Thursday, November 22, 2007


From The World Without Us by Alan Weisman ...
Les Knight is the founder of VHMET - the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement - is thoughtful, soft-spoken, and quite serious.

"Suppose ... that one virus that would truly be effective strikes, and all human sperm loses viability. The first to notice would be crisis-pregnancy centers, because no one would be coming in. Happily, in a few months abortion providers would be out of business. It would be tragic for people who kept trying to conceive. But in five years, there would be no more children under five dying horribly."

The lot of all living children would improve, he says, as they became more valuable rather than more disposable. No orphan would go unadopted.

"In 21 years, there would be, by definition, no juvenile delinquency." By then, as resignation sinks in, Knight predicts that spiritual awakening would replace panic, because of a dawning realization that as human life drew toward a close, it was improving. There would be more than enough to eat, resources would be plentiful, including water, The seas would replenish. Because new housing wouldn't be necessary, so would forests and wetlands.

"With no more resource conflicts, I doubt we'd be wasting each other's lives in combat. Like retired business executives who suddenly find serenity by tending a garden, Knight envisions us spending our remaining time helping rid an increasingly natural world of unsightly and now useless clutter, in pursuit of which we'd once swapped something alive and lovely.

"The last humans could enjoy their final sunsets peacefully, knowing they have returned the planet as close as possible to the Garden of Eden."

Now, I know that's a lot to dump here out of context. The book I took that from is one I am enjoying, if you can call it that, one which postulates in a number of ways how the planet would respond if humans suddenly, one day and for no particular reason, either ceased to exist or simply dropped dead. So it is a book filled with all types of extreme theories about how resilient, or not, nature truly is to our overwhelming effect on it.

And yet, in spite of spectacular descriptions of New York City reverting to a wildness or my house disintegrating (in detail) I found the previous passage to be the most disturbingly shocking idea in the entire book, and the stupidest, least intuitive or well-reasoned concept I have been exposed to in some time.

"It would be tragic for people who kept trying to conceive." You think? And by "people" Knight seems to suggest there would only be a few of them, people who can't see reason, and keep trying.

"But in five years, there would be no more children under five dying horribly." Oh well, I can certainly understand - buh what?! That's like the joke about the guy who dies and his doctor tells the family that at least his condition has stabilized.

But of course, Knight's point is that humans are nothing special. I'm an open-minded guy. Maybe we aren't. But his theory, like a lot of collective society theories, assume everyone thinks the exact same way, and want the exact same things. When would resignation sink in, exactly? Ever? Those people who can't accept human extinction, which is to say most of them, won't go away, leaving behind those few who are okay with it. And wars aren't always started for "good" reasons (like resources) but sometimes for hateful and murderous reasons.

Maybe it's because I'm such a fan of the movie Children of Men which suggests a human race on the brink would be morose, helpless and vicious, and nothing like peaceful "retired business executives."

I mean, wasn't everyone who started the Iraq War a retired business executive? Honestly.

(Oh, Happy Thanksgiving.)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Fun & Prophet

Love a good pun.

Toni shared this review of Kahlil Gibran’s Collected Works with me this morning.

We share a mutual scorn for The Prohpet, each for our own reasons. If you are a true lover of this book, please move onto your next blog and do not let me offend you (and do not read the aforelinked review.) Especially if I have been to your wedding.

God, it's hard to write about Gibran without sliding into some kind of faux-biblical syntax.

The first time I was exposed to Gibran was at a cousin's wedding in 1983. The passage was from "On Marriage," where the teacher instructs the young couple to be the same tree, but not the same tree, to drink from the same cup, but then again, don't. To walk together, yet apart.

I was fifteen. I thought it was brilliant and moving. I was fifteen.

Since then I have heard the exact same passage at every single wedding I have attended in the past, lo, this quarter century. Following 1 Corinthians 13 - which remains my favorite treatise on love ever written - this chapter from The Prophet is the single most popular refrain in any marriage ceremony.

I assume it's because people want to include something secular, and Gibran has claimed the throne of the most Bible-like modern writer. It's too formal to be mistaken for a pop song lyrics, and so the grandparents won't be offended. But it's, you know, progressive. Women can accept it, it's about freedom within commitment.

Hell, I even alluded to it during the first marriage ceremony I conduct. But that was it, I alluded to it, I didn't say it. It was like a private joke between me and Toni.

Because she outright despises that book, in large part due to the fact that her biological father gave it to her as a gift. "Here, child, this is a book of wisdom." Stupid f***ing hippie. Stupid f***ing hippie book.

Ackshodry, that wasn't my first exposure to The Prophet - no, I first read The Profit by Kehlog Albran, a parody by the people who make Mad-Libs:

A priest asked,
What is Fate, Master?

And he answered:
It is that which gives a beast of burden its reason for existence.
It is that which men in former times had to bear upon their backs.
It is that which has caused nations to build by-ways from City to City upon which carts and coaches pass, and alongside which inns have come to be built to stave off Hunger, Thirst and Weariness.
It is that which has caused great fleets of ships to ply the Seven Seas wherever the wind blows.

And that is Fate? said the priest.

Fate... I thought you said Freight, responded the Master.

That's all right, said the priest. I wanted to know what Freight was too.

Friday, November 02, 2007

All Souls' Night

Friday, October 26, 2007

Family business

From Ten Bad Dates with De Niro:
Henrik Hansen's 'Ten Otherwise Wonderful Movies Let Down by a Naff Ending.'

Recently Funky Winkerbean made what the Comics Curmudgeon calls "The Great Leap Forward." When we were all teens and pre-teens in the late 70s and early 80s, it wasn't lost on me what Funky looked like my brother Henrik.

Now that all the original characters are suddenly in their mid-40s ... he still looks like Funky. And Denny looks like Les.

Mom wants to know who I look like.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Coping with pregnancy loss

Cleveland Jewish News, September 27, 2007

Ernest Hemingway once boasted he could write a novel that was only six words long. Asked to prove it, he took a napkin and wrote, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

The anecdote may be apocryphal, but the sentiment speaks volumes about pregnancy loss, an emotionally devastating phenomenon that afflicts hundreds of thousands of American women yearly.

These are Clevelanders’ stories ...

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Everything for his boys.

While at college (ironically enough, I am spending the weekend in Athens) I took a seminar my junior year on Arthur Miller. It's where I learned to dislike him. A few gems notwithstanding, by being forced to read most of his plays, I discovered (at the age of 20) a man of marginal talent with a penchant for unrealistic dialogue who said the same thing over and over again.

Then there's that thing about self-flagellation.

In addition, I was exposed to reams and reams of paper spent - by the playwright - defending whatever it was he intended to say in his works that most of the public hadn't understood.

For the past six years, my time as an actor-teacher for Great Lakes has included dedicated study to two of Miller's works, Death of a Salesman and The Crucible. In that time I have decided that his "greatest" work - Salesman - is about as unwatchable as I ever thought it was, and that Crucible will not only stand the test of time, but is possibly one of the best American works ever produced. Salesman is lucky to have made it sixty years, Crucible will still be performed in five hundred.

In preparartion for this season's production of Crucible at GLTF, I read Miller's autobiography Timebends which my boss, Daniel, gave me last Christmas. And I enjoyed it. Walking around in his shoes, understanding the entire expanse of his life, I had a better understanding for the worlds of his plays, the worlds of his essays, the world of him.

Because I believe it is inevitable, if you have the facts, when you know what a person has lived through, you can so much better understand the decisions they make and their personal philosophy - even if you do not agree with it. Understanding is key.

Unless they lie.

On Thursday I read this in the New York Times:

"Arthur Miller, who died in February 2005, and his third wife, the photographer Inge Morath, had a son born with Down syndrome in 1966. Soon after, they made the painful decision to put the child, Miller’s youngest, in an institution for the mentally retarded before Miller essentially cut him out of his life.

"... Miller rarely, if ever, accompanied his wife on weekly visits to see (his son), almost never mentioned him to shocked friends and didn’t mention him in his memoir, “Timebends.”

Now, see, I don't know what to do with that information. It is not merely that I find that appalling, but it means that once again I need to reverse-engineer what I think of Arthur Miller.

Daniel and I were having a conversation in the lobby last spring about Crucible and he was sharing how a professor his his was just so frustrated with Miller in the work. The argument was that if only there was no adultery in it, this piece would be universally accepted as a masterpiece. But Miller ruins it, and all of his work, by making his heroes so deeply flawed.

Maybe Miller just couldn't see how anyone could be any different.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The machine starts ...

So this radio version of Eric Coble's adaptation of E.M. Forster's The Machine Stops has been gestating for almost two years.

Eric had written the script as a stage play several years ago - and I said damn! I wanted to do that! But I hadn't not in the almost twenty years since I first read it, so it's just as well that he did. And that he did it better than I could have, which goes without saying.

The radio version of IHT wasn't in the can for a day when DeOreo asks me, so what do we do next? And instead of volunteering some new work of mine, because I didn't have one, I suggested TMS because, when I'd read it, with all the voices coming through The Machine, I thought it would make a great audio piece.

But why performed live in front of an audience, instead of in the safety of the booth? I have no idea. Because it sounded cool.

Last year they got a benefactor in the Hiram College Center for Literature, Medicine and the Biomedical Humanities - who had originally produced two staged readings of the piece - things started to move ... slowly. I spoke to Martin K. at Hiram last fall. There were a few production meetings. A cast was assembled. We had a read-through in May. Two rehearsals during the last two weeks. Today we set up the tech in the Westfield Insurance Studio at Idea Center ... and tomorrow we record in front of a crowd of about fifty.

And you may ask yourself
How do I work this?
And you may ask yourself
How did I get here?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
My god! What have I done?

Since 1997 there has been a special moment when it all makes sense, and it all becomes real, and I know everything will be all right with the world. It's not first read-through. And it's not the first curtain.

It's when Dennis shows up with the music.

The Vampyres, Sin, Lysistrata, Cloud 9, I Hate This ... it's always the music. I love the stuff he's come up with for this piece. Very ... mechanical.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Machine Stops


WCPN 90.3 FM ideastream is producing Eric Coble's adaptation of E.M. Forster's science fiction classic THE MACHINE STOPS.

The performance will be recorded live in front of a studio audience on Friday, August 24 at 6 PM at the Idea Center inside the Westfield Insurance Studio Theater, for later broadcast on 90.3's "Around Noon".

Admission is free, but interested parties must have their name on a guest list to gain entrance to the building. There are limited seats, please contact director David Hansen at pengo(at)davidhansen(dot)org to be added to the list.

The acting company includes Nick Koesters, Rasheryl McCreary, Jazmin Corona, Tim Keo and Dawn Youngs with original music and sound by Dennis Yurich.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Fringed Off

Following a few fringe-heavy years I have been sitting on the sidelines, "lurking" the sites for the MN and NY fringes, and paying a little attention to the feedback and fallout. I'd like to get back to one of those eventually, but you need to have a show first.

Actually, that's not true, a great deal of shows accepted by the MN Fringe during the lottery in February share the title TBA.

Because I was a PR Director for a local theater, once upon a time, I am more interested than most in what kind of free attention theater organizations can squeeze out of the media. Non-critical articles, as well as the reviews that may (or may not) come later on. As we have a daily subscription to the NY Times, every year at this time I use that to clock what's going on at the NY Fringe.

When Toni's show Angst:84 went in 2001, I noticed about a dozen reviews over the course of the festival's two week run. Of these, only one was scathingly negative. Then Urinetown opened that fall, a show which had its originas at the NY Fringe, and in 2002 there were maybe twenty Fringe reviews. That year they were almost universally negative.

In 2003 there were no individual reviews, only longer, week-end articles which pointed out some of the more interesting, "worth your while" productions. So I began to get the impression that the NY Times doles out attention to this famously hit-and-miss, yet difficult-to-ignore-based-on-its-size festival based on how good last year's festival was.

Lucky me, 2003 must have been a good year, because I got a write-up in 2004. If my theory is correct, however, 2006 must have sucked big yahoodies. The festival is half over, and the only mention the largest fringes festival in America has garnered in the nation's largest newspaper (it is still the biggest, isn't it?) was an advance piece in last Sunday's paper, which was mostly about Elena K. Holy, executive director and extremely nervous person.

In fact, as if to add insult to insult, the Times has written not one, but two long pieces about how things are going - and going so much bigger and better - at the Edinburg Fringe this month. In fact, it's the guy who wrote the IHT review - Jason Zinoman - who is cabling these reports back from Scotland.

Compared to Edinburgh, he says the NY Fringe is a lemonade stand. Ouch. Sour.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The frozen chosen

Finished reading The Yiddish Policemen's Union a few mornings ago. Love to say I polihed the entire thing off on my Chicag trip, but I didn't. That's two novels in less than a month. Way too much fiction for me, Krakauer needs to write another epic about stupid people doing stupid things in nature.

I don't know what to say about Chabon's novel without giving too much away, so stop reading if you plan on reading that any time soon. Or ever. I was looking forward to getting into this book - some are surprised I've never read Kavalier and Clay because of my reputation as some kind of comic book geek, I guess, thought I haven't been one for a long time now, but anyway.

The New Play is, in it's way, historical fiction, and so is this. What if a) a zone was established around Sitka, Alaska in the late 30s as a refuge for displaced Jews and b) the war that established Israel in 1948 was lost? That's the premise for what is otherwise a detective novel, which takes place in 2007 in the "District of Sitka." The New Play is about improv comedy in the 1950s, and that's all I'll say about that. But reading someone else play fast and loose with reality as we know it was awfully liberating.

{{{ SPOILER }}}

Our main character, Meyer Landsman, divorced, living in a flophouse, and a detective for the District Police. He and his ex-wife, a police administrator, were expecting their first child, a boy named Django (and that was on our list) who was tested to possibly have an additional chromosone. Possibly an "unviable pregnancy." They chose to terminate the pregnancy, and it has tormented Landsman ever since.

It was impossible to read this without recalling the tests, all the confusing tests, about Calvin, whether he had spina bifida, why he was smaller than he should have been for his age, and my wondering what the point of no return was - not legally, but emotionally, morally, ethically, practically, humanely, you get the picture.

After the abortion, he approaches a doctor who bluntly tells him there didn't appear to be anything abnormal about the fetus. "Not that there wasn't anything wrong with it," he added.

I am not what some choose to call "Pro-Life." But I am a strong believer in potential and how life is imbued by hope, and promise. At first I thought the novel was just kind of cheeky - it's hard to take this northern refuge district seriosuly, it's like a two million person Cicely, and everyone is Joel. Nu? And yet there was a deep sadness, this fragility, everything about to crack and collapse - leavened by irreverent humor.

Which, I guess, from what I have witnessed in my life, must be what it's like to be Jewish.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Is gross.

The first time I saw The Pajama Men (formerly their act was called "Sabotage") was at the MN Fringe in 2003. Hey. Four years is a lot of time. Anyway, they were just hysterical. Caught them last night at the Second City Storefront space in the Loop. Thought that was very, very funny, too.

Shame there were only 10 people in the audience. Hate it when that happens. Not conducive to comedy. And I really hoped, hoped it wouldn't affect their act. I don't think it did, but you know, laughter is infectious. I think Ben and I were laughing harder than most. God, they're weird.

They do this stream-of-consciousness thing - two guys, Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez, who actually do their entire act in pajamas - that kind of tells a story. They introduce several characters, with interesting relationships (father/daughter, two cowboys, woman/amorous space alien) jumping swiftly from one nonsensical scenario to another, though they eventually dovetail and things that didn't make sense near the beginning have an explanation near the end. Or not. It doesn't matter. They crack me up.

Four years ago the main thread was about a horse that conspired to kill his rider.

Horse snorkel. Sorry. Had to say that. Horse snorkel.

Images from that show four years ago still stick with me and make me laugh. So will moments from last night's show. I can't remember much from the Second City show I saw on Friday night. But then, I was half in the bag.

Lovely day yesterday, absolutely lovely. Christine and I met up at the Fountain Towers With the Faces In Them (I asked Ben if that has a nickname yet, that the locals call it, he said yeah, we call it the fountain towers with the faces in them) and after a leisurely catching-up lunch on Michigan Avenue (on the sidewalk, not in the street) she gave me a tour of the Fine Arts Building where the company she has been working with, Moving Dock, do their work.

What a fascinating old structure. What a great place to rehearse, perform, buy antiquarian books, whatever.

By the time we reached the Art Institute (Roger called it "The Toot," not sure if that's a common nickname or just his) we realized we only had two hours before closing, but that was more than enough to take a "Greatest Hits" tour. She was pleased to find that The Gates of Paradise are on display. For a heathen I know quite a bit, but I didn't know about that.

After that whirlwind tour, we just sat by the big towers with faces on them, listening to children cry in delight and knock heads together while hydroplaning across its obsidian surface, while we drank coffee and I tried to get my scalp to stop from sweating. It was a hot, bright weekend. In spite of having sunglasses on most of the time I was out doors, I got this nasty red crease in my brow, which was only intensified by watching a show each night. I had migraine meds Friday night, but I did all right without them last night.

I met Roger and Ben for dinner, Roger knows I prefer local spots, but he said Big Bowl has his favorite Pad Thai in town, so I was like, I'm there! I don't get to have pad thai much, due to Z.'s peanut allergy. Roger got to tell us of his adventures in NYC a few weeks ago, checking out Eric C.'s latest piece, and he and I gave Ben a basic education in what effing crazily obsessed people marathon runners are, going on and on at length with anecdotes and tales of great athletic accomplishment. Or maybe it was just me going on too long, that happens.

On our way there we had to take a detour around a film shoot. Must have been a couple dozen police vehicles with their lights flashing, lots of gawkers and crowds. All the temporary signs guiding people around the site were for some feature called Rory's First Kiss, but, well, IMDB that title and you'll find out what they were really shooting. We failed to spot Heath.

Another run this morning, and then I met up with Donna, who I haven't since since, no kidding 1995. Jesus, these women I was so close to in college, they have got to start showing some age, I feel like I am the portrait of Dorian F*cking Gray looking at them (caught that one at the Toot, by the way.)

She's a talent agent. Great conversation, not just catching up stuff, but about the shows I'd seen (her firm represents members of both show I caught) how good, or not, most improv sketch comedy is, then I had to catch a taxi to O'Hare.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Playtime for Dad

Last December, Toni asked if she could take a weekend on her own, to visit friends in New York, and I said, of course.

Then in January she said, oh! Some folks are getting together in Indiana, could I go to that, too? And I said, uh ... yeah.

By the middle of this summer I realized if I didn't cash in soon, the new school year would be upon us and I'd never get a chance to get away. So I asked about this weekend - a week after camp ended, a couple before rehearsals begin - and she agreed. Good for me to get away. Spend some time alone.

Only ... where should I go? I didn't have a clue.

So I came to Chicago. That's where I am now. In the Chicago Public Library, blogging this in air conditioned comfort instead of spending time in the 90 degree heat.

Just a few notes:

Ran into Tony S. walking the other way down the concourse at Hopkins. I said, "Hey! I'm leaving, you're coming home!" and he said, "Actually, I am going home - to Mississippi!"

Spending the weekend in a basement B&B in Old Town. It's great, a whole apartment to myself, in a real neighborhood. Discovered that Second City is right around the corner - so I went there. Never actually seen a show at Second City before. No surprises. Funny. Sketch comedy is like Chinese food ... I'll stop there.

Walking up North Ave., checking out my surroundings, I saw this guy who looked exactly like Leilani step out a Walgreen's. I thought, weird, that guy looks exactly like Leilani, only Leilani's taller. An hour later, after a plate of the most decadent sushi I have ever had in my life, I'm walking past the same intersection and I hear this rich basso profundo call out, "David Hansen!"

Yeah, it was him. Only shorter than I remembered.

This morning I took a run then double-checked plans with Ben and Roger for tonight, and even got a call from Donna, who I haven't seen in twelve years. We're meeting tomorrow for coffee.

Gotta run, I'm meeting Christine by the fountain in Millennium Park and heading off to the Art Institute. Never seen Sunday in the Park before. They say it's big - and if you cross your eyes and squint, you can see a puppy.

Okay, I stole that joke from the show I saw last night.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Watergate Sue

Anyone following this?

Couple years back the NY Times Sunday Magazine began running serialized comix. Since April it's been Watergate Sue by Megan Kelso. It's the story of a woman in 2006 having her first baby, trying to get the true story of her own birth (during the Watergate summer of 1974) out of her mom, who doesn't want to talk about it.

In last week's episode (in 1974) Sue's Dad asks how it went at the doctor's and her mom says, "My blood pressure is a little high and I better take it easy."

We know Sue survived, it's her story. But the week before that, 2006 Sue was talking to her sister Josie over the phone and said rather casually, "I'm sooo not having a C-section like mom." Last week 2006 Mom is talking to Josie over the phone, saying, "I'm worried about Sue, she hasn't called or returned any of my messages.

Today ... well, no news on Sue's baby today.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Twin Cities

From my sister-in-law ...

It's Wednesday evening around 9:30 MN time.  You may have heard of the collapsed bridge in Minneapolis.  Denny and I were home safe in St. Paul.  My parents and R. and H. were in Circle Pines.  A. and M. were in Minneapolis.  They had driven over the bridge an hour before, but are now home safe and sound.

Denny was called into work.  As we speak he is out on a remote at city hall to interview the mayor of Minneapolis.


My brother works for NPR.

It's a truly horrifying event. I was in the Twin Cities four years ago for the MN Fringe. I-34 is a heavily traveled road, one we used frequently getting back and forth.

The Minnesota Fringe opens tonight. This, from their website:

Greetings from Fringeland.

All of us are shocked by yesterday's bridge collapse on 35W. But the Minnesota Fringe Festival will open tonight at 5:30 p.m. as scheduled. The engine of Fringe is unstoppable, and the creation of art and community is essential.

As soon as we know if there are any changes to Fringe shows and schedules, we'll post it here on the web site, as well as information on alternate travel routes. In the meantime, we encourage everyone to help alleviate traffic tie-ups by using MetroTransit for their Fringing.

Otherwise, the Twin Cities chapter of the American Red Cross gets our nod for being the hippest nonprofit in town - it's the best way to help.

Stay tuned for updates and changes.

Take care,
Robin Gillette
Executive Director (on behalf of everyone at the Fringe)

Wish I could be there. For a number of reasons.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

All Good Things ...

Finished it. Loved the ending, where Ron and Hermione are riding off on one broomstick, and Harry was spelled out the word GOOD-BYE in bedpans.

No, I won't say anything about how it ends. Just about how the whole Harry Potter thing relates to ME, because that's what this entire blog is about.

I was aware of the books prior to 2000, but they were just popular kids books, like, what was that, Goosebumps or something like that. I was almost 32, not my scene.

We were taking a three-week road trip through the South, or at least in a southerly direction. We were taking three weeks, because (according to the plan) this would be our last major road trip before Toni was pregnant. We planned that, see, our having a baby in early or mid-2001. That was the plan.

We'd stopped in Cave City to stay in a cement teepee and check out Mammoth Cave. The cable was terrible and we tried watching Freaks and Geeks (which had already been cancelled) and the local news reported that hundreds of kids were dressing up like wizards and witches and staying up until midnight to buy a book - Number 4.

About three weeks we arrived in Athens in time for my 32nd birthday and Toni's teenage sister Adrienne already had the first three in paperback, which I polished off in a couple days, and read Goblet of Fire before the end of the summer.

I believe the emotional difference of beginning a septilogy of books at age ten, and finishing them at 19 is significantly different than what I have been through. The conclusion did not leave me as dazed and disturbed as, say, the final episode of M*A*S*H did, which I saw at age fourteen. I daresay the Harry Potter books will stand the test of time better.

That photograph up there disturbs me. I think I look older then.

UPDATE: Finally read that sinister, spoiler NY Times book review. I don't get it, what did she give away?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A major medical issue

Our absent instructor returned briefly today. She wants to see if the kids can't pull together the act they were working on before she left two weeks ago. Frankly, I don't know if I would have been able to come back under similiar circumstances. I really admire her dedication to the program.

We had sent her a card last week. Most wishes were of the could-be-any-tragedy variety. "We're thinking of you," that kind of thing. Heartfelt, but vague. I think someone wrote "hope you're feeling better" but I believe that was one of the kids who'd gotten their hands on it and thought it was a Get Well Soon card. There had been no general announcement about her absence, though I frankly told any student who asked me about it directly. Gentle, but frank.

Isn't that a Noel Coward play? Gentle, But Frank?

Even today I heard her situation refered to as a "major medical issue."

Yes. It sure is major.

Anyway, I was the only one writing a paragraph on the card. What you'd expect, "sorry for your loss," mentioning to boy by name, I hope you'll let me contact if you need someone to listen ... I think I cryptically ended, "I know about this."

I was on my way back to class this morning after picking up the students' journals, and she was coming down the stairs. It was just a shocked, I just gave her a big hug, I almost started crying right there. I can't explain it, I hardly know this woman, but there it is.

And yes, it was pre-eclampsia. She said she'd never heard the term before, and now she knows everything. At least, you know, as much as any of us do, which isn't much. "Why don't they tell us about this?" she asked. I mentioned What To Expect When You're Expecting and she was a step ahead of me. She skipped the chapter it tells you to skip, the one which would have helped you keep an eye out for symptoms. What is the fricking point, I don't get it.

Pretty early case, at something like 23 weeks. Must have hit her hard and fast. She went in with "hypertension" and they could tell right away the boy was in distress. She was induced, she had him, but he was too little. She got to be with him, alive, if briefly. He opened his eyes. These are the good things you can count on one hand.

She says she's glad for the things I wrote. She didn't know about Calvin, but I'm not in the habit of telling pregnant women I've just met that my first child died. I don't think it would have clued her in even if I had, who would it have done?

I'll see her again tomorrow, she's determined to get something together for the culminating event next week. We'll talk more.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Workin' it

The Vampyres takes place in a coffee shop, and in spite of my being easily distracted, I found it much easier to write the thing when I was in one. A coffee shop, I mean. I visited Toni in NYC for a week in a bone-chilling week in February, 1995 and sat in Cafe Lalo several afternoons while she was working, with my new, black and white Apple laptop. I think it was the last black and white model they made.

Anyway, sitting here in Phoenix on Lee, procrastinating from writing the New Play, I am reminded of how ... dorky I felt, sitting in a coffee shop, sitting in public, working on a laptop computer. I was the only guy I saw doing that. It felt even odder when I was back at the Arabica on Coventry - I had to do it, but I felt like I was shouting, "Hey, look at me! I've got a laptop computer!"

People would even ask, what are you doing? Because really, it was weird. And I wondered whether or not I would be asked to leave if I actually used their outlet to power my Mac, instead of letting the battery run out.

I come into this place a couple times a week, some afternoon every table has someone utilizing the free wireless here. It's a Sunday morning at 10, I am already one of three.

Friday, July 20, 2007


One year ago today, Orson shattered his skull.

Worse things can happen. But not many.

Today he is tall, and obstreperous. Like another BOY WHO LIVED he has a neat scar on his head, but it's on the back so it doesn't make good cover art. Daniel Radcliffe will be playing him in the movie, however.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Black telegram

Forgive me, I do not know how to write about another person's loss. I do not feel I have the right to. When someone close tells me someone related to them has lost a child, or endured a miscarriage, I do not feel I have the right to "report" about it here. And there have been losses in the very recent past which I have written on privately, tried to help as I can, but did not feel was appropriate to mention here.

Today surprised me, even though, whenever a mother goes on bedrest, when there are the symptoms, I worry. I spend more time worrying, preparing for the worst, that thinking those "positive thoughts." And I do not pray.

One of our instructors at arts camp was five months pregnant. She was so excited about being a first-time mother. She had just found out she was going to have a boy last week - the day before she disappeared, sent to the hospital. I heard her ankles had been swollen. I hoped for the best. I feared the worst.

We were about the start class this morning, just about to call all the students in "Group 1" to join us in the sanctuary. Tim whispers to me, "I thought you should know, Xxxxxxx lost her baby. We're all going to get a card."

I was shocked not only be the news, and its delivery, but my own reaction to it. I just said, "I'm sorry, Tim, you should already know this - you hold the black telegram until after the performance." I just told him to start class and walked into the playground outside and wept. I was surprised at how much I wept.

I've met the parents of so many lost children in the past six years - so many just last month, in England and Nothern Ireland. But they were all in the past, there was nothing to do except be sympathetic. The loss was past. And I had seen this beautiful young woman I'd just met, I met her a little over three weeks ago as an expectant mother, she was so obviously happy about having this boy.

I'd like to be in contact, to help how I can. She and her partner want everyone to leave them alone and I can certainly sympathize with that. I hope, in a week or so, I can reach them.

Friday, July 13, 2007

How I'm Spending My Summer Vacation

Photo: The mysterious and difficult-to-understand theatrical ritual known only as "Zip-Zap-Zop."

This summer I'm working with the legendary Tim Keo as part of the free, summer arts camp for Cleveland Municipal School kids, Smart in the City - excuse me, that's smART in the City. You can read the inital press release here. There are eight sites in Cleveland, ours is at Nottingham Methodist Church in Collinwood.

It was a bit of a terrifying headache for me starting out as a) I was arriving home from England on Sunday the 24th, b) Toni was not even leaving Hopkins but heading straight out again to Goddard, leaving me alone with the kids for eight days for the first time, ever and c) the camp started the very next day.

We're halfway through and everything is working out just fine, thanks. Tim is an excellent partner with whom to work, all of the teachers we are collaborating with are fabulous - our site coordinator Marquita is a dream, she's our stage manager, showing up first thing and always being the last to leave - and the students are all happy to be there ... at least, the ones who have made it this far. A few have drifted away during the past week or so, which I would only have imagined from a free arts camp in the middle of summer. Just too many other options, you know?

Photo: Members of Team Three - Kalen, Ontario and Andre'a - stand proud before the just-composed "Modern Seven Ages".

We've been sharing Shakespeare and improv, playing lots and lots of games, and now we have a good two and a half weeks to prepare a "culminating event" to be presented on August 1.

The Moderns Seven Ages of People (with no apologies to Shakespeare)
The world’s like Playhouse Square, and we are all actors.
Everyone has to enter and exit, and in our lives, we all play seven parts.
First the baby, with spoiled milk, spoiled Gerber – eats anything that’s spoiled, and then throws up.
Next the student, a noisy game-player who still thinks Santa Claus is real.
Then a teenager, whose hormones are going crazy and disrespects his mother and watches MAD TV.
And then, a partier, still watching MAD TV, he doesn’t work or like George Bush, and gets his money off the street, the fool.
Then an actor, working with children in a church basement, in mismatched socks and a big loud voice, and so he plays his part.
The sixth, the grandparent, so old he knew Burger King when he was a prince, retired, a geezer, needy and moaning.
Finally, the cat-lady, surrounded by cats, still watching MAD TV, I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

“This is like children’s theater for 40-year-old gay people!”

Heaven on Wheels, and in Leg Warmers
By Charles Isherwood
New York Times: July 11, 2007
Can a musical be simultaneously indefensible and irresistible? Why, yes it can. Witness “Xanadu,” the outlandishly enjoyable stage spoof of the outrageously bad movie from 1980 about a painter and his muse who find love at a roller disco in Los Angeles ...(more)

...also ... ‘Susan’ Sought As a London Musical
Arts, Briefly 7/11/2007
Featuring hit songs by the rock band Blondie, a musical version of the 1985 film “Desperately Seeking Susan,” an early Madonna vehicle directed by Susan Seidelman, will come to the London stage in October, Agence France-Presse reported yesterday. Deborah Harry of Blondie has written a new song, “Moment of Truth,” for the West End production ... (more)

Speaking as someone who has been plumbing the depths of 80s pop culture for theatrical inspiration since the mid-90s, I find this all rather fascinating.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Salute to 1985

JacMac and RadBoy ... GO!

Twenty-two years ago, in the summer of 1985, my brother Denny had graduated from college but didn't have a job yet. I was about to start my senior year in high school. We'd never spent any time in each other's company before, not really, not by choice. When I was five, he was twelve. When I was twelve, he was nineteen.

"Road to Nowhere" - Talking Heads

While he was waylaid in Bay Village, waiting for a response for one of the NPR affiliates he had sent a resume to (which was all of them), we got to know each other a little. I was 17, he was 24. Denny taught me the value of Heineken, how to tell if your onion dip is any good (is the first ingredient 'sour cream' - or 'water'?) and the joys of late-night tee vee.

Max Headroom on David Letterman

I remember the days being very, very dull that summer. But at night, we laughed our asses off.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Car Explodes at Airport in Scotland

GLASGOW (Reuters) - A four-wheel-drive vehicle rammed into Glasgow airport's main terminal on Saturday and exploded in flames in what police described as an attack, a day after a twin car-bomb plot was foiled in London ... (more)

I know the T-shrt slogan "we're creating enemies faster than we can kill them" is so 2004, but it's even worse than that. We're creating enemies faster than they can kill themselves. There's no way we can expect to keep up.

I think my entire family and I walked past that exact spot a little over three weeks ago.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Calvin Harris is the new god.

Toni is out of town until Monday, and I can't procreate.

Line forms on the left.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Day Seventeen: London to Cleveland - Transatlanticism

Photo: Cyberman on Leicester Square.

I don't like summing up. Summing up is for the book, the article or the play. A blog is life in motion, and trying to draw any grand conclusions at the end of a long journey is as pointless as trying to draw one at the end of any given day.

Often I do exactly this when composing a blog entry, and I generally find myself simply dropping the last paragraph before publishing.

"Publishing." That's funny. Getting paid is nice, but what the hell, we'll call it publishing.

Non-stop from London to Cleveland. That's my idea of luxury. Once we arrive at Hopkins, Toni will turn around and board a plane for Vermont. It is year two of her work at Goddard College and she has a week on campus in Plainfield, that leaves me alone with the kids until next Monday. Well, alone with Kelly, my parents, and anyone else who will help.

Yesterday was a frazzled attempt to bring things to an enjoyable close. I had floated the idea of getting half-price tix to take Z. to see Mary Poppins. While Henrik drove most everyone and our bags back to Battersea, Toni, Kelly and I took a way around Leisceter Square - which in the middle of a Saturday afternoon was an insane crush of tourists and opportunists. The lowest ticket price was £32. We called home and said the show was sold out before lingering around some bookstores.

Henrik made curry, and we had an amazing relaxed evening around the vicarage, drinking, talking, watching Monsters Inc. (Zelda just loves that movie.)

Yesterday morning I took a six o'clock run around Plymouth. Today I rose in London. Tomorrow I get up at dawn in Cleveland Heights, take the kids to school, and embark on an arts camp for disadvantaged Cleveland middle school students.

I could really have used a weekend before starting in on that.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Day Fifteen: Plymouth - Blood and Fire

Photo: Orson joins Nick for a bite.

The schizophrenic weather of Plymouth kept us on our toes all day. The folks took a lovely boat ride in the harbor, while it intermittently pissed rain and shone bright, warm sun. Meanwhile, Kelly and I met Nick at the hall for tech.

It's a big room, the Salvation Army meeting hall, and Nick had high expectations. There were twenty seats purchased in advance, there were notices in local papers and he did an interview which was played several times, yesterday and today, on the radio station, Plymouth Sound.

I asked him what the pitch was, remembering the kind of comments which were made on BBC Lincolnshire. Nick is quite familiar with the show, having seen it last October at the AGM, and listening to the radio drama several times. Describing it over lunch (he helped us all find a great cafe near the boat dock where we were able to escape the rain) Nick made I HATE THIS sound like a gripping, exciting drama, one that anyone could get into. So that sounded great.

They'd set up chairs for maybe two hundred on the main floor, with overflow capacity in the balcony for another fifty. I know he was being cheeky when he suggested we might need all those seats, but I alos know he was holding out hope for a large turnout.

You can see where I am going with this. In fact, if you have any previous knowledge about the history of this production,the fact that the house was small shouldn't surprise you. It didn't surprise me, and I was not disappointed by it, I only felt bad for Nick and his wife Tracey, whom I knew had spent a lot of time and effort putting this together. I believe it was particularly upsetting that almost half the people who had made paid reservations did not show up, though there were a few walk-ups.

That included one very tall man (sorry I didn't catch the name) who had made a reservation for the Exeter performance, and called the day-of to ask for directions, and was surprised to find only that way that the event had been cancelled. He said he drove like mad to get here tonight.

It was challenging balancing the small crowd (I am thankful they were asked to move to the front of the house) and the large space. There were points where I stepped down off the stage and stood right in front of them (Memorial Day, The Future) and I was ready when they did not laugh at the "Cloisters" joke - as most do not. Sometimes I say, "Huh, they love that joke in New York."

Tonight I said, "Huh ... they loved that joke in Belfast."

I thought that was funny. So did Kelly.

Following tea and cake, our Q&A was almost like a group session, we treated it as one. Toni and I weren't up on the stage, we were down with everyone, talking about our stories.

That reminds me of an interesting thing ... yesterday, after we'd split into two groups, Nick and Kelly and I were wandering through Drake's Circus. Kelly went off to the loo, and Nick and I were just standing there in the middle of this busy mall.

I just blurted out, "So, Nick, what's your story?"

He blinked, inhaled, and told me about Sarah Louise. And that was good.

You know, over the course of the past two weeks, Toni and I took a little time to grow into our role as child loss ambassadors, or whatever you might want to call us. In Carlisle we were a bit too scattered to be as personable, or sensitive as we might have liked. I'm not saying we were impolite, but my interactions with Libby were very business-like - I need this, I need that, do you think these things can be taken care of by tomorrow - and we spent most of the intervening time relaxing, making sure the kids were adjusting, and so on.

We'd even showed up late that first afternoon, because we were enjoying ourselves in Glasgow, and didn't bother to call her to let her know.

Photo: The famous Plymouth King Prawn.

It wasn't until after the performance that I had a chance to chat with her husband Ian about their little boy, and then say something to her some time shortly before we departed for the evening. I can make excuses about being wobbly, nervous and uncertain, but I still wish I'd started off better.

And yet, "What's your story?" I don't think I'd ever asked anyone about their child so bluntly in my life. It didn't hurt that Nick (being so much, you know, like Nick) seems like aguy who you can talk to like that. I also wondered after the fact if it's because I don't usually ask guys about their children, I usually start with the women and the approach is much softer.

The discussion was very warm and everyone was very kind. There were an awful lot of men in that small crowd, and it was good to see them, sitting so stoically in their seats. But when the time came I heard what I am always glad to hear, that this story is like theirs, there is so much in common in my story to theirs.

Toni observed a few days ago that she sometimes feels it is odd, sitting up on a stage, talking about our loss, and having so many people ask us about it, as though our loss is more significant than theirs. I don't see it that way. Maybe I am the guy who stands up publicly to tell his story not because my story is more poingnant, it isn't, but it's a story, and I tell it and people can point to it and say, that's my story. Like, it makes their story more poignant, because of the great similarlities of emotion and circumstance, and they can share it with friends and say, see, that's what I am going through. That story is my story.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Day Fourteen: Exeter to Plymouth - In the Air Tonight

* The folks at Pegasus House recommended a restaurant up the street, Rubie's at the Red House, which was more than adequate for us.

* We departed Whipton without ever visiting Exeter.

* Nick met us at the train station in Plymouth. Toni, Kelly and I all noticed almost immediately, and indepedently of each other, that Nick is just like Nick. This identification only became stronger as the morning went on, and as we watched him interact with the children.

* Nick took Kelly and I to the Salvation Army Hall, where we will be performing tomorrow night, our final performance - and for all I know, my final performance. After this, I got nothin'. It is a great space. I'm really looking forward to this.

* Plymouth has a mall named after Sir Francis Drake, Drake Circus. I find that entirely bizarre.

* As Nick showed Kelly and I around the town center (we would meet with the others for lunch) it began to piss down rain, which would continue for the rest of the afternoon. Welcome to the coast.

* We hit a Virgin Megastore and an HMV where I picked up Calvin Harris' I Discovered Disco and the soundtrack to Life On Mars - the DVD of which is unfortunately not universal but only Region 2.

* Lunch was had in Dingle's department store.

* As promised, the kids were looked after by everyone else, and Toni and I toured the quay, had a few pints, enjoyed fresher than fresh seafood for dinner (where I forgot where I was and hideously overtipped the waiter) and finished up in the hotel bar where Toni confessed her newfound appreciation for Phil Collins.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Day Thirteen: Lurgan to Exeter - One Day at MacCool's, One Night in Whipton

Photo: The road to Torr Head.

Nap time at the Pegasus Guest House in Whipton, outside Exeter, and plenty of time on our hands. I had been apprehensive about this day, the only one that involved travel and a performance on the same day in the entire journey. What if something went wrong? What if we were missing something, something were wrong with the tech, I left something behind - there would be no time to care of of unseen mishaps.

It also occured to me that this was the one city where I would get no time to take in the surroundings before moving on the next morning.

Well. Toni and I went to the Lurgan Public Library to check email, and received an urgent notice from our contact in London that the Exeter show has been cancelled, due to lack of interest. They had only had confirmed reservations for five, and decided it wasn't worth the effort.

Photo: Lonely boy on an Irish road.

I have performed the show for five before. I've performed the show for one. I would have liked to have been consulted, I guess. Maybe if I had been in better contact and could have gotten back to them yesterday, instead of today, I could have communicated that fact, but it was a little late by the time I got the message and we had a plane to catch.

I contacted our host here, figuring we could at least be in touch, maybe have a drink or dinner. I was surprised to find (via text message) that they had already made plans for themselves this evening, and that maybe we would see them in Plymouth. So we don't even get any contact here at all, or suggestions for where to go or what to do.

Disappointed? Sure. Maybe more than I expected. I'm here, in Exeter (well, Whipton) with nothing to do, and there's at least five people who wanted to see my show.

There was a reason we scheduled travel and performance on the same date - we wanted an extra day in N. Ireland. It was well spent. Steven and Jackie picked us up around 10.30 and we took the scenic route along the coast (the Torr Head route) to Giant's Causeway.

Photo: Steven and Jackie.

Giant's Causeway is this bizzare, unique rock formation along this one, relatively small area of the northern coast. Where the stones have been worn down, it looks like carefully arranged hexagonal boulders have been neatly fit together. Where they are taller they are like great columns. Each stone section is maybe eighteen inches wide.

At different short levels they make little thrones to sit in. In one area in particular, where there is this section of great, tall pillars all clustered together by the seaside, they contribute to the legend of Finn MacCool, the giant. There was a great bridge, or causeway, across the sea to Scotland. Finn MacCool set across to defeat a giant on the other side - but when he got there, he found the Scottish giant to be much larger than he, so he ran back across, in fear, to tell his wife.

Mrs. MacCool (I missed the name) told him to calm down, dressed him up in a bonnet and gave him a binky and put him in the baby crib. When the Scottish giant came over to fight MacCool, the giantess said, "He's out right now - but don't wake the baby!"

Photo: Thrones for little ones.

The Scottish giant took one look at the great, hideous baby in the crib, and thought - if that's the baby, how big is the father! In a panic, he ran back across the causeway, tearing up the stones as he went so the monstrous giant, Finn MacCool, could not get at him.

Steven told me that one. "Not a story of great courage, iss aht, Steven?" I observed, "Finn MacCool wearing a diaper and a bonnet?"

"No," he admitted, "but it's a story of great cleverness."

After almost two weeks of urban living, dining and recreating, this day was a blessed departure. And the weather was perfect - we were warned to bring rainjackets and be prepared for great wind and waves, but the sea was calm, the skies were sunny and clear, and it was quite warm. But not too warm, there was a lot of walking.

On the drive into town Toni and I compared notes on the last two cities we'd been to. Birmingham is a lot like Cleveland. It's not a city with the ancient hisoty a lot of the rest of England does, it's an industry town - only the industry dried up decades ago. A lot of people, including some in N.I. spoke disparragingly about Birmingham, but what I saw is a modern city that is trying very hard to become a center of arts and activity, with a number of new shopping centers and entertainment venues. I never learned if any of the canals caught fire ... but it wouldn't surprise me.

According to Steven, it's only been five years since things have settled down to what you might call normal in Northern Ireland, especially in and around where we were staying, so close to Belfast. The time we spent there wasn't nearly enough to really take in what effect those decades of war (for what else can you call it) have had on the people's psyche, but it can't have been good for business. Driving on the roads (as opposed to say, taking trains, which we have been doing so much of) watching all the farms, the livestock, the people, Toni was reminded of her home in Appalachia.

Our lives being how they are, it is hard to imagine the circumstances where we would be able to return to N.I. Perhaps we will need to make some up.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Day Twelve: Lurgan - Town Hall Meeting

The view outside our window this morning.
I make it a habit during long journeys never to log what will happen, but only what has happened. In that way I don't repeat myself ... or have to explain how something I said was going to happen, didn't.

Yesterday was not filled with the luck of the ... there were unfortunate incidents.

 While everything eventually worked out, there were difficulties getting the computer to recognize the projector. BBC Belfast cancelled our radio interview. And I seriously bonked my head on one of the low-doorways in our cottage, leaving a nasty egg on my crown.

I found a fairy princess in the garden.
Having said that, we had a very fine performance at Lurgan Town Hall. Steven brought his teenage son Matt in to take care of the computer difficulties (of course.) It was the first old-fashioned "stage" I have performed on here, instead of looking up at the audience, or straight out, I actually had to look down at them.

There were some seventy people in attendance. I have grown used to audiences not laughing, at all, at anything, during the performances this week. Maybe it is because of the language barrier (that ironic American humor, you know.) Maybe it is because of my delivery, who knows.

Last night, however, they were laughers. Not huge, belly-laughers, no one does that, not that kind of show, but they did laugh appreciatively. I might make some kind of sweeping observation about the Irish knowing something about dark humor, but, well, I guess I just did.

Feeding the ducks at the nature center at Lough Neagh
There was this one woman in the front row, she had these great glasses, she looks just like Toni's friend Andrea from New York (Toni said the same thing!) She was seated right in front of the phone, and was cracking up at the muzak - when "Lonely Boy" came on she was my anchor, she thought that was hysterical and I just smiled at her for several seconds before giving her the "I love this song," line.

Of course, I knew it was going to be a good performance when Steven introduced it as "Ah Heet Thass - a plee wi'oot tha baybeh."

One of the most interesting questions we received was, "What did you hope to get out of doing this?" Toni and I talked about it later, I think she was concerned at first that it was an accusation, but I wasn't. One thing that was great was that it was a question we could pass onto Steven, who joined us on stage. He had the chance to share the idea SANDS had for bringing me here, to raise awareness of the issue, and of their organization.

Toni also got to speak about the kind of fact-finding work we have been able to do, hearing other people's stories and making observations about the state of health care in different parts of the country - ours and theirs.

And for my part, I took it back to the beginning - what did I hope to get out of doing this, meaning writing it. Which was nothing but my own need to tell this story, as a theater artist. At first, I had no idea that this play would take me to such places. I didn't envision it being used as an educational tool, for nurse and doctors, certainly not to be a touchpoint for the parents of other dead children. I wanted to see if I could make my personal story into a good play.

# # #

Zelda came walking into the bathroom with a pair of underpants on her head. "I'm a butthead!" she declaimed.

"Hmn," I mused, "who made up that joke?"

"I did," Zelda proested, leaving the bathroom. "Kelly and I made it up."

If my four year-old is going to use correct grammar, she is allowed the occasional vulgarity.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Day Eleven: Lurgan - Cottaging*

Sorry for missing an entry yesterday, it was a big, big travel day with no internet at the end of it. We left Birmingham via air to Belfast. I am pleased and amazed at how well the seven of us have been coping, shipping from city to city like this.

SANDS Chariman Steven and his wife Jackie met us at the airport and helped us get situated with the Big Red Van we've rented. Yes, a rental. Yes, I am driving on the left, seated on the right - and shifting on the left. The 40 minute drive from Belfast to Lurgan, where I will be performing tonight was quite a thrill. Steven reported that I only almost got us into an accident twice.

Steven and Jackie have put us up in cottages for our stay. It's an extended saty, we are taking the risk and traveling and putting on a performance on the same day on Wednesday so I can have a full day to myself tomorrow, touring N.I.

At present I have snuck away from Kelly (actually, I asked her permission) to visit the local library and check email and write this. Just after lunch Steven and I will drive to Belfast for a radio interview (that's an hour's drive each way) and get home in time for dinner, and the show.

I am only slightly disappointed I don't get to see as much as my fellow travelers, but what I do see I will remember. The cottages were a very thoughtful touch, it's fun, you know, staying in a hotel for a short while, but it's also quite constricting. The restaurant situation has also begun to wear on the children.

Last night Toni and I got some basics from the market, and we all sat about, cooking, drinking, cleaning (I broke a glass) eating and just relaxing. They even have a DVD built into the set, and a small selection of movies available. We started watching Love, Actually, which is utter crap.

* Yes, I know what 'cottaging' means.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Day Nine: Birmingham - Backtalk

I had an honest-to-God actor's nightmare last night! Great Lakes was producing The Importance of Being Earnest. I was playing Algernon. (Scoff if you like - I said this was a nightmare.)

I have never been in a production of Earnest in my life. I found myself backstage, fifteen minutes before curtain, almost entirely in costume, and I didn't know a word. I picked up a script in the valiant attempt to cram some lines, but they were incomprehensible. They certainly weren't pithy.

The first act was a mess. I remember at one point, during an awkward pause, D.A. stated rather exaggeratedly, "Maybe David Hansen would have something to say about it." I believe I had missed a cue.

Laura Perrotta was pissed. So was Eve Michaelson, but that was just normal.

Meanwhile, during waking life ... last night I realized I had come up short (no pun) on y-fronts. As a result, the folks here in Birmingham have pulled ahead of the pack in one very important respect: they did our laundry.

Ooh, that was lovely.

Photo: Camping out in Nottingham Station.

You see, the weather had turned the day we left London, and continued raining pretty regularly the entire time we were in Lincoln. We took the short train to Nottingham ... where we discovered our train to Birmingham had been cancelled. All the trains to Birmingham had been cancelled. The trackes had been flooded, or maybe it was just the electric signals. We sat around the station in Nottingham, making calls to our contacts in London and Birmingham, and waiting for the rail situation to change.

We began speculating on a night's stay in Nottingham when they suddenly announced a train would be going through, but by the time we arrived in Birmingham, all other trains had been cancelled. So in that respect, we were lucky. Except Toni had planned on spending the afternoon doing laundry, and now there would be no time, if we could even find a laundrette in the city center.

Lisa and Elaine, the two main organizers of our event here for SANDS joined us at the hotel for some late night libations ... and asked if someone couldn't wash my underpants.

The performance today was the end of the local SANDS conference, sharing the new Guidlines. There was a larger percentage of medical health professionals than bereaved parents, or so it seemed, and the Q&A included the first comment I have had on this tour from an offended nurse, one who didn't appreciate my presenting only the negataive aspects of our time in the hospital. It was a respectful exchange. I think everyone knows my opinion on this subject, the character I am playing the show is who I was at the time, and that's how I felt. I understand it can be harsh, the play is called I HATE THIS.

What was unique about this talkback was that not only was Toni joining me, but so was Connie. As a nurse, as a woman who trains obstetric nurses, as Toni's mother and as a bereaved grandparent, she offered a rich point of view to the proceedings.

As a result the discussion with the audience had nothing to do with the history of the play, less to do with our lives since 2001, and so much to do with caregivers, what assistance is available (or not) to parents who have lost children in both the US and the UK, and issues regarding grandparents and other relatives.

It was an intimate gathering, maybe thirty audience members. A lot of them knew each other, and aspects of the discussion were, not so much a debate, but a mutual agreement on certain points regarding patient care and communication. I probably said the least during this talkback than I ever had, and I think that was a very good thing.

Photo: Zelda loves to pose with otters.

In the five-year history of this play, I have never performed it many times in a row. The fringe festivals were five perfs each. And though I have performed this show for hospitals and conferences before, it has never been incorporated something like one help organizartion's two-week schedule of events. What this has done for me, and also for Toni, is to really challenge our participation in perinatal bereavement and counseling. The extended dialogue we have participated in through all of these talkbacks has thrown what we have accomplished, and what we still hope to do into some kind of relief. Today was particularly helpful in that regard.

The kids had a good day, we took them to National Sea Life, an aquarium which is so totally geared to kids. There can't be a fish tank without there's a ship's anchor in it, or a statue of a mermaid.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Day Eight: Lincoln to Birmingham - Children of Us


While we were riding the London Eye, Adrienne and I had an uncomfortable conversation about the movie Children of Men. I think that, among other things, it is about how humans go insane when they can't have children. Adrienne says it's a dumb chase movie with a pregnant woman in it, and the guy dies at the end.


I was flabbergasted. I know Children of Men is not everyone's favorite movie, Toni and I were both not a little put off by John Ewing's condescending characterization of it. For those who are unaware, the premise is that people have stopped being able to have children. The last person to survive childbirth was born eighteen years ago. The very first action of the movie is the announcement that this person has been killed.

When Clive Owen's character, Theo, walks into his office, everyone in their little cubby is watching the news on their computers and quietly (or not quietly) weeping. All of them. And every cubby, especially the ones of the women, but not exclusively, are festooned with baby figures, ribbons, little mementoes of lost children. They are everywhere.

If director Alfonso CuarĂ³n doesn't have some personal experience with child loss, all I can say is he did his homework. And once that world was set, I could clearly see what a world where no one could have children might look like. I see it in some small, manageable version every time I do this show. It's our experience, without end, times everyone else in the world.

So you will excuse me if I have little patience with someone who doesn't "get" that movie. In fact, I surprise myself at my reaction to people who don't "get" that movie, it makes me feel like they can't "get" us.

But then again, you know, it is just a flick with a lot of stuff blowing up.

From beginning to end our experience in Lincoln has been just fabulous. I've been here 36 hours now and I'm going to miss it.

Terry O'Toole Theatre
The show went extremely well, from a technical standpoint. It's a great, new black box theater. It's small, maybe two hundred seats, and it's kind of octagonal. The seats angle to the sides. I was thrust out into the audience, looking to my left and right during a lot of it, which was new and different and took some time to get used to.

Tech took a very short period of time, and we even had lights fade in at the beginning and out at the end. It was like a real play!

The performance was just a little difficult. There was virtually no sound from the audience. None. They laughed when I said sh*t, that was about all. And yet, I knew they didn't hate the show, just that they must be taking it all very personally. This silence no longer affects me in a negative way, only I adjust most "punchlines" to be less of a grasp for laughs, I just say them and move on.

However, this lack of vocal response normally translates into a brief, awkward Q&A. This was not the case in Lincoln. Our post-show discussion lasted maybe a half-hour to forty-five minutes. The questions kept coming, and they were very good questions. A lot of times the questions are about the show, and the show's history, but last night there were so many about the details of child loss - about our own experiences, to be sure, but then also about the exepreinces of the people in the audience.

A number of new, fascinating questions arose when they learned we have had two subsequent pregnancies. What was it like when you were in labor and giving birth to your first living child? Where do you tell them Calvin is? Have you thought of incorporating the fact that you have Zelda and Orson into the play?

This last was from a very meaningful woman named Tracey. I had to handle this question with care, because I remember all too well the strong reaction I got from other parents of lost children when it was suggested (thanks, Tony) that I had changed the play when my first living child was born. If I understood her correctly, the ending was so painful for her she wanted some kind of release during the play to let her know everything was all right for us. I explained, as well as I could, that I just don't feel like giving anyone that release during the drama, and she accepted that.

Besides, that's really what the Q&A are for.

I have been accused of being "dispassionate" in my performance, but when one mother shared that her living children believe their dead sibling is with the Man in the Moon, I almost teared up. It was something their grandmother had told them, and she didn't disabuse them of it. I wouldn't have, either.

We found out more details meeting people face to face afterwards. Julia's mom had made scones, and there were strawberries and coffee and tea, and we stayed in the lobby a long time, talking to so many people.

We took a particular delight in meeting Julia's girl Heidi, who is fifteen, and desperate to be a star. She hung out with us backstage before the performance and we made jokes about American and British accents and asked her about her plans. She's done a lot of theater in the Lincoln area, and will be a featured extra in The Golden Compass with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig.

She does a very amusing American accent. But then, so do I.

Check out the new raincoat.