Book Review: The Four Generations: Why You Do The Things You Do!

[Reviewed by Nick Paxton]

Ayokunle Adeleye’s archetypal foray into the realm of human understanding is both symbolically rich and culturally relevant and, while it does not provide readers with a new found understanding into the vast network of interpersonal human pattern recognition, it provides strong examples for readers to identify with and a solid foundation of knowledge for those wishing to familiarize themselves with social contextualization on a personal level. Heavy biblical references and allusions to humanities prototypes blend harmoniously with lighter bits on the power of human understanding and tips on how to maximize your own personal power. The health information, which explains how metaphysical energies are manifested in the flesh via physical appearance, creating visual reference markers for our cognitive perceptions to process, is both thought provoking and highly entertaining.

Given the translated nature of the book, the writing is fairly well structured and moderately engaging, though some choppy bits and vague pieces will might leave readers disoriented. Though by all means filled with pop psychology, the religious and cultural aspects create a semblance of divine connections that does challenge readers to consider why these structured personalities exist and how they could potentially be a part of a larger blueprint of the universe.

Onto the content itself, the idea that humanities infinite diversity can be summed up in four boxed identities may disgruntle or turn off readers looking for a deeper, more revealing look on the human experience, but the novel makes no gestures of false pretense and humbly asserts itself through clever writing and a true belief in it’s content. Overall, a interesting way to spend a few hours, though perhaps not a reason to drop that psychology textbook just yet.

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You can contact the reviewer, Nick Paxton, at paxton8r@gmail.com.

Author Ayokunle Adeleye (Ayk) currently lives in Sagamu, Nigeria. The Four Generations is currently available for purchase on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Four-Generations-Why-you-things/dp/1456779133.

Review: Johnny Mathis’ Christmas show at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, CA

[Reviewed by Bruce Roberts]

Sometimes great singers lose their best voices as they age. I’m thinking of The Kingston Trio, Paul Simon, even the awesome Old Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra. It’s fact of life: Age can take a toll on the pipes of a singer. Except for Johnny Mathis.

Friday, December 2nd, the 76 year old Mathis performed at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, singing as if he were at the height of his vocal powers. He still flashes an extraordinary range, from his rich baritone, to the highest tenor, all with power or softness as the song demands, without a single wobble or crack, or backing down from a single challenging note.  The vocal range and quality that have carried him on a long and glorious singing career are still very much intact.

Matching his stature as one of America’s great singers, the Paramount Theater is one of America’s great theaters. Built in 1931 by noted architect Timothy Pflueger, this Art Deco masterpiece, after extensive renovations completed in 1973, is a jewel in the Oakland entertainment scene, and on the National Register of Historic Sites. Ironically, though he grew up in San Francisco, this was the first time Johnny had ever played the Paramount.

A few downsides: On a few songs, Johnny had the help of back-up singers—on tape– totally unnecessary with a voice like his. Between his sets, the audience was entertained by Gary Mule Deer, who had them in stitches with joke after joke—many of which were “borrowed” from the internet. Still, Mule Deer does an outstanding Johnny Cash impression that left the audience wanting more. Finally, Johnny, of course, gets to choose his own songs, but instead of building to one of his many showstoppers, he chose to end with a non-Christmas Latin beat medley that showcased the band more than his voice. And for a Christmas junkie like me, any show billed as a Christmas show should be at least three-fourths Christmas songs, but that was not to be.

None of that detracts though from the essential truth that Johnny delivered, really delivered, on every song before a huge audience of long-time fans.  Applause erupted only two or three notes into the introduction of most songs by this audience that seemed to know him and his work very well. “Misty,”  “Secret Love,”  “The Twelfth of Never,”  “Stranger in Paradise”—these were just some of the showstoppers that caused explosions of applause, even as the song began. His Christmas repertoire included “Winter Wonderland,” “Frosted Windowpanes,” “The Christmas Song,” and “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.”  An energetic and passionate “We Need a Little Christmas” seemed the dominant song in this set and had feet tapping everywhere.

When the book of Great American singers is written,  Johnny Mathis—the teenaged track sensation from San Francisco’s Washington High—will be ranked right up there with Frank Sinatra,  Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole,  Barbara Streisand,  ranked right up there with the best in the land.  My only real problem with the show was that my wife elbowed me every time I tried to sing along.

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Bruce Roberts is a poet and ongoing contributor to Synchronized Chaos Magazine. Roberts may be reached by at brobe60491@sbcglobal.net.

Performance Review: The Marin Theatre Company’s Production of “Glass Menagerie”

[Reviewed by Martin Rushmere]

Powerful and subtle performances highlight the Marin Theatre Company’s absorbing depiction of the doomed destiny of the Wingfield family in 1930s St Louis. Subtlety from Anna Bullard as the pathologically shy Laura, matched against the power of Nicholas Pelczar as her brother Tom and Sherman Fracher as her mother Amanda, who is obsessed with the need to introduce Laura to “gentleman callers”, whom she urges Tom to bring home.

Reinforcing the engrossing tale is the monochrome lighting and set design. The use of steel ladders going nowhere is extremely effective, as the family tries to escape its emotional and physical shackles.

Laura’s anguish is pitch perfect in a demanding role, with her mannerisms, gestures and stilted speech grabbing the audience. When you almost want to reach out to comfort and soothe her and then shout out “Get out and make something of your life”, you’re watcvh8ing a terrific performance.

Amanda wonderfully comes out as the Domineering, Neurotic Woman that is such a feature of Williams’s plays. And like Blanche in Streetcar, the death knell is sounded at the very end with the phrase “your sister a cripple”. So many plays are renowned for one line (think Wilde’s Lady Bracknell and her “In a handbag?” in The Importance of Being Earnest) that the audience waits especially keenly for the moment.

Just a tad more of a pause and different emphasis would have brought it out even more strongly.

Tom’s mixed sense of futility and desperation shines through the tale, trying to escape his dead-end existence. Perhaps his most notable achievement is to bring out the poetry that weaves through Williams’s scripts and is often ignored.

Craig Marker is the “Gentleman Caller”. He has a big shadow to cast, following on from the compelling first act. Convincing as a high school star now meandering into mediocrity – but actually trying to break out — he brings out THAT CHUCKLE effectively. (A clutch of twenty-somethings in the audience guffawing in derision failed to detract).

The actors relate so effortlessly and assuredly with each other that they almost seem to possess ESP, which supercharges the staging

And Tennessee Williams? His anguish and personal strife come through in all his plays. Luckily his dramatic talents were such that they are worthwhile being staged, otherwise one would dismiss him with “Get over it. We all have problems.”

But, his sense of Undeserving Victim was ridiculous when Menagerie was first staged. In mid-1944 millions of Americans were facing death in battle and back home the families wanted escapism and entertainment to distract them. Along comes Menagerie, which understandably is shunned, and Williams – safe from the frontline – gets all depressed and mutters “Ohh, woe is me.”

Spare a thought for other people sometime.

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You can contact the reviewer, Martin Rushmere, at martinzim@earthlink.net.

Performance Review: The Cutting Ball Theater’s Production of “Pelleas and Melisande”

[Reviewed by Christopher Bernard]

PUT A SPELL ON YOU

Maurice Maeterlinck was to theater what Debussy was to music and Mallarmé to poetry: one of the first explorers of the infinite universe of the indirect, the oblique – “the mystery that lies … just out of sight” – called Symbolism, without which modernism and its enormous and still flourishing progeny would have been inconceivable.

His play “Pelleas and Melisande” has had the status of a legend since its premiere in 1892, influencing musicians like Sibelius, Schoenberg and Fauré, as well as playwrights, and forming the basis of Debussy’s only completed opera. The title, in fact, may be more familiar to music mavens than theater fans.

And yet, without Maeterlinck’s foray into a form of drama that hints and feints at the splendors and horrors of human life (rather than barreling at them, bare-knuckled, gritted-teethed and glaring), suggesting depths of meaning and feeling through a balance of fairy tale, melodrama and a kind of naturalism of the dream – thus turning the modern soul into its own bravest spectacle – the modern dramatic tradition that began with Strindberg and late Ibsen, and continued through the surrealists, the absurdists, Beckett, Bernhard, and Kushner, would have missed half a continent of human experience. And it would have lacked much of the courage and power, the audacity and imagination it has shown ever since.

Which makes one all the more grateful for the often magical and wondrous production of the play by The Cutting Ball Theater in San Francisco. They have taken on the play’s considerable challenges of interpretation and emerged victorious, creating a spell that, once you have entered it, you may not want to leave.

The play’s storyline is simple enough, even slight: a tissue of allusions to fairy tales, folk tales and romance taking place in a nameless kingdom in a vaguely medieval era, following the plight of a young princess found in a dark forest by a middle-aged prince who bears her home and makes the mistake of marrying her when there is far more likely mate for her in the form of his own brother. What makes the play a masterpiece that, in the right hands, defeats the dangers of its own dating is the playwright’s approach: the oblique poetry, the elided psychology, the leaps in time, the dream-logic, the almost cinematic abruptness of scene changes. Maeterlinck’s means are sometimes too blunt or obvious (as in the many allusions to Rapunzel), but this production solves the problems thus caused by using, in ways one can only suspect the playwright would have applauded, indirect, “poetic” devices like pantomime rather than more “naturalistic” methods that might have broken the play’s delicate spell.

Indeed, throughout, director Rob Melrose wisely builds on the mysteries and obliqueness of the text, allowing the audience to dwell in its enchantment and never over-emphasizing either the romantic excesses or the peculiar psychology of the fairy-tale-like characters.

The small Taylor Street theater creates a warm intimacy. Most of the action takes place on a long, narrow platform with the audience seated along either side; a corner of the stage opens to a pool of water, water being both a potent symbol and a beautiful “objective correlative” of the world of the lovers, their passion and their fate. Precise and discreet lighting and a finely wrought web of music and sound perfect the mise-en-scène. The action is often, discreetly, choreographed, a ballet of gestures and brief tableaux.

But none of these efforts, beautifully worked out as they are, would be of any use without getting the acting right – and here the soul of the production goes from success to something more impalpably pure. Caitlyn Louchard’s Melisande is altogether admirable in a difficult role, built largely on reactions and silences, and her variety and sureness of touch make the lost princess entirely believable. Special kudos should also go to Paul Gerrior as Arkel, an old, king-like figure, whose sorrow is to be left at the end forlorn, with a baby in his arms, and his castle, with its surrounding forest of darkness and the poisoned lake beneath it, a mortuary. The supporting roles are also wrought with great sensitivity and care. Joshua Schell’s Pelleas and Derek Fischer’s Golaud are thoroughly worthy and avoid the pitfalls of sentimentality and melodrama the parts can easily slip into, though sometimes their brimming American “good health” in parts that need an evasive neuroticism to be completely convincing shows through despite their best efforts.

Gwyneth Richards’ two brief scenes (as Arkel’s wife and as head of the servants), not least because of a fine voice and meticulously gauged line-readings, were among the most memorable of a production filled with memorable moments.

The production is a triumph, though that sounds way too pompous for a piece of such intimacy and delicacy and grace. It’s a must-see for anyone in the Bay Area who cares about theater.

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Christopher Bernard is a San Francisco writer and founding editor of Caveat Lector magazine.

Performance Review: Opera San Jose’s Production of Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci”

[Reviewed by Christopher Bernard]

VOICES IN JOY AND SORROW

Opera San Jose opened its twenty-eighth season with a brave choice. Their production of Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” – a passionate, brilliant and thrilling one – has been given an unusual partner, taken from the dark years of the mid-twentieth century.

Usually we get Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana,” its near-contemporary and thematic twin, coupled as “Cav and Pag.” Pag has more in common with Cav – the same heart, the same themes, almost the same brain – than is often realized: Leoncavallo wrote and composed Pag to prove he could beat Mascagni at his own game. Now the two competitors are performed together, joined at the hip, apparently forever.

Not this time. Instead we got a trickier proposition: the thorny desolation of Francis Poulenc’s tour-de-force for solo soprano: “La voix humaine.”

“Pagliacci” remains one of the world’s favorite operas. An ever-fresh object lesson in the endless reflections between life and art, it tells the story of an itinerant theatrical company arriving one day in a small Italian town around 1900, where the company’s leader, and stage clown, discovers his actress wife has taken a lover. The tragic outcome is then enacted in the guise of the play they perform that night.

This is an opera, with its much-loved aria “Vesta la giubba,” that is peculiarly dependent on its tenor, and in this case, the audience was swept, by Alexander Boyer as the tragic clown, time and again into the peculiar rapture only opera can induce.

Close behind Boyer in success was Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste as the wife, miserable in her unfaithfulness, whose voice, strong yet sweet, and delightful stage presence defeated one or two unwise directorial decisions, to create a character still sympathetic despite all her sins. Krassen Karagiozov did a fine job with the rather blank role of the lover Silvio, and Jason Detwiler was luridly grotesque as the randy hunchback Tonio and the Prologue’s tendentious Taddeo.

No notice of this production can be adequate without mentioning the superb chorus, under Andrew Whitfield: admirably warm and transparent and clear – a joy.

The handsome minimalist set is arranged like big children’s toy blocks set around the stage under a cerulean sky subtly darkening at key moments and raked with high-cloud lights imaginatively deflected from corner to corner to point up the fantasy at the heart of this archetypal verismo tale.

But there is a problem with this particular simplicity: it undercuts some of the story’s realism, and, as now designed, does not adequately separate the inner stage, on which the play within a play acts out the opera’s’ key drama, from the frame stage representing “reality.” This separation must be made graphically clear if the opera’s point is to be made effectively. If the entire set looks too artificial, there is nowhere for the mise-en-scene that becomes a mise-en-abime to go.

Oddly enough, a similar problem plagues “La voix humaine,” though here the problem is in Jean Cocteau’s libretto. This lengthy monolog amounts to overhearing half a late-night phone call, taken in a well-appointed apartment overlooking the rooftops of Paris, between a woman and her lover who is in the process, to be blunt, of dumping her. The trouble is that the monolog, opening on a note of desperation in the woman, has nowhere to go emotionally but down into despair: there was little drama for me, as I knew from the opening pantomime where the story was headed, and never suspected for a moment that I might be wrong.

This structural weakness creates a tedium at the heart of the opera that the jagged, recitative-like vocal line does not help, and not even the graceful singing of the principal, or the handsome music from the pit or the elegant set design (the window frames, doors, and the room’s broad lines are sketched in like a big-box Raoul Dufy in white on black) are enough to save it. The most persuasive music in the piece is, unfortunately for the singer, given to the orchestra.

Susan Hanson handled the part with great skill, not least because of her finely tuned acting. She is graced with a voice both winning and rich.

Bryan Nies conducted both operas stirringly. The orchestra, despite some weakness in the violins when exposed, did beautiful work. The oboist was especially fine.

Before ending, I should mention the intimate splendor of the California Theatre, which provides Opera San Jose’s home stage. Renovated a few years ago with many sensitive and brilliant touches (including an example of the original theater’s stage rigging, displayed in the back lobby), this ingenious jewel of a building, formed on an awkwardly shaped lot as an enormous L, is as much a stimulating, and inspiring, pleasure as the performances going on inside it.

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Christopher Bernard is a San Francisco writer and founding editor of Caveat Lector magazine.

Bio: Francis Tapon, World Traveler and Author

[Article by Rea Rivera]

Francis Tapon’s mother is from Chile and his father is from France. They met in San Francisco thanks to a slow elevator. His brother, Philippe Tapon, is the author of two novels: A Parisian from Kansas and The Mistress. Since writing rarely pays the bills, he is now a medical doctor. His family spoke Spanish at home, unless an English swear word was necessary.

Francis was born and raised in San Francisco, California where he attended the French American International School for 12 years. Native French teachers convinced him that France is the coolest country in the universe. He is fluent in English, French, and Spanish. He struggles with Italian, Portuguese, Slovenian, and Russian. If you point a gun to his head, he’ll start speaking other languages too.

He earned a Religion Degree with honors from Amherst College, and wrote his thesis on the Bahá’í Faith and the Worldwide Church of God. After working for Hitachi in Latin America, he earned an MBA from Harvard Business School. After Harvard, he co-founded SIGHTech Vision Systems, a robotic vision company in Silicon Valley. Then he decided to change his life forever.

In 2001, he sold the little he had to hike the 3,000 km Appalachian Trail. Then, after consulting for Hitachi Data Systems, he visited all 25 countries in Eastern Europe in 2004. He consulted at Microsoft before hiking the 4,200 km Pacific Crest Trail in 2006. In 2007, he became the first person to do a round-trip on the Continental Divide Trail. This seven-month journey spanned 9,000 km. In 2008, he visited over 40 European countries. In 2009, he walked across Spain twice: once by traversing the Pyrenees from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, and then by hiking El Camino Santiago. In 2010-2011, he traveled in Eastern Europe and wrote The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us. He’s backpacked over 20,000 kilometers (12,500 miles) and traveled to over 75 countries. However, he still has never owned a TV, chair, table, couch, bed, or rocket ship.

He is the author of Hike Your Own Hike: 7 Life Lessons from Backpacking Across America. He is donating half of his book royalty to the Triple Crown of thru-hiking-Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail. The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us is his second book of his WanderLearn Series. In 2012, he plans to spend two years visiting every country in Africa and will write a book about that in 2015. His goal is to wander to all 193 countries of the world, see what we can learn from them, and share it with the world.

There is a variety of ways to learn more. Start with http://FrancisTapon.com. It has over 250 articles and hundreds of trip photos. Sign up for his newsletter to get the latest updates and special offer or previews. If you have questions or comments, follow the Forum link to see if someone has had a similar thought. If not, start a new topic. Francis will give a better answer there than if you write an email. You can also connect with him on Facebook or Twitter. He’s also happy to receive hate email-it makes him laugh.

If you want to meet Francis in person, visit his website’s Events page, which shows where he will be next. If you want him to give a fun and informative speech or workshop for your organization, then contact him via the web page. He also offers individual life coaching if you want to recalibrate your life. He hopes to inspire you to learn more about yourself and the world.

You can reach Rea Rivera at gone2thebeach26@gmail.com.