cats 3

Cat and Mouse

I saw this on moonlitrose9’s User Info page and had to have it. Just move your cursor around the kitty (and close those intrusive ads when they pop up). Note also that kitty specifically reacts to hovering the cursor over its paws, tail, and ears.

  • Current Music
    Going Mobile - The Who

One From the Vaults

The image below comes to us from my sister E, who recently scanned a great many old photos borrowed from my Dad. I will resist (for now) the temptation to post a ton of them, but I thought this one was eminently worth sharing. It’s my mother at age 7 and a half on the occasion of her First Holy Communion. Even though some types of color film were on the market at the time this photo was taken (1940), it was not yet widely used in the consumer market, and it was still common practice to take studio shots such as this in black and white and hand-tint the print.

And thank you E for making this post possible!
  • Current Music
    Your Mother Should Know - The Beatles

Artistic Evolution

Time to revisit our ever-changing piece of neighborhood sculpture. Long-time readers will recognize it from earlier posts. It began life a couple years ago as a pyramid topped with a couple of flying pigs. I have never claimed any particular insight into the artist’s meaning or intent. Earlier this year, the pigs disappeared. They appeared to have been violently wrested from their base, though whether this was simple vandalism or artistic criticism is anybody’s guess.

A few weeks ago, another alteration showed up in the form of the punctured metal star that now tops the pyramid. If you can’t make out the inscription, it reads “…and freedom for all…” Whether this was done by the piece’s original artist is a mystery. I can only offer it here as an object for discussion, distraction, argument, contemplation, or veneration.
  • Current Music
    Star Baby - The Guess Who

But Enough About You…

I was Googling myself the other day. TMI? Oh come on… you’ve done it with your own name, haven’t you? And if you haven’t, you really ought to consider it.

I really went all out this time, Googling myself under different versions of my real name as well as several different online names. There was a single intriguing fact that emerged as I took in the length and breadth of these myriad online references. It seems that there is a particular quotation of yours truly that has been incorporated into a surprising number of blogs and news sources.

It was in an article I wrote some months ago for my currently-dormant job as Chicago Skepticism Examiner for The article concerned the controversy surrounding the Shroud of Turin. The specific quote that many folks have borrowed (and quite properly credited me for, thank you!) is the following:

“…It seems to me that any intelligent person of faith would have to agree that if someone has based their faith in Jesus on the presumed legitimacy of the shroud, then there is something profoundly flawed about their understanding of their faith…”

It makes me happy to think that this concept, out of all the countless bits of silliness that bear my name, would be so widely quoted, because it is very much in harmony with some of my basic feelings about religion. That is, I am not bitter about religion or religious people; I will respect their beliefs as they respect mine. I believe that would be a form of something I read about long ago – something called the Golden Rule. The quote also represents another strong theme for me – the notion that we should focus on, and build upon, the things we can agree on. To put it into more poetic language: Bridges make the world a larger place. Walls make it a smaller place.

So do try Googling yourself sometime. You may not find that anyone is quoting you, but you may find out something about yourself or your family that you didn’t know!
  • Current Music
    Let's Talk About Me - Alan Parsons Project

High Fidelity – The Musical

I’m not kidding. High Fidelity, which started out as a novel by Nick Hornby, which was then turned into a movie starring John Cusack, has been turned into a stage musical. Actually, it was turned into a musical a few years ago, but you are forgiven if it flew beneath the range of your theatrical radar, since the Broadway production closed after a mere 14 performances. Notwithstanding that unfortunate bit of history, the show has come to Chicago. A relatively new group, Chicago’s Route 66 Theatre Company, is opening it next week. Last night, I attended a preview performance.

Let’s start with the above photo. If that doorway looks familiar (particularly those Roman columns on either side), it’s because High Fidelity has rented out a space on the third floor of the Piper’s Alley complex next door to Second City. Yes, this is the space once known as Vinnie Black’s Coliseum, which housed the reception for Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding for 16 years until it closed last month. And that’s precisely why I was in attendance last night. As a former TnT cast member, I was offered free tickets to the preview, which I attended along with friends Nancy and Wilma.

I must state up-front that I had substantial misgivings about this show going in. Its abbreviated Broadway run was only a small part of those feelings. After all, many fine shows have done poorly on Broadway – or never played there at all. Still, closing after 14 performances isn’t exactly a merit badge. The larger portion of my misgivings stemmed from my suspicion that this story might not translate well into a musical theater format. While I haven’t read the novel, I saw the film and liked it a lot. The film contained a great many witty, observant details and I seriously questioned how well they would translate into the decidedly less subtle environment of a stage musical.

So what do I have to say about the production? Well, hmm… I’m going to split this into two sections – the Good Stuff and the Bad Stuff. Let’s start with the Good Stuff. By the way, I’m not going to bother describing the plot. I figure that if you’ve read the book or seen the film, you know the plot. If you haven’t done either of those things, you’ll enjoy seeing it unfold far more if you go to see it than if I try to lay it out for you. But if you want to know more about the show, you can go here, to the show’s website.

First, and maybe most importantly, High Fidelity works as a stage musical far better than I thought it might. Yes, a lot of those little observant details have been lost, but what we’re given instead is something more, well, theatrical. We’re given a collection of vividly drawn characters with diverse emotions and entertaining ways of displaying them. And, I’m happy to report, we’re given a show that is reasonably faithful to the plot and characters from the film.

The cast is generally very strong. Stef Tovar, in the lead role of Rob, hits just the right note and gives me a Rob I like and recognize. It speaks well of his performance that he never makes me miss, or even think about, John Cusack, who was so perfect as Rob in the film.

Dana Tretta deserves to be singled out as well. She plays Liz, friend and self-appointed conscience to Rob. Tretta is a tiny actress with a big stage presence. There is a memorable sequence in the show during which she carries around a blue medicine ball that seems larger than she is, and it comes off to great comic effect. I won’t even try to offer a context for that, but I promise you’ll be exceedingly amused by it.

Jonathan Wagner plays Barry, a role that introduced a lot of moviegoers to Jack Black. It must be said that a great deal of Wagner’s work here, particularly his timing, is strongly reminiscent of Black’s performance, but I don’t mean that as a criticism. No, I think that’s exactly the way to go here – if you can pull it off, and Wagner can. There’s no getting around Black’s indelible persona, and it’s absolutely right for the way the role of Barry is written. So high marks to Mr. Wagner for making me smile. A lot.

We move on now to the Bad Stuff. There’s only one specific Bad Thing I want to mention about the performances. There is one member of the cast whose performance was clearly below the bar set by the rest of the production. For the sake of discretion, I won’t single out the individual by name, role, or even gender, but all three of us in my party agreed that they were clearly the weak link. Their look was fine – right for the character. Their acting was fine. But their singing – not so fine. In a word, weak. I’m hoping that this person was perhaps not feeling well last night, or saving their voice for opening night. But all I have to go on is what I saw last night, and it was a shame to see such a weak link in an otherwise strong chain.

I’ve saved my biggest complaints for last. We were seated at a table on the far side of the room, and the sightlines were dreadful. Some of this was inevitable given the set design, but a lot of it was obviously correctable. I would speculate that the director never watched a rehearsal from our vantage point. Like many directors, he probably sat near stage center every day, from where I’m sure the show looks fabulous. A lot of key moments and sequences of visual/physical humor went completely unseen by us. We could only sit cluelessly while folks in the center section laughed uproariously. Seats like ours should either by eliminated entirely or at least marked as obstructed view seats.

The other BIG problem was the sound. I realize that the show is still in previews and that part of the purpose of previews is to work out the technical bugs, but once again, I can only go by what I heard (or didn’t hear) last night. Microphone levels were wildly inconsistent, and often seemed to not be turned on at all. We missed a lot of dialogue and a great many song lyrics. Once again, I think the sound was optimized for the center section, since they frequently reacted to lyrics none of us found intelligible. As a theatergoer, I don’t want to hear excuses. Yes, I’m aware that this show poses technical challenges that TnT never had to deal with, and that it’s a tall order for a new group to come into a strange, empty space and turn it into a theater. All I can say is this: They need to keep working on those problems, because as it stands, the audience at the sides is being neglected and short-changed. This show needs to build up some word-of-mouth publicity, and these technical issues need to be resolved if that word-of-mouth is going to consist of kind words.

So on the balance, there’s a lot of good stuff going on in this production. A whole bunch of multi-talented people have been gathered together for our enjoyment. You’ll laugh a lot and you’ll smile a lot. You might even tap your feet or clap your hands in rhythm with the music. Act I is a little uninspiring, but Act II gathers a lot of steam. If you go to see it, understand what it is and what it isn’t. By that I mean that it isn’t some harrowing epic like Miss Saigon or Les Miserables. You won’t walk out the door weeping for Doomed Lovers or pondering Cruel Fate, but you should walk out with a smile on your face. It’s an affable, amusing little musical that belongs in a more intimate space like this one at Piper’s Alley. Maybe they should never have put it into a big Broadway theater in the first place, but as a little show with a tight rocking combo onstage, it could run for a long time. Though if you decide to see it, I recommend that you absolutely insist upon being seated at a table in the center section, unless I hear that these staging and sound issues have been addressed.

Edit — Check out the comments section of this post for some important additional info from a Hi Fi cast member!
  • Current Music
    You Won't See Me - The Beatles

One of the Oddest Books I’ve Ever Read

It looks for all the world like a stuffy little volume of arcane French verse. It’s a slender paperback barely 70 pages long. Its cover, seen here, is printed on uncoated buff paper, albeit by a major publisher (Penguin). In the Foreword, author Luis d’Antin van Rooten describes, in dry, academic prose, how he came to inherit a packet of cryptic French manuscripts from a distant relative, and how he has labored to make sense of them. Sample excerpt: “…they may be the creations of some Gothic cultural link midway between François Rabelais on the one hand and James Joyce on the other…”

Each page of the book offers a French verse at the top, followed by the author’s annotations, translations, and theories as to what the verse means to convey. It all seems quite mystifying until one realizes what’s going on. You see, it’s all a put-on.

There was no distant relative. All of this has been composed by Mr. van Rooten for our amusement and his. When one reads the French verse aloud, it sounds like English nursery rhymes spoken with a French accent, except that the actual meaning in French has nothing whatsoever to do with its English sounds. A few examples:

Reseuse arête, valet de Tsar bat loups
Joue gare et suite, un sot voyou.

The annotation theorizes that this is a description of an incident at the Russian Imperial court and draws deep socio-political inferences from the story. One more example:

Reine, reine, gueux éveille.
Gomme à gaine, en horreur, taie.

The annotation translates this one verbatim: “Queen, Queen, arouse the rabble, who use their girdles, horrors, as pillow slips.”

If you know any French at all, even if it was only years ago when you studied it in high school, this book offers some of the most uniquely giddy, geeky fun you’re likely to come across. I can’t say that it’s like this book or that book; it simply isn’t “like” anything else I’ve ever read.

A bit of background: This book was originally published in 1967. I don’t know whether it’s actually still in print, but it is widely available quite cheaply in used form. The author, Luis van Rooten (I believe the “d’Antin” part was an affectation assumed specifically for this book), was an actor of some accomplishment. He appeared in many dozens of Broadway plays, movies, and TV shows in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. From the evidence of this book, he was an exceedingly articulate and clever fellow.
  • Current Music
    Michelle - The Beatles

Buck It

The concept of the “Bucket List” is not a new one, though the Jack Nicholson/Morgan Freeman film of that name (which, btw, I have not seen) seems to have brought the concept into the mainstream. For those of you lagging behind the curve, the “bucket” in bucket list refers to kicking the bucket, and a bucket list is a list of things to do before you die.

Typical bucket list items probably include things like skydiving, riding an elephant, and running with the bulls in Pamplona.

Well, I want to take this whole bucket list notion in a couple of new directions. First of all, there are really (potentially) two different kinds of bucket lists: the ‘macro’ and the ‘micro,’ if you like. The ‘macro’ list is The Big Stuff, as in the examples given above. But I think there’s also room for a ‘micro’ bucket list of The Little Stuff. Example:

Bucket List (Micro)
1. Fix leg on bedroom table that’s been flopping around for last 10 years.
2. Train dog to perform at least one actual, repeatable command.
3. Call the number on my screen and actually order a product pitched by the late Billy Mays.
4. Wash my hands in the men’s room even when there aren’t any witnesses.
5. Either pledge something to my local PBS affiliate or stop feeling guilty when told that the show I’m watching was made possible by “…the financial support of viewers like you.”

But I’m not here just to talk about bucket lists. Personally, I’ve never made one. In fact, like a lot of people, I think I’m often more motivated by negative feelings than positive ones. Ultimately, I think I’m far less likely to compose a bucket list and far more likely to compose a “F**k It List.” That would be a list of things I never want to do again as long as I live. Example (unlike the “Bucket List (Micro)” above, these are all actual items on my personal list):

F**k It List
1. No matter how much they may believe it, I will never again believe a friend who assures me that “I actually drive better when I’m stoned!”
2. Never again will I say to a girlfriend, “That outfit makes you look ten years younger!”
3. No matter how low I am on provisions, I will never again stop at the Walmart in Pecos, Texas.
4. Banquet Brand Frozen Dinners? Just say no. Stouffer’s, Marie Callender’s… absolutely. But Banquet? Never again. Hell, they give friggin’ Swanson a good name.
5. As a corollary to item #1 – Role-Playing Games are not enhanced by the introduction of mind-altering substances. Instead, the gaming tends to collapse in disarray. So we’re permanently crossing that combination off the list. One or the other, but not both together.
6. I will never again tag along as a guest to a Mensa cookout.
7. I will surrender any lingering hope that Keanu Reeves might someday be a good actor.
8. I will never again argue about hockey with my sister-in-law.
9. I will never again follow up a martini with a glass of white wine.
10. If the shoes aren’t comfortable when I try them on in the store, I will not buy them.
  • Current Music
    Route 66 - Nat "King" Cole

Positively Seinfeldian

If you’re not a fan of Seinfeld, this might not mean much to you. The other day, I was perusing an online compendium of names for baby girls (never mind why and NO, it’s not what you’re thinking!). Anyway, my eye happened to fall upon the following:

It is the name in the middle that particularly struck me. Yes, I know it isn’t a perfect match for the name used in a classic moment on Seinfeld, but it was close enough to give me a start!
  • Current Music
    The Sign - Ace of Base

Teaser Trailer

I still don’t have the final details for the upcoming run of the murder mystery, Quiet on the Set, but I want to offer a few photos from our preview night performance:

Seen here is the entire cast onstage at a fever-pitch moment of bedlam. Left to right, we have Brian Barber as actor Ron Stamos, Lauren Palminteri as actress Angelica Dallas-von Hindenburg, yours truly as director Werner von Hindenburg, Vinnie Raponi as reporter Barney Klemper, Annie Passanisi as production assistant/wannabe actress True Darrymore, and Kelley Addis as movie star Dizzy Dohan.

Me as director Werner von Hindenburg in a more serene moment.
  • Current Music
    Peg - Steely Dan