"...Everyone Is Entitled To My Opinion." ~Madonna

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Anansi Boys

Bear with me. We are about to discuss a book by Neil Gaiman. Critics have used words like droll, original, and audacious to describe Gaiman’s work. I agree with all of that, plus, his plots defy summaries.

ANANSI BOYS is Fat Charlie’s story. Charlie Nancy is engaged to a young lady whose mother can not stand him, works for the worst boss imaginable, and is not fat. His life is about to change drastically.

Fat Charlie’s father had named him Fat twenty years ago and when Fat Charlie’s father named something it stuck. In fact Mr. Nancy had made a habit of doing things that were an embarrassment to his son over the years. Even his death was in many ways an embarrassment; he fell off a stage while singing at a karaoke night.

At the funeral, Fat Charlie learns that his father was actually the trickster god Anansi, the spider god. He also learns, to his surprise, that to summon the brother, that he knew nothing about, all he has to do is ask a spider.

The tall, good-looking stranger who appears on his doorstep is nothing like Fat Charlie; he is more like their father. Brother Spider is the very spirit of rebellion. He is able to turn reality to his own whims and he is determined to add some fun to Fat Charlie’s life. He adds a body in a secret safe, trips to other worlds, birds worthy of a Hitchcock film, magic, and a lost girlfriend. Then the plot gets out of control.

ANANSI BOYS takes the old trickster tales -- think Bre’r Rabbit and the Tar Baby - and adds some very modern twists. You will never see spiders in the same way.

Neil Gaiman may not be the author for everybody, but if you are willing to suspend you sense of reality, he is a fun author. As outrageous as his characters are, you still like them and want to see them turn out well. Sometimes it takes awhile to be aware of some serious comments hidden in his humor. Gaiman is a true original worthy to be compared to Douglas Adams and P. G. Wodehouse.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

THEATER: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Marc de la Concha, Allyssa Schmitt,
Eleanor McCormick, and James David Larson.
Photos provided by Millbrook Playhouse.
THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE is currently playing at Millbrook Playhouse and it is full of talent. This is the second time this summer that I have seen ...SPELLING BEE... and I am not sure how I feel about the play itself, but I am positive about its ability to showcase talent.

The plot is simple; eleven middle school students have gathered to compete in a spelling bee. The audience gets a chance to get to know quite a bit about them as the contest progresses.

The unique thing about the play is that it depends on the cast to be able to improvise freely. In fact four of the “contestants” are randomly chosen from the audience, requiring the hostess of the Bee to use some very original biography material about them.

Many of the cast members have been regulars at Millbrook and it was fun to see a different side to some of them. Space does not allow for me to go into the details that they deserve.

Moderating the Bee were realtor Rona Lisa Perretti, played by Jamie Beth Weist, and Vice Principal Douglas Panch, played by Jon Erkert. The two of them were responsible for most of the ad libs required by the show.

The student contests were David Raposo, Allyssa Schmitt, James David Larson, Marc de la Concha, Stephanie Mieko Cohen, and Eleanor McCormick. If you think that you have seen any of this group before, wait until you see them in this show.

Marc de la Concha, Allyssa Schmitt,
Eleanor McCormick, and James David Larson.
Photos provided by Millbrook Playhouse.
Brandon Hanks had the fun job of not only playing Mitch Mahoney, the man doing community service, but several of the fathers.

The details that each actor brought to his role made each adolescent stand out. I am sure that much of the credit for the freshness of this production goes to Dax Valdes, the director and choreographer. The season is almost to an end so I should not be surprised what these people are capable of.

THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE will run until July 31st.  Following it on the Main Stage will be The Odd Couple. Fat Pig opened July 28th on the Cabaret Stage. The final show will be Ain’t Misbhavin’ in the Cabaret.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: And A Child...

Local author, J. Kelly Poorman, has given us AND A CHILD..., a book with a very timely message. Much has been said and been written on bullying in our schools, but Mr. Poorman has written from a personal point of view.

Hank and Edwin meet when Hank steps in to save the new boy, Edwin, from being attacked by three of their classmates. Hank has been a victim in the past and, risking his own safety, stops the fight by telling the bullies that Edwin has serious martial arts skills-- much to Edwin’s surprise.

As the two boys become friends, they discover that they have more in common than they realized. Hank is being raised by two fathers and Edwin has two mothers. Their friendship helps them to have the courage to make a stand for all of the students who are considered outcasts: the heavy, the skinny, the nerds, the minorities, and the gay/ lesbians. They want the school to be a safe environment for all disenfranchised students.

They also learn about the prejudices against the elderly when they visit Edwin’s father and are responsible for the care of his elderly father. The boys return home to try to start a social group for students who are usually picked on in the halls and after school. It is indeed a case of “And a child will lead them”.

The message of the author is very clear. His characters are well drawn and he has enough of a plot to keep you reading. I did feel that Mr. Poorman deserves a better editor or proof reader. The small mistakes really bothered me. This is not the complete fault of Mr. Poorman, but he needs to be more aware of them to be taken seriously as an author.

Considering what one hears on the street today, the language of students in the book is far from vulgar, but parents may want to be aware that the gay/lesbian scene is part of the story.

J. Kelly Poorman is scheduled for a book signing at Barnes and Noble on the 13th of August from 1:00pm to 3:00pm. It would be a good time to learn of his other books, too.

PS. The “Books, Books, and Other Things You Don’t Need” sale will be July 23rd at 128 East Cherry Lane, behind the Undine parking lot. Stop in if only just to say hello.

THEATER: The Survivor

The State College Community Theatre opened THE SURVIVOR this week at Boal Barn. The time of the play is 1940 to 1943 and the place is the Warsaw Ghetto. A group of Jewish teenagers are living with the constant threat of death by the Nazis. They start by banding together to smuggle food into the Ghetto and end by forming the nucleus of the resistance movement.

Photos courtesy of Drew Frank
Meadow Lane Photography
Thanks to a cast that felt the desperate drama that these young people must have lived through, it was worth braving the heat to spend an evening at The Boal Barn Playhouse. I was amazed when I read how young this cast is. They captured a time and circumstances that, thankfully, they have not experienced.

Each member of the cast was surprisingly good, but special credit has to go to Jesse Tyler Moore who played Jacek, the survivor. His passion remained intense throughout the play climaxing with a powerful closing speech. The audience was utterly still at the end of the play, the best compliment an actor can receive.

Deb Gilmore as Jacek’s little sister, Hela, gets a chance to show growth in her character. Olivia Lusk and Kaitlyn Warner as Mala and Halina, the Jewish girls living out of the Ghetto and passing as Christians, showed how frustrating it is to live as someone you aren’t.
Photos courtesy of Drew Frank
Meadow Lane Photography

The brave rebels were played by Max Hults, Jeremy Edelstein, Joshua Miller-Day, and Michael O’Neill. Each man showed the acting talents of much more experienced actors. Again, the passion for their characters was very believable--and touching. Each actor had a moment to shine in his or her “death monologue”. These moments were particularly poignant.

At times, the only wrong note for me was the character of Rubenstein played by Rick Gilmore. Mr. Gilmore did a fine job, but I am not sure how much “comic relief” the show needed.

Chris Gallagher was Markowsky, the man who helped the Nazis to round up the Jews to the cattle cars. He was a good balance to show how far a man will go to protect his own family.
Photos courtesy of Drew Frank
Meadow Lane Photography

The sets by Nicki Duvall were well thought out; making it always clear if the action was in the Ghetto or the streets of Warsaw. All in all, the play was well done, from Anne Simon’s directing, to the important lighting design of Celine O. Graae and the costumes of Diane Twomley.

With some countries saying that they are going to stop teaching about the Holocaust for fear of offending someone and with the swastika still showing up, we need to be reminded of this time in history. It is dangerous to forget.

THE SURVIVOR will run until July the 31st. Into the Woods, the musical by Stephen Sondheim, will open on August the 9th.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


The “Books, Books, and Other Things You Don’t Need” sale will be Saturday, July 23rd 
128 East Cherry Lane
behind the Undine parking lot and one block off Allegheny St.  
8:00AM - ??

Things included:  reviewed books, books, other books, many books, power and hand tools, sewing machine, household goods and more!

This is the same weekend as the JazzPA Festival.
Stop in if only just to say hello.

THEATER: The Mousetrap

Agatha Christie’s THE MOUSETRAP,  playing at Millbrook Playhouse, is worth the trip to Mill Hall.

This is one of the best versions that I have seen of this popular play.

The show is exceptionally well directed by Kate Pines; it moves quickly, each character is defined, the humor is actually funny, the timing is good, and the suspense is--yes, suspenseful.

If you saw Love, Sex, and the IRS you saw only a portion of the talents of Brett Epstein, Eileen Glenn, Alexander Taylor Mace, Allison Jordon, and Nicholas Wilder. It amazes me that all of them could be playing silly farcical roles while rehearsing more serious roles in a Christie play.
Nicholas Wilder as Detective Trotter (standing)
and Richard Guido Mr. Paravicini (seated)

Nicholas Wilder got rid of the dress from last week’s Love, Sex and the IRS to play Detective Sergeant Trotter this week, a part with more undertones. He did it with conviction! This week Allison Jordon is the masculine Miss Casewell and given an opportunity for a well done dramatic scene at the end of the play. In fact, if I had not seen their names in the program; I would not have recognized them.

It also took me a while to identify Alexander Taylor Mace. He does an excellent job of keeping in the background as Major Metcalf. Brett Epstein, once again, almost steals the show. This time he is a very disturbed young man, Christopher Wren, who may enjoy the idea of murder just a little too much.

Brett Epstein as Christopher Wren
and Ali Kresch as Mollie Ralston
Richard Guido has been in quite a few Millbrook plays over the years and it was good to see him in a role that seemed to suit him. His Mr. Paravicini is just the right amount of “something rather phony”.

The newly weds, Mollie and Giles Ralston, were played by Ali Kresch and David Jackson. It may have been noted that I am a member of the local Ali Kresch fan club. This season she has come into her own as an actress. She and David did such convincing job that several people near me were sure that one of them “did it”.

The Mousetrap is one of my favorite plays.  In fact, I judge all mystery writers against Christie. It was first produced in 1952 in the West End of London and is still going strong; that’s over 24.000 performances. Christie would not allow it to be published in book form in England as long as the plat was running. It has been published in the United States in an anthology under the title Three Blind Mice.

Millbrook’s production is fresh and vibrant. Taking a play that has a long history and making it seem new is a tribute to the talents of any group.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee will open on the Main Stage at Millbrook on July 21st. Because this is a show of ad-libs, it will be fun to compare it to Boal Barn’s version. Can’t wait!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: My Brother Was An Only Child

Helping to keep the book shelves organized at the Faith Center is a dangerous volunteer job for me--at least if you listen to my husband Jim. He has pointed out that it is the most expensive volunteer job that I have ever had. He may be right.

MY BROTHER WAS AN ONLY CHILD by Jack Douglas may prove Jim’s point. I first read the book in 1959 while attending a lecture in college on something or another. I forget. I do remember laughing out loud and causing a bit of a disturbance. So, seeing it again was like meeting an old friend unexpectedly and, of course, I had to take it home with me.

You may need some background on the book, and the author, since it never became a leader on any best seller list.

Jack Douglas was a comedy writer in early television. Among his employers was Jack Parr (to those of you much younger than I, Jack Parr was the host of the Tonight Show back in the 1950’s). Parr has written the Introduction to the book in what might not be the most flattering of introductions. Parr says that while some writers are loaded with honor and integrity, leaving out honor and integrity, he has often seen Douglas loaded; he blames that on the evils of an expense account.

In the book itself, the chapter titles give no help what-so-ever in understanding what will be found inside and sometimes the chapter titles are as funny as the chapters themselves.

For example:

“The Story of Wine or Brown Feet, Why Are You Blue?” or “ On One’s Hand It Is Much Better to Have Fingers Than Toes”, or the chapter titled “ Put the Cobra Back in the Basket, Mother--There’ll Be No Show Tonight”, this chapter is not about mothers or cobras, by the way.

Chapter sixteen is “ Famous Bastards”.  To quote it in its entirety : “(What’s the use --- you all know who you are.)”

The complete book is just silly, but now you have an idea of what made me LOL in my younger days. There have been quite a few nonsense books since 1959, but Jack Douglas was an early pioneer in the field.

P.S. Book Clearance by Command of Husband at end of month. Watch the Gazette for details.

Friday, July 8, 2011

THEATER: Love, Sex and the IRS

Nicholas Wilder as "Leslie"
and Alexander Taylor Mace as "Jon"
"Love, Sex, and the IRS" opened at the Millbrook Playhouse on June 30th and my cheeks still hurt from laughing. If any of the subjects mentioned in the title appeal to you, go to see it.

Leslie and Jon, two guys trying to make it as musicians, share an apartment in New York City. To save money on their taxes, Jon has been filing them as a married couple and when the IRS comes to investigate the only sensible thing to do is have Leslie become the “little woman”. Girlfriends, landlords, and mothers show up to complicate things.

Nicholas Wilder gets a chance to strut the stage in drag and an uglier woman has never been seen at Millbrook. The combination of his costuming and his reluctance to wear high heels and make-up is perfect.

Nicholas Wilder as "Leslie"
His roommate Jon, played by Alexander Taylor Mace, is believable as the instigator of this ridicules solution. He is the perfect foil for the silliness of the other cast members.

Ted Cockley is back again this year as the beer swilling landlord. I have often wondered how his parishioners feel about his playing the wild and wacky parts that he seems to carry off so well.

Vivian, Jon’s mother, is bravely played by Eileen Glenn. Somehow she manages to keep a certain amount of dignity in the middle of all of the confusion. A complement to Ms Glen -- even though I have seen her in shows in the past, I did not recognize the actress in this role. That, my friends, is talent.

The girl friends, Kate and Connie, were equally convincing. Allison Jordon, as Kate, is on stage through most of the play and adds her own comedic touch as she tries to hold the boys in line.

Connie, played by Monica Bradley, was a delightful surprise. She was the best touch of “New York” in the show. I wish she were going to be in another play this season; I would like to check what was personality and what was acting.
Nicholas Wilder as "Leslie",
Alexander Taylor Mace as "Jon" and Eileen Glenn as "Vivian"

Brett Epstein almost stole the show as the IRS man. His character gets to go through a wide range of acting opportunities. You have no idea how “still” this man can be. You have to see it to believe it.

Patrick Carroll rounds out the cast, providing the surprise ending.

"Love, Sex, and the IRS" is running July 6th through the 10th. It is in their Cabaret, so don’t forget to take snacks and beverage of choice.

"Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story" will be on the Main Stage starting July 7.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


 (Editor's note:  while Annie is no longer playing, Pat wanted to put the review online to kick-off Millbrook's season.  The Buddy Holly Story opens this week.)

Ali Kresch, Tiffany Green, Whitney Brown, Rachel Covey, David Raposo,
George Baumer, Lawrence Lescher. 
Photo courtesy of Erika Courtney
Millbrook Playhouse in Mill Hall opened the 2011 summer season with the family friendly Annie to a packed house. This is the forty-eighth season for this true summer stock theatre and it appears that this may be their best season yet.

The story of the eleven year-old orphan, who has been searching for her parents, but finds Daddy Warbucks and the dog Sandy instead, is a familiar one. Director/ Choreographer Stefanie Sertich has given us a pure translation of the story featuring an extremely talented cast.

Orphans:  Emma Heid, Katelyn Boyd, Katheleen Simander, Olivia Hanna,
Rachel Covey, Aimee Hunsinger, Amanda Hibbler, Emma Rohan, Kali Haines.
Photo courtesy of Erika Courtney.
Rachel Covey as Annie was delightful. Miss Covey already has an impressive professional biography and her experience showed. There are not many scenes in the play that these young shoulders don’t carry. I believed that it was her optimism that gave FDR the idea for The New Deal.

Oliver Warbucks was played with moneyed charm by Lawrence Lesher. Mr. Lesher has good voice and good stage presence; I hope that we see more of him. Tiffany Green was under used as the secretary, Grace Farrell. Ms Green did a commendable job, warm and efficient, but we never got a chance to hear her belt out with that terrific voice.
Easy Street:
Ali Kresch, Whitney Brown, David Raposo.
Photos Courtesy of Erika Courtney

The absolute show stopper for me was the number “Easy Street”. Miss Hannigan, her brother Rooster, and his friend Lily were played by Ali Kresch, David Raposo, and Whitney Brown respectively and they almost literally tore up the stage.

Miss Kresch is a veteran Millbrook player and one of my personal favorites. The role of Miss Hannigan showed her range as a performer to perfection. This was David Raposo’s Millbrook debut and I can not wait to see him later in the summer in other roles. To fully appreciate Whitney Brown’s performance, you have to see what an attractive woman she is in real life.

One of the important things to me at an opening show is checking the ensemble cast. These are the people we can expect to see in the future. The ensemble numbers were well directed, well choreographed and busting with individual talent. My pick this year as “the actor to keep your eye” on is Samuel Benedict, who played several small roles, but it was his Bert Healy that high lighted his possibilities.

Cute Molly:  Emma Heid, James David Larson.
Photo Courtesy of Erika Courtney
Jacob as the very well behaved Sandy also deserves special recognition.

Annie runs June 29 through July 3. Opening June 30th in the Cabaret will be Love, Sex, and the IRS. Next on the Main Stage will be The Buddy Holly Story. Think about adding Millbrook Playhouse to your summer theatre schedule.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


It has been several months since I have treated myself to a Greg Iles book, so when I saw 24 HOURS on the shelf, I prepared myself for a marathon of reading. I simply can not put one of his books down until I finish it.

Joe Hickey has developed the perfect crime. For five years he has gotten away with kidnapping for ransom and it is time for another child to go missing. The routine is simple: wait until the father has gone to the yearly medical conference, have cousin Huey take the child to a hidden spot nearby, have the mother transfer the funds to her husband who is waiting with Cheryl, the third member of the team.

This year things do not go according to Joey’s plan. He has selected the Jennings family and each of them is willing to fight back.

Will is eager to fly to the conference in his rebuilt, ten year old Baron aircraft to present his paper on a new drug that he has been instrumental in developing.

Karin Jennings is reluctantly staying at home to chair this year’s flower show for the Junior League and to take care of their daughter Abby.

Joey has done his homework on this family well. The one thing that he neglected to learn was that Abby was a Type 1 diabetic, which complicates the 24 hour schedule that is important for their scheme to work. Joey, Huey, and Cheryl also are not ready for the three members of the Jennings family to handle the plan in very original ways.

Once again Greg Iles has written a story that grips the reader from the first page. Each of his characters is well developed especially the “bad guys”. In fact, I found myself to be very much in sympathy with them, especially Huey.

The suspense builds throughout the book, but the final scene is worthy of the climax of the best of action movies. An Iles book never disappoints me and this was a “forget -doing -any -housework- or - meals” type of story. The fact that one of the characters was a very young child with Type 1 diabetes added a personal element for me.

If you have not discovered this “thriller writer’s thriller writer”, to quote one reviewer, 24 HOURS may be a good place to start.

P.S. My husband tells me that it is time to clean some books out of the house. Watch for my ‘Books, Books and Other Things You Probably Don’t Need Sale’ at the end of the month.