OFFERS "MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG"
"Merrily We Roll Along" at Altarena
Theater is a first-rate production of a not-so-first-rate musical. The title is misleading: to be sure, there's a fair amount
of rolling along, but not much merrily. The show is technically complex, but director Phil Lowery has assembled a talented
cast and created an acting and singing tour de force.
by George Furth is based on a 1930's play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. But just as Thornton Wilder's delightful play
"The Matchmaker" lost most of its charm when translated into the musical "Hello, Dolly!" so "Merrily" lost most of its comedy
when translated from play to musical.
Despite having been re-written several times, "Merrily" continues to struggle
with fundamental problems, not least of which is that none of the characters is truly sympathetic. We don't really care about
any of them because even the nicest isn't someone we'd like as a friend. But that's only the beginning.
is backwards. It begins at the end and ends at the beginning, and that innovation really doesn't work because it makes suspense
impossible. Everyone knows from the get-go that the other shoe will inevitably drop, so rather than building to a climax,
the show starts with its climax, and its all down hill from there.
The difficulties are compounded by Stephen Sondheim's
music and lyrics. Whereas Kaufman and Hart created pure comedic entertainment, Sondheim wasn't content to leave well enough
alone, and his version incorporates "message" which purports to be eternal verity but is really merely slice-of life.
Extremely wordy and jumbled, Sondheim's lyrics are frequently unintelligible. And albeit loudly energetic, Sondheim's music
isn't tuneful. Indeed, in the whole score there aren't eight consecutive hummable bars.
Sondheim was mentored by
Oscar Hammerstein II and, like a modern artist, Sondheim evidently strove to transcend the genius of the "old master" and
do something entirely different. Whether Sondheim's innovations represent progress or not depends on the tastes of the individual
members of the audience. Some people are blown away by Sondheim's work. Others are unmoved by it, at least in a positive sense.
The story traces the unfulfilled life of successful and affluent movie producer Franklin Shepard and his friends Charley
Kringas and Mary Flynn back to their humbler beginnings as aspiring, idealistic composer, lyricist, and author respectively.
Along the way, Shepard dumps his wife Beth for the oft-married seductress Gussie, and that gives rise to the kind of bathos
common in literature but not necessarily in real life.
The entire cast features fine acting talents and excellent
singing voices. Dann Howard is Franklin the producer/composer. Chris Uzelac is his lyricist/collaborator Charley Kringas.
And Robin Steeves is their friend through thick and thin Mary Flynn.
Lisa-Marie Newton, the temptress, is Franklin's
second wife Gussie. Charles Evans is her previous, deep-pocket husband Joe. Olivia Stoddard is Franklin's first wife Beth,
and Caleb Alexander is their son Frank Jr. Douglas Kadlecek and Sadie Sabrina Shaw are Beth's parents Mr. and Mrs. Spencer.
Others in the cast include Heather Morrison, Jonathan Reisfeld, Kelcey Jay Poe, Kelly Ann Nelson, Daniel Black, Eric
Sande, David L. Hobbs, and Ron Tanon.
The orchestra comprises musical director and conductor Armando Fox and David
Anderson on keyboards, Mark DeWeese on bass, Roberta Drake on percussion, Mike Wilson and Michael L. Wirgler on assorted woodwinds,
and Adrienne Chambers on brass.
As usual in Arena productions, sets and props are minimal, but Technical Director
Garrett Westfall has created some intriguing innovations for this production including a convertible, now-you-see-it-now-you-don't
grand piano that actually works. Some non-trivial lighting problems persist. Despite a forest of lamps, areas of the stage
that should be bright remain in shadow.
Bottom line: if you're a Stephen Sondheim fan, you're likely to love "Merrily."
Otherwise, it may be hard to figure out why, from all the shows to chose from in the whole wide world, Altarena chose to do
SEE IT - "Merrily We Roll Along" at Altarena Playhouse runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays
at 2 p.m. through November 18. Tickets are $18 ($15 for seniors, students, and Altarena subscribers). For information and
reservations, call 510-523-1553 or go to www.altarena.org. Altarena Playhouse is located at 1409 High Street in Alameda.
(Cutline for “Merrily We Roll Along" Photo) - Contributed photo by Patrick Tracy
Principals in "Merrily We Roll
Along" at Altarena Playhouse through November 18 are Dann Howard as Franklin Shepard, Christopher Uzelac as Charlie Kringas,
Olivia Stoddard as Beth Spencer, and Robin Steeves as Mary Flynn.
"JUSTICE" IS ACTUALLY INJUSTICE
A recent item in a local Catholic Church publication manipulated the meanings of
words and in doing so was grotesquely misleading.
It began "Justice for Immigrants Update," but what it really
was advocating was "Privilege for Illegal Aliens" and, by implication, "Injustice for legal immigrants past, present, and
It isn't possible to be more than fair to one group without being less than fair to all others. Even Christian
"justice" must be even handed if it is to be truly just.
It went on to say "Enforcement-only legislation threatens
the human dignity of immigrants in our communities who come seeking work to support their families." But this fails to consider
there are literally billions of disadvantaged people from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere other than south of
the border who would gladly replace our Hispanic illegal aliens by coming here to work and support their families if they
were legally permitted to do so.
By the same twisted logic, enforcement of every law would "threaten the human
dignity" of every criminal, but that's an absurd excuse for arguing laws should not be enforced.
within the Church of privileged treatment for Hispanic breakers of our immigration laws is not occasioned by the fact most
of them are Catholic.
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
In assessing why voters
turned away from Joe Lieberman last Tuesday, the media have carefully omitted to comment on one plausible cause. Lieberman
is perhaps the Senate's most visible supporter of our government's "Israel First" policies that transcend party lines in pandering
to Jewish voters at the polls all across America. As with many Jewish people in America, Mr. Lieberman's first allegiance
appears to be to Israel rather than America.
Our Iraq invasion, which Lieberman heartily endorsed, was actually
aimed at security for Israel, not America. And it has cost America dearly. Perhaps thinking voters in Connecticut finally
tumbled to the reality that virtually everything we do to support Israel militates against the best interests of our own country
and therefore decided to remove one proponent of our government's pro-Israel-regardless-of-cost-to-America position from the
A VIABLE SOLUTION FOR THE MIDDLE EAST
In an August
1, 2006 editorial, the Washington Post wrote (paraphrasing) "Beneath all the rhetoric, there's a consensus among Israel, the
United States, and the Lebanese government that the 'root cause of the problems' is Hezbollah, and it must be brought to book."
What nonsense! Obviously Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, Iran, Muslims around the globe, and most other folks who are into
thinking about the situation rather than merely flexing their long-brain-washed knee-jerk reflexes don't share that consensus.
As is true lamentably often, the so-called consensus view reflects the truism that "there is none so blind as one
who will not see." Hezbollah is merely a symptom, not a cause at any level. The true root cause of chronic instability and
hostility in the Middle East is - surprise! - Israel. And it's not Israel's insensitivity or its own terrorist behavior as
deplorable as they may be.
No, the real root cause of chronic instability and hostility in the Middle East is the
very existence of Israel. And whether it takes a year, a decade, a century, or a millennium, George Bush's ostensibly desired
"sustainable peace" in the Middle East will never happen until Israel ceases to exist.
Some might call that assertion
harsh or even anti-Semitic, but it is neither. It is simply reality and the truth.
Why that assertion is immutably
true follows from an appreciation for the Muslim perception of reality which, thanks to an utter lack of empathy, the Western
World, currently headed by George Bush (but certainly not "led" by him) has never understood or felt.
universal Muslim view is that Israel is the illicit product of virulently anti-Semitic attitude and misplaced sense of guilt
throughout the Western World that, on the initiative of Great Britain between the two World Wars, chose Palestine to be the
dumping ground for the millions of Jewish refugees who were unwelcome in England, Europe, America, and elsewhere. (Such unwelcoming
attitude was not arbitrary, but it's basis is not germane here.)
From the Muslim point of view, Israel is a festering
sore that should never have been inflicted on the Middle East in the first place and has been sustained primarily with armaments,
materiel, and money from the United States whose people have been conned by the Israel Lobby and largely pro-Israel media
into believing Israel is a vital ally (which it is not and never was) and whose venal politicians have sought to pander to
Inasmuch as one's perception is one's reality, it doesn't really matter whether the Muslim perception
of the situation actually squares with the facts or not, although in this case it does.
For some 1878 years, Jewish
people throughout the Diaspora mouthed the shibboleth "Next Year in Jerusalem," It would be foolish to believe Muslim peoples
would have any shorter memories or any lesser motivation. They perceive themselves (quite correctly) as having been wronged
and, unlike Jews and their Christian hangers-on, Muslims believe that vengeance is theirs to repay rather than Allah's.
So, thinking of Israel as a cancer in the Middle East that cannot as a practical matter be removed "surgically," what
kind of Band-Aid might be applied to maximally ameliorate the condition?
The solution clearly lies with the same
United Nations that in 1947 sanctioned the coming into existence of Israel to begin with and depends on the ability and willingness
of the United Nations and its constituent members to take action to enforce its solution by using as much military force as
may be required against all who oppose the necessary solution including, undoubtedly, Israel.
The essential elements
of the solution would include:
1. A single re-unified Palestine, not a Palestine and an Israel, and dissolution
of Israel, a theocratic rather than truly democratic entity.
2. Right of return for all Palestinians displaced
by the Israelis since 1948 and their heirs.
3. Restitution in kind or in cash insofar as possible for Palestinian
property expropriated by Israelis without fair compensation since 1948.
4. Destruction of the Berlin-style wall
erected by the Israelis.
5. Administration of a re-unified Jerusalem by the United Nations in perpetuity.
6. A new secular constitution for Palestine and democratic election of a secular government including Muslims, Jews, Christians,
an any other citizens of the revived Palestine.
Would that solution necessarily cause injuries to innocent people?
Of course. As with any solution in similarly complex circumstances, that would be inevitable. However, importantly, in the
broad sweep of cosmic time and space, this solution should minimize the number of those injured on all sides as well as the
extent of their injuries.
REFLECTIONS ON 9/11 FIVE YEARS OUT
paranoid reactions of the Administration, not 9/11 itself, affect us profoundly and adversely. Misguided imperialistic Crusading
shamefully devastates other lands and peoples; escalates hatred, terrorism, and Jihad; bankrupts our treasury; and provokes
holy World War III while Homeland "Security" ravages our civil rights and turns Americans into cringing wimps.
TIME TO GET REAL ABOUT THE MIDDLE EAST
More nonsense from Washington and Condoleeza Rice. More talk and
no action to bring about a genuinely just peace in the Middle East. Just more Band-Aids on the cancer there rather than recognizing
the uncomfortable but inevitable reality that major surgery will be required.
The cancer in the Middle East is
Israel, and there never will be lasting peace as long as Israel is permitted to continue to exist. That may seem harsh, but
it's true because Israel should never have been allowed to come into existence in the first place.
The dual myths
that god picked the Jews as his chosen people and then promised them dominion over the so-called holy land were invented by
ancient Hebrews to rationalize and attempt to justify their ripping off of the land of the Canaanites.
support following World War I for Theodor Herzl's call for a "Jewish National Homeland" was utterly cynical and anti-Semitic:
the British didn't want Jewish refugees in their own back yard.
During the 1920's and 1930's, Britain betrayed
its responsibilities under its League of Nations mandate by encouraging hordes of displaced Jews to invade Palestine by immigration
effectively turning Palestine, which was 98% non-Jewish as late as 1920, into a dumping ground for Jews Britain didn't want
on its own doorstep.
And following World War II, misplaced maudlin sympathy for Holocaust victims prompted widespread
support for the creation of Israel which effectively licensed the Jewish invaders of Palestine to victimize the Palestinian
And the depredations of the Zionist Israelites have been supported ever after with armaments and money
supplied from America to enable Israel to wage and win wars on other elements of the fundamentally Muslim Middle Eastern world.
All of this injustice to Palestinians and other Muslims has been fostered by the latter-day myth that Israel is America's
vital ally. But the reality is that American politicians have been bamboozled into pandering to the Jewish element in the
American electorate by the insidious influence of such American Jewish forces as the B'nai B'rith, the AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation
League, the Jewish dominated media, and celebrities in the American entertainment world.
The American people have
actually been sold a bill of goods about Israel. Israel has been an ally only when it has served Israel's purposes to be one.
Far from being identical, America's best interests and Israel's best interests are, for the most part, diametrically opposed.
Contrary to Jewish propaganda, what is good for Israel usually is NOT good for America.
Yes, of course oil is an
issue, and it's high time Washington began making real friends with those folks who have the oil rather than with Israel -
a theocracy, not a true democracy - which has nothing of value to provide to America in return for its friendship except the
votes of several million Jewish American citizens, many of whom actually feel primary allegiance to Israel rather than to
Are these comments anti-Semitic? Absolutely, but it has nothing to do with theology or culture. It is
only because, and to the extent that, Zionist Semitism in America works to put Israel's interests ahead of America's own and
is, therefore, actually a treasonous viper at America's bosom.
A DANGEROUS EXERCISE
IN BLATANT BIGOTRY
Recently an email arrived from some sort of fully-rotating moron in all directions asking "Can
a devout Muslim be a loyal American citizen? And it went on to suggest answers that reflect the sender's gross ignorance and
vicious stupidity. My comments in brackets follow his text.
Theologically, no. Because his allegiance is to Allah,
the moon god of Arabia. [Nonsense. We don't impose a religious test on citizenship. Besides, the allegiance of the vast majority
of Americans, both Jews and their Christian inheritors, is to "El" the chief god of the Canaanite pantheon whom the ancient
Hebrews renamed Jehovah when they ripped him off along with the land of the Canaanites.
Scripturally, no. Because
his allegiance is to the five pillars of Islam and the Quran. [Nonsense. I'll bet the author doesn't even know what the five
pillars are, and choice of scripture would be an issue only if we were a theocracy rather than a democracy. Come to think
of it, since both the Bible and the Quran are a cross between historical fiction and mythological fairy stories anyway, what's
Geographically, no. Because his allegiance is to Mecca, to which he turns in prayer five times a day.
[So what? American Catholics hold the Vatican and a bunch of other places - where the "Blessed Virgin" has appeared and "miracles"
have taken place - in similar awe even if they can't always figure out which way to turn when they pray.]
no. Because his allegiance to Islam forbids him to make Friends with Christians or Jews. [So what? For a couple of millennia
or so, allegiance to Judaism or Christianity prevented Jews and Christians from befriending one another and, feigning tolerance,
many continue that deep seated antipathy today.]
Politically, no. Because he must submit to the mullah who teach
annihilation of Israel and destruction of America, the great Satan. [Many good Americans, like good Muslims, are spiritual
rather than materialistic and decry contemporary American greed and hedonism. Many non-Muslim Americans share the belief that
much of American culture has become badly flawed and needs to be destroyed and replaced. And, of course, thinking Americans
of all persuasions see clearly that Israel is the root cause of Middle Eastern chaos, that it was wrong for the world powers
to permit it to happen in the first place, and that lasting peace in the Middle East will never be possible as long as Israel
Domestically, no, because he is instructed to marry four women and beat and scourge his wife when she
disobeys him. [Yes, that's what the Quran says, but the author apparently has either never read the Bible or has forgotten
what he found there. The Bible is loaded with similarly dumb stuff, but we don't generally hold that against Jews or Christians.]
Religiously, no. Because no other religion is accepted by his Allah Except Islam. [And what other religions are accepted
by Christianity and Judaism? Down deep inside most believers believe that what they believe is the only truth and the only
right way to believe. Pretty clearly the author is one of them.]
Intellectually, no, because he cannot accept
the American Constitution since it is based on Biblical principles and he believes the Bible to be Corrupt. [Nonsense. This
is either a huge stretch of the imagination or a flight of fantasy. It's just plain absurd to suggest that our Constitution
is, or was, "based on Biblical principles," and the Quran incorporates a lot of stuff taken straight from the Bible. True,
Muslims don't buy into the Trinity, but then neither do Unitarians and thinking people generally.]
no, because Islam, Muhammad, and the Quran do not allow freedom of religion and expression. Democracy and Islam cannot co-exist.
Every Muslim government is either dictatorial or autocratic. [The author apparently forgets or ignores that Israel despite
its ostensible democratic window dressing is actually a theocracy just as in the Muslim states. And if George Bush and the
Religious Right have their way, America will soon be a theocracy, too - just a slightly different flavor.]
no, because when we declare "one nation under God," the Christian's God is loving and kind, while Allah is NEVER referred
to as our heavenly father, nor is he ever called love in the Quran's 99 excellent names. [Nonsense. God comes in many different
flavors, and not just Christian in its many variations. The author is apparently unfamiliar with the really nasty god of the
Old Testament. Many very loyal Americans feel like vomiting when the Pledge of Allegiance with the latter day corruption "under
God" is recited. In making that emendation, Congress clearly violated the First Amendment which was intended by our nation's
founders to guarantee not merely freedom OF religion but, equally importantly, freedom FROM religion. Read it carefully.]
Therefore after much study and deliberation perhaps we should be very suspicious of ALL MUSLIMS in this country. They
obviously cannot be both good Muslims and good Americans. Call it what you wish. It's still the truth. If you find yourself.
intellectually in agreement with the above, perhaps you will share this with your friends. The more who understand this, the
better it will be for our country. Pass it on. The war is bigger than we know. [Well, there is folks. The same kind of scurrilous,
chauvinistic prejudice that gave rise to Nazism in Germany not so long ago and that fed, and still feeds, anti-Semitism worldwide.
Apparently the author would really like to see a fuller-fledged Crusade - "us" against "them" - but would probably not understand
or accept as equally legitimate - or illegitimate, actually - the jihad it would inexorably engender.
of thoughtless rant exhibited here could actually prove very dangerous to American citizens of Muslim faith and to America
itself. Hopefully, no one will get the bright idea that what America needs is an updated version of the Ku Klux Klan.
THE WORLD IN OUR IMAGE
New York Times columnist David Brooks recently raised a staggering question: Can we use
political reform to spark cultural change in the Middle East, or do we have to wait for cultural reformation before we can
Wow! Bye-bye Voltaire and tending our own garden!
By what right do we have an interest
in "sparking cultural change" in the Middle East or in "changing politics" there? Assuming Brooks is correct in identifying
those two objectives of the Bush Administration's foreign policy, is it any wonder we are in such deep yogurt with Muslim
The Achilles Heel in American foreign policy is now - and typically has been - an epidemic lack
of empathy, often even in cases where it would have been in our own interest to have some of it! The inability of our political
leaders to "put themselves in the other fellows' shoes" and see issues from their point of view as well as our own is legendary,
and it is forever getting us involved in wrong activities, with wrong allies, for wrong reasons, and often with awesomely
devastating unforeseen adverse consequences.
Just consider that if Al Qaida's goal were to change America's culture
and politics, we wouldn't put up with that for a single heartbeat, so why should we un-empathetically expect Al Qaida to tolerate
our intention and efforts to remodel the Muslim world and its people?
In their world-class insensitivity and stupidity,
many Americans led by George Bush would respond to that rhetorical question with this sort of knee-jerk reflex: "It's obvious.
We're right and they're wrong, and it's (expletive deleted) high time they recognized and accepted that fact."
jingoistic, imperialistic arrogance of that sort will continue to get us into terrible troubles as long as it persists and,
indeed, if it persists long enough, it's certain - not merely likely - to finish putting an end the America some of us knew
and loved before George Bush and his cronies created "Homeland Security" to bring about more devastation to America's core
values than Al Qaida could ever have dreamed of imposing.
It's okay for us, our current allies, and a few other
nations that are too big or too powerful or otherwise beyond our immediate ability to bully to have weapons of mass destruction
(nations like China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Israel) but it isn't okay for the playing field to be leveled by allowing
Iran, North Korea, and other "evil" nations to have them. Or even, as the truth emerged in the case of Iraq, to think about
having them or to be suspected of thinking about having them.
Justice that is not even handed is not justice at
all. We may like to think of ourselves as being "holier" (George Bush's concept, not mine) than all the others, but surely
we aren't. Our hypocritical national greed, self-righteousness, and self-serving actions and intentions truly surpasseth all.
THE STEM CELL BROUHAHA
Should our government pay for embryonic stem cell
Of course it should, just as it pays for countless other scientific research activities of every imaginable
stripe in the hope they will bear fruit benefiting our citizens.
In opposing stem cell research, George Bush makes
manifest his belief America should be governed as a "faith-based" theocracy like Israel and some Islamic states rather than
the bona fide democracy to which he routinely pays hypocritical lip service.
The issue of when life begins, if
actually relevant to any debate, is not germane here. Whatever an embryonic stem cell may be, by itself it is not a viable
human being, at best merely a lifeless precursor, and not a unique one at that.
It is truly terrifying the White
House is occupied by a naively superstitious person who actually believes in the supernatural based on ancient writings by
unknown authors that some people - those who are given to wishful hoping - would like to believe were "divinely inspired,"
but for which there is not a single scintilla of credible evidence.
Never mind that the First Amendment guarantees
freedom FROM religion as well as freedom Of it, Bush's willingness to mandate his personal belief system in place of all the
knowledge accumulated by the human race over the last millennium or so feels uncomfortably like he may be embarked on the
slippery slope that can eventually lead to fascism.
WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW
No, we're not thinking of that old warhorse of a song calling for "Love, Love, Love."
No, what America
- and the World - urgently needs now is an Electable Democratic Candidate for President in 2008. And we all need to use our
best efforts to persuade the Democratic Party, its leadership (an oxymoron?), and its membership to nominate an electable
candidate this time around. Not Kerry, not Clinton, not Lieberman, not Gore, not Beatty or any other uncharismatic individual,
but someone who is widely recognized, widely respected, widely popular, and capable of attracting swing votes as well as those
of the party faithful.
I don't know who that candidate should be, but I've always believed Martin Sheen could have
won in a walk back in 2000 and 2004 if the powers that be in the Democratic Party had had the pragmatic sense and wit to nominate
him. The party could do a lot worse than finding an appropriate celebrity to put on the ballot.
is reputed to have opined that "the first thing one must do if one wants to be a great president is to get elected." Accordingly,
the first thing the Democratic Party must do is to get a Democratic candidate elected. Time enough to haggle about what he
ought to do with the office after he's in it.
So the leadership (an oxymoron?) of the Democratic Party had damn
well better pull up their sox and get on with identifying that electable candidate pronto and then getting all the ego-driven
contenders for the nomination, whose candidacies could fatally muddy the water, to back off - way off - and provide full-fledged,
unified support for the designated electable candidate.