Sunday, September 09, 2018

“Mr. President, please sit down with Robert Mueller”

An open letter to Donald Trump
Image: The Hill

Dear Mr. President,

Although I’m not one of your supporters, I have so much in common with you I feel there’s a kinship whereby I can offer you good advice.

For example, we both grew up in Queens.  We both have been unable to shed that horrific New York accent. We both lost money in casinos. Neither of us publicly revealed our tax returns. We both suck at golf though you have spent a quarter of your presidency on golf courses.

Yes, you avoided military service like the plague and I served, but we’re both civilians now, right? We both hold Jeff Sessions in low regard. We both have contributed to the Clintons.

We both believe Rick Perry is the smart one in your cabinet. We both feel tall next to Kim Jong-un. We’re both bald.  Neither of us was invited to two high profile funerals and a royal wedding.  You think Ivanka is pretty; I think Jared is pretty.

I can go on but I know you’re busy with all that executive time.

Here’s my advice. If Special Counsel Mueller invites you to sit down for an interview, please go. What do you have to hide? 

Ignore your attorneys’ advice to avoid it. I mean, come on…Rudy Giuliani? You gotta be kidding.

You said many times there’s no collusion, no obstruction. Go with it.  We all know you never lie. All those negative stories about you from so many people can’t be true, right? So, go and show how honest you are under oath.

Yes, Mr. Mueller is a very intelligent, well respected individual and a war hero. But does he have his name on buildings around the world? I think not. Has he accumulated as many ex-wives as you? No way.

You can outsmart him with one hand tied behind your back. You went to the best schools and know the best words. It would be a piece of cake for you.

You don’t want to show that you’re weak and that you have something to hide. Your enlightened base would turn on you. They want strength, not weakness. The last thing you want to see is #TrumpScaredOfMueller trending on Twitter.

Go ahead, Mr. President. Make America great again and agree to an interview with Mr. Mueller.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Tuneful ‘South Pacific’ Makes a Big Splash at Olney

Photo: Stan Barouh
The iconic musical South Pacific is as well known for its lusty melodic score and loveable characters as it is for its controversial progressive stance on racism and tolerance. The issue of prejudice in our society has always been in the forefront of American history and culture; sadly, it continues today when white nationalism once again has reared its ugly head. #

The 1949 hit show, which captured 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical and a Pulitzer for Drama in 1950, is making its Olney Theatre Center debut, kicking off its 81st season. Under the direction of Alan Muraoka and musical direction of Kristen Lee Rosenfeld, an exceptionally talented cast and crew does justice to this classic whose music was composed by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and the book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan.  
The show brings laughter and tears almost alternately. You will find an upbeat or comedic scene, followed by an intensely dramatic one.  This pattern continues throughout causing emotions to bob up and down as if you’re on a small craft navigating the ocean’s waves. It’s not a criticism; in fact, it’s a strength because it provides context and balance and keeps the audience engaged in the emotional plot.

The legendary Rodgers and Hammerstein team crafted such a spectacular catalogue of songs in South Pacific, it is nearly impossible to decide which of them is the most memorable. Generally speaking, in musicals a key song leaves members of the audience still humming it as they exit the theater. In South Pacific, you can hum a medley—they’re all that good—and many became standards.

“Some Enchanted Evening,” “There Is Nothin’ Like A Dame,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” “Happy Talk,” “Bali Ha’i,” “Bloody Mary,” “Dites-Moi,” and “Younger Than Springtime” are among the highlights.

Then there is “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” which is performed midway through the second act.  This is the one number that generated controversy because it clearly points out that racism and prejudice are not innate traits but people are taught to hate. The line preceding the song was racism “is not born in you! It happens after you’re born.” 

Some had objected to the song’s message and others questioned its appropriateness for musical theatre.  It was vilified in the south as well as other segregated areas when the production went on tour in 1950.

Jessica Lauren Ball and William Michals
Photo: Stan Barouh
Set on an island in the South Pacific during World War II, the saga of two couples in which white prejudice against Polynesian people provides the underlying drama in the plot.  Ensign Nellie Forbush (Jessica Lauren Ball) is a nurse stationed on the island who falls in love with an older expatriate from France and plantation owner Emile de Becque (William Michals).

She had agreed to marry Emile until she found out that he was the father of two small children whose now deceased mother was Polynesian.

In another plotline, Marine Lt. Joseph Cable (Alex Prakken) arrives on the island on a military mission and while on brief leave to the nearby island of Bali-Ha’i, he immediately falls in love with a young Polynesian woman Liat (Alexandra Palting). Sadness takes over when Cable could not bring himself to marry Liat because of her ancestry.

This is when Emile and Cable—one a victim of prejudice and the other the perpetrator of it—examine racism and in which Cable sings “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.”

Helen Hayes Award nominee and a familiar performer at Olney, Jessica Lauren Ball is superb as Nellie. Strong acting skills guide her through the dramatic scenes, and her vocals shine in ballads and up-tempo numbers alike. “A Cockeyed Optimist” and a reprise of “Some Enchanted Evening” are well-performed solos, and her duets with Mr. Michals and group numbers are among the show’s best moments.

A particular standout in such a group number is “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” whereby she had pledged unsuccessfully to rid herself of Emile because she did not know enough about him. This was prior to her learning about his children’s background. Ms. Ball performs this highly entertaining show-stopping number with her other nurse friends.

For his part, Mr. Michals, a veteran of Broadway, clearly displays his Broadway-caliber, powerful baritone in every number he's involved with as he is one of the finest vocalists I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to on Olney’s main stage. His passion is evident with each word and note; his voice resonating throughout the theater.  Simply put, Mr. Michals’ renditions of “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Nearly Was Mine“ are sufficient alone to make you want to buy a ticket. 

In addition, Mr. Michals’ acting skills come through especially when Nellie can’t bring herself to marry Emile.  It is one of the most emotionally-charged scenes of the show as Ms. Ball and Mr. Michals’ onstage chemistry is first-rate.

As young Lt. Cable, Alex Prakken performs quite proficiently.  Though he starts off a bit too reserved, Mr. Prakken warms up steadily as the show progresses. The brief scenes with Liat are searing and impassioned.  His sturdy tenor voice is outstanding in the gorgeous ballad “Younger Than Springtime” making every tough note as well as in the poignant aforementioned “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.”
Alexandra Palting and Alex Prakken Photo: Stan Barouh
As wonderful as the leads are, the supporting cast shines throughout. Cheryl J. Campo ably plays Bloody Mary, one of the comedic characters in the show. A grass skirt seller on the island, Bloody Mary is also Liat’s mother who strongly urges Cable to marry her as she believes it’s Liat’s best shot at a better life. Ms. Campo’s retorts and mannerisms provide much of the lighter sequences. She plays the role to the hilt without going too far over the top, and her rendition of “Bali Ha’i” is sung tenderly.

Another comic force is David Schlumpf as Luther Billis, an entrepreneurial sailor.  He is total camp and plays the role extremely well. He along with his fellow Seabees perform superbly in the snappy “There Is Nothing Like A Dame.”

Stephen F. Schmidt and Michael Bunce effectively play Navy Captain George Brackett and Commander William Harbison, respectively.  Emile’s adorable children are played by Daniela L. Martinez/Eliza Prymak and Nathan Pham/Hudson Prymak.

Rounding out the talented cast with some playing multiple roles are Jay Frisby, Calvin Malone, David Landstrom, Ryan Burke, Calvin McCullough, Chris Rudy, Kurt Boehm, Jessica Bennett, Megan Tatum, Christina Kidd, and Amanda Kaplan. The Swings are Tiziano D’Affuso and Teresa Danskey.

Dancing is not a significant feature in South Pacific But for those numbers that require dancing, such as “There’s Nothing Like A Dame” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” the choreography by Darren Lee is lively and well executed.

Christopher Youstra’s nine-piece orchestra is exceptional in supporting the vocalists without overpowering them. This blend of orchestration with vocal prowess delivering these magnificent songs is outstanding.

Scenic Designer Paige Hathaway’s set is more artistic than extravagant. In keeping with the locale of the show, there is a Polynesian feel to the scenery with its random criss-cross of bamboo and aquatic hues.  The nearby island of Bali Ha’i is depicted like a painting but when the song is performed, a projection of clouds sweeping over the island is shown—a nice touch.

The drop-down curtain, containing a montage of symbols related to the plot with bamboo again being featured, also set some scenes.  Lighting Designer Max Doolittle allowed light to shine on such symbols where appropriate.  For example, when the scene shifted to a military event, spotlights are aimed on the Japanese and U.S. flags.  This curtain is also used to allow set pieces and props to be moved around behind it for certain scenes while the action takes place in front of it. 

Mr. Doolittle’s lighting design, Ryan Hickey’s sound design and Ivania Stack’s costume design employing a wide array of period costumes and uniforms contribute mightily to the show’s ambiance.

South Pacific is a classic Broadway sensation, and the cast and crew at the Olney Theatre Center should be proud of the talent and effort on display. Despite the serious subject of racism and the sadness during various aspects of the show’s plot, this majestic production excels on so many levels and is highly recommended. 
Running time. Two hours and 45 minutes with an intermission.

South Pacific runs through October 7 at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832. Tickets may be purchased by calling 301-924-3400 or by visiting online

Friday, August 24, 2018

Oh Dear, Homophobe Daniel Murphy is at it Again

Daniel Murphy adding more fuel to the fire.
I pictured newly acquired Chicago Cub Daniel Murphy standing at home plate at Wrigley Field this Sunday in front of a mic during the Out at Wrigley event.  My dream, perhaps delusion, would be that Murphy would address the crowd, Lou Gehrig-like, and walk back his homophobic comments from three years ago, which angered LGBTQ folks and allies around the nation.

Those words were stated while as a New York Met at a time when many people were tricked into thinking that homophobia was on the wane following the Supreme Court’s decision making marriage equality the law of the land.  Murphy was asked a question about Major League Baseball’s Ambassador for Inclusion, Billy Bean, a former major league baseball player who came out as gay following his career.

“I disagree with his lifestyle,” Murphy said, citing his faith. “I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual. That doesn’t mean I can’t still invest in him and get to know him. I don’t think the fact that someone is a homosexual should completely shut the door on investing in them in a relational aspect.” Since then, Murphy had become friends with Bean.

In a commentary in The Guardian on August 23, Parker Molloy, who is lesbian, wrote: “The truth is that saying you ‘disagree with the fact that [somebody] is a homosexual’ is homophobic. It’s like somebody saying ‘I disagree with your hair,’ ‘I disagree with your race,’ or ‘I disagree with your gender’. In all three examples you can say that you don’t like someone’s hair, race or gender; but it’s not exactly yours to disagree with in terms of existence. The same goes for the statement, ‘I disagree with his lifestyle’.

Molloy adds, “Being gay is no more of a ‘lifestyle’ than being straight is, and treating it as such is honestly pretty demeaning to those of us in the LGBT community. It suggests that we’re lesser, that we’re broken, that we’re wrong for being who we are. It’s hurtful, plain and simple.”

But any aspiration that Murphy, 33, would show that he evolved and perhaps backed off from those comments was dashed when he was told at a presser that Cubs fans are unhappy he joined the team because of his anti-gay stance and would not root for the team.

In a mocking tone, he said, “Oh dear. I would hope you would root for the Cubs.”

Those comments are shown below.

Cyd Zeigler of OUTsports, a website that discusses the intersection of sports and the LGBTQ community, opined: “'Oh dear,' he said, as he looked off dismissively into space. In other words: These gay people are just so damn overly sensitive when Christians like me say they bad things about them.”

Added Zeigler, “He went on with a I-couldn’t-care-less-what-those-gays-think answer about how gay fans should continue to cheer for the Cubs.”

After being unsigned by the Mets, Murphy was picked up by the Washington Nationals—a team which benefited from Murphy’s strong batting—and who holds annual Nights Out at the Ballpark.  Though the controversy regarding his homophobic comments did not overtly surface in the district, which has the highest percentage of LGBTQ people in the nation, and no other similar public comments were made during his tenure in D.C., some were still wary at the outset.

“We expressed our concerns to the Nats about this as well as when Yunel Escobar was traded to the team a couple of years before,” said Brent Minor, Executive Director of Team DC, the organizers of Night Out.  “During one Night OUT game, we worked with MLB to have Billy Bean come and speak to the team about diversity and inclusion.

Minor indicated that he had a conversation with Bean in which he was told that Bean spoke directly to Murphy and while acknowledging he still held deeply religious views on the topic, felt he was heard and respected.

Minor went on to tout the Nationals and their support of Team DC and the Night Out series.
“They even had the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington ‘sing’ their holiday card that is sent to all season ticket holders a few years back.” He also saluted pitchers Max Scherzer and Sean Doolittle for their vocal support of the LGBTQ community.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer reached out to Billy Bean prior to the trade and the Cubs was satisfied with his response.

It will be interesting to see what the fans’ reaction may be upon Murphy’s introduction during Out at Wrigley on August 26. The second such event held this year at Wrigley, and which bills itself as “The Nation’s Original MLB Gay Day,” is intended to celebrate the LGBTQ community. Wrigley Field is just outside the iconic gay “Boystown” neighborhood and the Cubs is the only MLB team with openly gay owner in Laura Ricketts.

I would suspect that many fans would back Murphy because they see the LGBTQ community in the same light. Others clearly would be angered. 

But oh dear, don’t expect him to apologize.  

Monday, August 20, 2018

Things Are Looking ‘Up’ for Trump

As President Trump revels in the fact unemployment has gone down and is quick to take credit for it, I believe it is important to note what has gone up since he was inaugurated in front of that sparse crowd.

Gas prices have gone UP

 Food prices have gone UP

 Health care costs have gone UP

 The national debt has gone UP

 Income inequality has gone UP

 Corruption in his administration has gone UP

 Lies to the American people from himself and/or surrogates have gone UP

 Hate crimes have gone UP

 His racist, misogynous or xenophobic comments on tweets have gone UP

 Administration turnover has gone UP

 Distrust among our allies towards the U.S. has gone UP

 Indictments from the Mueller-Russia investigation have gone UP

 The number of versions of the infamous Trump Tower meeting has gone UP

 The number of Republicans in Congress cowering to Trump has gone UP

 Babies in cages have gone UP

Please add any others directly to the Comments section of this post.

Don’t get mad…VOTE!!!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

‘A Change in Worlds’ Shows the Dead are Not Powerless

It took nearly a decade for Josh Aterovis’ fifth novel in the Killian Kendall mystery series to be published but it was worth the wait.  Three publishers in a row went out of business that led to the delay in the next installment in the young adult mystery/paranormal genres that feature the gay teenage private investigator, Killian Kendall.

The series has received accolades. Aterovis’ third book, All Lost Things, for example, was a 2010 Lambda Award finalist for Best Mystery. MLR Press, an independent LGBT publisher, expressed interest in the acclaimed series, which is back in print with updated editions, setting the stage for the fifth book’s arrival.

With A Change in Worlds: A Killian Kendall Mystery, Aterovis continues his mastery of storytelling, scene-setting, character development and detail. The book has a fast pace and commands your attention with a host of dramatic sequences and a bit of humor thrown into the mix.

Gorgeously written, there are passages in which the prose is near poetic. Eighteen year-old Killian Kendall describes the action in the first person and elicits likeability so there is no choice but to root for him as was the case in the previous novels.

It is difficult to fathom, however, that the central character is indeed a teenager. His knowledge of antiques, décor, criminal analysis, investigative techniques and other areas is such that one would expect from someone twice his age or older.  His wisdom is well beyond his years. And even his vocabulary is more akin to an older person when using such words as “odiferous” and “prickle.”  Do 18 year-olds actually say such things?

Nonetheless, Killian is presented as a role model for gay youth and is a hero in all his adventures.

As described in the previous novels in the series, Killian had to overcome his challenges growing up gay on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. His father rejected him and was ultimately taken in by a gay couple named Adam and Steve, no less. He witnessed a friend being murdered, and Killian had also been nearly murdered himself on several occasions as well as actually having killed someone (in self-defense). He possesses Gifts in which he can be visited by the dead under certain circumstances—not something he welcomed and has had difficulty in controlling. 

His earlier solutions to crimes led him to being employed as an assistant to a private investigator whose guidance and instruction led Killian to be proficient in the field allowing him to probe cases on his own.  On top of that Killian had a boyfriend named Asher.  They broke up.  A new boyfriend Micah emerged. And the drama involving these relationships came to head in the subplot in A Change in Worlds.

Author Josh Aterovis
The main storyline in this novel centers on the theft of potentially valuable artifacts from an archaeological excavation at a Native American site on the Eastern Shore.  Fletcher, a tribal elder, was assaulted resulting in his suffering a heart attack in which he survived.

Killian was asked to look into the thefts and along the way, two people were murdered and he narrowly escaped the same fate.  Interspersed throughout is Killian’s awareness of angry spirits through his Gifts—angry because a sacred burial site has been disturbed by the archeologists—with one such spirit, seeing that Killian is an ally, ultimately saved his life. As quoted in the book, “The dead are not powerless…There is no death, only a change in worlds.”

Through Killian’s investigation, Aterovis takes the reader on numerous interviews of potential suspects regarding the thefts and murders.  Each encounter provides a plausible reason not to rule the subject out altogether, but at the same time no direct linkage to the crimes could be established. The pace is brisk and the tension mounts as Killian attempts to solve the crimes while putting him in danger.

As that takes place, Killian’s love life is also examined effectively resulting in pressure in attempting to figure out what he wants.  He is guided by his extended alternative family as well as sage advice from his mother.

There is much to describe regarding the plot and the characters but it would do no service to spoil any of the suspense here. What can be said is that Aterovis’ A Change in Worlds is a solid Grisham-esque mystery thriller with a heart-pounding climax that makes us yearn for the sixth installment of the series.   
A Change in Worlds; Josh Aterovis; published by MLR Press, LLC; August 2018; $8.99; print format: ISBN# 978-1-64122-168-9; eBook format available.

Book Release Party


Author Josh Aterovis will host a book release party on September 3 at the Windup Space, 12 W. North Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21201.  The event, which will take place between 7 and 10 p.m., celebrates the release of A Change of Worlds and the upcoming release of Never Alone and Other Stories, Aterovis’ book of short stories.

All five books in the Killian Kendall series will be available for sale.  There will also be readings and drag performances including local favorite Betty O’Hellno.  

Friday, August 03, 2018

Lock Him Out

It’s time the media boycott Trump’s incendiary rallies.

For decades, Donald Trump has thrived from extensive media exposure. Many pundits agree that his unlikely nomination for President in 2016 was in part due to this oversized coverage.  The same could be said for the general election in which the media managed to repeat every utterance and gesture—particularly against “crooked Hillary”—that undoubtedly had an impact on the electorate. (Of course, these public rants in front of an eager press corps may have ultimately worked against Trump as they could very well be key evidence in the Mueller probe on the question of conspiracy with a foreign adversary against the U.S., e.g. “Russia, if you’re listening…”)

Since taking office, Trump has held numerous fiery rallies, which are intended to keep his worshipping base in tow.  Re-litigating the 2016 election and lies about voter fraud have been staples of his diatribes.  Another, which has been emerging with increasing rage, is his constant berating of the media as “fake news.” He went off the rails at a rally on August 2 in Pennsylvania when he characterized the press for delivering “fake, fake disgusting news.”

“What ever happened to the free press? Whatever happened to honest reporting?” Trump asked, pointing to the media in the back of the room. “They don’t report it. They only make up stories.”

Trump supporters heckling CNN's Jim Acosta
His grievance with those journalists covering him (FOX News and Breitbart among other right wing outlets excepted) is that they don’t recognize what he calls achievements, and they seem to cast a shadow over his legitimacy as President by the relentless reporting on the Special Counsel investigation.

Trump wants it only one way: favorable coverage or the news, if negative, can only be fake. Moreover, his mantra that “the press is the enemy of the people” is a direct assault on our democracy and the First Amendment that guarantees a free and open press.  These statements come from the same playbook employed by autocrats, despots and dictators throughout history. 

His base eats it up.  Fired up by this rhetoric, Trump’s supporters at the rallies curse and shout obscenities at the press area in the back of the venue.  The other night at a rally in Tampa, CNN’s Jim Acosta faced a barrage of insults from the heckling rabid Trump supporters.  His concern is that the escalating hatred towards the media could lead to violence.  Acosta tweeted:

Since it is all but guaranteed that Trump will not modify his behavior or demonstrate any attempt to restrain his followers, here’s a possible solution: deprive him of the media coverage that he craves at his rallies. 

Don’t bother to show up since there is seldom any news to be reported anyway.  Starve the beast. He is nothing if he can’t be the focus of national and international attention.

Perhaps only then will he act like a mature adult holding the most powerful office on earth instead of a toddler banging on his crib.

But don’t bet on it.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Silver Linings in Trea Turner Tweet Tempest

A local favorite, Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner, became the third MLB player since the MLB All-Star game to have had racist, homophobic and/or misogynous tweets that were posted 6 or 7 years ago unearthed.

Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Josh Hader’s offensive tweets surfaced after that game. Atlanta Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb, who was one strike away from a no-hitter on July 29, was forced to deal with his written artistry immediately following the game.  Then Trea Turner’s tweets appeared hours later.  All three players are either 24 or 25 and all wrote their controversial social media insults while they were 17 or 18, prior to being in the major leagues.

There’s no excuse.  At that age they should know that homophobic and racist slurs are wrong because undoubtedly they heard or read them while in high school if not before.  For those who think anti-LGBT bullying or bullying of any kind by adolescents are on the wane, think again.

The Washington Post summarized Turner’s tweets as follows:

“Two of Turner’s resurfaced tweets were replies in which acquaintances were called homophobic slurs. In another, the tweet reads “unless ur gay” in a reply to a former North Carolina State teammate. A fourth tweet suggests that if a woman working at a drive-through were to ask who the [faggot] in the back of a car was, it would be Turner. A fifth tweet reads, “Once u go black, u gonna need a wheelchair,” a line from the movie “White Chicks.”

Hader was very contrite in his apology.  Newcomb’s was not as potent an apology though the Braves organization condemned the tweets.  

Turner, with his boyish countenance who still looks like he's at N.C. State during the time when the tweets were posted, issued a statement through the Nationals: 

“There are no excuses for my insensitive and offensive language on Twitter,” Turner said in a statement released by the Nationals. 

“I am sincerely sorry for those tweets and apologize wholeheartedly. I believe people who know me understand those regrettable actions do not reflect my values or who I am. But I understand the hurtful nature of such language and am sorry to have brought any negative light to the Nationals organization, myself or the game I love.”

Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said in a statement,  “I have spoken with Trea regarding the tweets that surfaced earlier tonight. He understands that his comments — regardless of when they were posted — are inexcusable and is taking full responsibility for his actions. The Nationals organization does not condone discrimination in any form, and his comments do not in any way reflect the values of our club. Trea has been a good teammate and model citizen in our clubhouse, and these comments are not indicative of how he has conducted himself while part of our team. He has apologized to me and to the organization for his comments.”

Hader, who has already met with MLB executive in charge of diversity and former ballplayer Billy Bean who is openly gay, will be required to attend sensitivity training and that will likely be the same for Newcomb and Turner.  Apparently, no other discipline is in order since the offenses occurred prior to their service in MLB.

Turner emotionally apologized to the communities affected in a gathering of the media at National Park on July 31 before a game against the New York Mets. "It's not when I said those things I said, it's that I said them at all," Turner explained. 

Getting the matter off his chest must have been cathartic as he had two singles and two stolen bases in the first inning following his introduction to lukewarm applause from the hometown fans.

There are silver linings to these episodes.  For one thing, the players involved were quick to accept responsibility and apologized and the teams they played for denounced the tweets.  And MLB took action in short order.

Second, public shaming in the form of loud booing was experienced by Hader in his first road appearance in San Francisco (after he received a standing ovation in his hometown stadium, Miller Park.)  The expectation is that the majority of fans will not tolerate such public comments and will let their feelings known.  It sends a strong message to players who covet endorsement deals.

Third, one would think (hope) the players have evolved from their adolescent behavior.  All three made that point. In Turner’s case, he has ironically been part of MLB’s anti-bullying initiative Shred Hate where he appears in a video

He can now point to his own mistakes as a credible message to youngsters.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

There He Goes Again

Fresh off the most embarrassing performance by an American president on the world stage in my lifetime and his legal woes becoming increasingly dicey, President Donald Trump—the master of distraction and disinformation—found a new shiny object to change the news cycle.

It’s back to a tried and true argument to keep hold of his base: the kneeling NFL players who protest police injustices heaped on African Americans. With the NFL and its players association reviewing the current policy regarding taking a knee during the anthem Trump saw the opportunity to discredit the players and suspend them for not adhering to his view of patriotism. He tweeted:

We can all scratch our heads in disbelief over how Trump can characterize the Nazis and KKK members brandishing torches and swastikas  in Charlottesville as “very fine people’ but those who are exercising their First Amendment right by peacefully demonstrating against a real and at times deadly problem in our society as “son of a bitches.” What is more outlandish and troublesome, however, is Trump’s faux embrace of patriotism. Examples:

► Trump condemns a pillar of our democracy, the free press, as the enemy of the people.

► Our commander-in-chief did all he could to avoid military service—5 times in fact.

► Our commander-in-chief is clueless as to the meaning of the Purple Heart.

► He has never once visited the American troops overseas but has played golf 131 times.

► As president he has undermined the FBI, CIA, our intel services and the rule of law.

► He invites Russian diplomats into the Oval office with no other Americans present and gives away classified information from a trusted ally.

► He ordered the detainment of people and the separation of their children as they legally entered the U.S. seeking asylum.

► Trump allows the flag of North Korea, under a brutal and murderous regime, to be side-by-side to the American flag in Singapore.

► Trump cowered to Putin in Helsinki and essentially surrendered to Russia.

► He refuses to do anything to prevent another cyber attack on our democracy.

► Trump invites the same man who helped elect him as president to visit the White House in the fall.

► More than half the country view Trump as a traitor following the Helsinki debacle.

So, please Mr. Trump, stop lecturing us and African American football players about patriotism. You’re not at all patriotic. In fact, you’re a traitor.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Andrew Howard Named LGBTQ+ Liaison in Howard

Andrew Howard

Andrew Howard has been designated by County Executive Allan H. Kittleman as the first LGBTQ+ Liaison in the county. The purpose of this position is to ensure the county government is accessible to the LGBTQ+ community by having a direct person to call.

 “Andrew brings a great depth of empathy and understanding to his work with my friends in the LGBTQ+ community,” Kittleman said.  “As I have seen with his leadership in coordinating the County Executive’s LGBTQ+ Roundtable, he helps put into practice my goals of making certain that every individual in Howard County is treated with respect and appreciation.” 

Kittleman adds, “I am proud of the progress we are making, and I’m fortunate to have Andrew working with all of us as we move forward together.”

Howard grew up in the Valley Mede neighborhood of Ellicott City and began his involvement in helping the community through the Boy Scouts.  He studied Politics and Spanish at New York University, where he developed a passion for helping others succeed by working with America Reads and the Boys Club of New York. 

Howard was a high school Spanish teacher before joining County Executive Allan Kittleman’s team working in the Constituent Service and Community Outreach area of the Howard County Executive staff.

“I am proud to be the first LGBTQ+ Liaison for Howard County,” says Howard. “I’m excited to combine my work for the community on the County Executive’s LGBTQ+ Roundtable, the HoCo Pride Committee and the #OneHoward initiative.”

Andrew Howard can be reached by calling 410-313-2042 or by email at

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Give Three Cheers and One Cheer More to Olney’s Bright and Zany ‘Pinafore'

Photo: Teresa Castracane Photography
Patrons entering the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at Olney Theatre Center expecting to see a traditional set specifically designed for Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore will be quite stunned.  

There’s no facsimile of a saucy ship’s a beauty, no ostensible scenery depicting the ocean blue, and the sober men and true sailors are not attired in stylish 19th century British Navy uniforms.   #hocoarts

Instead, you will walk into the lab that is part playground, part carnival, part slumber party.  In this set, imaginatively designed by Tom Burch, the 10 performers are already strolling about in bright, colorful pajamas and some crazy slippers, all creatively designed by Alison Siple, playing an assortment of stringed instruments and serenading the folks with seemingly random songs as the crowd files in.

Small stuffed animals are tossed by the actors to the unsuspecting and eventually suspecting patrons during the hubbub.  Some are encouraged to sit in a large decagon-shaped box in the center of the stage that resembles an above ground swimming pool. But rather than water, the contents feature a whole bunch of pillows.  Kids jump into this box, and unprompted, begin having pillow fights with what appears to be their parents, siblings and other occupants.

On an elevated platform, which has what appears to be the painting of two portholes—among the very few direct references to a ship on this set—there is a slide for audience members as well as some of the actors to utilize as it empties into the pillow-laden box. 

Continuing the peculiarities there is a refrigerator with a sign saying “No Swear Words,” several more beds, a bar (yes, they’re selling libations during the show) and other goodies in a canopied concession stand in a corner of the stage.

Rules are announced and audience members are invited to sit in the “promenade” area that includes the floor, benches and the aforementioned set pieces. The actors alert the audience seated or standing in these areas by hand signals or gentle touches on the shoulders for them to move to another location as the performers will be occupying that given space.  All this transpires throughout the 70-minute show adding to the desired commotion.

As if you couldn’t tell by now, this is clearly a satirical rendering of the popular H.M.S. Pinafore. The jaunty music was composed by Arthur Sullivan and the book by W. S. Gilbert. It is one of their Savoy operas that also include The Mikado and The Pirates of Penzance—the latter being performed in repertory at Olney in association with The Hypocrites and The House Theatre of Chicago.

Directed and adapted by Sean Graney and co-adapted by Andra Velis Simon and Matt Kahler, the production is chock full of talent, high energy and playfulness that offer the audience, even for just these 70 minutes, a welcome respite from the world’s events. 

Though the aesthetics are non-traditional to this 19th century work, the production stays true to the storyline as well as the sparkling musical numbers including the familiar ones: “We Sail The Ocean Blue,” “I’m Called Little Buttercup,”  “I Am The Captain Of The Pinafore,” “Kind Captain, I’ve Important Information” and “Now Give Three Cheers.”

The performers, who are members of the Chicago-based The Hippocrites, have taken their repertories around the country. They play the stringed instruments while they sing, act and bandy about the stage.  Those instruments include a good dose of guitars, as well as a ukulele, mandolin, fiddle, accordion, and brief appearances by a flute and a toy piano.

Photo: Teresa Castracane Photography
Aside from the unconventional set and prelude to the show, one immediately recognizes where this was heading as the rather burly bearded actor Matt Kahler ironically sings the show’s second number, “I’m Called Little Buttercup.”

What was a male role in the original work is now a female role for this production and vice versa.  It’s not cross-gender acting in which males are playing female roles but the genders of the characters are reversed. For example, the character Josephine, the daughter of Captain Corcoran in the original version, is now Joseph and is played superbly by the charismatic and talented Mario Aivazian. Captain Cat, a female character in this show, is played commandingly by Tina Muñoz Pandya.

In keeping with the original, the comical tale depicts the power of love against the backdrop of class snobbery. Joseph, Captain Cat’s son, falls for lowly sailor Ralphina Rackstraw (Dana Salem Omar) but he is duty bound to marry the snooty Admiral Dame Jo-Ann instead (Lauren Vogel). A twist at the end puts an exclamation point on this mayhem. 

The entire cast sings exceptionally well with an abundance of movement around the stage while playing their instruments. Ms. Omar’s and Mr. Aivazian’s vocals are particularly outstanding in their solos.

Rounding out The Hypocrites are Shawn Pfautsch as Heebies, Eduardo Xavier Curley Carrillo as Kev’n, Leslie Ann Sheppard as Tiffini and Aja Wiltshire as the “stinky” Dot Deadeye.

Heather Gilbert’s splendid lighting design and Kevin O’Donnell’s solid sound design as well as the musical direction by Andra Velis Simon enhance the quality of the production.

There are heaps of laughs, lots of high jinks, and tons of talent on display is this spoof of a Gilbert and Sullivan classic.

It’s impossible to speculate if those men would be turning in their graves if they were to see this parody of their work. But I can say with a degree of certainty they would be laughing and having a good time.  So will you.

Running time. Seventy minutes with a one minute intermission.

H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance run through August 19 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, July 07, 2018

Take a Chance on Mamma Mia! at Toby’s

Cast of Mamma Mia! playing at Toby's Dinner Theatre
Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography

Twenty year-old Sophie is planning a big white wedding with a picturesque Greek island as the perfect setting. Her fiancée, Sky, is a handsome young man who is madly in love with her. All that’s needed is for her father to proudly walk her down the aisle. #hocoarts

But who’s her daddy? That question is the central plot line in the vivid spectacle Mamma Mia! now gracing the in-the-round stage at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia. #hocoarts

Mamma Mia! is a jukebox musical based on the songs from the seventies pop rock group ABBA that were composed by former band members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. British playwright Catherine Johnson managed to craft a sweet story line around rather disparate songs, and it works. The plot features strong women protagonists and a high dose of feminism throughout.

Directed and choreographed by Helen Hayes Award winner Mark Minnick, the polished, colorfully costumed, well-staged production at Toby’s is flawless with a high-spirited, talented cast performing their hearts out. Top-notch vocal performances, solid acting and energetic dancing with the able support of Conductor Ross Scott Rawlings and his six-piece orchestra bring to life the nostalgia of ABBA’s popular catalog of hits while Johnson’s story brings smiles and a tear or two as the show progresses.

Sophie Sheridan, played brilliantly by Toby’s newcomer Maggie Dransfield, never knew who her father was as she was raised only by her single mother and owner of the taverna, Donna Sheridan, played by Heather Marie Beck, also magnificent in her role.  

Donna, back in the day, was the lead singer of a pop trio Donna and the Dynamos along with Tanya (Coby Kay Callahan) and Rosie (Tess Rohan).  And now she toils tirelessly in running the taverna and raising Sophie by herself having gotten used to the fact there is no longer a man in her life.

Coby Kay Callahan, Heather Marie Beck and Tess Rohan
singing "Super Trouper' Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography
Sophie sneakily inspects her mother’s diary entries and determines the possibilities based on steamy episodes that took place just prior to her birth: Sam Carmichael (Jeffrey Shankle), an architect; Bill Austen (Russell Sunday), a travel writer; and Harry Bright, a British banker (Darren McDonnell). 
Unbeknownst to her mother, she secretly invites all to her wedding feeling she will know who that man is.

Much of the story revolves around how the three men interact with Sophie and how they explain their presence to Donna as well as the touching but sometimes tense mother-daughter relationship that evolves over this two-day period.  But how that transpires up until the actual wedding and its surprising twist at the end (surprising only if you haven’t seen Mamma Mia! before) becomes the plot that is prodded along by the music.

And oh that music! While not all of ABBA’s songs are performed, most of the toe-tapping, hummable ones are. “Dancing Queen,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “Lay All Your Love On Me,” “The Winner Takes It All” and “Take a Chance On Me” (my personal favorite) help make the production soar.

Mr. Minnick’s choreography, so ably suited for the unique contours of Toby’s stage, is meticulous and energetic. The athletic dancers execute their moves with precision and enthusiasm. “Money, Money, Money,” “Lay All Your Love On Me,” and “Voulez-Vous” are good examples of that.  Then there is “Dancing Queen,” a show-stopper for sure.

In a spectacular production number, “Lay All Your Love On Me” the stellar choreography is evident. It starts off with Sophie and Sky singing the emotional and up-tempo song and is joined by the male ensemble donning blue tight wetsuits and flippers. Special shout-outs go to Andrew Prowant for his acrobatic flips and Shiloh Orr for his amazing hand walk across the width of the stage.

Another highlight is the hilarious duet with Tess Rohan as Rosie, an unmarried free-wheeling soul and a member of the one-time Donna and the Dynamos, and Russell Sunday as Bill in “Take A Chance On Me.”  Ms. Rohan’s antics during the number elicit much laughter.

Coby Kay Callahan plays the thrice-married Tanya, also a member of the Donna and the Dynamos trio . She, too, demonstrates her comedic skills and lovely singing voice and is on full display in “Money, Money, Money,” “Chiquitta,” “Super Trouper” as well as “Dancing Queen.”

Darren McDonnell & cast in 'Waterloo' Photo:Jeri Tidwell Photography
As Sophie, Maggie Dransfield turns in a marvelous performance in demonstrating a fine soprano voice as well as strong acting prowess.  “The Name of the Game,” “Under Attack’ and “I Have a Dream” are all well-performed.  Her dramatic interactions with Ms. Beck as her mother Donna and Paul Roeckell, making his Toby’s debut as the fiancée Sky, are superbly played by all the actors, especially in scenes where there are tense confrontations.

Heather Marie Beck is first-rate as Donna.  She is a commanding force onstage with her acting skills and gorgeous soprano voice.  The range of emotions she exhibits with Ms. Dransfield’s Sophie are competently executed providing many of the dramatic sequences.

As part of the trio in “Dancing Queen” Ms. Beck excels.  She also delivers exceptional solo performances in “One Of Us” and “The Winner Takes It All” and performs well in “SOS,” a duet with Mr. Shankle and “Our Last Summer,” a duet with Mr. McDonnell.

Mr. McDonell as Harry, Mr. Shankle as Sam and Mr. Sunday as Bill act and sing very effectively. They each present plausible explanations on how they could be Sophie’s real dad, and combined with Donna’s uncertainty, muddies the waters keeping the audience in suspense. 

I am so happy that Jeffrey Shankle has the opportunity to demonstrate his outstanding tenor voice.  He kills it in “Knowing Me, Knowing You”—another highlight.

Rounding out the talented cast are Jamie Pasquinelli as Ali, Cassie Saunders as Lisa, Joey Ellinghaus as Pepper, Shiloh Orr as Eddie, and David James as Father Alexandrios.

Other members of the energetic ensemble are Brandon Bedore, Justin Calhoun, Rachel Kemp, Ariel Messeca, Andrew Prowant, Nina Savoy, Louisa Tringali and Brigid Wallace.

David A. Hopkins set design is spot-on with wooden aqua and cream-colored doors on the walls above and around the stage depicting the entrances to hotel-like rooms above the Greek island taverna, which is the scene for much of the action.  Mr. Minnick effectively utilizes all the available levels and corners of the theater rendering the production to play big in the in-the-round space.

Cast singing 'Waterloo' at show's end
Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photgraphy
The wide variety of spectacular pastel costumes are provided by AT Jones & Sons INC.  Mark Smedley’s sound design is on the money as the performers are well mic’d and able to soar above the orchestration. And David A. Hopkins lighting design nimbly suits the myriad changes in mood in dialogue and song.

The ninth longest running show on Broadway and the eighth longest in London’s West End, Mamma Mia! has been played virtually everywhere.  If that weren’t enough, there is the popular film version with the same name. And just in time for this run, the sequel to the movie, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, is set to open on July 20.  

Oddly, the musical never captured a Tony Award though it received five nominations in 2002.   That tidbit is shrugged off by the tens of millions who have enjoyed the show worldwide.

You should definitely take a chance and see this well directed, expertly performed Mamma Mia! at Toby’s Dinner Theatre.  The famous buffet is as good as ever adding to a wonderful evening of joy and a well-earned few hours of escaping the tumult in the world.

Running time. Two hours and 35 minutes with an intermission.

Mamma Mia! runs through September 9, 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 410-730-8311or visiting online.