Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Talking Band's back!

The Talking Band just seems to keep getting better and better.  Each year, I end up saying their latest show may be their best yet--but, remembering Delicious Rivers (2006), The Walk Across America for Mother Earth (2011), and Marcellus Shale (2013), among others, I should qualify that as "one of their best."

Martin Luther King weekend through the first weekend in February seems to be one of the Talking Band's favorite times to bring us their latest.  This year, it's Burnished by Grief, which despite its name, is, as billed, a romantic comedy, albeit with some dark and scary passages amid the whimsy, romance, and slapstick.

Like last year's Golden Toad--the three-hour ambulatory wonder that the company gave us for their fortieth anniversary--it's a great show about New York City, deeply rooted in real life.  But in contrast to the Toad, Burnished by Grief whizzes by in 85 minutes, on a single set--a minimalist backyard garden overlooked by windows from adjacent buildings, and exercise bicycles within shouting distance of a street corner where a musician plays tuba.

It's inspired by playwright Ellen Maddow's experiences as a mediator in Brooklyn Civil Court, and as always in a Talking Band show, a few lovely, quirky songs and other music (also written by Maddow) add emotional resonance.

Though I try to see everything the Talking Band does, because of their limited seasons in New York, I sometimes miss a show.  I'm so glad I didn't miss this one.

Burnished by Grief is playing at LaMama, 74 East 4th Street, through February 7. 

For information go to:

Friday, January 22, 2016

A story set somewhere warmer than here

One of my more experimental short stories, "San Felipe but not Alone," can now be read online, in

Vector Magazine

Waiting for the storm

Back in the days when the only warnings of serious weather came shortly before the event from sky, air, or movements of animals, John Greenleaf Whittier wrote what may have been his masterwork, Snowbound: A Winter Idyll.

After a dedication-- 

To the Memory of the Household It Describes
This Poem is Dedicated by the Author

 --and quotations from Agrippa's Occult Philosophy and Emerson's poem "Snow Storm", the poem itself begins:

The sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon.
Slow tracing down the thickening sky
Its mute and ominous prophecy,
A portent seeming less than threat,
It sank from sight before it set.

Snowbound was published in 1866, soon after the Civil War and, with its vivid descriptions of a powerful storm and the contrasting warmth and intimacy of storytelling around the fireplace, proved hugely popular.

It was one of my favorite poems as a child, and these days its themes of memory, loss, and changing times mean much more to me than when I first read and loved it.  But it's been years since I read its many verses all the way through.

Tomorrow--as a storm blankets the East Coast with the kind of snow that may one day be only a distant memory--will be a good time to immerse myself in Snowbound once more. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Who's Your Baghdaddy?

Take an Iraqi con man with a good story looking to defect.  Add intelligence operatives, German and American, ready to hear it.  Mix with former UN weapons inspector who finds it echoes what he's sure is true. A US administration ready to act on it.  What do you get?  The war that got us where we are today.

Who's Your Baghdaddy? Or How I Started the Iraq War--a brilliant political musical having to do with bizarre events that led to the Gulf War--proposes that some of those responsible have formed a support group to deal with their guilt. With excellent performances, a fine, rap-inflected score, and lively choreography, the show's as hilarious as it is disturbing.  Not surprising, given that director Marshall Pailet, who wrote the music and co-wrote the book (co-author A.D. Penedo wrote the lyrics), was the writer and director of the wonderful musical spoof Triassic Parq.

In this incarnation (at an intimate theater-in-the-oval at the Actors Temple Theater, 339 W. 47 St.), you have through this weekend to catch Who's Your Baghdaddy?  I trust there'll be others before too much longer, but next time you might not experience actors bounding in and out of the seat next to yours.  

Remaining performances are Saturday-Sunday, November 21-22, at 3:00 and 8:00 each day.  

For information, see

Who's Your Baghdaddy? is based on an unproduced screenplay by J. T. Allen, which was inspired by reporter Bob Drogin's coverage of these events for the Los Angeles Times.

I'm now reading Drogin's book Curveball: Spies, Lies, and the Con Man Who Caused a War, which tells the story at length.  It's riveting.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Also at MOMA: the great Jacob Lawrence

Another don't-miss at the Museum of Modern Art, running through Monday, September 7:  One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series and Other Works.  This is a rare opportunity see the Lawrence's entire series of 60 paintings portraying the Great Migration of blacks from the rural South to the cities of the North, half of which are now owned by MOMA and half by the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

In 1941, when Lawrence completed the series, he was all of 23--with much great work yet ahead of him.

Yoko at MOMA - last chance!

Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960-1971, at the Museum of Modern Art is the sort of show I tend to miss--running a long time, not a labor of love first on my list, feels like a cultural duty.

Fortunately, an afternoon visit from my niece JoJo earlier this month got me there.   The show was a revelation--one of the highlights of my summer--and I've been thinking about it ever since: 

The riveting film made from Ono's performance Cut Piece.  Was the thing that happens at the end of the film really spontaneous--or staged?  Either way, the piece is brilliant, and if the bit at the end was staged, Ono is a brilliant actress as well. 

Her White Chess Set:  leaders all over the world should be playing with it.

Her book Grapefruit--a compendium of drawings and instructions for every day of the year.  Copies of its pages are posted on the walls of one of the rooms in the exhibit  Walking slowly, reading them, JoJo and I wanted to be able to bring them home, and were happy to find that we could buy the book in the gift shop. 

It's a great source of inspiration--for making art, for writing, and for living.

Yoko Ono was a woman ahead of her time--a woman of genius, which, luckily for both of them, John Lennon realized.  

MOMA, however, was behind the times and slow to appreciate Ono.  Hence, her self-created debut at the museum, which she called Museum of Modern [F]art, in 1971, and which seems to have consisted mainly of the claim that she had released flies on the museum grounds. .  Belatedly, MOMA is now acknowledging the innovative and influential body of work that led up Ono's 1971 appearance there--let's hope that her next show at the museum doesn't take nearly as long. 

The show is closing next Monday, September 7.  If you haven't been yet, go.   If it travels to your town, get yourself there.  If I'm there, I'll go again. 

In the meantime, get yourself a copy of Grapefruit.

Saturday, July 25, 2015


Ada/Ava--fairy tale, ghost story, and memento mori--is a work of eerie beauty and extraordinary craftsmanship, different from anything else I've seen.  I'd say it's the kind of show that's unique to New York City, only its makers--a company called Manual Cinema--are from Chicago.

They mix film, theater, puppetry,silhouettes, and music to tell a story that unfolds in overhead projection, while the audience also see the actors--in effect, human puppets--moving below, and the puppeteers sliding transparencies into the projector.  Watching them work their magic somehow makes the effect even more magical.

Ada/Ava is playing through July 26 at the Three Legged Dog,
Art and Technology Center, 80 Greenwich Street, in New York City.

After that, look for the show and its makers back in Chicago.