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

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

BOOKS: Your Holiday Shopping Made Easy

OK, boys and girls, it is once again time for Auntie Pattie Clause to help you with your Christmas shopping; so listen carefully.*

For the showbiz autobiography fans: BOSSY PANTS by Tina Fey is a good read. She is funny and honest.

For the readers who enjoy a well written murder mystery: SISTER: THE NOVEL is a slightly different take on who did it. The ending should surprise you.

For ladies who want to read about country doctors in Ireland: Patrick Taylor has a delightful series, starting with, of course, IRISH COUNTRY DOCTOR.

For the person who reads David Baldacci: anything by Richard Montanari. His most recent, ECHO MAN, will keep you turning pages.

For the history buffs: Anita Diament’s DAY AFTER NIGHT is a story of the Jews being transported to a new land called Israel in 1945. Another good book from this time in history is SARAH'S KEY by Tattiana de Rosnay, based on a little known historical fact in France.

For anyone who just enjoys an interesting book: I AM THE MESSENGER by Markus Zusak. Zusak is considered a Young People author, but his BOOK THIEF is high on my favorite book list.

For the Biblical scholar: DISCOVERING THE PARABLES by Henry G. Covert is an excellent study guide. It should spark a lot of discussion in a class.

For the “I-am-not-sure-what- to-call-them” group: the second book in Justin Cronin’s trilogy, THE PASSAGE, is out. I really liked the first one, all 766 pages, and will read the other two. This group should also enjoy WORLD WAR Z:  AN ORAL HISTORY OF THE ZOMBIE WARS by Max Brooks. Max is Mel’s son so you know that the humor will be just a little off center.

Note to my personal Santa: Alice Hoffman’s THE DOVE KEEPERS looks good; SNUFF, a new Discworld book, by Terry Pratchett would be appreciated….love Discworld, and Nora Roberts has a new trilogy called Inn Boonsboro.

*Please feel free to place this list on the family bulletin board for all of the Santa’s in your house.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

THEATER: Twelve Angry Jurors

Bald Eagle Area’s fall production was TWELVE ANGRY JURORS and it was worth a trip to Wingate on a Friday night. The cast and crew did a good job with setting the mood of a jury room while twelve people decide the fate of a young man on trial for murdering his father.

The suspense of the play mainly depends upon the actors and how well they can bring out the different personalities in the diverse group. Kathy Laird, Abby Cargo, Becca Bowling, Carol Fayman, Samantha Rougeux, Cody Mandell, and Clifford Smolko all did an excellent job of staying in character. Josh Koleno’s thoughtful expression in an early scene gave the audience the first indication that maybe the guilty vote might change.

For this play to be successful, the audience must stay involved. That means, the pace has to move, the lines have to be heard, and the characters understood. This was true with the entire cast, but exceptionally so with the major parts. Luke Besong as the bigot was important to the story line and he was extremely unlikable. Dale Haagen was classy; at times she was the calming voice.

The veterans Maggie Mehalko and Richard Spicer did an outstanding job. As a forceful, almost sadistic, person who wants this murderer off the street, Maggie did a powerful job. Richard Spicer was very believable as the soft spoken man who was willing to stand up for his convictions.

Director Lindsey Allison and her crew are to be congratulated.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

THEATER: All In The Timing

Bellefonte Drama Club is to be congratulated on their choice of ALL IN THE TIMING to open the 2011-2012 season. Playwright David Ives has become famous for his ability to use words in unexpected ways and this series of one-act plays certainly is a good example.

Each delightful little mini-play gave a series of actors a chance to “star” and shine they did. The first play showed Elizabeth Catchmark and Kenny Laufer, meeting for the first time in “Sure Thing” and having the advantage of Cat Rokavec ringing a bell to start the conversation over if it was not headed in the right direction. It is indeed all in the timing.

I would love to tell you the plot of each play, but that would ruin the fun of the event and take up too much space. The only play that was slightly serious, was “Long Ago and Far Away” dealing with the question “What is reality?” Melissa Hilder, Sean Connelly, Max De Renzis, and Rebecca Busichio had a chance to do some surreal acting.

Needless to say, my favorite was the final play, “Words, Words, Words”. Brandon Lengyel, Tyler Wasson, and Julia Laufer are Swift, Milton, and Kafka, three chimpanzees who are being used in a study to see if they could write “Hamlet”. The actors were chimp-like in their mannerism and delivered their lines with perfect timing; it is all in the timing after all.

In fact most of these young thespians were very stage savvy. They were easy to hear and understand--an important thing in comedy. I also have to applaud the crew for an excellent set and fast set changes, a difficult thing when you are faced with six different plays.

Thank you directors Shaun McMurtrie and Elizabeth Heidt and a talented cast and crew for introducing playwright David Ives to our community.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Shakespeare

It has always fascinated me that there is so little information available on the best known playwright in the English language. Therefore finding Bill Bryson’s biography on the man, simply entitled SHAKESPEARE, I knew that I was on to something that would be informative as well as humorous.

The facts on Shakespeare’s life are almost nonexistent. We know that he was born in 1564. These were not good times in England; the previous decade had seen a 6 % drop in the population primarily due to the plague. What we see today as ordinary ailments could be lethal and the treatments were as dangerous. Shakespeare’s greatest achievement may not have been Hamlet, but rather the fact that he lived through infancy.

It is known that his family was fairly prosperous for the time and that his local school was a good one. The masters at the school earned more than was common at the time and were all Oxford men--a rare distinction.

The only recorded glimpses of the man himself are at his baptism, his wedding, and the births of his children. The most important years, 1585 to 1592, are almost a complete blank. We do know that he left Stratford-Upon-Avon, probably leaving his wife and children behind, to establish himself as an actor and playwright in London.

Bryson has put together a history of the mysterious man, William Shakespeare, from a vast assortment of sources. His handling of the controversy of who actually wrote these plays - that are still being performed after 500 years - is well researched. For the record, Bryson feels that all of the theories are “much ado about nothing”.

Most of all, Bryson celebrates Shakespeare’s wonderful use of language, his inventiveness of phrases, and his characters. Most of these have become such a part of our everyday life that we do not realize who originated them. Speaking personally, as one who would be lost without spell check, it boggles my mind that these plays were written without the help of a dictionary.

Bill Bryson’s writings are delightful, full of flashes of wit, entertaining while still being informative. This small book is a must for the Shakespearian fan, no matter how casual the interest.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Day After Night

There are few authors who can take us back to a woman’s place in history as well as Anita Diamant. Her best selling novel, The Red Tent, took us to the Old Testament; her latest novel, DAY AFTER NIGHT, takes us to 1945 to a British prison in what would become Israel, a camp for Jews who had escaped the Nazi in Europe, but did not have “legal” papers.

The novel is told primarily through the voices of four young women, Shayndel, Leonie, Tedi, and Zorah.
Shayndel was from Poland where she had fought along with other youth as part of the Zionist underground movement. She had watched as her friends were killed.

Beautiful Leonie was from Paris. By the time her story is revealed, we have gotten to know her which makes the events even more horrific.

Tedi was a tall, blond Dutch Jew. Her appearance probably would have helped to hide her. Her betrayal was also by someone that she trusted.

Zorah was a concentration camp survivor. The numbers on her arm made her shame more evident. The other women carried their shame inside.

Each woman had to handle the guilt of being alive when so many of their friends and family had been put to death, as well as living in a camp that was not too much better than what they had left back in Europe. Food was scarce, the fences were barb-wire, privacy was almost nonexistent, and the language barriers existed not only with the British, who were in charge, but among the prisoners as well.

This is a powerful story with unforgettable characters. A short review can not begin to capture the richness of these women and the people around them. Diamant develops characters that stay with you long after the book has been put back on the shelf. The circumstances of this story are certainly not ones that have been part of my life, but stories of great courage and the strength of the human spirit make us all feel better about being human.

DAY AFTER NIGHT is the perfect title for Anita Diamant’s newest book.

Monday, November 7, 2011

THEATER REVIEW: La Scafetta: The Foundling Drawer

Angelic voices, poetic language, vivacious ladies, and elegant musicians, were all at The University Club last week when Tempest Productions presented LA SCAFETTA:  THE FOUNDLING DRAWER.

The mood was set as the audience walked into a drawing room that could have existed in the sixteen hundreds. To add to the atmosphere, Melissa Foge and Angela Girvan on double bass and flute, respectively, were playing softly.

These musicians were joined by the cast of young girls with exceptional voices. Because of the intimacy of the room, each voice was clear and bell-like. I was impressed by the alto standing in front of me. If I read my program correctly, she was 15 year old Michaella Francis. She was just the beginning of what turned into an exciting evening.

The small venue made the audience feel as if they were being entertained in the parlor of the orphanage and were given an opportunity to meet the head violin instructor, the students, and the three women who took care of them.

It is hard to get everyone into this review and I was so impressed with everyone. Elaine C. Meder - Wilgus played Maestra Teresa and has to be mentioned. Her role was rather large and I really appreciated how easily understood she is as an actress.

Grace McDill, the voice student Serafina, had several solos that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. The picture of her standing in her period gown in front of a formal window will stay with me for a long time.

Araellia Lopatic played Gabriella as a young girl and Lissa Ramirez was the young adult Gabriella. This was the orphan violinist that the story revolved around. The poise of these two young actresses is astonishing. Ms Ramirez has great stage presence; her fire and personality made it possible to understand how she would feel confined by the cloistered life.

The real credit for the evening goes first of all to Mary Rohrer - Dann for writing such a touching series of poems. The women were not only women of their time but timeless in their concerns. To take us back to baroque Venice and make us feel at home shows talent - and homework.

As important to the evening was the direction of Cynthia Mazzant. Ms Mazzant took the poems, turned them into a verse play and found a cast that could speak the lines with a naturalness that was beautiful. I also loved the use of the acting area, even “back stage” felt natural. It really did feel as if we were being entertained in a drawing room in Venice in 1700.

Because of the intimacy of the room, and because the show had a very limited run, many of you had to miss the performance…each night was sold out. I can only hope that there are plans to repeat the experience. This is local theatre at its best.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Like many of you, I am sure, the term “Inklings” brings a smile to my face. It was the name of a group of men who met regularly in a pub near Oxford, but the outstanding thing about this group is that among its members were C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.

My admiration of Lewis is well known and I love anything by or about the man. So naturally when I saw a book with the title INKLINGS by author Melanie M. Jeschke, I bought it, hoping that it would be about this great literary group. It was, but in a round about way.

The story opens on November, 26, 1963 in Oxford, England. David MacKenzie has spent the day at a poorly attended funeral. He thought that since C. S. Lewis was so well known that more of his friends and family would have been there. The thing that did impress him was the lit candle on top of the coffin that stayed lit even as the funeral procession moved out to the cemetery.

David decides at that point to be more like Lewis, to dedicate his life to God. As part of this decision, he starts a new group of Inklings. Their purpose will be to discuss the ideas that the original group had written about and live a Godlike life. The only problem is his girlfriend, Charlotte. Charlotte does not believe that there is a God and does not want this religion thing to change their relationship.

Enter Kate Hughes, a student from America, and what follows is a fairly typical love story. Kate and David not only have to struggle to remain chaste as their love grows, but Charlotte is not willing to let David go.

The story was a little trite and even awkward at times, but I was so fascinated by the details about Lewis that were worked into the story, I kept reading. I think that I was secretly looking for mistakes that Jeschke made about his life. The author did take some small liberties which she points out in her notes at the beginning of the book.

Still, if you like well researched books involving a great person, especially one as many-faceted as Lewis was, this is a worthwhile, fast read.