Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Why Won't the GOP Stand Up to Trump?

Let’s just say for the sake of argument that Hillary Clinton was elected president.  Now imagine the reaction from Republicans if members of her campaign team had met with Russians operatives with possible collusion in Russia’s attempt to get her elected. 

Imagine if she divulged classified sensitive information to the foreign minister and ambassador from Russia in the Oval Office when only Russia’s state-owned media were permitted to attend. Imagine if she insulted our allies overseas but refused to criticize Russian President Putin—ever.

Consider their reaction if she reneged on her promise to make her tax returns public. Imagine if she had business dealings all over the world and refused to divest during her presidency.

Imagine in her first 6 months as president she made 37 golf trips at taxpayers’ expense. 

Think of how the Republicans would feel if she fired the investigator leading the investigation of her and her campaign. Picture how they would react to the shameless, disgusting politicization of a speech to the Boy Scouts of America. Or how they would like it if she encouraged those scouts to boo a former Republican president.

Imagine the GOP reaction to her appointing her daughter and son-in-law to key White House posts and assigned one of them to engineer Middle East peace though completely unqualified to do so. Or their failure to disclose meetings with foreign agents on a security clearance form under penalty of law.

Think of how they would react if she went on campaign-style rallies, re-litigating the election, bragging about the size of her victory, and constantly berating her vanquished Republican opponent.  Imagine if she lied about just about anything every single day.

I could go on and on and on, but as you know, these actions were not taken by Hillary Clinton but by President Donald Trump.  And the Republican responses to these episodes? Crickets.

Under fire by Democrats and independents for putting party before country, the Republicans, especially those in Congress, have been loath to criticize or even punish Trump for his seemingly limitless indiscretions.

So, why are these actions ignored by Republican lawmakers not to mention his base?

It can't be because he has been a rock solid Republican throughout his career.  Trump is a Johnny-come-lately Republican with little or no ideological foundation at his core. Why the loyalty from the GOP?

His approval ratings have hovered between the mid-30s to low 40’s rendering him the most unpopular president in modern history at this point of his term.  And much of his approval comes from states Republicans win anyway.  Trump has shown no propensity to expand his support beyond that base. While his support is intense, it is narrow.  Why the loyalty?

On the surface, it’s a mystery that has befuddled Democrats.   

Here’s the reason.  Republicans lawmakers, despite reports to the contrary, are scared shitless of Trump.  #hocopolitics

Trump’s compulsive use of Twitter is a missile that can’t be knocked down.  He hits and hits hard without any shame and often without any human decency. 

Republicans remember all too well, how Trump defied the odds by winning the nomination in 2016 mostly by dismantling his closest opponents: “Little Marco” Rubio, “Low Energy Jeb” Bush, “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz.

His infantile abuse of Twitter knows no bounds and his fellow Republicans fear being on the receiving end of sharp, sarcastic tweets or public statements.  Often, he will embarrass them and their constituents are paying attention.

Heck, he will abandon his most loyal supporters if it suits him.  See: Jeff Sessions.  That strikes fear, too.

Then there’s that base.  More energized than so-called establishment Republicans, these folks maintain a strong almost scary loyalty towards their leader.  They will vote and will do so in primaries should they occur.  Incumbent Republicans are ever so mindful of that and are extremely hesitant to take down Trump lest the base gets pissed.

That trend may end if Trump goes on to fire “beleaguered” Attorney General Jeff Sessions who retains strong support from GOP conservatives in Congress. Or worse, if Trump fires Special Counsel Robert Mueller who is well on his way to finding the truth about the Trump campaign and the Russian meddling in our election in addition to potential obstruction of justice and money laundering suspicions.

There are signs, though, that the Trump hold over Republicans may be showing signs of cracking.  

Moreover, former GOP Congressman and current MSNBC "Morning Joe" anchor Joe Scarborough recently announced he is leaving the Republican Party because of its acquiescence to Trump.  Other high profile former Republican politicians and operatives have also refused to support Trump.

And Billionaire health care mogul and former GOP mega donor Mike Fernandez, who left the Republican Party because of Trump, told Politico: “All the Republicans who hide behind the flag and the church, they don’t have the F-----g balls to do what it takes.”

Those balls are now in the GOP’s court.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Winning ‘Thurgood’ at Olney

Brian Anthony Wilson as Thurgood Marshall Photo: Stan Barouh
Olney Theatre Center’s black box theatre has been configured into a 150-seat college lecture hall with a sign on the rear of the stage wall reading, “Howard University Welcomes Thurgood Marshall.” In front of that sign stands a dark wooden table with a lectern on top, four leather chairs around it, and behind the table are the American and the District of Columbia flags.  #hocoarts

In comes a hobbling graying, bespectacled gent in a three-piece suit using a cane. That man is Baltimore-born Thurgood Marshall, the first ever African-American Justice to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.  Now retired, he is returning to Howard University where he had received his law degree to give a speech.

Marshall actually died in 1993 at the age of 84, but his life’s stories included in that speech at Howard are conveyed in a scintillating and compelling one-man play, Thurgood,”being presented at Olney’s Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab.

Thurgood”opened on Broadway in 2008 and earned a Tony Award for its star Laurence Fishburne.  Veteran actor Brian Anthony Wilson with a good number of film and TV roles under his belt turns in a tour-de-force performance as Thurgood Marshall in a compact 90-minute play at Olney. 

The absorbing script by George Stevens, Jr., which denotes historical facts, anecdotes, verbatim quotes from Marshall, emotional moments, and well-placed humor derived from Marshall’s mischievous sense of humor, makes the play feel like it’s over much too quickly.  

Marshall soon sheds his cane and transforms into a more youthful persona.  Under Emmy Award winner Walter Dallas’ impeccable direction, he proceeds to effectively relate in chronological sequence his boyhood including why he changed his name from Thoroughgood to Thurgood.
Marshall strolls about the stage and other times he’s sitting depending on the topic.  He takes an occasional sip of water as any speech presenter would. He is aided by images projected on the rear wall thereby enhancing his speech.

Marshall discusses his colorful family including his alcoholic father, his education, his attempt to be admitted to the University of Maryland Law School only to find out it did not allow blacks, his work as a lawyer fighting to end segregation and Jim Crow laws, his married life, his appointment by President John F. Kennedy to the U.S. Court of Appeals, his appointment by President Lyndon B. Johnson as U.S. Solicitor General and ultimately President Johnson’s appointment of Marshall to the U.S. Supreme Court.

He brings us back to an era where the struggle for civil rights got its footing. The “N” word is commonly used.  Lynchings are unflinchingly discussed.  

The 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision laid the groundwork for the federal “separate but equal” concept for public facilities as they pertain to black and white citizens.  It was this culture of segregation and discrimination that led Marshall to seek a career in law not only to make money as he unabashedly admitted, but to help right those wrongs.

As chief counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Marshall won cases and lost others.  However, it was his 1954 win in Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court that ended the policy of separate schools for white and black children where he made his mark.

Standing at the lectern and simulating his legal argument before the Supreme Court, one can easily get goose bumps.  When the decision was handed down, the audience broke out into applause.

Photo: Stan Barouh
His record of winning 29 of the 32 cases he argued before the Supreme Court caught the attention of presidents, which led to his ultimate appointment to the highest court in the land.

Mr. Wilson’s portrayal of Thurgood Marshall is spot-on and convincing.  The humorous anecdotes as well as the emotional dramatic episodes are well-delivered. All told, Mr. Wilson’s performance was deserving of the enthusiastic standing ovation he received at the conclusion of this reviewed performance. 

Paige Hathaway’s set including the projected images presents the appropriate background for Mr. Wilson and his movement around the stage. 

Harold F. Burgess II designed the lighting to effectively coincide with the dramatic moments as did Roc Lee’s sound design, which provided sound effects at those very moments.

Towards the end of the play, Marshall delivers a line from a Langston Hughes poem, “Oh, let America be America again.”  Immediately, it conjures up thoughts of the similarly worded campaign slogan used repeatedly by our current president. 

It also reminds us how the president created a commission to investigate non-existing voter fraud rather than examining the prevalent attempts at voter suppression that is intended to impact African-Americans and other minorities. 

I mused, what would Thurgood Marshall say about that?  Come see this magnificent play and performance and imagine the answer to that question.

Running time: One hour and 30 minutes with an intermission.

Advisory: Thurgood contains some profanity and adult situations and is not recommended for children under age 13.

Thurgood runs through August 20 at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 301-924-2654 or visiting online.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Solid ‘Spring Awakening’ at the Spotlighters

Sean Dynan as Mechior and Jim Baxter as Moritz
Photo: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography
If you think today’s society is challenged to deal with such thorny issues as abortion, homelessness, child abuse, rape, unplanned pregnancy, homosexuality, and teen suicide, consider how these same topics were candidly portrayed in an 1891 German book Spring Awakening written by Frank Wedekind.  It didn’t go over so well then as it was banned in that country for some time.  #hocoarts

Undaunted, the rock musical Spring Awakening is based on that controversial work and was crafted by Grammy Award-winning songwriter Duncan Sheik with book and lyrics by Steven Sater.  The production opened on Broadway in 2006 and captured eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Direction, Book, Score and Featured Actor, and four Drama Desk awards plus a Grammy.

Those not familiar with the musical Spring Awakening may assume that the show, just by going by its title, is an uplifting, joyous spectacle. Instead, it’s an often dark portrayal of how teenagers struggle to be liberated especially when it comes to sexual fantasies and behavior while the adults in their lives cling to conservative and religious mores in an effort to thwart their kids’ attempts at freedom.  The tension between the two sides is palpable forming the underlying backdrop to the story of Spring Awakening.

The Audrey Herman Spotlighters in its 55th season has taken on the challenge of mounting this musical on its cozy in-the-round stage.  Why not?  It has done so effectively in the past with such iconic musicals as Fiddler on the Roof, Hello Dolly, Rocky Horror Show and Mame through creative direction and efficient use of space.  Talented casts helped, too.

Dynan and Allison Comotto as Wendla
Photo: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography
With Spring Awakening, the production, under the direction of Jillian Locklear Bauersfield, who has helmed some of those mentioned musicals, is solid.  

While the Spotlighters’ limited space and stage contours do not afford an opportunity to present a splashy production, the benefit of its intimacy with the audience is clear.  This is especially true when the raw emotions of the characters are conveyed through song and dialogue.  The audience gets the sense it is right in the middle of the action and can feel those vibes.  
Using the strong score under the excellent direction of Michael Tan and his four-piece orchestra, the story line ably weaves a series of subplots into a dramatic tapestry involving adolescents discovering their feelings about sexuality and intimacy.  Parents of these kids were loathe to have frank “birds and bees” conversations, so the youngsters had to learn about such matters on their own in various ways while dealing with the effects of puberty.

Wendla, played tenderly by lovely Allison Comotto, never received sexual guidance from her mother and paid the ultimate price.  She caught up with a friend from her early childhood years, Melchior, a handsome, intelligent, and rebellious fellow (performed splendidly by Sean Dynan) who, through book learning, was aware of the mechanics of sex and enjoyed his intimacy with a na├»ve Wendla.  Sadly, this encounter ultimately had tragic consequences as two lives were lost.

Then there is Moritz, played powerfully by Jim Baxter.  He, too, had his issues involving his sexual feelings but was even more victimized by evil, unscrupulous schoolteachers (played deliciously by Marc Korol-Evans and real life wife Tony Korol-Evans) and his unsympathetic father.  The Korol-Evanses adroitly play the other adult roles in the show demonstrating strong acting skills.

Ernst (Chris Weaver) and Hanschen (Aaron Hancock) find love with each other.  Happily, this gay couple is among the few who did not experience sadness, frustration or tragedy and provide some of the lighter moments in the production. One of those is a masturbation scene with Hanschen constantly being interrupted by his father. 

Other characters include Ilse (Ellen Manuel) who runs away from home to escape abuse; Martha (Alyssa Bell) who was abused by her father; Georg (John Endres) and Otto (Brendan Hale) who have fantasies of their own.
Aaron Hancock as Hanschen and Chris Weaver as Ernst
Photo: Spotlighters Theatre/Shealyn Jae Photography
The music is electric and performed ably by the entire cast. And despite the tight stage, the choreography by Amie Morrow Bell is creative and precise especially in such numbers as “The Bitch of Living,” “My Junk,” and the big production piece and a show highlight, “Totally Fucked” with the ensemble moving around the stage with high energy and cohesion .

Some of the vocals are noteworthy as well. Mr. Dynan, playing Melchior, excels with his tenor voice with an infusion of falsetto in “All That’s Known,” “Left Behind” and duets with Ms. Comotto in “The Word of Your Body” and “Whispering.”

Ellen Manuel as Ilse shines in “Blue Wind” and Jim Baxter as Moritz singing the intense number “Don’t Do Sadness.”  Also, Brendan Hale as Otto demonstrates a sweet tenor voice in the reprise of “The Word of Your Body” with John Endres as Georg.

Amy Rawe Weimer’s costume design and Laurie Brandon’s lighting enhance the quality of the production.

Though it’s a sad story for the most part, Spring Awakening is riveting and entertains with especially good musical numbers and fine acting by the cast under the capable direction of Ms. Bauersfield. It is highly recommended.

Running time. Two hours with an intermission.

Advisory: The show contains sexual situations and profanity and is not recommended for children.

Spring Awakening runs through July 30 at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call (410) 752-1225, or visit spotlighters.org.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

A Whirlwind Joseph Visits Toby’s

Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia is the venue for a new iteration of the popular musical Joseph and the Amazing Color Dreamcoat.   #hocoarts

A well-staged, meticulously choreographed spectacle performed by a talented cast brings Joseph and his coat of many colors to life in a compact whirlwind of memorable, tuneful songs and a story that takes the audience on a journey from the sins of jealousy and revenge to the virtues of forgiveness and reconciliation. The energy-packed, high-tempo production of the Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber biblical story blossoms in Toby’s in-the-round setting.  

Helen Hayes Award winners Toby Orenstein and Mark Minnick co-directed Joseph and the Amazing Color Dreamcoat with obvious attention to detail, guiding the cast through one number after another with a finely tuned, rapid pace.

Mr. Minnick’s innovative choreography is a highlight of the production.  High energy, precise dance moves in perpetual circular arrangements to accommodate the in-the-round stage are executed flawlessly by a talented ensemble, which is called on to sing throughout these production numbers.  The ensemble performs in just about every song, which is quite strenuous, and they are superb from beginning to end.  

"A well-staged, meticulously choreographed spectacle"

The performances are aided by a competent technical crew and supporting staff.
Lawrence B. Munsey’s costume design is spot on as usual representing the Egyptian garb from many centuries ago accented with a modern touch.  David A. Hopkins’ lighting amplified the action with the effective use of spotlights and fade-outs. 

Ross Scott Rawlings and the six-piece orchestra ably support the vocals and add energy to already amped-up dance routines.  The range of musical genres in Joseph is a varied as the colors on the multi-hued coat.  From a knee-slapping, cowboy hat twirling country-western ditty to rock ‘n roll, to calypso, Mr.  Rawlings’ orchestra was more than up to the task.

Some of the catchy numbers include “Joseph’s Dreams,” “One More Angel,” “Close Every Door,” “Go, Go, Go Joseph,” “Pharaoh’s Story,” “Those Canaan Days,” and my favorite “Any Dream Will Do.”

The familiar plot, described mostly through song, centers on Joseph, the favored son of Jacob who had bestowed upon him a coat of many colors. His eleven brothers were jealous and sold Joseph into slavery while telling their father he had in fact, died.

Joseph winds up working for the mega-rich Potiphar, but Mrs. Potiphar tries to seduce him and, of course, he gets caught.  Joseph is sent to prison where it is discovered that he has the uncanny ability for interpreting dreams and predicting the future.

The Elvis-like Pharaoh is impressed and releases Joseph from prison making him second in command.  The brothers, after not recognizing Joseph, grovel to him and eventually reconcile when his identity is revealed. Joseph is then reunited with his father.

The show features a narrator who spins the tale through song.  During this run, Toby’s is using several narrators, and on the night this performance was reviewed, Janine Sunday handled the role proficiently with good mezzo-soprano vocals.

Wood Van Meter as Joseph
Well cast as the title character is handsome Wood Van Meter.  Energetic throughout and seemingly enjoying the part, Mr. Van Meter, who performs in most of the songs, demonstrates strong vocal skills and is particularly solid in such numbers as “Joseph’s Dreams,”  “Close Every Door,” and “Any Dream Will Do.”

David Bosley-Reynolds plays the role of Potiphar to the hilt. His muscular voice is on display in the aptly named song “Potiphar.”  Lovely Nia Savoy, as the seductress Mrs. Potiphar also performs well in that number.

David Jennings romps through his role as Pharaoh, the Elvis look/act alike.  He runs through a series of Elvis-like antics (especially the trademark hair comb) and performs well with Mr. Van Meter and the ensemble in “Song of the King.”

Other notable performances are turned in by Jeffrey Shankle as Baker and David James as Butler who were cell mates of Joseph.

Andrew Horn as Jacob, Gregory Banks as Levi, all of the actors playing Joseph’s brothers, and the women’s ensemble contribute significantly to the success of the production.

 Joseph and the Amazing Color Dreamcoat boasts a terrific catalog of songs, fine performances, and visually pleasing costumes and set pieces.  It’s a family-friendly show that because of its face pace, sterling performances, and relatively short length should keep the youngsters interested while learning about the power of dreams.

Running time. One hour and 45 minutes with an intermission.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat plays through August 27 at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets can be purchased by calling the Box Office at 410-7390-8311 or 1-800-88TOBYS or online at tobysdinnertheatre.com.