Monday, September 19, 2016

Riveting ‘Diary of Anne Frank’ at Olney


The families received hopeful news of the invasion of Normandy
Photo: Stan Barouh
One could only imagine the horror, the terror and the heartbreak experienced by those who suffered and perished during the Holocaust. We are reminded of those atrocities through personal accounts, historical documentation, images and footage contained in Holocaust museums and other venues.   #hocoarts
We also have artifacts such as a diary from a young Jewish girl from Amsterdam named Anne Frank who described in vivid detail the ordeal of spending nearly two years hiding in small upper rooms of the annex at the back of her father’s company building with eight people—three other family members, another family of three and later a stranger—hoping and expecting that they will be liberated from the Nazi takeover of Holland.   

That diary, which was published as Diary of a Young Girl but later known simply as The Diary of Anne Frank, became a book by Wendy Kesselman and was adapted into a play by Francis Goodrich and Albert Hackett, premiering on Broadway in October 1955.
Fortunately, this play is now being presented at the Olney Theatre Center, and as such, is one of the most gripping dramatic plays I’ve seen in at least ten years.  Director Derek Goldman (Grounded) and an exceptional cast and skilled technical crew bring this diary to life. 

This is a taut and poignant drama with all the moving parts completely in sync, and through the actors’ superb performances under Mr. Goldman’s direction and Misha Kachman’s outstanding set, it seems so real. 
Adding to the authenticity is Zach Blane’s effective lighting design. Matthew M. Nielson’s sound design includes sound effects of sirens blaring outside, the chants from Hitler and his followers, and reports from the radio.  Also, costume designer David Burdick’s period attire hits the mark.

Carolyn Faye Kramer as Anne Frank
and Paul Morella as Otto Frank
Photo: Stan Barouh
Olney’s black box theatre that is the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab offers the audience a degree of intimacy not found in many other venues. The aisle running through the center of the audience stands as the stairway linking the outside danger on the streets below to the secret annex space above.
It’s July 6, 1942 in Amsterdam.  Hitler’s forces have taken over the city.  The Frank family—Otto, Edith, Anne, 13, and her older sister Margot—trudge up the stairs first led by Mr. Kraler, an employee of Otto Frank’s business, the one who is providing the sanctuary.    

The Franks are followed by the arrival of Peter van Daan the teenage son of Otto’s business partner. Then Mr. van Daan shows up with his wife and the seven are assembled.  All removed their outer clothing soaked from the rain with each wearing a yellow Star of David identifying them as Jews. 
Miep Gies, also an employee, and Mr. Kraler will deliver food daily to the group. 

Small makeshift bedrooms are assigned. Otto barks out the rules.  While workmen spend the day below, no noise can be made until 6 p.m.  Shoes must be off, no coughing, no use of water, no flushing toilets.  Their very lives depend on not being discovered.
Miep brings another member to the group who needs to hide out—a dentist named Mr. Dussel who is allergic to Peter’s cat and shares a tiny bedroom with Anne.

Though we know the sorrowful ending, we are able to watch and listen to the hopes and dreams of these individuals as the months go by unaware of their fate and how interactions among family members and between the others in the annex are affected by their hiding out in such close quarters.  Nerves get frayed.  Yet some relationships even tighten. Food is shared but one of the people is caught cheating.
They carry on as one big family, even celebrating Chanukah with Anne doling out improvised gifts to her family.  However, along the way, we learn that their secret may have been compromised.

When Miep runs up the stairs to announce Normandy has been invaded and liberation may be near, the occupants all rejoice and celebrate.  By contrast, not long later, that suspected betrayal was realized when two Nazi storm troopers barged in, clicked their heels, and without anyone saying a word, the occupants raised their hands and followed the uniformed troopers down the stairs in an absolutely chilling scene.

Photo: Stan Barouh

As stated earlier, the performances by the actors are high quality.  Playing the role of the perky and optimistic Anne Frank, Carolyn Faye Kramer is phenomenal.  She is the focus of the play, of course, but her relationships with other members of her family and the van Daan family provide much of the drama and dialogue. 

Anne is at one time jealous of her older sister Margot, played by Dani Stoller, but then grows closer during their period of hiding.  Inevitably, she develops an attraction for the reserved Peter van Daan (Alex Alferov), a slightly older teenager, who lacks self-confidence and questions his Judaism.
Brigid Cleary as Anne and Margot’s mother Edith is a standout.  Edith outwardly worries about the fate of the family more than anyone and that concern is evident throughout. Ms. Cleary conveys these emotions realistically in her dialogue and movements on the stage.  

Also very strong is Olney veteran Paul Morella as Otto.  He is the leader of the group and tries to keep it all together.  Mr. Morella gives an incredibly moving epilogue whereby he explains how Otto was the sole survivor; everybody including Anne died when they were in various concentration camps.   He delivers this soliloquy with unbridled emotion—eyes tearing, lips quivering and voice shaking. 
As the van Daan parents who are involved in more of the conflicts, Eric Hissom and Susan Rome portray their roles well.  Their scene in which Mr. van Daan insists that his wife relinquish the fur coat her father gave her because they are in dire need of money and her reluctance to do so is potent.

Rounding out the cast are Michael Russotto as Mr. Dussel, Kimberly Schraf as Miep Gies, and Edward Christian as Mr. Kraler.
Anne’s final words on the stage represent her final entry in the diary dated July 15, 1944:

“It's difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”
This, in essence, sums up the positive spirit of Anne Frank that is communicated so adeptly in this exceptionally well-directed and performed play. It should not be missed.

Running time.  Two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission.
The Diary of Anne Frank runs through October 23 at the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832. Tickets may be purchased by calling 301-924-3400 or by visiting online .  

Saturday, September 17, 2016

A Divine ‘Sister Act’ at Toby’s


Cast performing "Take Me to Heaven"
Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography
Many musicals contain broad societal themes or historical events as the backdrop for the production.  Sister Act is not one of them. Instead, the musical takes the audience on a jolly, at times silly, feel-good journey that demonstrates how people can change for the better if given the right environment and support.
With music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater and a book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, Sister Act is based on the successful 1992 movie of the same name that starred Whoopi Goldberg.   The musical production opened in 2009 and received five Tony Award nominations in 2011.

Under the meticulous direction of Lawrence B. Munsey (who also teamed with Mary Quinn for the glorious costumes); solid musical direction of Ross Scott Rawlings; imaginative and clever choreography of Helen Hayes Award winner Mark Minnick; and a high-energy, talented company, Sister Act, currently playing at Toby’s The Dinner Theatre of Columbia, serves up a tasty production that is matched only by its scrumptious buffet. 

There is an abundance of comedy that will keep you laughing heartily. The up-tempo songs are toe-tapping with some powerfully delivered ballads in the mix.  The influence of disco, Philly soul and gospel is evident in Mr. Menken’s score. A few of the songs are of the show-stopping variety and are performed exceptionally by skilled vocalists.  Mr. Rawlings’ six-piece orchestra is well-balanced in support of the performers without overpowering them.
Set in 1977 Philadelphia, the Whoopi Goldberg in this production is Ashley Johnson as Deloris Van Cartier, an aspiring disco diva who ends up in hiding at a convent when her married club-owning gangster boyfriend, Curtis Jackson (DeCarlo Raspberry) and three buffoon-like accomplices Joey, Pablo and TJ (talented Russell Sunday, Moses Bernal and Tobias Young, respectively) find out she’s squealed to the cops about his murdering one of his cronies.  And the quest for Curtis to find her is on.

At the convent, Deloris meets up with the rigid, no-nonsense Mother Superior (Lynn Sharp-Spears) where their backgrounds, personalities and religious values clash but mostly in a light manner laced with sarcasm.  Deloris brings to the convent her streetwise persona, plenty of sass, and an irreverent view of religion and is frustrated by the convent’s restricting rules.
She also brings a ton of singing talent to help the other sisters transform their hapless choir into one that is adding more folks to the pews and more dollars to the collection plate.  This is significant because the financially-strapped church in need of repairs is being coveted by an unseen “bachelor couple who deals with antiques and lean on each other for support.” (Well, it IS musical theatre!)

Deloris also finds the meaning of true friendship as she engages with the other sisters.  From them Deloris ultimately finds a higher purpose to her life and that they are not much different from her.
Without question, Ms. Johnson (Memphis, The Wiz, The Color Purple) as Deloris turns in a star-quality performance.  She offers the right amount of sass in her dialogue, showcases her comedic skills with spot-on timing and body language, and Lord, can she sing!

Commanding a rich soprano voice that grew stronger as the show progressed the night it was reviewed, Ms. Johnson excelled from the opening numbers “Take Me to Heaven” and “Fabulous Baby” to “Raise Your Voice” and “Sister Act.”
The romantic interest is “Sweaty Eddie” Souther, played by Hasani Allen, a dorky, klutzy (sometimes a bit too much) policeman whom she knew in high school.  Eddie is assigned to protecting her from Curtis.  His big number “I Could Be that Guy” is strong and emotional and well-delivered.  That number is enhanced by a wonderful double-breakaway costume.

Ashley Johnson singing "Raise Your Voice"
Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography
As the deadpan Mother Superior, Ms. Sharp-Spears is the perfect foil for Deloris.  Their repartee provides many of the laughs in the show with each feeding off each other proficiently. “Here Within These Walls” and “I Haven’t Got a Prayer” ably showcase Ms. Sharp-Spears’ solid soprano voice.
Mr. Raspberry as the show’s antagonist Curtis shines in “When I Find My Baby” aided by his three aforementioned cohorts.  He repeats that number in the second act as a solo very movingly demonstrating his rich baritone vocals.

A young apostolate in the convent, Sister Mary Robert played tenderly by Teresa Danskey, takes the leap from being shy to confident thanks to her bonding with Deloris.  Her soaring performance of “The Life I Never Led” that depicts this discovery is one of the production’s highlights.
The remainder of the company supports the leads effectively in the musical numbers with their vocals and dancing.  Mr. Minnick’s creative choreography is exemplified in the revival-like finale, the reprise of “Raise Your Voice.”

Other notable performers include the comedic Robert Biedermann 125 as Monsignor O’Hara, Jeffrey Shankle as Ernie, Amy Haynes as Sister Mary Patrick, Lynne Sigler as Sister Mary Lazarus, and the always enjoyable Jane C. Boyle as Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours.
Rounding out the company are Mary Kate Brouillet, Coby Kay Callahan, Erica Clare, Andre Hinds, David Jennings, Rachel Kemp, Santina Maiolatesi, Darren McDonnell, and Elizabeth Rayca.  The swings are Tina DeSimone and A.J. Whittenberger.

David Hopkins’ set and lighting design works well in Toby’s in-the-round theater.  There are a fair amount of scene changes from bars to the convent utilizing a variety of moveable props. The staging for the scene changes is smooth and seamless.  The best set is the depiction of the church’s chapel complete with stained glass windows along the walls of the theater as well as candles and candle chandeliers.
Costumes designed by Mr. Munsey and Ms. Quinn are fabulous.  From tight disco dresses to various sets of habits for the sisters (black, white and red) and even pajamas to polyester suits, the costumes hit the mark.  #hocoarts

Sister Act is an enjoyable, uplifting musical that, praise the Lord, will surely entertain you.  Don’t miss it.
Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes with an intermission.

Sister Act at Toby’s The Dinner Theatre of Columbia runs through November 13.  For tickets and information, call 410-730-8311 or visit online.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Transgender Woman Murdered in Baltimore


Crystal Edmonds  Photo Courtesy of WBAL-TV
Crystal Edmonds, 32, a transgender woman, died the afternoon of September 16 from a gunshot wound she received to the back of her head at 3:18 a.m.   She was found on the sidewalk at the 3600 block of Fairview Avenue in Northwest Baltimore, according to T.J. Smith, Baltimore City Police spokesman, and taken to a hospital where she died.
Police do not know the motive or why Edmonds was in the area at the time and will investigate.  Police are canvassing the area.

With Sgt. Kevin Bailey, the police liaison to the LGBT community, at his side, Smith said at a news conference at the scene that day that anyone who could commit this heinous crime could do it again.  Bailey has already met with and spoken to advocates of the LGBT community concerning this crime.  Smith said  that the “transgender community is sometimes a vulnerable community, sometimes targeted by people.”
Local activist Merrick Moses posted on Facebook, “Anyone in the community feeling overwhelmed by the violent loss of another of our sisters can reach out to Hearts & Ears. Black Transmen Inc. member Ken Jiretsu has volunteered to keep the doors of Hearts and Ears open for extended hours t​o ​provide peer support from 6-9 p.m. this evening for community to process. A counselor will be available during those hours for added support.​ Hearts & Ears is located at
611 Park Ave​nue, Suite A​, Baltimore, MD​ 21202​. “


Police are asking for the public and community’s help. A reward of up to $2,000 is being offered for information that leads to an arrest and indictment. Anyone with information is asked to call police at 410-396-2100 or Metro Crime Stoppers at 866-7LOCKUP, or text a tip to 443-902-4824.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

County Executive Balks at Transgender Guidelines


A.A. Co. Executive Steven R. Schuh
While acknowledging that all students in Anne Arundel County public schools deserve the support to reach their potential, County Executive Steven R. Schuh along with Education Officer Amalie E. Brandenburg sent a letter  to Stacey Korbelak, President of the Board of Education stating the board went too far in establishing guidelines to support transgender students.
“We believe that all students facing challenges should be offered reasonable accommodations, and we support several of the accommodations proposed by the board for transgender students, including use of preferred names and alternative bathroom arrangements,” the letter stated. “However, we do not support unnecessary and extreme accommodations that would have negative impacts on other students.”

Schuh is particularly concerned about guidelines that allow for transgender students to participate in single-sex athletic teams, use locker rooms and bathrooms and sleep in overnight situations with the gender a student identifies with rather than their biological gender.
He accused the board of “extreme overreaction” to a letter from the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education issued in May that directed public schools to use restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.  Last month, a Federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked that directive. Schuh pointed out that such guidance is not binding.

“What Trans kids need most is to be included and treated like any other kids of their gender identity,” said Mary Moore, President of PFLAG-Annapolis/Anne Arundel County. “The county executive is promoting fear of hypothetical situations which are ridiculous.  We see through this smoke screen for bigotry against the Trans community and the supportive, inclusive guidelines published by AACPS.”
Students have also pushed back against the county executive’s criticism of the guidelines. “We are offended that anyone could ever think that the contents of a child's ‘underroos’ constitutes a situation of concern or an appropriate topic of political discussion,” Scott Howarth, an Arundel High School student and president of the Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils, told the Board on September 7.

“We applaud the school system’s bravery in the face of controversy and gloominess to do the right thing, even if a noisy minority insists it’s not the popular thing to do,” Howarth said.   

Saturday, September 03, 2016

It Ain’t Over Till it’s Over!


 
Politics is like sports in so many ways.  We have seen a boxer glide through a match racking up wins each round only to let his guard down and be clocked by his opponent and knocked out in a later round.   #hocopolitics
In baseball recently, the Colorado Rockies were on the way to a three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers, pummeling the National League West leaders 7-1 and 8-0.  In the third game, the Rockies were up 8-2 going into the 8th inning.  They thought they had it nailed down.  The Dodgers had different ideas and scored 3 in the 8th and 5 in the 9th to pull out an astounding and unexpected 10-8 victory.

Of course, there have been thousands of other examples of come-from-ahead losses in sports as well as politics.  In Maryland, the 2014 gubernatorial race had the Lieutenant Governor, Democrat Anthony Brown, fresh off a decisive primary victory, and in this very blue state, his campaign felt it was a lock.
He took off a month after the June primary, employed a ridiculous campaign strategy, and elevated a little-known Republican who never held an elected office in his life to become a credible candidate.  The upshot was that many Democratic voters stayed home allowing Larry Hogan to win in shocking fashion, which impacted at least one key down ballot race.

The lesson in all this is never assume anything, never take anything for granted, work your butt off, and never let up.  Because as the great philosopher Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Hillary Clinton, please pay attention.  You are giving the real impression, correct or not, that you are coasting and that could be costly—not only in terms of your losing your last shot to make history but by allowing the most unfit, dangerous, bigoted, ill-informed, erratic, insufferable, self-absorbed, unqualified con artist to take the reins of our nation.  So it is not just about you, Secretary Clinton. All of us who love our country have a stake in not allowing this man, Donald Trump, to ever become president.

Ever since the conventions, Trump as stolen most of the news. His campaign is the lead in most broadcasts when they move from weather disasters to politics.  That’s not always a good thing for him because of his numerous unforced errors of which many are cringe-worthy.
Nonetheless, he is giving the impression that he’s trying hard and making some inroads in polls as you have remained in the background.  Any news about you is tied to controversies over “those damn emails” and the Clinton Foundation entanglements with the State Department.

Of course, fundraising is crucial. By staying largely out of sight, however, you’re feeding into the ludicrous, fabricated narrative that you lack stamina and are in poor health.  Don’t let the Trump camp “swift boat” you on that one. 
To right the ship and to prevent an utter disaster, for what it’s worth, I have some suggestions for you and your campaign.

Be visible. You have the lowest favorability rating in your career and fortunately Trump is considered even less trustworthy.  It’s hard to repair such damage but engaging with the voters and presenting a positive rationale for your presidency could help. 
Also, hold a press conference or two.  They are making hay with a countdown of how many days you have gone since the last one.  Why should Trump be the only one to receive free media?

You’re a seasoned pol who has ably withstood tough questions from the press (and investigators).  By avoiding such encounters, it reinforces the trustworthiness problem.  This is an example of how being too cautious could backfire. Surely, if Trump is described as being “presidential” (by his own spinmeisters) just for ambling up to a podium, you can demonstrate your gravitas by taking on the media.   
Debate prep.  I understand that much of your time spent out of camera range has been devoted to preparing for the debates.  It’s a good idea to be ready as these confrontations will undoubtedly be the best chance for either candidate to seal the deal.

I do hope you’re not spending too much of your valuable time on policy. As we know, Trump is weak on all areas of policies and if pushed to deal with them, he will come off as a high schooler who didn’t do his homework.  You will clean his clock on all matters of policy because you are coherent and have deep knowledge in all facets.
However, this is not a policy election; it is a personality election. Many people who say they’re voting for Trump are doing so not because they like him, but they detest you.  The same goes for your supporters including high profile Republicans.  They will vote for you because they don’t want to see Trump as President.  This has more to do with the individuals involved and not so much differences in policy.

The one strategy that you are employing that is extremely effective is to continue to paint Trump as unfit to be commander-in-chief.  During the debates you should work on getting under Trump’s skin.  Senator Elizabeth Warren has been successful in that regard so you should consult with her.
Trapping Trump during the debates and plucking his nerves will play into your strategy.  He will be frustrated, and because he can’t control himself without a script, he will likely implode in front of tens of millions of voters.  You will then have several “there you go again” moments to reinforce his unfitness for office.

I realize your schedule will get busier on Labor Day and beyond and we will see more of you.  The election is too close for comfort to assume you will win.  A lot of things can happen between now and November that can change on a dime.  History has shown that it ain’t over till it’s over.
Therefore, my advice is to assume you are tied and go gangbusters to grab the win.  The country needs you to win. The world needs you to win. 

Good luck.

Friday, September 02, 2016

DOJ Report Spurs Baltimore Police LGBT Advisory Council


“In 2013, I was sitting on the steps on the 2000 block of Maryland Avenue drinking lemonade. A Baltimore police officer asked me where I lived and asked for ID, which wasn’t with me at the time.  She said that if I were lying she’d take me in.  She then asked my name and if it was an alias.  I asked the officer questions but she wouldn’t answer. The officer said that she was going to ride around the block and if I was still there, she’d take me in.”

Monica Yorkman, a black transwoman and activist, has told this story and others many times before.  The point of this account is that the police assume if one is a transwoman of color, she must be a prostitute. 
This lack of respect towards transgender individuals and the way police interact with this group was echoed in the Department of Justice (DOJ) report issued last month that heavily criticized the tactics of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD).

Yorkman, 62, related this incident to members of the Baltimore Police Commissioner’s LGBT Advisory Council on August 31 during a community listening session at Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse in Baltimore’s Station North neighborhood. The meeting was impelled by the findings in the DOJ report with the main goal for community members to speak directly to the Council regarding their concerns and ideas for improvement.
Co-chaired by Mark J. McLaurin and Laura DePalma, the Council posted on its new Facebook page announcing the meeting, “We will use information gathered from the community to better prepare the Commissioner and command staff to be responsive to the needs of the LGBTQ community.”

Within a week of the report’s release and prior to the listening session, the Council held an emergency meeting to discuss “how to use the findings of the report to enact systemic and cultural change within BPD. Of particular concern to all members were the specific findings with regards to intolerable policing practices and manifest insensitivity directed towards members of Baltimore’s transgender and gender non-conforming community.”

Monica Yorkman speaking at one of the vigils for the Orlando massacre
Photo: Bob Ford
Around 20 attended the listening session including members of the council and community with several, in addition to Yorkman, sharing personal stories describing encounters with BPD that indicated the police’s desire to exercise power and control.    
The session, facilitated by Associate Professor of Law Odeanna R. Neal of the University of Baltimore, was a far-ranging discussion that covered such topics as the impending consent decree being worked on by DOJ lawyers and Baltimore to bring about police reforms, potential obstacles by the Fraternal Order of Police, the composition of the civilian review board, building coalitions with other organizations, and leveraging lawmakers in Annapolis to exempt Baltimore City from statewide police policies.

The Advisory Council was formed in June 2013 under then Commissioner Anthony W. Batts.  Though the Council met regularly, information stemming from those meetings was scarce.  The revamped Council, spurred on by the DOJ report, intends to play a more active, transparent role in helping to bring about change.
Its mission is to: 1) improve police relations with LGBT residents and communities in Baltimore City with respect to courtesy, service, fair treatment and cultural sensitivity; and 2) improve the working environment for LGBT officers and professional staff with respect to opportunity, equity and morale.

The Commissioner appears to be a willing partner.  “Kevin Davis wants to work with the community,” said Shane Bagwell, a member of the Council and a representative of the State’s Attorney’s Office.  Others on the Council concurred.   
Besides McLaurin, DePalma (FreeState Justice) and Bagwell, the Council currently consists of the following:

Lamont Bryant and Gabrielle Mnkande (Star Track at UMD), Sgt. Kevin Bailey (BPD LGBT Liaison), Merrick Moise (State’s Attorney’s Office), Vann Michael Millhouse (Baltimore Trans-Masculine Alliance), and Carlton Smith (Center for Black Equity).
A town hall meeting will be set up with Commissioner Davis and appropriate command staff in the near future.  It will afford an opportunity for community members to speak to leadership on what must be done moving forward to mend the Department’s relationship with the community.

The Council can be emailed directly at bpdlgbt@gmail.com. to bring to the attention instances of police misconduct or to provide constructive feedback on the Council's work.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Gay Businessman Coping with Losses From Ellicott City Flood

Sam Coyne helping other shop owners in the aftermath of the flood.
Photo: Sally Fox Tennant
Sam Coyne and his husband Josh Haupt were heading to their nearby home just as record-breaking amounts of rain began to deluge Ellicott City’s historic Main Street on July 30. 
Coyne, the owner of Craig Coyne Jewelers, was notified by his alarm company that his store had been flooded.  The business, which he started nearly 17 years ago in Ellicott City, was moved to a new location in 2014 at 8133 Main St. in a renovated historic stone building with Wedgwood blue doors, trimming, and flower pots on the exterior.
The couple, who were married last fall in Ellicott City, immediately turned back and ran down to help people.  “There was screaming and sparks, the smell of gas and refuse,” Coyne said.  “We were able to help three women, three dogs and a cat, which we feel really good about.”

Only recently was Coyne permitted to return to the store and assess the damage.  Before that, his access was limited.  #hococommunity
“Our building is one of the original stone structures in town and while tiny, it is made finely of granite mined in the hills of the town we call home,” he says.  “A small wooden addition and a small deck on the backside we think cannot be salvaged.  All showcases, glass, windows, doors, flooring and ceiling are in need of extensive repair or replacement.”
Customer jewelry had been secured in a 3,000 pound vault that is now standing upright on a layer of mud.  The jewelry contained in showcases is a different matter. 

Recently, Coyne was able to retrieve security footage from his store that dramatically reveals the onset of the flooding and the interior damage that resulted. The video was shown on WBAL-TV. 
Last Tuesday, Coyne and Haupt, who is also his business partner, met with the insurance inspector and structural engineer.  “The building's foundation is not damaged,” Coyne says.  “The entire first level will be gutted including the floor rafters, flooring, walls and ceiling.”

Sam Coyne
Howard County government is not allowing any private companies to do work until about September 16.  Public Utilities are shoring up everything first. Work at individual properties cannot begin until after the street is opened, according to Coyne.
They are taking a direct financial hit from this flood. “Our secondary insurance coverage is not paying, saying, ‘The first occurrence must be an insurable event before secondary coverage begins.’  So all the jewelry that washed away, the display, glass, lighting, showcases, gem equipment, computers, security system, vault, jeweler’s tools, etc. come with a direct cost to us.  We are approaching $500,000 in loss.  Our big question, raise the money to rebuild or raise the money to move on.”

To help pay for Coyne’s losses, Lori Gadola of Kelim Jewelry, launched a GoFundMe page.
“We are now questioning the economic viability of Historic Ellicott City,” Coyne muses.  “Without any answers we are unable to move forward so we continue to pay all our expenses hoping to survive until the town can be rebuilt.”

Monday, August 22, 2016

Lively 'Man of La Mancha' at Beth Tfiloh Community Theatre


Photo: Rina Goloskov
If my memory serves me correctly, and it’s been quite awhile, the Spanish Inquisition was not a pleasant period. There was an abundance of greed, cynicism, hostility, violence and yes, torture.  That era during the 16th century serves as the backdrop for the five-time Tony Award winning musical Man of La Mancha that first produced in 1965.  The quest to better the world against all odds is the central theme.  #hocoarts
Man of La Mancha, a favorite production among professional and community theatres alike, is making an all too brief appearance at Beth Tfiloh Community Theatre.  Through the years, Beth Tfiloh has been consistent in mounting well-performed musicals drawing on a wide swath of mainly young talent from the Baltimore area.  Under the direction of Diane M. Smith, the current production is no exception.

Noted for its popular standards, “The Impossible Dream” and “Dulcinea,” Man of La Mancha with music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion and a book by Dale Wasserman, is a play within a play. 

Tax collector Miguel de Cervantes and his manservant are tossed into a dungeon “common room” awaiting trial by the Inquisition. They were charged with foreclosing on a church for not paying taxes.  Lugging all their belongings down the stairs into the room, the other prisoners ferociously seized them but Cervantes pleaded with them not to destroy a carefully wrapped package containing a manuscript. 
A mock trial is to take place where his guilt is presumed and all the possessions would be turned over.  As a defense, Cervantes proposes that he enacts a play with the help of the other prisoners.  One of them, The Governor, agrees, and that sets in motion the primary storyline.

For this play, Cervantes creates the character Alonso Quijana, an elderly man so filled with idealism he becomes a bit “mad”.  He sees himself as a knight-errant and renames himself Don Quixote. Along with his loyal sidekick Sancho Panza, Don Quixote obsessively sets out to find the good in a world filled with darkness and pessimism. 
During this journey, the delusional but well-intentioned Don Quixote mistakes a windmill for a giant and a roadside inn as a castle. There he meets a broken and bitter harlot named Aldonza whom he calls Dulcinea.  He woos her with kindness and chivalry but she is too jaded to appreciate the gestures. 

The obstacles Quixote has to navigate from cynical individuals to abusive muleteers form the core of the story with a beautiful array of songs and a dose of comedy to carry the plot to its sad ending.
As the lead, Jim Knost performs lustily and with feeling. Don Quixote is an underdog, and Mr. Knost elicits empathy for the character with his acting skills. His big number “The Impossible Dream” where he lays out to Dulcinea his dream, his mission in life, is delivered with a tuneful richness using his strong baritone voice.

Perhaps symbolic of his character’s challenges throughout the plot, Mr. Knost’s “unbeatable foe” was the flawed operation of his mic during the first half of the show and then again in the final 10 minutes.  This was an unfortunate development especially for the lead, but undoubtedly it will be remedied in the subsequent productions.

Jim Knost as Don Quixote Photo: Rina Goloskov
An outstanding performance is given by Kerry Jungwirth as Aldonza/Dulcinea, a prostitute who is abused by the local muleteers.  Her self-esteem barely exists until she meets Don Quixote.
Musically she is top rate showcasing her lovely soprano voice in “It’s All The Same,” “What Does He Want of Me,” and “Aldonza” among others.  Ms. Jungwirth’s acting prowess is quite evident as her character runs the gamut of emotions in her encounters with Quixote.  Clearly a polished performer, Ms. Jungwirth adds quality to the production.

As Sancho Panza, Carl Oppenheim plays the loyal squire effectively. He performs several solos including the cute number “I Really Like Him,” where he tries to explain to Aldonza why he doggedly follows Quixote.
A fine performance is turned in by Allie McLoughlin as Antonia, Don Quixote’s niece.  She shines in “I’m Only Thinking of Him” using her bright soprano voice.

The entire company help make this an enjoyable production with some playing multiple roles.  Among them are Anthony Case, Hillel Strutman, Dylan Margolis, Patrick Chaney, Noah Broth, Ethan Cuttler, Ian Smith, Dorian Smith, Josh Schoff, Hannah Elliott, Yehudit Varon, and Sharon Byrd.  
All are fitted in splendid, imaginative period costumes (including horses) deftly designed by Nicole Smith. The mirror shield costumes worn later in the show stand out.

The seven-piece orchestra led by Chris Rose is excellent in executing the rich score and not overwhelming the vocalists.
Evan Margolis designed the set consisting mainly of stone walls to denote the dungeon’s stark common room.  Yet, with the movement of a few props and furniture pieces and Elan Hamburger’s well designed lighting, the multiple scene changes are seamless and efficient.

The presentation of Man of La Mancha by Beth Tfiloh Community Theatre is expertly directed, well staged and performed competently by an energetic cast with some standout vocal performances.  Using beautiful melodies, the story exemplifies the human spirit with one man’s quest against all odds to right the wrongs of which there were many.  It is worth a visit, but hurry, and follow that star.
Running time. One hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.

Man of La Mancha runs through August 24 at the Mintzes Theatre/Rosen Arts Center located at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, 3300 Old Court Rd., Pikeville, MD 21208.  Tickets can be reserved by visiting online Tickets will also be available at the door.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Chase Brexton CEO, Firings Assailed at Protest



Photo: Bob Ford
Ten days after the fifth manager at Chase Brexton Health Care was abruptly fired, a spirited protest and rally was held in front of the headquarters building on Charles and Chase Streets.  The crowd that numbered well over a hundred crammed that corner on a sun-baked late August 19 afternoon, waving signs and chanting slogans, such as “Patient Lives Matter.”
Prior to the rally, Chase Brexton had closed its doors to patients without advance notice.  “I was here to pick up medication and have lab work done, but when I showed up, the center was closed because of the protest,” said Dave Spellman.

The grievances leveled at Chase Brexton’s CEO Richard Larison and the organization’s management team centered on the firings of five long-standing professional managers because, according to the protesters, it was an attempt to intimidate other employees leading up to a union vote, which management opposes.  In addition, these individuals who were terminated had provided quality health care services to a multitude of patients, many of whom are low income transgender individuals who have no other access to health care.
The crowd consisted largely of Chase Brexton patients and clients, employees, representatives from the Service Employees International Union 1199 (SEIU), activists and supporters.  Speaker after speaker from various connections to the care provided at the 38-year-old institution—originally  founded as a health clinic for gay men—and perspectives on the situation were consistent in aiming their remarks at the removal of Larison, the rehiring of the five managers and deploring the potential poor quality of health care and services stemming from these terminations.

Organizer Kate Sumiko Bruce  Photo: Bob Ford

The speakers, which included such elected officials as State Senator Rich Madaleno and Delegate Mary Washington, were mostly clients or patients at Chase Brexton and told personal, often moving stories of how Chase Brexton’s providers gave them hope.

Some were particularly effective in firing up the crowd.  Monica Yorkman, a transgender activist, warned that the direction Chase Brexton’s management was taking would turn the institution into a “generic-ass hospital.”
Kate Sumiko Bruce, who is a patient at Chase Brexton, started organizing the protest, and the SEIU and Baltimore Transgender Alliance contributed to the organizing. Kate’s spouse, Reece Bruce, a transgender man, is also a patient.  
 

“I organized the protest after discovering that my provider had been one of the employees fired for attempting to organize a union at Chase Brexton,” Kate, who emceed the rally, said. “I am hoping to get the attention of not only the community and media, but also of the board. I want those with power within Chase Brexton to know that the current CEO must be replaced, that those fired need to be rehired, and that bullying and union busting will not be tolerated in Baltimore. We patients love our providers and the staff at Chase Brexton and want to support them. They have been there for us so it's our turn to be there for them!”

Two of the fired five: Jill Crank (L.) and Catherine Fowler
Photo: Bob Ford
SEIU organizer Brian Owens agreed. “We’re bringing the community and patients together to bring pressure on the Board of Directors to stop their intimidation against the workers and rehire the fired workers.”
The previous day, Becky Frank, Chase Brexton’s Vice President of Development and Marketing, issued a statement “acknowledging the period of rapid change in order to ensure our long-term viability” and does not believe that “the SEIU is the right long-term solution for Chase Brexton.”  No mention was made of the five fired workers in the statement.  

Jill Crank, Assistant Medical Director and Nurse Practitioner, was one of the fired five and the provider for many in the crowd.  They  gave her as well as Catherine Fowler, another fired manager, a rousing ovation at the end of the rally.

“The act of firing five compassionate and dedicated employees singlehandedly destroyed the trust between Chase Brexton and the community it serves,” she said. “It sent a signal that employees are disposable and replaceable, as well as the relationships they built with their patients and community organizations.”
She added, “Dedication to the LGBT community and Chase Brexton’s mission means recognizing the talent and energy of the people who work on the ground level, and respecting their voices at the workplace negotiating table. After all, it is these individuals who have earned the trust of our patients, one by one.”

The Baltimore Transgender Alliance, led by executive director Ava Pipitone, summed up the sentiments of the protesters in a statement.

“On August 19th, the Baltimore Transgender Alliance and our allies are joining forces to rally in support of the Chase Brexton workers’ right to unionize. The rally’s purpose is twofold: both to lift the voices of Chase Brexton employees and the communities that Chase Brexton serves, and to stand united as transgender residents of Baltimore and demand the services we deserve.

“Chase Brexton is one of the only places where low-income transgender and non-binary people in Maryland can access care. However, for two years, CEO Richard Larison’s policies have undermined worker’s efforts. As we face systemic injustice based on intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality, we need and deserve quality care.

“In response, Chase Brexton workers are unionizing. After Larison became aware of these efforts to organize, he and his administration laid off five employees. Some of these workers have decades of experience working with clients; they are integral to HIV care and essential to transgender care. Many people lost providers that they had been with for years, and that trust is not easily re-earned.

Photo: Bob Ford
“This is an attack on the workers of Chase Brexton, and that is an attack on our community. Firings and policy changes in care for marginalized communities replicates the very systems of oppression Chase Brexton was founded to address. This rally follows the Department of Justice’s damning report on the Baltimore Police Department’s systemic dehumanization and harassment of transgender persons, especially transgender women of color. We have to fight for what seems a given to non-marginalized communities. We are fighting and standing strong with those who support us.

“We demand that Larison be removed as CEO. We demand that the “fired five” are rehired. We demand that Chase Brexton workers are given their right to unionize. We demand that Chase Brexton’s policies prioritize the quality of care that we deserve.”

Throughout the rally, dozens of cars and trucks driving up Charles Street honked their horns in support of the protesters.  In addition, a letter signed by ten Maryland legislators denouncing the firings was delivered to Larison and his management team just prior to the rally.
A vote for those eligible employees to join the union will take place August 25.

The next day, Kate Sumiko Bruce told supporters on Facebook, “Yesterday was not the end. We're gonna keep fighting until the protest demands are met.”

UPDATE:

By a vote of 87 to 9 on Aug.25, employees of Chase Brexton Health Care voted to join the 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East labor union. 

An attempt to postpone the vote by Chase Brexton management was unsuccessful as the National Labor Relations Board did not act on a request to investigate charges by the health care nonprofit that management and supervisors along with the union had interfered with the election process.

I am overwhelmed, crying tears of joy,” said Kate Sumiko Bruce, who is a patient at Chase Brexton and who helped organize the protest against Chase Brexton last Friday.
 
I look forward to positive changes for staff and patients and hope for rehiring of those fired.”
 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Why Trump’s Purple Heart Comment is the Most Disqualifying


During Donald Trump’s quest to become the next President of the U.S., he has said a cornucopia of things and acted in such ways that would have disqualified any normal candidate for the highest position in the land.  By now we are aware of his misogynist and anti-Hispanic comments that darkened the sky at the outset of his campaign that should have disqualified him. We witnessed his boorish, self-centered behavior during the primary debates that exhibited a profound lack of even basic knowledge of government and policy that should have derailed his bid.  #hocopolitics
Yet, during and since the conventions—a period that should have been used to remedy his gaffes and his obvious flaws and to make himself viable—Trump has succeeded to be breathtakingly unfit for the office.  His convention was an ego-driven bunch of nonsense capped off by a searing, anger-laden speech that depicted an America that is on par with North Korea.

Since then Trump was even worse.  His ill-advised scrap with the sympathetic Khan family was, in my view, the turning point of the campaign.  This is when leaders of his own party as well as conservative operatives and opinion writers began an exodus from his camp.
Then there was more.  His supposed sarcastic suggestion that Russia, an adversary, hack into Hillary Clinton’s emails.  If a Democrat would have encouraged such action, Trump would have been sure to charge treason. 

His 2nd amendment cure to stop Clinton’s appointing judges he does not favor was beyond irresponsible as well as dangerous given the hatred embodied by his dwindling number of supporters.  
Trump’s ridiculously stupid assertion (again he claims he was sarcastic or maybe not) that President Obama was the founder and Hillary Clinton the co-founder of ISIS was another gem.

All of these and so much more (and I haven’t even mentioned his temperament, pathologically narcissistic personality and dubious business history plus his unwillingness to make his tax returns available and his notion that nukes are mere playground toys) are disqualifying enough to be Commander-in-Chief and President of our nation.  However, the one single faux pas that should have immediately disqualified him was his comment about his always wanting the Purple Heart.
The other examples indicate he is a bigoted jerk.  The Purple Heart comment proves he is a stupid one as well because he clearly doesn’t know what the Purple Heart means.
The honor, which actually had its roots during the American Revolution under Continental Army Commander-in-Chief Washington, has been awarded to nearly 2 million Americans since April 5, 1917 who had been wounded or killed in combat against our enemies. It is the oldest military award still given to U.S. service members.

On August 1, Trump said in Virginia after a vet gave him his Purple Heart, “Man that’s like big stuff. I've always wanted to get the real Purple Heart. This was much easier,”  
Trump, who successfully avoided to military draft on five occasions, according to a report in the New York Times, never had the opportunity “to get the real Purple Heart.” 

But wanting one? You have to be wounded or killed in combat!  Who wants to be shot or injured by explosives? That’s akin to “I always wanted to be in a car accident” or “I’d like to experience how it feels to be water boarded (a tactic he strongly endorses).
As someone who fought for our country in Iraq, was injured, and was awarded a Purple Heart, I can tell you, no one should ever wantto get a Purple Heart,Sean Barney, who was shot in the neck in Fallujah in 2006, posted on Facebook.

With so many other Americans receiving the medal for their sacrifice, Trump’s flippant remark displays his arrogance and stupidity all at once. 
He doesn't know what the Purple Heart is for. That alone should disqualify him.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Firings at Chase Brexton Anger Community


From Baltimore to San Francisco, the aftershocks of the firing of five long-term professionals by Chase Brexton Health Care are being felt. The terminations that began August 8 were alleged to be retaliation for their desire to help unionize doctors, social workers and other medical staff within the company or to intimidate workers.  The push to organize is ostensibly related to poor working conditions and increased workloads that hamper patient care.
These actions have set off a wave of anger within the LGBTQ communities with at least one online petition drive underway.

“Chase Brexton fired five employees in an effort to intimidate workers leading up to a union vote,” says the introduction to the petition started by Sam Williamson and has over 1,500 supporters. “The workers are organizing against poor working conditions and policies that threaten patient care. As those patients, we are outraged that the people we depend upon to keep us healthy are being treated in such detrimental ways.”
The statement continues, “Right now, CEO Richard Larison and the executive team of Chase Brexton are failing our communities.”

An official comment from Chase Brexton’s management has not been released, but Becky Frank, vice president of development and marketing, told the Baltimore Sun, “We are fully aware of what is going on here with the union trying to come in. We are fully focused on continuing to provide quality patient care.” 

The workers were seeking to join 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.  The union filed a complaint with the National labor Relations Board accusing Chase Brexton of firing the workers to intimidate other workers.
Quality patient care is the core issue which concerns the community as many low-income transgender individuals would be impacted. 

“The firings in the case management area makes up the majority of what makes Chase LGBT- focused patient care.  It very much what provides the vital parts of trans care,” says a former case manager who asked not to be identified. “Trans people have few options as it is. Getting rid of those people is a direct threat to LGBT care.  The organization would focus on addiction care and heterosexuals only without them.  LGBT care isn't profitable.”
FreeState Justice issued a statement on August 12 that was signed by a dozen local LGBT organizations in response to the firings.

“All too often, LGBTQ folks are left without service providers they can trust. As LGBTQ focused organizations across Maryland, we are deeply concerned that the termination of key Chase Brexton staff members may result in deteriorated trust from the communities we serve. 
It continues, “We also believe that workers’ rights is an LGBTQ issue, and we support the rights of all workers to form a union.  Fostering a healthy work environment is essential to recruiting and retaining the best team possible, which we believe is a key component of countering structural marginalization against the communities we serve.”

The Pride Foundation of Maryland removed Chase Brexton from their safe spaces map until the company “resolves this matter in a way that does not threaten the livelihood of LGBT employees pursuing their legal right to unionize.”
Gilles Lee Stromberg had been a patient at Chase Brexton since 2012, and it remains as the primary care provider.  Then Gilles moved to San Francisco for graduate school. 

My doctor was the last one to give me a hug and well wishes and said if I needed ANYTHING, if I was stranded over here in SF, that they’d hook me up.  At my lowest point, being able to see her I feel really saved my life.”  That person is Jill Crank, who was the fifth person to be fired this week.

A protest has been organized on social media against "Union Busting at Chase Brexton" and will take place in front of the Mount Vernon Center, 1111 N. Charles St. on August 19 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The employees will be voting to join the union on August 25.