Performance Review: “A Case of Libel”, presented by Novato Theatre Company

[Reviewed by Martin Rushmere]

The themes are even more relevant today than they were 60 years ago. Patriotism, Communism, the First Amendment and the ghost of McCarthy are all re-awakened in this robust production of the 1963 courtroom-plus-politics drama, based on a real case in 1954.   Courageous Second World War correspondent Denis Corcoran is outraged when a nationally syndicated columnist repeatedly accuses him of debauchery, cowardice and communist sympathies.

Instead of pistols at dawn, the two clash in court. (Corcoran got in the first barbs with a blistering attack on his journalist rival).

Director Ron Nash and producer Brenda Weidner coax a sterling effort from everyone, with the most consistent performance from Kris Neely as the opposing lawyer. Shrewd casting makes the imposing bulk of Paul Abbot as Corcoran’s lawyer dominate the scenes even when he is not speaking. And Ron Dailey as three characters (thank heavens no Equity actors are involved) comes off very well – although the Scottish burr does falter a touch.

A clever piece of stagecraft, to relate the events to the context of the times they were in, is getting the actors to read news headlines from the period (color television, jet travel, Elvis). Stirring speeches and unexpected twists in the storyline keep the attention focused.

However, the play is overlong (three Acts) and could do with judicious cutting of some of the speeches. The problem lies with politics in the last 50 years, because politicians and presidential candidates have trotted out the lines and sentiments so often that they have become hackneyed, ringing with insincerity. Especially in the closing speeches (stirringly delivered by both lead actors) one could predict, if not the actual words, the themes about to be uttered.

The courts, costs of litigation and legal processes have changed so much that in today’s climate the sequence of events seems almost quaint. But the pressing moral, social and political issues still burn as bright and productions such as this deserve their days on the stage.

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Click here for more information about A Case of Libel.

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

 

Whose Brain Is It? [March 2012 – Leena Prasad]

Whose Brain Is It?

Presented within the flow of the lives of fictional characters, this is a monthly column with a journalist’s perspective on brain research.

 

“Are you nervous at all?” Sanjay says.

“Excited,” Dana responds to her husband. “Yes, nervous, but with excitement.”

She is having her brain examined today. Well, not exactly examined, but observed by a method called Positron-Emission Tomography (PET scan) which is used to measure changes in cerebral blood flow as a result of brain activity.

“It’s not too late for you to take part in this also, you know.”

“No, no, I’d rather watch.”

Since her decision to participate in the study, they have been reading up on how the brain controls muscular movements.  There is a region towards the back of the brain, appropriately called the posterior parietal cortex, which takes visual information as input and translates it into motor commands. These commands travel through a pipeline of several brain regions to the primary motor cortex, a region that sends neural impulses to the spinal cord resulting in muscle contractions.

Later that afternoon, Dana dresses as if she’s going out dancing.

“Does my primary motor cortex look ready for action?”

“I don’t know but I think my posterior parietal cortex is getting activated.” Her husband winks at her.

She is wearing a flowing jade silk skirt that comes up just above her knee, a silk shirt with just the amount of cleavage that her husband likes, and pencil heels. She has been told that she should prepare for tango dancing as if she was going out to a nightclub and not to a science lab.

Dana and Sanjay have been dancing for many years now. They won an amateur tango contest last year which is what brought them the attention that had led to her participation in this experiment.

When they arrive at the place where the study is to be conducted, she looks around for a dance floor, perhaps a live band. The place looks like an office with a few desks and computers. Through an open door, she sees some large machines. The professor, Dr. D, arrives soon and explains the procedure to her.

“So, I, uh, I’ll be lying down the whole time,” she says. How can they study tango dancing if she will be lying down the entire time? She looks over at Sanjay and he looks as skeptical as she feels.

Dr. D laughs. “I know it sounds very strange.”

“I thought someone said that I will be moving my legs, I mean, I was told to dress for dancing.”

“Yes, yes, the machine is designed so that there is a surface area for moving your legs as if you are dancing. That’s the idea, to watch what’s happening in your brain as your legs move to the music.”

Dana does not look convinced. But she has committed to this, trusts the scientist, and is curious about the outcome. She follows the professor to a room with a large intimidating machine. She has seen these machines on television. People usually lie down in them with their head placed inside the machine. The only difference is that this particular machine actually has an inclined bottom surface where here legs would rest.

“That surface is for you to move your legs,” Dr. D says. “You’ll be listening to tango music through headsets.”

As Dana moves her legs in rhythm to the tango music, sensory organs in her leg muscles will pass on data to the brain’ in terms of the location and orientation of her muscles. The brain will use this information to update the motor commands that it sends back to the muscles. Scientists understand the neural mechanisms of basic motor functions. They are curious, however, to observe how these same mechanisms scale up to handle the complexity of the motions of dance.

In a study at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, scientists used PET scans to observe the brains of five male and five female tango dancers in an experiment that occurred as described for the fictional character Dana.

Once Dana is lying inside the scanner with her head immobilized, she is asked to execute the basic salida step of the Argentine tango as she hears the music through her headset. By restricting the legs to motions where the body could not actually move in space, the scientist were able to limit the study to the exact movement of the leg muscles without having to worry about the extra movements of the entire body moving from one location to another.

Sanjay is not allowed to be in the lab so he is unable to watch the results but the professor explains what he and his colleagues saw in the brains of Dana and the other participants.

“We were able to confirm a hypothesis about the parietal lobe,” he said. “That’s the area in the back part of your head.”

“That’s such a large area,” Dana says. “Was there a specific region that you were observing?”

“Yes, yes, the hypothesis is that the brain contains a representative image of the body in a specific area called the precuneus. This representation helps the precuneus to choreograph the movements of the muscles, with the help of other parts of the brain. Of course, we can’t exactly see the representation in the precuneus but we can see blood flow activity in the area with a PET scan.”

“So more blood flow means more activity?” Sanjay says.

“Yes. And the tango dancing created a high level of activity in this region.”

“What’s name of the region, again?” Dana asks.

“Precuneus. You can google it to see the location and the size.”

“But what’s the point of this study,” Sanjay says. “It’s just curiosity or does it provide some answers?’

“Well, possibly. This area is one of the least studied areas of the brain so the more we know about it, the better we can use the knowledge.”

“We were asked to do the steps with and without music. What was the reason for that?”

“Very good question. That was to subtract the affect of music on the brain and to confirm that the precuneus is still activated.”

As they are driving  home, Dana searches for precuneus on her iPhone and reads out parts of the Wikipedia definition to her husband:

The precuneus is…involved with episodic memory, visuospatial processing, reflections upon self, and aspects of consciousness.

“Precuneus,” Sanjay says. “Sounds like it’s a busy part of the brain.”

“Tango dancing will never be the same for me again.”

“Well, it will be, except now the precuneus will be helping to choreograph the dancing and also be aware of itself while you are dancing.”

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Please send feedback and suggestions for future columns to leena@fishridingabike.com. Go to WhoseBrainIsIt.com for links to past columns and to FishRidingABike.com for Leena’s writing portfolio. Leena has a journalism degree from Stanford University.

References:

Brown, Steven & Parsons, Lawrence M. “The Neuroscience of Dance.” Scientific American July 2008:78-83. Print.

Excerpt from “Steph’s Gold Medal” – John Clay

Look at that 20-mins-due flash, the bad news all lit up there in little red L.C.D. blocks. See it?

I know. Shame. I’m disappointed for you miss. Really, I’m incensed. And I can’t be easy company, can I? I smell, I know. But forget what pop culture tells ya. I don’t have to be touting the Big Issue to have a friendly chat with my fellow citizen, do I?

Thanks, and yeah, exactly, I AM NOT my lack of accommodation. Thank you. I’m a street orator, actually, and it looks like you’re stuck here…

Sod’s law, Missus. Bloody busses. Bloody English weather. Believe me, there is no way you’d catch me wandering London through this spill. It’s like God himself has only just realised he’d got his Creation business perfect but then screwed it all up with Adam. And now he’s switched on his hundred and forty-four thousand mile plasma, watched five minutes of the Iraqi death toll on CNN and has lost almost complete faith in judgement. He’s weeping rivers. ‘Not had a crisis like this since the flood’, sing the angels, who’ll mop it all up. Just like last time. Look at the hail-stones pelting down so hard. I swear they’ll split pavement.

Heh, sorry. Saw the Burqa and thought I’d let rip at the enemy. Take it you’re a convert right, you being white and christened Susan or something? You kneel five times a day and all that? See, that’s where I’d fail Allah. And don’t ask me what I believe. I write fantasy fiction, I’d only make something up. A cantankerous-narcissist-god with fire for hair. Or something. So, Susan or something. I’m me and you are?

Steph. Of course you are. Lovely name, nice to meet ya… I’m… Well let’s see: I’ve answered to arsehole, Oi you, tramp, loser, Boleraam, John Clay…

I’ve got quite a few. Call me Spiderfingers.

What?

Yeah, loads. Did a lot of Babushka Doll stuff actually. Nothing publishable though. Oh well eh Steph?

You’ve NEVER heard of Babushka Doll Lit?

Wow. Really? That’s like saying you’ve never heard of Nirvana. We’d better do something about that then. Babushka Doll Literature: more of a game than a series of stories. Hope you’ve a good memory.

O.K, whilst we still agree I’m not the type of tramp that believes in monsters and chats to daffodils, I’ll tell you about an adventurous boy and his rather unenviable position. Maybe if you like it, you could tell someone else? It’s not too hard to remember. If you enjoy a story enough, all the details should be like the clothes on your body. With your eyes shut you can recall every last item clinging and hanging off of you. Hey, I know you see this crusty-bearded ball of faded Technicolor that’s trying to befriend you, and under there, you’re preparing to politely grin away through some navel-gazing ordeal. But life dealing this tramp shit for cards? Not the subject for an opening story of mine.

I call it Bradley the Boy Wonder. But that could change. He Normally Spits is a close second choice. And hey, you may’ve heard this yarn before but don’t you dare stop me if you have, ‘cos no one, I mean not even Atlas tells it the way I could.

 

Bradley, the Boy Wonder

There was this kid who had two ‘gifts’. The first was a rather unique offering, a rather unusual gesture by the deities of biology. Kid could fold himself in half. Now, in lesser versions of this urban myth, where filthier imaginations have filled in plot holes and whatnot, you’ve probably heard that four of his ribs hadn’t developed properly, and that his lower spine was missing two vertebrae. But that’s all complete bull-crap. Wank Boy, as some mediocre orators call him, Wank Boy was all about the yoga. Really, this high school kid, we’ll call him Bradley – American – this kid Bradley was raised by his single mum who, apart from being a filthy rich Californian, had a penchant for extreme Venksai-Yoga. She’d been teaching Bradley Lotus spreads and Frog stretches ever since age three. And yes, I spoke of two gifts and yes, you got it Steph; this lil’ urban myth (every word as close to the truth as I could possibly take you), relies on Bradley boy’s second gift. Y’see, Bradley was big. Enormous. Would have been called Vlad the Impaler had he made it to college. But Bradley dies at the end of this.

He’s 13, alone in the house one hot Californian Sunday morning. Its summer holidays again and so, my god, how Bradley let those crazy hormones run him wild. See, Bradley’s mother skips outta their tidy piece of beachfront, hops gaily into the SUV and just sits for a moment, smiling about her impending book signing. This latest highpoint of subsequent media intrusion and path of re-invention has left her giddy. And if you were Bradley’s mother, ready to pull out of the driveway, if you’d chosen to crane your neck up at the kitchen window, well. You’d see Bradley watching you. Spying the cloud of fluffy happiness, the one you woke up inside this morning. That white candy floss nesting your hippy brain as you finally pull out the drive on a full tank of unleaded. You’re blissfully unaware of your little wonder running upstairs to his room. You have no idea that he’s using his ‘gift from Venksai’ in an erotic fashion, bent double and over on the bed, jacking his head up and down. Like some kind of human oil pump. What d’ya call em? Geysers? Or is that the hot pool things in Iceland? Doesn’t matter. You get the picture.

Bradley’s found a seriously fucked up way of combining the two gifts Mother Nature’s dropped in his gene pool.

But Bradley’s shit scared of the noise, the hormonal moaning gushing from inside his throat, so full of himself. He doesn’t wanna alarm old lady Docherty next door, even though next door is a whole house away. So the kid’s playing a Best of The Doors album. He’s lighting his own fire so to speak. He’s sucking away to 60’s pop… And then… He becomes inflamed with a wild idea: he could get (as Jim’s just crooned) much higher. And when he manages to slide himself in-between the gap of old oak wardrobe and the far wall of his room, when he gets to thinking of Jim Morrison taking it from behind, getting concrete hard so that he HAS to breathe through his nose, 13 year old Bradley is in his own very private heaven.

Till he gets stuck.

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John Clay, he’s a London based author who routinely submits fiction to his online writers circle. He vents his thoughts on the mythology of rock and roll monthly in ‘Spiderfingers’. 

With obscene regularity, his characters negotiate the fields of sex, violence and faithlessness in a world where god exists but has deep seated emotional issues.John however and by his own admission is a well-adjusted and fully functioning member of society. He also believes the royal family are cold blooded lizards from a dead planet called Tu-Tu.’