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

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Bossypants

Tina Fey is funny--oh, we already know that. We also know of her involvement with Saturday Night Live (SNL) as a writer, for her impersonation of Sarah Palin, and for being the power behind 30 Rock. What we did not know was that she could write a book about management skills to rival those written by Coach K or Jack Walsh.

In BOSSYPANTS, Ms Fey tells briefly of her childhood as a nerd living in Pennsylvania with normal parents. The local theater group was the start of her interest in show business. After college, she worked with The Second City, an improvisation theater based in Chicago.

The Second City has become famous as a training ground for other actors such as John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Catherine O’Hara, Stephen Colbert, and on and on. Along with her description of her time there, Ms Fey also gives the rules of Improvisation. These rules are the basics for shows like SNL and explain why it must be nerve wracking for the actor, but so much fun for the audience.

Bits and pieces of her personal life are told with honesty. She tells of her honeymoon on a cruise that turned almost fatal, her adventures as a mother with an unsuccessful try at breast feeding, her halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty, and why she likes Williamsport, Pennsylvania (it is half way between her home and that of her in-laws, making it a good place for holiday meetings).

Being a woman in a male dominated industry has always been a “good story”. Under the humor, this book reminds us that all sexual bias has not been eliminated. It was surprising that female executives still fight the battles of prejudice that we fought in the 1950’s. Again, even these stories are told with a light touch.

BOSSYPANTS is the type of “showbiz” autobiography that I enjoy. I am not interested in who slept with whom or other bits of gossip. What I want is insight into character: I want the story of how the person managed to be come successful, no matter what the field of endeavor.

If you are not a fan of SNL or 30 Rock, you will still enjoy reading about a woman who enjoys fame, seems to stay very grounded, and can give lessons on management skills.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Book of Ruth

There is something Dickensian about THE BOOK OF RUTH by Jane Hamilton. Ruth’s story is about resilience against the worst of odds; think Oliver Twist.

Ruth begins her story when she is around ten years old. That is when her father left in the middle of the night, leaving Ruth, her younger brother, Matt, and her mother, May. She knew that he would be happier picking grapefruit in Texas than living with May in Honey Creek, Illinois.

May shows great love and encouragement to Matt, who grows into the perfect student, graduates from high school, leaves Honey Creek and rarely contacts his family again.

With Ruth, May is mean and not in any way a supportive parent. At one point Ruth says that she feels like a plant that has been put in a pot and nobody remembers to water. The neglect that Ruth experiences at home has the expected affect in her school life. She has hand-me-down clothing that the other girls recognize, no one to see when she needs to start to wear a bra, and, of course, no help with schoolwork, only more responsibilities for housework.

Her lack of confidence has caused the school to put her in the “retarded” class and her one chance to be in a regular English classroom is a disaster. Because Ruth is telling her own story, the reader gets insight on how her creative mind works. We see that her life has little chance of moving beyond its unhappiness, surrounded by narrow minds and cruelty.

Even the marriage that she is so excited about is doomed to end tragically. Her husband can not keep a job; his days are filled with drinking and drugs. Everything points to a sad ending for Ruth and what had been dreams of a normal life.

Although this sounds like a very depressing book, surprisingly it is just the opposite. Ruth has such a unique way of looking at her world and the fortitude to get through so many horrible things. She does meet a few people along the way who open her mind to what could be a normal life.

Ruth made me think of all of our fellow classmates or people that we pass on the street that we ignore because they do not fit in our mold of the “right” people. Those who live in the wrong part of town.  She gives us a view of a person who could have so much and is given so little. At the end of the book, as Ruth puts together her broken body, spirit, and life, we see what genuine hope looks like.

This is a wonderfully crafted book. Jane Hamilton has a use of the English language that is fresh and beautiful. This was her first novel and the winner of The Pen/Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award. Ruth will stay with me for a very long time.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

THEATER: Ain't Misbehavin'

Solomon Kee
Photo courtesy of Erika Courtney
The joint is certainly jumpin’ at Millbrook Playhouse in Mill Hall. An energetic cast of five, plus piano player is on the Cabaret Stage in AIN'T MISBEHAVIN' and I defy anyone to sit without tapping a toe through the evening.

The secret to a successful show, especially a musical, is for the audience to feel that the people on stage are having fun. On opening night it was hard to tell who was having more fun, the cast or the people out front.

The piano set the mood at the very beginning of the show. Eric Walton is listed as the music director and I presume that he was the man at the piano; if so, I could have listened to him all night.

Ah, but then the singers started to come on stage and the action and the music never stopped.

Kathryn Allison has a voice to raise the rafters. Her range and control is what I want when I grow up. Her “Mean To Me” was the blues the way they should be sung.

Brand Hanks is smooth and sophisticated with a baritone voice that could charm any man, woman, or child-- at least I can speak for the women. He also proved that he could work the audience in his solo “Your Feets Too Big”

The picture with this review shows one side of Solomon Kee. Not to take away from the fact that the man has a great voice, the man can move. One of the hardest numbers in the show is “Viper” and he nailed it.

Housso Semon is also very talented and very nice to look at, what my grandson would call “eye candy”.  She dances, sings, and looks good. What more does she need?

Amelia Lang Wallace has almost grown up on the Millbrook stage. This is her 6th season and she has grown very nicely. I hope we see more of her. She sang and danced with the best of them.

Costumes are a personal love of mine and so I have to mention the fantastic period costumes in the show. Beautiful. Since the show is all music credit goes to Randy Davis the director/ choreographer for making use of not only all of the stage but parts of the audience as well.

AIN'T MISBEHAVIN' is the last show of the regular season and I would like to take some of my space for some personal thank-you’s. Mary Catherine Burke, Artistic Director, thank you not only for being a help to me and the paper, but thank you for an outstanding season. Corey Wilson, Business Manager, you made my job so easy. I want to give a special thank you to Erika Courtney; she is listed as the Lighting Designer for the season, but Erika provided the fabulous pictures for these reviews.

The Millbrook Playhouse is being kind enough to do a return engagement of Love, Sex, and the I.R.S. It will run from Wednesday, August the 4th until Sunday the 28th at 7:30 with a matinee at 2:00 on the 28th.

Friday, August 12, 2011

THEATER: Into The Woods

INTO THE WOODS opened at Boal Barn on Tuesday and special recognition has to go to Tom McClary and his production staff for a delightful show. The decision to do the show in modern dress was a brilliant one and costume designer, Joy Elizabeth Downey, defined each character with just the right touch.

Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine have woven several well known fairy tales together to give us the plot for Into the Woods so that the characters can interact with each other as well as giving the audience a chance to see what happens after the “happily ever after” endings.

Although the cast was a true ensemble, I have to make several comments on individuals. As The Witch, Amy Sclight had some complicated lines and she sailed through them without a stumble. Amy has a strong voice and I would love to hear her sing without amplification.

The Baker and his wife were played by Eric Brinser and Kate Oberholtzer. Both were in good voice and were very believable in their more dramatic scenes. Side note: Bald Eagle students go see Mr. Brinser. You will be impressed.

The Wicked Stepmother and her daughters had the best chance to dress the part. Played by Susan Kleit, Emily Dennis, and Jessica Blanarik, they were a delight and their wardrobe sharp and edgy.

My favorite spots may have been the duets starring the two Princes. Jason Meyer, Rapunzel’s Prince, and Michael Tews, Cinderella’s Prince, were perfect for the parts. Michael’s overacting hit the right comic note. Loved his sneakers.

Julia Albertson’s Cinderella had the proper layers to her personality; she was not sure if actually marrying a prince would guarantee happiness. Her sweet voice was perfect for Cinderella.

Rachel Reed as Little Red won the audience almost as soon as she stepped on stage. She has an excellent stage voice, clear and precise. There was no doubt in my mind that her new cape would be made of wolf skin. Jason Myer did double duty as the Wolf and as a result had an outstanding solo, “Hello, Little Girl”.

Helen Fleischer deserves to be applauded as Milky White, the cow. Non-speaking roles are difficult. Never once did I see Helen break character; she just kept chewing her cud.

I have enjoyed Stefan Pelikan in past shows, but the part of Jack was perfect for him. Jason Hetler also did double duty. He kept the audience informed of the action as the Narrator for the play and was also the Mysterious Man.

All of the smaller roles had good voices. Lisa Wasbotten, as Rapunzel, has an exceptional voice. I hope that we get to see more of her.

The evening concluded with scholarships being awarded to Sarah Rafacz and Jessica Blanarik to be used to further their education in the field of drama.

runs until August the 20th. Leading Ladies opens September the 6th.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Jane Austin Book Club

Over the years my experience with book groups has been good; several have been the basis of lasting friendships.  I also am fond of Jane Austin’s books. Now it would make sense that a book by Karen Joy Fowler titled THE JANE AUSTIN BOOK CLUB would catch my eye. Sometimes a book sounds better than it actually is.

Five women and one man have formed a book group to discuss Jane Austin’s novels. Each person has his or her favorite book and is able to identify with at least one character from the books.

During the six months that they meet we get to know them and their relationships with each other. The problem was that I really did not care to get to know any of them better. The plot deals more about the characters as they grew up and their dysfunctional families than we may have needed.

In the middle of telling us about the lies that were told to children, Fowler randomly throws in a section from one of Jane Austin’s books or, even more confusingly, a section written during the Regency Period by an obscure author. I am sure that Fowler had a point to make with these quotes, but I was just lost, with no idea of where she was going with them.

The book has no real plot, no real character development, and no poetic language; these are the things that I look for in a book. By now you are probably asking why I actually finished the book. (I sometimes wondered that myself.)

Two things kept me going: One, I wanted to see if things got better, and two, I wanted to warn you to avoid what looked like a good read. THE JANE AUSTIN BOOK CLUB has been on bestseller lists and has been made into a movie.

It was a case of my feeling that am I missing something or was it a case of the complimentary comments on the jacket being misleading. I have come to a conclusion---it is the latter. There are too many good books waiting for us to waste our time on this one. You may want to skip this one.

Monday, August 8, 2011

THEATER: The Odd Couple

You have seen the show on television, watched the movie, now you have the chance to see the live play of Neil Simon’s THE ODD COUPLE at Millbrook Playhouse in Mill Hall.

The cast is full of faces that will be familiar to regular Millbrook patrons. The two leads are particularly well known. Thom Caska is Oscar Madison, the divorced, sloppy, cigar smoking, sports writer. Marc de la Concha is Felix Ungar, the emotional neat freak who has just been kicked out by his wife. The two actors are talents that can carry a show.

Marc de la Conch has the physical ability and the facial expressions to make any part his own. It does not take long for the audience and Oscar to find out why Felix’s wife could not take any more of him.

I had no trouble at all in believing that Thom Caska’s Oscar was a born slob. His, not always, silent burn at his roommate’s behavior was fun to watch, especially when the Pigeon sisters came to visit.

Jamie Beth Weist and Eleanor McCormick were delightful as the Pigeon sisters. The fact that they could giggle at any thing that had a double meaning made me think that Oscar could indeed have a good evening.

The poker buddies were especially noteworthy. If you have not been to Millbrook before, you would not be aware what a group of talented young men they were. In past shows we had seen each of them in very different roles from rock stars to the prince of a small kingdom to a very unusual high school principal. James David Larson, Jon Erkert, Nicholas Carroll, and Dan Neufer are names to watch for.

It is no wonder that Artistic Director Mary Catherine Burke chose this play to direct; she surrounded herself with exceptional talent.

This is the last show at Millbrook on the Main Stage. I selfishly hope to see each of these people back next year, but I also hope that a really big contract comes their way and that their audience becomes the rest of the country.

THE ODD COUPLE will be on the Main Stage until August the 14th. Ain’t Misbehavin’ will open on August the 11th and run until the 21st.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: One Hundred Years of Solitude

Before I started reading ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE I knew some things about its history. I knew that Gabriel Garcia Marquez had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for it. I knew that he was a South American author and that I had read his Love in the Time of Cholera and had enjoyed that story.

I did not know how divided readers were about the book. When I mentioned that I was finally getting around to reading ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, half of the people I spoke to said that it was the best thing that they had ever read; the other half hated it.

Now I was really intrigued.

The years of solitude refer to the isolation of a small village by the name of Macondo somewhere in South America. It is a village of twenty adobe houses settled along a small river. In the beginning it is so new that things have not been named. Nobody had ever died in Macondo.

When the gypsies came, they brought wonderful, magical things to the people in the small village. Soon the village found the world coming to its doors. Now illnesses, distrust and, finally, war find them.

The story is told through the family of Jose Arcadio Buendia and his wife Ursula Iguaran. Each of their descendents face the new problems of the new world  -   especially the wars.

The problem for the reader is that each new member of the family bears the same name as another member of the family. Each person was more than a character in the book; each one also was meant to be a symbol of what was happening in the history of village.

I have to admit that I got very confused. This may be a book that takes more than one reading to fully understand. I could appreciate the beautiful, poetic language and even most of the symbolism, but on first reading, I was mainly --well-- confused. This may be a book that I need to either attend a class or find great study notes to help me appreciate why it received the Nobel Prize.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

THEATER: The Good Doctor

Penn State Centre Stage presented Neil Simon’s THE GOOD DOCTOR this week and if there ever was a show to delight the theater lover, this is it. Of course with Neil Simon and Anton Chekov given credit as the authors, one would expect the dialogue to be witty and sharp.

The “good doctor” of the title refers to Chekov. As a medical student, Chekov wrote humorous short stories, articles, and comic sketches; today he is better known for his serious plays. Neil Simon has taken some of his lighter works and turned them into an evening of one-act-plays.

Eight different plays give the cast of seven a chance to show quite a range in talents. With the help of good wigs, make-up, and costumes each actor was instantly in character.

Erik Raymond Johnson was the one constant in the show. As “The Writer” he acted as narrator and kept things moving along; he even gave an alternate ending to several stories.

One of the treats for a lover of the theater is to watch an actor assume a variety of roles. This collection of plays provided a perfect opportunity for the actors to do this and they did it well.

Lance Beilstein was heavily in make-up as older gentlemen and not always recognizable most of the time, but he was a stand-out in The Seduction where he explained that he was an expert at seducing other men’s wives.

I really thought that Carrie McNulty was an older actress in her scene as the employer cheating her governess; she went on to be the hardened prostitute and the young actress at her first audition. The Audition was particularly well done except that Ms McNutly spoke so softly in one spot, causing some lines to be lost.

At times showing a great sense of physical comedy, Thomas Ellis Riley, Kira Lance Hawkins, Josephine Wilson, and Zack Sudbury were outstanding.

As always, Penn State Centre Stage did an impressive job. Credit goes to Robert W. Schneider for directing a smooth, fast paced show. Scenic Designer, Lino Toyos, and Costume Designer, Adam Coffia, made it a beautiful comedy.

Monday, August 1, 2011


FAT PIG is currently playing on the Cabaret Stage at Millbrook Playhouse and the author, Neil LaBute, has a definite point to make.
Tiffany Green and Nicholas Wilder
Photo courtesy of Erika Courtney

Tom has met Helen and fallen in love. Tom’s co-workers, Carter and Jeanie, only see that Helen is a plus-size woman, not that she makes Tom happy.  In a world obsessed with being thin, the people at work go beyond being rude to being openly cruel to the new couple.

Thanks to the play being very well cast, this is a surprisingly good production. Three of the cast members are very familiar to us and it was great to see yet another side of their talents.

Tiffany Green was perfect as Helen. Tiffany has shown that she is able to sing, dance, direct, and act -- all exceptionally well. The role demanded the ability to show a combination of great self-confidence and vulnerability. Tiffany carried it all off with ease.

Nicholas Wilder played Tom so well that the ending of the play was right in character. This is a role that demands that the audience sees beneath the surface of a character. Watching Nicholas in his earlier roles this season made this performance even more impressive.

Again we saw a different side to Ali Kresch. Jeannie is a bit of a stretch for an actress; she goes from being needy to cruelly angry to being the one who may understand the relationship between Helen and Tom. I am beginning to believe that Ali can do it all.

Jeff Blim was a new face and his role as Carter was fresh, energetic, and convincingly cruel. He spoke for all of the people who judge on outward appearances and as a result had some brilliant lines.

The show has some very funny lines, but most of them make you shudder because we have heard them used to hurt people on the playground and in the workplace.

FAT PIG has a lot of reasons to recommend it; they are Tiffany Green, Nicholas Wilder, Ali Kresch, and Jeff Blim.

FAT PIG will run until August the 7th. It will be followed in the Cabaret with Ain’t Misbehaving. The Odd Couple opens on the Main Stage on August the 4th.