“My Valentine” is a play for laughs

Theater is an all too rare treat for me (and for this I have no one to blame but myself, knowing as I do that both professional and amateur performances abound in my region). Last night I had the pleasure of attending the debut of “My Valentine” at Cleveland State University’s Main Classroom Auditorium (a truly lovely little space). The play was a lighthearted romp about relationship complications, set during a whirlwind year  between consecutive Valentine’s days. Its scheduled run is for two days only alas (Saturday and Sunday, February 11th and 12th). But one can certainly hope “My Valentine” will become an annual phenomenon, winding its way back to us each year just about the time Cupid is tightening up his bow strings.

The performance wasn’t without its technical glitches (it was opening night after all), but that mattered hardly a bit. You can forgive a lot when a talented, motivated cast consistently delivers the funny with impeccable timing and enviable stage presence. Add to that clever plotting, crisp dialogue, and downright ingenious set design, and you’ve staged yourself a winner. “My Valentine” is a theatrical rom-com, to be sure, but nothing about it is formulaic or even predictable. It marches blithely toward a denouement that of course provides happy resolution for every struggling couple and misguided playboy…but the road there is twisty. And hilarious.

My full disclosure: a good friend of mine played the supporting role of Edward, a character with a selection of choice sight gags and laugh lines. His role may have gotten me into the seat (front row center, which was as awesome as it sounds), but it was the cast-wide comedic synergy that kept me there. Main accolades, though, have to go to Raymelle Adams–director, playwright, and creative force behind R&A Productions. Theirs is a family affair, a bootstrapped production company staging art for the love of art. If that’s not a formula for success then success must be as capricious as Cupid. Either way, keep your eye on this team; you’ll be hearing (and seeing) much more from them.

Final analysis: “My Valentine” was funny, endearing, thoroughly enjoyable. Its cast, crew, and creators are to be congratulated, thanked, and encouraged to keep that stuff coming. We need theater, and we need this style of scrappy, home-brewed theater perhaps most of all. These are players who are in it for the love of the game—and in these jaded times that is a jewel beyond price.

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Game day respite

It’s a good day to decompress, disengage, and be entertained. Ugliness and struggle will still be there tomorrow, never fear. So leave it until tomorrow—today we play ball.

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The sonneteer

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No clear idea why, but it seems I’m sonnetering these days. Works for me if it works for you:

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A little something for your morale, majority

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January 20th: Art strikes back

#J20 isn’t just a trending hashtag, it’s a watershed. It refers to the date, January 20th, and if ever there was a calendar page with the potential to be a watershed, this is it. This is the day that the 45th president of the United States takes the oath of office.

#J20 also refers to an action, a recourse, a symbolic cultural counterstrike. #J20 is the rallying cry for a day-long art strike—a protest movement wherein the wildcatters of the art world set down their brushes, silence their poesy, and shun the hallowed gallery halls. In doing so the strikers demonstrate not languid defiance of the new regime but rather soul-deep mourning for what has passed, and fear of what’s to come.

And symbolic though #J20 may be, it’s no mere gesture. It’s a clamor, emanating from a quarter uniquely adept at making noise.

The message to the incoming administration is this: By your own words and deeds you’ve squandered any trust and goodwill we might have owed you. All you’ve left us is wariness and watchfulness. We are wary, and we are watching.

And it all starts on #J20

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Letting in the elements in

.This is the time of year that most of us are trying to keep the elements out. Safe and warm cocoons are just a single door-seal removed from the bluster and bullshit raging out there, and all around.

But I’m arguing in favor of cracking the door-seal, and taking a peek at what the elements have on offer. Maybe don’t be quite so thorough in late October, as you’re gathering in your spring-and-summer treasures, locking them away against the cold. Maybe risk one or two of the dazzlingest among them as a possible sacrifice to granddad winter, but maybe also as new mixed-media eye candy, collaboration courtesy of those familiar wily elements.

Can’t offer any better inducement than simple aesthetics, so I wouldn’t blame you if you left your door-seal sealed. But I’d hope you understand aesthetics are strong medicine. Cheapest balm you can buy to heal spirit and mind.

So maybe, just this once, you ought to let the ice floe.

(Click here to see some more elemental magic from the same artist, and here to start shopping.)

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2017

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RIP Debbie Reynolds (April 1, 1932 – Dec. 28, 2016)

It’s unfathomable. 2016 sucks.

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RIP Carrie Fisher (Oct. 21, 1956 – Dec. 27, 2016)

No, dammit. This has to stop.

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RIP George Michael (June 25, 1963 – Dec. 25, 2016)

A life led as fully, and as momentously, as the one led by the onetime, recently departed Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, deserves a final appraisal, a last celebration, and a send-off. That’s the least this world-famous pop icon should have expected, had he any reason to ponder his own demise.

We can be almost sure, though, that if he suffered through any macabre pondering, anytime during the back half of 2016, he must have suspected what we now know: that in the tapering days of an objectively awful year, another celebrity death becomes just another weird statistic.

I’m not sure when we all began to suspect something extraordinary was going on. Early in the year we lost Bowie, Prince, Merle Haggard. Toward the halfway point, we lost the champ, Ali. Certainly this last quarter, which has taken Gene Wilder, John Glenn, Alan Thicke, Zsa Zsa, and now George Michael, has forced awareness upon us all that this thing has near-supernatural proportions. An A-List extinction-level event. A celebrity die-off with no regard for age or current IMDB rating.

Any larger meaning to be gleaned from that, or any meaning at all, will have to be teased forth by nimbler fingers than mine. I simply don’t know what to make of it—other than to draw the equally obvious and non-reassuring conclusions that death is certain, and that statistics sometimes throw curveballs.

Death and statistics become numbing, even in small measures of each. We’re getting megadoses of both, which led to a certain terminal injustice for the dad from Growing Pains, for the incomparable Zsa Zsa, and for the man who urged us all to have faith. Here’s hoping that as we see out the dregs of Black ’16, all our celebrities everywhere are taking their vitamins, and driving and flying with care. At worst just let them hold out until 2017—I think we’ll be ready to properly mourn again by then.

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Blue planet

Water is life so they say and they must have a point seven-tenths of earth’s surface is water after all but wait hold on more than 97 percent of that water is poisonous to us can’t drink it really rather deadly though we splash on the edges of it and sail all around on it we gotta keep an eye on it because it rears up sometimes and smashes just reaches out and swallows us but then of course there’s the 2.7 percent of its fresher variety that we drink quite readily of and wash cars and armpits and dogs and dishes with and we should note for the sake of accuracy that only 1 percent of that 2.7 is actually clean and within reach and the ultimate irony if not patent proof of our unfitness for being is that even that freshest and most accessible water would still kill us no shit in 4 minutes or less in if we just shove our face in it.

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You should certainly make art books

But do give a shout out to the original author

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Interesting times

#interestingtimes

#putinsprez

#treason

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#NoDAPL – This madness must stop

Months have passed and seasons have changed, and the Standing Rock stand-off continues.  In freezing weather and in the face of water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and truncheons, native Water Defenders and their allies of many nations still hold the line.

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It is intolerable, inexplicable, indefensible—that in the twenty-first century the callousness of the profit motive still trumps civil and human rights, even basic human dignity, as completely and assuredly as it ever did in our dark and shameful centuries past.

Make no mistake. These assaults are perpetrated in the name of commerce and consumerism—they are being done on our behalf. Silence is complicity. Acceptance is acquiescence.

If you would reject your silent collusion in an ongoing crime against humanity, then make your voice heard. Be vocal, be persistent. Let no one doubt that the defense of the Missouri is your fight too.

And join me, finally, in the plea we all should be making, the one that must be heard and responded to…

President Obama, this will be your last, indelible legacy. There are no sidelines, not for us and not for you. If it is within your power to stop this madness—and it is—then not another day can go by without your intercession. Stop the brutality, stop the pipeline, stop the madness. #NoDAPL.

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“Aaron Burr” takes a shot, we all feel the recoil

Culture and current events intersected, as they do, when this weekend Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended the Broadway mega-hit musical, Hamilton, and was addressed both with sporadic boos (and some cheers) upon his entrance, and with with a stirring appeal from the cast at the play’s end.

Actor Brandon Victor Dixon, portraying an earlier VP, Aaron Burr, read words reportedly jointly authored by the play’s director, its producer, and its now-legendary creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda:

We, sir — we — are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights. We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.

Pence’s reaction has been muted, perhaps somewhat gracious. The same cannot be said for his erstwhile running mate, our president-elect, Donald Trump. Taking to Twitter overnight, in his inexplicably rash way, he called the incident “harassment,” said that theaters should be a “safe and special place” (particularly laughable given the scorn heaped on the idea of “safe spaces” by the political right), and called on the cast to apologize.

I’ll leave it to the reader to gauge whether the statement quoted above rises to the level of harassment, or if any part of it merits an apology. I’d only point out the bald hypocrisy of such a demand from a candidate, now a world-leader-in-waiting, who has brought unprecedented coarseness to our political dialogue, and who has yet to even hint at an iota of regret.

We’re now nearly two weeks past the election that has shaken America and stunned the world. I’m breaking my own literary silence on that electoral outcome, mostly because it’s taken me this long to process it, and also because the Hamilton incident offers a stark glimpse of where we’re at in this absurd time of transition and adjustment.

I readily admit I did not foresee and was not prepared for a Trump victory. I’m on record predicting exactly the opposite, although I was cautious enough to prognosticate a squeaker. For several days after the election I struggled to try to explain, if only to myself, what exactly had happened.

I’m still not sure I have that explanation, and I’m chastened enough to recognize any and all of my assumptions might very well be wrong. That said, I think that the election of Donald J. Trump can be attributed to a bizarre confluence of events, none of which would have been have been enough to bring it about alone. So the tandem meddling of both Putin’s Russia and Comey’s FBI, and the coast-focused incompetence of Clinton’s campaign, and the economic insecurity of middle America all converged, and delivered a result that I and many others never thought possible.

But all of that is, as they say, spilt milk. Trump did not win the majority, or even a plurality of votes cast, but he captured an electoral majority. In our system, for good or ill, that delivers him the victory.

In the wake of that upset, hate crimes are on the rise. White nationalists who call themselves the Alt-Right, but who might be better understood to be neo-fascists, are vocally emboldened. Trump is elevating people who, if they don’t outwardly identify as members of that movement are at least heroes of it, to positions of power in the White House and Justice Department. Darkness is descending.

But there are glimpses of light. We saw one the other night when the cast and crew of a theatrical production broke the fourth wall and spoke truth to power. We’ll see more such glimpses, in the days and months and years to come, because bravery abounds and there is much truth to be spoken.

Donald J. Trump will take the oath of office and become president and commander-in-chief of the United States of America. For the sake of our nation and our world I readily wish him well, and am sincere in my hope that he rises to the occasion. But if his baser instincts prevail and he remains the man we saw on the campaign trail—indeed, the man he’s been for his entire public life—then it’s our duty, mine and yours and every other Hamiltonian patriot, to stand and tell him: No. Not in our name.

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