Finally! Broadway Opens Up for Black Playwrights and Their Plays

Finally! Broadway Opens Up for Black Playwrights and Their Plays

Let’s first be grateful, and then let’s take this apart piece by piece.

Last Sunday The New York Times theatre section reported that seven plays by Black authors would open on Broadway this fall: “Chicken & Biscuits,” “Trouble in Mind,” “Lackawanna Blues,” “Clyde’s”, “Skeleton Crew,” “Pass Over,” and “Thoughts of a Colored Man.”

Broadway’s pre-pandemic theater season featured two plays by Black authors. The previous season, there had been just one play and in the season before there had been none.

All seven plays in varying degrees have been time tested off-Broadway, whether it be recently or in the past. They are all interesting and worthy based on their past history and past reviews. With the exception of Lynn Nottage, who is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, they all offer new voices about the human condition.

The article wondered whether this trend to welcome Black authors would continue. The fear is that Broadway’s traditional white audiences would not attend these plays and thus they might fail financially.

Historically, something like only one out of five Broadway plays ever recoups its expenses.

To produce a play on Broadway is extremely expensive. The New York Times article reported: “According to filings with the securities and exchange commission, ‘Thoughts of a Colored Man’ is costing up to $5 million to mount; ‘Chicken & Biscuits,’ up to $3.5 million; and ‘Pass Over’ up to $2.8 million.”

Also, it would be easy for those who want an excuse to blame the lack of attendance of Black audiences. The Times reported: “In 2018-19, 74 percent of theatergoers were white, and 4 percent were black, according to a demographic report by the Broadway League, a trade association representing producers in theater owners.”

Theaters rely heavily on tourists for ticket sales and all these plays come to Broadway under the threat of the pandemic.

But this may not be an appropriate way to measure success or failure for these plays or their authors.

If these seven plays and their authors do not succeed according to Broadway standards, they will nonetheless have received the blessing of the Broadway brand and will have the afterlife and influence of future performances in one of more of the 74 regional theaters in 29 states and the District of Columbia.

Regional theaters rely more on seasonal subscribers who love theater and remain more open to new works, particularly if they have been blessed with a Broadway production.

Everyman Theatre and Center Stage in my hometown of Baltimore have regularly contributed to putting on such a new works, but now it will be safer for them to continue doing so.

For these playwrights, this new visibility will offer a brighter future for their future works.

Of course, the greatest benefit is for us, the theater-going public, because these new playwrights will finally be able to introduce new stories from a different perspective about our human condition.

Theatre is different than almost any other art form in the way it communicates and has impact. It is a staged conversation which is also a conversation between the stage and the audience. It is powerful because it is intimate and live.

Perhaps these are the conversations that we have been unable to have in a polarized country.

Let’s Get This Party Started

Let’s Get This Party Started

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” — H. L. Mencken

September 12 is H.L. Mencken’s birthday. He was a wonderful provocative opinionated Baltimore Sun newspaperman who was definitely not politically correct and loved to piss off everybody. Times such as these require we celebrate six days early.

Though I could never match him the only way to celebrate him is follow his lead. Please accept this as all in good fun.

My celebration is in two parts.

Part 1

Extra! Extra! Read all about It! Where in the Constitution is the freedom of choice?

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” — H.L. Mencken

Let us first consider American “freedom of choice,” which has been heavily relied on by anti-vaxxers and the intellectuals on Fox News.

Let’s start with a little history. In the mid-1950s, my mother joined all the other mothers back then who lined up their children for the new polio vaccine and thereafter for mumps, measles and who knows what including all kinds of booster shots. It was so long ago there were “pin cushion” jokes. Back then, people had sewing machines and pin cushions.

Yes! These were the days when tattooed people were not afraid of needles and vaccinations were not considered to be secret government IQ tests.

It wasn’t perfect but I am sure that many of us are alive today because our “Rosie the Riveter” mothers, fresh from their patriotic duties and the sacrifices of the Second World War, grabbed their first graders and put them in line.

It was a civic duty that their children were safe and also were not spreading any infectious diseases. I guess today they would be blamed for not looking out for #1.

This is not to say I have given up on the present.

I was very happy when almost every anti-vaxxer to whom I talked refused to tell me where this “freedom of choice” is located in the Constitution. But was saddened that nonetheless they said it was “in there someplace.”

Unfortunately, after a careful review of the Constitution, I discovered “freedom of choice” is in fact from a short-lived Burger King advertisement. The fact that it was short-lived seems to indicate that most of these Americans preferred uniformity in their Whoppers.

When I argued that perhaps freedom of choice at least requires a concern for others and it was inappropriate to disseminate misinformation and cited my mother as an example, I got nowhere.

For my back-up authority for both proposals I asked If they recognized these names: Marc Bernier, Dick Farrel, Tod Tucker, Jimmy DeYoung Sr., and Phil Valentine? I pointed out that they had two things in common: they have all made a fortune as anti-vaxxer talk show hosts and they have all died of COVID. I can’t even imagine how many people they took with them, as the numbers continue to multiply.

Part 2

Extra! Extra! Read all about it – Are we back to deputizing bounty hunters?

“There is always an easy solution to every problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.” — H. L. Mencken

As you already know by now the Supreme Court’s decision last week finds no constitutional problem with Texas bounty hunters receiving up to $10,000 for reporting anyone who “aids or abets” an untimely abortion.

The Court’s decision sidesteps the right to privacy of a woman which remains constitutional in Roe v. Wade but lets stand that bounty on anyone, including nurses or doctors, who make any effort to help her.

These developments will be obviously universally supported by our fellow Americans since recently we love and elect presidents that have acted as cowboys in the movies or have been on reality TV.

Nonetheless, I think that the current Supreme Court is showing us the way to solve all of our current problems if we just support the constitutionality of this decision and embrace its wisdom.

There seems to be no constitutional reason we cannot employ bounty hunters to ensure our personal freedoms, cut unwanted government protections, and also cut taxes.

Consider traffic safety. What a wonderful way to get rid of police expenses and cut the costs of enforcement. We can eliminate road rage by merely reporting on bad drivers and collecting the bounty.

Our federal and state highways could be a reenactment of the carnival game Whack-a-Mole or a video game and advertising will increase substantially for drive time traffic updates. It will be great for business and prevent us from having to raise the minimum wage.

This opportunity has no limits! We can finally all be safe if we each are bounty hunters reporting on each other for any violation of any law. There may be one problem though: how do you collect the bounty if there are no police to enforce it?
But once again the current Texas Republican Party and the current Supreme Court helps us understand that the second amendment has been there all along. We the people finally will be the “well-regulated militia,” which the Supreme Court has previously ignored.

If you think about it, we can even eliminate election fraud if “we the people” police them. We can ensure fair elections and “stop the steal” if we have televised shootouts between the candidates.

Let’s give credit where credit is due. These are the new breed of Trump Republican that have modernized the party. Completely different than my old Republican heroes like President Eisenhower, Chief Justice Warren, or Senator Charles Mathias for whom I was proud to have worked for when people from both parties worked together for the good of the nation. But that was the old Republican Party.

I apologize. Mr. Mencken made me do it. He was born in 1880, so on September 12th he would have been 141 years old and almost half the age of our country.

“If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.” — H. L. Mencken

I am not worthy. He was politically incorrect but he still can shock you and make you laugh. Hats off to my friend David R. So, let’s get this party started!

Baltimore Is a Great Theater Town!

Baltimore Is a Great Theater Town!

Baltimore is a great theater town but sometimes you have to leave home to appreciate it. It offers way more access and opportunities than the theater world recognizes.

Last week, I traveled to New York and stayed at a hotel in the East Village across the street from the Village Voice. The hotel had floor-to-ceiling windows which overlooked the street. The incoming students at Cooper Union and NYU were just getting to know the city and each other as they moved through the late summer heat. The mask requirements had been reinstated for indoor spaces, but you could feel the city coming back again and, with it, a flood of joy and happy memories.

One late afternoon a few weeks before the pandemic, after a table read of The Grace of God & The Man Machine, I was drinking with the actors at The Triple Crown at 29th and 7th Avenue, a semi-dive next to The Opera Center offices where the reading had taken place.

I was bellyaching about being a geezer, starting my career as a fledgling writer so late in life. Two beautiful things happed almost simultaneously.

First, several of the actors, who, in some cases were easily half my age, somewhat seriously, told me to “shut up and grow up.” They had no pity for me, they told me unceremoniously. They were trying to make ends meet and support a family as they pursued opportunities in order to learn their craft and develop an acting career. Meanwhile, I was able to write all day and still cry in my beer. Second, they buttressed their argument by reminding me of something I had just told them moments before. I had apologetically said I have had 10 plays performed in the little theaters in Baltimore.

It was all true. I had taken it for granted. Baltimore from top to bottom is an oft-unrecognized theatre town full of opportunity. At the top, The Everyman Theater and Center Stage are nationally recognized and Everyman stands out because it has built a company which supports its actors and offers its audience the chance to get to recognize these actors.

The theaters such as Fells Point Corner, Audrey Hermann Spotlighters, The Vagabonds, Theatrical Mining Company, and others produce monthly shows at reasonable admission prices and offer competitive opportunities for actors, directors, stage designers and techs young and old. For over 25 years, they have sponsored the Baltimore Playwright’s festival, which pays burgeoning playwrights a small stipend and offers new work and summer performances.

But perhaps even more supportive are professional theater critics, such as Judy Rousuck, who have covered the Kennedy Center and the Baltimore regional theaters for years, and have also gone out of their way to cover the little theaters as well, reviewing them in The Baltimore Sun and WYPR radio, the NPR affiliate.

I had never really recognized the greatness of Baltimore theater and how much I had benefited from it until I left home and abruptly recognized the good fortune and education I had received at home.

How odd that the rebirth of New York theater would bring me back to my genesis in Baltimore. I have nothing but love and appreciation for the place and the friends and mentors I have made and found there.

Learning to Accept Love

Learning to Accept Love

Today, August 24, is my father’s birthday. He was born in 1909 and died in 2013. Somehow my love and respect for him continues to grow. It happened over time but it is much like what Mark Twain said:

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.“

Imagine how “astonished” I was by “the old man” after I had continued to witness his learning as he passed 100. He set the standard. He told me one time, “I love you, but I don’t respect you.” He was right. He was always razor sharp and I grew to want his respect.

He had been first in his class in everything he had ever done and could cut through the fog to get to the heart of an issue with a single lightning bolt comment, but the real reason I thought so highly of him was I saw him choose to live with determined integrity.

During the last 15 years of his life, he lived in a retirement home near where I worked. The other old men on his floor gave up shaving for weeks but I would always shave him before he would leave his room as my show of love and respect. I would visit him every afternoon and wheel him into dinner unless I was in a case or out of town.

In the mid-1990s, in yet another effort to win his respect, I enthusiastically informed him that this new Internet thing would open us to world peace. He smiled and said, “probably not that easy.” He was right and I was flat on my face again. I could only think of what he must have thought of me in my teens during the “don’t trust anybody over 30” period.

I was the worst kid ever. I had undiscovered learning issues back then, and well-developed disciplinary problems. I kept getting thrown out of school and — to make things worse — I would disappear to hitchhike through at least 40 of the states.

One time when I was heading back to Maryland, I called home from a payphone in a Howard Johnson’s south of the Chicago because a driver who picked me up bribed me with food if I would call my parents to tell them that I was coming home. My mother answered the phone and could not stop crying because she said she had been so worried. Despite my misspent youth, my father and mother never gave up on me. I was their son despite my failures. They would do the right thing. That determined integrity was a commitment to love. I wanted to learn that.

One afternoon when he was 94, he complained of pains in his lower abdomen and after an ambulance ride to the hospital he was admitted to surgery.

As I prayed in an empty waiting room very late at night, I thought I was never going to see him alive again. On scratch paper I sketched out a sonnet of remembrance. I wrote it after they wheeled him out of the operating room.

My Father

In the end it’s touch that holds memory.
The other senses are immediate
And defend the present territory.
The other four are there to navigate.

Tonight my father went under the knife
And I waited alone with my cell phone
To see what would become of this one life;
Together, separate, and both alone.

For an hour in the last waiting room,
I remembered him as sound and insight,
Too perspicacious for the cool boxed room
That would contain him in this, his last night.

At ninety-four how could he have survived?
I kissed the forehead of a man, alive.

 
As he approached his 100th birthday, we were talking and he, almost as an afterthought, said, “I admire what you have accomplish with your life. I’m not sure I could have done what you have done.” I don’t think he ever realized that was the one thing I had always hoped to hear from him. Our last years together we’re perfect. He had never withheld love. I just had refused to accept its responsibilities.

Shaving My Father

(From a draft I wrote the day after my father’s death at 104.)

This is the last small room in which he will rest.
Every day I visit him at four o’clock.
We balloon the room with our forgiveness.
“Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped.”

Two men knock on his door then wait like guests.
“Not funny for a man this close to death.”
We share what only dark humor can express.
The Marx brothers, for both of us, are the best.

The electric razor hums in my hand
As it cuts along the cheekbone and the neck.
Like a harvester on pre-winter land
I harvest thistle from earth’s intellect

Across a snow bank of thin paper skin.
They zip their bag shut and leave me without him.

 

Don’t be grouchy about the Fauci Ouchi

Don’t be grouchy about the Fauci Ouchi

I’ve got you beat! Have you ever been vaccinated for rabies?

Years ago, my young family was traveling back from Frederick, Maryland after the 4th of July when I asked my wife to pull over because I saw an injured baby raccoon by the side of the road.

I love all living things and most humans.

The little raccoon was so small it fit into the palm of my hand. I took it home that night, named her Thomas Jefferson — because it was the 4th of July after all — and started to feed her with an eye dropper.

I researched diet and organized my schedule to ensure regular feedings, but it was too late. Three days later, she started to die. Despite my efforts, somewhere around 3 o’clock in the morning she stopped breathing.

When I told my wife the next day, she was understandably horrified. She informed me that it was possible that I could have gotten rabies and I must get vaccinated.

I voluntarily got the shots and became the hero and laughingstock of my little neighborhood. They would turn to each other and point at me approvingly and say, “if you see a rabid animal call Bob because he can bite back.”

So why did I voluntarily get those shots back then?

I didn’t really volunteer to be the game warden for my neighborhood but I did not want to get rabies and I certainly didn’t want to involuntarily bite somebody.

I also wondered if rabies shots were mandatory. I was surprised to find that with the exception of Kansas, Missouri, and Ohio, every state in the union has mandatory rabies vaccination laws for domestic pets but apparently not for their owners. The success that public health officials have had in controlling rabies is due to vaccinating domestic pets.

But what does this say about my parents? I got vaccinated for everything! Did they treat me like a pet?

As a child, I had been vaccinated for typhus, measles, mumps, and polio, and our reservoir water had been treated with fluoride to save our teeth. All this in order to protect the living generation from the transmissions of death and worse, tooth decay. I remember there were protests against all of these vaccinations at the time.

Recently, it occurred to me: Why not smallpox?

Why didn’t our pets and I get vaccinated for smallpox? It must have been mandatory! Because of this oversight could I have accidentally passed on smallpox and kill somebody?

So, I did the research.

In Europe smallpox vaccination began in the early 1800s, after Edward Jenner did cowpox experiments, in which he showed that he could protect a child from smallpox if he infected him or her with cowpox blisters. Jenner’s ideas were met with immediate public criticism. The rationale for this criticism varied, and included sanitary, religious, scientific, and political objections.

What a wonderful surprise!

Almost two centuries after Jenner hoped that vaccination could annihilate smallpox, the 33rd World Health Assembly declared the world free of this disease on May 8, 1980. Many people consider smallpox eradication to be the biggest achievement in international public health.

I felt even better when I concluded that it was patriotic to be vaccinated.

René F. Najera, DrPH, the editor of the History of Vaccines, an online project by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, reported that there is good evidence that the United States won the War of Independence because of vaccine’s precursor: inoculation.

Among the Continental regulars in the American Revolution, 90 percent of deaths were caused by disease, and Variola — the small pox virus — was the most vicious of them all.

On the 6th of January 1777, George Washington wrote to Dr. William Shippen Jr., ordering him to inoculate all of the forces that came through Philadelphia. As he explained:

“Finding the Small pox to be spreading much and fearing that no precaution can prevent it from running through the whole of our Army, I have determined that the troops shall be inoculated… Necessity not only authorizes but seems to require the measure, for should the disorder infect the Army… we should have more to dread from it, than from the Sword of the Enemy.”

In Times Such As These…

In Times Such As These…

I have always been a religious man.

I have always had a deep and abiding religious belief in delusions of grandeur.

This week, COVID and the new Delta variant are again threatening to curtail the opening of New York theater, and with it, so goes again my new play, The Grace of God & The Man Machine.

It is times such as these one must fall back on faith!

It is times such as these when I feel compelled to explain the basis for my belief in delusions of grandeur and why the hell I ever decided to write for the theater.

Is there no justice? I offer you, this, my theatrical pedigree:

My first big break in theater came in fourth grade at an all-boys school when the music teacher chose a friend and I to write the big closing song for our fourth grade graduation. The thespian spirit moved me! I insisted that we end this artistic opportunity with an emotional final line, a big crescendo, in order that we fully convey our deep love of fourth grade.

I was gunning for full tears from a breathless waiting audience of emotional parents as they heard that last line rising to its explosion of emotion with the piano teacher banging out the music as all my fellow fourth graders sang:

”… and we will always love fourth grade even when we’re dead and gone!”

There was stunned silence. There were no tears. There was an explosion of laughter!

That should’ve ended my career. But no…

By eighth grade, my fragile thespian spirit had revived. I had gathered a large collection of hand puppets so I offered to put on a performance for the entire middle school.

It would be a love story!

My mother had typed out my script but I could not read it at the same time as I was putting puppets on both hands. So, I soon abandoned the script and turned to all-out stage violence. I had the entire middle school with me all the way until I lost one of the fighting puppets over the edge of the stage and my puppet stand fell into the fifth grade.

I got my first bad review from a seventh grade teacher. He looked down his nose after everyone had left and asked me: “Where did you get your inspiration for that?”

My love story had unexpectedly turned into improv but it was my obligation to tell the truth. I think I told him I was writing, as all great writers do, from what I knew. I am pretty sure I told him: “Recess.” The show closed on my opening afternoon.

That should’ve ended my career. But no…

By high school, I had given up writing for the stage but still was not able to avoid further theatrical embarrassment. The drama teacher asked me to act what he called “a small part” in The Crucible by Arthur Miller.

Apparently the first choice for the part had dropped out. I had been given the first scene in which my character, the Reverend John Hale, first enters and I was told to read it for the tryout the next day.

I was surprised but flattered when, before the reading, I learned that I had been given the part. I was shocked that evening when I took home the script and found out that my character also appeared in the second act. The more pages I turned, the more horrified I became.

Not only did I embarrass myself on stage, I even embarrassed myself in the dressing room. Back then all stage actors, particularly if they had as many lines as I did, were “tall, dark, and handsome.” As I was putting on my makeup before opening night, the director stopped in front of me and waved his hands wildly and without a moment of kindness told me: “No! No! No! You don’t need a suntan. This is winter in New England.”

That should’ve ended my career. But no…

It got worse. I just couldn’t let it go. I started writing plays for the little theaters in Baltimore. After my first play, Oriole Magic, had been cast, I shared my high school disgrace with the actors, and told them how much I admired their talent because I had developed an overriding fear of acting.

On opening night, the director came to me and told me that the leading man had dropped out of the performance and that I had to take the role. I was beyond terrified. I now would be confronted with the most horrible nightmare I could imagine… I was about to forget the lines that I had written in front of a live audience.

I fled to the bathroom fully intending to lock myself in — but once I got in there, the lead actor, who I was supposed to be replacing, could not stop laughing.

So why do I keep writing for the theater?

I think the answer is I just want to be near it. There are so many happy memories. I wrote ten plays for the wonderful little theaters in Baltimore and though many were horrible, particularly the early ones, I was forgiven my transgressions and encouraged to write again and again. It is these people I remember with great fondness and respect.

Also, when I had difficulty with school, my parents helped me get through those times. They discovered my love for telling stories before I did. My father brought back hand puppets from his travels and built me a puppet stand in the basement. My mother stitched up the puppets when they were broken and got me to lie on my bed on the third floor and dictate stories to her as she typed them out on her old typewriter.

When I improbably committed to attempting to write professionally for New York theatre, I was not shunned. I was welcomed by an amazing group of unique artists who were so talented that they could turn words and beautiful collaborative friendships into worlds in which I could live for an hour or so.

It is too late now. I know why. It is the thing itself. I love it so… and, of course I have this new idea for a wonderful play…

Back to work.

Learning to Live from the Heart of Thank You

Learning to Live from the Heart of Thank You

I am trying to learn how to live at the heart of thank you.

Sixteen months ago, in March of last year, I left New York with a new play, The Grace of God & The Man Machine, born from the success of my one act play Onaje at FringeNYC. Mind The Art Entertainment (MTAE) had taken over management and production of the play and we were getting ready for an off-Broadway production. An unimaginable dream was coming true…Life was good!

Then COVID hit. Members of the team got sick, had to leave New York to recover and in some cases got the long-term devastating effects of the disease.

These people were my friends. These people are my friends!

The theaters closed. The effect of the pandemic on New York Theatre and on my friends was devastating.

During these dark times, the play was picked up by Riant Theater. They gave a surprising and outstanding virtual performance directed and staged by Van Dirk Fischer with amazing backdrops and brilliant actors who performed seamlessly from different locations and even different states. A remarkably large audience saw it and stayed on the Zoom call to discuss it for almost an hour afterwards. The pandemic loomed on unabated but the heart of theater kept beating…

On July 4 I was surprised and ecstatic. I received the following text message from MTAE:

“Mind the Art Entertainment will be presenting The Grace of God & the man machine by Robert Bowie as their opening mainstage production of their 15th season”

We were on again! We were headed for off-Broadway again! After almost a year and a half we were still alive. But then…

On July 27 I received a follow-up message from MTAE: The Delta variant is expected to continue impacting theater openings. This puts theaters back in closure scenarios for the winter.

… We were off again. There would be no opening this fall or coming year. Then yesterday I get this message…

“It looks like we are moving forward. Good. Sending you some project updates this week.”

This play will happen!

I jokingly sent a message back to MTAE

“We are going to Broadway even if I have to go in a coffin!”
I’m sure they laughed because they get it!

These people, for me, have more fortitude and courage than I can imagine. They have brought into light the courage of numerous others who have faced this pandemic with great courage: the overworked healthcare workers, the selfless care givers who have seen the elderly die without loved ones around them, or the deceived who begged for the vaccine too late.

I have been learning that if I can convert the selfishness of my own pain to a selfless understanding of others’ lives, I will be better off. I am trying to learn how to live at the heart of thank you.

All the people at MTAE and The Riant Theater are the heart of theater, and the heart of theater keeps on beating.

The theater for me has always showed me, on stage, who we are. Now the theater has shown me, in real life, what I hope I can learn. I am grateful.

An Accidental Diary

An Accidental Diary

Ever since I was a little boy I dreamed that some day I would have the opportunity to write professionally full time, so I practiced.

Twenty years ago, I decided, for practice, to write a sonnet a week for a year and to exchange them with a friend every Monday morning for 52 weeks to keep this discipline alive. After that year I forgot about them. They were just another exercise like calisthenics or running laps. It was just practice.

Recently, I rediscovered the sonnets but they were different. I was surprised to find that because I was forced to write every week I had accomplished something I’d never expected. I had written an accidental diary.

What was wonderful about this accidental diary was that it never was designed to see the light of day. It was whimsical and nakedly honest. In hindsight, each sonnet turned out to be a snapshot of a random thought happening at the given moment that I had to write.

Most were finished late on Sunday nights, written from scratch. One I added latter. A few were reshaped from old stuff if I was short on time.

Each sonnet covered every subject imaginable but together they were a subjective scrapbook of a year of my life. They were little stories written in 14 lines which ended in rhymes and a rhyming couplet to tie it all up.

Now as I turn the pages of that year, I can see how unconsciously I developed confidence and a sense of humor and I found my voice.

It is so wonderful to take the time to look back over your shoulder and accidentally discover what you didn’t know you were. Practice makes pluperfect.

Happy to Return!

Happy to Return!

After a brief vacation, I’m back and in a good mood! I am refreshed and reinvigorated after visits from the family over July 4th and thereafter, and also by great news and a fresh draft of a new play.

Or maybe I’m just happy because I’m not writing about politics?

First, the producers have told me The Grace of God & the Man Machine, which was ready to go on stage just as the pandemic hit a year and a half ago, is being reconsidered for production. Their design is to be opening off-Broadway at the beginning of next year for a 3- or 4-week promotional run. More on this later as it develops.

And second, I have a new draft for COVID comedy: The Future of the World in 70 Minutes. It is high stakes.

What makes a COVID comedy? Rebellion, revenge, and redemption?

Consider the deep lingering embarrassment rats have suffered since they dropped the ball 400 years ago when they failed to eradicate mankind with the Black Plague and thus save the planet. What could be worse?

Bats.

Bats are getting all the glory for COVID. They are smart. They have organized all of the planet’s animals and organisms to lay a new eradication trap for mankind. To trigger it, all that is needed is one revenge murder of a COVID spreader—in the name of justice. But why has the rat who has been assigned this responsibility delayed it for six months?

Could the rats fail again?

Our rat hero claims he can’t set the trap and the plan won’t work because humans are too stupid. Too stupid to fix global warming, the world’s pollution, or practice social distancing. Too stupid to wear masks and get vaccinated. So they can’t even imagine seeking justice against those who are killing their own fellow humans.

Millions dead and not even one prosecution or revenge murder? Even Man’s inhumanity to man will not work because mankind is too stupid.

Is that it? Or is our rat hero a victim of Stockholm Syndrome who secretly wants to go to Princeton, or has an eating disorder from living in a dumpster and is actually vegan?

The bats are very angry. They have just sent a general who is flying in from Wuhan. It must happen tonight…

Okay, so maybe I am still writing politics… but at least I’m happy because I had a great vacation.

Devil’s Advocate, Then a Short Summer Vacation

Devil’s Advocate, Then a Short Summer Vacation

I have decided to knock off for the next few weeks to enjoy the summer with the family. But before I do, just for the fun of it, let’s play devil’s advocate and irritate everybody.

Hey! Where are all the baby boomers protesting the January 6th “Stop the Steal” Capitol takeover and why aren’t they demanding an investigation?

And where are all the baby boomers protesting the misinformation being used by the Trump Republicans to take back the Senate and the House in only sixteen months?

The baby boomers divided into two groups back during the Vietnam War. There were those that were drafted and went to the war and those who went skirted the draft somehow and protested the war. Both sides claimed to be patriots.

The patriotism of the war protesters has always been tinged with a possible conflict of interest. Did the protesters prefer college rather than risking their lives at war? Still, their patriotism has always been secure because the war and its purpose were so mismanaged and the country was so misled. But…

But where are these patriots when our country and democracy are being threatened as it has rarely been before? Was that not an insurrection at the Capitol and is “Stop the Steal” not an ongoing attempted take over the country?

Is this not an issue that is far greater than the Vietnam War?

Those that criticized the protesters back then painted them as spoiled comfortable middle-and-upper- class brats who only thought of themselves and cared not for those who went in their place to possibly die.

What if the boomers are and always have been America’s selfish generation?

Let’s all pretend that it’s gonna be all right. The investigations of Trump will build and fill the newspapers with the same drip, drip, drip of sustained conversation as happened with Nixon. And slowly the big donors will drift away and the Trump party with its roots in Newt Gingrich and southern racism will finally die. And the Trump Republicans who only represent themselves will fail to take back the Senate and the House and gridlock the progressives as they did with Obama.

As the baby boomers drift into old age, don’t worry, it’s gonna all work out. Like the bumper sticker says: “The one who dies with the most toys wins.”

Still, it does make you think that maybe self-interest and the responsibility of patriotism was too much for my generation.

Wouldn’t It Be Ironic?

Wouldn’t It Be Ironic?

So what the hell is irony?

Perhaps irony is when you consider that the descendants of those who came from the previously enslaved may set the standard for the preservation of our freedom.

Last week I again listened to Amanda Gorman’s poem at President Biden’s inauguration and then to her TED Talk about how poetry is political. She points out that when totalitarian leaders take over, they burn books and imprison the creatives to silence alternative voices to their propaganda.

Today, I read a blog post by Heather Cox Richardson, the brilliant Boston College professor, about the courage of Frederick Douglass as he risked his life to secure his freedom. He was a tradesman in Baltimore with a relatively safe life compared to other slaves of his time, but he risked his life for freedom to become the leader he became.

He got on a train from Baltimore to New York with false documents saying that he was free to travel as a freeman. Once he left on that train, he was either going to get off in New York or he was going to be imprisoned and shipped to the Southern states and his likely death.

It must have taken incredible courage and determination to get on that train. He risked his life for his freedom.

As I read the news today, I am convinced that we are at a turning point for freedom in the United States.

The Republican party stands for nothing but itself, its authoritarianism, and Trump. It is unrecognizable and unreconcilable with its past.

There is a high likelihood that because of the propaganda, the falsehoods of “the big lie,” and the Republican southern legislatures that have curtailed the right to vote, the GOP will win dominance in the House and perhaps the Senate in 2022.

If we each do not act now to protect this democracy over the next year and a half, we will lose it as we know it.

I think of what it will take for all of us to get on the train.

But I fear we do not know what we are losing.

In Freedom’s Name

In Freedom’s Name

Apologies in advance. I am going to use the “N word.”

On August 16, 1845, 27-year-old Frederick Douglass, a runaway slave at the risk of recapture, left the United States for a speaking tour of Ireland and the British Isles to promote his antislavery mission. When he reached Dublin, Douglas first saw Daniel O’Connell the famous Irish patriot and, that afternoon, went to hear him speak on Catholic emancipation, self-government for Ireland and his hatred of slavery in America. After O’Connell spoke, he was introduced to Douglass. O’Connell had just turned 70 and was more than twice Douglass’ age. They shared their mutual hatred of slavery, and then unexpectedly, O’Connell introduced Douglass to the remaining crowd as “the Black O’Connell.”

Hats off to Robert Manson, who introduced me to this subject.
 

IN FREEDOM’S NAME

“…I was born in exile from my native land,
Schooled with whips, and shackled by my fellow man,
Raised as chattel, alone, a slave and bastard,
As the property of my mother’s master
But not until I was free to come and go
Did I find the family I didn’t know
And not until the courthouse in County Cork
Did I discover O’Connell in my heart:
The two of us, as one, exiled from our faith
Our people and safety, by a nation state

“…Before I landed, after my weeks at sea,
(Free in a white country would be new for me)
The kind captain of our ship, the Cambria,
Asked that I speak upon my wild idea:
The granting of my country’s slaves their freedom.
The Americans on board came undone ‘n
Violent: ‘Down with the nigger! He shall not speak!’
Captain Judkins confronted them when they reached
Out to throw ‘the god damn nigger overboard’ —
Were there no boundaries to bondage and discord?…

“…Not until, in Dublin, near Sackville Street Bridge
When I saw him down by Trinity College
And heard him speak at Conciliation Hall:
Hating slavery, but nonviolence for all,
The temperance pledge, the failing potato crop
And the Irish servitude he’d try to stop:
Freed now, this Catholic beneath the English heel,
Of Peel, the P.M. he’d called ‘that Orange Peel’:
Freed now, fresh from prison for his English sins
I heard O’Connell turn Irish words to hymns…

“…Not ‘til County Cork, with the crowd before me,
When I said his name, they, as one, rose for me,
And from within, I heard my master curse him
And wondered what if O’Connell were my twin?
…Not until my heart asked me: ‘Why hesitate?
Trust him, he’s Irish. He’s born to agitate.
Weren’t you both born with bondage your argument?
And both born to harmonize as dissidents?’
…Only then, I was surprised to discover
In freedom’s name, I’d found my Irish brother…”

 
Until we realize that our individual freedoms are dependent on each other, we will repeat this servitude without end.

Dear Soon to Be Graduates…

Dear Soon to Be Graduates…

I want to share joy, appreciation, and an observation during this hardship on all graduating seniors, whether from high school, college, or any school, during this, our second COVID Graduation.

I don’t really remember that much about all the details of my high school graduation. But I do know that the friends I made and that school itself still shape my life with a respect for the arts and a respect for the uniqueness of the lives of the different people of that school.

My college graduation I do remember, but more because I have made new friends each year when I return to carry out my responsibilities on the “Happy Committee.” The alums on the Happy Committee put on and manage the graduation each year, so I relive the happiness of my graduation each year by helping others celebrate.

In both cases, my memories of graduation have been shaped over the years by the present more than the past.

For the last nine years, I have written a humorous, often self-mocking ode, which I read at the Spring meetings of my Alumni Association. Last year, there was no graduation because of COVID, so my ode had to be videoed outdoors and delivered by Zoom at the meeting.

This year that ritual had to be repeated again, as a “pandemic déjà vu. ..all over again.” But this time I compared the university’s response to the influenza of 1918 with its improved response to the present pandemic, in again a humorous, self-mocking effort to tell a story of joy and uniqueness.

This year, my advice to those graduating is to stay in touch with your classmates. You will find that those reunions and the evolving friendships will make these strange years even more precious even though you had to suffer through a Zoom graduation.

My guess is that you will share the humor from all of this with your classmates over time, and the bonds will grow stronger because of the uniqueness of this year—and because you survived all the craziness.

“My Hat’s Off to You!”

You can view all nine poems here:

https://alumni.harvard.edu/community/about-haa/haa-poet-laureate

A Source of Inspiration

A Source of Inspiration

Yikes! Every day, in odd and different ways, I rediscover I am coming out of a dark place. So two days ago I needed someone I admired, someone inspirational, to show me some light.

So how bad was this bad place?

Two days ago, when I finished my first draft of a Covid Comedy about global warming, rats, bats and our place on the planet, I firmly believed my empathy had become misplaced by the pandemic.

The rats must be horribly embarrassed about dropping the ball 400 years ago, when their bubonic plague didn’t eradicate humankind once and for all. Because now, for the poor rats, it’s much worse.

The rats have been upstaged. These upstart bats are getting all the credit for COVID and the anti-homo sapiens dark web is reporting that the bats had unified all earth’s creatures for the great second global effort to liberate the planet. But the rats dropped the ball again because they are dangerously late coordinating and bringing out Bubonic 2.0.

Maybe it’s Stockholm Syndrome from eating human leftovers out of dumpsters for 100 years. I can feel their pain. After all, you are what you eat.

But think about how very sad the rats must feel now! Will they forever be remembered for being stupider than human beings who can’t stop global warming or polluting the planet or even stop killing their own kind and get vaccinated?

Yeah, that was dark! I decided I had better get back to creative and talented people to rediscover the joy which I had left behind.

I decided to call Van Dirk Fisher, an artist whom I admire greatly. I have never met Van in person. We have only met on Zoom calls but I have watched him work. He was the inspiration I needed.

The Black Experimental Theatre (BET) a.k.a. The Riant Theatre, was founded in New York in 1979, as a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization, by artistic director Van Dirk Fisher. BET is a theatre that entertains as well as teaches by nurturing and developing new works by playwrights that encompass the historic and social progression of African Americans and the contributions the Black community has made in the United States. Last October, Van directed and staged a brilliant virtual performance of my play The Grace of God & The Man Machine in anticipation of a staged performance when the NYC theaters reopen.

Van is an inspiration first and foremost, both because he has and continues to make amazing art and because he overcomes the impossible, always. I saw him cast the virtual play brilliantly and then proceed to teach the actors how to use virtual backdrops, even though they were located in different states. He was so good, he got three actors in three different locations to pass a joint as if they were sitting at the same picnic table. He created both the intimacy of theater and the close-ups of movies.

The talkback afterwards had as many as 80 people participating while he artfully directed the conversation.

During the call, Van and I talked about his theatre and his accomplishments as well as about preparing for the performance of my play at The Riant Theatre.

Through the dark humor with its roots in despair came comedy, but from the dark comedy came a conversation with a Relentless Creator who brought me back to a balanced optimism with his joy.

Delusions of Grandeur and the Marathon Man

Delusions of Grandeur and the Marathon Man

I can still feel the pain.

Over 15 years ago I jumped the gun and began training for the Senior Olympics.

I always had a plan. I had made my commitment, early in life, when I was in second grade. I committed the first moment that mandatory exercise was imposed at school.

I dutifully avoided strenuous exercise in order to have absolutely no injuries when I turn 90.

I always played goalie to avoid running laps. Hockey and soccer practice always ended with the coach talking shots on the goalie while the rest of the team ran endless laps… but not me.

No, I was strategically planning and waiting in order to let the great athletes of my generation destroy their bodies and knock themselves out of competing with me.

I decided at the age of 90 I would announce invulnerability with a big press release and maybe a huge parade.

There would be no Senior Olympic marathoners my age because by then they would all be broken down or dead and as the only competitor I could win all three medals in one race and even better, I could walk.

This was a perfect plan except I did not count on the mental error of premature delusions of grandeur.

Yeah. I made one big mistake. I started training too early.

The Marathon Man

In a world of educated guesses
About one’s loves, integrity and health
It is my custom to keep promises,
Even if they are only to myself.

Still being a tenth of a ton and all,
With sacred dictates of my religion
Requiring too much food and alcohol,

What made me train to run a marathon?
I trained on a treadmill, March to July.
Got my first “runners high” at fifty-five.
Depleted my life’s endorphin supply,
And blew out both knees and begged to die.

Ah yes, but to Hell with all of this fun;
Next year, for sure, I’ll be ready to run.

Accidental Beauty

Accidental Beauty

One of the things I love about spring is it offers a welcome contrast between my focused pursuit of heaven in a church with a fresh reminder that we live surrounded always by the accidental beauty of nature.

Sunday Accidentally Spent

I’m by the pool on this sunny Sunday
With my wife and two children off at church.
I’ve pulled the Bible off the shelf, on display,
From its front row center prominent perch.

I’ll read it after The New York Times.
Midway through “The Book Review” I half-see
A Monarch butterfly in the sunshine
Hold the Book like a Christian “wannabe.”

Once you hold the Times, its history.
Finished. Forgotten. Trash canned people’s dreams.
But the Bible and butterfly as extremes?
The Christian code and the fatally free?

Did the two of them touch by accident?
And was my Sunday accidentally spent?

My First Spring

My First Spring

Okay more spring stuff.

It is wonderful to remember the first recollection of spring in nature and as memory.

Thus another sonnet:

My First Spring

In my mind I can recreate the breeze
That gathered me and took me into Spring
While the snow melted after the last freeze
And my life as a boy was beginning.

Out the kitchen door, still eating something,
Late and half running as I pulled the books
On to my back and headed down hill, being
For the first time the product of my looks.

How could life have become so inviting?
How could the world warm with the thoughts of girls?
How could the clock of a planet spinning
Harmonize with these two so perfect worlds?

Odd how I can create that breeze today
And that boy comes alive in yesterday.

Can You Feel the Pure Joy of the Coming of Spring?

Can You Feel the Pure Joy of the Coming of Spring?

We have had three successive blue sky sunny days and slightly elevated temperatures in Maryland as the COVID nightmare begins to wane and the joy of life returns.

All of a sudden with the early creativity of spring there is mischief in the air and the planet reminds me of how fortunate we all are to be here together.

As a result, I have charged back into the things I love.

Mind the Art Entertainment is producing a radio play version of The Grace of God & the Man Machine, prior to the planned stage performance at The Riant Theatre when the theaters open again in New York.

In addition, I have returned to my work on a book of 52 sonnets to be published and available on Amazon by Christmas this year. In celebration of this newfound ribald mischief, I publish here one of these poems:

The Facts of Life

I swam, back then, with some father’s daughters,
Back stroking only slightly out of touch,
Out to the raft in the starry waters
And never thought of their fathers all that much.

My child, don’t judge me till you’re fifty-five
But there were midnight visits to “Ice House Pond,”
In my misspent youth, when I was still alive,
Where couples would strip, and swim and then bond.

And my child, this I know for sure is true:
At seventeen we all are born to be free
But ’cause I’m your father and I love you
Please consider this seasoned advice from me:

As you lust for life avoid the crudity
But don’t miss occasional sponti-nudity.

The Little Death and The Big Lie

The Little Death and The Big Lie

You know all those starry-eyed men and women who describes sex like “an earthquake”? Well, they’re gonna love fascism!

You think this fantasy has not finally become a reality. Well, who paid off a porn star as a campaign expense?

The statistical proof that the world’s population is increasing much faster than the number of earthquakes is fantasy for these people, but so is fascism. They are just loyal Americans following a former president who led an insurrection on Congress.

They bought “the big lie.” The lie that the “little hands” man won. What are those hats that say Make America Gigantic Again?

These people believe anything that might lead to an orgasm. La petite mort. They have no political agenda other than themselves and their orgasm. It must be treated as a sickness.

Last Sunday, CPAC sullied the conservative GOP’s good name at a fascist rally in Orlando Florida. Trump again unzipped the big lie and his fascist followers, who refuse to impeach him, treat it like a game for winning re-erection.

These senators have embraced their hypocrisy because they know they are safe. They use advance information about the COVID hoax of pandemic to insider trade their stock portfolios and take vacations to Mexico when their states are in turmoil. They don’t care. They will not be sanctioned. They’re delivering “the orgasm” to their followers.

If you think the attack on our capital led by a former president is anything less than the first step toward a revolution, bend over…

The Electoral College has repeatedly given Republican candidates the presidency despite a popular vote for the Democratic candidate in the past. And now 43 states have introduced more than 250 bills to restrict access to voting, ensuring that this minority will prevail based on “the big lie.”

The Supreme Court will hear the latest voting rights case and will likely uphold the restrictions. The Supreme Court, largely appointed by Electoral College Republican presidents, has been very hard on voting rights.

The fascists have always been there. They have hidden in the Democratic Party as well as the Republican Party. Hanging black people was a campaign event. One of them assassinated Lincoln, giving birth to the states’ rights arguments of the Jim Crow laws, which overturned democracy in the former slave holding states in the South.

If you think the attack on our Capitol lead by a former president followed up by CPAC is anything less than the first step toward a revolution, bend over and enjoy your earthquake.

Sympathy for the Devil

Sympathy for the Devil

This may be the start of a conspiracy theory, but there is a really big question hanging out there:

After that “freak” snow storm in Texas you’ve got to ask yourself, is Punxsutawney Phil, that  Pennsylvania groundhog, a Democrat or a Republican?

Think about it. What if that “freak” Texas snowstorm was about gathering support for the Green New Deal?

It sure looks like the “the deep state“ because the coverup is so clever.

It’s true. Think how hard it is to prove Phil’s party affiliation.

The election was stolen in Pennsylvania, so his vote was definitely destroyed and so “ipso facto” we will never know how he voted.

There may be even no evidence that he even registered to vote!

Just watch. The coverup is clever!

The Dems always want it both ways. They will say he had to vote by mail because groundhogs can’t sneak into voting places unnoticed so his vote should be counted.

But don’t get fooled by the lie that he voted by mail! Everybody knows he was in hibernation in November.

Lock him up! That groundhog should be indicted, unless Phil was actually a groundhog just trying to do its civic duty and he actually did see his shadow, but this was suppressed.

Did you see the press conference? Yes?

Remember after we were told that Phil saw his shadow?

Didn’t Phil look kind of unreasonably sleepy after months and months of hibernation?

He never actually said he saw his shadow, did he?

What happened to his First Amendment rights?

Very clever! Genius! Avoid the indictment by getting a groundhog to do your dirty work. And then, trust me on this, they cut lose the Sky Laser to redirect the polar winds to Texas!

Rush Limbaugh died last week. He was a true genius of radio and polarizing conspiracy theories: Obama‘s birth place, for example, or the 2009 healthcare bill that would empower “death panels“ and “euthanasia“ for elderly Americans. Even during his final broadcast, he insisted to listeners that the new administration had “not legally won it.”

He created this kind of talk radio. “There is no talk radio as we know it without Rush Limbaugh; it just doesn’t exist,” according to Sean Hannity the Fox news commentator. “I’d even make the argument, in many ways there’s no Fox News or even some of those other opinionated cable networks.“

Early on, he built conservatism as a satirist who evolved into the source of information for an ever- growing angry group of Trump supporters. Global warming was a “hoax”, the homeless were “compassion fascists,“ abortion rights activists were“ feminazis.” He championed homophobia and called a female law student “a slut” because of her testimony in favor of health insurance coverage for birth control: “If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex. We want something for it. We want you post the videos online so we can all watch.”

The FCC “Fairness Doctrine” was introduced in 1949. It required the holders of broadcast licenses to fairly present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was honest, equitable, and balanced. President Reagan eliminated the policy in 1987.

Rush Limbaugh made a handsome living after the end of the Fairness Doctrine. According to the February 18th New York Times, he collected $85 million a year and lived in a 24,000 square-foot oceanfront mansion in Palm Beach. He had a half dozen cars one costing $450,000 and a $54 million Gulfstream G550 jet.

Shortly before his death, the president gave Mr. Limbaugh the highest honor American government can provide to a civilian: The Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The protection of political speech does not protect the trafficking in misinformation.

Democracy, for its survival, depends on the truth of its information.

Welcome to the American Amusement Park!

Welcome to the American Amusement Park!

If you witnessed the 57 to 43 impeachment vote which exonerated former President Trump and then witnessed Mitch McConnell’s speech immediately thereafter condemning Trump after he had voted for him, you get a free pass for the new roller coaster (“RNC”), which just opened in our All-White American Theme Park.

Included with the ride you get that picture of yourself with your hands in the air as you descend screaming into free fall.

You can use this picture on your driver’s license or your passport. You pay for it with your taxes and the 1% get it free.

But Mitch knows what he’s doing so don’t worry about it. He is the magician, expert of the sleight of hand.

After the House voted for impeachment, he refused to return the Senate to vote during the waning days of the Trump administration. He then declared that because Trump was out of office, he constitutionally could not vote for the impeachment he had delayed.

It is genius. With the vote, Mitch kept all of his angry MAGA followers while reassuring the 1% who have been recently fleeing the Republican ranks. Trump, he was promising, will slowly be made miraculously insignificant as his MAGA voters get reprogrammed.

Can he pull it off? Is it worth it? You have to be careful of roller coaster rides. You know how they get all creaky when you go zooming around on shaky foundations.

Why does it seem that Trump’s unflinching base always seems unified by anger?

Because the Republican party has always kept in its little secret in its closet — with Willie Horton and “dog whistle politics,” and the unity of fear of anything but a White America

McConnell’s problem is that Trump didn’t keep the secrets. He over energized the hidden heartbeat that has really propelled the republican party at least for the last half century and the South forever: White supremacy.

Trump had overreacted, gotten greedy and gave away the secret and now everything may be exposed and disclosed.

What if the Republican Party has slowly been evolving to stand for nothing other than to hate the Democratic Party? When the screen is pulled back there stands the rich puppeteer who makes his haters dance.

“Trickle-down economics” was the lie of the Reagan administration, which was denied by even Reagan’s own supporters in the end. But it was resurrected by Trump in defense of his tax cuts for the rich.

Newt Gingrich and the Tea Party preached the “spendthrift Democrats” and all unified behind a balanced budget, but Trump has exploded the deficit.

How about the lie that Republicans are good for the economy? Since the 1930s, the economy has raised by 4.6% during Democratic presidents’ administrations, compared to 2.3% with Republican presidents.

It was built into the Constitution‘s DNA and with it the Republicans in all but this election have recently lost close Democratic votes but taken the presidency with the electoral Congress.

Slowly but steadily the American theme park has evolved into a haunted house of lost ideals with the language of the Constitution over our heads as each new generation optimistically walk in as believers.

We are better than this!

America needs a party of Lincoln that is dedicated to equal protection for all and also a party of fiscal and military restraint and good judgment. Washington, Lincoln and Eisenhower offer us great examples of what Republicans could be for us now.

The party of the South can no longer dominate us. Equality is good for the economics of this country and therefore everybody in this country. Why hold ourselves back? We don’t have to be afraid of our brothers and sisters of the human race.

Let this old creaky roller coaster fall.

Even Malcolm X realized that no laws can reshape a bigoted human heart. Painfully but realistically, he prophesied:

“Do you know what integration really means? It means intermarriage. That’s the real point behind it. You can’t have it without intermarriage. And that would result in disintegration of both races.”

Zoom Séance

Zoom Séance

The first rule of trial law is if the law is against you, argue the facts. It appears the first rule of impeachment is if you don’t have the facts or the law, make something up.

The law doesn’t help Team Trump in this impeachment because the country has been impeaching federal administrative officers after they have left office from the beginning.

The facts are all on film: Trump is on tape saying “Fight! Fight!” and he was not at a football game in a kick line of cheerleaders.

This is tough, but it may not be impossible for Team Trump.

The only winning argument that I can see for the Republicans is the previously untested “historical Zoom call.”

Rudy Giuliani is just the man to quote the Zoom call he had with King George III during his pretrial prep. The king confirmed that because the American Revolution was not an act of “sedition,” we are still British subjects. Therefore, the United States Constitution is unconstitutional.

He can rely on what we already know, which is that Zoom calls are really just séances: “King George? King George are you there? We can’t see you!”

Handled properly this is not a bad argument because:

1) No one has the facts to deny this

2) If there are questions, Giuliani, as an officer of the court, will swear that it’s true

3) Fox News will confirm it

4) The Senate has already made up its mind

Furthermore, Giuliani can forcefully deflect criticism by arguing that it is just those insensitive Democrats again. After all, King George is a senior citizen, and this is new technology! And also, he’s dead.

If Fox News broadcasts this, half the country will believe it!

What will protect America? How do we win back the hearts and minds of our fellow countrymen and women?

I know! I know! A counter Zoom call with Mark Twain!

Mr. Twain, how can we save ourselves from these despots? We can’t defame a dead king to depose a fascist president! 

“Our papers have one peculiarity — it is American — their irreverence… They are irreverent toward pretty much everything, but where they laugh one good king to death, they laugh a thousand cruel and infamous shams and superstitions into the grave, and the account is squared. Irreverence is the champion of liberty and its only sure defense.“

Do you mean don’t take them on at all? Next, they will have the Christian churches preaching it from the pulpit! Remember “In God we trust?” 

“The devil’s aversion to holy water is a light matter compared with a despot’s dread of a newspaper that laughs.” 

But I have been raised to believe that there will always be heroes that will protect our constitution! 

“We all live in the protection of certain cowardices which we call our principles.” 

Mr. Twain may have something here after all.

My recommendation is that the Democrats give the newspapers something to work with and not put up an argument at all. In place of legal posturing that will not persuade the Republicans in the Senate, simply hand out happy faces and little American flags that can be waved with syncopated knee slapping instead of objection or logical argument.

Have we really come to this?

Don’t look for me today baby!

Don’t look for me today baby!

Today is the most degrading day of the year if you are a groundhog.

Once again, humans are holding you responsible for predicting the environment.

At my house, we have a dirt basement with a trapdoor, where we keep an extensive collection of junk like old grills, a sun lamp, summer sports equipment including golf clubs, Wiffle balls, bats, and even the scuba equipment I use to sit on the bottom of the pool during impeachment trials or when I generally can’t stand people anymore.

I try to live in harmony with the universe.

Last summer, a groundhog moved in under our house. We lived in harmony. It would watch us play Wiffle ball as it ate our garden-fresh vegetables.

But just imagine what it must be like to be a groundhog this year, after a human pandemic and knowing half of all humans don’t believe in climate change?

I wouldn’t come out either.

But this year I need spring more than ever. So, this morning, before I even made breakfast for myself, I made a salad from fresh vegetables with nice cherry tomatoes and delivered it just outside of the hole under my house.

But then the empathy set in. It is a dirt basement after all. The groundhog is probably set up down there with its little gas mask on, only taking it off when it has to exchange the scuba tanks.

He is probably down there with the sun lamp on, sitting in my lawn chair with a wife and two kids waiting for the Super Bowl.

What if he has given up on global warming, too?

He probably doesn’t want to be an animal anymore. My guess is you could bring in Noah’s ark and the groundhog would probably blow it off.

What if over the entire earth not a single groundhog comes out this year? Not to spread conspiracy theories, but that would raise concerns that they may be talking to each other. They may be smarter than we think.

I can handle this! Genetics taught me about the end of the road. I know about stuff like this. I’m related to Jim Bowie. He died in the Alamo.

I am going to get a bottle of my best wine, three wine glasses, a couple of juice glasses for the little ones, and knock on the trap door.

Welcome to “Hangry Theater”!

Welcome to “Hangry Theater”!

We should be thankful that even though the theaters are closed we still have an alternative opportunity for “the willing suspension of disbelief.”

But what kind of alternative is it? Is it traditional tragedy? Is it comedy? Is it maybe the return of the satyr play — the last play in a Greek tragic cycle that featured all forms of bestiaries like farting and gross sex jokes to send the crowd off to the exits laughing?

This new form of theater doesn’t need a gathered audience. It can be dispensed through the endless dark web, Twitter and other social media, supplemented by Fox and MSNBC.

It’s brilliant. We all watch it. We can’t take our eyes off of it. It has merged “reality TV” with “enlightened self-interest,” but it doesn’t quite work.

It’s not Oedipus Rex: A former president meets democracy at the cross roads and brags the Statue of Liberty loves to be goosed.

It certainly is not like Julius Caesar either, where the Senate rises up to save the republic from a tyrant.

Wait one minute — what if it’s for a new kind of audience?

What does this new kind of theater provide?

It’s not just surround sound, it’s surround reality. Can’t get much better than that. Who needs those big crowded noisy theaters when you can keep your headset on and go to your own bathroom?

Regrettably, this new kind of theater may not be good for traditional theater. In traditional theater, the producers fight for money to put up their shows and maybe one out of five return a profit to investors. But with the recent “Trump Bump,” polarization is making everybody money, including MSNBC and Fox News.

This new audience is happiest when it is angry at somebody else because that’s what keeps the political parties flush with money and the audience shoveling more and more into campaigns, congressional healthcare, and retirement.

If you don’t know who is running the Republican Party, don’t ask — just watch the impeachment proceedings. But please don’t expect an answer, because right now I’m not sure if the Republican Party knows.

The only thing for sure is that the audience will be “hangry” — hungry for anger — the perfect couch potato entertainment.

After the Super Bowl and maybe “60 Minutes,” I’m sure they will let the lions out of the Colosseum and we can watch Rome burn.

It is a satyr play and we may be the actors, not the audience, but we are still free… to leave laughing.

What is the fair market value of a conspiracy theory?

What is the fair market value of a conspiracy theory?

Almost 50 years ago Guinness decided to sell alcohol in the American market. It put up billboards with the slogan: “Guinness is good for you.“

That was OK in Ireland but not necessarily in the United States. Guinness couldn’t really prove that it was the truth.

So in fear of being sued in American courts for “misrepresentation,” they changed it to ”Guinness is for you.”

For the last four years, President Trump has used Fox and social media to build his base with willful misinformation. And after he lost the last election, he claimed the election stolen was from him, a claim repeated endlessly by him and others on Fox and social media.

He could not prove it was the truth, because it is not, but maybe he doesn’t have to.

The question is: was Trump’s misinformation worse than a Guinness hangover?

Trump used this misinformation to encourage his supporters to come to Washington on January 6th to disrupt the Electoral College certification of our election.

The House of Representatives and the Senate were attacked and our elected officials were put at risk. Five people died.

American courts recognize and award damages for the dissemination of misinformation in commercial maters in the form of false advertising and in personal matters as defamation (formally libel and slanderer). But when it comes to misinformation delivered as political speech, it gets more difficult. The 1st Amendment largely protects that speech because it is political, but let’s follow the money.

Is free speech political? Or is it property, which can be sold to make money even if it is misinformation?

On October 12, Fox paid millions to the family of Seth Rich for repeatedly publishing the lie that he had been involved in leaking the DNC emails during the 2016 presidential election when in fact a Russian intelligence officer had hacked and leaked the emails. There was no truth or factual basis for the Fox story. Fox continued to broadcast it anyway. Fox settled the case before Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity were set to testify under oath.

What makes this interesting is that part of the settlement required that it could not be disclosed until after the election in November.

Doesn’t this Fox settlement requirement both confirm that their reporting was political and acknowledge that it was false all along?

If you can afford to pay for the lie and even profit from it, it’s OK? Is the difference between the settlement and the profits generated for Fox from the marketing of misinformation the fair market value of propaganda in America?

It is business. It is politics. The business of American politics. But what is for sale?

The influence over the American voter is for sale, but is the country at stake? Is the price tag for our country the cost of the propaganda it would take to buy it?

Can this really be what the framers intended? The revolution? The Constitution? The freedom of the people from King George? And then give King George complete immunity and absolute power if he becomes the president?

It is amazing how we rationalize the truth. Over the last four years, maybe Guinness has been good for me.

The trick or tweet nightmare and the future

The trick or tweet nightmare and the future

You don’t really know what’s going on unless you have the courage to read the tweets and live in the misinformation of his campaign. If you really think that this all will go away with an inauguration of a Democratic president, you’re crazy!

The Biden victory did not affect most of the embedded state and local Republicans candidates who rallied around and were supported by Trump. That divisive campaigning has not stopped.

It has increased with an attack on the legitimacy of the election and certification, which has been supported by Republicans who are still afraid to challenge the president.

As reported in The New Yorker, Stuart Stevens, a Republican strategist who advised Mitt Romney in 2012, tweeted: “The bottom line is that the @GOP has become a threat to democracy…it’s a clear and present danger and should be treated as such.” (Emphasis added.)

Steve Schmidt, a Republican campaign strategist for John McCain in 2008, called Trump Republicans “an American autocratic movement with Fascistic markers.” (Emphasis added.)

Below is a video that was posted on Twitter by President Trump 12/23. It’s a 17-minute video split into two parts. I wouldn’t want you to have to watch the whole thing but check out the second half. This tweet multiplied with 111k retweets, and 10.4K quote tweets and received 265K likes.

Since the election, Trump’s efforts to take over the country have gotten more extreme, culminating in efforts to overturn the vote of the people.

Abraham Lincoln, also a Republican, has been quoted as saying “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

Actually, Abe, all you need is 49% of the vote and the Electoral College.

Down a Chimney? Really?

Down a Chimney? Really?

A child’s memory of Christmas viewed through a grandfather’s eyes

 
Like a massive multicolored parachute
His boxers have collapsed upon the floor
Slightly south of a wrinkled Santa Suit
That was left just outside the bathroom door.

A bunch of imagined elves in repose,
Smoke’n cigarettes, feet on the table,
Hang’n out and laugh’n ’bout Rudolf ‘s nose
Are love’n life as only elves are able.

Another Christmas, is at long last, past
As the fat man shampoos in the shower
And thinks of golf and summer thoughts at last.
Who’s this metaphor for redemptive power?

An old fat guy driving a sled with gifts?
A father at midnight is what it is.

My Metamorphosis

My Metamorphosis

What is the matter with me? Is this pandemic changing my DNA?

What could be worse is that I am afraid that my house has become a COVID Cocoon but I sure as hell don’t feel like a butterfly in the making.

The only thing that might be worse is when you can’t get a song out of your head or… you start your own song and it rhymes and you can’t stop thinking you are… becoming a bug.

“So what did I do to get rid of this?
I went to the bookshelf but what did I see?
The first thing I saw was Kafka’s Metamorphosis
And I knew this was getting much bigger than me.”

It is true. The only thing worse than when you can’t get a song out of your head is when you know you’re becoming an insect.

My entire life, up to this point, all I knew was slap, squash, or use the fly swatter. I had never really paid attention to bugs. I just killed them.

Bugs clearly have individual intelligence and different IQs. Ants are organized, bees, and hornets are organized and mean, houseflies are existential daredevils, moths get suicidal, and stink bugs are just plain stupid.

Have you ever seen an ant make a decision? They are clearly deliberative and change their minds. I recently observed a particular ant for 15 minutes or so as it stopped, changed direction, exercised preferences, and hunted and gathered in my kitchen. It was just like me at the grocery store when I don’t have a shopping cart.

I clearly had to get out of the cocoon fast and go grocery shopping.

I got in the car, but imagined that there would be a sign on the grocery store door that said “No Bugs Allowed.”

I became frightened.

What scared me was the logic in that. The store obviously did not want bugs inside, but what about me? Don’t I have feelings too?

Once inside everyone was wearing masks and picking through the vegetables. They all look like unique little bugs with different IQs and shopping carts.

What does it mean that during winter they don’t sell fly swatters?

Then things got messy:

Maybe it’s all reverse reincarnation and the bugs were just waiting because they don’t want to become humans in a pandemic? Of course, that meant we had a lot in common, the bugs and I. Maybe Darwin was right. Maybe I’m not a caterpillar yet because I hate salads?

Maybe we — I mean all of us — wonder if we are being insensitive as we share the same universe?

Or maybe it might be nice if, one bright morning next spring, if I left my damn house after this whole thing is over… as a butterfly?

The trick or tweet nightmare and the future

This Argument Ain’t Over

The primary issue of every leader in any democracy is to protect and preserve free speech based on credible facts and information to ensure that the people control the government rather than the government controlling the people.

When faced with Covid, the Democratic Party defined leadership by asking “What is the best way to solve this national crisis?” They insisted the answer was to follow the best available science. Trump, however, defined the issue by asking “Why should American freedom be curtailed by overbearing mask wearing liberals and political correctness?”

For Trump, the primary issue has always been how to define the Democrats. He vilifies them on Twitter and supports media that broadcasts conspiracy theories, unsupported false information and propaganda in order to polarize his base. The Democrats have always been blind to this. It is really not a policy dispute.

Trump lost the election but this argument isn’t over.

Trump received 74 million votes and remains the voice of the Republican Party. It has been reported that over half of all Republicans believe that the election was stolen and Trump won.

The issue now is how can the country address this polarization in order to preserve its democracy.

The First Amendment broadly protects anything related to free political speech, so a democracy cannot rely on the government to police and protect the voting public.

In the alternative, the president of a publicly-held company would be liable for a breach of fiduciary duty for the Covid loss of life which could’ve been prevented if not for his self-dealing at the public’s expense.

Could the Justice Department create a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute Trump for obstruction of justice, violations of the Hatch Act and many other examples of malfeasance? Yes.

What if Trump pardons himself? This has never been tested and the authorities are split, but I am virtually certain that he could not. There are endless Constitutional textual analyses available, but a self-pardon would imply the founders granted an American president more power than the king they hated, and placed the President above the law.

The people could, through their legislators, lift the protection preventing civil law suits against private companies, such as social media in defamation cases. That is not government shutting down political speech — it is just permitting damages for false speech at the expense of a private citizen or companies. But it sure could change behavior if their revenues were put at risk for profiting from the political polarization.

The only solution is that the people must protect their own government.

Public discussion to change public opinion is the only solution. It is our own individual responsibility to find ways to revive public speech.

Democrats need to listen and may need to forego prosecution or vindication rather than prove to themselves they were always right. The Democrats have always been blind to this. It is really not a policy dispute. It is a private obligation.

Political Word Pollution in America

Political Word Pollution in America

America, when it was created by its Constitution, mandated free political speech as a necessity for an open and free society.

All of that is at risk now, given the past administration. The most damaging is the legacy of “fake news” and the resulting propaganda.

Prior to the Internet, political news was sold by a press that was dependent on the reputation of the newspaper which sold it. The source and credibility of the information is what gave it value to the consumer and the advertiser.

Since the Internet and social media, these safeguards have been largely lost because the credibility of the writer and supporting facts need not be disclosed at all and therefore anything can be pitched as credible including propaganda and fabricated conspiracy theories. It is all the same unless the factual credibility and bias can be challenged reliably.

A newspaper Publisher is presently liable for “actual malice,” as liable as the writer of the article. However, social media platforms are legislatively protected from this same liability by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. What makes it worse is if there is no liability there is little or no incentive for these media platforms to police the speech they publish. And what makes it even worse is political advertising in a polarized country has been very lucrative.

The media platforms claim that they cannot possibly police all those who publish anonymously on their portals. But they can and the price to our country is too great if they don’t.

If we file to create a corporation, drive a car on the highway, use the court system, or do just about anything affecting the health and safety of our city or country, we as individuals are accountable for the truth of our identity and the information we provide in order to get licensing. But anyone, American or not, can publish on the Internet and disappear.

This is a battle which is about to go into full swing and where we live will be determined by the outcome. Our free speech and our democratic government are not “free.” We assume responsibility for preserving them or we all lose together.

Voter Loyalty and the American Pastime?

Voter Loyalty and the American Pastime?

For almost 45 years, I have lived in Baltimore. As a family, we always went to Orioles games together. However, I grew up in Boston and every once in a while, my son looks at me and says, “You’d better not be a closet Red Sox fan!”

I said nothing under the heavy weight of the unspoken politically correct vote to make Baltimore great again: There would be no Red Sox swag or such propaganda allowed in our house!

What is this propaganda, this loyalty that shuts down discussions of the merits of the Red Sox, my former home team, and why can’t I have this debate in my house?

A long time ago, a law professor asked me, “What is the difference between a catcher who receives the pitch and moves it over the plate to convince the umpire it was a strike and a football player who fakes an injury to stop the clock?” The catcher was an advocate, because the umpire always could see the pitch. But the football player was a propagandist — a marketer of misinformation and a liar — not an advocate.

Has propaganda fed the polarization for the last 30-plus years at the expense of the love of the game?

The victorious Democratic Party had better start celebrating the game, not the team, because the game is at stake. It will be very hard to do, because the Democratic Party has done nothing to understand the 70 million people who voted for Trump. The party has furthered polarization by caricaturing and mocking the Trump Republicans. Maybe they are not all racists, sexists, hayseeds, or billionaires?

In 2014, I ran for office as a Democrat in a gerrymandered Republican district and was summarily defeated. I knocked on well over 5,000 doors, and almost everyone I met was open and friendly until I disclosed I was a Democrat. Then they slammed the door in my face.

In 2016, my neighborhood was flooded with Trump signs. This election, there were far fewer Trump signs, but often in their place were signs for a Republican candidate running for Elijah Cummings’ vacant Congressional seat. The Republican candidate was African-American and a woman. Was the Republican Party more important to my neighbors than her race or sex?

In a democracy, there is little or no protection against propaganda. Because we value free political speech, we cannot legislate against it. One person’s advocacy is another person’s lies. The only defense we have to protect the game is to talk to each other, discover the propaganda on both sides, and reject it together.

When my son was seven or eight years old, I took him to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox play the Orioles. He insisted that he deck himself out in full Orioles regalia, orange hat and shirt. He was loaded for bear, as were the Red Sox fans all around us. For about three innings they heckled each other, which ultimately turned into a mix of respect and laughter. As we were walking out, he turned to me and pronounced, “Dad, their fans aren’t that bad. And Ted Williams? They may be right about him… maybe.”

Baseball is America’s pastime and maybe that’s why there are so many innings. Maybe it’s a long game because everyone around you must talk to you, if only just a little, no matter who they are or what their political party may be. It’s part of the game.

If we let them, they will argue about everything: balls, strikes, the wisdom of that pitch or this player — but there is no propaganda. Everyone has a seat at the game. You argue for what you actually see. If you buy obstructed vision, you pay less.

I want to get back to the American pastime. To start talking to strangers again when we meet and we are reseated at a game where we have come to cheer on our team, yes, but are also celebrating the game itself and its longevity and history. After all, we are Americans who have historically thrived on disagreement and compromise. It is what has made us who we are.

Maybe it’s time to throw out the first pitch, ask the first question, and then listen and learn.

This May Be the Future of Live Theater

This May Be the Future of Live Theater

Last Sunday’s Zoom performance of a staged reading of The Grace of God & The Man Machine may offer an introduction to the future of theater.

The new format was advanced by a remarkably effective merger of the immediacy of live theater and the dramatic impact of the cinematic closeup.

The actors Duke Williams, Toni Seawright, C.E. Smith, Austin Sky Parker, Sheila Joon Azim, Tait Ruppert, Dexter Haag, and Peter Mendes brilliantly rose to the occasion with only four rehearsals and Van Dirk Fisher, the director of the Riant Theater, before a large and universally appreciative but invisible audience, magnificently shaped a new art form.

Judging from the chat rooms and the talk back after the performance, it was a huge success.

Maybe this is the future of theater even after the pandemic is over. Theater has always been an art form for live audiences. Cameras were reserved for the waiting room for those who were late to the performance and videos of theatrical performances always fell flat but maybe it will be different now.

Director Van Dirk Fisher and the Riant Theatre placed virtual backdrops behind the actors and the actors, all separated and in some cases in different states, reached out and past a joint between each other and exited and entered as they stepped in or out of the camera in front of which they performed alone.

The traditional narrator became a character in the performance, offering stage directions and blocking instructions as if he was organizing his remembrances of the story.

The reading took on an immediacy that a staged reading cannot provide, but the degree of difficulty remained almost unnoticed for an audience which tuned in from New York to California.

The infectious immediacy of theater and the dramatic impact of the cinematic closeup? Why not? Live sports events come to life for the fans in attendance and at the same time offer the close up for those viewing the game at home.

Van, always the scholar, always the innovator, always pushing ahead, told me that Zoom is perfecting moving backgrounds, such as a view of the highway from the car in motion. Imagine theater sets that move to support the live action of the performances on stage.

This could be coming as the innovation created by these remarkable creative artists.

THIS SUNDAY – A Counterpoint to Propaganda

THIS SUNDAY – A Counterpoint to Propaganda

It is unfair, but once again I am the lucky one. These people are unique!

This Sunday, October 25 at 8:00 pm (ET) my play, The Grace of God & The Man Machine, will be performed in a Zoom/virtual public reading by director Van Dirk Fisher and the Riant Theatre. CLICK HERE to get tickets.

When the theaters open up, it will be presented live on an open stage with audiences seated to watch it, but for now this performance is an example of an industry‘s remarkable ability to maintain itself and continue to create.

In early March of this year, we had just finished a table reading of the latest draft when New York started to shut down because of the pandemic. Just two days ago, nine months into this, Kevin R. Free, the New York director who ran that reading, begged on Facebook for people to please wear masks as he described the devastation on the performing arts industry and its 12 million artists:

“This is personal to us, our whole livelihood depends on social solidarity and we will not be labeled ‘non-essentials.’”

Artists have always been essential. They are the counterpoint to propaganda.

Now in an American election year which will define who we are, the theaters are closed. But this industry defines itself like no other: “The show must go on.”

In these times, an amazing cast of professionals (several of whom have Broadway credentials and all of whom are brilliant) are the ones to uphold this responsibility under these very difficult situations.

Artists in all forms are examples of independent courage. I found the same grit and determination when I first started to learn about writing for theater in Baltimore at the Baltimore Playwrights Festival years ago. I have come to love these people and this world which these artists create even though I am forever new to it.

There is a tenacity and courage in every member which is profound. Repeatedly, as I have met and worked with Van Dirk Fisher and the Riant Theatre on this production, and with others like Christian De Gré Cardenas and Mind the Art Entertainment, Sue Conover Marinello, Katie Marinello, and Parker Bennett, I have learned grit and courage from them.

For this production on Sunday night, I benefit from this resilience and creativity. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Van has responded to this nightmare by developing the art of virtual backgrounds and performance skills for virtual reality theatrical productions.

Think about that. You get knocked down you get back up.

Please join me and watch these remarkable people offer a counterpoint to the propaganda of an election year.

Come if you can. And if you can’t, please donate to support the theater if possible.

Jocunda Festival Play Reading of “The Grace of God & The Man Machine”

Jocunda Festival Play Reading of “The Grace of God & The Man Machine”

I’m thrilled to share that a reading of my play, THE GRACE OF GOD & THE MAN MACHINE (formerly known as Onaje), will be presented by the Jocunda Festival this Sunday, October 25th, at 8:00 p.m. (ET). There will be a Q&A afterward with the playwright (yours truly), the director, actors, and audience, led by Van Dirk Fisher, the director and founder of the Riant Theatre.

I would be doubly thrilled if you could join us — and help support live theater.

For tickets, register in advance on Zoom:
https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_nS9PhZTyTMimDacMyxCCeA

Donation: $15.00 to benefit The Riant Theatre. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email with details about joining on Zoom.

THE GRACE OF GOD & THE MAN MACHINE, a Black Lives Matter play, is an intricately plotted thriller that explores the consequence of racism on two individuals and their families.

Set in Eastern Maryland in the 1960s and 1987, two sons — one white, one black — meet by chance on the road, unaware that their families shared a life-altering connection years before. Now, their fate and their families’ futures may depend on the choices they will be forced to make.

THE GRACE OF GOD & THE MAN MACHINE allows the audience to ponder: is the die forever cast by a one-time choice we make?

“Having run this Zoom Play Reading Series since the pandemic began, I’ve developed directorial and visual techniques that make our Zoom productions visually, emotionally, and viscerally stimulating,” director Van Dirk Fisher said. “It’s something people haven’t always associated with the play reading format. Audiences also love the interactive and spirited Q and A that follows,” he added.

An O’Neill Theater Center semi-finalist, Onaje appeared at the 2018 Fringe Festival to rave reviews and sold out audiences. Theatre Is Easy gave Onaje its Best Bet designation and described its “high stakes story” as “the most dramatic, fleshed out near-cinematic play I have seen.” Onstage Blog said Onaje “brilliantly brings a sense of warmth,” and Blog Critic described the play as embodying “exquisite conceptualizations and themes.”

CLICK HERE to download the Press Release.

Family Love

Family Love

While waiting for a single engine plane
By a grass runway at the edge of Hell
I feel the evening come and watch the rain
And when the last flight is, at last cancelled,

I feel the breeze from an open window.
It gathers and it recreates its self
Perhaps from its beginnings, I don’t know,
In that primal place which remakes its self.

How much I love you is what you must know.
It gathers and it recreates its self
At the center of my own cold zero
In that primal place which remakes itself.

Comfort only comes from our common ground
When eye meets eye to pass a smile around.

Death Penalty Defendant Waiting for his Verdict

Death Penalty Defendant Waiting for his Verdict

“You be in this box of artificial light.
It feels like a hot house where nothing blooms
Under this neon ceiling that burns all night.
Where is the daylight in this damn courtroom?

Why doesn’t the jury already know?
My lawyer says ‘let them deliberate’
And then goes out with the D.A. for a smoke.
I heard them laugh about ‘it getting late.’

Tell me, what is a crime against the State?
The guy bitch slapped my girlfriend and took her hat.
Trust me, he had this death wish that couldn’t wait
But my lawyer never told it just like that.

God I want to leave this room and be free.
The jury enters but does not look at me.”

That Party In My Head at Night

That Party In My Head at Night

I woke up this morning in the darkness
And I woke with the need for morning light.
All night my mind made people that I guess
Were made up for the dreams I had last night.

Maybe my brain is like some bag lady,
Controlling, self-examining, so smart;
Gathering bits and pieces on her way:
The Greek Oracle with a shopping cart.

But what if she flunks her own quick quizzes,
And dreams some life that isn’t, and never was,
And I’m caught between my life as it is
And her dreaming and what her dreaming does.

Her crazy friends are having too much fun!
I’m just real glad they head home with the sun.

The Heron

The Heron

A tall shadow controls my autumn pond.
It moves on long legs and will stare and wait.
After the late March ice had come and gone
And the exchanged songs of the frogs that mate,

The lily pads rise through the clear water
To shelter the colonies of black tadpoles
That are born as eggs, like pupil eyes, pure,
And, like the rest here, uncompromising souls.

The summer heat reveals the baby fish
Spawned by the survivors of last winter.
By August it is like my winter wish:
Blooming like some Eden, ready to enter.

The heron knows nothing of what I mean.
By noon it will have picked the pond all clean.

Wondering About Eating Others

Wondering About Eating Others

Off with the lid of the fast boiling pot.
With white wine in a glass in my left hand
And with its tail clenched in its repeating knot
And feeling the steam, which it understands,
 
Is a lobster, tonight’s dinner, in my right.
But all along its thrashing tail and legs
Thick, fresh and glassy in the kitchen’s light
Are thousands upon thousands of her eggs
 
Expelled as her last act of preservation.
Now above the boiling water she lies,
Claws forced shut, on her back, in my occasion.
Far from home her children cannot survive.
 
Hungry, interested as an observer,
Like a God, beyond hope or help, I hold her.
Labor Day: Pre-Dawn Swim

Labor Day: Pre-Dawn Swim

The fireflies burn out well beneath the stars
And leave the shadows of the trees around me,
Naked here, in a galaxy at war.
Poolside, in my moon reflection, I will be

Dropping out of this humid world down to
The unexpected.Guillotined to cold;
Feet first with the water closing over you
And then shoving off the pool bottom, old

And stretching out as the new world runs by
Drifting utterly empty, my life gone
In my underwater wake and my eyes
Closed till I hit the wall and stand alone

In the shallow end and I am reborn,
I arise baptized with the coming of the morn.

 

Narcissistic  Beauty

Narcissistic Beauty

Iris Versicolor

Here, self-preservation is metaphor:
Two dry riverbeds that run the water
From the neighborhood to the reservoir
Hold the water when it rains, in order

That a semi-septic self-made swamp pond
On two grandfathered acres, that won’t perk,
Might be the birthplace of this flower on
This shallow marsh. Each spring I watch her birth.

The “Blue Flag”, out of the Iris family,
Has a throat of spectacled gold, and grows tall
On a solid single stem; fun, friendly
But at her roots she’s poisonous to all.

Self-preservation, as final duty,
Creates its own narcissistic beauty.

A Prayer for Our Future…

A Prayer for Our Future…

… But it’s one of those days where you start serious and end up with a joke…

Sorry.

The Janitor in the Classroom

I stopped to watch him clean the window glass
And wet mop the floor and make real sure
The day’s questions, unanswered, or unasked
Were washed from blackboards and the doors secured.

“His kids,” he calls them, who went home today;
They live the “life-changing experiment,”
Which is to navigate the unknown way
To save the future which we have not spent.

An old man’s mind makes orderly his past
But lives as the victim of his future.
He washes sinks and wipes the window glass
And prepares the classroom to make sure

The desks line up in geometric rows.
What they will learn will save him, this he knows.

… Oh well, what the hell
You never ever can tell.

If you think that he’s a dope,
We can end this with this joke:

An optimist’s fortune cookie
Tongue twister summary:

Our children are our heirs
Until theirs are theirs.

Wake up! The nightmare is about to happen!

Wake up! The nightmare is about to happen!

He will win reelection if he can:

1)  Create chaos in the streets & fear in white Americans:

That ain’t over yet. This is at the heart of his campaign.

He needs looters and the fear of Black people because “it won’t be your White America in 20 years.”

If he can again provoke demonstrations, can use Federal troop, and get looters — imagine October and election day in November if he can get looters!

2)  Eliminate the vote:

Aggressively underfund the Post Office so that the collection of votes can be curtailed for being too late, or lost. The post office is already underfunded. He will succeed in this if he has not already.

3)  Control the media message:

a. Sinclair Broadcasting (which controls the broadcast network for small media TV stations across the country) recently broadcasted that Dr. Fauci created the virus and shipped it to China. It joins Fox and Tucker Carlson (who has the greatest following of any TV host) in broadcasting intentionally false information.

b. Attorney General Barr will soon reveal the results of the third known investigation focused on the opening of an F.B.I. counterintelligence investigation during the 2016 presidential campaign, as well as the debunked theory that the 2016 Trump campaign was bugged.

c. Forget the courts! They will have no force or effect before the election until they can move as fast as Twitter.

4)  Polarize the vote:

Create a caricature of the “smug” and “politically correct” Democrats who remain arrogant, confident, and vocal that he will lose. He needs hate to bring out the vote.

5)  Control and dismiss any feeling we may be losing our place in the free world:

Well, nobody has cared so far that we abandoned our allies:

1) South Korea, Japan and Asia, leaving them to North Korea.

2) The Kurds, surrendering the Middle East to Russia.

3) Europe and NATO (as they abandon us).

He has done that.

Or that our enemies:

1) Make fools of us when they pay a bounty for killing our American soldiers (but if a Black man kneels during our National Anthem in a 1st Amendment Constitutional protest he is chastised for disrespecting our military? Really?).

2) Openly interfere with our elections.

3) Build up missile attack forces that can now hit our country and our allies, because our president has declared that our historic anti- democratic enemies are, in fact, our friends.

He’s done that.

And finally,

6)  Avoid blame or responsibility for COVID-19 (“The China Virus”).

No problem! Say the governors have botched it. He’s done that.

Forget the polls. Why do you want to be wrong again?

Half-assed Homily

Half-assed Homily

Okay, last Tuesday I posted a grumpy piece about writing plays in a time when all the theaters are closed.

In response, I received unexpected wonderful encouragement.

I’ve decided to forgive my pen and write a thank you explanation…

Sometimes Life is a Bic

(A Sonnet)

Within the four corners of your blank page
Lives the life’s work of a ballpoint pen
And the untranslatable language
Of its beginnings and of its end.

Its play at drawing portraits of doodle-faces,
Or stringing words to make a thought brought pure,
Or working the architecture of spaces,
Or just displaying the ego of a signature

Is to have enjoyed its own universe.
Even if it’s just dotted “i”s or crossed “t”s
And all work and no play has been its curse /It can mirror the joy we live and breath

But how entirely unlike your life or mine
Is a single thin line as a life defined?

… It is also an apology and thank you during this pandemic from me to you! ❤️

My Return to Genesis

My Return to Genesis

These posts and my blog are my second life as a poet/ playwright. Although I loved being a lawyer and starting the law firm, I have always wanted that second life.

Since March, I have grown increasingly despondent because the coronavirus has shut down the theaters and curtailed my evolving development. The quarantine made it darker, more claustrophobic and broke my heart. I stopped writing. I am too old now. I will never be what I had hoped to be.

But I have learned something beautiful. I returned to a sonnet cycle that a friend of mine suggested we write years ago. Both of us wanted an artistic life to be jumpstarted. Back in the mid-1990s, I didn’t have the courage to do it myself, so we began to exchange sonnets. This was the beginning. The Genesis.

The sonnets I have been posting these past few weeks are from that 1990s cycle. I went back to the beginning, and I want to say thank you to those that have given me a second life that I now better understand.

Although I love seeing my work performed, I have discovered that what I love most is creating, writing, and the discovery that entails. I delayed forever, but I owe a duty to Elizabeth Bishop (poet) and William Alfred (playwright, and my tutor), both my professors in college. They are gone now but the thank you is not too late.

From the start, they, along with Candace, my friend, taught me this real joy of discovery.

The Fireplace
(A Sonnet)

With two cords of hardwood stacked by the door
I’m ahead of winter again this fall.
All these years with no spark, no central core.
My art? To fortify’n avoid it all.

At Mount Auburn, my friend Candace and I,
Last winter, about this time, decided
To write a poem each week’n agreed to try
For e-mail delivery to the other by

Monday morning, coffee time. We would do
Fifty-two: Deadlines to keep us to it.
Miss Bishop and Professor Alfred too,
I hope these make you proud. Last night I lit

A new fire in an old fireplace
And dreamed I’d warmed your hands and touched your face.

Corona Meanderings: Lust & Love

Corona Meanderings: Lust & Love

Lust & Love
A Sonnet

His object of affection (but not of mine),
A belly button, seductively displayed,
Below the shirt which hides nipple ring outlines,
That make both her breasts look like hand grenades.

He looks for the screwdriver he has lost.
His is the world of replaceable parts.
Unscrew her belly button, her ass falls off?
Still they both dress to win the other’s heart.

The city’s suburbs spread out around them both
As they skateboard the parking lots and clocks
Keep the time and administrate the oaths.
Is there no place left to think out side the box?

Is the message of the world we are part of
That we live so long as we lust and love?

Going Deaf is Like a Blizzard in Summer

Going Deaf is Like a Blizzard in Summer

Going deaf is like a blizzard in Summer

A Sonnet
 

From a four o’clock sky the first snowflakes fall
To settle down on trafficked city streets.
Each snowflake falls separately, till all
Conspire to hide the city like a secret.

The last street lights go on, and the snow reflects
Upon the domiciliary landscape.
The more snow falls the less you really expect
The city to be what it’s supposed to be:

It becomes a beautiful blinking shape;
An image of slowing inactivity,
Slowing into snow drifts. It snows very late.
A pronouncement of peace subdues the city:

The drifting snow controls the city violence
With a voice made entirely of silence.
 
 

It is a blessing, of sorts.
A Summer Sonnet

A Summer Sonnet

Summer Thunderstorms

As with the generations long since dead
The fire and brimstone of the status quo
Wakes him up from the safety of his bed
And lightening frames him in the window

And photographs him in its afterglow.
Tonight he feels his present and its past
As the summer storm also comes and goes.
Conclusions are foolish in a world so vast

For at the edges of his world and heart
Far past the farthest boundary of his grasp
Where ideas cause worlds to come apart
He lives in this place that will not last.

He loves his life more than he can explain
And leaves the window open to hear the rain.
 
 

 

Still Freaked Out After 30 Years

Still Freaked Out After 30 Years

chum, chummed, chum·ming (verb)
To fish by attracting fish by dumping cut or ground bait into the water.

 

The Blue Hole of Belize

Was I the fool of this sinkhole of the sea
Or its pupil in this aqua ocean?
As I fly home, it looks back at me
Without memory or emotion.

Three days ago, while taunting me, Miguel
Said: “You dived it but not with me before.
I dive it deep. I dive it right to Hell.”
He took my money but wouldn’t tell me more.

Off the boat, with Miguel still behind,
We checked our gear and descended into cold,
Deeper, darker, to fear of a different kind:
Sharks. Hundreds of then. Darting from the shadows.

At the boat Miguel offered a helping hand,
Laughing. ”You understand? We chummed it man.”

Long Ago and Just for Giggles — A Tale in Two Sonnets

Long Ago and Just for Giggles — A Tale in Two Sonnets

Almost 25 years ago, on November 29, 1995 I visited the Mayan city of Tikal with two stoners before its restoration:

The stars over Tikal are frightening and bright.
I am here, on sacred land, in the jungle
Before dawn in the Guatemalan night.
The moisture and pre-morning has its smell

But I modernize the scent with smoke
From a little match to start my cigarette.
Cesar comes through the door drinking a coke.
He says he knew the others would all forget.

He won’t take me into the ruins alone.
Down the dark path, I follow my flashlight
Into the past, to where time has made its home
And into the temple and sacrificial sites

Where people of belief played their cosmic part
And reached through ribs to hold high a human heart.

Many years later I went back to show my daughter but it was now open to tourists:

The exchanging of colored currency
As soldiers lounged and smoked their cigarettes
While an old woman washed clothes in the stream
Should have been enough to never forget,

But I wanted to show her so much more.
We crossed the bridge into Guatemala
And into the land of the living poor.
Skinny dogs and pigs with hanging tits wallow

In the roadside brush as we both bus by.
Not even Tikal, ancient in starlight,
In its totalitarian demise
Got the primal message exactly right

But heading home, past pack boys with a load
A twelve-foot Boa stretched across the road.

For Father’s Day – Shaving My Father

For Father’s Day – Shaving My Father

(From the draft I wrote the day after my father’s death at 104.)

This is the last small room he will live in.
Every day I visit him at 4 O’clock.
We balloon the room with our forgiveness.
“Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped.”
“Not funny for a man this close to death.”
We share what only dark humor can express.
The Marx brothers, for both of us, are the best.

The men are waiting outside the door.
The electric razor hums in my hand
As it cuts along the cheekbone and the neck
Like a harvester on pre-Winter land
Across the snowbank of white paper skin
I harvest thistle from earths intellect.
They zip their bag shut but leave without him.

I really miss him on the holidays.

Everyone Deserves Their Own Conspiracy Theory… But I’ll Share

Everyone Deserves Their Own Conspiracy Theory… But I’ll Share

So we are a democracy that put a man on the moon but we can’t make voting machines that work?

Our elections are run differently in every state. Recently, Wisconsin voters waited in long lines, absentee ballots went missing in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., and more long lines and confusion plagued Georgia and Nevada.

The political parties could solve this with a simple bipartisan agreement or uniform act, but they seem to thrive on discord.

A few years ago, even our presidential election hung in the balance because of faulty voting and “hanging chads” in Florida.

The founders were pretty much universally in agreement about political parties. Alexander Hamilton called political parties “the most fatal disease” of democratic institutions.

Maybe voting doesn’t matter to the political parties anymore?

Are they more interested in representing themselves?

If you have any doubt, consider gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering does nothing for democracy. It is all about gathering power for one party at the expense of the other. It divides and polarizes us.

What if both parties are like that old joke about lawyers? “If you’ve got one in town she will go broke but if you have two they both get rich.”

The parties are very powerful in our county. They have defined the issues for us, and get funding and perks and benefits for their legislators, such as healthcare and retirement (which is always better than their constituents) and somehow they retire millionaires as “public servants.”

But in exchange for the perks, benefits, and campaign funding, the parties have demanded absolute loyalty to follow their agendas, such as near-unanimous Republican Senate votes on Trump’s impeachment. They have even discouraged open and free public disagreement among their members. Is that good for a democracy?

But it does make sense. Everybody benefits from polarization — except the voters and our democracy.

The polarization is great for advertisers on Fox, MNBC, social media and political fundraising.

Maybe your vote is less important than your political contribution.

Our American genius has always been that we are all very different, but we talk and compromise. That is our genius! Our genius is not factions and polarization.

Madison wrote it is the duty of “well-constructed unions [democratic governments]” to “break apart and control the violence of faction.”

If we really want to call ourselves a democracy, perhaps we should listen to the founders and at least start by protecting our vote.

Our Second Chance?

Our Second Chance?

There have been times when I have pledged to live my words but then have failed miserably with my actions. Occasionally, with the grace of God, sometimes I get a second chance to get it right.

Above all else, the framers of the Constitution feared the power of the king. But they created a democracy that permitted the sovereignty of white people over black.

White supremacy is the cancer cell in our national DNA. White people in America have always been the master race in our white democracy.

Almost every white president since the Civil War has directly or indirectly used racism and a “law & order“ campaign to get elected and looked the other way when violence was used to suppress people of color.

Between 1882 and 1968, whites lynched 3,446 blacks. There is no evidence of the inverse. To the contrary, Black churches that have been bombed have made it an act of Christian faith to invite all races to pray with them in the aftermath.

And I didn’t find any news about black men going to our schoolyards with an AK-47 and killing children either.

So exactly who are we afraid of?

Isn’t it just the same old Civil Rights demonstrations and a President building another “law & order” campaign ? No! Now it is with the backup of military action to suppress those 1st Amendment protests against our historically racist national practices.

No! This is very different! Our nation’s army used to silence our constitutional right to assemble and protest?

Trump and his Attorney General also are preparing to curtail the nonwhite vote in November. There is serious concern that if it is a close vote, and it will be, he will demand endless recounts and not leave office.

If Trump and his followers get another term, Black lives won’t matter and neither will the Constitution.

It is the King’s sovereignty over us all over again. Except this time, we can both liberate ourselves from a king and have a second chance for “liberty and justice for all.”

The question is whether this time white people will stand with all Americans to get it right, or lose our country and our chance again.

It Is Immoral to Misquote Yogi Berra

It Is Immoral to Misquote Yogi Berra

The one thing that I absolutely believe is: it is immoral to misquote Yogi Berra even if you don’t know who he was

Yesterday, in response to the rioting arising from the death of another black man by white police officers, a liberal friend of mine shook his head and said: “It’s just like déjà vu all over again.”

That quote is not applicable to these killings and protests, even though it may bring to light, unintentionally, our national nightmare.

In July of 1967, Cambridge Maryland was burned and Maryland’s Republican governor, Spiro Agnew, got national attention for blaming the demonstrators for burning down their homes, neighborhoods and destroying property. I know something about this because I was a young boy visiting the Eastern Shore that summer. The experience frightened me out of my youth so much so that years later I wrote a play about it.

President Nixon liked Agnew’s toughness. He needed a “law and order” guy to polarize support for his 1968 election. He chose him as his VP to whip up the masses against the “liberals” in order to rally the “silent majority”. It worked. Nixon won a plurality of the popular vote by a narrow margin but won by a large margin in the electoral college.

Sounds familiar… but still no déjà vu.

Maybe this will help:

Yesterday Fox News reported, “… crews on the scene in SoHo reported hundreds of people stealing from luxury stores —including Chanel and Dior — for hours on Sunday night going into the early hours of Monday morning. The looters were seen piling shoplifted merchandise into vehicles while others rode off with the merchandise in black garbage bags balanced on Citi Bikes.”

Many of the African-Americans who had organized the protests in Cambridge repeatedly said the whites lit the black neighborhoods on fire in Cambridge and then refused to put them out since they controlled the fire trucks. The white press never reported that. Nonetheless, the disturbance was defined as the destruction of “property.”

So maybe we have it wrong and it is about “property” and not “lives.”

Let’s refocus and see if we have a way to save human life by protecting property.

America became rich when it helped to rebuild Europe’s economy after WWII. It wasn’t a “giveaway!” Out of the rubble, we built a trading partner and Europe and the United States have prospered for almost 80 years.

So why can’t we create a 15-year state-sponsored municipal bond to rebuild Baltimore city? Not a “giveaway,” but designed to lower the tax burden on the state as re-development occurs? A long-term commitment to rebuild the city would instantly increase the property values, both commercial and residential and bring in national and international investors.

What a perfect time for Maryland’s present Republican governor to make Baltimore into a trading partner with the rest of the state. It certainly will be easier than unifying nation states that have been at endless war for the previous thousand years.

All he has to do is sell it to white Americans. The rebuilding could be entirely about eliminating the cost to the state of “giveaways” to Baltimore city.

It’s not a “giveaway” or, even better, about “Black Lives Matter” — it’s about property! Wow what a great selfish idea!

Hey! Let’s make Maryland great again! Baltimore was once one of America’s three most prosperous cities.

… But it won’t happen, because the rebuilding of post-war Europe had no black countries or black cities and that was our foreign policy, not our domestic policy.

The Constitution, at a minimum, sidestepped slavery or at worst supported it with the Electoral College. And after all slaves were “property.” Maybe racism is in the American DNA.

So in this case, Yogi Berra and my friend were wrong. You can’t have “Déjà vu all over again.” The situation is not repeating because it has never ended.

 
Photo by Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun

History Lesson from an Amnesiac

History Lesson from an Amnesiac

I distinctly remember being taught in high school that what made America great was its big heart and a commitment to democracy and freedom throughout the world. The country of opportunity met you with the words of the Statue of Liberty.

However, with America’s commitment to the IMF and the World Bank after COVID-19 still in question at the White House, I have gone back to when I thought we protected free trade as essential to the spread of democracy and freedom for the world.

Imagine if there had been no Marshall Plan and America had not aggressively led the way to rebuild Europe after the Second World War. That allowed us to create trading partners and free trade and made America and Europe free and able to prosper for the last 80 years.

In college, I was taught that free trade is necessary to build civilization. Free trade is like the blood flow through a healthy body.

I may have gotten it wrong, but I think without free trade there would be no America to “Make Great Again.”

Ten years ago, I visited Syria. The Syria that no longer exists. Entire cities have been wiped out since I was there.

Back then, I fell in love with the beauty of a pre-Roman city of Palmyra and its history.

Northeast of Damascus, it survived because it was at an oasis at the crossroads of trade routes in the desert.

Years ago, it was a burgeoning metropolis of peoples and civilizations. There were times when it was a nation-state and times when it was a city within the ever-changing powers of the region. Its independence depended largely on the prosperity opened to it by free trade.

From the beginning, America has been an oasis of natural resources, protected by our two oceans from the dictators or monarchies of the rest of the world.

As a new nation, I was taught, we became an oasis of constitutional freedom with trade between the states, to became a force in the world. Have our oceans and self-confidence become a curse now? We hear only the voice of the growing isolationism, of “America first.”

Over the last three years, it seems we have not been able to admit or see that we are falling behind and doing everything but making America great again.

I am certain I can still remember when America’s foreign policy was about keeping our oasis safe and the world safe for freedom and democracy.

Anyway, I attach these 10-year-old pictures of Palmyra. You can ride a camel there.

Don’t Settle for a Low Paying Job. Be a Poet Laureate — You’re Qualified!

Don’t Settle for a Low Paying Job. Be a Poet Laureate — You’re Qualified!

If you loved your education or even if you didn’t, but love the people, the culture — and you are pretty certain you should have never been admitted — you are a born Poet Laureate.

If you are worried about qualifications, no license is required. And what is really great is that there are endless jobs available because in most institutions this job has not even been created — so you can fill it by volunteering and hold it endlessly as long as you are keeping the alumni laughing.

And if you are worried about keeping your integrity this is absolutely the job for you! You can test this:

Call a restaurant and tell them you are a Poet Laureate. You will get a table next to the kitchen. You can insist on no favoritism and be certain that your request will be honored.

And it is not “a low paying job”! It is a no paying job, so you pay no taxes! And there are other hidden benefits:

I have found that as long as I have been a Poet Laureate they have not revoked my degree. In my case, that’s important.

I have been the Poet Laureate of the Harvard Alumni Association for the last eight years and I am living proof that no talent is richly rewarded for the pure pleasure of just doing this job.

Yes, I have proof:

The job requires that I present my “ode” at the Annual Spring Meetings of the Alumni Association and, for the last two years, for different reasons, it has been videoed.

Have fun with it. Two weeks ago, because of the coronavirus, I bemoaned the cancellation of our graduation and celebrated our student athletes and our football team:

The year before, I celebrated the Harvard Magazine and my former father-in-law:

For the text of the rest see the HAA website.

In truth, this is not a labor of love. It is more than that. I owe this school more than I can ever pay back. For me, it is my foolish way to say thank you. It is worth doing this for that alone.

If your institution does not have a Poet Laureate, volunteer. You will make a fool of yourself but you will open door for others to be free to do the same.

But if you are a graduate of Harvard, the job is taken.

For Everything There Is a Seasoning

For Everything There Is a Seasoning

What is so great about Classical Christian art is it is like getting morality training delivered in a horror movie.

You have to see it to believe it.

Consider Ugolino.

He is in quarantine for life and starving and has to either starve with his family or take care of his own bad self and eat his children.

His quandary is the classic question which pits self-interest against the rights of others.

He ended up at the bottom of Dante’s Inferno.

We have no vaccine or reliable testing that will allow us to determine who can go back to work without putting others in harm’s way.

We don’t have the equipment to make the correct decisions without all the information and we running out of time.

This is a horror movie scenario.

Maybe we have been kidding ourselves all along that our humanity is our ability to reason and think.

Maybe there are sometimes when you have to think with your feelings.

You have to see it to believe it.

In Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s sculpture of Ugolino and his children, you can feel the pain of Ugolino at the moment he is the making that decision. His children trust him.

It is that same decision which confronts the caregivers in emergency rooms and elected representatives as they reopen the country, decision by decision and case by case.

Look at all the expressions in that sculpture.

Quarantine Journal Entry

Quarantine Journal Entry

Quarantine Journal Entry #*@!%😱!

On Friday, March 6th, I headed home on a mid-morning train from NYC. We had been busy. The day before, we had finished a third table reading of The Grace of God & The Man Machine. The atmosphere had been wonderful and the actors had greeted each other with hugs and kisses, celebrating the act of making theater.

Other than my wife, this was the last time I have been within six feet of anybody for almost two months. Everyone in the world I know is in quarantine.

I have tracked my friends in New York and elsewhere, as some of them have gotten the virus, gone dark, and returned to report they are better but have lost friends to the disease.

The realization that this will not end easily for anybody has been made clear every morning as I’ve watched a cold spring come to Maryland under iron gray skies. I have been waiting for good news or some sign of change. I want the everyday life that I will always remember but will not see again.

Today, I decided to gather the little things that I might have taken for granted before, and make them into an exciting life that must be coming.

My social media manager Katie Marinello has already posted the Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal article written by Michael Millemann about the law school class that we taught with Eliot Rauh. We have been notified that it continues to be one of the most downloaded current articles. I read it, and instead of taking it for granted I celebrated it as part of a new beginning, a new opportunity.

A year ago this week, I recited my 7th annual Harvard Alumni Association poet laureate poem (a “serious” bit of frivolity which I dearly love). This year, because the alumni meetings will be held virtually, I was asked to write it and have it videoed for presentation tomorrow. Instead of being disappointed I will not see my friends and fellow alumni and present it to a live audience, I reviewed the video and found myself laughing.

Finally, the play I was afraid would die in New York City after that great reading, we have just been informed is a finalist for the New York Rave Theater Festival and is being considered for perforce in NYC in October.

A different world is evolving now, but at least personally it is starting to feel like we are starting to wake up from a sleepless night to a coming spring.

Everybody’s Looking for Something

Everybody’s Looking for Something

So, this is how I got tricked into my new unintended optimism:

With the coronavirus, we are confronted with a new “new normal” yet again. I am again surprised at how fast our world can suffer catastrophic change and how quickly we accept it and adapt and —yet again — take no notice that disaster recovery as a way of life may be in our DNA.

Yesterday, quite by accident, when I was deep in quarantine and grumpy, I discovered some old travel photos I had taken ten years ago and my mind played a trick on me.

I was thinking about how years ago, there were no security checks in our airports and how now they are an accepted part of our lives.

I noticed that each picture looked like it could have been taken today, but history makes that impossible.

Look at the picture of the sister bending to be photographed with her little brother and how instantly it was interrupted by two of their playmates who wanted to be part of the fun.

It was taken in Aleppo, a city which was totally destroyed several years ago during the war in Syria.

The second photograph is of a market in Luang Prabang at the edge of the Mekong River in Northern Laos. Since that picture was taken, Chinese civil engineers have changed the flow of the river and thus the life of that little waterfront Buddhist city.

But finally, the picture which is the cause of this my unexpected optimism:

It was taken by total accident in a street market in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I realized the surprise of an unexpected discovery:

“Everybody is looking for something-at the same time.”

All of a sudden, I was surprised by the present that I thought was the past.

The people are so alive despite their futures and their past. We put our best face forward. We are, by nature, resilient. It lives in the acceptance of people in these photographs, whether these people are now alive or dead.

It is who we are.

The Claustrophobic Philosopher & The Tiger King?

The Claustrophobic Philosopher & The Tiger King?

Being quarantined is like driving with your family at night when the government turns off your headlights.

First, you realize you must pull over because you don’t want to be stopped by an invisible tree or police officer.

The rest is endless waiting and the push and shove of group activity in a very contained space.

The driver instantly loses authority and the backseat gets more and more unruly. (This is an absolute truth.)

Actually, the seat belt is unbuckled for everybody.

There can be no consensus about the radio so it gets turned off.

Out come the cell phones, as people start thinking for themselves rather than for others, but there is no privacy so out come the headphones and the binge watching begins in strange existential silence.

Am I really watching “The Tiger King”?

The world outside the car is the enemy anyway, because no one can dress up to confront it. And worse, if they do, they must wear face masks and plastic gloves, which ruins the grooming and manicure.

As hope for alternatives disappear (“alternatives” are recognized to no longer be available), as a last resort we are confronted by our family and friends and the question:

“How did they happen?”

and

“Why did we end up in this car?”

It is not by accident.

Back when I was growing up in New England, the entire Northeast had a black out and nine months later the birth rate spiked!

You chose it. I don’t mean birth order—I mean you chose to get in the car. Is this car the architecture in which we chose to spend our precious time? Maybe? What are traffic jams anyway?

So why do cars have backseats? For procreation and the storage of loose children?

And this is who we end up with when the lights go out?

Oddly, as if by miracle, these strangers must be eventually confronted and recognized.

At different times for each of the people in the car, during their own moment of silence, something is recognized.

It is that you belong to them and they belong to you.

It happened to me. I am fortunate, and a little surprised to realize the “unexpected” has broken my status quo and given me an opportunity to get out of the car as a different person than when I got in it.

I am fortunate to have the friends and the wonderful extended family which I have.

But I had my moment.

I learned I don’t just want to travel with them. I want to appreciate them and not take them ever for granted and forget for a moment how much I love them again and again and again…

And why The Tiger King should probably end up in solitary.

Do Not Despair. We Have Our Art to Keep Us Wise.

Do Not Despair. We Have Our Art to Keep Us Wise.

The More Loving One

W. H. Auden – 1907-1973

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

 

I’m sure you did not know W.H. Auden. He died years ago. And I am absolutely sure he does not know you. But in times like this he is sanity from the dark.

Look at the care he put into this in order to talk to you. Carefully measured 8+\- beat rhyming lines that you can tap out on your knee, like a musician, as you listen. It is sing-song. It has humor.

Why would anybody bother?

Because the genes have made us human, and humans must communicate even from the quarantines of different worlds and times.

Why would a dead man reach out to you and encourage you to love in an indifferent universe ?

Humankind is nasty, but it’s capable of love and humor in the face of indifference. Why? It needs community.

We will get through this and we will come together because of it.


 

Is It Possible Work Can Change Your DNA?

Is It Possible Work Can Change Your DNA?

Okay, I may have a problem. I am a recovering lawyer and now aspiring playwright and poet. Is it possible that I miss time sheets? “Every six minutes” for a lifetime?

People used to say: “You are what you eat,” but what if you are what you “do” or have done?

Maybe I’m getting worse. At the law firm, I made a rule that if anybody could finish a story that I was telling I would stop telling it.

Now I don’t care. If I can get a second laugh or even a third from the same story I will repeat it, again and again. (And I’m going deaf so I’m the only one who doesn’t have to hear it.) It could be senility. It could be I’ve lost any sense of embarrassment, but it definitely demonstrates no merciful memory loss, at all.

The other thing is, even in retirement I must “work.” I have grown even more intolerant of delay because everything I’ve written should be on stage by now! Damn it!

What has happened to me?

In the past year, I have written or rewritten three plays. One (Onaje) has been produced in New York, two will be produced in New York (Vox Populi, for which I wrote the libretto, and The Grace of God & The Man Machine). Another, The Naked House Painting Society, is looking for a home.

Yes, I used to be impatient as a lawyer but now my stuff is not produced fast enough? Do I still need litigation? The need to measure work on massive conflicts in tight building blocks of measured time along with a new project have made me afraid.

I have started working on a poem based on Dante’s Inferno. Dante’s Inferno has 34 cantos and 23 six-line stanzas in each canto. That in itself was my wake-up call. How sick is this?

The law can definitely create “delusions of grandeur.” Might it also imprint the structured, ordered, anal impact of time sheets?

Is it now that I require 34 cantos and 23 six-line stanzas in each canto? Seriously? But I haven’t given into it yet, I think.

Still, as I started the Prologue and began to “write about what I know,“ I found a schizophrenic litigator’s theme begging for harmony. This is how it starts:


Prologue

With first light, or birth, or perhaps before/
And maybe after, comes the dialogue:/
The debate in the mind. Waves on the shore/
Each overriding the last. No monologue./
 
Two nagging voices in constant conflict./
One “as doubt“ the other “as hope,“ both spent/
Bickering on some path I did not pick/
Living the daily schedule of events/
 
As I wake and wonder where each day went:/
The debate in the mind. Waves on the shore/
Each overriding the last. What event,/
What plea, what prayer from my central core,/

What keeper of my life long travel log/
Can cure me of this endless dialogue?/

 
 
I start with a sonnet? How sick is this?

T.S. Eliot said:

“evenings, mornings, afternoons,/
I have measured out my like with coffee spoons;”/
And the poor man was just a banker.

 
Still, it will be funny and too long for me to repeat, so that may be progress.

A Big Jump Forward with a Confederacy of Friends

A Big Jump Forward with a Confederacy of Friends

Spring is coming and we have a new lead producer and manager and a “new” play. Onaje is now The Grace of God & The Man Machine. 

Mind the Art Entertainment is our new lead producer and manager, who will be working with Sue Conover Marinello. 

This is a big deal for us. The money has been raised for two new “table reads” at the New York Opera Center in late February and in early March. The legal documents will be executed in mid-March and then we will start raising money for a production.

How did we get here?

After Onaje got the rave reviews at FringeNYC, Kevin R. Free and his agent John Essay took an interest and made suggestions to develop Onaje from a 93 minute one act to a full length two act. I went to work with Kevin. 

Kevin and John have exposed me to a new and more polished professional performance, and Mind the Art has had numerous NYC productions, so both are big steps up. The performance dates will depend on fundraising and the acquiring of an off- or off-off Broadway theater, but we are focused and starting down this very challenging path.

All New York productions are expensive. This is a whole new world. It appears to be more about love and community than money. Most investors, large or small, love the theater and want to be part of the excitement. They are just plain “riverboat gamblers,” if they care about the investment at all. (The producers tell their investors that there is a high likelihood they will not get their money back because only a very small percentage of New York productions are successful investments.)

Over the last months, Kevin and I have met several times and I have been open to and impressed by his ability to X-ray the script and study its bone structure and life force.

We have become friends, and out of that friendship has come a much deeper and more powerful and relevant play because we were vulnerable and shared the differences of our lives.

As we worked on the play I have been surrounded by, and have commented on the politics of the present day.

Those of you who came and saw the production of Onaje remember that it derives from the civil rights riots in Cambridge Maryland in 1967 and its aftermath.

I have discovered that the wellspring of the play and the divisions within our country derive from our first beginnings as a nation. But also from that wellspring has come deep, loving, committed relationships and even great humor. That is what the new play is about. 

The support and belief of Mind The Art Entertainment has also been born out of friendship. Christian and Patrick commissioned me to write the libretto for Vox Populi based on the success of Onaje at FringeNYC. The year before, Christian, Sue, and I met in Wallingford, Connecticut at a class for producers at the O’Neil. 

The beauty of this creation is it comes from divergent backgrounds and is born from respect and friendship. It is in direct contrast with what this country is presently going through. The new play incorporates the present and our nation’s past.

Cross your fingers and wish us “break a leg!” It will be an interesting year ahead of us!

There Will Be At Least One Lawyer in Heaven

There Will Be At Least One Lawyer in Heaven

There is only one lawyer I know who will go to heaven — Mike Millemann. He recently wrote a law review article about a theater class aimed at teaching law students how to be better lawyers, which we taught together several years ago at The Carey School of Law at University of Maryland. The class was both bizarre and beautiful.

The students were tentative at first but, by the end, definitely loved it. In almost every case, the students were amazed by a third dimension this class offered to their law school education: compassion as it is embodied by our professional responsibility.

One of the students commented:

“Ten years from now, I am certain that when I am asked to share my most eye-opening class in law school, I will mention this class. It has been a learning experience that no other law school class that I have taken can come close to in comparison.”

The model for the class came from the stories of African American males incarcerated and serving life sentences in Maryland, who were later exonerated because they were determined to be completely innocent.

At the first class, one of these innocent men who had spent most of his life incarcerated under a life sentence, was introduced to the class. He quietly answered the student’s questions, remarkably without anger.

Each of these men had been through hell and had escaped it unexpectedly, and they shared that experience.

Throughout the writing and performing process, the students learned in a way that is completely different than the traditional law school education.

After going through trial transcripts, appellate briefs, the underlying facts and the law of each case, the students wrote a play. They collaborated, they wrote the roles of corrupt prosecutors under public pressure and eager for a conviction and incompetent defense lawyers who took $300 from the family of the defendant and provided only half-day trials in capital cases without prior research or exonerating witnesses. But also, the students wrote the story of the diminished hope and desperation of family members who were in shock by the verdict, and who over time grew despondent about American justice.

And then the students lived the roles which they created as they performed their play before a live audience.

In one case, Michael Austin, who had been recently released and had taught himself music during his incarceration, stayed with us throughout the class and was asked to join a class member at the side of the stage to add musical accompaniment.

In the last scene, the governor of Maryland announced publicly that Michael Austin was to be released. On stage, the student playing Michael Austin was asked: “Are you angry about what has happened to you?”

To the extreme surprise of the audience, Austin, barely noticed previously, took center stage and announced: “I am Michael Austin and I am thankful for the lawyers who accomplished my release and for the efforts of this class and this law school for telling my story.” From the surprise, came tears in the audience.

But more importantly, the class had learned what law school doesn’t teach: that a lawyer, when he or she takes the oath required to be licensed, has a greater responsibility to the society than almost everyone else. The oath is not a license to make money. It is a responsibility to “protect the Constitution” and the democracy in which we live.

The brilliant Elliot Rauh, a founding member of Single Carrot Theatre and I worked together on this class, but the suggestion and support for the project came from Professor Michael Millemann. He is going to heaven for his lifetime commitment to public justice and the unfairly incarcerated, and for this class.

Professor Michael Millemann’s article has already been accepted by one law review for publication and others are expected to express interest. When it is published, I will post where it can be read.

Featured in the photo: Michael Millemann, Michael Austin, Robert Bowie, Jr.

No, Lindsey, You Can’t Do That!

No, Lindsey, You Can’t Do That!

We deserve better than this.

Senator Lindsey Graham just announced that the Senate might change its rules to require Nancy Pelosi to submit the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate so that the Senate can have a trial (and McConnell now claims to have the votes to prohibit testimony and new evidence).

There are two problems with Senator Graham’s analysis.

First, the Constitution won’t allow it. Senator Graham apparently has not read Article 1, Section 2: “The House of Representatives… Shall have the sole power of impeachment.” And Article 1, Section 3: “The Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments.”

The House is the prosecutor and the Senate is the jury. So, until Nancy Pelosi decides to present the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate, the Senate can’t do anything but wait.

Second, the situation does not allow it. Every day new evidence comes out that has been withheld by the President and should have been part of the impeachment articles.

The House should reopen the impeachment hearings, subpoena the witnesses and documents, hold those that do not comply in contempt, and wait until they comply.

As I have written previously, the Speaker of the House in an impeachment proceeding has a duty to every citizen of the USA to ensure that the constitutional requirements of an impeachment trial will be carried out before she proceeds to the trial in the Senate. She is the lead prosecutor. That is her duty.

It would be a dereliction of that duty, a violation of the Constitution, and an acquiescence to obstruction of justice to proceed with a trial knowing that the defendant is withholding witnesses and documents, and that the jury has predetermined a verdict of acquittal before the trial begins.

She must wait for the federal courts to enforce the Constitution and order the witnesses appear and the documents be produce and are available for consideration at the trial before the Senate. She must not compromise . She must put the spotlight on the head-on collision between fascist partisan politics and the clear violation of our Constitution . The politicians are in control and we deserve better than this.

The senators will take their oath “of objectivity” and for many the hypocrisy quite possibly can’t be stopped. (It might be fun if the prosecution asks Chief Justice Roberts, the judge in this case, for the right to voir dire the jury to determine if there is pre-existing bias, which should require disqualification of senators who have publicly stated that they have made up their minds and are working for the defendant.) No matter what, however, Pelosi must wait for the federal court’s rulings requiring the testimony of witnesses and production of documents.

We can wait. Time is not the enemy of the country in all of this, but it is the enemy of an obstructionist defendant.
President Trump and Senator McConnell will show their hand if they lambast Pelosi for waiting for a court ruling, because they will show that the court and the delay is what they really fear.

They want to force a vote by a biased jury so they can declare victory in the President’s campaign. But if they are forced to wait, and they lose in the courts (as they will) before or even after the election, they will not be able to sweep their obstruction under the rug. It will be a historical record. It will be irrefutable.

Time is not the enemy! Given the time and a chance to talk together, more people will have a chance to understand and get it right. Nixon was elected by every state of the union except Massachusetts. Two years later, he resigned when it became clear he was about to be impeached by a bipartisan vote.

So, in fact, time and the Federal Courts are Pelosi’s ally. The more she waits out the storm and requires that the Constitution be respected, the more President Trump and Senator McConnell will be punished for their stonewalling and other violations when the courts rule against them.

Even though it is presently unsubstantiated, I fear that the President may attempt to use a foreign conflict to unify the country to avoid further focus on the impeachment. If that turns out to be true, that would be both frightening and further grounds for impeachment.

This must not be about election politics. It is about whether we can hold on to our Constitution and who we are as a country.
The question is: Does Pelosi have the guts to withstand the storm and represent all the people of the United States, not just the Democrats?

These are horrible times for all of us. The politicians must not control and divide us. We deserve all the facts and an unbiased jury. We are all Americans and a fair trial is the very heart of what keeps us free.

We Will See Soon Enough

We Will See Soon Enough

Regardless of how partisan things seem, Nancy Pelosi’s duties no longer run exclusively to the Democratic Party.

As Speaker of the House in an impeachment proceeding, she has a duty to every citizen of the USA to ensure that the constitutional requirements of an impeachment trial be carried out before she proceeds to the trial in the Senate. She is the lead prosecutor. She is an officer of that court.

It would be a dereliction of her duty, a violation of the Constitution, and an acquiescence to obstruction of justice to proceed with a trial knowing that the defendant is withholding witnesses and documents, and that the jury has predetermined a verdict of acquittal before the trial begins.

She must wait for the federal courts to enforce the Constitution. She must not compromise for anything less. She must put the spotlight on the head-on collision between fascist partisan politics and the clear violation of our Constitution, and have the Federal Courts confirm the Constitution and her protection of it.

The senators will take their oath “of objectivity” and for many the hypocrisy quite possibly can’t be stopped. (It might be fun if the prosecution asks Chief Justice Roberts, the judge in this case, for the right to voir dire the jury to determine if there is pre-existing bias, which should require disqualification of senators who have publicly stated that they have made up their minds and are working for the defendant.) No matter what, however, Pelosi must wait for the federal court’s rulings requiring the testimony of witnesses and production of documents.

Time is not the enemy of the country in all of this, but it is the enemy of an obstructionist defendant.

President Trump and Senator McConnell will show their hand if they lambast Pelosi for waiting for a court ruling, because they will show that the court and the delay is what they really fear.

They want to force a vote by a biased jury so they can declare victory in the President’s campaign. But if they are forced to wait, and they lose in the courts (as they will) before or even after the election, they will not be able to sweep their obstruction under the rug. It will be a historical record. It will be irrefutable.

No, time is not the enemy! Given the time and a chance to talk together, more people will have a chance to understand and get it right. Nixon was elected by every state of the union except Massachusetts. Two years later, he resigned when it became clear he was about to be impeached by a bipartisan vote.

So, in fact, time and the Federal Courts are Pelosi’s ally. The more she waits out the storm and requires that the Constitution be respected, the more President Trump and Senator McConnell will be punished for their stonewalling and other violations when the courts rule against them.

It is not about the election. It is about whether we can hold on to our Constitution and who we are as a country.

The question is: Does Pelosi have the guts to withstand the storm and represent all the people of the United States, not just the Democrats?

No guts, no glory, Nancy. Weakness won’t work. “Oh, say can you see?” We will see soon enough.

A Bathroom Museum and a Late Commitment to Christmas

A Bathroom Museum and a Late Commitment to Christmas

Perhaps because I am older, or perhaps because I am now a playwright and a recovering lawyer, I decided I would make a commitment to a more spiritual Christmas this year.

I committed to finding a passage out of the comfortable consumerism, “Jingle Bell Rock” on the radio, Alvin and the Chipmunks and the hula hoop, and into a less self-deceptive and more spiritually aware holiday.

My problem is I excel at self-deception.

In the past, I have always believed that I was sufficiently into the festivities to fool myself, and I would let the transformative spiritual moment gently pass.

No, in truth I am a wizard of self-deception.

I fool myself in little ways all year long as I artfully keep my “spirituality” — like my “modesty“ — at bay.

For example, I have a room right next to my study that contains the framed memorials of the important accomplishments (of which I am so very proud) from my life as a lawyer and playwright.

When I enter this room, I am reminded that I don’t take myself too seriously, because it also contains a sink, a toilet and extra toilet paper. But of course, it is not a private bathroom. If nature calls, our guests are forced to see what I am proud to believe I have made of myself, framed and on the walls when they lock the bathroom door behind them.

I have employed this same gift of willfulness and self-deception when I have prepared myself to let the holidays gently pass by each year.

But as I have said, I think things have changed now that I’m a playwright and recovering lawyer.

I have been forced to see things less as an advocate and more as an observer.

A judge or jury renders a verdict, but there is no redemptive celebration thereafter. Rectifying and resolving social wrongs, if that happens at all, offers no thought of spirituality and in my case, may regrettably explain the bathroom.

But as a playwright, I have come to observe that my plays are meaningless unless the actors commit to giving them life and the audience commits to embracing the performance and the work.

So I have observed that some ethereal things do not come to pass at all unless there is belief, commitment, and then action.

This year, I will find the time for that individual commitment and action on Christmas Day. After I celebrate the joy of being with my family, I will take a walk — perhaps just a little walk — out by myself alone and consider the universe, which I do not understand. I’ll stop for a moment and realize that even if I have no belief in a heaven or a hell, I accept that cold hand of “grace,” which is what so much of religion and spiritual faith is about. And then when I return back home, I’ll try not to see if anyone is locked and reading in the bathroom.

A Memory of a Soon Forgotten Past?

A Memory of a Soon Forgotten Past?

Today, I am mourning a Republican U.S. Senator that I was fortunate to know and serve during the impeachment proceedings of Richard Nixon. I must be wrong.

As the Republican-controlled United States Senate will soon consider impeachment, I have grown horrified by the contrast between what I thought I remembered and what I see today. I must be wrong.

So I went back and reread Senator Charles “Mac” Mathias’s obituary to check my recollection. I will quote the obituary from The New York Times below:

 “In a 1974 campaign speech [Mathias] quoted Burke’s 1774 letter to the Electors of Bristol: ‘Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.’”

I thought I remembered that Mathias believed he served the constitution rather than a political party and did not hesitate to practice these beliefs and defend them publicly:

“I’m not all that liberal,” he told The Washington Post in 1974. “In fact, in some respects I’m conservative. A while ago I introduced a bill preserving the guarantees of the Bill of Rights by prohibiting warrantless wiretaps. I suppose they’ll say it’s another liberal effort, but it’s as conservative as you can get. It’s conserving the Constitution.”

I remembered that Mathias exercised these beliefs often at his own expense.

“However he described them, his votes, his vocal unhappiness with the growing conservatism of the Republican Party and his lack of support for Ronald Reagan cost him leadership positions. In 1979, Senator Strom Thurmond maneuvered to block Mr. Mathias from becoming senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee.”

Although he desperately wanted to be the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he saw his responsibilities to serve a greater bipartisan agenda.

“His Senate colleague for many years, Paul Sarbanes, Democrat of Maryland, said Monday that while Mr. Mathias’s ‘most intense critics were within his own party,’ nevertheless ‘Mac commanded enormous respect on both sides of the aisle.’”

Mathias practiced the clear intent of the Constitution, unlike the recent Republican appointees to the Supreme Court who affirmed Citizens United and refused to address the political polarization of gerrymandering.

“Mathias advocated public financing of campaigns and ceilings on contributions (measures enacted the next year). He said that in his 1974 campaign he would reject cash contributions, take no more than $100 from any individual, report every contribution and expenditure”

My recollection was correct.

All that is gone now. The strict constructionist of the Constitution will cite the clear definition of treason, which requires aiding and abetting the enemy at the time of war, and will think nothing of a President and political party that will not impeach a president for turning foreign affairs to his political benefit, who refuses to fight and actually encourages the support and intervention of foreign governments in our elections.

All that is gone now, as our foreign policies, so carefully crafted after WWII to support the allies of freedom, crumble as we abandon the Kurds to Russia, and our allies in South Korea and Japan to the threat of North Korea, as it continues missile testing despite hollow promises to us. And finally, and perhaps most painfully, Europe turns to others as we let NATO and the European Union crumble before our blind eyes.

The Republicans will let the impeachment fail. But if the country gives this president another term, America, a shining “city on a hill,” will be gone as we know it.

It is different now, but it remains the same

It is different now, but it remains the same

You can call it “fake news” or the subjugation of truth, but when confronted by self-serving diatribes and obstructionist partisan arguments, I saw several witnesses at the impeachment hearings persist and tell the truth — or at least preserve its credibility — no matter how difficult that was for them.

When I was a driver for U.S. Senator Charles “Mac” Mathias’s (R-MD) during the Watergate proceedings, news and politics were different than today. Credibility was everything.

On TV, Walter Cronkite delivered the truth on the CBS Evening News. He was voted the most trusted man in America.

The newspapers never had that power of personality, but they doggedly stood behind their stories, even when they relied upon undisclosed sources like “Deep Throat.” They knew they were at risk every day.

Credibility sold the news, and advertising, and paid for heavy overhead and lots of investigative reporters.

Today, news sources on the web do not need credibility. They have followers instead.

They are also not at risk because they have few, if any expenses, and are often not even identifiable. Social media is flooded with unverifiable news sources, some of which are paid for by our enemies as they seek to disrupt our country’s elections.

Senator Mathias was from Frederick, Maryland — farm country — two hours west of DC. He was fiercely loyal to his city and his state. He cherished his reputation for integrity and his nickname, “The Conscience of the Senate.”

It was different back then, but it is still the same.

I was driving Mathias when he was summoned by President Nixon to an afternoon rally the next day. Mathias was to be filmed beside Nixon for the evening news that night. Mathias had, in essence, been summoned to give the President an unspoken endorsement in Maryland’s Washington suburbs, in Mathias’s home state.

Maryland is an overwhelmingly Democratic state. Mathias was no fan of Nixon and Nixon knew it, but Nixon was a Republican and so was Mathias.

Credibility was everything to Mathias but he couldn’t say “no” to the president without punishment from his party.

I picked the Senator up at his home that morning and we headed to his scheduled meetings.

The first thing he said to me as he got into the car was, “looks like that tread on the left rear tire is thin.”

After the morning meetings and before lunch, I offered to take the car to get the tire checked, but Mathias said he wanted me inside to record his speech on the handheld tape recorder I always carried with me for such occasions. He made sure he was never misquoted.

After lunch, as he got into the car he pointed and asked me, “You think it looks like that tread is dangerous?”

I insisted that I get the tire checked immediately so we would be on time for the rally.

The Senator thought for a judicious moment. “I think you are right, Bob. Let’s get it looked at.” But as I turned into a filling station he quietly said, “I have always bought my tires up at the Goodyear store in Frederick.”

By the time we got back to Washington, the rally was over. As I let him out of the car that night, he asked me to remind him to send his apologies to the White House.

To maintain credibility in the face of power, persistence may not always offer the opportunity to speak the truth. But at least it’s a statement on its own: the resistance is a placeholder for the truth, and it retains our gravity.

It is different now, but it remains the same.

I Almost Got a Chance to Cite the Constitution in Traffic Court

I Almost Got a Chance to Cite the Constitution in Traffic Court

I remember when Congress actually had good manners and I almost got a chance to cite the Constitution in traffic court.

Many years ago, from within a culture of politeness, I watched the U.S. Congress impeachment proceedings of Richard Nixon. Now, 45 years later, this culture of politeness in Congress doesn’t exist, but back then it seemed to have several benefits.

I got a job in the office of Senator Charles “Mac” Mathias (R-MD) as his mail clerk. My “office” was directly behind the wall that separated me from the receptionist and everybody else.

After several months, I got a chance to demonstrate my enthusiasm. The Senator knocked on my door and told me he had a “special assignment” for me.

He told me that there was a lobbyist right on the other side of that wall who was sitting in the receptionist area. The lobbyist had just threatened to pull all of his airline clients out of BWI unless the Senator voted in favor of a bill that would be considered by the Senate that afternoon.

The senator told me to take the lobbyist to the Senate dining room and take detailed notes on what he wanted.

I straightened my tie, went through the door, and introduced myself.

After a brief moment, the lobbyist looked me over and asked me, “What exactly is your job title?”

I proudly told him, “I am the mail clerk!”

He thanked me, declined my invitation to the Senate dining room, and left.

One of the benefits of this culture of politeness was it encouraged good manners without public reprimand.

The Senator eventually took pity on me and I became his driver.

Back then, the Senate was bipartisan and the senators got along. We filled up the back seat with the likes of Kennedy from Massachusetts and Tower from Texas. We all listened to the political news in the car together on WTOP.

Despite often radically different points of view, this civility grew from a collective belief that these representatives were exercising a shared power. It made sense. This responsibility of shared power allowed a culture of compromise and progress that we have not seen since the country has been polarized.

There was a reverence on both sides for the Constitution. Mathias always had a copy in his coat pocket.

No one was immune from this culture, including me. One time as we were headed to Washington from the western part of the state, Mathias leaned over to me, turned down the radio, and said, “We can pick it up a little. You are going to law school. If we get pulled over, you will be able to cite the Constitution to the officer.” Mathias smiled as he patted his coat pocket. “It is illegal to hinder a member of Congress on the way to a vote.”

I never asked him for the chapter and the verse. I just drove a little faster. It just made sense.

We Have Confronted the Enemy and It Is Us

We Have Confronted the Enemy and It Is Us

Sometimes, it seems as if Amtrak travels through America’s subconscious.

Last Sunday, on a cloudy afternoon, I took the train up to NYC for the “table read” of my new draft of Onaje. I put The New York Times on the seat next to me and looked out at the graffiti on the abutments of the bridges and junked cars in back yards.

We are divided by our politicians, but are we now divided from our children too? I had read about why the “millennials” blame the “baby boomers” for the world they have inherited and had wondered if there was a common beginning to all of this.

The millennials don’t have the ”spoiled child” anger of “sex, drugs and rock & roll” and “never trust anyone over the age of 30,” which was the mantra of my generation. Their anger is the residue of all that.

We were born into the rich, expanding post-war economy. They want a job to pay off the student loans for the education to get the job they never got.

How could this have happened?

To placate us, President Lyndon Johnson, ended the draft. Our parents — all of them — had been drafted and went to war together to defeat fascist nation states and rebuild a capitalist Europe, to allow free trade to rebuild the devastated nations that we had defeated, and then to break down walls to offer freedom for others.

For the college-educated boomers, it had been acceptable to avoid the draft, because we didn’t approve of the war.

Unintentionally, by doing so, we split the nation the millennials inherited into the privileged rich who would not, and the working poor who would fight our future foreign wars and salute our flag, after the privileged draft-dodgers had felt free to burn it.

The thing is, the “privileged” never followed through. After we graduated, the Peace Corps and public service became old news. We had bumper stickers that said: “The One Who Dies With The Most Toys Wins.”

We were too self-obsessed to notice that the seeds which had created WWII were composting here in our country as we let the economics of disenfranchisement grow.

NAFTA would bring those seeds to bloom with immigration reform. It was predestined, as the privileged got richer and the jobs of the working poor left town, and women still remained unprotected ( “Me Too”), and the city slums expanded ( “Black Lives Matter“). The white working poor were easily fanned into racist hate as they were left behind.

It was painfully ironic on Monday, at the reading, when the actors brought the past into the present. They brought to life a play about savage racist riots which happen in 1967, just as the early boomers went off to college.

It was painful to see how the cast of white and black Americans could so brilliantly bring the hate and violence between the races to life, and then break from their characters and become friends so easily and talk and laugh. It stood in stark contrast to the story of the play and to the anger presently in our country, now so divided that even families are unable to communicate.

How could this be? It may be that the actors had a common goal that was bigger than any individual in that room. They needed each other and enjoyed each other as they brought that common goal to fruition.

Perhaps the boomers thought only of themselves. The one percent now has all the toys. In the end, we are what we do, not what we say. We said we were ”peace and love,” but we had no commitment to anything other than to our avarice and greed.

We earned Trump and his bone spurs. He is one of us.

I have provided the names of these wonderful actors. Watch for them on TV and on the New York stages. They are each and everyone of them brilliant: Joe Dellger, C.E. Smith, Tim Rush, Khiry Walker, Adam Couperthwaite, Laura Darrell, Mary E. Hodges, Johnny Shea, and Erin O’Brien.

Rules of the Road

Rules of the Road

So this is what an old progressive thinks he learned from his granddaughter:

Last Sunday afternoon, before my visiting daughter and son-in-law went off to the 8:00 PM Ravens/Patriots game, I volunteered for the early morning shift of “baby duty” the following morning, so they could sleep a little later the next morning.

When Ann, my granddaughter, woke up at 6:00 AM, I fed her her first bottle of the day and we settled into the couch to read a book as we listened to a little Oscar Peterson.

Ann is a very mellow child — unless she is bored. When she is bored, she will cry a little until you introduced her to something new for her to look at or listen to.

When reading books finally didn’t do the trick, we cruised the house looking at artwork and the photographs on the shelves. She was verbal in her approval and remarkable in her concentration.

After a while, we returned to the couch and she bounced gently on my knee to Oscar’s rhythms until she fell asleep in my arms, her head on my chest.

Although we have known each other for her first six months, that morning something had changed. I had listened to her and she had trusted me enough to go to sleep as I was holding her.

We all live under a set of laws which are enforced in different ways. The government issues tickets for speeding or going through a stop sign, but the rules of the road are enforced by indignant drivers who honk their horns.

Nationally, we are punished for violations of federal laws or state laws, but in much of our country also, for violations of “political correctness.” The first two are enacted by our legislatures and interpreted by our courts. The third is the law of a progressive culture, and the rules of this road are now also enforced by the indignant. For them, it is as it is on the highway. There is no appeal for those who they judge to violate these rules, other than an extended middle finger.

Many of the front runners in the Democratic party, with the best of intentions, seek to codify many of these rules. They are indignant at those who wrongly disagree about America’s history of immigration, climate change, universal healthcare, women’s rights, and the rights of gay and transgender people. They have passionate supporters who look down their nose at the “undereducated,” who do not understand the new and better rules of the road.

When Alice and Rick, my natural children, were born they were “my” children and I demanded that I hold them almost immediately after their birth. There was a genetic bond from the start. But with my granddaughter, she is once removed and it was up to me to earn my place in “her” family. With both, I was equally as paternalistic and well-intended, but the relationship was different.

It is easy for a political party to advocate the “obvious” good intended for our country and its people, but how that message is received is the issue, particularly when these rules are seen to threaten the livelihood, safety, and patriotic beliefs of the unconverted.

Further, this intolerance makes it easy to drive a wedge between the two sides and demonize the believers in order to polarize the fearful.

The most effective advocacy starts with listening and empathy if you want others to be part of your family and you want to be part of theirs.

My granddaughter had a voice, if not words, and I had to win her respect and trust. If I had imposed my effort to teach her reading, or required she love the genius of Oscar Peterson, that trust would never have developed as it did.

We are not enemies. We are Americans that disagree. Trusting enough to listen may get us what we want.

The trick or tweet nightmare and the future

As the Pendulum Swings

As the pendulum swings we run out of time.

You know that old joke about if there is one lawyer in town he will go broke but if there are two they both get rich? I keep thinking that’s how our political parties presently work.

But what is wrong with good old American “enlightened self interest”? I mean the two lawyers are not evil or anything. They didn’t intentionally get rich. Same with our political parties.

It is convenient that there are two sides to every conflict, which could potentially become volatile and polarize us — hot button “call to action“ advertising helps but “propaganda” and “false news” really works great! Gerrymandering is just organizing and expanding the zip code of the client base when the holiday cards go out.

Somehow politicians go in poor and end up rich when they come out. How does that happen?

Almost five years ago, to the day, I ran for office in a gerrymandered Republican district and got crushed. I believed back then the people in my district would recognize that the gerrymandering by our politicians was starting to be responsible for the polarization of our country. We knocked on almost 7,000 doors. When I dropped off my literature, I talked to the people I met and almost every time, we joked and enjoyed each other’s company until I was asked, “Republican or Democrat,” at which point the door was slammed in my face.

The polarization now is much worse than when I ran, because it affects not only our country but our place in the world and the “moral authority” we have championed since the Second World War as “leaders of the free world.”

Last month, with the knee-jerk fulfillment of a campaign promise from our last polarized election, we abandoned one of our most loyal allies, the Kurds, who suffered over 11,000 casualties in our battle to eradicate ISIS in northern Syria (we supplied mostly air strikes and lost almost no soldiers). Now we are no longer able to claim to be their trustworthy ally:

Victoria Nuland, who spent more than three decades in the U.S. Foreign Service as a top Russian policy expert and representative to NATO, Ukraine, and Europe during the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, recently said in an interview with the Harvard Gazette:

“When you are an unreliable ally, then countries and leaders around the world who have bet their security by being on your team have to start hedging their bets and developing multiple relationships… We’ve already felt it vis-à-vis our ability to influence Turkey’s behavior; we’re certainly going to feel it now in Iraq. Israel has been hedging for quite some time in terms of its relationship with Iran. And you see it in other aspects of U.S. foreign policy. Why should the Germans listen to us when we say, “Don’t deepen your economic and information relationship with China?”

It would seem that this must eventually affect every aspect of our life including how safe we feel at home and the cost of the international products we buy in our stores.

Under the constitutions, state and federal, our politicians control the shape and parameters of the political districts from which we elect them. This could obviously be a very powerful tool to make sure that they get elected in a greater proportion than what would otherwise be appropriate.

The Supreme Court has had numerous chances to address gerrymandering but has refused to do so: “Partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” Chief Justice John Roberts ruled in a decision that split the court 5-4. He was joined in the decision by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, the court’s conservative wing. Polarization in the Supreme Court, too?

The real trouble is polarization cuts both ways. The Supreme Court, with this ruling, has determined that the Democratic Party in Maryland can constitutionally keep Republicans from having equal representation in the State of Maryland.

According to the Republican appointees to the Supreme Court, our politicians and political parties control our democracy, we don’t.

So what do I suggest? Before that second lawyer moves into your neighborhood, run out the first one. Then meet somebody with whom you disagree, discuss your differences, learn again how to listen, and then figure out a compromise together and do what only you can do. Overturn the Supreme Court and vote out any politician who won’t overturn gerrymandering, and by so doing, help make America great again!

An Offer and Acceptance

An Offer and Acceptance

Last Friday, I skipped lunch and went back to my Boston hotel room to watch Congressman Elijah Cummings’s funeral on TV.

Thirty-five years ago, when he was still a lawyer, we had a case together. I was representing a modular building company and he was representing one of the prominent African American churches in Baltimore, which had contracted with my client to buy and construct a building for Baltimore city primary school students.

Elijah and I met on the top floor of the church overlooking North Avenue where the ministers’ offices were located. He came over, shook my hand, and said, “I do a lot of criminal law and you know a lot more about business law than I do. Can we agree to work to make this fair for both sides?” I shook his hand and agreed that would be our objective.

The contract negotiations and construction took some time. As the building went up, there were adjustments to the plans and “change orders,” as there always are in construction cases, but we were candid with each other and each time we got it right.

Years later, I was at the Democratic convention in Boston and he saw me and came over and with a big smile he said: “Yeah! We learned to work well together didn’t we?” We both laughed.

I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and one of my favorite places is an old rusted fountain dedicated to John F. Kennedy. It no longer works but still has his quotes chiseled on its sides.

My hotel was in Harvard Square, so after the funeral I walk down to the fountain and read the quotes again:

“Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us — and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state, and local, must be as a city upon a hill — constructed and inhabited by men aware of their grave trust and their great responsibilities.”

Next to the forgotten monument was a sign that said: “No Skateboarding.”
No one was there except a skateboarder, practicing and re-practicing his art, and me.

It occurred to me that there are always laws which will be broken but we all, somehow, are subject to a deeper code. This was what Elijah understood.

Thousands of people, whether in the church or on TV, watched Elijah’s funeral. They watched and listened and were there because Elijah was an example of something we seem to not be able to forget.

Although in our daily lives and in our politics and governance it is sometimes lost, it is there in that handshake, that eye contact, that second thought that reminds us that it is as constant as gravity.

I saw Elijah on and off after that, in airports or at campaign events. He had become my Congressman. We would smile or wave. We were not friends, but we had once come to an understanding because he had offered up his vulnerability so that I could offer mine. And we could trust each other just long enough to do something right.

Two Good Friends

Two Good Friends

Working on the libretto for the operetta, Vox Populi, has brought me back to my love of poetry.

My favorite poems create a universe with a few words. Two good poems with a similar subject, put side by side, can introduce the creator of the other.

Like a painter organizes color and shape with his or her brushstrokes, the poet organizes a vision with the sound and rhythm of words:

“Whose woods these are I think I know./
His house is in the village though;/“

The brushstrokes? The sound and rhythm of these two lines? Speak them out loud. They are like the rocking of a hammock they are so smooth and quiet.

In complete contrast however:

“I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,/
I sought it daily for six weeks or so./“

Brush strokes? This is not like the rocking of a hammock, it is like riding a three-legged horse.

Those are the opening two lines of two completely different poems by two completely different people. Now let’s look at the last two lines of these two poems.

“And miles to go before I sleep./
And miles to go before I sleep./“

Brush strokes? The same rocking hammock. Compared to:

“I must lie down where all the ladders start,/
In the foul rag-and- bone shop of the heart./“

That must’ve been a hell of a rough ride? You are correct.

They are both about the end of life. The first by Robert Frost is entitled “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and the second by WB Yeats is in titled “The Circus Animals’ Desertion.”

Both are about “acceptance,” it seems to me, but that acceptance comes in completely different, very personal forms. Frost’s, in a late evening snowy New Hampshire woods, and Yates’, with the casting off his “Circus Animals” (his life’s work of Irish themes).

The libretto for the operetta is meant to be baudy and entertaining. My poetry, on the other hand, is a personal statement that is directed from me to the reader. It’s from my heart.

I have placed links to both poems below for your review and your own contrasts and conclusions. Feel compassion for these two people. They are writing because they are reaching out to you.

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

“The Circus Animals’ Desertion” by W.B. Yeats

 

Onaje Reflections

One year ago this past Sunday, our play Onaje had its opening night in NYC. We caught lightning in a bottle that night because of the exceptional talent of those people who came together to make that magic happen. Every performance was sold out and every reviewer gave us a rave.

Since that opening, Onaje has picked up steam, and is headed for a new production and a great future. We thought it might be interesting to ask: “Where are they now?”

Here is what we’ve learned:

Curtis Jackson, who played the titular Onaje, is currently assistant directing a new immersive performance Incomplete Conversations (produced by his company, Silent Theatre Company), a full-length play presented throughout multiple spaces and three floors. He also starred in Blacksite: The Musical! (produced by Soft Cage Films), and Eugenie, a short film with the Southside Filmmaking Youth Initiative.

Tim Rush, who played Henderson, was cast in the double role of Jackson/Kirk in Wendy Macleod’s Women in Jeopardy at The Shaker Bridge Theatre in New Hampshire last spring.

Bristol Pomeroy, who played Richard Middleman Sr, continues to be considered for TV and stage roles.

Prop Master Joey Paradise moved on to FRAGMENTS, a play about a woman with Alzheimer’s remembering being a girl in Austria during WWII. He also joined the New York company of Jersey Boys as a stage management sub and is working as a consultant and script doctor.

Ralph Meizler, our amazing Stage Manager, is currently in rehearsals for the touring company of Broadway hit Frozen.

Mary Hodges, who played Sarah, has been Assistant Director on Slave Play as it has made its way to Broadway! She can also be seen playing Judge Anita Wright on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

I also asked some members of my production team to send in their reflections.

Sue Conover Marinello, Producer

In the year since producing Onaje at FringeNYC in 2018, I have marveled at the amazing bonds this project formed. This story, the poetry of this writer, the vision of this production united us. The cast, the crew, the writer, the audience — so many wonderful people who make theatre possible — are joined in the shared experience that is Onaje. While this play highlights specific events that take place on the backdrop of an actual historical riot, Onaje joins us all in a shared history and quest to create a better America and world. It strives to imagine a reality where people respect one another.

To produce Onaje at FringeNYC was intense and wonderful. To continue to move this project forward to its next production is inspiring. The magic of theatre is borne out of hard work, focus, play, experimentation, and precision. Through 2019, Onaje  has grown. I am grateful for those strong 2018 bonds, and look forward to 2020 as producers, cast, crew, writer and audience will once again unite to make theatre possible.

Katie Marinello, Social Media Manager

Onaje was a life-changing experience for me. Bob and Sue took a chance, letting me be their social media manager while balancing a full-time job. I learned so much in such a short time as we sold out tickets, grew our following, and increased engagement. I felt energized in a way I hadn’t in forever. Not only did I get to work with a fabulous group of people and see six dynamic and varied plays in six days, my next client was sitting in the audience at Bob’s play! Since then, I’ve been able to quit my full-time job and launch KT World Communications, LLC, a social and digital communications company. Bob has become a mentor as well as a friend and client and I couldn’t be more grateful. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Jim Marinello, Assistant and fan

A year ago, I was lucky enough to see Onaje awe audiences night after night. Some of them remember 1967; many didn’t. Audiences came with high expectations, and they were not disappointed. Expectations have only grown since then. I have been a super fan of this piece since I first saw it in a staged reading well before the Fringe, and I am pulling for it to find the right forum and production to present its powerful message to a wider audience.

Informally, we have heard that everyone is doing well. More specifics to come but one year later it is pretty clear that good things come from collaborations with good people.

We thank each and every one of you who made this magic happen. If you have any reflections or updates to share with me, please send them along!

My Sappy Self-Addressed Greeting Card

My Sappy Self-Addressed Greeting Card

Ever since I finished the operetta with Christian in beautiful San Miguel, Mexico this August I have been having withdrawals. I have been waking up laughing from nightmares because they are in perfect Hallmark Card couplets:

“Happiness is when all your dreams come true/ ❤️❤️❤️

And become the job you really want to do./” ❤️❤️❤️

Instant dry heaves. What has happened to me? I can’t go back to sleep after something so sappy/awful as that. Probably because I’m afraid to… What is my mind trying to tell me? And I think it is permeating other aspects of my life!

“It also seems to happen when, without regrets/ ❤️❤️❤️

You start a blog and confess to dreaming couplets./” ❤️❤️❤️

Terrible! Terrible! OKAY! Think deep! What could be the cause of this?

Last Tuesday at noon on the eighth floor of the National Opera Center at 7th and 29th, I found myself looking out the window as the actors and Kevin R. Free were entering the room behind me. I should have been nervous.

I had reworked the script with Kevin and he had called for a table read to try it out with many new actors he had chosen. The room was on a corner of the building, so I had a view of 7th Avenue heading north and 29th west. From the eighth floor, even the traffic jams and people zigzagging past each other on the street below seemed to provide a calm order which I took for granted.

Kevin took control and the reading began. I decided to just listen. Predictably, but quite remarkably, the gifted actors brought the story from the page and built the characters and the relationships with their inflections. I was hooked. Every one of them was brilliant. They give a new draft its birth.

After discussion and feedback, Kevin, his agent John Essay, our producer Sue Conover Marinello, and I went next door for a drink and quick dinner.

The actors had universally loved the new rewritten play and those who had performed it before had said the already successful play had been substantially improved. Kevin, John, and Sue agreed and made wonderful additional suggestions. Only then did I realize, both the script and I had been on trial.

Being nervous would have been more than appropriate. But somehow the suggestions, the collaboration, and the successful result all were just steps heading for the more perfect production. Ok — so why am I dreaming in the language of heart-throbbing greeting cards? ❤️❤️❤️

The night before, I had been lucky enough to have dinner with Christian. He confirmed that in the second week of November he would have rehearsals of several of our songs for the operetta and then do a recording of them for marketing purposes. We discussed a new opera that he wanted me to sketch out. It all seemed so natural.

I decided to stay another night so I could see and study “Hadestown” which was chosen as this year’s best musical on Broadway. Christian had told me how much he liked and respected it. Without a second thought, I felt it was important for me to stay and study it.

That night after the theater let out, I walked through Times Square to get home. There were mobs and mobs of people taking photographs of each other below a massive screen, which showed the riots in Hong Kong in the constantly bizarre flashing neon that lit up the remainder of night. I felt oddly detached but quite comfortable.

The next afternoon on the way home, I chose a seat on the train that would allow me to look at the town of Havre de Grace as we crossed the river back to Baltimore. The sun was warm through the windows as it occurred to me: maybe all of this was normal. Maybe it was, just as I dozed off…

“Happiness is when all your dreams come true/

And become the job you really want to do./”

And then again, I couldn’t believe it! What is happening to me? I woke up laughing. ❤️❤️❤️

Good Advice, But It Was Too Late for Lear

Good Advice, But It Was Too Late for Lear

So his fool tells King Lear: ”Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise.”

I am 72 years old today and one step further into my next life. No not the afterlife… the next step and the opportunity of freedom which that entails. As it’s my birthday, I hope you’ll allow me this time to reflect…

I decided to start this blog several years ago to chronicle what would happen to me in retirement. I loved the practice of law, but concluded that there is a time to retire before you get in people’s way and can’t find the bathroom. I wanted to stay a little bit ahead of that curve so I got out early.

I already knew that eccentricity and determination always trumps a loss of intelligence. So this was my chance to be free to try something entirely different, but I still was not free of trepidation. Delusions of grandeur are a wonderful thing until you start to think you might act on them.

Delusions of grandeur are a wonderful thing until you start to think you might act on them. Click To Tweet

Nonetheless, I first decided I would become a “political force” as a Democrat in an entirely gerrymandered Republican district because I was very concerned about how we, as a country, were being divided by political forces and I was going to change that. This was Trump country. I raised more money than all my Republican opponents combined and knocked on almost 7000 doors for more than a half a year. I was resoundingly defeated and Trump became our president.

Because I obviously had learned nothing about impossibility, next I decided I would become a professional playwright. I bought a Shakespeare coffee mug and applied to the Yale Drama school, fully believing that I would be the oldest applicant ever accepted to Yale’s drama school. I succeeded only in becoming the oldest applicant ever rejected by Yale’s drama school. Nonetheless, I had decided this is what I wanted to do.

Obviously I had to rethink this thing again, with just a little more of my failing intelligence. So I applied to the Commercial Theater Institute (CTI) of New York for a class in producing theater. I had a plan. When the first morning of class broke up the students got lunch and inevitability they talked about what plays they were considering producing. When it came to my turn to talk I informed them I wasn’t considering producing anything. I wanted them to produce me. It worked. The impossible happened. A young producer agreed to read my work, liked it and arranged for professional staged readings in San Francisco and later in New York.

Because I had excelled in something I didn’t want to do and I had completed an introductory class in it, I applied for an advanced class in producing at the prestigious O’Neill Conference in Waterford Connecticut. I got in and there I met Sue Conover Marinello, who produced my play Onaje with great success last year in New York, and Christian De Gré Cardenas of Mind the Art Entertainment who has an amazing history of producing and also writing the music for a number of amazing operettas in New York. Both became friends.

After Sue Conover Marinello’s production of Onaje in New York, Mind the Art commissioned me to write the libretto for an operetta, Vox Populi, a comedy about the seventh deadly sin of pride, for Christian’s music. Last month, Christian and I completed the operetta in San Miguel Mexico.

Because Onaje had done so well, Sue convinced Kevin R. Free, the wonderful NYC director, to read the script. Kevin had fresh and original insights which lead to my reworking the script and his commitment to direct its next production.

The blog has become a happy travelogue. It is a history of mistakes and opportunities. It has taught me that even though I may not succeed in any of this, I’ve lost the fear of failure and each day is more fun than the last. The next step into a new thing is the hardest thing I ever do but it is getting easier with age.

Maybe an Old Dog Can Learn a New Trick… Maybe

Maybe an Old Dog Can Learn a New Trick… Maybe

I’m trying to teach an old dog a new trick: “patience.” But “impatience” has been one of that old dog’s primary character traits. I am that old dog.

After my play Onaje received its wonderful reviews in New York last October, I was impatient to immediately take it “off-Broadway,” but I was advised because New York is so expensive (The New York Times reported last Sunday that the brilliant and very controversial new Slave Play has spent $3.4 million to get to previews on Broadway) to be patient and watch “good things happen” before the next step.

I was patient and great things happened. Kevin R. Free, the gifted New York director, read the script and was interested but he told me, ”You missed an opportunity.” Dan, Onaje’s father, is African American, and his counterpart, Richard Middleman, Jr.’s father, is white. Both were fellow crabbers and friends down at the docks. Both have been missing their sons because of what happened “that night” so many years ago. What did that do to their friendship? Isn’t that question at the heart of this play?

It was as if Kevin had X-rayed the play and found the missing piece that lifted the play from specific to universal, and I had found a friend and hopefully the dream director who knew the script at least as well as I did and perhaps better. It was the same play but, looked at from a different angle, it was no longer just about Onaje— it had become about “American Terrorists,” the Klan as a destroyer of families.

I immediately started to rewrite so that I could send the new draft to Kevin. He like the rewrite and agreed to direct it in the future, but he wanted to have a table reading of the new script. I, of course, became impatient but I am learning ever so slowly that collaboration offers a kind of maturation and focus.

The play is getting stronger. Kevin’s agent, John Essay, and our producer, Sue Conover Marinello are working together and looking at budgets, venues, and theater opportunities.

The table reading has been set for October. We are off to the birth of a new and much more powerful play that will hit the stage soon but, of course, never soon enough for me. The actors will assemble at the Opera Center on Seventh Avenue in the next few weeks and we will hear a deeper and richer story come to life and I will grow wiser and benefit from learning to become more mature and, patient… Maybe.

Blessed by My Second Curtain Call

Blessed by My Second Curtain Call

Blessings come in little revelations.

I have thrown myself headlong into my new career as a playwright, but always with the lingering regret that I had not committed to this career sooner. All my new friends in this artistic world are half my age and struggling artists, working, and in many cases raising a family at the same time. I have told people that I have 40 years to make up before I can accomplish what I want to be. I have set up a little office where I write and edit from 9:30 to 4:30. I work hard everyday.

I rarely stop to appreciate the success I have had. Within the last year, I have seen one play extremely successfully performed in NYC, been commissioned to write a libretto for an operetta with the highly acclaimed Christian De Gré Cardenas, and just this month, traveled to Mexico with him, where we finished the operetta. I am very fortunate to be working with an extremely accomplished director and actor, Kevin R. Free, to bring a new and more vibrant Onaje alive in a broader venue in New York City. I have been a man on a mission because of my age and late start.

While I was working on the operetta with Christian in Mexico, he casually mentioned that a mutual friend of ours, Brian, said to him: “You know, Bob has done it right. He made sufficient money so now he is free to work full-time on his art.” That surprised me. I have thought about it and I am not late. I am extremely fortunate to be where I am right now.

I love what I am doing. I have a lifetime of experience to draw from as a writer and a gathering of friends who can help me mature into what I hope to become. I have just finished reworking a new play and am about to send it to my producer, Sue Conover Marinello, for her review and distribution and to Parker Bennett and Katie Marinello for comment and publicity. I have already outlined another play and am researching for another libretto, both of which I will complete before spring.

As I approach my 72nd birthday in September, I am taking a deep breath and realizing that Brian is right. I am unusually fortunate to be able to be living this second Curtain Call. Blessings come in a little revelations.

Now back to work.

My Rented Rooms

My Rented Rooms

Over the last month I have been traveling. As I would go into a hotel room there was this game I played. I found I couldn’t imagine who had lived there before me. I have played this game before. I have always wondered who were those people who have looked out the same window at the same view?

Yesterday, I stayed in Mexico City for one day with Christian de Gré Cardenas, my friend and collaborator, before flying home. We were celebrating a magnificent week during which we finished the libretto and musical outline for our new comic operetta, Vox Populi (the voice of the people).

Mexico City has more than 180 museums — more than any other city in the world. (Paris, where I was earlier this summer, is second with roughly 140.) Christian and I started our day with an early breakfast, went to different museums all day, finished at 5:45 that evening, and had dinner.

The museums have their own themes but one in particular returned me to my question about imagining the people who have lived in the same hotel rooms as I: Museo Memoria y Tolerancia, The Memory and Tolerance Museum.

Half of it is dedicated to the nightmares of humankind, but the second half is dedicated to tolerance. The first half shows, in painful detail, pictures, films, and the actual objects of genocide during and after WWII: German concentration camps, Rwanda, Sarajevo — it still goes on all around the world every day, forever.

This museum was very focused and shocked me out of my complacency on a subject that I felt I knew relatively well. How is it I only understood these numbers as the amount of times they would have filled a football stadium as a milling crowd or the number of times the population of Baltimore City?

These statistics were always there in The New York Times, The Sun, and The Post as I turn to the entertainment section or the sports page. Yet here, I walked into a small box car that carried people to the camps. I saw footage of the guns going off, the smoke, and the sacrificed falling headlong onto others in a mass grave. There in front of me was the gun that had been fired in the footage.

At dinner, as we talked, Christian read European news article on his phone, which I had missed. It said Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, had condemned the “undignified and damaging” conditions in which migrants and refugees are being held at the US border. She called for children never to be put in immigration detention or separated from their families. She said she was appalled by the camps, and that several UN human rights bodies had found the detention of migrant children may constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, which is banned under international law.

In response, the United States threatened to stop payment of its dues unless it was exempted from the relevant UN provisions.

From the walls of that museum, the eyes looked back at me. It always starts with demonizing a selected group of people. There before my eyes the Propaganda was framed: that paper that had been circulated to the crowds and now was framed on the wall.

It always started with containment “for the public good”. Who are these people that look back at me from a museum exhibit? They must have looked out the windows at the same world I rent now.

 

Is This How You Make an Operetta?

Is This How You Make an Operetta?

Is this how you make an operetta? I swear Christian De Gré Cárdenas and I are only following the charter of our employer, Mind the Art Entertainment, which requires, ”Make Art and Have Fun.”

We are five hours north of Mexico City, holed up in San Miguel de Allende, diligently working over breakfast from 9:30 to 1:30, having a little lunch, perhaps a swim, back to work from 3:30 to 6:30, and then off to the rooftop bars, dinner, local beer, mezcal, and tequila.

This is a beautiful place with deep Mexican history rooted in its independence and, in the last 70 years, the arts. In the winter, American tourists and expats flood in, along with vacationing Europeans. In the summer, far fewer visitors come and generally only for the weekends. They come here to experience the battling mariachi bands around the church plaza, the three-star restaurants at a third of New York and European prices, the stunningly beautiful textiles, art work, and wall art. Here, you walk on cobbled streets older than any in the United States and are surrounded by color.

Christian has had numerous operettas performed in NYC, most recently based on the “seven deadly sins.“ I am honored to have been chosen to write the libretto for the final operetta based on the overarching sin of “pride.”

The first day together, we went over the script I wrote over the last several months, and we just talked about it. The second day, we went to work and went line by line, page by page through the first act. The third day, we worked through the second act and celebrated the harmony of our efforts with a big lunch on a rooftop overlooking the city.

This carrying out of our corporate responsibilities is serious business. Our assignment is to write a bawdy, irreverent “meta” piece (the actors can break character and speak to the audience). It is written in rhyme and hip hop and has a singing dog.

Our first few days have been so productive, we are ahead of schedule. Tomorrow, Christian continues to outline and compose the music while I adjust and continue to shape lines and rhythms. The next several days before we leave, we will shape the two efforts into one operetta and be prepared to have it ready in the fall to be sent out to investors and performance venues.

In the meantime, over the next week, we will continue to carry out our corporate duty.

A Way of Knowing

A Way of Knowing

As I turned away from Degas’ statuette of a dancer at the Musee D’Orsay in Paris last week, I almost missed the imitators. The imitators were lining up, looking at the statuette and striking a pose. The reaction was not mocking and somehow not disrespectful. The imitators were reacting to a man-made object created out of his imagination. The interaction is what mattered.

When I was in high school, I read a line from W. H. Auden that said “poetry makes nothing happen.” It stopped me in my tracks. It was the late ’60s. I wanted to do things that made things happen. I became a lawyer. I made things happen.

Now I know I misread the line. Auden was making fun of all those things that appear to make things happen but really don’t. Art makes things happen in that it offers the chance to interact with a created object from another person’s imagination.

But why does that matter? It seems that at the center of our existence we travel a number of years in the mundane pursuit of what we need to survive, but art offers a conversation with another who is, or has been, on that same journey. It offers, but does not demand, this conversation.

In the same gallery, hordes of people were moving from picture to picture, cell phones out, photographing the exhibit as they hurried by. They had not accepted the offer. They were just capturing the object.

The imitators had accepted the offer. They were interacting with the Degas’ statuette.

The conversation can happen in many forums but it is always between the artist and the self. It can come through some or all the senses. It can be theoretical. It can come with an artist’s demand for your attention, as with Andy Warhol asking you to notice common objects, but for me it is always a very personal person-to-person communication.

It can also be environmental. On my way home, I noticed the statues in the park and the park in the city as I walk through. The art of the statue inside the art of the park surrounded by the mundane existence of the traffic and commerce of the city.

I found Auden’s quote:

“For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.”

In Memory of W.B.Yeats
(d. Jan. 1939)

He says all this better than I but I had to learn it for myself.

Redemption and a Big Divot in World History

Redemption and a Big Divot in World History

It is almost impossible to describe the First World War in simple terms. It is unresolved as to how it evolved into the war it became — the number of casualties it caused easily exceeds eight million dead and double that in maimed and wounded — and its end probably was the beginning of the Second World War only twenty years later. Books and books and books continue to be written about it. It is a wellspring of scholarship and a mirror for the future and present.

There are two things it demonstrates to me, however. First, we seem to be incapable of maturing at the same speed as our ability to make weapons evermore capable of our mass destruction. Second, we seem to be able to commit ourselves blindly to use these weapons without realizing the extent of the destruction that we can cause. Both of these observations demonstrate the incredible capacity we have in the form of the “nation state” to destroy ourselves, despite our individual capacity to feel compassion, empathy, and kindness for each other on a daily basis as human beings who are not in a state of war.

Why have I attached a picture of a crater?

WWI introduced airplane warfare, submarine warfare, the machine gun, the tank, and gas warfare. The warfare was so intense that there are specific monuments dedicated to both missing soldiers and unidentifiable body parts.

So, is there something, a simple example from this war, that demonstrates redemption? Yes, I think there is.

Both sides built tunnels for days and months for incredible distances under entire towns and enemy lines to set explosives. Some of these tunnels were only four feet wide and three-and-a-half feet high. The excavation of the dirt was extremely difficult and endlessly time consuming. Imagine the commitment. Imagine the claustrophobia. Imagine the amount of explosives that then had to be carried underground to blow up a town or an enemy stronghold.

As I have said, the picture I have provided is of a crater. It is thirty to forty feet deep and almost a football field wide. The explosion sent debris four thousand feet in the air and killed and injured people who were never found. I took the photograph from the far side. There is a monument on the other side which, if you look closely, is a cross that is several stories high.

In the alternative, it has been documented that during a one-day armistice for Christmas the soldiers from both sides came out over their trenches, exchanged chocolate and cigarettes, and sang Christmas carols together.

Continuing to Build

Continuing to Build

Onaje is moving up the ladder in New York.

It is funny how you take a new path and learn the same lesson. Trusted friends, credibility, and hard work were everything in creating my law firm almost 30 years ago and now I learn the same is true in the world of New York theater.

When I sold my controlling interest in my law firm I had decided that I wanted to be equally as successful as a playwright. The problem was I had to make up for 40 years of lost time. I decided I would become the oldest playwright ever to apply to Yale Drama school. I succeeded in being the oldest playwright ever to be rejected by Yale Drama school.

So with my objective still firmly in mind, I decided I would have to change my approach. I took a class at the Commercial Theater Institute in New York, not in playwriting, but in producing. After the first morning, the students gathered outside and shared conversation during a brown bag lunch. As they went around the circle, they all talked about plays they were hoping to produce. When it came to me, I confessed I did not want to be a producer. I wanted them to produce me. I got a laugh and two offers which led to staged readings in San Francisco, NYC, and Los Angeles and I made new friends.

One, Parker Bennett of Aligned Online, signed on to teach me how to create and manage my new website. Following the precedent set with Yale, I proved myself to be an unworthy student, but Parker became a trusted friend, took over the website, and became my guru on all things pertaining to script writing and the business generally, since he is an accomplished writer in his own right.

The following summer I continued on my path and was admitted into the Producers’ Class at the O’Neill Festival in Connecticut and there I met Sue Conover Marinello, the future producer of Onaje at FringeNYC and Christian De Gré Cardenas, who would become an indispensable ally at FringeNYC and ultimately the composer for “The Voice of the People,“ after I was asked to write the libretto by Mind the Art Entertainment.

Sue, Christian, Parker, and now Katie Marinello — who is handling our presence on Instagram and Twitter — have all become indispensable trusted friends.

When Onaje was chosen to be performed at FringeNYC, Sue Conover Marinello asked Kevin R Free, the highly respected NYC director, to direct. He read the script, but had a scheduling conflict and was unable to join us at FringeNYC.

During the pre-rehearsal and rehearsal stages leading up to the performances, Onaje was lovingly shaped and focused with the ideas of additional friends: the actors, director, stage manager, and others. It opened to sold-out performances and rave reviews, largely due to the tireless work of Sue Conover Marinello as its producer.

Sue decided that she wanted to take Onaje up the ladder in New York and elsewhere. She wanted Kevin R Free.

She took me to see several 10-minute plays directed by Kevin for Kelly Girod, the Obie winner and manager of The Fire This Time Theatre Festival. Based on the successes in New York, Sue took the script to Kevin’s agent, John Essay, again. By coincidence, John had seen the reviews of Onaje and asked that Kevin revisit the play.

The path is always different but the results are always the same. When we all met each other for the first time during a Zoom conference call about a month and a half later, Kevin had fresh ideas that highlighted missed opportunities in the script. He had X-rayed it and knew the bone structure perfectly. I joked with him that it was almost as if he had a lawnchair in my brain.

The same lesson is re-learned: trusted friends, credibility, and hard work make the apparently impossible dream happen. I’m so excited to be reaching for the next rung of the ladder.

Stay tuned.

Old Man Driving a Roller Skate

Old Man Driving a Roller Skate

As a lawyer I was your advocate, but now as a Poet my job is to help you see all things differently. For example:

I have a silver gray antique BMW Z3 convertible. It looks like a ridiculous self important go-cart. It has five gears and a stick shift. It is loud. It is very low to the ground and only my head sticks out of the top.

When I drive this car I am publicly on display as a self-confessed idiot. Sort of a clown. Young boys with fresh learner’s permits pull up to me at stop lights, rev their engines, and laugh at me. I should be embarrassed.

But if I tell you, “I know I look like an old man driving a roller skate…” you laugh — but once you’ve imagined me in this car, you look at the car and the old man differently. It may be funny or it may be sad, but as a poet I have that ability to make you see things differently .

It is the ability to break the mold that we all live in and take for granted, again and again and again. The cement truck pours and we instantly take for granted that hardening cement and live with those forms forever. Poetry has the ability to break what is permanent and make it new by presenting it differently.

When I write a poem or a play I am asking you to hear my voice, look through my eyes, and see the “flash” vision that I create out of what we live in and take for granted together. I am driving the same roads, obeying the same traffic lights, and stalled in the same rush-hour traffic as you are. I’m using the same language and your words but I am aware of the sound of the words and the rhythm of our shared language in order to create that “flash” of the vision I want to create: “The old man driving a roller skate.”

That is the poet’s work. I must jackhammer out of existence something you have seen in your imagination, perhaps forever.

Let me give you two “flash” examples. Two quick comic examples from the best Poet of the English language: Shakespeare describes a drunkard who is upchucking on the street as, “Speaking with a full flowing stomach,“ or snidely describes a couple in an illicit affair as, ”being a beast with two backs.” In a “flash,” he can help you imagine what you expect, differently.

The job of the Poet is to bring you back to before the cement truck came into your life.

Poetry has the ability to break what is permanent and make it new by presenting it differently. Click To Tweet
Accidental Cement Truck

Accidental Cement Truck

For me, the “future” is like a churning cement truck going to a job. The “present” is the dump of the watery mixture and its slow and permanent hardening. The “past” are the hardened roads I travel on again and again and again. Only the gift of “accident” can break apart all three and only with “creativity” do I become released and reborn to grow into a maturing perspective.

Over the last six years, I have been chosen to help The Alumni Association at Harvard put on graduation. I look forward to this and accept with pleasure each year when it is offered. I dress up in a silly top hat and tails to escort the honorary degree recipients and their families at Harvard’s graduation. It is an unusual and informative experience.

Rick, my son, and I are very close. After graduating from Dickinson College, his high school asked him to return to Baltimore to teach and help coach their football program. During these years Rick continued his commitment to education by getting a Master’s Degree from the night school at Johns Hopkins University, which allowed him only one night a week free. During these years Rick and I had dinner together every Monday night.

Rick has always been a very kind and socially conscious person. Rick also has an encyclopedic understanding of football and its rules and strategy. Because there is a deep divide in the opportunities provided in our city, after several years of teaching and coaching at his private high school, Rick elected to join his former head coach and teach at Saint Frances Academy in downtown Baltimore.

The year before Rick joined this school, it had only won one game. The next year, they were undefeated. The following year, they were ranked fourth in the nation.

All of the students on the football team went on to established and respected universities with mostly full scholarships. Rick told me several times that they were the most committed group of young men he had ever met. The school is located in the shadow of the penitentiary.

Rick continued his commitment to both education and football by accepting a graduate assistant position at the University of West Virginia, then followed his coach to the University of Houston. The last two years he has been working 24/7 as a GA for University of Houston’s football team and I never see him anymore.

So those are my hardened roads leading up to this year’s Harvard graduation. Here comes the cement truck: The week before my graduation duties this year, Rick called and said he had a free week. I wanted to see him desperately but I had made my commitment months ago. I asked him, “Do you want to come to Boston?” I couldn’t think of anything more boring for him but he said, “Sure.”

Was this a disaster about to happen or was this a gift of an accident? Rick would not know anybody…

We did everything together. A wonderful lunch with Rick and Lindsey Shepro and John Bowman at B&G oysters (Boston’s best oysters), and a dinner after graduation with Sam and Wendy Plimpton at No.9 Park (Boston’s best restaurant).

It is not easy to be shocked as you watch your child become, before your eyes, more sophisticated than you are. My old friends became his new friends almost instantly. And then we slipped back to our welcome past and beer and a Bruins game on TV and a Red Sox game at Fenway… and a stunning and subtle speech by Angela Merkel in the afternoon of graduation.

So often now, as I become older and easily set in my ways, I look for the gift of the “accident.” It breaks my safe world apart. From broken expectations comes the unexpected rebirth.

So often now, as I become older and easily set in my ways, I look for the gift of the “accident.” It breaks my safe world apart. From broken expectations comes the unexpected rebirth. Click To Tweet
Elizabeth Bishop, Cemeteries, and Contrast as Creativity

Elizabeth Bishop, Cemeteries, and Contrast as Creativity

I’m extremely fortunate to have had a class with Elizabeth Bishop, who was one of our great, late 20th Century poets. She taught us that any two poems, no matter where they are from, when placed side-by-side will cause an unintended contrast that will illuminate both. Once grasped, this is an eye-opening idea with endless potentiality for creative thought.

I grew up between two schools, two cemeteries, and Harvard Square. The Cambridge cemetery was relatively flat, had few trees, was wide open, and pretty much existed to hold the military dead of foreign wars and the citizens of that city. In contrast, behind the impenetrable black iron fence and gate of Mount Auburn Cemetery, spread a small and elite universe of acres of hills and valleys with shaded walkways and still ponds, as an arboretum of carefully preserved trees and as an aviary for local and migrating birds. These two cemeteries existed side by side divided only by a single two lane road.

As children we would freely ride our bikes among the military dead in the Cambridge cemetery but we were strictly prohibited from even entering Mount Auburn. It wasn’t a place designed for us. However, when the gates were open adults were permitted to walk among the graves and in its verdant splendor. Mount Auburn rested like a shared understanding of what a patrician heaven might be while the Cambridge Cemetery was a plebeian limbo.

When I visited after last Memorial day the Cambridge cemetery had rows and rows of flags. One at each grave. No one was there except a lone bagpiper striding along one of the empty roads. Unexpectedly, I could find only one flag in all of Mount Auburn and it was guarded by a wild turkey that had become domesticated by the place. There was a quiet urgency as groups of horticulturalists or birdwatchers clustered as they whispered observations to each other.

Miss Bishop, as she called herself, was right. The accident of the unintended contrasts caused by my time and location that day opened up worlds for me about the two cemeteries, about the living generation and the predeceased, as I walked between the four.

Our Operetta is Happening!

Our Operetta is Happening!

After 80 pages of wonderful foolishness, rhymes & hip-hop, we are on track for operetta submissions by September 1st. Christian De Gré Cardenas and I have set August 10–17 to retreat to Mexico to complete The Voice of the People, our operetta about the seventh of the Seven Deadly Sins — pride.

Is it wrong to say I’m proud?

Last Friday, Patrick Alberty, Christian and I met to go over my most recent draft and we are all excited and happy about our progress. Our target is to have a commitment and opening next spring or summer.

For Harvard Magazine


Last week I presented my ode for the Harvard Alumni Association to keep them laughing. As the Poet Laureate, I love doing this every year. This year, the subject was Harvard Magazine, and my ex-father-in-law, both of which I love.


For Harvard Magazine

(Portrait of Gentleman Jim)

By Robert R. Bowie, Jr. Ab’73

Whenever I became too confident
Of my perfect Harvard education
My ex-father-in-law, concomitant,
Was there to deliver expiation.
His timing was perfect. He’d watch and wait.
He’d set me up and then he’d set me straight.

Let me describe this kind and gentle man:
In profile he was blessed with a perfect
Semi-circular belly and no can.
Perfect as a backlit window silhouette:
A photo I still love and regret.
A photo my ex-wife wouldn’t forget.

A small piece of a small, but sad divorce.
He has ‘passed on’ but I miss the man.
Comfortable with himself. Steady. On course.
Leaning back with a scotch glass in his hand,
“I sell seeds and satisfy farmers’ needs,
Go to church, plant the garden, pull the weeds.”

Every Easter the two of us would go
Outside to smoke illegal Cuban cigars.
He’d get me to tell him what he should know.
He’d always wait until I’d gone too far.
He’d lean back: “Ahh, hoist by your own petard?”
Flick off his ash and say “Harvard-smavard.”

They’re all gone now, his wife, mine and him.
But still up until the very end
I would package and carry up to him
All my old Harvard Magazines and then
He always put them there in the same place,
Next to the kindling and fireplace.

I drove up a month or so before he died.
He so deeply missed his loving wife.
The reconciliations I had tried
Had failed. Love was leaking out of his life.
The door unlocked, sleeping in his chair
With a Harvard Magazine spread out there

Heaving on his perfect snoring belly,
What a perfect find was all of this?
There was food in the ice box from the deli.
I found whiskey and two glasses. I kissed
Him and asked “What’s this you’re reading you fool?”
With a cagey smile: “It ain’t that bad a school.”

Copyright © 2019

 

There Will Be At Least One Lawyer in Heaven

Teaching Law Through Playwriting

Several years ago Professor Mike Millemann, on the left, contacted me to see if I wanted to help him fulfill a grant made to the University of Maryland Cary School of Law to teach law differently by using the theater.

We signed up Elliot Rauh, of Single Carrot Theatre and decided the class should write plays about prisoners who had been released from prison after they had been determined to be absolutely innocent after years of incarceration. One of those plays was about Michael Austin, at the center, who was imprisoned in Maryland for over 27 years for a murder he did not commit. He was freed through the brilliant legal work of Larry Nathans, Esq., of Nathans & Biddle.

Last week we got together again at Lexington Market in downtown Baltimore as a reunion of old friends to help Michael because Michael had just found out that due to a typo in his arrest record he was never exonerated and that has kept him from getting work. This will be resolved but the reunion between friends nonetheless was wonderful.

In Michael’s case, and in most of the cases that we turned into plays, the process was remarkably similar. On the first day of class we brought Michael in to meet the class and answer questions. He was calm, collected, and despite the injustice of his incarceration not angry but very wise. In prison he had perfected himself and along the way he had become quite a remarkable musician.

Throughout the following weeks of the semester, the first third of the class was used to do deep research on what went wrong and what led to his conviction. The class went through trial transcripts, records of an incompetent defense lawyer, and files of prosecutors that withheld evidence and a transcript recording of the judge that sentenced an innocent man to life in prison.

The second third of the class the students wrote the backstory, and in the third and final part of the class, Elliot Rauh taught acting and turned inexperienced law students into the actors of their own play which was performed before the law school.

Michael stayed with the class from the beginning. One of the students said that he should provide music for the play and he agreed. Another one of the students suggested that at the end of the play, Michael should leave his instruments behind and identify himself as the Michael Austin about whom the play was written. The audience gasped and some wept.

At first I thought this class might have limited value so we asked that the students provide a one minute clip to the people who had provided us the grant to state whether they thought the grant money had been used appropriately. I became convinced when one student faced the camera and said “I wrote the part of a defense lawyer who was unprepared, acted the part of the prosecutor who withheld the time card that would have exonerated him, and read the exact words 30 years ago when an innocent man was pronounced guilty by a state court judge in the circuit court of Baltimore city and sentenced to life and I have never been in a courtroom.”

At that point we were convinced that the class worked. People were learning from mistakes made before they were fatal. We taught the class for seven years and it was ranked as one of the most appreciated classes at the law school during that time.

The Dream Continues

The Dream Continues

As I wrote last week, my day job now is to write a “bawdy libretto” for an operetta about the seventh deadly sin: pride. It will be performed in NYC (and hopefully elsewhere) next year. I now have three plays in the works. One was produced in New York last October and remains in development for future professional productions. One I have reworked and is now as fresh as spring time and ready to be sent out. And one I killed by overwriting, but it is on the autopsy table for study.

Right now the future is the libretto for a bawdy operetta. This is what I’ve learned so far:
My bosses and co-collaborators are Christian and Patrick, the founders of Mind the Art Entertainment. Their six previous operettas about the six other deadly sins have either been performed in New York or are in development for performance. This thing is going to happen, baby! These guys are real, and real talented.

But this is what they have taught me: collaboration. They are amazing. They told me to write a libretto. They said they needed 10 songs in the first act and eight songs in the second act. There would be eight actors performing over 35 rolls, it would be entirely sung and it would be a bawdy comedy. Once I wrote the libretto Christian would put music to it. But I had never really understood artistic collaboration before. I kept going to them and saying “is this what you want?” “Is this what you want?” And I kept getting the answer: “Write the libretto you want to write! Make it your voice. Make it your story.”

“How about if it’s totally rhymed?” “How about if I try and do hip-hop?” “How about if I have a singing dog?”

Last Friday I met Patrick at the Opera Center in New York and we were scheduled to work through the first draft that I had provided. It was a corner room with wood floors and perfect acoustics. The sunlight came in through the seventh floor windows. We worked at a central table in the middle of a room, which was much larger than we needed.

I started with my same stubborn questionings: “Is this what you want?” Patrick, almost with an air of irritation, said again: “Write the story that you want. Tell the story that you want. We will collaborate. We will collaborate.” And we did for the rest of that day.

He knew the first draft as if he had written it and just offered ideas for consideration. They were amazing and creative beyond my wildest expectations. I had expected head-banging. I got laughter and collaboration instead. Later on the next night Christian and I went out to dinner at the Algonquin Hotel, the historic home of the round table and Dorothy Parker, and he leaned over and laughed and said, I can write to your words. The rhythms makes sense. And we both laughed. I asked for his thoughts and because I had not brought paper I took notes on both sides of a bar napkin and carefully folded it and put it in my wallet before we left to say good night.

I am now halfway through April and deep into the second draft. This is more fun than I could ever have imagined.

As we closed the bar late that night, Christian said: “Our job is to create art and have fun.”

Thanks to Christian and Patrick, I’m learning that.

Let’s Agree on One Thing

Let’s Agree on One Thing

Let’s agree on one thing.

We are Americans.

We are not two polarized political parties. We must never forget that. We are Americans. We agree?

In light of our agreement let’s take a fresh look at: 1) gerrymandering and 2) the Mueller report.

First let’s look at gerrymandering. Politicians should not be able to reelect themselves by defining their districts. They are our employees. Our taxes pay their salaries and lavish benefits ( but that’s another story). Whoever heard of dividing a country to secure your own job?

The Supreme Court has once again an opportunity to address redistricting and gerrymandering. This issue is so much greater than any single provision in the Constitution. It is at the very bedrock of our republic/democracy. Very early on the Supreme Court  recognized “the right to travel between the states” or “Constitutional judicial review” that are not in the language of our Constitution but are at the bedrock of our government. We are Americans.

Second, let’s look at the Mueller report. It is absurd to define the question as “collusion“ or “conspiracy.” There is no doubt that the Trump presidential campaign and the Russian government both wanted to see Trump elected. Two horses pulling the same wagon don’t have to “conspire” or “collude” to make the wagon move forward, if it is in each horse’s interest to move in the same direction.

The question is, should the Russian horse be pulling the wagon at all. I think every American would agree we do not want a foreign government involved in any way in our elections and in any way affect our choice of leaders.  The Mueller report misses the point. Who cares about “collusion” or “conspiracy”?  That’s not the issue. The issue is that no foreign government should intervene in our democracy in any way. We are Americans.

There are two things I learned as a lawyer: 1) if you let me define the issue I will always win the argument, and 2) once you make up your mind any reason will do.

As Americans I think we have let others who do not have our interests at heart define our issues.

I think all Americans would agree that they do not think it is appropriate for their elected officials or political parties to secure their jobs at our county’s expense.

I think all Americans would agree that it is inappropriate for a foreign government to affect our elections in any way.

Polarization can create this kind of chaos. As Americans we have prospered because we have always trusted each other to talk, and then compromise. How did we lose this? That is our genius.

Rise up!  We are better than this. We are Americans.

The Impossible Dream Continues

The Impossible Dream Continues

The impossible dream continues and maybe even is gathering steam.

Sue Marinello, Onaje’s producer and her ever-talented daughter Katie, are marketing Onaje after its spectacular reception at the New York Fringe festival in October. During the preparation for Onaje’s opening and throughout the production and thereafter, I have made many friends who have taught me in a way that only talented and experienced people can.

After the close of the show I was invited to write a libretto and help co-write the book for an operetta produced by Mind The Art entertainment for Christian De Gré, the super talented composer of, and producer of numerous successful operettas and musical pieces in New York.

I am finishing the first draft by the end of March and then going over what I have written with Patrick Alberty, the co-writer of the book and Christian in April, and then going to Mexico for a week with this team to put Vox Populi, “the voice of the people,“ based on the seventh deadly sin of pride, into a final format for marketing and production.

I have almost finished the first draft already and I’m optimistic and full of joy at the future prospects of this and other pieces I am working on. Though I loved the service to others that I was blessed to be able to do as a business lawyer, this life after law is truly a dream I have always had come true.

I will keep this blog alive and track my progress by it.

The View from the Back

The View from the Back

In the West Village of New York City, on October 13th at 7:00 in the evening, ONAJE opened as my first professionally produced play. I sat in the back, in a balcony with lights and sound equipment around me and watched the audience file in and take their seats. I gave the appearance of being calm but I was terrified.

I have been to opening nights for nine of my prior plays in the little theaters of Baltimore and I have learned there is an immediate courtship: the call offered by the actors at the beginning of the play and the audience’s response. You can feel it. It is confirmed with the first laugh but the commitment can also be felt in the early silence.

As the play unfolds, from the back of the theater, you can watch for physical movement, restless disengagement as evidence of the loss of commitment to a play. It can become contagious in the dead silence and then nothing can resurrect the play. Once you lose them, there is no getting them back.

My friends, the composer Christian De Gré and our producer Susan Conover Marinello, and I had been fortunate to have Tom Viertel as our dinner guest three weeks before we opened. Based on years of experience as a renowned Broadway producer, the founder of the Commercial Theater Institute, and director of the O’Neill, he told us a “no-intermission play cannot run more than 93 minutes” without the high risk it will lose its audience. There was no doubt in his voice. We took his advice. We knew he was right. I went to work cutting lines and shaping the script with four script reductions.

Opening night at FringeNYC was to be judged by a sold-out crowd as they rendered their verdict first in the dance of commitment as the play got underway and then after 90 minutes by the way they moved in their seats.

For me, knowing every line and the slightest modulations in an actor’s voice, the experience was, of course, different than an audience seeing it for the first time. The audience will be engaged until they’re not. The only measurement that is credible is how the theater feels and how the shadows in the seats sit engaged or start to move. That is the only language.

I could feel this audience’s early engagement and commitment to the play and surprisingly when I did, I started to daydream about the genesis of this project:

I am the oldest son. The oldest son of the oldest son of the oldest son, all of whom have been well-respected and distinguished lawyers, professors, and public servants. Although my father supported my love of storytelling, bringing me hand puppets from his travels and building me a little puppet theater so I could perform for my seventh- and eighth-grade classmates, there was no doubt my next step was to carry on the family profession of law.

While I dreamed of writing plays, I grew to love being a business trial lawyer. Before my father died several years ago, while I took care of him during his final years, he quite casually one afternoon looked at me and said, “I am very proud of what you have accomplished. I could never have started a law firm and succeeded in the way you have.”

Almost accidentally, he had released me to change my avocation to my profession. I soon retired and made a full commitment to become a professional playwright.

Opening night at FringeNYC was for me, unconsciously, like a flock of carrier pigeons released well over fifty years ago coming in to roost.

The last seven pages of the play runs 12 minutes to conclusion. I leaned over the rail and listened for the quality of the silence and looked down on an audience that did not move. They were engaged after 96 minutes, three minutes longer than Tom’s ultimatum. We had pushed the envelope but still survived.

The lights came down and there was a moment of silence, and as the actors came to their curtain call they were met by increasing and sustained applause. As the theater emptied out I saw many of my friends, some of whom had traveled from as far as California and Canada, as they walked to the stairs to exit past my door from the balcony.

I was not conscious at the time, even after I was welcomed by the audience and my friends, that like the characters I had written in ONAJE, after a long journey, I had finally come home.

From the Page to the Stage at FringeNYC

From the Page to the Stage at FringeNYC

The beauty of FringeNYC is that it demands creativity from the start at every level.

By way of example, I want to introduce you to the creativity and resourcefulness of our director, Pat Golden, and producer, Sue Conover Marinello.

ONAJE has set directions that specify a convertible with working lights, horn, and doors, a picnic table that might weigh several hundred pounds, and a working kitchen in a waterman’s house next to the Chesapeake Bay on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

FringeNYC is similar to a film festival in that a new performance goes up in the same space with only half an hour in between. Each play is given 15 minutes to set up and 15 minutes to break down the set. Obviously, we cannot assemble and deconstruct and store a set that contains a car, a big picnic table, and a kitchen in 15 minutes!

Nonetheless, ONAJE’s creative team is embracing the challenges as an opportunity to increase the impact of an already dramatic play — using light and sound and imaginative props to create a set that will be constructed in the minds of the audience.

Their ideas are already better than what was originally called for in the script.

Come see for yourself this October! We should know our venue and performance dates soon. If you’d like to secure advance tickets you can do so by helping us with a contribution: http://theplayonaje.com/contribute.

ONAJE’s creative team is embracing the challenges as an opportunity to increase the impact of an already dramatic play — using light and sound and imaginative props to create a set that will be constructed in the minds of the audience. Click To Tweet
Our Director is Golden

Our Director is Golden

I am continually humbled by the amazing talents of the people who have come together to help bring ONAJE to life at FringeNYC. Two standouts are our tenacious, indispensable producer, Sue Conover Marinello, and our inspired, insightful director, Pat Golden. I am thrilled to have Pat’s creative guidance and casting acumen.

A little about Pat:

Pat Golden is an award-winning director and casting director for stage and film, and has had an extensive career that includes Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional and International credits. She was Assistant Director to Emily Mann on the Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire, and has been affiliated with The Ensemble Studio Theatre (EST), Cherry Lane, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ Mostly Mozart Festival and many other venues.

Pat is also a filmmaker and Casting Director, known for discovering new talent. She won the Artios Award for Best Casting in a Feature Film (Drama) for Platoon, and was nominated for Blue Velvet. Other feature credits include Gimme Shelter, The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Killing Fields. She’s worked with Lee Daniels Entertainment, New Line, Warner Bros and PBS as Associate Producer.

We are truly fortunate to have Pat’s incredible talent, experience, and dedication for ONAJE. Come to FringeNYC in New York this October and see for yourself!

ONAJE Updates:

ONAJE Updates:

FringeNYC a Smashing Success!

We’re honored that ONAJE was selected as an official production of FringeNYC, with five sold-out shows, October 13th — 21st, and great audience and critical acclaim.

It was a thrill to have our fantastic director Pat Golden on board, and our phenomenal producer Sue Conover Marinello. Our talented cast was outstanding: Tinuke Adetunji, Adam Couperthwaite, John Dewey, Curtis M. Jackson, Mary E. Hodges, Sheila Joon Ostadazim, Bristol Pomeroy, Tim Rush, and Jay Ward.

Humbly, I must say it was an incredible honor and opportunity, and it’s all thanks to our generous . Please email me to connect — let me know if you’d like to hear about our next production.)

 

 

 

What Changed?

For years and years, I practiced law and total strangers would stop me and say “Yer a lawyer, aren’t you?”

I mean, really!

It started about a year after law school when I was learning to be a litigator. I loved being a lawyer but now I’m retired and in recovery. Strangely, no one asks that question anymore.

What changed? What were they picking up on in the first place?

We all know the world through our five senses, so which of the senses lead me to be identified as a lawyer? I’m portly enough to be the mayor of a small town. I’ve got a voice perfect for broadcasting large sports events. I’m not one of those instant huggers. I bite my own nails and when these people identified me as a lawyer they were not all downwind of me.

When I walk down the street now, I’m waiting for people to recognize me in a new light. “Yer a playwright, aren’t you?” Come see ONAJE this October at FringeNYC and help make that dream come true!

Join me on this adventure at http://theplayonaje.com.

ONAJE Staged Reading in L.A. a great success

ONAJE Staged Reading in L.A. a great success

ONAJE Staged Reading in L.A. a great success

ONAJE received a new staged reading at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills on April 15th, superbly directed by Adrian Cohen and featuring an amazing cast: Travon McCall, Annalee Scott, Cathy Tomlin, David Hunt Stafford, David Welsby, Shaun Savage, Stephanie James, Frederick Dawson, Eric Keitel, and Patrick Hallahan.

We had a full audience, who were kind enough to stay afterward and give us some very helpful feedback. It was a great discussion, as well as a reminder of the impact that live theater can have.

ONAJE Staged Reading in L.A. a great success

FringeNYC and Beginnings

On May 24, 2018, at 3:25 pm I received an email from the New York Fringe Festival (FringeNYC.org) telling me that my play, Onaje, was accepted for production in New York in October.

At the heart of the play is the Civil Rights riots and burning of Cambridge, Maryland in 1967 —still sadly relevant 50 years later with civil disobedience in Charlottesville Virginia, but this time the President says “there are good people on both sides.” We are still “a house divided.”

I lived on the Eastern shore of Maryland as a boy that summer. I had grown up in liberal Massachusetts and had never experienced firsthand racism or the terror of being an outsider and the range of psychological damage which occurs from it.

My first day visiting the Eastern shore I was invited to go to a country club to go swimming in the club pool. I was not a hippie. My hair was long enough to go over the top of my ears but not over the back of my collar. As I approached the gate to the fence that ran around the edge of the swimming pool I saw the lifeguard looking at me as he descended from his tower to confront me before I entered.

When he stopped me at the gate he told me because of my hair I would have to wear a woman’s bathing cap. Swimming stopped and parents and children looked at me. All the men had short crew cuts and all the women had long hair but were not wearing bathing caps. That was in early June the riots occurred in late July.

I will continue writing in this blog about the production of the play up until I’m through its final performance in October in New York. I don’t know how it will land. This is the story of the first production of my play. Come and share with me the ride.

(We need help to keep the wheels on. If you can manage it, please donate.)

ONAJE Reading in Los Angeles

ONAJE Reading in Los Angeles

Staged Reading in Los Angeles

ONAJE will receive a new staged reading at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills, 7:00 pm, TONIGHT, April 15th, directed by Adrian Cohen. For more info and to RSVP click here.

O’Neil Playwriting Festival

We received word that ONAJE is in consideration for the Eugene O’Neil Playwrights Conference in July of 2018. We’ll hear more by early May.

Honorable Mention

ONAJE was submitted to the New Works Playwriting Competition for 2017 and received an Honorable Mention.

The Play

ONAJE is about the pleasure and horror of vindication, the exile caused by American racism, and a mistake that could steal forever a hero’s soul, his humanity, and his journey toward redemption. Set in two worlds, Maryland 1980, and the civil rights riots in the Eastern shore in 1967, Onaje features a trio of characters inextricably linked through long-buried secrets of their past and forced to return to everything they escaped.

 

Gerrymandering & Protecting Us from Our Politicians

Gerrymandering & Protecting Us from Our Politicians

In prior posts, I have talked about how polarization has been caused by gerrymandering and now the judiciary is stepping in to dismantle it.

In North Carolina, on January 9th, Judge James A. Wynn, Jr. struck down the North Carolina congressional district lines. The three-judge panel ruled if state politicians draw district lines for the purpose of protecting their own interest at the expense of the other party, the districts are invalid. Then last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned gerrymandering, citing the state constitution, and required new districts be drawn by the 2018 midterms.

Most importantly now, the Supreme Court has heard arguments on a gerrymandering case out of Wisconsin and has asked for re-argument of a Maryland case, which will probably be part of an opinion that strikes down gerrymandering nationally.

God bless our state and federal judges. It is long overdue for “we the people” to get the chance to take back our country from our politicians.

Plot Study #6 Job Interview

Plot Study #6 Job Interview

KGB-TV Job Interview, Another Plot Study (The Monologue)

To answer your question, yes we are a subsidiary of FOXNews. “We be Putin it where the sun don’t shine.” We have a target market reserved for Viewers that believe in tax cuts for the rich, healthcare as unconstitutional, and a God that loves the NRA because we need weapons to protect churches from people with weapons.

Yes, you’ll be asked only to read tweets on the air. The rest is advertising because our viewers are so stupid they’ve proven that they’ll buy anything….like our propaganda/ news from the last election. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Have you provided us with the signed affidavit that you have never been sexually harassed by anybody, ever? No, don’t date it. We will date it if we need it.

Now please look into the camera and read the following tweets: “News flash! Hillary did not disclose Girl Scout cookie Income!” Don’t forget the smile and long knowing stare after you finish, thank you. All right now do this one: “Bill also does sheep !” Smile – that’s it!. Now the next one: “ Obama Birth certificate proves he’s Putin’s grandmother! “ OK, that’s good. Now before we go to the advertising .” News Flash! Surprise -you don’t have to take the Pampers off of your head after Halloween. You can give them to a Democrat with a dirty mind, for Christmas, and get a 501(c)3 religious organization pass-through tax deduction.”

No wait give it to me like we are in Moscow baby: “News Flash! Democrats seek to tax prenatal care for the born-again!” Keep that stare. Keep that knowing stare. Keep smiling. Good! Watch Pat Robertson prey’n on the Christian Broadcast Network. Listen and learn.”

OK, now sell this:

“Because yer such a good American — Free Trump miniature combover piggy banks! Holds two pennies (“your two cents”). Remember when Republicans shut down the government because they wouldn’t vote for any deficit increase? You don’t? Good, you qualify for “The New Contract with America” and new 1.5 Trillion deficit increase that your great-great-grandchildren are going to be paying off… even if they are Russian citizens of West Virginia. And Just remember this: Your free gift from all of us at KGB-TV and the Citizens United Foundation’s offer: 50% off of on our IQ increasing suppositories. Now installable with your thumb.”

Congrats, you‘ve got the job! We pay in Rubles because after the upcoming recession and increasing deficit the dollar won’t be worth shit. Welcome to KGB-TV! We be Putin it where the sun don’t shine.”

Plot Study #5 A Political Comic Book

Plot Study #5 A Political Comic Book

We continue our study of theatrical forms about our present political culture in the form of a Marvel comic book with nine picture frames.

1) The opening frame contains the signers of the Declaration of Independence and Abraham Lincoln saying: “You can fool…” and  Roger Ailes, Newt Gingrich, and a cast of grinning Fox News panelists universally agree: “The hell you can’t. Cut taxes for the rich, take away their healthcare, promise them lost jobs, and give every idiot a gun… Its the new GOP” (Grotesquely Opportunistic Policymakers).

2) Next: There are two little men in loincloths with little hands. In the bubble above the North Korean’s head: “I will launch heat-seeking suppositories is how I will trump you, Trump!” Behind him are millions of people cheering, in unison, in one bubble over their heads, their approval. The bubble above the orange comb-over: “I’m clenched and ready. It will unify my base.“Behind him stand millions of people (no immigrants) each holding millions of guns all aimed at liberals who point at them as they warn: “Fear the suppositories from all sides” and then do nothing which causes the millions holding guns predictably to unify the Comb-over’s base.

3) The next is a tweet which says: “Second amendment – No hunting license required – shoot people for free! “And “First Amendment is about disrespecting soldiers it’s not about Freedom of political speech.”

4) Next the Bolshevik United Republican Party (BURP) screams: “ You are Americans. You have ‘freedom of choice,“ and Lincoln on his knees says: “No, that’s Burger King.”

5) Next the Korean leader leads his millions in a chant: “We win War! We Win War!!”… death to Americans by suppository special sauce on your toasted bum.

6) Next BURP puts up banners which say: “Keep Liberals angry with ‘false news ‘and you stand for ‘freedom of choice!’ We understand for nothing! To gather we fall.” The Liberals continue to be astounded and do nothing.

7) The Fox commentators stand and slap high-fives and misquote Lincoln: ”Divide and conquer the House and Senate!“ The Comb-over tweets: ”Always been colorblind. The flag is not red, white and blue it is white — salute and retweet?

8) Next is of a hurricane building in the shape of a mushroom cloud as the Self-Anointed Televangelists About Nothing (SATAN) and BURP point at it and drop to their knees and confirm: “There you see the Bible told us so: There is no climate change change.”

9) Is blank in case there is an encore.

 

This is another entry in my series of plot studies. Click here to read the previous one.

Plot Study #4 – America’s Pastime

Plot Study #4 – America’s Pastime

Act One
A young student of American history goes to a job interview. The employer who interviews him tells him: “Your job, like this country, requires that you tell the truth because all of us are relying on each other. You can debate the facts but you cannot make up false facts” and then she asks him one question: “What is the difference between a football player who fakes an injury to stop the clock and a baseball catcher who moves his mitt to try to convince the umpire the pitch was a strike?” The young student knows the answer instantly: “The football player is breaking the rules by creating ‘false facts’ with his false injury, but the baseball player is not changing the fact of the pitch because the umpire can see it from beginning to the end. The baseball player is only an advocate but not dealing in false facts.”

Act Two
Convinced that he has a clear understanding of “America’s pastime” and that he will get the job, he goes to a baseball game that afternoon and sits in the bleachers with the fans of both teams. Surrounded by his fellow Americans he happily joins in and argues each ball and strike and catch and call made by the umpires at the game. He sees the same game as the fans of the different teams but all afternoon they enjoy the discussion and their debate and he concludes not only the baseball game but also the debate and discussion are “the American past time.”

Act Three
On his way home he turns on the radio and he hears the home team’s broadcast and then switches to the radio station for the visiting team’s broadcast and he hears an entirely different story. He notices it is not at all what he saw at the game because both radio stations are making up a story of the game for the fans that are listening to them. As he switches back and forth between the stations he realizes that the broadcasts are coming up with an entirely different score and in the wrap-up of the game entirely different league standings.

He is angry when he gets home but he finds both of his parents weeping. He tells them about the conflict between the broadcasts and he asks them: “What are they doing to America’s pastime ?”

Both parents look at him and ask him: “What are they doing to America?”

 

This is another entry in my series of plot studies. Here’s the previous one. And the next.

Plot Study #3

Plot Study #3

In my previous posts, I published Plot Studies #1 as a comedy, and #2 as a musical, both based on our current politics. Is plot study number #3 a tragedy or a puppet show? You decide.

The time and place: Let’s see if our current political environment could be written as a Shakespeare tragedy, say like Julius Caesar (performed somewhere other than in Central Park)? Let’s say that the government of Rome has evolved from a republic to a democracy and on to an oligarchy and that Caesar’s friends and family are running the empire.

The Cast of Characters: A group of historians and law professors and their students and lots of well-meaning myopic liberals who want the republic back (The rule of law) but are too disorganized and apolitical to be effective in advocating for their position. Just for fun let’s call them the Democratic Party.

A Group of all the richest Romans, led by Julius Caesar, who is one of them, but is controlled by this group who want to always increase their power and pay less, or perhaps next to no taxes but receive all the benefits of being Romans (The oligarchy). Just for fun let’s call them Republicans.

And a huge mob, the “peanut crunching crowd,” that thinks with its stomach and votes in the bathroom (The democracy). They are fed by Caesar and his friends a form of pablum which includes facts, false facts, and huge amounts of fantasy, all mixed together and called “news.” They are, of course, constitutionally well armed so that they can kill us and each other. Just for fun let’s call them the advocates and lovers of our present democracy. (Isn’t this great, we start with a cast of millions.)

The plot: As the play starts, Caesar is being investigated by a special prosecutor which he can’t seem to figure out how to get rid of, so Caesar has decided to protect his control by creating constant conflict among the citizens of Rome to avoid unification against him and perhaps total power for him in the future in the event that the special prosecutor recommends his impeachment. (This is exciting – I’m already feeling tragic.)

The way to do this is to pit the well-meaning myopic liberals against the peanut crunching crowd on the issue of race and immigration and to build a wall all around the empire to keep immigrants out to make sure the myopic liberals keep his base polarized and well armed for him. (It’s getting great – it’s all starting to go to hell!) The well intended myopic liberals are so blind and morally correct that they can’t realize that they are playing perfectly into Caesar’s hands. (Yes! Yes! There is a lump in my throat and I’m starting to well up with tears.)

Caesar is building up his army by feeding his followers the pablum as fast as he can so that they will be as angry as possible and loaded down with weapons if the special prosecutor recommends impeachment. (Wow, this is so good! It feels authentic – it’s almost like real life! But how is it going to end? How is it going to end?)

So back to the question: Is this a tragedy or a puppet show? I think that is determined by how it ends. If Caesar prevails with his plans, he can cut Obamacare and reduce taxes because it can be produced with only two characters. Caesar with his right hand on the constitution and his left hand making a single string puppet (which is holding the eye glasses of the liberals as it trails peanut shells) dance! But if we follow the Shakespearean example of Julius Cesar, it is a tragedy of greater proportion because in the second half of the play the Roman empire is divided among the lesser oligarchs. Let’s call it forever polarized by ignorance.

Maybe if Cesar doesn’t divide us and we took action together, all of us, we could write a happier play and call it maybe: “All’s Well that Ends Well.” It’s not too late.

 

This is another entry in my series of plot studies. Here’s the previous one. And the next.

Plot Studies #2 – The Musical

Let’s see what would happen if “we the people” (the audience), wrote our own musical and cast the playwright & librettist as the Congress and the President, and cast their investors as the titans of Wall Street? (Wow– could this be a “revolutionary” musical?)

The Time & Place: How about our politically gridlocked America? (It is starting to sound like a revolutionary musical!)

The Cast of Characters: Since we are writing it let’s make us, the audience, the heroes, and the playwright, librettist and investors our official villains since they are all dedicated to entertaining the audience by feeding us what they want to hear in order to be able to secure their jobs and protect the wealthy from taxes — employing a smokescreen of misinformation and false news in order to entertain their audience by keeping them angry. (They probably won’t be singing Hamilton hip-hop but let’s see what they come up with “for a song and dance.”)

The Plot: The playwright and librettist entertain us by creating manipulated conflict between the bottom 99% of the audience. The poor versus the poor (which pretends it’s the middle class) so no one will see the puppeteer, the super wealthy? ( I feel a song coming on): Let’s have Wall Street Open the show by singing: “Market Share.” A big bang up number! The first lines could be:

“The bigger the market, the bigger our share /
The more we steal, the less they care! /
Let’s fleece my sister, let’s fleece my brother /
As long as they’re angry at each other. /
Isn’t it sweet, isn’t it funny /
How they love us when we take all their money?”

Hey, it’s “the song and dance”! Let’s call it “The Political shuffle.” (Oh man, the songs are coming fast and furious):

Congress can swing the next song:

“Make Yourself the Perfect Job” (about how gerrymandering can get our elected representatives lifetime employment with the best benefits and retirement their audience can afford, and then the entire audience can rise in opposition and sing:

“The No Wealth No Healthcare Blues” (which can be sung by ZIP Code first by anybody who lives around an emergency room, including patients, doctors, healthcare professionals, and then by everybody in the surrounding ZIP Codes spreading out across the country who is paying (unless you own your own hospital).

Now  let’s give the politicians some hand clapping songs:

“I hate ‘tax and spend’ /
Unless I’m where all the taxes end.”

And then a solo for a tone deaf President:

“Free the rich, enslave the poor /
The land of opportunity is no more.”

And then some hand clapping songs for us:

“The false news, no news… /
The Propaganda blues.”

(We could even have the Supreme Court do hip-hop, but they would have to have a rhyme scheme of ABBA because they are too polarized to agree to rhyme together) but maybe they harmonize with the song “Ventriloquism”:

“Yo- Citizens United, long may it last! /
‘Free-speech’ is that what you call it? /
You vote now with what’s inside your wallet /
And we speaketh from where once we passed gas?”

(But wait – just occurred to me – how can we pay for this?) Well if we are the audience, we already have!

So what should we call our new musical?

“Just Keep Us Fighting Among Ourselves?” – No.

“You Think We Are Too Stupid for Democracy?” – No.

“What Happened to My Country? – No.

How about, “Let’s NOT Follow the Money”? – No.

We could close with a kick line and just drop the curtain or …Maybe we could all stand up and remember that we are all Americans who can sing together?

 

This is another entry in my series of plot studies. Here’s the previous one. And the next.

The News v. The Arts

The News v. The Arts

The news often tells us who we are, but the arts tell us who we want to be.

This year my play “Onaje” received staged readings in San Francisco and New York. It is about the head-on collision of two conflicting ideas that happened exactly 50 years ago on June 15, 1967. The relevance of this collision was confirmed by the events in Charlottesville last week. This morning the Baltimore newspapers reported that four Confederate monuments were taken down in the middle of the night last night.

One of the monuments that was taken down was of Roger Brooke Taney, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who wrote the Dred Scott decision in 1857, which was instrumental in bringing about the Civil War. The Dred Scott decision held that African-Americans had no rights under the Constitution because they were not recognized as having any rights when it was drafted. Many of the drafters of the Constitution, such as Washington and Jefferson owned slaves. In fact, Jefferson produced children from his slave Sally Hennings. He chose not to recognize their children and never freed her, even after his death.

From our founding, we have been a racist nation. Because this remains unresolved, it boils within our national consciousness and erupts repeatedly and endlessly in the news. But I don’t think that’s who we want to be. The Arts, the books and movies which have been embraced by our general culture from “To Kill a Mockingbird” to “Hamilton,” are far more enlightened and humane. We don’t define ourselves as a nation with blockbuster movies with heroes that are white supremacists or Nazis.

My play is about the civil rights riots in Cambridge Maryland in 1967. It searches for the humanity in all of us as we live in these volatile times, whether they be last week or 50 years ago or from our start.

The Arts offer guidance and hope that the news and perhaps even our history never can.

For more posts and news please visit my Facebook page.

Invitation Only Reading in New York Big Success!

Invitation Only Reading in New York Big Success!

For Artistic Directors and Producers ,we held an invitation only reading of “Onaje,” produced by Blue Panther Productions directed by Eric Reid of San Francisco.Full house .The actors were fabulous and the response and the request for scrips exceeded all of our expectations. For more information please email Laura Lundy.

Sunday July 30 2017 at 3 P.M.
At DeSotelle Studio
300 W43rd St,
New York. NY.

THE PLAY
Reno, 1980. A black hitchhiker is hit by a white cowboy and waitress speeding down the freeway on a get-away. The collision becomes much more dangerous when the unlikely trio realizes that two of them are inextricably linked together through the long-buried secrets of their past. In a shocking conclusion, they are forced to return to everything they escaped and stand up against their deepest fears in a vicious stand-off. “Onaje” is set in two worlds, Maryland 1980, and the civil rights riots in the Eastern shore in 1967.

The Genius of Actors

The Genius of Actors

I write plays but I can’t act. My acting career ended shortly after an all-boys fourth grade Christmas pageant. I was a shepherd. I had one line that I had to speak to introduce Mary onto the stage. The music teacher had placed a wig on the class bully and handed him a plastic Jesus in swaddling clothes. In real life, the class bully had biceps in fourth grade and Elvis hair. I misspoke my one line. I said, “Come mither hairy!” I returned from recess bloody and a playwright.

Last weekend at an invitation-only reading for artistic directors and producers, my play “Onaje” was read at 300 West 43rd street in New York City. It was read by actors who make a living being actors. I was stunned by the uniqueness of their genius.

I am a recovering lawyer. While I practiced law, I had nine plays produced in little theaters in Baltimore. Although I was proud of them, I made no effort to have them performed professionally. When my play was given a staged reading in New York for the first time I worked with professional actors and was blown away.

The performance was scheduled for Sunday at 3 o’clock in a 30-seat performance space. The actors were sent the script about a week before the Saturday morning rehearsal in an apartment in New York. The rehearsal was, in essence, a read-through where Eric Reid, an accomplished actor and director from San Francisco, gave directorial instructions and the actors discussed their characters. The actors were all obviously capable but I was not ready for what I would see the following day.

There was another read-through which was to a large extent the blocking of the reading. All the actors sat in chairs in the black box theater against the wall until they were on stage, which meant they stood and went to the music stands in front of them and delivered their lines. There was a one hour break between that rehearsal and the performance. At the blocking rehearsal, the actors were still playing with their characters well I had a terrible thought that they had not had time to become fully familiar with the script and their characters.

I went off to a late lunch with Eric and returned to see the actors in their own village doing breathing exercises, sitting quietly or doing yoga. I had no understanding of how good they would be on stage.

The small theater filled the actors took their places and the reading began. I saw a transformation that changed my understanding of the art of theater. Somehow, they knew the people they will play in an intimate and unique way. Somehow, they knew each other and the interaction created a greater whole. The play was very well received and the script has been requested after I have had a chance to do some work on the text.

Afterward, the lights went on and the actors were people again and they merged with the audience. I stood in the back of the theater immersed in surprised by the evolution of the process and the sheer genius of those actors. Actors are unique beasts.

A central aspect of my play concerns the capacity of people to empathize with strangers. I realized as I stood there I had witnessed it by the transformation of actors so easily turning the written word into human beings.

Invitation Only Reading in New York Big Success!

Invitation Only Reading in New York

For Artistic Directors and Producers ,we are holding an invitation only reading of “Onaje,” produced by Blue Panther Productions.For information and invitations please email Laura Lundy.

Sunday July 30 2017 at 3 P.M.
At DeSotelle Studio
300 W43rd St,
New York. NY.

THE PLAY
Reno, 1980. A black hitchhiker is hit by a white cowboy and waitress speeding down the freeway on a get-away. The collision becomes much more dangerous when the unlikely trio realizes that two of them are inextricably linked together through the long-buried secrets of their past. In a shocking conclusion, they are forced to return to everything they escaped and stand up against their deepest fears in a vicious stand-off. “Onaje” is set in two worlds, Maryland 1980, and the civil rights riots in the Eastern shore in 1967.

Plot Studies: Let’s see if we can create a comedy based on a conspiracy theory.

Let’s set the stage in a political world locked in gridlock. (OK – this is a good start.) Let’s make the conspirators: “The Evil institutions of our government “and let’s make the rest of us the “Innocent victims”. (OK -good guys and bad guys.)

The Plot: OK what if the Politicians are conspiring to stay in office with the use of gerrymandering and they really don’t care about us as innocent victims. What if each state legislature, when it carved out the districts for its political party thinks only about keeping those in office, permanently in office. (This is great I’m laughing already.) What if that makes the state legislators the creators of jobs which have the best healthcare and retirement packages in the country and are set up, because of the gerrymandering, so that their bosses can’t fire them. (This is hilarious.) Even better they “own ” their bosses by keeping their bosses angry with the gridlock so their bosses won’t fire them. (I’m loving this.) No Wait – what if their bosses are actually not the voters? The voters are only paying the government with their taxes and the government is paying the politician’s salaries but the government isn’t keeping them in office. (OMG). It is the campaign contributors, the wealthy and the special interests and the PAC’s that pay for their campaigns and the campaigns keep them in office. (It’s OK because every comedy has to have surprising twists and turns).

And when we are laughing so hard that there seems to be no way to catch our breath…in rides the national media on a White Horse to save the day. (But that’s not funny and it is sort of a buzz kill –it kills the humor) So let’s just say that the national media would be funny if it was lazy, never researched anything and got advertising by reporting on the hysteria created by the polarization. (OK it’s getting funny again) In fact all they have to do is scream at each other to keep everybody entertained! (I just found myself slapping my knee). But wait – any given station could just run reruns of ” All in the Family” or old “professional wrestling tapes “to have people screaming at each other. (That might be confusing because it might seem like the news is only entertainment -that could be a real problem!) So it won’t work if all the stations are doing the same thing. (Oh No I just become horrified and stopped laughing. What if all the national media were caught presenting only boring entertainment?) No! No, the answer is the national media has to POLARIZE to keep their ratings up and maintain the rolling laughter!

Why am I not laughing? This is getting a little scary! Maybe it’s a tragedy.

 

This is another entry in my series of plot studies. Click here for  the next one

(Costume + Set) – Plot = ?

(Costume + Set) – Plot = ?

The “Costume” in my case was white tie and tails with a perfect black top hat”. The “Set” in my case was the Harvard graduation of last week. The “Plot”: Because of the custom of complete secrecy I had been told only a few days before that I had been selected to escort James Earl Jones for the afternoon proceedings and to an honorees lunch at Widener Library after the morning ceremonies where he, along with several others, would be given an honorary degree.

Only last month I had seen his performance ,as the poet, in Tennessee William’s Night of the Iguana at the American Repertory Theater and had read about his career which started with his first appearance on Broadway in 1957 and spans 60 years on stage and screen.

After the honorary degree had been bestowed on him in the morning and those proceedings had ended , Mr. Jones would descend the stage which is at the foot of Memorial Church, and march with his fellow honorees below the colorful flags of the graduate schools and the undergraduate houses, between the assembled throng of the thousands of applauding viewers to ascend the steps of Widener library and be directed to the periodical room where I would meet him, take his ceremonial cap and gown, unburden him of his framed honorary degree, provide him with the refreshment of his choice and facilitate conversation among the other honorees before we took the elevator up to the lunch and thereafter back to the stage for the afternoon speech by Mark Zuckerberg and the closing proceedings.

I arrived early to Widener and made certain I knew exactly what my duties were and traced my steps from the periodicals room where I would meet Mr. Jones, through the elevator exit and entrance to the luncheon and ultimately the path we would take to get back to the stage and become seated for the afternoon proceedings.

But this was a very special moment for me so I decided that I could entertain Mr. Jones by offering him a slight diversion from our proscribed path, to see the Gutenberg Bible in a private room which contains a portrait of Harrie Widener, for whom the library was named after he died on the Titanic a century ago. I confirmed that I could get into the room and because I was early I asked a solo passerby to randomly photograph me since the proceedings had not started and we were still allowed photographs before the event began. It would be my stage where I could watch James Earl Jones react to the surroundings I have offered him.

But my play went off script and the plot collapsed and in fact disappeared. The weather had been awful all morning with a steady drizzle and unexpected gusts of wind that sent the water across the crowds and the stage. Those being honored on the stage, although they were protected by a grand tent still suffering the blasts of wind and rain and the general chill of the morning.

As the proceedings broke up and the ceremonial March to the steps of Widener began I assumed my position outside of the periodicals room to meet James Earl Jones, but as the others entered through the grand doors and were steered to their escorts there was no sign of James Earl Jones. After all the other honorees had entered and had turned over their robes and diplomas to their escorts, I went to one of the police officers guarding the ceremonies and started a flurry of walkie-talkie conversations in search of Mr. James Earl Jones. People reporting back to me, as the others took the elevator up to lunch, told me that Mr. Jones had been worn out by the weather and the cold during the morning proceedings and had asked to go directly from the stage to his hotel room.

I never met him and I have only that photograph of the Gutenberg Bible in the foreground and the portrait of Harrie Widener in the background with a slightly rotund overdressed older man between them and the realization that dreams can be memorialized in still photographs but plot cannot be deprived of action.

Character Development: “the believers” and “the nonbelievers”

Character development : “the believers” and “the nonbelievers.”

Recently I was fortunate to spend two weeks in southern Africa in the bush in a zoo without Borders. After a long flight from New York to South Africa and a relatively short flight to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, a small group of fellow travelers and I flew in several single engine planes and later three helicopters to a wonderful elegant resort campsite miles from everywhere deep in Botswana. Botswana is about the size of Texas , has a population of about 2 million people and has reserved approximately 37% of its land for the preservation of its natural habitat.

The first thing you notice as the dawn comes up on the first day is how wide the sky is. As you scan it you notice that the clouds offer several widely different configurations and weather patterns. Then you realize how big the land is beneath the sky and how far away you are from everybody else.

Slightly before dawn, during breakfast on the first day, we are told explicitly that the jeeps which we will be riding in have no sides and as long as we stay within the boundaries of the jeep we will not be attacked by any of the animals. The animals are apparently not threatened by the jeeps for the jeeps are apparently perceived by them as foul smelling mechanical elephants which neither attack the animals or are worthy of their attack. That is the basis for our safety.

However, we were informed, if we get out of the jeep it is an entirely different game. We are told that within the last two years in South Africa a photographer who leaned out of one of the jeeps for a better photograph was attacked by a lion and when the guide tried to save her he was also killed.

The first morning as we leave the campsite we travel into the bush and see huge herds of zebras and impalas that are living in fear of the lions which stalk them but we see no lions. The second morning just after Dawn we turn into a small clearing and are confronted by four lions walking slowly toward us from a distance of about 50 yards. The driver stops the jeep and instructs us to say nothing but feel free to photograph. The Lions slowly and methodically move toward us. We are facing them and they are walking toward us.

As the lions slowly approach my fellow riders in the jeep become either “believers” that the jeep is safe territory or “nonbelievers” and with every step of the Lions, start to show an increasing countdown of the last seconds of their lives. They can’t move and the fear becomes palpable. The eyes are wide and the breathing becomes slightly labored.

On the other hand, the believers or happily photographing and silently adjusting their telescopic lenses. The Lions grow closer and closer and within 10 feet they veer to the right and one veers to the left so that it will be behind us. Everyone in the jeep recognizes that they must keep their eyes on the three lions that will pass to our left within several feet of the jeep but we will not be able to turn and watch the one lion that is moving behind us on our right. The believers continue to happily photograph adjusting their telescopic lens to catch the reflection of the jeep in a Lion’s eyes. The nonbelievers are breathing softly, their eyes closed,
waiting for death.

After a few moments they were passed us and we started the engine and continued our day.

Don’t Retire…Move On!

Don’t Retire…Move On!

Several years ago I sold the controlling interest in the law firm I started over 25 years ago. I decided to leave the office behind and the practice of law and start something new.

 I’m now a playwright. My play “Onaje “,about the 1967 civil rights riots in Cambridge Maryland, has been optioned for regional production in 2018 by Blue Panther Productions of the San Francisco Bay Area. It received its first professional reading on February 22, directed by the acclaimed L.Peter Callender of the African-American Shakespeare Company in San Francisco. The reading was a great success and Blue Panther is currently reaching out to artistic directors of professional and regional theaters.

A Sonnet

My Little Stone Buddha

Like a glass eye looks into the abyss,
My little stone Buddha, on the bookshelf top,
Sits as a “symbol” of “inner peace” and “bliss”;
But as “symbol” is he what he is not?

Is he not just my sculpted end of pain?
The mirror looks back into my wild eyes,
And my old eyes look back at me insane.
Tonight, the pain is deep. Can’t the glass eye cry?

Is everything just a symbolic meaning?
Sure, why not? Probably even for him:
Crosses, numbers, alphabets for reading.
Is he not made from me and my dark within?

Does not the self, not the Buddha, hold the bliss?
We make much of nothing, which is all of this.

A Sonnet

Father and Daughter

I swam, back then, with some father’s daughters,
Back stroking only slightly out of touch,
Out to the raft in the starry waters
And never thought of their fathers all that much.

Alice, don’t judge me till you’re fifty-five
But there were midnight visits to “Ice House Pond,”
In my misspent youth, when I was still alive,
Where couples would strip, and swim and then bond.

And Alice, this I know for sure is true:
At seventeen we both were born to be free
But ’cause I’m your father and I love you
Please consider this seasoned advice from me:

As you lust for life avoid the crudity
But don’t miss occasional sponti-nudity.

A Sonnet

The Order in Things

The last swallow flies low over the lake.
The thick fir trees become the first darkness
Gathering along the shore. Leaves cease to shake.
The dusk foreshadows the lake’s silence.

The deep quiet is its own diversion.
The world is peaceful. My thoughts my own.
I change places but not location
As the mind takes in the scene and is alone.

Standing cold on the dock tonight
I think about the fish roaming hungry
Below while the preying birds in their flight
Circle above. Held in tranquility

Is the bird above and the fish below.
There is order in these moments that come and go

“Onaje” Gets Its First Staged Reading

“Onaje” Gets Its First Staged Reading

Thanks to everyone who attended as we kicked the tires on “Onaje” in its first formal staged reading, February 22, 2017 in San Francisco. I’m so grateful for the talents and contributions of director L. Peter Callender of the African American Shakespeare Company, and producer Laura Lundy of Blue Panther Productions.

The actors all did a fantastic job bringing the characters to life, and it was great to see the shape of the play, to hear the words out loud, and get some welcome feedback from everyone.

New Play “Onaje” Gets Reading in San Francisco

New Play “Onaje” Gets Reading in San Francisco

In San Fran last week “Onaje,” my new play, was given its first West Coast read through under the spirited direction of L. Peter Callender and with the guidance of producer Laura Lundy. It was fantastic! We are off and running!!

A Winter Sonnet

City Snow

From a four o’clock sky the first snowflakes fall
To settle down on trafficked city streets.
Each snowflake falls separately, till all
Conspire to hide the city like a secret.

The last street lights go on, and the snow reflects
Upon the domiciliary landscape.
The more snow falls the less you really expect
The city to be what it’s supposed to be:

It becomes a beautiful blinking shape;
An image of slowing inactivity,
Slowing into snow drifts. It snows very late.
A pronouncement of peace subdues the city.

The drifting snow controls the city violence
With a voice made entirely of silence.