Performance Review: Chanticleers Little Theater’s Production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”

REVIEW: THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE

By Bruce Roberts

My cheeks hurt from laughing so much. My hands hurt from clapping so much. It was one terrific show.

I just saw The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, at the Chanticleers Little Theater in Castro Valley, California, and loved it. The show, of course, centers around a spelling bee, a fact that by itself is enough to make theatergoers cringe with childhood memories of pressure, of defeat, of humiliation. Other languages—German, for instance—have one system of spelling. If you can pronounce the word, no matter how long, you can spell it. German has not imported word after word from every spelling system in the world as has English. Thus, spelling auf Deutsch is not a challenge. (Ironically, the winning word in this play is taken from German.) English spelling, however, is a challenge, a big one; thus the existence of spelling bees—and this play.

The humor in this play comes at the audience from every angle. The spellers themselves are funny, using various bizarre strategies to come to the correct spelling. One character (William, played by Matthew Horry) even spells each letter out on the floor with his “magic foot” before getting it correct. Spellers are allowed to ask for the word in a sentence, and the vice principal (Ray D’Ambrosio) responds with ludicrous sentences that invariably cause hysterics.

More comedy is derived from people plucked from the audience to play spellers. The show’s real spellers get impossibly hard words—which they struggle over before getting them correct–while the audience members are given words like “cow.” “May I have that in a sentence?” “Spell COW!” Another comic showstopper is the song sung by the previous year’s champion (Chip, played by David Kelii Kahawaii) a uniformed boy scout expecting to win again, but who sings an entire lament to the untimely erection that caused him to be disqualified. He even works in a rhyme for “penis.”

The play, however, is not about spelling. That is merely the springboard to introduce us to this world of wacky characters and their equally wacky, or poignant, side stories. Every character is unique; every character is dysfunctional, and their dysfunctions are measured against the spelling bee as a symbol of success in their lives. Logainne (Kara Penrose) has two dads, and desperately wants to please them by winning. Mercy (Rachel L. Jacobs) is incredibly smart and talented, but wants freedom to fail. Leaf (Nicolina Akraboff), though dressed as a caped superhero, only reached the finals by default, and is sure she will lose, a fact reinforced by her siblings. William, the foot speller, fluctuates between being nerdy and bizarre, and being testy about most everything, yelling at others over the mispronunciation of his name (Not Barfy, it’s Barfee’!”) All do dysfunction wonderfully.

This is a musical, and Josh Milbourne—vocal director—and Willis Hickox—accompanist—have created a wonderful music experience. Songs—funny, angry, sad–are spread throughout, with every character singing well. The best voice might belong to Austin Scott III, playing Mitch Mahoney the comfort thug, as well as one of Logainne’s gay fathers. When he sings, besides being taller, his voice rises above too. Another fine voice belongs to Allison Mathiesen, playing Olive Ostrovsky, whose dysfunction reaches new lows with a father who can’t get off work, and a mother who’s “finding herself” in India. Olive has a lovely voice as she plaintively sings of loneliness, with parents always too busy to attend spelling bees—or anything else in her life.

Once again, award-winning director Sue Ellen Nelsen has assembled a superior cast and crew and harmonized them into excellent entertainment. If you’re ever in Castro Valley,California, for a truly wonderful theater experience, can you spell “Chanticleers?”

 Bruce Roberts, who may be reached at brobe60491@sbcglobal.net, is an accomplished sculptor and schoolteacher from Hayward, California. 

Performance Review: San Leandro Players’ Production of “Pride and Prejudice”

Pride & Prejudice, as performed by the San Leandro Players: Review

by Jessica Sims

With Hollywood turning out multi-million dollar-budget films quicker than I can run a mile (NOT quick at all), sometimes one can forget how magical live theatre can be. The San Leandro Players’ production of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice reminded me of the magic. So often, adaptations of P&P leave out way too much of the plot and action, and this was the first adaptation (and having spent my youth in Northern England, I’ve seen more than your average) where I felt that someone who never read a word of Austen would actually understand what was going on. Director Hallie Lewis Hunt did an excellent job of adapting the novel to 1940s England, making it modern with the language and mannerisms while maintaining its regency-era charm. The characters weren’t as reserved as their regency counterparts, which I thoroughly enjoyed. And the music, oh, the music: the pivotal dance scene between Darcy and Elizabeth was made THAT much magical and romantic with “The Nearness of You” playing in the background. However (CRITICISM ALERT), one of my favorite characters was left out: the pernicious and rude Mrs. Hurst (and her bump-on-the-log husband, Mr. Hurst), the elder sister to Mr. Bingley (played favorably by Mr. Barry Eitel). Most adaptations leave out the Hursts, making Caroline Bingley the lone (and perhaps slightly misunderstood) female “villain” in P&P. What a villainess she was! Danielle Gray did an amazing job toeing the line between desperate single girl and Wicked Witch of the West—I actually empathized with Caroline a little: she had been putting in the work to be the next Mrs. Darcy, and here comes this upstart with her loud family and no fortune who steals him away. The Bennet family is just as it ought to be in the play: zany, inappropriate, and a lot of fun. Terry Guillory played Mrs. Bennet to the perfect (annoying) pitch and her comedic foil Mr. Bennet (Scott Van de Mark) was perfection as the father who puts new meaning into the phrase “my name is ‘Bennet’ and I ain’t in it”. All five Bennet sisters, Jane,Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, andLydia (played by Elena Spittler, Rose Oser, Kristin Tavares, Rachel Olmedo and Taylor Melville, respectively) were superb. Jane and Elizabeth were respectable (as always), Mary was a stick in the mud (as always) and Kitty andLydia were out of control (as always). Although Olmedo’s Kitty was a bit on the “psycho” side, I liked it, and by the end of the play, I had (affectionately) dubbed her “psycho-Kitty”. Mr. Darcy (insert wolf whistle here) was played by a very handsome young man, Barnaby Williams. I wouldn’t usually put “Darcy” and “awkward” in the same sentence, but it worked for Mr. Williams and he had great chemistry with Oser’sElizabeth. Other notable performances include Sarah Asarnow as the “plain” Charlotte Lucas (who is gorgeous, by the way, if that’s plain, sign me up pronto), Julio Rafael as a sleazy and hygienically-challenged Mr. Collins and Sukanya Sarkar as a fiery Lady Catherine de Bourgh (she was channeling Eartha Kitt, circa 1953; I was waiting for her to break out with “Santa Baby” at any moment). The whole cast did an amazing job of bringing (what I consider to be) one of the most enduring and well-written love stories of all time, to life. Now excuse me, I have a mile to finish…but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.

You can contact the reviewer, Jessica A. Sims, at jessica.sims12@gmail.com.

Poetry from Julian Raine

 

Tales of the kite: Shadowed chronicles of a high flyer.

 

 

 

Into the hours and the ours of the night

The light once from red, now silver palmed

The raine, the carousel of summer roses

 

 

 

baby it’s cold outside

 

and the front tire on my bike squeaks and squawks

like a whistling bird caught in the frame of the cold cold

yeah, this is where a good live in boy

would come in handy

to walk around with a tool belt

and fix stuff like squeaky tires

and fist open tough spaghetti jars

and get things down from the top shelf

and carry the groceries in

and haul the iron from the junkyard

and soften the hardware-mechanisms of my body

how i’ve gotten by on my own all this while

i’ll never know

 

 

 

 

lone grey wolf

 

when i take a bath

i think of you

and i think of the raine

and through the window

when the light turns to lavender

 

i think of you

when i wrap the dry

towel around my body

and fall into the sleep of my dreams

in the mourning light

when i first open my eyes

i think of you

 

i think of you when the sun

comes in and there is light again

and i think of you when it turns to grey

i think of you when the stars

wish across the sky

or when the wind is cold

or when the train whistle blows

or when the leaves fall around me

i think of you

and my mind fills with memory

 

 

 

 

You know it’s gettin’ bad when you come home

And find a note in the fryin’ pan, that says,

‘Fix your own god-damn supper’

And you’re the only one that lives there

 

 

 

 

My Date With Hank

I hawk the black jewelry box and the butcher knife

For a cup of coffee, a paper, cigarettes

And a spoonful of pillowcase-capsules

That i wrap into the lint of my right pocket

In line for coffee i get wedged between a man

And the ghost that grows the man inside of him

He has all the charm of an old poet

Boldly boasting of a month long waltz with death

Coaxing the dancing parasol in the room

Who gently nods and smiles and crosses her legs

‘My balls swelled to the size of coconuts,

My legs as thick as birch trees, he recounted.’

His throat hits the air in summersault

And cigarette and the promise of survival

I clear my lung before it clouds again

But i blend, my pale cheek, into the wallflowers

 

Of floating marigold

I get lost there in the cluster

I get lost in the eyes of a child

A little reddish-blond called by her mother –

Emily brushes at the hem of my skirt and smiles and smiles

Raising her arms up to me

I fall for her immediately

I fall for the old woman

Left to the corner

Where the shadows of light do seldom lead

She’s twisted into an oval jar

Of rotten spices

Smiling between

The lipstick vanilla coke

Of yesterdays long ago

I can’t breathe in hear, i think

There is no room in hear, for me to breathe

 

My mind escapes to the window

Of winters grey

And i’m already racing

My eyes are watching

Across the street

I have a date, you see

It’s a big date for me

He’s been waiting for me there

Patiently, Patiently

I saw him go in

I saw him come out again

Stand there, on guard of the door

Waiting on my approach

His black hair streaked back to a widows’ peak

His cold red face glaring at the day

Standing at the book store across the street

I dance with all of them

The old woman

 

The child

And the poet

And i make my way through

I thumb the whispering shelves

Flitter through the dry leaves of Tennyson, Yeats, Thoreau

Waiting. Waiting for him to come and find me

Come find me knight, i recant to myself, my day is fading

Ah yes. There he is, The Golden Pony

The Thoreau-Bred

A lord above his Tennyson

Look how beautiful he is

Born again from the yeat of god

The ink still wet behind the ears

The Continual Condition Of Hank Charles Bukowski

I open the page

And he takes me in

Lays me down

Spreads me out like a porno star on page 22

And fucks me until the paper runs through

 

 

 

Glamour Clamor. Where Is This Chain Enamored

Surely Behind The Looking Glass

 

 

 

 

 

 

tonight i prayed

to the crowning

krown of kings

 

king top toupee

o god o lord

yu who have no hair

 

could you bring me

the jackalope

of hearts

 

the yellow girl

and the number five

 

 

 

 

thumbing dimes

for lose

change

i turn the calculator on

i begin adding things up

things like

4.29

and El Sombreo

things like loneliness and longing

and 23.72 bar tabs to show for it

things like 24 and 39

36 DD

once a c.

sea-saw sea-saw

and long winded stories

that begin ‘once upon a time’

little things like butter and eggs

and it’s always the little things

that add up

and wear you down

to nothing

 

 

 

 

what is the main highway

going north, he said

highway 101, i said

best class i’ve ever taken

 

 

 

Milk Maids and Dirty Linens

 

Crevice In The Earth Pussy

Earth Cream Sunday Come Early This Year

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

blind date

i could spend an evening with a man

dinner

a movie

drinks

the full catastrophe

and then i come home

crawl into my bed

my bed of ‘leaves of grass’

and read a few lines

written from the hand

of the old man

and i feel closer to him

in just those few words

than any other man alive

including:

the man

who i went to dinner with

who tried to feel me up at the movie

who bought drinks

and drank too much

and left with another girl

 

 

 

No money’s Heir for the Air of a dead Poet.

Even the word is too expensive for Rhyme.

 

 

 

Where above the dancers move

As a could of birds

Over the fields of wildwood flowers

That i walked as the days wept through

These are the memories i call home

 

 

 

THE FLOWER OF BRISTOW

The sounds of the summer-air and scourge
As the winds twist their way through the wood
The littering flocks flay from their nesting
Trees, applauding at the grey winter sky

But i have not the courage nor the self possession
The moths and beetles they all chase at my tales, i
Scurry on useless legs that plod on the brain, i am
A hollow stream rushing wayward in the wood
And tangling into the mourning of winters grey
——–

One day, it will be that someone will pick it up
One mourning in the sun-glass windows of my mind
That i’ll find it sitting there on the end…stand
Collecting dust from dust
And memoirs from the mulch of ash

 

’i look for gold in everything, i find it in the waters of my youth’

 

 

 

 

memory comes

 

as a scent in the air, maybe

or in the cracks on the sidewalk
or in the colors of my clothes
or in the raine

as it falls
from the grey
and it reminds me
of the way i felt
the way that i was, then
when i was a child
and all the moments

in between
sort of bind together
the child to the old woman

i am to become
they belong to each other
and all at once
they belong to life

just as they belong to death
the dream that dreams from life
as we are as much the earth as the earth itself
the old blood the rivers vein

the cacophony of the earth

and the quiet of the earth
or the flower

to all the things that need to be
the flowers sweet

 

 

 

and as for me

 

there is a beauty in knowing
like a ghost or a new born bird
humming into the air
you try to catch the bird
by breaking at the air with words
but the birds will bellow
and the eyes do turn
and the night-spells call
and i walk
the shadows of the wood

 

 

 

A painter must look deep within the well, to find the true value of yellow

 

Julian Raine is an accomplished visual artist and the author of numerous books of poetry. Some of her pieces (a number of which are displayed elsewhere in this issue) are up for sale; please contact julianraine@hotmail.com for more information.

Profile: Parkinson’s Institute

PARKINSON’S INSTITUTE: UNPARALLELED!

by Bruce Roberts

Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, was the epitome of grace and lightning-fast movement in his days as a boxing champion. He claimed to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, and he was not exaggerating.   To see him today though, years later,  slow of movement, shuffling,  leaning forward, slurred speech, uncontrollable shaking, he has also become the epitome of a Parkinson’s Disease patient, a tragedy of which all should be aware.

Fortunately for the world in the year 2012, the Parkinson’s Institute—based in Sunnyvale, California—exists.  The brainstorm of its founder, Dr. J. William Langston, this institute stands out in its field because its approach to Parkinson’s is all-inclusive. Dr. Langston’s concept is “to take an integrated approach to basic clinical research and patient care” (PI website). In other words, other Parkinson’s sites are either research clinics or treatment clinics. The Parkinson’s Institute is both—world class research combined with top-notch patient care to put the research into practice.

All this from an equally world class staff. In fact, two of the PI’s doctors have recently won prestigious awards in their fields.  Dr. Caroline Tanner, the Director of Clinical Research, won the 2012 Movement Disorders Research Award from the American Academy of Neurology.  Significantly, she is the first woman ever to receive this award.   Also, Dr. Langston himself has been awarded the Robert M. Pritzker Award from the Michael J. Fox Foundation.  He received this honor “for his profound contributions to Parkinson’s disease therapeutic development and his exceptional commitment to mentoring the next generation of Parkinson’s researchers.” (MJF Foundation)

PI’s other emphasis, of course, is patient care.  Even Dr. Langston sees patients every day, indicating that PI has its feet firmly anchored in the real world.  Additionally, they offer a wide range of seminars to aid their patients—and their caregivers—in coping with Parkinson’s.  Patients can take seminars for those newly diagnosed, for medications and drug interaction, for social interactions, for financial planning, and even for dance and PD.  Many other programs are offered, and most of these seminars are free and available to caregivers too, a true community service.

Recently, PI has become the collaborative center for a 20 million dollar grant, together with Emory University and UCLA, to focus on epidemiological research—the environmental,  genetic, and age-related risk factors for Parkinson’s Disease.  Understanding these causes will improve PI’s ability to prevent and treat Parkinson’s, and indeed, that is their only goal:  to lick Parkinson’s Disease and make the world healthier.

They should be constantly commended and supported for their outstanding work. Just Google the Parkinson’s Institute in Sunnyvale and click DONATIONS on their website to offer your support.

Bruce Roberts, who may be reached at brobe60491@sbcglobal.net, is an accomplished sculptor and schoolteacher from Hayward, California. 

Poetry from Sam Burks

 

“Infinity”

Listening to the ocean speak
in tones of mercy, tones
of a tortured body
finally bigger
than all
of that pain

I sometimes
wonder
why
the same waves keep breaking
over and over
again and again
and why the sound
they make
consumes every lost
and incomplete idea,

consumes it all
like so many vessels before
into that endless mirror
of the heavens
on earth

listening to the pulses
of the universe
expressing its pace
in my own chest

I sometimes wonder
how
we can look so hard
in the opposite direction
and only glance
at infinity

 

“The sky is still there”

What happened
to the sky
and the clouds
that once made up
the dimensions
of that eternity?

Buried in my
tattered clothes and
bellow this hollow mattress
it’s kind of hard
to see what I
know
is there

and even though
the clock
screams at me
anonymously
telling me
everything
except
what I
want to hear
I hope that surely
the sky is still
big and blue and
still right there
right above
the roof

but in the warm
room, I can see
only patterns of the
days that I’ve been
counting down

The blurry scars
on my arm

Past thoughts
displayed
on yellowing paper
littering the room

Unread books

Half-smoked
cigarettes

Photographs of
the gone

The surviving words
of the dead

And if this
broken and scattered
history
laying around me
is trying to say
anything
at all

I hope
it’s that
somewhere
the sky
is still there
big
and blue

 

“The Network”

The shock that projects in waves-

The reflected vibrations of our collected selves-

Fills both hands with separate meanings

Contradicting black and white

Identifying good and evil

While remaining a singular expression

Of feeling, of color, of thought

Of the trembling of our presence

Within a deserted room

Who are you, who are we

But a change upon and within our selves

And our surroundings

And the common ground

We know as being right here

When the eyes have met

Maybe they’ll see a reflection

Of infinity upon infinity

To beyond our conscious fences

To nowhere at all

Sustained as a circle

A loophole in the rules

That guide so quickly to hate and fear

Which we as a being

Should learn to hate and fear in turn

I will not separate myself

From the seclusion

Of everything as one

And one as everything

I will not surrender

To the animosity of the unfamiliar

For I am one to think

That I am familiar too

I will not tolerate

Change as a means to an end

For the end is changing meanings

And happening all at once

The shock of being here

Dies with the realization

That here is being

And we will not keep ourselves

To ourselves anymore

 

“Memories (a farewell)”

Before we knew it
the time
was almost here
to say
goodbye

And how?
so unexpected,
long desired,
the light is finally
breaking shadows
on the horizon.
And amongst the joy and
the thrill and the sigh
of relief
is a small twinge
of selfish logic
breaking in
to our hearts

Somehow,
we know that we
don’t feel ready
just yet

But when will we?

Back in the warm
securing shadows
we watch the light drawing nearer
and we wait
and recollect

Everything
and
everywhere
holds
a memory:
this park bench
where a few summers ago
we met on our bikes
at four in the morning
to drink stolen wine
and laugh.
And oh, how we laughed
until we collapsed
into
each other.
Nothing but the dry
summer night,
the roof of stars,
and the perfume
of yellow grass-
the scents and
sensations
of what we were
that night.

Or that dark
stretch of sidewalk
leading from the echoes
of a house party.
You couldn’t make it very far
down that sidewalk
because
you were too drunk.
So I laid there with you
and we prayed
for the ground
to stop shaking.

Or that parking lot
where
your car got a flat,
and I broke the jack
and put a dent
in the asphalt
trying to put on
the spare.
And how we laughed
away the worry
until
we collapsed.

Or all those hangovers with coffee,
the miles that we
put on each other,
all the careless
and funny accidents,
all those memories
that made us
who we are.

Back on this park bench
where I held you
and fell in love with you
a few summers ago
I wrote down
a few things
that I
remembered
about us,
and how things
are so different now,
and how
I don’t
want to
let you go
just yet.

But if not now, when?

You are already
just a memory
of the laughter
and the stars,
and the booze,
and the dry grass,
and the relentless
summer nights,
and the sprinklers,
and the kittens,
and the dark sidewalks,
and the jealousy,
and the inspiration,
and the certain songs,
and the comfort
that I
once had.

And now, almost before
I knew
what hit me,
and long before
I’ve come
to accept it completely,
the time has come,
you are
already gone,
time to let the memories
be just that: memories.

Sam Burks is from the San Francisco Bay Area, in California, and can be reached at srburks@gmail.com

Poetry from Linda Allen

Let’s Play Pretend

by Linda Allen

Let’s play pretend

Let’s build a castle

Where a knight can keep us safe from the darkness

Let’s play pretend

Let’s build another Great Wall

That can block hate and pain and lead to light and love

 Let’s play pretend

 I can be me and you can be you

And we won’t care about race, sexual orientation, or what makes us different

Oh let’s play pretend

Let’s create a new world

Where we are all truly EQUAL and no one is better than we

Let’s play pretend

Let’s write a new dictionary

Where murder, rape, and abuse are just words with no definitions

Let’s play pretend

Let’s build a new life

Where kids can play without fear

Oh I wish we could just live in a pretend world

Where we are all safe, protected, and happy

Linda Allen is an American from Oklahoma who may be reached at lindaallen4119@att.net and welcomes comments and thoughts on her writing.