Most of the cast of “The Foreigner” worked on the set today, but I begged off. I feel guilty about this. I think people probably assumed I had a specific conflict, but the fact of the matter was that I just have a crazy weekend, and sometimes I’m sort of self-conscious about being old and out of shape.
In my defense, I did work on my lines today. I have worked on my lines five different times today, spending 25 minutes or so each time. I would start by reading through — once — the parts of the play for which I’m already off-book, then I would read the parts I’m still trying to memorize three times. I’m still not quite comfortable with a couple of things from the part I’ll need to have memorized by Tuesday night. My earlier scenes were mostly dialogues between my character and one other character. This scene is a big group scene, where I’ll go for a page or two without any lines at all, and so I’ve got to make sure I’m listening for my cue lines. And I have one big emotional monologue just before leaving the stage, and it has three parts to it — one to Charlie, one to the group, and one to David. I like the monologue, because I think it shows a little of where my character’s negativity comes from, but I am still trying to nail memorizing it so that I can do justice to it when I speak it.
Another reason I wanted to protect today is that tomorrow is going to be a little crazy. I will start it teaching my normal Sunday School class and going to church. Then, I will go to my father’s house for lunch to celebrate my nephew James’s birthday. The rest of the family will then proceed to Cascade, where James’s brother T.J. is in a production of “Seussical Jr.,” but I won’t be joining them — because I’ll be at rehearsal tomorrow afternoon. Then, after rehearsal, I’m up in the rotation this week to be one of the adults at youth at church tomorrow evening. This will be the busiest Sunday I’ve had in quite a while.
We had a good rehearsal for “The Foreigner” tonight, except that our lead, Aaron Gaines, wasn’t there. He had a good excuse: tonight was opening night for “Once Upon A Mattress” at Motlow College, in which he’s a cast member.
We started the evening working on one scene and finished it working on a different scene. In between, while we were taking a break, our director, Tony Davis, had us sit and tell our favorite non-musical play, our favorite musical, and our favorite moment from any play. In some cases, what we were remembering fondly were film versions of the plays in question, but in other cases they were plays that we’d seen, performed in, or dreamed of performing in.
Anyway, here were my answers, which are subject to change without notice:
Favorite non-musical play: “The Man Who Came To Dinner,” by George S. Kaufmann and Moss Hart
I remember this from two sources: the movie version starring Monty Wooley, which is one of my all-time favorite film comedies, but also the video of a Broadway revival version which starred Nathan Lane. The late Julio Francesconi, when he had stopped by the Times-Gazette to drop off one of the wonderful short stories he wrote for us at Christmas, Halloween or Easter, once told me he thought I’d be perfect for the starring role in the play. I’d love to do that someday. It’s too large a cast for The Fly, but maybe they’ll do it one day in Tullahoma.
I’ve blogged about this before, so I probably don’t need to ramble on too much about it, but it’s a comedy about a pompous, sharp-tongued and self-centered radio comentator and columnist, Sheridan Whiteside (a thinly-veiled parody of Algonquin Round Table member Alexander Woolcott, a friend of the playwrights). Whiteside, with his harried secretary in tow, storms into a small Ohio town for a speaking engagement, but breaks his hip and is forced to stay a while, taking over the house of the hapless family that had only planned to serve him a pre-lecture meal. When his secretary starts to fall for the local newspaperman, Whiteside fears losing her and schemes to break up the romance.
Here, you can see a little bit of Monty Wooley followed by a little bit of Nathan Lane. Coincidentally, I think the Lane clip takes place immediately after the Wooley clip:
Favorite musical play: “Guys And Dolls,” music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, based on short stories by Damon Runyon
I have long said that if I had any vocal talent at all, my dream role would be Nicely Nicely Johnson in “Guys and Dolls.” He’s a supporting player, but gets to sing my two favorite songs in the score, “Fugue For Tinhorns” and “Sit Down (You’re Rocking The Boat).”
I know this one only from the movie version, but I think it’s supposed to be relatively faithful to the play.
The movie is set in Runyon’s world of lovable and relatively-harmless gangsters and gamblers. Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra, in the movie version) runs “the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York,” but he’s running out of places to hold it and needs some cash to put down as a deposit on a possible location. In hopes of a windfall, he bets high roller Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando) that Masterson can’t seduce strait-laced Salvation Army* missionary Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons).
Technically, Sky Masterson is the lead role – and Sinatra was furious when he had to settle for the part of scrappy Nathan Detroit instead of the ladies’ man Masterson. But a good Nathan Detroit can actually steal the show, as Nathan Lane did in the 1992 Broadway revival that launched his career.
*They don’t actually call it “The Salvation Army,” choosing the movie-generic “Save-A-Soul Mission” instead, but the intent is clear.
Favorite moment from a play:
You will find it at the very end of this clip, after the song. George Hearn, playing the title role in “Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” is obsessed with revenge. When Mrs. Lovett (Angela Lansbury) gives him back his old barber tools, he sings to them, holding aloft the straight razor with which he hopes to strike down the man who ruined him. He then says, in a growl-like scream, “at last my arm is complete again.” Chills ran down my spine the first time I saw this, on public television in 1985. Johnny Depp was not even in the same ballpark.
Watching TCM just now while waiting to go in to work, I saw a promo for their annual film festival (a bucket list item for me, but not this year). One thing they mentioned was that Gina Lollobrigida would be there for a screening of “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell” (1968).
Sometimes, the films they show at the festival get screened on TCM before or after the festival takes place. If “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell” pops up on the schedule, I will try to let you know – but it would also be worth setting a DVR search for it if you commonly do such things. I’ve only seen it a couple of times, but it’s a hilarious comedy.
The movie takes place in a small Italian village. Years before the movie takes place, during the American occupation of Italy following World War II, a young Italian woman has flings with three different American soldiers. After they leave, she has a daughter – and she writes each of the soldiers, without telling the other two. All three have been supporting her in the years since, which has allowed her and the daughter to live quite well compared to the other villagers. She has told the other villagers that she is the widow of a (fictitious) American pilot named Campbell, the name inspired by a soup can.
Now, though, there’s a complication. The military unit in which the soldiers served has decided to have a reunion – in Italy. Naturally, each of the three soldiers (Telly Savalas, Phil Silvers and Peter Lawford) wants to meet the girl he believes to be his teenage daughter. So the mother (Lollobrigida) is in a panic.
A terrific comedy with a terrific cast. Watch it if you get the chance.
In between working on my lines Monday night, I was watching two movies on TCM — one I’d seen before, the other I hadn’t. Both were part of a month-long TCM focus on art in the movies.
The movies were about as different as you can imagine. “The Art of Love” was a wacky comedy starring Dick Van Dyke, James Garner, Elke Sommer and Angie Dickinson, and it was a lot of fun (although I missed more of this one while working on my lines than the other one). Van Dyke and Garner are Americans living in Paris. Van Dyke is a struggling artist on the verge of giving up. Garner tries to talk him out of it.
Van Dyke, through a weird coincidence, is seen by Garner jumping off a bridge and is presumed to have committed suicide — the tragic story of which sends his existing artwork skyrocketing in value. When Garner discovers that his friend is still very much alive, they hatch a plan — Garner sells Van Dyke’s artwork and gives Van Dyke the money while Van Dyke remains in hiding, letting everyone believe he is dead while he cranks out new paintings for Garner to sell. But then Garner starts moving in on Van Dyke’s fiancee (who doesn’t know about the ruse), and so when the police start to think Van Dyke’s death was murder instead of suicide, and blame Garner for it, Dick lets his friend sweat for a while as punishment. He even plants some incriminating evidence. I wasn’t familiar with this movie at all, but I would watch it again. It’s an over-the-top farce, so don’t think about it too hard. Ethel Merman and Carl Reiner are in it too, and Reiner was one of the co-writers.
The other movie, which I have seen before, was the fascinating documentary “F is for Fake,” directed and hosted by Orson Welles. In the early 70s, a Spanish TV producer was working on a documentary about the world’s greatest art forger, Elmyr de Hory, and brought Welles in as a consultant. At the same time, a writer named Clifford Irving was working on a book on Elmyr. The two projects were separate but on good terms with each other; the documentarian shot some footage of Irving interviewing Elmyr and also some talking-head footage of Irving speaking as an expert on the subject.
Then, Irving sold a magazine article in which he claimed to be an acquaintance of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. Eventually, the story was debunked and Irving was exposed as a fraud, in one of the biggest news stories of its era.
Welles was fascinated by this — the man who, just a few months earlier, had been dispassionately reporting on the topic of art forgery turned out to be a faker himself. Welles, working with the Spanish TV producer, took the footage shot for the documentary, shot new footage featuring himself, his girlfriend at the time, and others, and created an ingenious look at art, deception, and the relationship between the two, referencing Welles’ own experience with the “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast. A couple of Welles’ former Mercury Theater colleagues make an appearance, and there are also some “Citizen Kane” references.
The documentary comes complete with a clever surprise ending. (The next time TCM airs this, pay close attention to Welles’ opening narration and see if you can figure it out in advance.)
Each of the movies is fun, but they couldn’t have possibly been more different.
For the most part, I’ve been quite happy with the Internet part of my Charter Communications bundle. The speed is much faster and the service is usually much more reliable than my old AT&T DSL, and I generally laugh when I get mailings from AT&T imploring me to come back and pay almost exactly what I’m paying Charter for 1/10 the speed.
Every utility service has occasional problems and outages, though, and the past couple of weeks my Charter Internet service would drop periodically. It got worse over the weekend, to where when the Internet was up it was only a tiny fraction of the normal speed, and it was dropping more and more frequently. At the time I called Charter tech support Saturday, it was down altogether.
The Charter representative scheduled a service visit for Tuesday but said that I might want to try dropping by my nearest Charter office on Monday and swapping out my modem. If that worked, I could then cancel the service appointment and not have to miss any work.
On Sunday, things seemed to be running better for a while. I had wishful thinking and hoped that maybe there was a neighborhood outage and that someone else’s service call, or some tweaking at a network operations center somewhere, had fixed my problem. When Charter called and texted me (simultaneously!) to confirm the Tuesday appointment, I decided to go ahead and cancel it and see what happened.
What happened was that things got slow again.
So, today, I went straight from work to Tullahoma — 20 miles down the road, and that’s not counting the rush-hour drive through downtown Tullahoma to get to the other side. I finally found the Charter office (I had confused Industrial Boulevard with Mitchell Avenue), and went in. The woman at the counter happily took my information. I handed her my modem and power cord. She took them into the next room. Then, she came back, and from a cabinet behind her she grabbed a modem, a power cord, and an Ethernet cable.
The modem was shrink-wrapped rather than in a box, which was — all things considered — a good thing. I noticed that there was an Ethernet port but nowhere to plug in a phone. I pointed this out. She then realized that all they had in their cabinet was Internet-only modems, not Internet-and-phone modems. She said she would have to schedule a truck to drop a modem by my address. This would not be a service appointment; I wouldn’t have to be home, they would just drop it off. But even so, it had to be scheduled, and the soonest it could be dropped off would be Wednesday.
Since my old modem might not even be the problem, and since my setup as-is was at least partially functional, she gave me back my old modem. I asked about the power cord, and she told me that the new Cisco power cord she’d already pulled out of the cabinet would fit the old Cisco modem. In fact, I’d seen a case online where a bad power supply was actually the source of someone’s Internet problems. The woman at the counter said that, who knows, maybe the new power supply or the new Ethernet cable would end up solving my problem.
So I drove home from Tullahoma — round trip about 90 minutes, with no other stops. I got ready to put everything back together. My old modem power cord had a small plug, with a box-like power supply further down the cable. The new power cord had an oversized plug with the power supply built into the plug — which meant it would take up more than one space on my surge protector. I did some juggling; I ended up having to plug something, I think my printer, directly into the wall instead of the surge protector.
Then, with everything else hooked up, I went to plug the power cord into the back of my old modem.
Remember when the lady at the counter told me that the new power cord would fit my old modem, since they were both Cisco?
Guess again. The new cord has a larger-diameter round connector than the old cord.
So now, I can’t even use the old modem until the new one is dropped off on Wednesday. I am writing this blog post using my laptop tethered to my AT&T cell phone. It works, but I can’t go crazy or I’ll go over the data limits for my cell phone plan this month.
Here’s hoping the new Internet-and-phone modem can use the new power cord, or that the Charter truck drops off a power cord to go with it.
I don’t eat out at full-service restaurants too terribly often, but I had to try out Shelbyville’s first Thai restaurant, Yummy Thai, last week. I decided it was cliché to order pad thai on my first visit, and so I had a red curry, which was wonderful.
But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to try the pad thai. This evening, I am going straight from covering a finance committee meeting to the first rehearsal for “The Foreigner,” and I’m not sure I’ll get to grab a bite in between, which means I may not get supper until after 8. So it seemed like a good day to eat a hearty lunch. I went back to Yummy Thai.
I’m glad I did. I’d had pad thai once before, many years ago, at a restaurant in Murfreesboro, but I think this was better. As you may or may not know, Thai food can be spicy but doesn’t have to be. If it’s prepared to order, as is the case here, you usually get to tell your server how hot you want it. They will add (or not add) Thai peppers based on this. Yummy Thai has a fairly typical one-to-five scale. 1 is mild, 2 is medium, 3 is hot, 4 is very hot and 5 is “Thai hot.” I stayed on the safe side and ordered my pad thai with #3 heat today. I think that was about right. It was mildly hot as you were eating, but the heat hung around for a while and I could still barely feel it on my tongue as I was driving back to the newspaper.
I might try #4 sometime, but only if I don’t have to be anywhere urgent for the next 24 hours.
Anyway, the pad thai had a great flavor to it, and I will definitely try it again.
The service is unfailingly friendly and personable, although they’re still advertising for help and seem just slightly understaffed. I was in no hurry, so it didn’t affect me that much.
They have a wide variety of dishes, including some from other Asian cuisines. I want to try the pho, a Vietnamese soup, some time. I had it once before, when my sister-in-law took me to a Vietnamese restaurant in Orange County, Calif., back when she and Michael were living there.
Yummy Thai has what looks like a sushi bar, and they feature sushi in one of their Facebook profile images, but there’s no mention of it in the menu yet, so it may be something they’ll add to the operation in a few weeks.
Anyway, based on my two visits I’d definitely recommend it.
Well, I have the part of Owen Musser in “The Foreigner,” which will be presented May 6-7 and 13-15 at The Fly Arts Center in Shelbyville. We had auditions tonight and will start rehearsals tomorrow.
I was not too familiar with the play, and put down on my registration sheet that I’d take any role offered. I’ve been fortunate enough to have big parts in my last few plays; that’s fun, but it can also be fun to have a smaller part and not feel like the whole production is on your shoulders. We did not get to bring playbooks home with us tonight, so I can’t say exactly how large Owen’s part is – it’s certainly smaller than Walter Hollander, and that’s perfectly OK with me.
It will be a challenge, though. Like one of my other recent roles, Orville in “Daddy’s Dyin’ … Who’s Got The Will?”, Owen is not very likable. Without giving too much away (and most of what I know, I’ve been told, since I only read a few of Owen’s lines tonight), Owen is an antagonist, and kind of a redneck. Orville was a jerk, but his actions had consequences and he got a little bit of redemption (just a little) at the end of the play. I do not believe Owen is as fortunate – if anything, Owen turns out to be even worse than you think he is when you first meet him. There’s some fun and catharsis in being the bad guy, but I can’t say that it’s my normal preference.
In “Daddy’s Dyin’,” I was playing a man who was verbally abusive to, and who at one point threatens physical abuse against, his wife. I tried to play the part honestly, but it was a challenge – and, boy, was it awkward on the night when my “wife”s family was in the audience and in the reception line after the play.
I hope I’m up to being a bad guy again.
One difference between Orville and Owen has to do with profanity. Although we cleaned up some of the worst profanity in “Daddy’s Dyin,’” most of Orville’s curse words were delivered as written – which was reflective of his character. There are only a few mild curse words in “The Foreigner,” and we won’t be using even those, because our director – who normally works with high school students – has a strict no-profanity policy.
Our director is Tony Davis, which will be interesting for him and for us. Tony normally directs students at Community High School, which has the most ambitious and high-profile drama program of any of the county’s three public high schools. The way he conducted auditions tonight was quite different from most of the community theater auditions I’ve been through, and I suspect it’s like what he does with his students. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to learn from him, and it may be a different atmosphere than I’m used to.
The play as a whole is said to be very funny, and the sections I heard during audtions tonight seem to bear that out. I’m sure it would be well worth your time to come and see us in May.
Months ago, through the good graces of a couple of different family members, I got two huuuge corned beefs. I cooked one of them at the time – the first time I’d ever made corned beef – parceled it out for the freezer, and ate for weeks. The other one has been in the freezer uncooked since that time.
My original plan was to cook that second corned beef Wednesday night so that I could enjoy some tonight for St. Paddy’s Day. But that didn’t work out, so I’m having chicken tonight and the corned beef will be cooking all evening for use going forward.
I am, however, enjoying another (and perhaps more authentic) Irish treat. I’m not really a beer drinker, but after reading the excellent The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World by Steven Mansfield, I now buy a four-pack of Guinness Stout in cans each year about St. Patrick’s Day, and enjoy a pint on the day itself. I drink or cook with the other cans over the next week or two.
This is a really wonderful book. It’s a history of Arthur Guinness, the company he founded, and his descendants – some of whom followed him into the brewing business, some of whom went into banking, and some of whom went into the ministry.
Arthur Guinness himself was a devout Protestant, an admirer of his contemporary John Wesley, and was responsible for bringing Sunday School to Ireland for the first time. A devout beer-maker? At the time, of course, there were no soft drinks or readily-available juices, and in overcrowded Dublin, without the benefit of modern septic systems, the ground water was disease-ridden. Brewers of beer felt, justifiably, that they were providing a healthful and reasonable alternative to hard liquor. You sometimes hear overstated claims that Guinness thought his beer-making was a divine calling; Mansfield walks that back a bit, but portrays Guinness and his successors through the 1800s as good men who saw no conflict between their vocation and their faith.
And, in fact, one of the most fascinating aspects of the book is that, during the 1800s, Guinness was one of the most socially-responsible companies of its day, in its treatment of its own employees and in the money it spent to address poverty and horrific living conditions in Dublin. One of the company’s heirs even took his new bride and moved into the slums.
Some of the benefits Guinness provided its workers in the 1800s were far, far ahead of their time. The company not only gave its employees vacations but even covered modest trip expenses into the Irish countryside so they could enjoy themselves.
Anyway, it’s a good book. And so, with a pint of Guinness in hand, and pounds of corned beef on the stove, I wish you all a merry (but safe) St. Patrick’s Day.
Monday night, I helped set up for our annual Celebrity Waiter Luncheon, which I attended on Tuesday. This morning, I went to Shelbyville Rotary Club to cover a presentation (which I was responsible for setting up) by our American Cancer Society community manager, Samantha Chamblee.
On Sunday, one of my fellow members at First United Methodist will be making a pitch for the congregation to restart a Relay team after being idle for a few years.
I first got involved in Relay in 2011, the year after losing my mother, Carrie Carney, to pancreatic cancer. In 2012, I joined the local Relay organizing committee (now called the event leadership team; ACS seems to love changing its jargon every few years). Last year, I won the Martha Deason Award as Bedford County’s Relay volunteer of the year:
No that’s not a trick of the lighting. My hair is purple, thanks to one of our Relay teams that night, which was offering temporary hair color.
Relay, and ACS, have become passions for me.
After an incredibly successful local event in 2014, our numbers have been down a little bit, and we were agonizing over that at the last committee meeting a few weeks ago. Part of it is just the normal cyclical nature of things. But some people have complained about the fact that the money they give to ACS goes out of town.
Yes, it does. But the impact of that money is felt in Bedford County every single day.
ACS does provide patient services, such as a 24-hour information and referral line, transportation to cancer treatments, and a network of Hope Lodge facilities that provide lodging for people undergoing cancer treatments more than 50 miles away from home.
But obviously, the biggest part of what ACS does is research. Specifically, $3.9 billion in cancer research since 1946, including work by 47 Nobel Prize winners. There’s not been some magic silver-bullet cure for cancer, and that distracts people from what actually has been accomplished. Many individual cancers that used to be untreatable are now treatable. Detection of cancer is better. Prevention of cancer is better. ACS’s sister organization, the Cancer Action Network, has advocated for laws relating to issues like smoking and insurance coverage. There’s no way to even estimate how many people are walking the planet right now blissfully unaware that the American Cancer Society is partly responsible for saving their lives.
This is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Three and a half years ago, after turning 50, I had a colonoscopy, as recommended by ACS guidelines and my doctor. My insurance paid for the procedure, without even looking at my deductible. The good news is that the doctor didn’t discover any cancer. The even better news is that the doctor removed a benign polyp from my colon – and when it comes to colon cancer, benign polyps sometimes turn into cancerous polyps. So that colonoscopy could, just possibly, have saved my life. I’ll never know. And the American Cancer Society played a big part in promoting colonoscopies and making them more readily available to more people.
It’s hard to get people to wrap their minds around such “what if” scenarios. Some people just see dollars going out of town, and don’t realize that the impact of those dollars is all around them – and maybe looking back at them in the mirror.
Relay For Life – the actual event, as well as the year-round activity which feeds into it – is a thing of joy. It’s a time to, as the slogan goes, “Celebrate, Remember, Fight Back.” It’s something that means a lot to me. Relay events used to always run overnight, to symbolize the darkness and struggle with which cancer patients must contend. But a rule change a few years ago has allowed many communities to cut back the length of their Relay events by eliminating the overnight schedule. But I love the overnight schedule, which we’ve held onto in Bedford County for another year. I love being at the event at 3 in the morning, feeling like I’m part of something special, something larger than myself.
At the very least, please attend your local Relay event. It’s not, repeat NOT, just for the registered team members. Teams will have concession stands set up and will be selling lots of tasty food, merchandise, carnival games, and so on. There will be special ceremonies and activities, such as a survivor lap to honor cancer survivors and a luminaria ceremony to remember those we’ve lost and honor those who are still fighting. If you’ve never attended a luminaria ceremony, you will have to trust me when I tell you it will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
When I first started living on my own, back in the 1980s, I remember store brand cola being all but undrinkable. It had weird flavors and tasted nothing like Coke or Pepsi. Yeah, it was cheap, but nobody wanted it.
It was Walmart, as best I recall, that stepped up the store-brand cola game. Sam’s Choice, now known just as Sam’s, was the first store brand cola I can remember that tasted good, and pretty soon all of the grocery store chains had to step up to compete. Now, while some store brand colas are better than others, all are drinkable.
I don’t know what part he played in the cola, but I do know the late Sam Walton took a personal interest in Walmart’s grape soda. Grapette had been an independent brand of grape soda when Sam Walton was a child, and it had been his favorite. But the company had fallen on hard times, and had sold off various assets; the name “Grapette” was owned by one company, while the actual recipe for the product was owned by another. Walton wanted Grapette at Walmart, so he first bought the formula and started making Walmart-branded grape soda, then eventually bought the names “Grapette” and “Orangette” as well.
I had to go to Walmart this morning, and one of the things I wanted to buy was a 24-pack of diet cola. But they were out of the 24-packs except for caffeine-free diet cola. Two 12-packs wouldn’t be quite as cheap, but I figured that was the way I would have to go. I grabbed a 12-pack of Sam’s Diet Cola … and then I noticed a 12-pack of “DIET COLA.” No brand name, just completely generic: “DIET COLA.” So I grabbed one of each.
I have no idea how “DIET COLA” is going to taste. The 12-pack of Sam’s was $2.68, while the “DIET COLA” was just $2. I hope I haven’t wasted the $2 on something that tastes like the Bad Old Days. It’s in the fridge chilling now; I still have a few cans of Save-A-Lot diet cola to use up before I get to it.