Another Crazy Family

The Herd-150430We enjoyed a pleasant evening yesterday with friends at Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago. The play was one of the best ones we have seen. The Herd by playwright Rory Kinnear depicts a family broken and frustrated by a child born with a challenge. As the Mother put it he has the body of a twenty-one year old, but the mind of a one year old.The action takes place in the mother’s home. She lives with an adult daughter.  It is the twenty-first birthday of the handicapped son, and the family convenes for a party. Grand mother,  grand father,  sister, sister’s live in boy friend, and a surprise visit from the father who left the mother when the boy was five.

The boy himself lives with a caretaker independently. Throughout the story the mother gets progress reports by telephone from the sons weird caretaker as they make their way to the party by public transportation. The story unfolds and the microcosm of the family appears. It is a wildly funny, sad, and pathetic bunch of people who love each other, but who do little to show each other.

Before the sortie ends, the daughter reveals she is pregnant by her poet boyfriend, the father feels regret for his actions to leave, and the grand father dispenses cold hard realistic advice to everyone. The audience gave this play a standing ovation, and our group of six gave it five stars.

As Old As Me

This week I had the lovely opportunity to spend time with my youngest grand-daughter who is ten. On elf her current activities is Tap Dancing. She is pretty good at it too. I gave her a  treat by watching a movie with her. The movie Care Free with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers was a farcical and contrived story written around the dancing and singing abilities of two actor-dancers. Fred Astaire is in my opinion the most talented dancer that ever lived. He is artistic, agile, lithe, powerful, ballet-beautiful, and graceful in his dance moves. Ginger Rogers is equally adept and physically beautiful as well.

Care Free  debuted in 1938 the same year as me. Because of the age the film is in black and white, but the lack of color didn’t obstruct the beauty of the dancing. As I mentioned above the story contrived, but cute. Unlike today’s movies which are usually very strong and poignant based on life stories.

Although this movie is seventy-five years old and the story fanciful, it shows a history of the times, and culture; clothes, cars, homes, etc. are all dated to the era. I particularly enjoyed watching the vintage automobiles, all brand new at the filming scooting around metropolitan areas. The setting for the story is a large city. The characters are all affluent. All of them smoke, all drink, and they typically meet in a country club setting dressed in tuxedos and ballroom gowns. The lady’s hair styles were a hoot, but attractive still.

Jenna and I watched and chuckled throughout the entire film. We loved it, and she got to see tap dancing performed by some of the best dancers of all time, and I got to spend some precious moments with my Jenna Rose.

 

The dance in the clip below is from the movie and is the “Yam. ” The early part of the clip shows the dance sequence and in that last-minute Ginger sings the lyrics to “Yam.”

 

On The Other Hand

Living in the Valley of the Sun is so different from living in Frankfort. The sun is so bright it hurts the eyes, and the sunsets are magnificent. The temperature isn’t bad either. I walk without a parka, balaclava, gloves and muffler. In fact on most days I wear only a long sleeve tee-shirt and shorts.

Last year, when Peg and I stayed here we were reclusive, visiting only the local movie house. We enjoyed the weather. This year I vowed to make it more adventurous. On day one we visited the visitor’s center and picked up a ton of literature of current happenings. Last week we chose to go to live theater instead of to the movies. I found a play we had seen before called “Fiddler on the Roof”, but it has been some time since. It is playing at the Palms Theater in Mesa. The town can’t be that far away I thought, and it falls into the category of visiting another town. So we bought matinée tickets, lunch and the show. The Rec Center had a special tour going, but the tickets were $99 per person. WOW, that is a lot, we can get there for less if I drive.

Normally, we finish breakfast by ten a.m. but on theater day, we had to get up early to leave by ten. The lunch serving starts at 11:45 and I allowed more than enough time to get there. If we arrive early, I’ll cruise around Mesa and tour the new Chicago Cubs Spring Training Center.

Clueless, my slave attendant inside the Garmin, predicted the ride would take fifty-one minutes. What she failed to realize was the major road blocks along the way. Arizona sets up special navigation exercises for tourists by shutting down roads for repair. We met the first such road block at the entrance to Interstate-10. I had to blow by the entrance and wait for instructions from Clueless. She got us to the next I-10 entrance at some cost of time.

The next surprise came at the merge to Arizona 202 from the I-10. The freeway is six lanes wide at this point and the traffic is heavy. Clueless indicated that I should stay to the extreme left lane, but the road sign said “Exit 147 to 202.” I first jockeyed my way into the critical left lane when I spotted that sign. Immediately I trusted the sign and began moving to the far right lane. I had two more lanes to cross over when I passed by the exit. Again, I waited for obnoxious Clueless to tell me she was re-calculating the route for another loss of time.

Eventually, I got on the 202 and it was smooth sailing from then on. The last time I visited Mesa it was smaller than Frankfort is now. Today, Mesa is inhabited by four-hundred fifty-two thousand souls. There are numerous exits along the 202 all leading into Mesa. We entered at number 2, and Clueless told me to drive twenty-one miles to exit 22.

The further we drove, the more desolate the terrain, and the more I thought Clueless was leading me astray again. There were no signs of people, houses, or buildings of any kind when we got off. We saw only mountains and desert. Have faith Joe. Three miles east of the exit, sub-divisions and commercial buildings began to appear again. Clueless told me to turn left at the next stoplight and then to turn right. Have faith Joe, she is correct most of the time. I made the left turn and immediately turned right into the parking lot of the Palms Theater. We arrived just as the doors opened to the buffet. Our drive time was one hour and twenty minutes, or  twenty-nine minus longer than Clueless predicted.

Lunch was edible and typical of fare one gets at Golden Corral. Even with several hundred people to feed, there was enough time for a relaxing meal and conversation with the six strangers who sat with us.

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The play was absolutely delightful and fully worth the time it took to get there.  The cast impressed me with the opening chorus of “Tradition” with the energy they put into the performance. The same energy lasted throughout the presentation. The singers were all on key and in good voice, the musical background was also excellent.

To me, the success of “Fiddler on the Roof” is dependent upon the actor who plays the role of Tevye, the father. Actor Rob Summers was Tevye. He is not a Topal but he was excellent. He looked the roll, sounded the roll, and played the roll very convincingly. Actor Stephen Turner who plays Motel, Tevye’s son-in-law is the spitting image of Actor Leonard Frey who played the same part in the movie.

Peg and I left the theater talking over the characters and the themes they covered. I liked the play because the story, time, and setting reminded me of my own parents who were born during the same period although in Hungary and not Russia.  I asked Peg “what would you and I do if the mayor of Frankfort told us we had three days to sell our house and leave?” Where would we go, what would we take? The people of the town of Anatevka, Russia were forced to do just that.  How would we feel if one of our kids left with their true love never to see us again?  How would we react if one of our daughters fell in love with a person outside our faith or race? We didn’t have answers to any of these questions, we couldn’t even imagine it happening.

On the long ride home, it became very clear to me why it cost so much to see this play with a tour group. It is the extra cost of the bus ride. It took Clueless two hours to guide us back to our digs in the West Valley. It was a two wine night for me.

A Short Story Made Long

This is a short story which I will make long. Peggy and I have been theater goers ever since we married. For three years we subscribed to Chicago Shakespeare Theater. We looked forward to going, but always came home wondering what-the-heck is was all about. I was lucky if I understood fifty percent of what the actors said. Peg felt the same. In a cock-eyed way we enjoyed Shakespeare, maybe because it was a night out in the big town. Then, I learned that my friend Sherman and his wife Harriet were avid Steppenwolf Theater fans. My only association with Steppenwolf  came when I recognized the theater while driving by. I had heard the name many times, and my ears stood up when I drove past the building.

We subscribed to Steppenwolf in 2007 for the same nights as Harriet and Sherman. We have been members ever since. One of the first plays we attended is “Superior Donuts.” Sherman could not laud playwright Tracy Letts enough for his writing ability, and raved about a play they saw during the last season called “August: Osage County” also by Tracy Letts.

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All along, I kept telling myself that I have to see this play. From Steppenwolf the play went to Broadway lasting two years and receiving rave reviews. Then, Tracy Letts won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “Osage.”  All the while, Peg and I have watched five plays a year since then, and many of them featured Tracy Letts as actor. He is a fine performer. Our record of coming home not understanding what went on has improved and we now understand all the dialog.

This week, I accomplished the goal to see “August: Osage County.” Peg and I opened our winter movie season by seeing this film. The story has strong characters played by fine actors, two of which you will recognize immediately, Meryl Streep, and Julia Roberts.

I don’t know what it is about playwrights they always seem to write their best stories about dysfunctional families. I admit, Osage is about one really screwed up family. The story is riveting, as screwed up as the people are. This was one film that went by fast, and My old man bladder held out for the distance. There was no way I would  interrupt seeing one minute of this performance.

There is one thing left for this story, an Oscar. The film did not receive a nomination, but Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts have both been nominated, I agree that both should win.

Is This the America I Want?

Ten years ago, I read a book by a little known author named Dinesh D’Souza. The book is “What is so Great About America?” I know what is good about America because I live it, but I wanted the perspective of a young man who came to America from India. He had to learn what is good the hard way. In my mind, he would re-educate me on that which I take for granted.

D’Souza’s book did not disappoint me. He learned very quickly the basic reasons the people of the world admire America, and why some want to destroy us because of our success. I won’t get into the details of the book except to say the word “LIBERTY,” plays a huge role in why America is great.

Yesterday, Peggy and I met up with a group of friends at the AMC movie-theater for the 11:45 a.m. showing of a film titled “2016: Obama’s America.”  The movie is an excellent documentary based on D’Souza’s more recent book “The Roots of Obama’s Rage.”

Dinesh D’Souza is expert at unraveling Obama’s background from Obama’s book “Dreams From My Father,” and Obama’s flowery speeches designed to mask his true intentions.  Throughout the film D’Souza explains from where Obama derives his ideas. D’Souza then ices the cake by showing us how Obama’s actions comply exactly with his policies. There is no doubt left in the viewer’s mind that the stated policy and the action are congruent.

There are some amazing scenes in the movie taken in India and Africa, in villages where people live in extreme conditions. My mind’s eye saw these scenes evolving in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and every  city in America. It is not a pretty picture to imagine yet our current direction under Obama will lead us there.

D’Souza interviews Obama’s half brother George in Africa. George seemed like a nice man although somewhat shy about answering questions. George is the antithesis of Barack who answers questions endlessly as though his goal is to run out the clock. George answered in short concise phrases. George’s answer to one question in particular stayed with me. The question asked if Kenya was better off after it broke the colonial ties from Britain. George answered by citing other African countries like South Africa where whites have led longer, and who are better off than Kenya.  (I’m sorry George, but isn’t that a bit racist?)

Another policy exposed is Obama’s desire to level the USA with the rest of the world in nuclear weapons. D’Souza displays a map of the world showing the number of nuclear warheads Obama is leading us to. The revealing graphic showed Russia with 1500 and the USA with zero.  The Muslim countries had more nuclear weapons than America.

Near the end of the film we are sitting in a classroom full of first or second graders reciting and singing praises to Obama’s greatness.

The most shocking fact came near the end; a graph of the debt America will carry in the future. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that so much debt will lead us into a standard of living equal to that of the hovels and tin shanty villages of India and Kenya.

After the movie we went to lunch where eight of us discussed the film and its messages. Some thought the movie was long others like myself thought it went like the speed of light. After our discussions I concluded those who thought it long leaned toward the hope and change concept.

If you care about America, you must see this film to learn for yourself  how Obama defines Hope and Change, then ask yourself is this the America I want?

Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters

Ora Jones as Olga in “Three Sisters”

This week our little theater group attended the last of a five play series titled “Three Sisters.” The play is by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. Steppenwolf ensemble member Tracy Letts adapted the work for an American audience. The subscription this year featured stories that were in some way connected to war. All were very good, but two of them were outstanding. Three Sisters is one, the other was “The March” a story about the Civil War.

I’ve seen two Russian works in my life. The first an opera, and now this play. Both impressed me as being somewhat oppressive. The long cold winters in Russia must make people morose. I don’t recall the name of the opera anymore, but I do recall the ride home from the Lyric Opera House. It was an October night and Chicago experienced its first heavy snowfall. Being so early in the season, there were no plows to clear the roads. The leaves were still on the trees and the snow heavy and sticky. Tree limbs and whole trees came down from the weight. We made it home, but the memory of the opera is dim in contrast. I do remember the entire set being in black and white. The background setting for Three Sisters was in black and white.

Writers proclaim that plays by Chekhov were “born for ensemble.” Tracy Letts certainly gave us an adaptation that is perfect for the Steppenwolf ensemble. The story had moments of comedy, pathos, sorrow, longing, and life emotions. The actors became the characters and were quite believable in their roles.

If you get the chance to see this play do. My little theater group came a way rating “The Three Sisters” the best of the series.

Technology, Ain’t it Great?

My heart got an unexpected workout this week. This is a long story so, pull up your chair and relax with your favorite beverage in hand.

Wednesday, was the day of our Steppenwolf subscription. The play we saw is Penelope, written by Irish play right Enda Walsh. At first, I thought that name was mis-spelled and should have read Edna. It wasn’t, the guy has a weird name. His name may explain this weird play. The story is based on Homer’s “Odyssey”. Imagine four guys clad in Speedos having a conversation for ninety-minutes.

The evening began with a smooth uneventful fifty minute drive with our friends. Unlike the last time when we were locked in a one-hundred-fifty minute traffic jam and just made it in time for the curtain. That night we dined on Sweet Miss Givings chocolate chip cookies. This night the traffic was light and the sky was clear, although the prediction was for snow. I parked the Death Star in the valet spot in front of Gianni’s Ristorante on Halstead Street; one of our favorite restaurants. I asked the valet to keep the car close by, as we would be bringing out left-over food and I wanted to store it in the trunk rather than carry it into the theater. He was gracious and said he would.

We met a third couple inside the restaurant and had a lovely time over a liesurely dinner. We left Gianni’s a half hour before the curtain. I asked the valet to open the car which he had parked in front. He took the bag, and I watched as he fumbled trying to open the trunk. He kept pushing the button on the key fob but nothing happened. I went to his rescue. I said, watch this. I held the fob in my hand and pushed the tiny, well concealed, button on the right tail light lens. Nothing happened, nada. “That’s strange,” I exclaimed. I went to the car door, the same thing happened. The key fob which is the miraculous technological wand with which I play “Open Sesame,”  stopped functioning. Luckily, Toyota thought this might happen and provided a conventional “key” to open the driver’s door manually. I showed the valet what I did and instructed him on how to start the car with a dead key fob. We crossed Halstead Street to Steppenwolf and  forgot about the incident. Before I left the Valet, I asked him to move the car to the other side of the street so we would be positioned for a fast getaway at the end of the show. Again, he graciously agreed to do so. I left him knowing full well that he could have major problems locking, opening, and starting the car.

The six of us suffered through Penelope and had some lively discussion about what the heck we saw. The third couple, agreed to stick around until they saw us safely underway in the Death Star. The suspense of not knowing if the car would start was killing me. As I stepped out of the theater, I searched Halstead looking for the white car. At first my view was blocked by other patrons leaving, then I spotted it. The valet started the engine while we walked toward it. He reported the key worked again, but stopped the next time they tried to use it.

The drive home went as quickly as the drive there. Our conversation about the play continued. All agreed that we didn’t understand a damn thing. I commented that the last time we saw a play we were baffled by, it too was by an Irish playwright. His name was Thomas Beckett. It must be the effect of the Irish whiskey being swilled in Irish pubs.

A new light appeared on my dashboard. A yellow icon of a key with a line through it indicated that the car did not see a key anywhere within range of it’s wirelss signal. The light stayed on during the entire drive. I kept praying the Death Star would remain running until we arrived.

Once we were home, I found my extra key fob and tested it with the car. It worked fine. The next morning, I bought a new battery for the fob and now the Death Star  is happy again, and so am I. The doors work, the trunk opens, and the motor starts, all by pushing buttons, but we still don’t have a clue about the message of Penelope.

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