was very strong, though the effects were so powerful (loud!) in the storm scene that we could barely hear a line. Feore was a very convincing Lear (though I thought he'd be too young), and the play moved swiftly to its grim conclusions about families and power and life and regret and loyalty and ... just about anything else that makes us human--and inhuman.

Our Sunday matinee, Antony and Cleopatra--with Geraint Wyn Davies and Yanna McIntosh in the title roles--was one of the best productions I've ever seen up here. She, especially, was luminous, capturing perfectly the mercurial Cleopatra--varying from regal to adolescent to petulant to grief-stricken to whatever, sometimes in the turn of a second, the release of a breath. And the entire cast was outstanding. The eunuch, Mardian (played by Antoine Yared), for example, was so believable--so affecting--that I can't believe I didn't even remember that character from earlier productions I've seen--including a very good one back in the 1980s (in London) with Timothy Dalton and Vanessa Redgrave. 

It didn't end till about 5, at which time we zoomed away from Stratford, another season gone. Impossibly gone.

3. There was some sort of delay at the U. S. border in Detroit (much longer than usual); it took us over an hour to inch through the line, and at one point we saw two handcuffed guys heading off to who-knows-where. The result? We didn't get home until about 12:30 a.m., way, way past this Old Man's night-night time. We flopped in bed, where Morpheus, waiting impatiently, greeted us like kin.

4. Then, this morning ... Reality. All the cleaning up, unpacking, catching up, and all the while our wonderful week fading, fading ... and we again ask: How can a week go so fast? Eleven plays, six days. A universe to think about. And so little time ...

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Stratford Sundries, 6

Saturday, Noon

1. My final post from our week in Ontario ...

2. Last night we saw a full-meal-deal production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Festival's main venue, the (uh) Festival Theater. And it was as wonderful in its way as Peter Sellars' more focused version had been in its way. They began in contemporary times (very contemporary times)--a garden wedding and reception for an interracial gay couple (who sat near the stage the entire production). The players were all guests at the reception--and, once the Shakespeare started, they often directed lines and gestures to the newlyweds. (The actors also played with the audience from time to time--breaking character with one another (intentionally) and seeming to have a wonderful time.)

The fairies were all little children (very well rehearsed ones!), and there were some other changes in this play that the director, Chris Abraham, employed to make it more inclusive. Lysander was a young woman; Puck was an older woman; Hermia's father was a deaf actor, and the players used sign language with him while an interpreter spoke the lines. Two men--Jonathan Goad and Evan Buliung--alternate roles each performance: the fairy king (Oberon) and queen (Titania). We saw Goad in the male role on Friday night, and he, as usual (he's a favorite), was luminous. As was Buliung--and very funny. And Stephen Ouimette, another Stratford all-star, was fall-down funny as Nick Bottom (hard to mess that part up!). Also a terrific performance by Mike Shara (Demetrius), perhaps the best comic actor here. Helena (Liisa Repo-Martell) played an eccentric Helena and was especially good at moments of high dudgeon and emotion--which the script often requires her to produce. (We got to see a cream-pie fight, too.)

They employed, as well, some contemporary music (Bruno Mars) and many other images from today--electronic tablets, smart phones.

Perhaps aware of what Peter Sellars was doing, they did put some bite into some of the lines at times--but the overall effect of it was just an overwhelming joy--and hopefulness. Maybe love will work ... this time?

3. This morning, at Balzac's coffee shop, I found myself in line with Robert King, an actor (usually in character parts) I've long enjoyed up here. We chatted (yes, I'm one of those) about my earliest memories of him, in the 2001 Henry VI (they'd condensed the three plays into two). I bought his coffee, shook his hand. Oh, and when I told him I'd enjoyed his work for years, he said, "Write a letter!" (to management, I presume).

Robert King
4. We're about to have lunch--then to the Avon Theater to see Alice Through the Looking-Glass.

6 p.m.

5. Alice was tremendous fun--a surprise every few minutes, the greatest of which was the Humpty Dumpty sequence (though Tweedledee and Tweedledum were a hoot, as well); Humpty sat on a wall (remember?) with long artificial arms (operated by two other actors standing beside him)--and when he fell? He was offstage when that happened, but spilling out onto the stage was a giant egg (well, the interior of one), which cast members came, cut up, plopped into giant frying pans, and hurried offstage. Children in the audience loved the production (they are not good at concealing pleasure!)--especially the part where the cast threw masses of (wrapped) jellybeans into the crowd (we got a few!). And a couple of times, specific children in the audience got to pull long ropes that descended from the ceiling and caused things to happen onstage. Felt like a kid again ...

Lots of Stratford favorites were in the cast--and it's fun to see the same folks who deliver the Bard's lines on one day leaping around the stage in outrageous costumes the next.

6. But the next two shows--the final two of the eleven we will have seen by evening tomorrow--veer back into the darkness: King Lear tonight, Antony and Cleopatra tomorrow afternoon ...

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Stratford Sundries, 5

Friday, 11:30 a.m.

1. Here's the sentence I wrote last night--then realized we were going to a different show!

Afterwards, we walked over to the County Food Co. for our "tiny supper" before heading back to the room to wait till it's time to walk down to the Tom Patterson Theater for Mother Courage at 8 p.m.

Anyway, we'll be heading down the the Tom Patterson to see MC at 2:00 this afternoon. Meanwhile, we did our usual morning's routine: down to the coffee shop to eat and read and talk, then to another coffee shop for more of the same (sans eating). Joyce finished reading her book about Salinger (she's going to use it in a course she'll be teaching at Hiram College in the coming winter (curse that cold word)) and liked it a lot. It's sending her back to read JDS again, too.

2. In the coffee shop (the first one) we met another couple--academics (he's retired, she's not) from the University of Michigan. He is a physician and was very interested to hear about Hiram's Center for Literature and Medicine ... perhaps a connection is forming? Unfortunately, they were leaving Stratford today (they've been here several days, seeing shows), so we will remain "friendless" through Sunday afternoon, when, following the matinee of Antony and Cleopatra, we will roll back to the Buckeye State ...

3. Mother Courage and Her Children (Brecht) is a strong anti-war play, and I saw it for the first time this afternoon. It reminded me, though, that when our son, Steve, was very little (2? 3?), we took him to Kent State to see a university production of Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle. (We had little money--cheaper than a babysitter!) He sat there mesmerized the entire production, and, afterwards, a woman behind us told us he was the best-behaved little child she'd ever seen. Credit Brecht, I guess?

But today's production had a weakness at the core--the performance in the title role of lead actress Seanna McKenna, a Stratford star for years. She just didn't convince, not from minute one to minute last. Too bad. I remember, oh, ten years ago or so, seeing her in Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending, and she was stunning. 

Geraint Wyn Davies and Ben Carlson, two of the great actors up here, were ... great in their smaller but significant roles. Many of the minor characters were wonderful, too. That's what's so unusual up here--"top to bottom," the casts are just generally wonderful.

Tom Patterson Theater
Seanna McKenna as Mother Courage
4. For supper, we decided to try our old favorite, the York Street Kitchen on Erie (which, as I posted earlier, is open only on weekends now for supper); it was fine/great--just as we remembered. A small, intimate place with lots of local produce, etc. They had a way-too-good white chocolate/macadamia nut cookie that Joyce and I "shared"--a sight to see, our "sharing" ...

5. In a bit we will walk a mile or so down to the Festival Theater to see a full production of A Midsummer Night's Dream--see image below from this year's staging.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Stratford Sundries, 4

Thursday, Noon

1. We're back in the room after our morning visits to two different coffee shops. We're inordinately thrilled today because housekeeping has already been here ... a relief for spoiled tourists (housekeeping didn't come till early afternoon our first several days). I did only the "usual" this morning, but as I grow older, I find myself ever more grateful to be able to write such a clause--I did only the usual this morning ... It's a gift, isn't it, being able to do what you want to do? But a gift with a return and/or expiration date on it, a date we can't quite read but we know perfectly well is there. Most of our lives--if we're lucky--we ignore it.

Anyway, I read my Kirkus quota, wrote my doggerel for tomorrow, sucked good coffee, ate a maple-pecan scone I'd baked at home and sneaked into the shop. (I know exactly what the ingredients are in mine; I'm never sure about the ones I'm buying in a shop. We can always find an excuse to do what we want, right?) Chatted with Joyce, who's about to finish reading her book--J. D. Salinger: The Escape Artist.

In our room we're about ready to have what our little-boy son used to called a "tiny lunch" before heading out to see a Noël Coward show I've never seen--Hay Fever.  A little yogurt-and-fruit parfait we bought at the coffee shop + a slice of bread (my sourdough, from home). Ymmmmm ...

Thursday, 5:45 p.m.

2. We both really enjoyed Hay Fever--a brisk (under two hours) comedy about an eccentric family of four, each of whom, without the others' knowledge, invites a guest to spend the weekend at their home in the country. (The "children," man and woman, are twenty-somethings.) Coward was young when he wrote this, but he already knew how to entertain an audience. There are no profound depths--just lots of family bickering (can't we just get along?) and some scenes about the difficulty of conversations with people whom you don't know very well.

A very moving moment as we were leaving ... As I walked up the aisle (the Avon Theater is an old-fashioned proscenium type--looking almost like a movie theater--but decorated ornately), I saw, several rows ahead, a very old man, seated, but determined now to get to his feet. With the help of his cane--and his wife beside him--he finally managed it, and as I passed him, I smiled and thought, Now, that is love. I could almost hear his mind speak during his struggle: I am going to stand! And he did. I thought, as well: In the present we can see the future. But, of course, it's a future no one really wants to see.

Avon Theater, Stratford
Thursday, 10 p.m.

3. Nearly a disaster this evening: I decided to give our tickets a last-minute check before we walked over to see Mother Courage--and when I did so, I realized we were not seeing Mother Courage tonight at the Tom Patterson Theater but a chamber production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at a different venue in town--the Masonic Hall (see photo at right). Whew. Got to the right location at the right time and saw--from the front row!--a wonderful reading of the play by director Peter Sellars (see photo at left), long known for his reinterpretations/re-visions of the classics--from theater to opera. The play was in a Masonic Lodge, with its tiny proscenium stage, no scenery at all, no real costumes, no props. Four people (two men, two women) played all the parts in this interpretation played not for the humor but for all the darkness in the play--the betrayals, the practical jokes, love's cruelties. It was amazing. (There are scenes in that play that have bothered me for a long time--things that we laugh at ... but why?) Sellars found it all in a 105-minute production (no intermission) that featured four fine performers, including a young man, Dion Johnstone (shown in the foreground below), whose work we've liked for quite a while. I'll never see that play again in the same way ... and we will be seeing it again in a more traditional production tomorrow (Friday) night.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Stratford Sundries, 3

Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.

1. I realized today that we tend to work all morning, then play all afternoon and evening (except, of course, when I'm napping back in the room; Joyce is not a napper--and I think I'll have to do a post about that one day--when I'm awake). This morning I read my 100 pp/day quota (self-imposed) for Kirkus, worked on tomorrow's doggerel, read some of a novel by Matt Richtel (whose new nonfiction work I'll be reviewing soon for the Plain Dealer). Now we're back in the room, both of us with computers fired up, working. Nerds on Holiday--sounds like a good idea for a movie, actually.

Soon we'll have lunch and head back to the Festival Theater to see Crazy for You, the Gershwins' musical.

Wednesday, 5:45 p.m.

2. We loved it. It's assembled from some of the Gershwins' songs (some famous, some not) and a silly story--but who cares? The dancing was spectacular, the singing wonderful, and while I sat through "I Got Rhythm" and "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "Embraceable You" and "Shall We Dance?" and "They Can't Take That Away from Me" and others, I wept like a little baby who's just been informed he's going to grow up to be a wuss like me.

The male lead--Josh Franklin--was excellent, and the woman (Natalie Daradich) a little less--but some of the dancers were just astonishing--made my knees ache just to watch them. Stratford veteran Tom Rooney (1st time I've seen him in a musical) showed he's a song-and-dance man, too (as well as a fine Shakespearean actor). 

We don't usually see the musicals up here (we come for the Shakespeare--snooty, aren't we?), but it was George and Ira Gershwin, you know? So I'm glad we went ... more than glad.

3. As we emerged from the Festival Theater (a mile or more away from our room), the heavens opened, providing some thunder for fear, some lightning for lighting ... we both had umbrellas with us, but they were about as useful as a lesson plan in a middle school (kidding). We were both pretty wet when we arrived at County Food Co., the little shop where we go for supper. The workers there enjoyed our drenched-dog appearance ...

4. Tonight we go to the little Studio Theater (a very adjustable space) to see Christina, the Girl King, a show about which I right now know nada ...

Thursday, 11:30 a.m.

5. Christina, a new work by Canadian playwright Michel Marc Bouchard, was a fine play about the 17th century Swedish monarch who renounced the throne and headed off to live the way she wanted to--a way the show made very clear: sexual freedom, the passion to be a lover of other women. Jenny Young was very good in the title role and was ably supported by the wonderful Graham Abbey (Count Johan Oxenstiema) and Wayne Best (Chancellor). Abbey portrayed a vile narcissist, who, though brought up closely with Christina--almost like her brother--is interested only in his own attractions. It was simultaneously funny and profoundly creepy.

Many references in this contemporary play to contemporary events and cultural changes--our cultural narcissism (we created the Selfie!), our anti-intellectualism (politicians have to conceal their education and erudition, if they have any), our ongoing wars, the intermingling of religion and politics, etc. Some of these references were a little too obtrusive for me: He needed to give the audience a little more credit.

6. I don't want to make too much of this, but ...   This morning, at the coffee shop, I sat near three men--local businessmen all--who were engaged in a wide-ranging conversation about books and global politics. They talked about novels they were reading, about the situation in the Ukraine, about the Russian Revolution, about Putin, about Syria, about the political divides in the United States, and on and on. Their conversation evinced no hostility, no firm and fixed positions. Their attitudes were inquisitive, tentative, speculative. I almost literally wept with admiration. I so often (over)hear conversations that aren't: People regurgitate what they've heard on Fox or MSNBC, what they just read on their favorite partisan websites. Nothing subtle, all judgmental. No ambiguity, no uncertainty. "This is the way it is"--their only message, really. So often, we do not listen to one another; we simply declare positions and do not consider the possibility that things might be a bit more complex than we think they are.

What I saw/heard this morning might well have been anomalous--but what it really was? Refreshing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Stratford Sundries, 2

Tuesday, 6 p.m.

1. We're just back from seeing our first show of our week--a late Restoration comedy (The Beaux' Stratagem) by George Farquhar (1677-1707)--and it was wonderful. He finished writing the play while dying of TB. (So what's our excuse?) It deals with con artists, highwaymen, frustrations of all sorts (a very unhappy marriage), and--no surprise (it's a comedy!)--the triumph of love. But it also deals frankly with social class, with divorce (unthinkable!), with English inheritance laws, and other issues.
scene from The Beaux' Stratagem
The cast comprised many of Stratford's A-Team: Colm Feore (whom we'll see as King Lear later in the week), Lucy Peacock (who's played major roles here for years), Mike Shara (a young actor with great comic talents), Martha Henry (who's in her 40th season here!), Robert King ... and quite a few others. They found every quark of humor and heart in the play--without, well, chewing the scenery.

Tonight ... it's Shakespeare's King John ...

2. We had one of our "normal" days here otherwise. I was up early to head to the coffee shop to do some reading for a book I'm reviewing; Joyce joined me for a while (she's reading a new book about Salinger), then headed out to visit a few of her favorite, uh, commercial venues. We met later in the morning at another of our favorite coffee shops, where we both did some more reading and where I worked on the doggerel I'll post on Facebook tomorrow. Then ... back to our hotel room for lunch--a fruit-and-yogurt parfait we'd bought in a shop + some homemade sourdough bread I'd brought along to munch on. After lunch, I wrote and zapped a review to Kirkus Reviews; then we headed off on a fairly long walk (about a mile) to the Festival Theater, the largest venue, where we saw what I just wrote about in #1.

Afterwards, a brisk walk back to town, where we found--to our alarm! dismay!--that our favorite post-matinee restaurant, The York Street Kitchen on Erie (long story about the name), a wonderful natural-foods place, is now closing at 5 p.m. except on the weekends. Oh no! (We always ate our little suppers there.) Not to worry: Just a few doors down Erie we found The County Food Co., a small place with a great little menu of well prepared items. We munched happily, then headed back to the room before walking down to the Tom Patterson theater (arena style) to see King John at 8 p.m.
County Food Co.
3. Wednesday, 11:15 a.m.

King John is not one of the Bard's better--or frequently performed--plays. Last night I saw it for only the second time--and with a very strong cast. It's a play about the brother of the late Richard I (Richard the Lionheart)--about John's last days. It's a play about the exigencies of war--about why men fight--and what they will do (anything!) to gain or retain or regain power. Family, children, marriage, loyalties of all sorts--all re-sort themselves in time of war. The are grim moments--a boy threatened with having his eyes burned out, a head of a vanquished foe brought out on stage, a boy dying after what he'd hoped would be a leap to safety, and on and on. One of our Stratford favorites--Graham Abbey--played Philip the Bastard (and retained his status as a favorite!)--and principal parts also by other favorites, Tom McCamus (the King) and Seanna McKenna (Constance, mother to the doomed boy).

The production--arena style--also employed a lot of Elizabethan devices: candlelight (though with a bit of aid from Edison), Elizabethan costumes (instead of the medieval period, when the play took place), use of a balcony, very few props.

Among the most depressing things about this dark show: Our hostile, violent species has not changed much, just what we wear, our vocabulary, what we hold in our hands, what we employ to kill others who have what we want ...

Tom McCamus & Seanna McKenna

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Stratford Sundries, 1

Monday evening ...

While we're in Stratford, Ontario, for the Stratford Theater Festival (eleven plays in six days!), I'm going to steal from my "Sunday Sundries" idea and just write about odds and ends each day--no extended posts (unless, of course, I change my mind, which dotards frequently do).

1. As we were driving out of town this morning, I realized--about a mile from the house--that I'd left behind the totebag that had in it .... our theater tickets. Brake. Blush Turn around. Blush Go home. Blush. Retrieve tickets. Blush. Set out again for Canada. Wondering what I'd done if I had remembered the tix when we were, oh, approaching Toledo?

2. As I've posted here before, I carry with me these days my father's old change purse--leather, the kind that you squeeze, and it opens like some kind of star. The picture shows the basic idea--though Dad's is brown. Anyway, I've noticed since I've been using it (late 1999--not long after my father died) that numerous
cashiers in all sorts of establishments--from Panera to wherever--have commented about how cool it is (generally, these are young folks telling me this). It happened twice on our drive up here--at an Ohio Turnpike Plaza (Blue Heron) and at a Tim Horton's along route 201 in Ontario. So ... an international phenomenon! I will add this little bit: When cashiers comment, I often tell them that it was my dad's--that, when I was a kid, I thought it was dorky, and then when he died ... priceless. When I told that to the young man at Blue Heron, his eyes teared up. So did mine.

3. As we were leaving Hudson, heading for the Turnpike entrance, we passed, on Boston Mills Road, two buzzards alongside the road dining on ... hard to tell (they were about finished). I'm not a reader of omens, but please ...!

4. When I let one of the ATMs here in Stratford suck in my card--the overture to cash--I got an error message. No $$.  I walked over to another bank nearby--same result. Panicked, I called US Bank and found ... no fraud. The 1st machine I'd tried had a malfunction, so they automatically put a "lock" on my card. All clear now ... we'll see in the morning if it works. Annoying in some ways, comforting in others.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 49


From then on, our correspondence almost always had a personal dimension.

On October 21, for example, she wrote to tell me that her sister-in-law was in the hospital; that same day I told her I’d been to Massachusetts to see my dad three times in the previous two weeks—twice via car. At this awful hour, I wrote, I think of MWS , sitting with Godwin in his last hours ….
On Halloween I wrote to tell her about the doings in our neighborhood. I’m sitting now at my desk and looking out at the little goblins, etc. parading around the neighborhood collecting calories at each door. I have a Frankenstein’s monster mask. I should answer the door with it, thereby saving much of the candy for myself as the little critters scatter ….
When I was teaching my eighth graders about Frankenstein (late in my career), I sometimes used to feign an excuse to go out in the hall, where I’d concealed the rubber mask I’d mentioned to Betty, then dart back in with a monstrous roar. Lots of satisfying screams …
Nowadays, though, with actual gun-toting monsters sometimes showing up at schools, it would be a very bad idea to frighten youngsters—in any way. Actually, it was probably a bad idea then, too … but I always did have a streak of carelessness in me.
My birthday—November 11—arrived, and I got a Frankenstein gift from my son and daughter-in-law—a fairly large doll of the creature. Betty was intrigued. Who made the large one? she asked—and I knew she was going to try to find the same one for her own massive collection. I had told her that I was feeling dreary about my birthday (it was number 55—seems youthful to me now: as I write these words, I’m a few months short of 70); Betty said, Enjoy your birthdayness—(consider the alternative) ….
And then, November 29, 1999, I wrote Betty the worst news: My father passed away this morning at 11:15. I’ll be back in Massachusetts this week for services.
Her reply: I am so sorry to hear about your loss. My thoughts are with you.
We did not write again until January 2000, more than a month later.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Sundries, 13

1. We own and drive a Prius, and those acts alone seem to engender some amusement--and even hostility, at times. In the movies, Priuses are a symbol of latte-loving Lefties and assorted dorks. Remember the 2010 Will Farrell-Mark Wahlberg cop comedy, The Other Guys? Farrell drives a red Prius that ends up as a naughty-and-nasty love nest for some homeless dudes. (See the image!) And it's a symbol for Farrell's fecklessness. And remember Horrible Bosses? (Again--see image.) In that film (2011) the Prius represents the impotence of Jason Bateman (who drives it) and his quasi-homicidal buddies.

Okay, all's fair in comedy, and I can take it! Less amusing are the times that other drivers have flipped me off while passing--or, even worse, the several times our car has been keyed in a parking lot. I guess the car has come to represent the Left (where I proudly reside, by the way), and some anger from Elsewhere ends up as scratches on the car that gets us 50 mpg in the winter, 60 in the summer (even 70 on some trips). I'm not sure why our conservative use of fuel is such a pisser-offer, but it apparently is ...

(BTW: Searching for images, I see that Horrible Bosses 2--with the same guys--is coming out, just in time for Thanksgiving. I will utter no turkey jokes ... and I will see it!)

2. We'll be heading off to Stratford, Ont., soon for a week-long orgy of play-going. We'll see eleven plays in six days, including two different versions of A Midsummer Night's Dream--one traditional, one avant-garde (directed by Peter Sellars). We've gone every summer since 2001 (I'd been there a time or two before it became one of our end-of-summer rituals). We stay in a little hotel right downtown, enabling us to park our car all week long; we can walk to all the venues. (There are several theaters.) I'll be blogging about our experiences and will thus put Frankenstein Sundae on hiatus for a week.) Here's a link to the plays this season--most of which we'll be seeing.

3. Although I retried from public school teaching in January 1997--and from Western Reserve Academy in the spring of 2011--I still feel nostalgic when I see the school buses rolling and see kids with backpacks and books. The other day, in the coffee shop, I overheard two WRA young men talking about Tim O'Brien and The Things They Carried, a "summer reading" book for their English class. I got to meet O'Brien not long ago when he did a gig at Hiram College (Oct. 6, 2010). I'm sure he doesn't remember. Anyway, that coffee-shop conversation--about a book, about a writer--made me a little nostalgic (a dangerous emotion!). I know I cannot return to the classroom (age, health, energy), and I have no desire to spend my evenings and weekends grading essays and vocab and whatever. Still ... I do miss the kids ... and sitting in a room talking about things I care about ... I miss those things--deeply.

5. Joyce and I are also planning (tentatively) one last drive across the country. There's a Jack London Symposium (a biannual event) out in Berkeley, Calif., in late October, and it would be nice to see again some former colleagues from LondonWorld. We've reserved a room out there--and paid the symposium registration fee. But we'll wait to see how we are feeling as the date gets closer. Cross-country trips have been a part of my life since 1949 (the first--I was a few months shy of five), and they have enormous emotional significance for me. We were always heading out to the Northwest to see my dad's family (a big one--there are countless Dyers and Dyer-relatives still populating the region). If we go, I'll probably weep all the way out, sob uncontrollably all the way back.