Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Under the Banner of Heaven"

-by Jon Krakauer
There is a unfortunate timeliness in reading this book at this moment in american history. As the republican nominee for President is, for the first time ever, a mormon, a look inside the only authentically american faith would seem to be in order. Krakauer is a crackerjack writer who previously brought us explorations of grandeur and tragedy in the wild world and inner spirit (INTO THIN AIR, INTO THE WILD). The spark that sets this journey in motion is the 1984 slaying of brenda lafferty and her baby erica, at the hand of ron and dan, her fundamentalist mormon brothers-in-law who believed they had been ordered by god to commit these and other murders. The author dives into the whole sordid mormon saga, from joseph smith's first wife (who was NOT about to abide a second, never mind a twenty-second), to assassinations to massacres to renouncing polygamy (but for how long?) to a prophet in every pot.
The bibles of all three main western religions were written in the Bronze Age. You might think a religion created some 2000 years later would be more evolved and rational.
You'd be dead wrong.
Mormon scripture is dripping with holy racism and sexism. It seems that new religions must be even less rational than those already around, in order to compete. As bill maher said, once you've got a talking snake and god knocking up a virgin, where can you really go? You can start by believing that dinosaur bones came from outer space. The 11th article of mormon faith professes tolerance for all other religions (yay!)...but then Mr. smith himself proclaimed that god called all other faiths "abominations" (aww). After reading this book, you might apply for press credentials, so you can ask the nominee how he would feel about one of his sons marrying a negress. Check out one of his extended family photos - affirmative action never came close to getting inside any romney magic underwear.
In case you think i'm making up the "magic underwear" bit, trust'll have no shortage of material for your follow-up question to the nominee.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

dear dad

(Backstory - for a number of years, i've been in the group of people my father sends humorous e-mail forwards to. Given that he's a conservative, fundamentalist, pro-military white man who grew up in the mid-20th century, his humor is occasionally cringe-worthy to people with a more progressive, inclusive worldview. During the 2008 Democratic primary, triggered by a "bimbo or Sambo" e-mail, i started responding to any forwards that were similarly embarrassing. I hit the "reply all" button, so everyone could understand why a certain joke might be objectionable. Today, my father removed me from his humor group, triggered by my response to a list of quotes a "brave man" might say about women. The highlight:
#6 - What do you say to a woman with 2 black eyes?
Nothing, she's been told twice already.
I have trouble saying those words aloud, without feeling a little sick. I replied to the group that any man who finds humor in battering a woman is not brave, but a coward.)

Dear Dad,
It is with a mixture of relief and sadness that i find myself removed from your humor group. I'll miss the occasional laugh, but i've always teetered on the edge of asking out, as some of your forwards invoke bigotry and misogyny. Part of the reason i've stayed is that i know at your most basic level, you want to be a good person. That's not an easy road, for any of us. So i want to be a voice of conscience for you. I love you, and have a few questions.
Are there any black friends in the humor group?
Any gay friends?
I don't need to ask whether there are any women. I know there are, because they're the ones who always write to me, thanking me for speaking up when you've shared something ignorant or hurtful.
You've made the point that there is violence inherent in humor. That funniness always involves someone being "kicked", and not always fairly. There is truth in that.
But in this instance, you're missing some bigger issues.
How long did it take for JFK jokes to be funny? For some, it's still too soon. The effect of your joke list was, as a JFK parallel, to make a book depository joke at the very instant Jackie is wiping PIECES OF BRAIN off her face. How many women are being raped this very second? Killed? How many are being battered by a man?
Most men of your generation would agree that raping, battering, or killing a woman is wrong. But what most men of your generation fail to grasp is that these are not the actions of "bad apples". This treatment of women has been systematic for thousands of years. For millenia, society has given men permission to batter, rape, or kill. Sometimes this permission has been overt, on the law books, other times it has been between the lines. But female abuse and terrorization has been as resolute and merciless as a closed fist.
Are these things changing?
But those times are nowhere near behind us.
There is no magic machine that can transport any of our 3.5 billion men, inside the mind/body of any of the millions of women being brutalized this very moment. No magic machine can make a man feel what it's like to be a woman in a world where any of those things might happen, at any time. But social change doesn't need magic, just courage. You admire courage greatly, i know. I propose one small act of bravery for you. Read "The War Against Women", by Marilyn French. Read it all. You might find you're not the same person when you come out the other side.
You talk about honesty a lot, since you became born-again. But i sometimes think we have a different idea of honesty. My own idea, is willing that everything i might say or do, be instantly visible to anyone in the world. Is your honesty more confined to just avoiding spoken lies? I ask because i wonder whether you would want that list shared with everyone you know.
My father, you carry the blessing/curse of being a white man of your generation. Avenues of power and comfort were laid open to you...but to accept those rewards, you had to pay a price in insensitivity.
your would-be cricket,

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

M*A*S*H, season 9

-Death Takes a Holiday
The camp hosts a group of orphans for a Christmas dinner. Charles tries to uphold his family tradition of giving anonymously at holiday time, while BJ, Hawkeye, and Margaret try to keep a mortally-wounded soldier from dying on Christmas day. One of a very small handful of M*A*S*H episodes to prompt tears from two plot lines. Charles' moments are a touch more poignant, as he becomes enraged when the orphan's caretaker (Keye Luke: KUNG FU, GREMLINS) trades gourmet candy for rice and cabbage. Despite the mawkish glorification of charity, Charles' abashedness when he realizes what's happened, ranks among Stiers' finest moments. The wounded soldier dies at 11:25PM; Hawkeye changes the clock's hands.
-Letters ***
Like a sweet blast from the past, an episode that feels like it slipped through the cracks of the early seasons to suddenly appear, free of overearnestness. Little slices of life, as the camp responds to letters from grade schoolers back home. Potter shoots hoops.
-Father's Day ***
Andrew Duggan gives a seamless performance as Margaret's retired father, "Howitzer" Al Houlihan. On an inspection visit, he reacts with callousness to her need for acceptance and love. He comes to his senses a bit, but not in an unrealistic way.
-Oh, How We Danced ***
Hawkeye and crew prepare a surprise for BJ, who is disconsolate over being alone on his anniversary. They arrange for a home movie sent by Peg. If you're an easy mark for tears, bring the tissues.
-The Red/White Blues **
Every time a white person says "negro", you must take one drink.
-Blood Brothers ***
A towering performance by William Christopher. A Cardinal is due to visit, and Mulcahy is having fits over the camp's "wicked" ways. He spends a night with a soldier (Patrick Swayze) who's been told he has leukemia. The off-the-cuff sermon Mucahy delivers the following morning about the perils of self-absorption, will freeze you to your seat. Swayze too is disturbingly effective.
-The Foresight Saga ***
A letter from Radar tells of great success on the farm, but an accidental conversation with his mom reveals another story. Potter hits upon a plan to send a Korean youth, Park Sung, to live and work with Radar. Sweet.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Stargate SG1, season 9

It was mostly morbid curiosity that drove me to watch this. After being unable to stomach more than the first two seasons of the series, i wanted to know what happened when Richard Dean Anderson left. You know what? As incandescent as Anderson is, his mishandling by the writers may have been SG1's fatal flaw, as this incarnation is better. And jumping gingolds, Shanks may have actually taken some of his "look, i'm an actor" money, and purchased acting lessons. The visuals have been kicked up to SGA's level, and new lead Ben Browder loses the ingratiating quality he had on FARSCAPE. Also joining the cast is Claudia Black (PITCH BLACK, FARSCAPE{!}), as saucy Vala Mal Doran. Lexa Doig (ANDROMEDA) is the new sawbones. Grrrowl. Plus the ever-underrated Beau Bridges as the new SGC general.
FOUR STAR - none
-Avalon ***
This two-parter kicks off the season with interest and excitement. Browder's Cameron Mitchell takes over SG1, only to be disappointed that the team has gone their separate ways. Fine flashbacks introduce his story. He tries to re-recruit the originals, as Richard Dean drops by to smooth things over. An Ancient communication device from the time of Merlin transports Jackson and Vala's consciousnesses into the bodies of two people a galaxy away. They discover humans who have been granted special powers by a species of ascended beings, the ori, who demand that all mortals worship them.
-Origin ***
Part 3 of "Avalon". Julian Sands (BOXING HELENA, LEAVING LAS VEGAS) is a creepy high priest who begins a crusade to convert our galaxy to ori worship, sending super-powered minions. Frightening and beautifully shot. Plus Louis Gossett, Jr, lending his weight to a recurring role!
-The Ties That Bind ***
A pleasantly amusing episode about Vala's charlatan past, pushed into noteworthyland by...Wallace Shawn! Yay!
-The Fourth Horseman ***
It's wonderful when the staggering number of elements that come together in any television episode, do so this seamlessly. An ori plague is loosed on Earth. They finally learn how to subdue a prior. A myriad of previously-established supporting actors hit just the right notes. Louis Gossett, Jr. gives his life in a literal blaze of (non)glory.
-Ripple Effect ***
A recycled sci fi idea, wherein different SG1 teams from alternate universes must work together...but it's so charming and tight, you might be surprised by your smile.
-Arthur's Mantle ***
Gripping, unpredictable, and deftly woven. You can't imagine how these disconnected plot lines might come together (Cam and Sam get phased into another dimension, while Teal'c investigates a disaster on another planet). When they finally do, hold on to your britches. And how about a little Doug Wert (Jack Crusher, STAR TREK TNG) and Tony Todd (DS9, VOY, TNG)?
-Camelot ***
SG1 races to find an anti-ori weapon created by Merlin, while the fleet assembles to face an invasion force coming through a super stargate. Grand, funny, fun.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


We met under the most auspicious and promising of romantic circumstances. She posted a romance ad entitled "FWB/NSA?". The best of both worlds! If she said what she meant and meant what she said, she wanted a sexual relationship with a genuine friend, and made it doubly clear she desired no possessiveness or jealousy.
Hell, she had me before hello.
We enjoyed a week or so of e-mails before we met. She was intelligent and literate and playful. I wasn't feeling any lightning strikes, either in our flirtations or in response to her picture, but there was an agreeable feeling of sympaticality. She was around my age, and had lived most of her life in Italy (if you speak the language, you might figure out her real name). She was a political affairs writer, and dogwalker. An accomplished cook. She'd had her own talk show in her native land. It was obvious the people in her building genuinely cared for her.
The instant we met, she said she knew from my reaction that we weren't going to be lovers - which made for a surprise later that evening, when she kissed me and i responded in kind. There was truth in her intuition, for i hadn't been drawn to her hormonally. But she found me at a time when i was trying to live the way humans had lived before the agricultural revolution, before the poison of enforced monogamy became the prominent feature of our sexual landscape. I knew we all could and should be able to love anyone. Plus, i thought she and i had the potential for genuine friendship, a rarer thing than good sex. So i jumped in.
It was nice being sexual with her. I always responded with hard, ready erections...something i couldn't say for a few other relationships which had had a greater desire quotient (she wasn't my type physically - she'd survived childhood sexual abuse, and like many such, was overweight). During our first post-coital moments, she said something she told me to not take the wrong way - that she had the feeling of wanting to be my lover forever. I enjoyed her enjoyment more than anything i was feeling myself. I knew she'd had a long road to being comfortable in her body. For that reason alone, i wanted to extend our sexual phase as long as i could.
But almost from the very start, it was apparent that would be a challenge.
Had she fooled herself into thinking she'd wanted a relationship under the parameters of her ad? If she'd found someone other than me, could it have gone that way?
I don't know.
But within a week, i was walking on eggs...a dance i made work for another month or so before the shells cracked. At that time, i was starting an investigative series of articles about prostitution, trying to understand the mindset of a john without actually having sex with a stranger. It was my intent to hire a prostitute to hold nakedly. I told Angela about it. Her mind responded with the unhappy thought "Aren't I enough?" An idiotic response on more than one level, but in this broken world, all too understandable.
The fact that my normal openness was a bit compromised, was a telling sign of how off-balance we were. Her breath was sometimes a little sour, but i never told her, even though i could have shared the complex oral hygiene routine i'd adopted.
As i danced on those eggs, i did my best to build something that would survive the shoals i could hear just around the next bend in the river. Our friendship might have endured, given a little more time. She admired my non-materialism. We had similar taste in politics and humor (if you've never seen the FAMILY GUY segment on Italian optometry, get googling). She had a strong accent, and loved making fun of that in others. She'd had quite a journey, coming to this country by herself with almost literally nothing.
Did i mention she was an accomplished cook? Great googily, was she amazing. She would greet me with the most eye-poppingly wonderful dinners in her fancy little Upper West Side apartment. Zucchini pasta that melted in the mouth. The most delicious bruschetta i'd ever had (which i happily agreed to never mispronounce americanly again).
We always had our dinner/movie/sex nights at her place. She never visited me, as our time coincided with my grand bedbug misadventure (she only had two fears - HIV and bedbugs). The minute i walked in her door, she always put my clothes into plastic bags and me into the shower. She also bought a steamer to treat her place every time i left.
She had a wonderful dog. Dorothy. Sweet and quirky.
I did my best, but knew from the start that i wasn't going to have a desire for her that went outside the bounds of the ad that brought us together. At a time when all i needed was simplicity and gentleness, i sometimes endured the opposite, for her sake. The night i suggested we end the romantic part of our relationship, she shouted that she hated me. Then she tried to bully and emotionally blackmail me into having sex with her one last time. I eventually relented. In the process, i understood firsthand an experience that is presumably far more common to women.
Instead of finding the healing and shelter i'd sought, i walked away with another dripping wound...a hurt that literally gripped my chest and stomach.
After some months, she started sending me an occasional note. It took most of a year, but we finally got together again. She was saying all the right things. She felt terrible about her treatment of me. She'd read this memoir, and thought it was very fair-handed. She wanted to give our romance another try. I hesitated, but loneliness and her positive spirit wore me down. Around this time though, i was preparing to leave the city, to try to find healing on a tropical island. I didn't want to put pressure on her, but she was stalling our meeting because of a roommate situation she wanted to put behind her. We finally got together on the night i left town. We had a sweet sleepover. The company was nice as always, and the sex was pretty okay, considering all the damage that had been done. She left the door wide open...

Friday, May 18, 2012

SeaQuest DSV 2032, season 1

FOUR STAR - none
-Brothers and Sisters ***
Deep submergence super-submarine Seaquest is assigned with entombing an abandoned munitions depot, which turns out to be populated with the child survivors of a grim accident, who have been fending for themselves for years. Lukas (Jonathan Brandis: NEVERENDING STORY II) has a touching romance with the eldest girl (Kellie Martin, LIFE GOES ON), while Captain Bridger (the redoubtable Roy Scheider) must figure out how to extract a teenage boy holding crew members hostage. The potential of the show comes together.
-Knight of Shadows *
Wretched. If you were to see this episode first, you'd likely never watch another. A Titanic-like wreck is found with, um, ghosts. A celebration of superstitious ignorance from the crew of a science vessel. The dipsy wipsy mystical wystical side of the show, on a steroid binge. Painful.
-SeaWest ***
Davids McCallum (THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E, NCIS) and Morse (ST. ELSEWHERE, THE HURT LOCKER) drop in for this Stacy Haiduk-heavy (that's a good thing) underwater western.
-Photon Bullet ***
Holy howler, batman! Seth Green drops in as an "internex" teen computer whiz. Foreshadowing his time on BUFFY, he's named Wolfman. If that's not enough, how about Tim Russ (VOYAGER) as a svengali genius leading prodigies astray?
-Better than Martians ***
The first personned Mars rocket crashes into the ocean after a faulty landing. Seaquest races to save the astronauts' lives. A fine guest turn by Kent McCord (ADAM-12, AIRPLANE 2, GALACTICA 1980).
-Hide and Seek **
-Abalon ***
Chuck! Chuck Heston!!!
-Such Great Patience ***
Why does it only feel like sci fi if it's in space? Or has a spaceship? Or at least an alien? A massive UFO buried in the ocean for a million years is uncovered. There's somebody inside, and they want to talk to our dolphin. Exciting, visually compelling...and more Kent McCord!
-The Good Death ***
A couple nice moments for underused regulars Marco Sanchez (WALKER, TEXAS RANGER) and Dustin Nguyen (21 JUMP STREET). This is their first real chance to shine, and they acquit themselves delightfully. Plus a little Luis Guzman as a wild-eyed Central American dictator! Indispensable for your next Guzman-a-thon.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

chrome sadness

I resisted as long as i could. In the end, that only amounted to a few months.
Not long ago, Blogspot installed new templates for its blogs. The home page may still look the same, but in the pages devoted to site maintenance, much much much had changed. When they first offered this upgrade, they gave the option of keeping the old format. After a glimpse at the new, i quickly clicked "old". The single essential change that spooked me was the data showing site hits. Heretofore, such information came only if you installed the counters. Now, it had become part of the standard layout. Non-optional.
Many people (obviously) love to monitor hits.
Not me. I think that kind of self-consciousness is contrary to integrity. Hopefully, people will read your site, and perhaps even share links to particular articles. But suppose you found out that your number of site hits was much higher or much lower than imagined. Might not that knowledge affect the way you approach your writing?
The trick is to hope that millions read, but write as though none will.
Perhaps other writers don't have trouble maintaining integrity in the face of constant readership awareness. Perhaps some can even use such awareness as a tool in some paradigm of "collective" integrity.
But i don't want to know. It's hard enough dealing with the post comments, which range from flattering to eviscerating, to everything in between. Am i as good as "annaSwedenchick" thinks? Am i as third-rate as "winkyhoohoo61" thinks? The truth is perhaps all those things, or none.
My innocence has been compromised, and i'm resigned to it. Last week, Blogspot sent out a notice that it was linking its services to Google Chrome. Refuse Google Chrome, and your connection to Blogspot will be partially-unsupported.
Partially-unsupported? It chills the spine.
I bit the bullet.
It's not all gloom and doom. The data involving overall hit numbers and graph-related material, are on a page which isn't part of the basic post maintenance. The data i have to see virtually every day, however, are the numbers of discrete post hits. I do an awful lot of site maintenance, there's no way around it. I can stay almost entirely ignorant of how many people visited my home page on any given day, but i'll usually be continually bombarded by how many times recent posts are accessed as individual links. It's pernicious, this knowledge. Maybe others can screen it out. But i sure can't. Many of my posts have a discrete hit number that's less than 10. I HATE knowing that. And i hate being excited when one gets a lot of attention. I HATE knowing that "The Nurules!" has 296 discrete hits! I hate that i now check that number regularly, hoping for just four more hits. 300? Woo-woo!
Tain't easy bein' pure.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Corinthians - Revelation

1 Corinthians 8:12
Can these words be reconciled with the words of Romans 9:15-16, which state that it is not man's will nor exertion upon which God's mercy rests, but upon God's will alone? No, they can't.
Galatians 5:17-23
A case could be made that there are examples from these lists which are not mutually exclusive, most notably party spirit/carousing/fornication, and love/joy. Very few people carouse without joy. I suppose a purist reading of these verses would be that there can be no pure love or joy in carousing (or fornication, for that matter). But these verses assert that fornication and carousing are acts which are unqualifiedly against Heaven. The logical extension of these assertions is that a world of religiously pure humans would be a world without fornication, and thus a world without humans. And this line of thinking runs into another problem, namely whether God could create, "in Its image", beings of the flesh, and therefore, by these verses, innately evil beings. To reconcile these verses with logic and reason stretches these qualities beyond their limits.
1 Timothy 2:12
Oh, Paul. Paul, Paul, Paul...
1 Peter 4:6, 2 Peter 2:4, Jude 6
Do these words imply that loss or gain of spiritual salvation is possible even for those "beyond the grave"? Hmmm…these words certainly seem to add a suspiciously unmentioned qualification to the earlier New Testament assertions that eternal salvation is the automatic reward for earthly faith.
Revelation 14:3-5
An interesting passage for christians who excuse their moral failures by saying that “only God can be perfect".
Revelation 22:15
The crowning vindication for cat lovers everywhere.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tony and Tina's Wedding

-fall 2001
At the Naples Dinner Theater, Michael caught my interest with a show that was having long runs everywhere, an improvised wedding and reception between two Italian families. I was at first leery, thinking it might be like other trite, shallow audience-participation shows, but it wasn't. It was almost pure improv, with the focus on creating real characters. No murders to solve, just the comedy that arises in a marriage between two outspoken families with a decades-old love/hate relationship. There was a cast of thirty or so, and the audience were "invited" members of the wedding. Fans of the show came more than once, because it was never the same twice and there was far too much to take in at one sitting. The action roamed throughout the building, including the halls and bathrooms. I played Michael Just, the ex-boyfriend of the bride who gets out of jail/rehab, and crashes the wedding. A sprawling, incredible experience. For the first time in these memoirs, i barely know where to begin. I'd done little improv before this, and was thrilled at the challenge. The ceremony itself was scripted, as were other interchanges, but i performed for the better part of three hours with maybe seven scripted lines. The show began outside, with the arrival of the wedding party and audience. I stumble in during the ceremony, and the only reason i don't make a greater disturbance is because i'm coked to the gills and strung out from driving thirty hours straight. I'm shown to a seat, where i nod out. My appearance causes a minor stir: boots, jeans, leather vest, and bandanna which soon slips off.  To the audience's dismay/delight, i have a mohawk. The cut was done by my CHARLOTTE's buddy T.J., who played Vinnie Black, shmoozer-extraordinaire hall owner. I spend the evening in and out of a chemical haze, partly due to the best man, Barry Wheeler, played by Andy Goldenberg. To keep me peaceful, he gives me a stream of marijuana and other chemicals. Large amounts of alcohol too - the audience loved to give me drinks (real) when i came to their tables, so i had to become deft at making a sip look like a slug. I became an audience favorite, telling sob stories about Tina's not waiting for me when i was in jail/rehab (depending on the night or moment, it could be either). I would tell of all the crazy things she and i used to do. Dawn Lebrecht, so wonderfully brassy and sassy, played Tina. I would make up stories like how she had once gotten me to make love to her on top of the Empire State Building in a chicken suit. The audience then relayed these stories to Tina and other cast members, which then came back to me during the performance. I was constantly inventing new stories, partly for the cast's entertainment. Audience members would try to convince them that Tina should give me another chance (for an incoherent convict, i was kinda adorable). My first breakthrough came during a rehearsal exercise. We were supposed to bring in a wallet or purse, filled with the "life" of our character. When it came my turn to share, i assumed a stoned demeanor, took one or two objects out of my pockets, looked at them hazily, and said "I don't think these are my pants". If you can make a room full of actors really laugh, you've done something. Ray DeJohn played Tony, and i continued to enjoy his sweet company. Andy loved messing with me, he had a little pocket light he would "bug me out" with. He became my closest cast friend. The wonderful Jim Corsica played Father Mark. Chris George played Tina's barely-closeted brother Joey, and his performance was a thing of beauty.  His scripture reading, and leading of the bridesmaids in a rendition of "It's Raining Men"…absolutely hysterical. He doted on me (me, not Michael, he hated Michael). Vince Pinto, from the Chicago cast, played Uncle Louie - understated and priceless, he was wonderful to be around. Anthony Santucci played the dopey, sweet Johnny. It was his first show, and type-casting served him well. He occasionally tried to bend the rule about not "picking up" audience members, for which i chastized him. I finally had a chance to work with Dick Westlake, who played Tony's father, Nunzio. Dick was head of the Edison College theater department, and i'd borrowed scripts (and actors) from him for the Orpheus. A sweet man. One of the highlights was his ever-evolving riff on what the bride's mother's nickname was in school. Betty Whitmore and Deb Iamorino played bridesmaids, and it was an honor to work with and know them. The fantastic Cheryl Guiliano, who had toured with the show nationally, played the brassy Aunt Rose. She said i should go to a big city, where i would have little trouble getting full-time work as Michael. It would be hard to overstate the amount of audience sympathy i attracted. The actors joked about it backstage, a few of them even half-seriously annoyed. I thought of dampening my act, but everything i was doing was true to character. Weaving in and out of the hall in a semblance of unpredictability, i tried to "play" each table (there were maybe sixty) by the end of the night. The audience's love for me, and reactions to the show in general, sometimes went off the charts. A lot of them made up their own Tony/Tina backgrounds, on the spot. When the newspaper review came out without a single mention of my work, it was the only time in my life i've almost-seriously suspected some kind of reviewer-tampering...i imagined our director arranging for my non-mention, to assuage the feelings of any who resented the attention i was getting (i suspected my character had never generated such buzz in previous productions). I didn't really mind, though a part of me had been preparing for one of the greatest reviews of my life. My only truly disappointing moment came during rehearsal. Julie Bishop played Maddie, a stripper from Nunzio's club. In one scene, her character is told she's too flamboyant. Sulking, she grabs me to dance. Exploring the moment, i tried to make Tina jealous by making our clumsy dance sexual, with some mauling and groping. The second rehearsal we tried this, Joe interrupted to say that i wasn't to touch her below the waist. Joe played groomsman Dom, and was dating Julie in real life. I let it drop, the energy disappeared, and we abandoned the dance altogether. A potentially funny moment lost to unprofessionalism. The only time i ever heard of actors obviously breaking character was with Joe and Julie, when they let their personal life spill into the performance. The 9/11 attack came during our run, and one of producer Barry Marcus's relatives was killed. We canceled that night's performance. I had a wonderful time with the reception band, particularly Tommy Organiscak, an amazing singer, and Lee Blackston, the cockney guitarist. The band were the only actors whose first scene came later than mine, so we had some fun dressing room time together. The wonderfully funny Scott Kilgore, Zuckerman from CHARLOTTE’S, played Sal the photographer. Jane Kahn was frighteningly sweet as Grandma Nunzio. The irrepressible Nicky Savitt played Tina's mother (though she may have been younger than Dawn). Janina Birtolo played Loretta, T.J.'s wife, and she and i had a great moment where she distracts me from badgering the barmaid by getting me to hokey-pokey. I would cut in line repeatedly during the "dollar dance with the bride" segment, then always collapse onto Dawn's shoulder. Unsolicitedly, sometimes audience members pushed dollar bills into my hand, to get me back into the line. Dawn's height was played up - in heels, she was taller than both Ray and i. For the couple minutes we danced, she allowed herself her one show break. The entire affair took well over three hours, which could be exhausting because there were no scene breaks. When she and i danced, sometimes she would stay in character for a minute and bust my chops repeating my stories that the audience had told her. Oh lawsy, could she make me laugh. I was so grateful that my face was buried in her shoulder, because there were a few times she just broke me down into helpless laughter. Chris would often dance by, expressing his concern, and Dawn would exclaim "I'm not humpin' the man, vegan!" (he was a vegan in real life). On most nights though, Dawn would whisper to me as herself while we danced, and hers was such a fantastic performance, i was honored to be her one respite. I was escorted out of the building several times during the evening, and always came back. The wait staff got a kick out of how we actors stayed in character, and they would try to get us to break when no audience was around. During the conga line, Andy would always drag me around on his back. He would sing "a-doot-doot-doot-doobee-doobee-doot", and it was so funny that i again broke character sometimes, concealing my crack-up in the crook of my arm. My last big moment came when i stumbled to the bandstand, grabbed the mic from Tommy, and screamed out a strident rock love song. I tear my vest open, revealing a huge tattoo "TINA DIE" (i tried henna, but it quickly faded, so i penciled it in nightly). I'm then dragged out for the final time. Stone-unconscious, Andy deposits me by the street in front of the theater.  Halfway through the run, we struck on the idea of handcuffing me to a bench. I remained passed out for the rest of the night, well after the show "ends" inside. While the festivities were coming to a close, i had about fifteen minutes of unconsciousness during which i was occasionally visited by patrons coming out for fresh air or a smoke. Their reactions at seeing me were priceless. Ray and Andy come out once more, with Ray furious over Tina's drunken behavior. Seeing me enrages him even further, and he always came right down to my face to yell at me. When there were no audience members around, the two of them would try to get me to laugh, especially the final week (we had 56 performances total)…and those bastard pig-fuckers succeeded once or twice. A few minutes later, the audience started leaving. Thinking the show over, they'd burst out laughing when they saw me. For another twenty minutes, i stayed passed out until they'd all driven away. It was such an amazing experience as an actor, to lie there. I was there but i wasn't, so i got to hear all of their unself-conscious commentary (which put me in the position of hearing what an audience thinks much more openly and directly than most actors will ever know...lying there, i wished every actor in the world could live what i was experiencing for just one moment). Many would talk to me. Some of them got quite serious, whispering the most humbling praise. A lot of them tried to wake me up, or took photos with my head in their laps. One put a real joint in my mouth. Another undid my fly. One of my proudest moments as an actor came when two laughing teenage girls became absolutely determined to get me to break character as i lay there. They teased and played with me for a while, to no effect, and then raspberried my stomach and chest, two mouths at once. I didn't crack. They finally left, but not before writing their phone numbers on my chest...tempted though i was to avail myself of the opportunity, i restricted myself to leaving them a funny phone message in character (in those long-ago days of no caller ID). I also got a place to live because of my lying there. I wasn't crazy about the twenty-five mile drive back and forth from Ft. Myers Beach. Some waitresses were playing with me unconsciously one night, and one of them, Kelly, was so impressed with how sweet my breath was, she invited me to stay with her until the end of the run. A weekly poker game was held at T.J. and Ray's. A hard-core virus went through the cast. It, or possibly food poisoning, hit me at the start of one performance. An hour later, i was dripping sweat and reduced to repeatedly stumbling into the server's hall and collapsing, gathering my energy for the next moment i needed to be onstage. I had to deal with sick breath for a few perfomances (And inexplicably, when i got better my breath didn't. For the next couple years, i fumbled with regular bad breath for the first time in my life). The final performance, i had a surprise for Ray and Andy. After being handcuffed to that bench for the last time, i dropped my pants to my ankles, then lay down with my ass in the air. When they came outside, Ray had to disappear around the side of the building to recover from his laughter. Determined to not be outdone, he came back berating me in character, saying i'd better get used to that position, as i was heading to jail. He yanked my boxers all the way down to my ankles, yelling, "That's what it's gonna be like, you convict!!" But i was in the zone - i didn't flinch. They enjoyed the moment, then went back inside. Alone again, i pulled my boxers up (but left the pants down). During that final night, there was a viscerally sweet and poignant energy that carried us all. It's hard to have unified chemistry with a group that large, but the love we shared, between us and with our audiences, was one of the more wonderful things i've ever known. It was during this show that i received the most memorable compliment any actor ever gave me, when i was told i reminded other actors what an actor is supposed to be. I was open to playing Michael again one day, which i wouldn't have thought likely when the show began.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Stargate: Atlantis, season 3

-The Ark
Breathtaking and pulse-pounding. With the writing hardly ever rising above good, it's easy to forget that SGA was one of the most visually advanced sci fi shows ever. The space scenes are nothing short of stunning. The crew discover a space station over a dead planet, and the last survivors of the world below in stasis. Freeing two of them, their lives are put in jeopardy when one attempts to destroy the station. Teyla shows a duplicitous side never before seen, which is unsettling but also understandable.
Told in layered flashbacks, and bursting with ominous tension. A crew member explodes in the middle of the city, killing several and severely wounding Teyla. The explosion is traced to an alien virus. One other crew member was exposed, and Dr. Beckett races to save his life before he too explodes. The day starts as a rare day off, and it's profoundly refreshing...we feel like we're learning more about these characters in one episode than in the previous two seasons combined. Sheppard and Ronon play golf, and Elizabeth has a poignant flirtation with the ill-fated Mike Branton (Matthew Del Negro, THE WEST WING). Stunningly, Beckett dies too. You keep waiting for it to not be true, but it is.
-No Man's Land ***
A high-wire, visual fireball. Two wraith ships are hyper-jumping to Earth, with Rodney and Ronon held prisoner, and an undetected Sheppard. The Daedalus and Orion catch them. The Orion and one hive ship are destroyed, the other two ships disabled. The only hope for Daedalus, running out of oxygen, is to unleash the retrovirus which will turn the wraiths into memoryless humans. With the assistance of Michael (Connor Trineer, ENTERPRISE), who is now shunned by his fellow wraith because he was once human, Rodney and Ronon are freed, and the plan succeeds. Dr. Weir is summoned to Earth, where her decisions are cross-examined by a civilian panel that includes Robert Picardo (VOYAGER). If they'd just focused on the battle, this'n'd be four stars.
-Misbegotten ***
The remaining crew of the surviving hive ship, along with Michael, all now human, are transported to a gateless planet and monitored by Beckett. They discover their true nature, overcome their watchers, and summon a hive ship. Sheppard brings the captured hive ship, and the decision is made to bombard the planet from orbit rather than risk knowledge of Atlantis' survival getting back to the wraith. These are dark, brutal choices that move away from the touchy-feely "up with people" vibe most sci fi shows (including this one, previously) are burdened with. The decisions are understandable, but your sympathies go to Michael and the other wraith. A banner day for moral ambiguity.
-Irresistible ***
Richard Kind (SPIN CITY, STARGATE, MAD ABOUT YOU) dives into a delicious character, a snake-oil salesman who discovers a plant that makes everyone adore him. He quickly charms his way from a backwater planet where he has multiple wives, into the heart of Atlantis. Sheppard and Rodney return from an away mission to discover everyone under his sway. The writing becomes hackneyed, but it's a fun ride.
-Progeny ***
David Ogden Stiers!
-The Real World ***
Richard Dean Anderson! Alan Ruck (FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF)!
-The Return ***
A shipful of ancients return to Atlantis. They are grateful to the earthers, but insist they leave. Our team returns to Earth and disbands, as Teyla and Ronon search for a way to continue the war against the wraith. The sense of loss is palpable. Replicators stage a successful attack on Atlantis. Disobeying General Landry's (Beau Bridges!) orders, our heroes steal a puddle-jumper and gate back, to find the ancients dead, and O'Neill and Woolsey hiding. A four-star appearance by R. Dean Anderson, and a gripping ride as they try to re-take the city.
-The Game *
Just in case you wondered whether SGA was capable of a really bad's easy to overlook this badness, because the production values and acting are so agreeable. But the writing is wretched. Plot holes, actions and attitudes that don't ring true...
-First Strike ***
A visually exquisite season finale. Watching a nuclear strike from orbit against a synthetic race is horrific, but the CGI images are incredible. The debut of Jewel Staite (FIREFLY) as the new doctor!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

it's selling fear?

The NYC metro transit subway system is glutted this summer with an ad campaign courtesy of the MTA itself. Ubiquitous on trains and in stations is a poster that carries the bold caption "What's Wrong With This Picture?" The accompanying illustration is the interior of a subway car. In the foreground is a seated rider. He is latino. His collar, literally blue. A goodly, hard-working man of integrity, there can be no doubt. The seats next to him are unoccupied. Under the bench, two seats away, a (gasp) unattended package sits.
What's wrong with this picture, indeed.
The man stares ahead, oblivious to the symbolism threatening to explode all over him.
I've taken to carrying a small post-it pad, and writing over and over the words "It's selling fear?" I'm sure i can't recall what i'm doing with these notes, and what i'll keep on doing until the pad runs out. I'm sure i'm not doing anything that could be construed as illegal graffiti.
Is it even legally possible to deface public property with a product guaranteed to leave no sign it was ever there?
How about with invisible ink?
Well, somebody's got to give the lawyers something to do...

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

M*A*S*H, season 8

-Good-Bye Radar
After a feature film and 152 episodes, Gary Burghoff calls down the curtain. If you're tempted to second-guess his choice, this towering two-parter should silence you. It deftly avoids predictability and maudlinity, to stand with the series' best. Radar's Uncle Ed dies, and he is given a discharge. He can't decide whether to stay or leave. Finally and fittingly, his goodbye party is cancelled by incoming wounded. Peering through the O.R. window, he receives a goodbye salute from Hawkeye. After surgery, the swamprats return home to find Radar's teddy bear left behind.
-Period of Adjustment
Klinger struggles mightily with his new duties as company clerk. B.J. finds out that his daughter Erin called Radar "daddy" at the San Franciso airport. They go on a drinking binge, brought together by mutual Radar-resentment. B.J. destroys the still and punches Hawkeye out. B.J.'s agony, and reconciliation with a helmeted Hawkeye, are unforgettable.
-The Yalu Brick Road
A rollicking good time, as Hawkeye and BJ are lost near the front. They surrender to a North Korean soldier (the irrepressible Soon-Tek Oh!), who surrenders right back. They find a motorcycle, which BJ resuscitates. Back at camp, everyone is down with salmonella except Father Mulcahy. The first of four episodes written by Mike Farrell. Soon-Tek's adorable performance is one of the top-ten M*A*S*H guest turns of all time.
-Life Time
Unforgettable. Most of the episode passes with a ticking clock superimposed on the screen, counting down the minutes until a soldier will be permanently paralyzed, as the surgeons scramble to graft a piece of artery from a dying soldier into him. One slightly mawkish moment involving Kevin Brophy (star of LUCAN!) doesn't drag this brilliance down.
During a marathon OR session, everyone grabs quick naps and has disturbing dreams. Ensemble nirvana. They aimed big and found iconic touches, with images so subtly disturbing that they might filter into the viewer's dreams...Margaret in a bloody wedding dress, BJ dancing with his wife Peg (the first of two memorable appearances by Catherine Bergstrom), Winchester performing parlor tricks trying to save a life, Hawkeye losing two arms to an unforgiving professor, Klinger in Toledo watching himself on an army operating table...not top-ten worthy, but one hell of an effort. Maybe she just had an off-day, but on one of the few occasions they gave Nurse Kellye (uber-supporting actor Kellye Nakahara, the only non-regular to appear on the M*A*S*H IMDB title page, with 166 episodes, 11 more than Radar) an actual scene, she comes up with a, shall we say, unfortunate performance.
-Too Many Cooks ***
Dragged down by a Potter B plot that doesn't have legs, this story about a wounded, bumbling soldier (Ed Begley Jr.!!) who is a brilliant but misassigned cook, is a scrumptious delight. Klinger acts as his maitre'd and personal agent, until Ed asks to cook for his front-line unit. There's also a tiny scene of Radar in Tokyo supposedly partying, but actually alone in his hotel room. It's poignant and sweet, knowing Gary's episodes are almost gone. The Balmagia era is over...whew.
-Are You Now, Margaret? **
Unexpectedly hard-hitting and relevant compared to season 7. M*A*S*H takes on McCarthyism, when Maragaret is asked by a congressional aide to "name names" from her college days. She faces the loss of her career. The resolve feels recycled, but a wonderful attempt.
-Guerrilla My Dreams **
The irrepressible Mako (CONAN THE BARBARIAN) stars as a South Korean ready to torture and kill a North Korean when she recovers from surgery. M*A*S*H at its most unrealistic, soap-boxy worst.
-Mr. & Mrs. Who? ***
Absolutely seamless, resolutely non-cliched, and utterly charming. Charles gets monumentally drunk in Tokyo, and his new wife (the delightful Claudette Nevins) arrives in camp soon after. Stiers gets to show humanity, not just pomposity.
-Dear Uncle Abdul ***
Perhaps unique in M*A*S*H history for the greatest number of sub-plots juggled without any discernible weak link. Klinger writes to his uncle, Charles goes pheasant hunting, Margaret shoots her foot locker, Hawkeye and BJ bicker over who is a better joke-teller (that's all you do...BIRD imitations?), a mildly-retarded soldier (Richard Lineback, NATURAL BORN KILLERS) is looked after by his buddies, and in a moment that's more poignant than you remember, Mulcahy writes a Korean war song.
-Captains Outrageous **
A middling episode juiced up by the presence of John Orchard, he of ten episodes as Ugly John during the Henry/Trapper era. This time he's an Aussie blowhard named Muldoon.
-Stars and Stripes **
Joshua Bryant played Margaret's fourth love interest of the series, Jack Scully, in three episodes. The character was well-conceived and well-executed, but never became more perhaps because none of those episodes were four-star.
-Yessir, That's Our Baby ***
An example of a fine episode that (ironically) would have been laughed out of the studio exec's office had it been offered as a series pilot. It's just not funny. It almost gets away with it by tackling a very serious issue (unwanted mixed-race children of american G.I.s) with very good writing and acting...but it bites off a bit more than it can chew. Making it a two-parter might have saved it. A fine appearance by William Bogert (WARGAMES, CHAPELLE'S SHOW).
-Bottle Fatigue ***
Hawkeye drives everyone insane when he goes on the wagon. The B plot, about Winchester's attempt to stop his sister from marrying an italian, deserves a spot on a Winchester top-ten list...its only weakness is a turnaround that seems too easy. Look for a fine little performance by Shelley Long (CHEERS, THE MONEY PIT), as a date who alienates Hawkeye by tossing back a few.
-Heal Thyself ***
With a bickering Winchester and Potter quarantined with the mumps, a replacement surgeon (Edward Herrmann - THE LOST BOYS, RICHIE RICH) suffers a nervous breakdown. Wonderful.
-Old Soldiers ***
Iconic, four-star moments. The last of Potter's WWI cavalry buddies dies, leaving him morose and withdrawn, as a group of orphans pass through. The scene with Potter and a child eating fudge and listening to old french records, and the scene of Potter in his old uniform sharing decades-old brandy with his new friends, are Harry Morgan's finest M*A*S*H moments this side of "horse hockey".
-Morale Victory ***
The A plot, wherein BJ and Hawkeye deliver a beach party courtesy of Klinger's crabs, is serviceable. The B plot, wherein Charles tries to comfort a classical pianist soldier (James Stephens) who has lost dexterity in one of his hands, is towering...and even more amazing when you realize that Stephens didn't fully deliver the goods. May we propose the question, of how much credit goes to Mr. Stiers for the fact that M*A*S*H lasted six seasons beyond Frank Burns?
-Lend a Hand **
Alan wrote and directed this Alda family reunion, with Robert returning as the overbearing Dr. Borelli, and brother Antony playing a medic. Nice try.
-War Co-Respondent ***
The first episode Mike Farrell wrote and directed. BJ and a correspondent (Susan St. James, KATE & ALLIE) fall for each other. Poignant chemistry and nuanced acting almost overcome this mawkish, wretch-inducing love note to self-sacrificial monogamy.