Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Boatman, Overloaded


According to mythology, Charon saw dead people. He also shipped them. He was the ferryman who ushered the recently departed across the River Styx to their final destination. He got a real workout in 2008, as I've mentioned in an earlier entry. In fact, I've mentioned many of his passengers in the past year, over 40 of them. Most were in the arts, though a smattering were public figures in other areas, and a couple were personally important in my life.







Because I hate the HUGE SIGNIFICANCE of New Year's Eve, about which I wrote last year, I thought I'd duck all that soul-searching and self-evaluation one is supposed to do, and instead take this opportunity to glance once more at some of those who left us in 2008.

We lost a couple of real legends this year, and, in my opinion, Paul Newman was the biggest. I have such admiration for this man who respected his craft and always strove to be his best. At the same time, he remained healthy by creating a stable home-life (with the best actress of her generation, Joanne Woodward) and indulging in other interests. When I wrote about Newman, I focused on the success of his 50 year marriage, and did not mention the tragic drug death of his son, which gave birth to his philanthropic endeavors.


Charlton Heston has to be classified as an icon, too, even as I was never enamored of his acting. I can't recall a single film performance of his which bowled me over, and in my favorite Heston film, Planet of the Apes, that loincloth did all the acting. I wrote about meeting Heston, years before his politics veered so far to the right, and I was recently reminded that he marched with Martin Luther King when it was unpopular for a white star to do so. His death from Alzheimer's, well, I wouldn't wish that on anybody.



(Time to let go of that rifle now, Chuck...)





I can claim to have met another icon who died this year, comedian George Carlin. I doubt he would consider himself so important, but his lengthy career proves otherwise. I also mentioned the irony of his posthumous Mark Twain Prize, presented at the Kennedy Center before a glittering crowd. It's not ironic that he won the prize, it's ironic that, during the ceremony, his Seven Words You Can't Say On TV was played. And censored. The whole routine is about censorship, and for it to be censored in front of a live audience who were there to celebrate his humor...wow.


While talking about icons and legends, I think I would put director/actor/producer Sidney Pollock in this group. I loved Pollock as an actor, and admire him as a director who worked so well with huge personalities such as Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda and Meryl Streep. He knew a little something about acting.




Hey, we lost Bozo the Clown this year, too. Well, Bozo didn't actually die , but the gent who refined the clown's image and played him longer than anybody else did. Mr. Clean croaked this year, too, or rather, the actor who played him in the first live-action commercials. I imagine Bozo and Clean will be around a lot longer than the guys who first made them famous. That makes them icons, right?




I mentioned half a dozen writers whom we lost this year, and Harold Pinter has to be at the top of that list, in terms of both quality and quantity of work. Dale Wasserman provided two hits which have become perennials, and William Gibson, though prolific, will be remembered for providing colleges and community theatres one really strong play. Studs Terkel may win the award for longevity, and George Furth's work with Stephen Sondheim created one classic concept musical, and one flop which refuses to die; people are still tinkering with it. Both Company and Merrily We Roll Along will stand the test of time. And though Michael Crichton created ER, I think his lasting legacy will be his sci-fi work.



The majority of obits I penned in 2008 concerned actors. What are the odds of that? We lost at least three performers who were triple-threats, before that term was invented. These ladies could sing, dance, and deliver a punchline: Eartha Kitt, Cyd Charisse, and Van Johnson. Kitt died Christmas Day, just in time for my final Friday Dance Party of the year, and Johnson, who was technically not a lady, also graced the Dance Party the week he died.













Many of the actors we lost this year achieved their fame in sitcoms. Estelle Getty, whom I was not convinced was a great actress, nonetheless gets lots of respect for having hung in there, and finally "making it" in her 50s. Beverly Garland had a long television career but will probably be most associated with My Three Sons, which she joined in its final seasons. We also said so long to Rhoda's husband (David Groh), Mary Hartman's mother (Dody Goodman), and The Jefferson's neighbor (Paul Benedict, who was equally admired as a stage director). Among this group, I felt the death of the terrific Suzanne Pleshette most keenly. She was well respected as a dramatic actress before that fateful night when she appeared as a guest on the Johnny Carson show (this was back when performers were booked on talk shows because they could talk, rather than just to promote their newest project). Bob Newhart was also on the program that night, and the two had such an immediate comic chemistry that she was offered the role for which she is best remembered, Emily Hartley. Her appearance on Newhart's second sitcom insured that it become the finest series finale in TV history (sorry MASH fans).




I mentioned that the soap world lost three long-term players, including All My Children's Eileen Herlie, who has the distinction of playing Hamlet's mother opposite Laurence Olivier and Richard Burton, twenty years apart! Irene Dailey (Dan's sister) and Beverlee McKinsey (generally considered to be the best actress ever to work in daytime) , pictured, both spent years on Another World and other programs, while devoting their evenings to the Broadway stage.






Harvey Korman must be considered one of the greatest Second Bananas in show business, and Dick Martin's expertise as a sitcom director should not be overshadowed by his participation in one of the most innovative TV programs ever, Laugh-In. We lost them both this year, as well as one of my favorite "variety" stars, Edie Adams. When I wrote of Adams's passing, I mentioned her tender rendition of "That's All" on the final Lucy and Desi program; go here for a listen.

TV lost the First Lady of Star Trek, Majel Barrett Roddenberry, as well as the great Peanuts animator Bill Melendez. Those of us living in DC keenly felt the loss of another television star, Robert Prosky. He spend years on Hill Street Blues, but around here, he is remembered primarily for his stage work.


In addition to Paul Newman and Charlton Heston, I mentioned the deaths of several other film stars. Not many people would be able to pick Fred Crane or Evelyn Keyes out of a line-up, but they were two of the few surviving players from Gone With the Wind, until this year. They were both character actors, as were two bigger movie stars who died in 2008, Paul Scofield and Roy Scheider. Scofield won the Oscar for Man for All Seasons, and Scheider should have won for All That Jazz, but again, I doubt the general public would be able to pick them out of a book of mugshots.









Here's a guy who moviegoers would be able to identify on sight. Heath Ledger's accidental drug overdose ended a promising young career, and there is talk of an Oscar this year for his work in The Dark Night. I haven't seen that film yet, but surely Ledger had not yet fulfilled his promise as an actor. He will always be respected for his participation in Brokeback Mountain; along with Jake Gyllenhaal, he was pretty fearless.

I felt the loss of all of the above folks, but of course I was more affected by the deaths of the people in my personal world. The DC theatre community lost an elder statesman earlier this year when Bill Hamlin passed away, and just last week, young Shane Wallis died in a motorcycle accident. The unexpected death of John MacDonald of the Washington Stage Guild in July continues to affect our local community; I was just getting to know this gentle man before a senseless home accident took him away.








Perhaps I should have expected that 2008 would be a year of loss, as it was exactly one year ago, on New Year's Eve 2007, that my long-time acting coach, director, mentor, and dear friend Bobbi Holtzman died. I was only in occasional touch with Bobbi since my move from LA, but I continue to think of her each and every time I begin a new theatrical project. My years with her, in her class and as her friend, gave me my artistic sensibility.






I imagine she encouraged the ferryman to "take his toys" during her ride with him across the Styx. I hope she's resting in peace, along with the others we lost this year. Maybe Charon won't be quite so busy in 2009.






We can always hope...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Someone Wonderful I Missed


I'm not sure when this site turned into the obituaries, but it surely seems like I've written many more entries about dead people than living, especially lately. According to my count, I mentioned over forty deaths in these pages this year, which does not begin to cover the full list of notable passings. Before I recap the folks about whom I did write a bit, I feel obligated to at least mention a few of those whom I left out in 2008. I did not really overlook these folks, I just did not feel the urge to post an item about them at the time of their deaths. So sue me.

Richard Widmark, for example, deserves a mention, as does comic Bernie Mac and Oscar-winner Isaac Hayes (I have vivid memories of his performance of Shaft at the 1971 Oscars, all smoke and chains...).

And how could I have failed to celebrate the life and career of Estelle Reiner? Of course, you recognise the surname; she was wife to Carl and mother to Rob, and maintained a career as an actress and cabaret artist. But let's not kid ourselves. We remember her because she delivered one of the most hilarious one-liners ever to appear in a feature film. The flick was When Harry Met Sally, and the line was, "I'll have what she's having."



'Nuff said.


Anthony Minghella died this year, and I am surprised that I never mentioned it, as he is responsible for one of my favorite films. He was an Oscar-winning director and writer, and his production of The Talented Mr. Ripley provided a spectacular showcase for Matt Damon. Gwyneth Paltrow and Phillip Seymour Hoffman were never better, and Minghella's direction enabled the sub-talented Jude Law to deliver a performance he has been unable to match, before or since.









Lots of politicos died this year, but only two really hit my radar. Mark Felt is a name nobody really remembers until reminded that his code-name was Deep Throat. He provided inside info to Woodward and Bernstein of the Washington Post, and was thus central to the downfall of the Nixon presidency. I imagine he's meeting up with St. Peter about now, in some celestial parking garage, telling him to "follow the money." I could not bring myself to write about another political animal who left the planet this year, Jesse Helms. This long-time bigot and homophobe kicked the bucket on July 4th, a coincidence I dislike, but I think it's poetic justice that his senate seat, which was held for a while by Elizabeth Dole, has finally been lost to the Democrats.

I don't follow political journalism too closely, though I know enough about right-wingers William F. Buckley and Tony Snow to dislike their politics. Those two were certainly not unbiased journalists (I'm not sure Buckley would even have called himself a "journalist." He was a "commentator." Where do I sign up to get paid to comment? Nice gig...), at least not on the scale of the greatly missed Tim Russert, who helmed Meet the Press for many years. My friend Warner is afraid that Russert's replacement, David Gregory, is not up to the task, and I'm in no position to argue. But he sure is purty on TV... isn't that enough?













Jim McKay died this year too, and though he spent his long career in sports broadcasting, I remember him from those horrendous days during the 1972 Olympics. It was the first time I ever heard the word "terrorist." Are there any sportscasters around today who could step up to the plate (note the sports metaphor...I worked hard on that one) and anchor a breaking, hard news story, as McKay did from Munich?








A couple of other folks who died this year are better remembered, at least in my addled brain, by the actors who portrayed them in the movies. Dith Pran was the Cambodian photojournalist at the center of The Killing Fields, but when I picture him, it's the amateur actor Dr. Haing S. Ngor who comes to mind. The world's most famous coma victim, Sunny von Bulow, died this year, after spending almost 28 years in a vegetative state. She had no idea her story would be immortalized by Reversal of Fortune, that Jeremy Irons would win an Oscar playing her philandering, and possibly murderous, husband, Claus, or that whenever her name is mentioned, it is Glenn Close who comes to mind.









These are just a few of the people I missed writing about this year, so in their honor (or in a few cases, dishonor), let's raise a glass of champagne to their memory. Better yet, make sure the glass is filled with a sparkling wine from California. Robert Mondavi died this year, too.








Friday, December 26, 2008

Friday Dance Party: Eartha gets Nothin' for Christmas

It's been difficult to maintain the Christmas Spirit, as losses continue to be felt throughout the holiday season. Just since Thanksgiving, we've lost Harold Pinter, Van Johnson, Beverly Garland, Paul Benedict, and even others.

It seems that the weekly Dance Party, invented by my buddy Larry at http://ldahlke.wordpress.com, has evolved into something else in these pages. I'm not sure WHAT, but it doesn't seem to be "dance," at least not lately.

No matter. For the final Holiday Dance Party of 2008, please enjoy the clip below, remembering the sultry Eartha Kitt, who left us Christmas Day.

Eartha Kitt

1927-2008






Orson Welles, who cast her as Helen of Troy, dubbed her "the most exciting woman in the world." Though she was born among cotton pickers in South Carolina, she never allowed her mixed race to deter or define her (her mother was black and Cherokee, her father was white). She was abandoned by her mother and raised by an aunt, who took her to New York and enrolled her in the High School of the Performing Arts (she never graduated). By chance she landed in the Katherine Dunham dance troupe, with which she made her Broadway debut in Bal Negre. She returned to Broadway in New Faces of 1952, a revue which also featured future stars Carol Lawrence, Paul Lynde, and Alice Ghostly. Other Broadway appearances included Shinbone Alley and The Owl and the Pussycat; she received Tony nominations for Timbuktu and The Wild Party. Her most recent appearance on Broadway was as Chita Rivera's replacement in Nine.











Kitt received her first Emmy nomination for a guest appearance on I Spy in the mid-60s, and famously replaced Julie Newmar in the campy Batman series. Her sultry purr as the Catwoman remains a cult classic.












Kitt's outspoken criticism of the Vietnam War, which she notoriously voiced at a White House luncheon attended by Lady Bird Johnson, nearly destroyed her career. She was investigated by the FBI and CIA, and was forced to work overseas for years after the incident.













More recently, Kitt earned back-to-back Emmy awards as Best Performer in an Animated Series for her work on The Emperor's New School. She has received multiple Grammy nominations, and her 1954 recording of Santa Baby insured that the song is now a holiday standard. A recent concert in Chicago was taped by PBS for upcoming broadcast in 2009.

Kitt succumbed to colon cancer on Christmas Day.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Harold Pinter

1930-2008


Playwright, screenwriter, poet, essayist, actor, director, conscientious objector, and political activist, Pinter's theatrical career was bookended by two colossal flops. The Birthday Party, his first professionally produced play, was considered one of the biggest disasters of the post-war era. His final screenplay, an adaptation (and remake) of Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth, was a critical and financial bomb. In between, he produced a body of work which places him alongside Beckett as one of the most influential theatrical writers of the 20th century.


PLAYS:



The Room (1957)
The Birthday Party (1957), at right
The Dumb Waiter (1957)
A Slight Ache (1958)
The Hothouse (1958)
The Caretaker (1959)
A Night Out (1959)
Night School (1960)
The Dwarfs (1960)
The Collection (1961)
The Lover (1962)
Tea Party (1964)
The Homecoming (1964)
The Basement (1966)
Landscape (1967)
Silence (1968)
Old Times (1970)
Monologue (1972)
No Man's Land (1974), at right
Betrayal (1978)
Family Voices (1980)
A Kind of Alaska (1982)
Victoria Station (1982)
One for the Road (1984)
Mountain Language (1988)
The New World Order (1991)
Party Time (1991)
Moonlight (1993)
Ashes to Ashes (1996)
Celebration (1999)
Remembrance of Things Past (2000) [Stage adapt. of The Proust Screenplay; a collaboration with Di Trevis.]



Screenplays:

The Caretaker (1963)
The Servant (1963), picture at right
The Pumpkin Eater (1963)
The Compartment (1963) [Screenplay for unproduced film; adapt. for stage as The Basement (play)]
The Quiller Memorandum (1965)
Accident (1966)
The Birthday Party (1968)
The Go-Between (1969)
The Homecoming (1969)
Langrishe, Go Down (1970; adapt. for TV 1978; film release 2002]
The Proust Screenplay (1972) [Published 1978, but unproduced for film; adapt. by Harold Pinter and director Di Trevis for the stage (2000) Remembrance of Things Past]
The Last Tycoon (1974)
The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), below
Betrayal (1983)
Victory (1982) [Published but unproduced]
Turtle Diary (1984)
The Handmaid's Tale (1987)
Reunion (1988)
The Heat of the Day (1988) [adapt. for TV]
The Comfort of Strangers (1989)
Party Time (1992) (Rev. & adapt. for TV)
The Trial (1993)
"Lolita" (1994) [Unpublished and unproduced]
"The Dreaming Child" (1997) [Published but unproduced]
"The Tragedy of King Lear" (2000) [Unpublished and unproduced]
Sleuth (2007)



Pinter was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005. In a videotaped response which has become the most famous Nobel acceptance speech in history, he delivered a vitriolic diatribe against American foreign policy, including this sensational accusation: "The United States supported and in many cases engendered every rightwing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the second world war". (He then proceeded to provide examples.)


In honor of one of the great voices of contemporary drama, let us (ahem)

...pause.

Merry Christmas


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Shane Wallis


1975-2008


This year of loss continues for the DC theatrical community. Wallis was a rising young actor on local stages, and in recent years has populated productions at Washington Shakespeare Company, Rorshach Theatre, Baltimore Shakes, American Century Theatre, and the Source Theatre Festival. His theatrical skills included directing Spoon River Anthology at American Century. He also graced the area's larger stages, appearing as "Snake" in School for Scandal at the Folger, and was The Shakespeare Theatre's ensemble swing for Macbeth and Pericles. He was scheduled to appear in Arena Stage's Sweet Bird of Youth in 2009.






Shane was an accomplished combat choreographer, musician, and set constructionist. In addition to appearing onstage there, he was the associate technical director for Theatre J, which will be hosting a memorial service 12/29 in his honor. He leaves behind an extended family in Mississippi, including two young children.
Shane died in a motorcycle accident last week.











Saturday, December 20, 2008

More Lights


It appears a tradition has been born. Last year, for the first time in 4 years, I spent a fortnight in Los Angeles. I used to visit much more often, but the regular routine faded, and my trips became more sporadic. Last year was the first time I had made the trip during the holiday season, and I found it to be so much more fun and rewarding than visiting during the summer, which was my previous habit. I lived in LA off and on, mostly on, for 20 years, and developed a tight-knit group of friends whom I now consider my family. (I wrote about them last year in these pages.)



This year, my plan to visit was not finalized until it became clear that I would have no work over the holidays. The less said about that, the better, though my continued unemployment allowed me to return to LA for more holiday fun. So, I suppose being Out Of Work is really a Christmas Blessing... yeah, I'll go with that.


My buddies Scott and Drew graciously offer me digs whenever I visit, in their spacious home in the hills above the San Fernando Valley. I have my own bedroom and bath, which allows me to stay out of my hosts' hair whenever possible. That was even easier than usual this year, as I arrived to a deserted manse, and had to pop next door to the French neighbors to pick up the house key. The Boyz were completing a two week cruise, so I was on my own for the first four days of my stay. I've been in their house many, many times, but I admit it was a bit eerie to putter around the place alone. Thankfully, they had failed to mute their home answering machine, so an unrelenting beep kept me company. An unrelenting beep. An UNRELENTING beep.







I'm lucky that another of my chosen family, Judy, tosses a bit of teaching my way whenever I show up in California. She runs the theatre dept at a prestigious private school, and she has the ability to hire me to teach a few workshops during my stay. I enjoy this part of my LA trips immensely, as I find her students focused and enthusiastic. And it gives me something to do during the day, when all my friends are working or otherwise unavailable to hang out. The only downside to this routine is the fact that these courses are all scheduled at ungodly hours of the morning. I suppose when I was in high school, I started class at 7:45 AM too, but my body does not remember those long ago days. The commute across the Valley, during morning rush hour, was the only negative aspect of my trip.


Well, that's not exactly true. This year, my visit was marred by an insidious bug which I apparently picked up from one of my flight mates on USAir. (Another reason I despise the strangers with whom I travel.) I did not begin to feel the effects of this germ until the very moment Scott and Drew returned from their travels, on my fourth day in LA. I came down, quickly and hard, with a sloppy cold, which turned from a sore throat into a hacking cough in 24 hours. I infected my hosts, who themselves were getting over illnesses contracted on the high seas, so we made a fine tubercular trio.





Nostalgia always plays a part in my Los Angeles sojourns, as I usually take the opportunity to catch up with various cronies from Days Long Gone. This year, I shared a meal with a grand gal I had not seen in over 20 years. Barbara and I were fast friends for several years right out of undergrad, and as students of my treasured acting coach Bobbi, we shared a real bond. Barb was one of those people who became very very important in my life for a brief while, then, for some reason, faded out. The last time I saw her, I visited her and her husband in the Hollywood Hills apt. they shared in the mid-80s. Barbara parlayed her interest in theatre into a career as a therapist, and now conducts a booming practice, catering to the loonies who make LA their home. Her husband Sam was a working actor back when I first met him, and has maintained a consistent career ever since (here he is in Lost, in which he plays mild-mannered dentist "Bernard").






But the highlights of my visits to LA are always the times spent with Scott, Drew, Claudia, and Judy. Together or separately, they remain my family. This year, as last, we spent a lovely evening decorating the Christmas Tree in my hosts' den. Though I see them separately during the week, that night is extra special, as it's the only time we five are together. Lots of laughs, lots of food, a good bit of booze, and lots of love. Humor is always central to the evening, but it is enhanced with a feeling which can only come from a long shared history. Claudia has been in my life since high school, so we are celebrating a whopping 35 years as friends. Judy and Scott came into my life over 30 years ago, and Drew, as the youngster of the group, has still been one of my closest friends for a quarter century.



It is Drew, actually, of whom I think when I wonder if this December Trip to LA has in fact become a tradition. He had a sad and chaotic childhood, the effects of which taught him to create his own traditions (and he has a buttload of them). The Annual Decorating Of The Tree has now become one, an evening which isn't really about hanging ornaments on branches. It's about our family.












The routine goes like this: as Drusis and Claud and Judy circle the tree, and I try to stay out of the way, Scott observes from his throne (the armchair), "It needs more lights."


(I wouldn't dream of contradicting him. He likes a BRIGHT tree.)



Ornaments are hung, a few traditional glass balls, but mostly, sentimental pieces Scott and Drew have picked up over the years. They reflect their interests and their loves. Peanuts and Ziggy and other whimsical items give the finished tree a distinctly original look. All the while, we five catch up on our lives, reminisce a bit, eat, drink, and laugh. It's not the wildest gathering ever created, but it is meaningful.





And I've discovered that I need it. I can't predict that I will be able to get out to LA every year at Christmas, my life does not have that kind of structure. But I like this new tradition of Drew's, and will do my best to make it happen as often as I can.


It hasn't been the best year for me, or for several others in the group. We've all had our dark times. But I've noticed, this year and last, that by reconnecting with my Scott and Drusis and Claud and Jude, it's not quite so dark.


When I see them, this family I chose, I get more lights.









Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Dance Party: the Star Trek Can-Can

Again I must dispense with my self-proclaimed holiday theme for the dance party, and instead offer the above clip. It is in salute to The First Lady of Star Trek, who ascended to the Final Frontier this week (scroll down two entries).

In honor of Majel Barrett, enjoy this reverential look at the Trek universe...


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Theatre Droppings: God Bless Us, Every One Day More



I freely confess that Les Miserables has been near the bottom of my list of favorite musicals, ever since the First National Tour settled in Los Angeles and bored the crap out of me. I sat in the nosebleed section, which should not have made such a difference for such a gigantic production, but it did. I could not make heads nor tails of the story, all the characters looked and sounded alike, and by hour number three, I was ready to storm that barricade myself.




But I'm glad I succumbed to the temptation to check out Signature Theatre's re-conceived, scaled-down version, as the cast includes several of my favorite performers, and the word on the street has been very good. I enjoyed this production far more than that monstrous snore-fest I saw in L.A., though I have to confess that I have not changed my mind much about the material itself. To call Les Miz a musical is a bit of a misnomer, as it was one of the first pieces to be called a "pop opera," and it resembles a traditional opera far more than a traditional musical.


Signature has done a bang-up job telling the story, which I never could follow in the L.A. version. Here, the large cast of characters was all very clear to me, as was the plot, which is a bit unwieldy. As has become common in Signature musicals of late, several leads have been imported from New York, with at least three of them having played their respective roles before, in Broadway or touring versions. But our local gang has stepped up to the plate as well, with Tracy Lynn Olivera and Felicia Curry powering through their ballads as well as any Broadway Babe. The music in the show tends to grab hold of your brain and refuse to let go, but the lyrics leave a lot to be desired. Is it only in translation that so many of the songs are built around a question mark? Or are French lyricists really so, um, questionable? So many numbers in the show have a Rhetorical Question as motif that the material would make any Debate Team feel at home. It seems like every song includes some sort of "Who Am I?", or "Can This Be?" or "Do You Hear The People Sing?"at its core. Once you notice it, you can't hear anything else.



Chris Sizemore is a solid physical and vocal presence in the one-note role of the leader of the student revolutionaries, and the lone comic interludes in the evening are handled exceptionally well by Chris Bloch and Sherri Edelen. The strong ensemble is populated with Signature regulars, most of whom were handling leading roles for the theatre when it was building its reputation in that crummy garage space around the corner from the current, swankier digs. With Sigulars like Stephen Gregory Smith, Chan McQuay, Amy McWilliams, Tom Simpson, Matt Conner, Eleasha Gamble, and James Gardiner in the large ensemble, the story is being told clearly and robustly. This production is a success, even as I continue to struggle to embrace the material. The creators are pretty shameless in attempting to yank at the heartstrings, with each Power Ballad soaring past another, reinforcing traditional opera's tendency to Tell Us About the character, rather than, you know, show us. And as soon as that charming little mite Gavroche turns up, you just know he's doomed.



Another waif in danger on current local stages is that little dickens Tiny Tim. I popped down to see Fords Theatre's annual Christmas Carol only to lend support to several buddies in the cast. I am not a big fan of this story, and I've freely confessed that my favorite version of the tale is Mr. Magoo's. So, I surprised myself by being completely sucked in by the show. Billed as a "ghost story of Christmas," this perennial production is in dynamite shape. Heading the cast for several years running is Martin Rayner, an actor who, incredibly, manages to underplay Scrooge. In fact, the entire cast treats the piece as a work of realism, and the result is a completely believable production, even as spooks materialize through doors, in balconies, and in mid-air. The Cratchit scenes, lead by MJ Casey and Kim Schraf, should be shown to acting students as examples of how to make very familiar text seem new and spontaneous. Generous support is provided by my buddies Steve Carpenter, Clinton Brandhagen, Elliot Dash, and Claudia Miller (I never cease to be amazed by the fact that my friends are always stand outs in their shows. It's a phenomenon.) I never in a million years expected to be so moved by a production of this old story, but Mark Ramont, who has restaged the classic for Fords, really pulled it off. I think I embarrassed myself by weeping more than a few tears. At A Christmas Carol!!!