Category Archives: Reflections

In Praise of “Small Theater”

One of the more exciting possibilities for small, local theater productions — often called “community theater” although the name is often inaccurate and somewhat demeaning — is to tackle themes that are particularly challenging. This includes many of the “canon” of significant works of drama.  “Well worn” as these may be, they became classics because of their enduring power. While reprised occasionally on Broadway, usually in limited runs with big name stars, they provide fertile territory for theatrical exploration in the more intimate context of regional theaters. Other fascinating, less familiar or entirely original, material is available to small theater performances.  Concept works and original stagings of more well-known material — all are fertile ground for small, local theater.

Much local theater, of course, does not attempt to take on challenging material. There’s nothing wrong with entertainment for entertainment’s sake, for filling houses with patrons enjoying an evening out, away from world and personal troubles and the din of television commercial monotony.   There’s nothin’ wrong either with a troupe of actors having a ball with a traditional song-and-dance or farcical silliness.  There’s no substitute for sheer unadulterated fun.  God knows we all need it in these trying times.

Many small local theaters are wonderful venues, though, for a different kind of theater:  theater that, in one way or another, challenges their audience.  In recent times, our area (southeastern Vermont) has been graced by some outstanding work that is, by no means, “easy” from either an actor/director or audience perspective. Whether it was the reprise of the achingly painful Death of a Salesman, the gender-bending interpretation of Jean Genet’s classic, The Maids, the family-from-hell tortuous drama, August, Osage County, or the complex, mind-twisting Copenhagen, among many other wonderfully-enacted serious and comedic works, local audiences were treated this past year alone to innumerable fascinating and demanding theatrical performances. Sometimes, these challenging works attracted full houses, sometimes only the few and the brave, but all gave their audiences something to think and feel about, something meaningful.

Sometimes I think “small theater” should be movement like “slow food.”  I wish we could get away from judging our artistic worth by the size of our audience.  Everything today is market-rated. I remember when I started writing the book that forms the main body of this website and began seeking a publisher. I realized my personal goals and any publishing house’s were completely out of sync.  I felt that if a hundred people took my work seriously enough to read it, that would be a significant accomplishment.  Publishers needed press runs in the thousands to even consider a work. The internet changes the game, but it’s still difficult not to look at website statistics as the ultimate measure of value. Certainly they do give some sense of the interest one’s work attracts.   And since audience size is also tied to whether a theater can be a going concern, it’s both natural and appropriate to be concerned with it. But equating the number of patrons with value reduces the artistic process to a commodity, an extremely deleterious consequence in the realm of creativity.

Small theater has the opportunity of inverting the equation and judging success by the quality of the work rather than the size of its audience. How many times have I heard people remember a performance from many years previous with the words “I was six feet away” from the performance?  In our local area, I think of how wonderful and memorable it is to hear music played in an intimate setting — jazz at Wendy’s house concerts, at the Vermont Jazz Center or the Open Music Collective; chamber music performances at Yellow Barn, Next Stage, or at our local little old schoolhouse — rank right up there with performances I’ve seen at Lincoln Center in New York.

There is a chance, in small theater, to try things that don’t appeal to everyone, that may disturb or unsettle, that may even leave some audience members wondering “what the heck was that?”   There is chance to experiment, to “stretch out” as an actor or director.  And it is a chance for an audience to experience something entirely different from what anything they’ve seen before.






The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Black Box Theater: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde



(link to initial entry on this thread)

One of the most alluring possibilities in using a black box theater like the Hooker-Dunham is creating a production from the ground up.  It’s “minimalistic” set-up, a small stage framed by either thick black drapes or, if the drapes are open, stone slabs and bricks. As I write, we’re trying to do that, starting from the Robert Louis Stevenson novella (yes, the author of the Disney-ized, i.e. sanitized Treasure Island!.).

Josh Moyse is developing an entirely new rendition of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  I say “rendition” rather than “adaptation.” We are paying great heed to the iconic story of the doctor who took a potion that transformed him into all that was evil inside of him, all that was instinctual, and all that was vile, despicable.

Most people cannot think of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde without conjuring up images of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, or Heckle and Jeckle. It is engrained in the cultural heritage of many cultures and is, perhaps, universal:  The divide that sometimes can feel so deeply embedded in our nature between the will to be good and beneficial to others and the will do whatever the heck on wants.  If that includes doing harm to others (and what else is that axe raised over your head in anticipation there for?) a line is crossed that no one can abide.

Theater has the wonderful ability, not unlike a really good roller-coaster ride or anything else that’s scary at first but you’re really glad you did it, to allow us to feel fear and see evil and, at the same moment, to feel safe. The homicidal maniac on the stage is not going to come and actually attack us in our seats.

So here is a simple space in which to build a world of claustrophobic nightmare. Because that’s what Jekyll and Hyde is, a nightmare, in which the truth is horrible to behold).  (Hyde complains:  “Why does it always have to be Jekyll and Hyde? Why can’t it be, at least some of the time, Hyde and Jekyll. I know, it sounds like a law firm, but it still would be more fair.”)  A nightmare.  Jekyll goes too far and terrible things happen. Man crosses a boundary he should not cross.

(It occurs to me that this is not unlike the central question of Copenhagen, that just finished a wonderful four-week run at ATP in West Chesterfield.  In our infinite quest to know but also in our fear of other humans and desire to be able to destroy them before they destroy us, we have delved inside the atom, and found a way to unlock its energy.)

Dr. Jekyll is toying with the laws of the universe. He is Edward Teller ( “father” of the hydrogen bomb). He is Faust Robert Johnson at the crossroads, making his pact with the devil.  Or Robespierre, chopping off the head of the king, and so, according to some psycho-historians, killing God and kill Father.  He is poor Oedipus — except that Oedipus had no idea what he was doing while Dr. Jekyll is trying to do what actually happens.

The point is that working with the novella means exploring some very interesting terrain.

Here are some ideas that have crossed my mind.  (Whether any of them will seep into our production remains to be seen.)

An theatrical analysis of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ( some practical, some psychological, some philosophical, and some nonsensical ideas)

The tragedy of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

An imagining of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Another scenario of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Final imagining and alternatives


Continuing idle pursuits…

Today’s (Friday, Aug. 8) NY Times crossword puzzle is top notch.  Clues that you have no idea of but would kind of like to.  A clever “resolution” once you get toward the end of the two long acrosses. A couple surprises in the some of the answers.  Worth working one’s way through if you’re into crosswords.

NYT Crossword Hints – Oct. 6 – Toe Tags

The first question to ask in looking at the Sunday puzzle is:  what’s the likely nature of the “trick” of the theme.   The first thing I check is whether the long clues have question marks at the end.  If they do, as they do today, we know that the theme answers are puns in which the title of the puzzle (Toe Tags) this time, figure prominently.

If you know what a pun is, skip this paragraph, but if you’re sometimes thrown by them, read on:  The most common wordplay is to take several common, everyday phrases, do something to them (the same “something” to every answer) and then give a clue that has nothing to do with the common expression, but literally fits the answer.   The most common of these is  adding a couple letters at the beginning, middle or end of the answer, but there have been many clever variants over the years.   If the puzzle designer’s clever, they bring a little smile to your face when you figure them out.

So that’s what we have here.   What makes this puzzle a bit challenging is that you really need to start getting some of the theme answers relatively early in the puzzle.  Keep this in mind:  A few of the clues refer to specifics (e.g. capital of Ecuador).   You can safely bet they’ll be contained in the answers.  If you don’t know Josip Broz’ more common name is, learn it today, you’ll use it many times in future puzzle solving.

10 Specific hints:

1.  5-Across Histoire de… :  The answer word is a name that is the same as French and English.   You do know this name.

2.  14-Down Leave surreptitiously: 2 words

3.  78-Down Orbital decay result:  Think space shuttle

4.  56-Across More than ardent:  Not a state you’d want to run up against

5.  99-Across Tiny pasta:  I always wondered if this stuff was actually a pasta.   Anyway, an alternate definition: “Approximately (spoken in a thick slavic accent)”

6.  55-Across Hands-free microphone place: No not the dashboard of your car.   Think motivational speaker.   Or don’t.  I hate those guys!

7.  84.Down Seinfeld called him the “Picasso of our generation.”   Remember Seinfeld’s profession.   The man he’s talking about had a bit too much burning ambition at some points in his career.

8.  51-Down Sang in the moonlight, maybe:  Think four-legged animal, not Romeo

9.  57-Down Learn fast, say:  The clue is fine, but most of us know that it’s more like trying to learn fast, not necessarily succeeding.

10.  25-Down Sonata segment:  The music, not the car, in case you were wondering.  Boston Celtic fans probably don’t realize this talented guy was also a part of a musical opus.





Life in the universe

We humans often think of life in the universe as though it were the result of a bizarre set of accidental circumstances.   We’ve evolved enough to realize that we aren’t the center of our own solar system, let alone the universe, yet we still think of life, and most of all conscious life, as an incredible and unlikely series of events, rather than being an inevitable element of the universe, permeating it.

So when we imagine the universe, we needn’t wonder whether there are planets full of life:  Of course they are.   Millions upon millions of them.













Catfood Addiction

A brilliant device in the film District 9 is that the overgrown walking-erect shrimps (who have invade Earth and are quarantined in District 9) are addicted to cat food.   It is brilliant because it makes sense:  of course cat food would be addictive to any animal that would eat it.

My cat is now old enough and spoiled enough that she has a preferred packaged cat food that is marketed as a “snack.”  She will stalk away from “normal” cat food.

Are you old enough to remember or have you seen a YouTube video in which doctors advertise cigarettes as “healthy.”   (If you haven’t seen the first half hour of Sleeper, by the way, I strongly recommend it.  If you have seen it, watch it again;  it will make you smile.)   Is it any wonder that our pets become addicted to particular products?    Obviously it’s not the FDA’s (Food and Drug Administration) concern.    So god knows what they put in cat food, but mine becomes finickier and finickier every day when it comes to eating “ordinary” cat food.





Ain’t it the truth

“If you’re over 50 and you wake up in the morning with no aches or pains, that’s how you know your dead.” — Old joke

“If I woke up and didn’t have angst one morning, I wouldn’t recognize myself.” — I said that.

“You can be in my dream, if I can be in yours.” — a patient and shrink, both dreaming they’re the only person left alive after WW III, in Bob Dylan’s 115th dream.

Rutchik Rides Again

Thoughts, Wednesday night, May 16

[Note] This is the first time I’ve used the blog to post thoughts. An experiment.

We are at an odd point in history where knowledge from the past is actively being forgotten. I find this when I think of author’s I’ve read that many intelligent people have never heard of, but whose ideas are unique, not incorporated into our normal day-to-day thinking.

Erich Fromm for one. I asked college students to read his books but they couldn’t. They didn’t. It wasn’t like they read a little and couldn’t continue. They got nowhere at all.

Karl Marx is another. Seeing Jerry Levy do Marx in Soho I see that he is a man on a mission and that there is nothing like him in the world. Perhaps there is, but I truly can’t imagine that there could be yet another person walking the planet who so embodies Karl Marx. My closet of an office at Marlboro College was next to his and I always had to check myself before I called him “Karl,” when I said hello to him in the afternoon.

Last of a dying breed, we are, though I’m sure the next couple generations have just as much spunk in them. But they have a different flavor and something very different is going on. The Occupy concept is still very much alive even though it as a tactic, per se, seems to have been counteracted by greater force. Anything to do with correlations of forces is scary shit. But Arab Spring was both essentially Occupy taken a step further: to the point of inciting open fear in those who held power, fear strong enough to let loose of their power and run for the hills.

This has always been the power struggle in demonstrations: there may be a point where ordinary controls fail. But we know, or should know, our own limitations and we must know that there are those who would rather murder than give up power.

We have forgotten or are trying to forget the 1960’s. We do not want to conceive of a post-nuclear war world — something that felt close then, but remains just as close if not closer today. Who can blame us for this piece of repression? But there are other things we learned that we have forgotten. Like seeing “making it,” nearly however defined, as irrelevant. That’s just one thing. There a lot of things a lot of people figured out that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Does every generation think this? Does every generation have to figure it all out for themselves all over again? Apparently. As a kid, I used to sneer at geezers who thought they knew better than their young’uns. Guess the joke’s on me.

We’re a strange race, we homo sapiens.    We always think we know more than our ancestors.  Perhaps we do.  But we sure do leave a lot of good ideas along the wayside .


Added article published in local Vermont paper

After the Tropic Storm devastated the village I live in (specifically South Newfane, but calling ourselves a “village” is a bit of a stretch.  The small area of three villages — South Newfane, Williamsville, and Brookside — were really clobbered by the storm.  The rivers filled to overflowing to the point that trickling brooks became roaring torrents with tens to hundreds of full-grown pines, firs, spruces, and maples came roaring down them.  One house was washed from one side of the road to the other, completely destroying it.  In another place, not only the house but the land under it was taken by the river, leaving nothing but rocks and sand.  A man two houses downriver from me lost a couple acres of wooded land as the river veered right where it used to go straight.  Two bridges were completely destroyed and a third had one end six feet lower than it was before the floods.


Other towns got hit even worse, I’m told.  Some towns were underwater and others were completely isolated from the rest of the world as the only access roads and bridges were destroyed.


The process of responding to all this was an intense community effort.  I’ve just added the online version of the an article I wrote  for the Commons, a weekly free newspaper published in Brattleboro. You’ll find it under the title “A Vermont community struggles to recover from Tropical Storm Irene” in the Community section of the blook.


Release Day Cometh!

Today’s the day – I’ve added my essays on the cult/community (Dreaming of Community), God or Not (Stuck in Reverse), on being lost (Lost in Orleans), and, more importantly, sent emails to my friends telling that the site exists and where to find it.

(If you’re new to my site, this blog is currently solely for where I post info on additions and updates, rather than an ongoing gutter of consciousness.)