Saturday, April 21, 2018

Guy Guzzone Endorses Bob Ford for Howard County Democratic Central Committee

Sen. Guy Guzzone

Maryland State Senator Guy Guzzone endorsed Bob Ford on April 20 for Howard County Democratic Central Committee.  This is the second major endorsement Bob Ford has received this month—the other endorsement  came from former Howard County Executive and State Senator Jim Robey.  #h
“Bob Ford has been a friend and supporter for many years,” Guzzone said.  “He has worked hard and contributed to my campaigns as well as many other Democrats in Howard County. In doing so, the county has shifted from ‘red’ to ‘blue’ over these years.” 

He adds, “Bob shares and represents the values we as progressive Democrats hold dear.  His work on marriage equality is notable as he helped elected officials better understand the issues involved and helped gain support in the legislature and in the county.  Bob has been a terrific asset to the Howard County Democratic Central Committee and I wholeheartedly endorse his election in June.”

Bob Ford
Bob Ford is extremely appreciative of Guy Guzzone’s endorsement.

“I am very grateful for Guy’s support of my candidacy,” Bob Ford said in response.  “Not only do I consider Guy to be a friend, he’s been a progressive leader both in Howard County and in Maryland as a whole. Guy exemplifies what public service should be—doing the most good for the people he serves with their interests first and foremost.  I can’t thank him enough.”

Guy Guzzone has been the State Senator representing District 13 since January 2015. He is a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, Health & Human Services Subcommittee, Pensions Subcommittee, and Senate Chairman of the Joint Audit Committee. 

Prior to that, he was a member of the House of Delegates since January 10, 2007, where he served as Deputy Majority Whip, Chair of the Howard County Delegation, Chair of the Joint Audit Committee, and on the House Appropriations Committee.  From 1998 to 2006, he served as a Howard County Councilman. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Jim Robey Endorses Bob Ford for Howard County Democratic Central Committee

Sen. James N. Robey

On April 11, former Howard County Executive and State Senator James N. Robey endorsed Bob Ford’s bid to remain on the Howard County Democratic Central Committee. #hocopolitics

“I have known Bob Ford for many years and have seen how hard he has worked to elect Democrats in Howard County,” Robey said.  “During the battle for marriage equality, Bob was persuasive in arguing that the time has come for loving same-sex couples to receive the same rights, benefits and responsibilities as other married couples have always enjoyed.  I was happy to support the effort and was one of the principal advocates in the state.”
He adds, “Bob’s hard work and dedication to Democratic, progressive principles make him an outstanding and valuable member of the Howard County Democratic Central Committee, and that is why I am endorsing him in the upcoming election.”

Bob Ford is grateful for Robey’s support. 

Bob Ford
“I am extremely honored to receive this wonderful endorsement from Jim Robey, who has done so much to strengthen the Democratic Party in Howard County through his many years of party building and public service,” Bob Ford said in response. 

“His commitment to fairness and equality was evident as we navigated through the struggle to achieve marriage equality in Maryland.  I can’t thank Jim enough for his friendship and support.”

James Robey’s public service in the county began in 1966 when he joined the Howard County Police Department.  In 1991 he was appointed by then County Executive Charles Ecker to be Chief of Police.  He retired from the police force in 1998 to run for Howard County Executive in 1998.  He was elected in 1998 and re-elected in 2002.

In 2006 Robey ran for State Senator representing District 13 and defeated Republican Sandra Schrader with 56 percent of the vote. In 2010, he was re-elected.  Robey was chosen to replace Robert Garagiola in September 2013 as Senate Majority Leader.  He retired from the Maryland State Senate in January 2015.

According to Vote Smart, an independent non-profit research organization, Robey received a performance evaluation rating of 92 percent in 2011 from Progressive Maryland, a nonprofit, liberal advocacy group that rates legislators based on their positions on social, liberal, and family-related issues.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The MARCH and the Ensuing MADNESS

It is clear that the historic March for Our Lives held around the world on March 24, 2018 was historic. 

Despite’s CBS’ pathetically low-ball estimate of 200,000 in Washington D.C. on Face the Nation, everyone who was there, including me, knows that the organizers’ crowd estimates were north of 800,000.  Whose expertise was CBS employing—Sean Spicer?  #hocopolitics

Nonetheless, the real ugliness in our country had emerged prior to the actual day of the marches and rallies and now, noting the success and the stalwartness of the organizers led in part by Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky and dozens of others, the so-called adults—overwhelmingly Trump supporters based on their Twitter accounts—have taken to cyberbullying to condemn the future leaders of the United States.

Here is an example from one of the turdballs on Twitter, Bill Mitchell.

Mr. Hogg has been lambasted before as his profile skyrocketed following the mass murders in Parkland.  They attacked him for being “coached” and now they’re taking to Twitter to insult his physical appearance.  These are so-called adults!!!!

Ms. Gonzalez has been frequently referred to as a “skinhead lesbian,” and the extreme right has been doctoring photos on social media to present her ripping up the Constitution when in fact, it was a paper target. (see image at Right comparing the two.)

And Cameron Kasky was accused of being a crisis actor, which he famously defanged, “I’ve been acting since Kindergarden in Ms. Blakely’s production of The Rainbow People. I was the narrator and since then I’ve been lucky enough to be in Little Shop of Horrors, Fiddler On The Roof and if you’ve seen those you'd know I’m not somebody who deserves any money for acting,” he said on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Further evidence is here.

All these young people want to do is help prevent other kids from being murdered by gunfire in schools and elsewhere. And they are right to threaten lawmakers with voting them out of office if they don’t take the appropriate action. 

For those noble goals, they become victims of “very fine people” who showed their true colors yet again.  America and the world can see quite vividly who the real adults are and who the real children are.

Monday, March 19, 2018

My Case for LGBT Representation on the Howard County Democratic Central Committee

By Bob Ford

I am running to retain my position on the Howard County Democratic Central Committee.  As such, I am the only openly LGBTQ candidate in the race that consists of 30 candidates.  It is vital that the Central Committee, whose principal task among others is to find and support progressive Democrats, have LGBTQ representation.   #hocopolitics

While others may profess their for support for LGBTQ rights and equality, being actually LGBTQ and having lived through the journey of coming out and dealing with issues that directly impact the LGBTQ population make me uniquely qualified to represent and promote LGBTQ interests.

I am an active member of PFLAG-Howard County and I serve on the Howard County Human Rights Commission, the #OneHoward steering committee and the county executive’s LGBT Round Table.

To be clear, I am in no way suggesting that I be voted to remain on the Central Committee solely because I’m gay. There’s more to me than that.

In addition to being a hard-working, fair-minded, pragmatic and calming voice of reason on the Central Committee these past four years, I had earned my proven progressive bona fides long before the word “progressive” entered our political lexicon.

I am a pro-labor, pro-civil rights, pro-human rights, pro-LGBT rights, pro-choice, pro-gun reform, pro-environment, pro-universal health care, and pro-economic opportunity Democrat ever since I became active in the political process and have never wavered. And I continue to fight for inclusion, openness and equality, not exclusion.

During elections I have been a tireless participant for numerous Democratic candidates and causes by burning shoe leather door-knocking on their behalf, literature dropping, phone banking, envelope stuffing, working the polls, sign holding, marching in neighborhood parades for local Democrats, staffing tables at a spectrum of events, participating in Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and contributing a good deal of money towards candidates’ campaigns.

So, I am not just simply wrapping myself in the rainbow flag.  Yet, for way too long, LGBT people have been marginalized and shunned by the major political parties.  It was not until the Obama presidency when the LGBTQ community was finally invited to the table. I am running to fight for our rightful place.

The LGBTQ community is a key and growing component of the Howard County and Maryland Democratic Party. The latest estimates indicate there are at least 9,000 voters in Howard County who identify as LGBTQ.  Adding in our families, friends, co-workers, neighbors and allies, we have emerged as a potent coalition within the party.

Moreover, Howard County was among the leading jurisdictions in Maryland to have defeated Question 6—a referendum that would have undone the Maryland legislature’s passage of a law that legalized same-sex marriage in 2012—by a significant 59% - 41% margin.  I believe that acceptance of LGBTQ people has further increased over the past six years thus strengthening the LGBTQ coalition.

Despite the important gains stemming from marriage quality and gender identity protections, so much work remains to combat bullying in our schools including cyber bullying, fighting discrimination in the foster care and juvenile justice systems and homelessness among LGBTQ youth, to name a few. These tend to impact transgender individuals the most.

For all these reasons it is imperative that there is a voice on the Howard County Democratic Central Committee to represent our LGBTQ citizens.  This is how Howard County can truly move forward.

Note that I am not seeking or accepting contributions.  Please visit and Like my Facebook page for updates on the campaign and vote for me on June 26.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Preview: Gertrude Stein and a Companion at Fells Point Corner Theatre

Gertrude Stein and a Companion by Win Wells is the bittersweet telling of the love and lives of celebrated writer Gertrude Stein and her life partner Alice Toklas. Winner of Best Play at the Edinburgh Festival, Sydney Theatre Festival, and Vita Award for Best Play in South Africa, this two woman show spans decades and takes on multiple figures in the ladies’ world, from reporters and German soldiers to Hemingway and Picasso.

"The evening is a joy...Brisk, fun and literate." - Gannett Newspapers

"The interplay gives the piece a spark beyond the page. It takes this very specific story and peels off its layers, revealing a fascinating study in human relations, in marriage, in the science of compromise and the art of enduring love." - Chicago Reader

Director Anne Hammontree, along with the talented Marianne Angelella and Andrea Bush, bring Gertrude Stein and a Companion to life. Fells Point Corner Theatre is excited to share this imaginative exploration of love and time, written in homage of Alice’s biting wit, Gertrude’s poetry, and their colorful world that sparked the movement of Modern Art.

Admission: $19 for Sundays, $24 for Fridays/Saturdays.

Dates: Runs through Sunday, March 25th, 2018 at the Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St., Baltimore, MD 21231 Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. There will be a Saturday Matinee on March 10.

*There will also be a Pay What You Can Thursday performance on March 1, which will be an open dress rehearsal.*

For tickets, visit

Monday, March 05, 2018

A ‘Brilliant’ Performance at Olney

Alexander Strain      Photo: Stan Barouh

When one attends the theater with the hope of experiencing some laughter to escape from everyday problems, the last thing you would expect is a play whose underlying theme is depression and suicide.  Yet, Every Brilliant Thing, a play by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe, manages to pull that off. 

Olney Theatre Center’s artistic director Jason Loewith directed this unusual one-man performance starring Alexander Strain that is currently playing in the black box Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at Olney.  The intimate theater is set up with four audience seating sections surrounding a small stage that had, inexplicably, a bunch of Oriental rugs spread on the floor.   #hocoarts

But is it really a one-man show as advertised?  Well, it is if you discount the dozens of audience members who, prior to the show, received directly from the lead performer pieces of paper and other items containing a numerical cue and text with which to participate throughout the play.  These folks either shout out an item from a list of brilliant things in the world or briefly play a character. 

That list had been devised by a boy beginning at age seven after learning of his mother’s attempted suicide. Through the narration by Mr. Strain, we find out that the purpose of the list is to demonstrate that with all the wonders and joys in the world enumerated on it, life is worth living. 

It starts out with childish ideas, such as ice cream and staying up past bedtime.  Then as the play progresses, Mr. Strain moves through adolescence and young adulthood where he adds items.  Peeing in the ocean where nobody will know is such an entry.  Falling in love is another.  So is waking up next to someone. Even “The prospect of dressing up as a Mexican wrestler”—my assigned line—was included as number 777,777.

On and on it goes with audience members reeling off another item. Ultimately he succeeds to form a list nearing the million mark—verbally skipping hundreds of thousands, of course—since it is only a one-hour play.

Yet, it is Mr. Strain, a multiple Helen Hayes Award nominee and one-time Helen Hayes winner, who works with the audience, partly through improvisational quips, that makes the performance so entertaining and sturdy.  Audience members play such roles as a veterinarian who is asked to euthanize the boy’s dog; a teacher who takes her shoe and sock off to create a sock puppet; his father; and his girlfriend then later wife. 

Mr. Strain’s fast-on-his feet retorts and ad libs along with his entering all four sections of the audience at one time or another create a cabaret atmosphere, what with the in-the-round set and the audience involvement.  He exudes warmth, charm and sincerity to augment his well-timed humorous lines while also exhibiting the sorrow his character feels throughout his life to this point. Adding to the superlative performance is Mr. Strain’s high level of energy that provides much action and movement on the stage.

Sprinkled throughout are bits and pieces of music that had an impact on his life adeptly handled by sound designers Jane Behre and Ryan Gravett.

Let’s hand out praise to those audience members who played these characters the evening the play was reviewed.  They’re not actors but seemed to emit the needed pathos when called upon and were convincing.  The rest of the audience was appreciative. Each performance will bring in a new “supporting cast,” which will add a dimension of unpredictability.

Interwoven with the comical features, however, is the reality of mental illness, depression and suicide attempts and how these can affect a family and one’s view of the world and life itself. 

It is during a conversation with his father (Mr. Strain portrayed the father, and an audience member played him as a seven year-old) whereby through a series of “why” questions, the youngster learns from his father his mother’s unhappiness and eventual attempt to hurt herself.  This segment is the most compelling, emotional, gut-wrenching part of the play. 

Photo: Stan Barouh
Noting the sensitivity of the subject matter, the theater’s program contains a page devoted to suicide prevention including a list of resources to consult if an audience member or someone he or she knows is suffering from suicidal thoughts.

But the heaviness of the subject matter does not linger too long as the list continues to be divulged with Duncan Macmillan’s witty words and Mr. Strain’s frolicking delivery creating the needed balance. 

The short play scampers along at a brisk, somewhat frenetic pace.  It is a unique presentation on many levels, and  it is moving as well as entertaining.  You should definitely put  Every Brilliant Thing on your own list of things to do.

Running Time. One hour with no intermission.

Advisory: Every Brilliant Thing contains adult subject matter and is not suitable for children under age 13.

Every Brilliant Thing runs through April 1 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 .  


Olney Theatre Center’s 2018-19 Season


 Music by Richard Rodgers • Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II • Book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan • Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener • Music Direction by Kristen Rosenfeld • Choreography by Darren Lee • Directed by Alan Muraoka




A comedy by James Graham • Directed by Leora Morris




 Book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin • Music by Matthew Sklar • Lyrics by Chad Beguelin • Based on the New Line Cinema film by David Berenbaum • Music Direction by Angie Benson • Choreography by Tara Jeanne Vallee • Directed by Michael Bobbitt




 Book by Enda Walsh • Music and Lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová • Based on the motion picture written and directed by John Carney • Music Direction by Christopher Youstra • Directed and Choreographed by Marcia M. Dodge




 By Ella Hickson • Directed by Tracy Brigden




 By Ken Ludwig • Directed by Jason King Jones

APRIL 10 - MAY 12, 2019 • MAINSTAGE



 Based on the play by Friedrich Schiller • Adapted by Jason Loewith and the company • Directed by Jason Loewith




 Book by Dennis Kelly • Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin

JUNE 21 - JULY 21, 2019 • MAINSTAGE



 By Mike Lew


Sunday, February 18, 2018

10 Hairy Legs Heat Up the Theatre Project

Part of 10 Hairy Legs company.  Photo: Facebook
When I first saw the term “10 Hairy Legs” I thought we were talking about a mutant spider. Then I learned it is the name of an all-male, New Jersey-based repertory American modern dance company that is in the midst of a 10-state national tour with an all-too-brief stop at the Theatre Project in Baltimore.  #hocoarts

Enchanted by the Winter Olympics figure skating competition in the days leading up to the performance reviewed, I envisioned that 10 Hairy Legs (10HL) would be a natural extension of the artistry, gracefulness, poise, power and creativity displayed by Olympics skaters. 

It was. 

While the stage floor of the Theatre Project is not ice and the five good-looking, physically fit young dancers perform in bare feet as opposed to skates, the snowy, frosty night of 10HL’s Baltimore debut felt like it could have been PyeongChang.

Part of 10 Hairy Legs company.  Photo: Facebook
First-rate choreographers David Parker, Megan Williams, Hedi Lansky, Stephen Petronio and Doug Elkins are ingenious in creating five separate selections each with its own identity, movements and expression as well as utilizing their own specific costume designer.  With the five men (not very hairy legs, but so what?) displaying solid form, technique and precision, Exploring the Artistry of the Male Dancer, overseen by veteran 10HL artistic director Randy James, provides an entertaining glimpse into the breadth and inventiveness of American modern dance.

Unlike classical ballet with its specific positions, style and content, American modern dance contains more unstructured, free-wheeling, improvisational movement that allows for an unlimited amount of creativity. In fact, modern dance is often considered to have emerged as a rejection of, or rebellion against classical ballet.

10HL’s opening number (and my favorite) drives home the point.  Aptly titled “Slapstruck,” Derek Crescenti and Jared McAboy are stuck on each other through black Velcro costumes and engage in slapstick combat with rhythmic moves as they try to decouple from one another.  This terrifically comedic sequence absent of any music ends as they manage to strip down to tee shirts and boxers to escape the Velcro connection. 

 Mr. Crescenti and Mr. McAboy then join Alex Biegelson and Robert Mark Burke in “Quadrivium.” The quartet, displaying proficient, fluid technique, splits up in pairs at times during the sequence engaging in rhythmic moves and intricate lifts.

Alexander Olivieri beautifully performs a short solo (“Solo1”) clad only in shorts.  In this unique number, he uses mainly upper body movements while his legs are basically stationary.

Part of 10 Hairy Legs company.  Photo: Facebook
To Rufus Wainwright’s “Oh What a World,” Mr. Biegelson and Mr. Crescenti pair up in “Bud.” Dressed in black half-shirts and bright red shorts, these dancers heat up the stage with a high level of sensuality through a variety of superb moves both on the floor and through lifts and acrobatics.

The glorious finale, “Trouble Will Find Me,” brings all five dancers in harem pants, performing to a mid-Eastern number by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.  This is another freestyle selection in which the performers are entangled, set free, leap, and roll around— all with precision.  

10HL combines athleticism, emotion, energy, technical mastery, ingenuity and range in a power-packed one-hour performance. Unfortunately, there is only one more performance left in this visit to Baltimore. Please check the group’s website to find out more about 10HL and where you could find them next.  The show should not be missed.

Running time. Approximately one hour with an intermission.

Advisory. Some dance sequences contain sensual physical contact and may not be suitable for children under 12.

Exploring the Artistry of the Male Dancer plays through February 18 (3:00 p.m.) at the Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St., Baltimore, MD 21201.  Tickets and information are available online

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Democrats Must Play the Trump Card

Some pundits have said that for the Democrats to win big in 2018 they should not run against President Donald Trump and instead provide a positive message.  A positive message to be sure and that should include appealing to working class Americans of all stripes. But they should also definitely run against Trump Republicans in every contested seat from the Senate and Congressional races to the governors’ contests and state legislatures down to the local level.

Why?  Because the Republican Party is now the Party of Trump, and the Dems must run against HIM to run against THEM.

With very few exceptions, Republicans have been sucked into the Trump horror show mainly as a result of fear—fear of Trump’s self-destructive but weaponizing tweets, fear of being “primaried,” and the fear of Trump’s base not turning out in November.   #hocopolitics

What used to be a party of chest pounding bravado, they have turned into a squishy band that is weak on Trump. They brag about their “patriotism” yet patriotism does not mean it is okay to allow a foreign government to install a U.S. president of their choice. 

The Republican Congress steadfast support of Trump is certainly not as a result of principle or ideology.  Recall how the GOP including its evangelical supporters backed Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race –an accused child molester and sexual assaulter—and in doing so, put party over country. 

They support Trump despite his clear incompetence, his complete lack of morals, his corruption, his extreme narcissism, his lying as much as he’s breathing, and his reported cheating on his wife then paying off a porn star to keep her mouth shut.

Yes, the Republican Party and Donald Trump are intertwined.  Every Democratic candidate must couple the words “TRUMP REPUBLICAN” at every turn.  Despite a pre-Rob Porter controversy tiny uptick in the polls, Trump is reviled and remains profoundly unpopular.

Women, young people, and minorities will see this opportunity to repudiate the misogynous and racist president who has churned up the energy and enthusiasm in these key voter blocs. 

Democratic candidates must remind voters about the Charlottesville tragedy when Trump said “there were very fine people on both sides.”   Those fine people included neo-Nazis and members of the KKK.  That should motivate African-Americans and Jews to vote.

Voters must be reminded how Trump has defended all those high profile men who have been accused of sexual assault, sexual harassment and wife beating by insisting they denied it—never exhibiting empathy towards the victims.  And let’s not forget his Access Hollywood admissions. These should further motivate women to vote.

They should remind voters how Trump has played politics with DACA and the Dreamers as well as his vile anti-Mexican comments. They should remember Trump's lack of concerns for Puerto Rico and the degrading paper towel toss.  That should motivate Hispanic voters.

They should remind voters of how Trump mocked and insulted the Gold Star Khan family as well as his Muslim travel ban.  That should motivate Muslims.

They should be reminded how this administration has attempted to roll back key gains and rights for LGBT individuals.  That should motivate that community, their family members and their friends to vote.

Because of their refusal to stand up to Trump and vigorously denounce him publicly, just about every
Republican is complicit with these stains.  While many of them privately do not agree with Trump’s policies and actions on these fronts nor care much for his character, they still must be linked to him because of their reticence.

There is no question that Republicans will label a Dem candidate as a “Pelosi Democrat,” That strategy already worked against Jon Ossoff in the ballyhooed GA-06 race last year.  That is their big weapon plus their overblown tax cuts that mainly benefited the highest income earners and corporations and which have filled the coffers of their donors. That increased the deficit by $1.5 billion paving the way to cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

What Democratic campaigns must avoid is playing the impeachment card. Impeachment is both a legal and political process, which should unfold if and when the circumstances arise. By urging voters to come out to vote for a Democratic candidate because it will make it easier to impeach Trump will also being out rabid Trump supporters, when otherwise may have been dispirited to vote in the mid-terms.   

Play the Trump card: “Trump Republican.” Use that phrase and perhaps Democrats can help make America sane again. 

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Figure Skater Rippon Wins Gold for Pence Snub

Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon  Photo: Instagram
Openly gay figure skater Adam Rippon is poised to begin competition in the Winter Olympics, but before he even stepped out on the ice, he already has given the LGBT community a “short lift” by his reported refusal to meet with Vice President Mike Pence.  Pence, who is leading the United States delegation in South Korea, is the Trump administration’s homophobe-in-chief and architect of the attempt to ban transgender individuals from the armed forces.  Pence’s anti-LGBT record  is notorious.

Rippon will be the first openly gay athlete to compete for the U.S. in the Winter Olympics. Out free skier Gus Kenworthy will also compete.

According to USA Today, Rippon said last month, “You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy? I'm not buying it,” referencing the controversial and scientifically discredited practice that seeks to alter an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Rippon, 28, who is from Scranton. Pa. and reports that he was bullied as a youngster, said multiple times that he did not want to engage with the vice president before competing in the Olympics, but that he was open to a discussion after the games. 

“If it were before my event, I would absolutely not go out of my way to meet somebody who I felt has gone out of their way to not only show that they aren’t a friend of a gay person but that they think that they’re sick,” Rippon told USA Today.

Rippon & Pence    Image courtesy of Gay Times
He adds, “I’m not trying to pick a fight with the vice president of the United States. If I had the chance to meet him afterwards, after I’m finished competing, there might be a possibility to have an open conversation.”

An unconfirmed report in USA Today indicated that a member of Pence’s staff reached out to Rippon to have a conversation, which according to Business Insider, Jarrod Agen, the vice president's communications director, denied that Pence ever reached out to Rippon. 

“The USA Today report is false and should be corrected. The Vice President's office did not reach out to set up a conversation with Mr. Rippon," Agen said. “As we've said before, the Vice President is supporting all the U.S. athletes in the Olympics and is hoping they all win medals.”

Rippon's words are captured in tweets.

Rippon is being hailed as a hero to the LGBT community for standing up to Pence and all what he represents.  For that, Rippon gets the gold.

UPDATE:  Making his Olympics debut, Adam Rippon's flawless performance on Feb. 11 helped the U.S. win a bronze.  See the video here.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Patriot Games

Trump’s words and actions continue his march towards authoritarianism

President Trump has yet to see the distinction between running a family business empire and being president of the United States.  Whereas in the past he could call the shots, he has been frustrated by those pesky checks and balances, which are contained in our Constitution—a document I’m willing to bet he never completely read. #hocopolitics

Starting with a flood of executive orders (legal) at the outset of his presidency he has taken it upon himself to do things on his own.  As he has achieved some footing, his autocratic posture seems to be gaining, and he’s been using “patriotism,” “love of country,” and most recently “treason” to stomp on those with whom he disagrees.

These tactics are becoming alarming.  It was manifested this past fall when he bludgeoned NFL players for taking a knee during the national anthem as a means to protest social inequality for African-Americans.  He twisted the protesters’ message to make it sound like they were criticizing the military, the flag and what-not.  Unfortunately, Trump seemed to have won that messaging battle, conflating the first amendment right to protest with sticking a finger in the eyes of our troops.   This has emboldened him to go all-out patriotic.

This past Monday, he derided Democratic lawmakers who attended the State of the Union Address for not cheering and clapping his Stephen Miller-written words.  At a speech in a plant outside Cincinnati where he was touting the economy that he produced and which the plunging stock market values were juxtaposed on television screens, Trump complained half jokingly but also half seriously that Democrats didn’t cheer like the Republicans did.

“They would rather see Trump do badly than our country do well," the president said of Democrats’ response to his speech last week. “They were like death. And un-American. Somebody said treasonous. I mean, yeah. I guess. Why not?” 

“Can we call that treason?” he asked the crowd. “Why not? They certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”

His frequent Kim Jong Un-ish self-applause seemed to have made up for the lack of Dems' enthusiasm.

Nonetheless, imagine if President Obama had called the Republicans treasonous when they sat in stone cold silence as he enumerated his vision for the country.  The Republican noise machine would go off the charts.

The White House said he was saying it “tongue and cheek.” But as the president, words matter.
To be responsible, “treason” should be used only when referring to a person “levying war against [the United States], or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.”

His base may not understand the seriousness of the term, and it was unwise for the president to say it, displaying his ignorance, just for a few yucks from his cultist supporters in attendance.

Sadly, except for a few Democrats like Sen. Tammy Duckworth, the Dems were too silent on Trump’s accusations.  Where are they? The GOP was even more quiet except for Sen. Jeff Flake.

If that wasn’t enough, the Washington Post reported that Trump wants a military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.

To be clear, when countries put on such displays, it is mainly to show off to the world their military might, should there be any doubts.  The U.S. rarely has had to go through this garish exercise since the world already is aware of our military power.

But the need to feed Trump’s ego will probably be enough to appropriate funds for this costly spectacle.  I wouldn't be surprised if Trump invites “patriots” to march following the procession of military vehicles, armaments and matériel. Expect to see a few confederate flags to pop up held by some very fine people, maybe a swastika or two, perhaps a march with a goose step. 

That’s how it starts.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Iron Crow Reaches High in ‘Cloud 9’

Cast of 'Cloud 9'  Photo: Rob Clatterbuck
When Iron Crow Theatre’s  Artistic Director and CEO Sean Elias chose to dub the 17-18 Season as the “Season of Identity,” he must have had Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9 in mind first and foremost. This thought-provoking, satirical and unorthodox play, written in 1979, explores the fluidity of sexual identity and gender identity, as well as racial identity and national identity with many of the familiar stereotypes entwined.  It is interesting that these themes emerged as far back as 1979 at a time when many people viewed gender as binary and not as fluid as we note today.

The play fits in very much with Iron Crow’s brand as being Baltimore’s queer theatre company. Under the methodical direction of Dr. Natka Bianchini, Iron Crow’s seven-person, talented ensemble cast does a marvelous job of conveying these identities with passion and skill.

The first act takes place in an unspecified country in Africa (aren’t you glad Donald Trump is not writing this review?) under British colonial rule in the Victorian era.  It centers on a family who has desires for others. Here sexual oppression and repression are front and center with colonial oppression against the rebellious indigenous people as a backdrop.  The stringent rules on sexuality and gender roles are crafted and enforced by males.

Roughly 100 years later, the second act takes place in 1979 London whereby there is more sexual liberation and women and gays feel more empowered.  Though the time frame is 100 years later, those characters from the first act that appear in the second act only advance 25 years.

If you are not familiar with Churchill’s work, you might be taken aback to see an unusual but not totally unique cast construct whereby some of the male characters are performed by females and vice versa and a black character portrayed by a white person.  It is how Churchill meant it to be—to keep the audience off balance to challenge pre-conceived ideas about sexuality, gender and race.

This is established at the outset but as the play progresses, we get more used to it and, therefore, more comfortable with the presentation. With no one story line, the play revolves around the multiple interactions among the characters. To summarize as succinctly as possible:

Kathryne Daniels,  Kristina Szilagyi and Tavish Forsyth
Photo: Rob Clatterbuck
In Act I, Clive, played commandingly by Matthew Lindsay Payne, is a British colonial official who is duty bound to his country and to the queen.  He believes that sex roles are clearly defined, and when his young son Edward (energetically played by Barbara Madison Hauck) clings to a doll among his feminine characteristics and who has secretly harbored his attraction to other males, Clyde is irked and demands that Edward be as masculine as himself. 

Edward alternately loves, fears and hates his father and does not want to grow up to be like him. His sister, Victoria, is represented by a dummy in the first act.

Betty, Clive’s wife, played by Tavish Forsyth with a great deal of nuance and sensitivity, is subservient to Clyde and depends on him to make the decisions.  However, when an explorer named Harry Bagley (ably played by Jonas David Grey) visits the house, Betty imagines a relationship with him, conflicted by her yearning for romance outside of the marriage and her duty to her husband.

Though on the outside Harry presents himself as a courageous British explorer, on the inside he possesses a deviant sexual appetite including having sex with Edward and the butler Joshua (played mischievously by Nick Fruit).  Harry actually misinterprets Clive’s signals and comes on to him to Clive’s revulsion. 

Incensed, Clive forces Harry to marry Edward’s governess, Ellen (Kathryne Daniels) who happens to be a lesbian who fancied Betty.  Clive had earlier made a move on a visitor, Mrs. Saunders (also played by Ms. Daniels), but did not allow her to fully share in the pleasure.  Such joy!  Ms. Daniels performs in both roles splendidly.

Maud, Betty’s mother (well played by Kristina Szilagyi), is a traditionalist who insists that women must serve their husbands and take care of their homes.

The aforementioned Joshua is a dutiful man-servant, but the male-domination of the era seeps into his own behavior as he at times rude to Betty and laughs off a command by Edward. With Clive, it’s a whole different matter. 

In Act II, earlier characters reappear 25 years later and some new ones are introduced. All are portrayed by different actors from the first act, again keeping the audience off balance.  There is still British colonial oppression in play as British forces are present in Northern Ireland.

Edward, now played by Tavish Forsyth, is more accepting of being gay but his on again, off again, on again relationship with promiscuous Gerry (Nick Fruit) is affected by the conflict between steady companionship (Edward) and sexual adventure (Gerry). 

Nick Fruit and Tavish Forsyth  Photo: Rob Clatterbuck
Victoria (Kristina Szilagyi), no longer an inanimate dummy, is a mother of a young son and not that good a one at that.  She is married to Martin (Jonas David Gray) but that marriage is on the rocks. 

Victoria meets Lin and enters into a lesbian relationship providing some liberation.  Lin is played powerfully by Kathryne Daniels, fresh off her dual roles from the first act. She, too, has a child—a tantrum-prone 5 year-old named Cathy (Matthew Lindsay Payne) with a penchant for using foul language in poems.

At one point, Edward wishes he was a woman. He’s fed up with men and considers himself a lesbian, eliciting a smattering of applause from the audience. Edward, believing he is bisexual, moves in with his sister Victoria and Lin.  Betty (Barbara Madison Hauck) had split from Clive and is searching for independence.  She grows to accept Edward’s sexuality.

Iron Crow’s production of Cloud 9 is well-directed and performance-driven.  As stated earlier, all the actors shine in executing their complex and challenging roles.  Heather C. Jackson’s costume design, especially the period attire in the first act, and Alec Lawson’s lighting design enhance the presentation.

Clearly, the second act depicts more sexual and gender freedoms than the rigid mores of the 19th century where the taboos and sex roles are more defined. The fluidity and blurring of the lines continue today, and some day we will look back at 1980 the way Caryl Churchill envisioned 1880.
You will undoubtedly find this presentation very entertaining and will challenge any preconceptions you may have about gender and sexuality.

Running time. Two hours and 20 minutes with an intermission.

Advisory: Cloud 9 contains sexual situations and some profanity and is not suitable for children under 16.

Cloud 9 plays through February 4 at the Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St., Baltimore, MD 21201.  Tickets and information are available online.

Friday, January 26, 2018

‘Young Frankenstein’ Brings Monster Laughs to Toby’s

Jeri Tidwell Photography
Just at a time we all could use a good laugh or a hundred, Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia comes through with an enormously funny and entertaining Young Frankenstein: The Mel Brooks Musical.  The book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan and music and lyrics by Brooks is based on the 1974 film Young Frankenstein that was written by Brooks and Gene Wilder. 

So, it’s fair to say, this is a Mel Brooks spectacle, and the production of Young Frankenstein at Toby’s under the stellar direction and choreography of Helen Hayes Award winner Mark Minnick would make the 91 year-old Brooks proud.  #hocoarts

Scenic and Lighting Designer David A. Hopkins brought his “A Game” to this production.  There is an imaginative display of lighting mixtures and special effects as well as a wide array of set pieces and props from a hospital gurney and lab equipment to a gallows that allow the production in Toby’s in-the-round venue to play big. 

Add that to excellent sound design and effects by Corey Brown, magnificent costumes designed by William Ivey Long (and there are lots and lots of costumes) and coordinated by Tommy Malek, wonderful make-up artistry and wigs, proficient musical direction by Ross Scott Rawlings who leads the solid seven-piece orchestra, precise staging with a torrid pace to the show, and a company of talented and energetic performers with many playing multiple roles, a near-perfect production has been created—and not from the dead either.

Mr. Minnick’s spot-on choreography is inventive and extensive.  The performers, either in small groups or larger ensemble numbers, adapt beautifully to the confines of the stage and excel in such numbers as “The Happiest Town,” “The Brain,” “Together Again,” “Join the Family Business,” “Transylvania Mania,” and the sparkling tap dance number, Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

Villagers in Transylvania celebrate the death of Victor Frankenstein, the original creator of the famous monster made from the body parts of the dead.  When it was revealed that the deceased has a grandson to keep the lineage going, the villagers panic at the prospect of yet another monster creator in that family but eventually calm down when they find out he lives in New York.  Why anyone from New York would come to Transylvania, they ask.  Whew!

But there wouldn’t be a movie or a musical if he didn’t make the journey.  In fact, young Frederick Frankenstein (who he insists is pronounced “Fronkensteen”) needs to be in Transylvania to deal with his grandfather’s castle, which he had inherited.  What could possible go wrong?  Plenty as it turns out with all the zaniness from the movie intact.

Jeffrey Shankle and David James have been long-time wonderful performers at Toby’s. But to see them play off each other in this utterly wacky madcap of a musical conjures up visions of other notable comedic Broadway pairings, such as those in Brooks’ The Producers (Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom) and even further back with Mame (Mame and Vera) and My Fair Lady (Henry Higgins and Col. Pickering) to name a few.

The chemistry and campiness between the two fit naturally and comfortably; it is an absolute treat to watch and listen to them.  Sure there is the temptation to go over the top in these hammy roles.  Thankfully, the skilled actors did.

In a tour de force, Mr. Shankle romps through the movie’s Gene Wilder portrayal of Frederick Frankenstein brilliantly and with flair.  Comedic timing, strong vocals and dancing are required and Mr. Shankle delivers.  His solo “Frederick’s Soliloquy” is touching and outstandingly performed.

However, his duet with David James, playing the flamboyantly gimpy Igor (pronounced Eye-gor), in the song “Together Again” is one of the show’s highlights.  

Tess Rohan does a wonderful job as Frau Blücher, who was more than just a housekeeper to the late Victor Frankenstein.  With a thick Transylvania accent Ms. Rohan relishes her comedic role and shines in the song “He Vas My Boyfriend.”  The mere mention of Frau Blücher—even whispers—provokes two equines (played by Gregory Banks and Brook Urquhart) to neigh.  That pair is hilarious.

Alicia Osborn plays Elizabeth who is engaged to Frederick but apparently without much physical contact.  Elizabeth surprises everyone when she shows up at the village and catches Frederick on a hospital gurney under the sheets with the sexy woman who seduced him, Inga (played very well by Louisa Tringali).   Ms. Osborn’s song “Please Don’t Touch Me” is comical and her solo ballad “Deep Love” is performed beautifully.

Portraying the recently deceased Victor Frankenstein in a hilarious dream sequence, Justin Calhoun, who plays other parts throughout the show, demonstrates his strong vocals in “Join the Family Business.”

Then there is “The Monster” (played by Christopher Kabara) created by Frederick after he was convinced to carry out his grandfather’s work. Growling, menacing and large, the Monster terrifies the villagers then receives a transfer of intelligence and evolves into an articulate and ultimate lover of Elizabeth and then a medical doctor with surprising results.  His voice is in fine form with a reprise of “Deep Love” after he proposes to Elizabeth.

In a scene straight out of The Bride of Frankenstein, The Monster, prior to his transfo
Jeri Tidwell Photography
rmation, enters a cabin and encounters a blind hermit.  Veteran actor Robert Biedermann 125 pulls off the blind man character flawlessly constituting one of the production’s funniest scenes.  Mr. Biedermann sings “Please Send Me Someone” and he got more than he bargained for.  So did The Monster.

David Bosley-Reynolds with is deep voice turns in a good performance as Inspector Kemp, the man with one wooden arm and one wooden leg—a good source of humor.

Other members of the talented cast include David Singleton, Gregory Banks, Ariel Messeca, Andrew Overton, Mary Kate Brouillet, Elizabeth Rayca, and Coby Kay Callahan.

Young Frankenstein under the direction of Mark Minnick at Toby’s is a comedy about a monster but it’s also a monster comedy. A magnificent cast and crew with all the wonderful technical elements supporting it make this a don’t miss show.  And, of course, there is that scrumptious Toby’s buffet.  

Advisory.  Young Frankenstein contains adult language and sexual situations and is not recommended for children under age 14.

Running time. Two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

Young Frankenstein runs through March 11, 2018 at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 4900 Symphony Woods Rd., Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 410-730-8311 or visiting online