“In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play” is a whimsical cartoon about curing bad sex

The conceit of this bizarre, whimsical play could be dismissed as an absurd allegory except that it is based on true facts! Take men who don’t have a clue about women’s sexuality, add a few wives who feel malaise, throw in a guy who’s unhappy that he can’t find a female partner, and send them to a doctor with a very unusual prescription. It’s often comic, albeit, like the bad sex it skewers, ultimately unsatisfying.

“This” is a witty play about the angst of thirty-somethings.

Melissa James Gibson has a clever way with words. In this stage-of-life play, she uses that talent to examine the lives of four college chums who have stayed close friends, for good and for ill, into their late 30s. It’s not a deep play, but it’s engaging. In a sympathetic, non-judgmental way, she deals with friendship, the dissolution of marriage, adultery, personal loyalty, death, and the desire for a meaningful life.

“Ragtime” is a cinematic, visionary, heart-stopping view of America of the early 1900s

“Ragtime” is a cinematic, visionary, heart-stopping view of America of the early 1900s. The power and sweep of the bittersweet mix of true history and invention take your breath away. The characters are meant to be symbols, as the play mixes real people with invented ones, true events with imaginary ones. Fictional people come from three families—upper-middle class, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, socialist immigrant Jewish from Latvia, and Harlem black – who represent American dreams and the tragedies that ensued during the struggle for justice. They play also shows the transformative power of the new 20th century.

Paul Volcker says privately Obama appointed him as “window dressing”

Dec 14, 2009 – The man who isn’t there: whatever happened to Paul Volcker?

President Obama appointed him Chairman of the new Economic Recovery Advisory Board which is supposed to advise the president on jump-starting the economy and stabilizing financial markets. But the former Federal Reserve Chairman has been cut out of key discussions, including one taking place today with officials of a dozen big banks.

“Superior Donuts” is funny dark comedy about white 60s radical and young black man

There’s a whiff of television in Tracy Letts’ dark comedy about a sixties radical coming to terms with his life and a society that continues to have an underclass. The story is intriguing if a bit formulaic. It’s as if Letts said, “Well, we need a middle-aged white ex-hippie with a pony tail, a brash young black man, a couple of cops of mixed colors and genders and some bad guys to prevent the story from cloying too much.” That said, there is some charm in what he came up with, even if it’s not great drama. Tina Landau directs at an agile pace that highlights the laughs.

“Shrek the Musical” is a kids show with clever jokes & lyrics for adults

There’s a genre of musicals that is supposed to be for kids, but is just as much for adults. I include “The Lion King” and “Wicked” and now “Shrek the Musical.” I loved them all. What they have in common is strong moral politics. The characters in the first play fight oppression, the second combat racism and Shrek does a bit of both. Like the others, it proves that shows about ideas are more interesting and fun than empty-headed fluff.

“Memphis” is a vibrant back story of Rhythm & Blues in the 50s

This social and political back story of Rhythm and Blues is a vibrant sometimes sketchy, but visually exciting story musical with terrific sounds that range from R&B to gospel. It’s 1951 on Beale Street, and Huey (Chad Kimball) wanders into a hot music joint. He’s found the music of his soul. The only problem is that this is the black part of town, and he’s white.

“The Brother/Sister Plays” is dark poetry about difficult lives

Tarell Alvin McCraney’s powerful plays are written in the dark poetry of lives marked by the desperate seeking of love etched against routine misfortune and tragedy. Yet the characters often exhibit joyous defiance against the odds of disappointment.

The friends and family whose lives make up the stories McCraney tells reside in the projects in the mythical city of San Pere in the bayou of the Louisiana Delta, south of New Orleans. There’s little sense of an outside world.

“The Age of Iron” puts lechery and war in a sandbox

Directors in modern times have enjoyed playing with Shakespeare, often modernizing his plays, putting actors in scenes and clothes that are not of the period described. But Brian Kulick, artistic director of the Classic Stage Company and the adapter/director of this play, entwines Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida,” set in Troy during the Trojan War, with “The Iron Age” by Thomas Heywood, a contemporary. Shakespeare’s is the more personal play, but much of the macho jousting seems inspired by Heywood’s war story. The amalgam is a worthy effort, though I think I’d rather have seen Shakespeare’s play. This one often lacked his poetry.

“My Wonderful Day” is Ayckbourn’s witty satire of marital life

Alan Ayckbourn’s mordantly funny satire of middle class marital life – a staple of his genius through 70 plays — is significantly enhanced by the presence, almost as a fly on the wall, of 9-year-old Winnie (Ayesha Antoine). Winnie’s school assignment for the next day is to write about “My Wonderful Day,” and she methodically records the marital spats and infidelities she observes, generally with a blank expression and fidgeting as any kid might. Ayckbourn is a master of subtle slapstick, the one liner, the bizarre situation. His dark wit is displayed here with perfect comic timing.

Film: Challenging 500 Years of Globalisation

Inter Press Service (IPS), Nov 14, 2009 – To end poverty, you have to know how it began – with globalisation. No, not the 20th century variety engendered by multinationals and their friends at the IMF, World Bank and WTO. They just codified practices that kept developing countries poor.

French filmmaker Philippe Diaz, in an illuminating documentary opening in New York Friday, traces globalisation back 500 years to the Spanish and Portuguese conquests of the Americas. Diaz shows how the colonial North used the South’s resources to build its industrial base and how its continued control over resources, global trade and debt rules prevents developing countries from ending poverty.

My Stasi Files: getting banned by East German secret police in the 80s

Nov 8, 2009 – The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall has called forth a plethora of memories and celebrations. Here are mine.

I visited West Germany in 1983 as it held massive demonstrations against the U.S. plan to station medium range missiles on German territory. The peace movement – objecting to the Ronald Reagan hard line against the East — had another view of how to bring down communism from within. The German government “Ostpolitik” – East politics – though denounced by the Reagan politicians, was ultimately successful.

“The Royal Family” is a sometimes charming, sometimes comic bouquet to life on the stage

If there’s a “king” and “queen” in this production of “The Royal Family,” the George S. Kaufman-Edna Ferber 1927 parody of the Barrymore acting dynasty, they are Jan Maxwell and Reg Rogers, who steal the show with their theatricality.

The device of the play is that Julie Cavendish (Maxwell) and her daughter Gwen (Kelli Barrett) are torn between their love of the stage and their desire to have married lives. Julie’s mother Fanny, (Rosemary Harris), the grande dame of the family revels in having had both.

“A Steady Rain” is a gripping thriller about a violent cop who self destructs.

“A Steady Rain” by Keith Huff, a television script writer, is a thriller about two beat cops, partners, friends from childhood, that would seem to belong on TV. On the other hand, some of the events they describe are so bloody, that I’d rather see them described in the two interlocking monologues that make up the play rather than watch them in full color.

The stories are gripping. On the other hand, like most TV, you forget them pretty quickly.

“After Miss Julie” is a riveting play where the power of class and gender fight for primacy

Patrick Marber’s “After Miss Julie” is a psychological thriller, a rich drama that has three characters enmeshed in a web of conflicts that shift the upper hand from one to the other, depending on whether the field of battle is class or gender.

If it’s about class, then Miss Julie (Sienna Miller), the rich daughter of a lord, is on top. If it’s about gender, then it’s John (Jonny Lee Miller, no relation), the lord’s chauffeur-valet. But that holds only if the woman is as neurotic as Julie. Or a woman defeated by her time.

Jude Law brings a powerful pulsating animal energy to “Hamlet”

Jude Law brings a powerful pulsating animal energy to “Hamlet”

Jude Law drives “Hamlet” with an animal energy and naturalistic fervor that overwhelm the stage. This is not the tentative or tormented Hamlets we are used to. This “Hamlet” is a thriller and Hamlet the vengeful detective. The excitement is palpable. It’s a brilliant interpretation you won’t soon forget.

“Broke-ology” an appealing if sometimes hokey look at the dynamics of being loyal to family and self

Nathan Louis Jackson’s play about a black family in Kansas City struggling to achieve a middle class life avoids the pitfalls of sitcom due largely to the four accomplished actors and director Thomas Kail, who breathe life into what on its face is a rather predictable story.

It hangs on whether Malcolm King (an appealing Alano Miller), who has managed to get a masters degree in Connecticut, will give up chances of a good university teaching job under his mentor, an environmental professor, or will he stay home to care for his father William (a warm-spirited Wendell Pierce) who has muscular dystrophy.

The “God of Carnage” watches polite society disintegrate

Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage” smartly shows the disintegration of the thin veneer of civilization that keeps people civil. Reza, perhaps coming from the salon culture of France, has a habit of locating her dramas in living rooms. These tête-à-têtes ought to show the height of culture. Instead, they display the dark sides of polite society.

This story begins with a touted civilized meeting between two couples, one clearly upper class, the other middle class, one couple chic, the other dowdy, to deal with fact that son of the first hit the son of the second. They start out honest, each admitting the family faults. As the evening gathering of “nice” people progresses, they descend from throwing words into throwing things. Taken further, we see the basic failure of ethical man. It is a fascinating transformation.

Former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, GOP Candidate for NJ Governor, gets $ from IDT, NJ telcom investigated by Justice Dept for bribing Haitian officials

Oct 22, 2009 –

Back in 2004, when Chris Christie was the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, his office first heard allegations that IDT Corporation, a Newark, N.J.-based global telecommunications company, was involved in a case of international bribery. No federal criminal case was ever brought against IDT, in contrast to several successful federal prosecutions in similar cases elsewhere. The company is run by James Courter, a former Republican congressman from New Jersey.

Fast forward to the present, and Christie is now the Republican candidate for the governor of New Jersey. And, an examination of campaign finance records shows, Christie has thus far racked up $26,800 in campaign contributions – earning him a total of $80,400 including state matching funds — from 27 individuals who could have a direct interest in the IDT case.

Sodexo’s ‘safe’ supplier sickens 27 boy scouts at camp

Oct 17, 2009 – When he was interviewed for the investigative story I did in March on Sodexo’s practice of demanding rebates (ie kickbacks) from suppliers, Sodexo deputy counsel Tom Morse argued that working only with “compliant” vendors was necessary to assure health and safety. (“Compliant” means they pay rebates.”)

He said that “the first thing we vet our vendors for is safety” against food-borne illnesses …”

“The Tin Pan Alley Rag” spotlights two American musical geniuses who changed the face of pop music

This charming, vivid musical biography tells the story of two American composers who changed the idiom of western popular music. The curious parallel personal tragedies of Scott Joplin and Irving Berlin exist in contrast to their generally upbeat lively sounds.

In the early 1900s, the two musicians created musical sounds that established a new American music that would echo across this landscape and the world. Both were consummate outsiders: one the son of a slave, the other a Russian immigrant who had escaped the anti-Jewish pogroms with his parents. Mark Saltzman’s play – with the stunning music of Joplin and Berlin – is a lively, appealing, often fascinating look back at what motivated these American musical giants. The motivations and the men were quite different.

Corazon Aquino missed her chance

Aug 3, 2009 –
Corazone Aquino book

In January 1986, I went to the Philippines to chronicle the growing movement against the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. I was there for the “people power revolution,” a non-violent massive street protest that in February finally drove Marcos from power. I remember being outside the presidential palace that night and racing through the streets when gunfire erupted. The U.S., which had supported him for decades, flew him and his wife Imelda to Honolulu. Along with documents that detailed how they had looted the country and where the money was.

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