Wednesday, November 29, 2006

'Return with Us Now to Those Thrilling ...'

An innovative -- in a retro-sort-of-way -- project was announced today by the American Century Theater in Arlington, Virginia. I like the way it uses modern telecommunications technology (a toll-free teleconference) to emulate old-fashioned radio. Here's the text of the news release I received a few minutes ago:

American Century Theater Performs 365 Days/365 plays
In the Style of Classic Radio Theater via Teleconference on December 18th

In the largest theatrical collaborative effort ever undertaken in the United States, theaters across America are joining creative forces to present Suzan-Lori Parks’ epic 365 Days/365 plays over a 52 week span. But only Arlington’s American Century Theater is audacious enough to present its week of original plays in the style of old-time live radio drama to truly capture the power of the words.

On December 18, at 8:00 PM, DC area audience members will be able to call a toll-free number and connect to a unique theatrical event. They will hear seven original plays Parks wrote for the week of December 18-24, performed by professional actors with live sound effects. They can also connect the broadcast to a speaker phone and invite their friends and family to experience the “theater of the imagination” that made radio drama so effective and memorable.

Suzan-Lori Parks is one of the most celebrated of rising young playwrights, the first black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for drama for her 2002 play, Top Dog/Underdog. Parks, a MacArthur "genius" award winner, completed a collection of 365 short plays of five to seven minutes a piece, one for each day of the year. Cities, including Washington, D.C., will be presenting the plays in order, with a different theater company taking each week. DC's Studio Theatre is coordinating the project for the Washington area.

“The radio theater format gives us an opportunity to get live theater into the homes of people who may not be able to travel, during a time of year that can be very stressful" explained TACT Artistic Director Jack Marshall. "We are bringing live theater directly into homes. This is free, and both new and nostalgic. All anyone needs is a telephone.”

The troupe of actors performing the plays include Mary McGowan (The Autumn Garden), vocal artist Rick Rohan (A Thousand Clowns) and Marshall. But, the key person in the production is TACT sound designer Keith Bell. He provides the technical skills to make this experimental radio drama happen. "I promise that over the phone the plays will sound just like a studio production," said Marshall.

The 800 number and the PIN Code will be available to anyone wishing to hear the broadcast beginning Monday, December 4, by calling the TACT message line (703-553-8782), or by going to www.americancentury.org, The entire performance will be approximately forty minutes long.

“Our company is dedicated to presenting great plays and musicals that have been neglected, and now we are presenting a classic form of drama that has been neglected,” says Marshall. “There is nothing like live drama performed over the radio, and this holiday season, that is our gift to the community.”

The American Century Theater is a 501 (c)(3) professional nonprofit theater company dedicated to producing great, important and neglected 20th Century American plays and playwrights. TACT is funded in part by Arlington County through the Cultural Affairs Division of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources and the Arlington Commissioner for the Arts; the Virginia Commissioner for the Arts and numerous foundations and many generous donors.

# # #

Consuming Porn Will Make You Sick

According to the Journal News, which covers the Lower Hudson Valley in New York, consuming pornographic images may cause sickness. In story datelined Mahopac, we learn:

A local man is facing burglary and animal-cruelty charges after police said he broke into a barn Thanksgiving morning and spray painted three pet goats and left pornographic magazines behind.

The Boer goats - two males and a female - then got sick after eating the magazines, according to their veterinarian.

"They weren't the nicest magazines," police Lt. Brian Karst said today.

Let this be a warning: Do not feed your goats any publications other than The New Yorker and Architectural Digest, lest they have indigestion.

Virginia Appeals Court Says, Obey the Law

The Virginia Court of Appeals on Tuesday told lower courts that their job is to apply the law, not make it up as they go along, in a stern rebuke to activist judges.

According to Overlawyered.com:

Reversing a lower court, the Virginia Court of Appeals "ruled Tuesday that Virginia state courts had a constitutional obligation to defer to the rulings of Vermont courts in a child custody dispute involving two lesbian partners who had entered into a Vermont civil union." (Jurist, Nov. 28; opinion in PDF format). The ruling will come as no real surprise to those who've read previous posts in this space (Aug. 26, 2006; Dec. 16 and Aug. 15, 2004). Some social-conservative commentators had unwisely applauded the efforts of Liberty Counsel, a misnamed Religious Right litigation strike force, to help client Lisa Miller evade the jurisdiction of a Vermont court order ordering visitation rights to former partner Janet Jenkins.
Michael Hardy explains the ruling further in today's Richmond Times-Dispatch:
Lisa Miller-Jenkins, the mother impregnated by sperm from an anonymous donor, won her battle in a Virginia court to deny her former partner, Janet Miller-Jenkins, rights granted under Vermont law that recognized their civil union there in late 2000.

But the three-judge Virginia panel said yesterday that the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act trumped the trial court's ruling on behalf of Lisa Miller-Jenkins.

In November 2003, Lisa Miller-Jenkins filed a complaint in a Vermont trial court to dissolve the civil union and determine visitation and other rights.

"By filing her complaint in Vermont, Lisa invoked the jurisdiction of the courts of Vermont and subjected herself and the child to that jurisdiction," Judge Jere M.H. Willis Jr. emphasized.

The court reversed the subsequent decision of a Frederick County judge giving Lisa Miller-Jenkins sole custody of the girl. The judge mistakenly relied, it argued, on Virginia's Marriage Affirmation Act, which voids same-sex unions.

"This case does not place before us the question whether Virginia recognizes the civil union entered into by the parties in Virginia," the court said. "Rather, the only question before us is whether, considering the [federal law], Virginia can deny full faith and credit to the orders of the Vermont court regarding custody and visitation. It cannot."
Here's the message for judges -- in Frederick County or elsewhere -- who want to legislate from the bench: Don't do it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

'Ain't Misbehavin'' Comes to Charlottesville

This news release from Live Arts crossed my desk yesterday. I'll be going to see the show on Friday.

LIVE ARTS PRESENTS: Ain’t Misbehavin’ The joint will be jumpin’!

Charlottesville, VA - Live Arts proudly presents Ain’t Misbehavin’, a Fats Waller musical show. Directed by John Owen, Ain’t Misbehavin’ runs in the DownStage theater December 1 -23, 3006. Show sponsors are R.E. Lee & Son, Inc., Elizabeth and Joe LeVaca and Nelson Byrd Woltz. Show community partner is Charlottesville Chapter of the LINKS, Inc. Season media sponsor is C-VILLE Weekly.


Join us in our DownStage as it will also resonate with the radiant and joyful energy of Thomas “Fats” Waller in Ain’t Misbehavin’. Featuring an 11-person ensemble of music and choreographed dance, this cabaret-style performance of 25 songs will showcase everything from “Honeysuckle Rose” to “I’m Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.” The walls will be thumping with the rhythmic notes of Fats’ memorable jive!

When asked about Ain’t Misbehavin’, director John Owen responded, “The work of Fats Waller is in all of our minds because his work lives at the very foundation of jazz. It is a tribute to an artist who brought us music that has been and will be re-interpreted forever. If someone says ‘I’ve never heard of Fats Waller,’ you can bet that if you hum a few bars they'll smile and say, ‘Oh sure, I KNOW THAT ONE!"

Born in 1904 in New York City to a Baptist minister father, Fats Wallers’ budding career began as a child under the instruction of the musical director at his Baptist church who taught him the classical organ compositions of J.S. Bach. During his 20s, he was then introduced to the stride style of piano by legendary Harlem pianist James P. Johnson, sparking his mastery of this musical form characterized by improvisation and swing rhythms. Early success in his five- or six-piece combo group “Fats Waller and his Rhythm” later developed into a burgeoning solo pianist career, composing more than 450 pieces, among which is the hit “Ain’t Misbehavin’!” Known for his larger than life exuberance and roguish stage presence, all 285 pounds of Fats maintained a ravenous appetite for life in every sense of the word. More than 60 years after his death, we pay homage to this American icon of jazz music.

Making its Broadway debut at the Longacre Theatre on May 9, 1978, Ain’t Misbehavin’ ran for a total of 1604 performances. It reaped critical acclaim by being nominated for five Tony Awards and winning three in its opening year including Best Director, Best Featured Actress and Best Musical. Ever since, Ain’t Misbehavin’ has been seen on stages across the world and it is with great pride that Live Arts brings this musical performance to our DownStage theater.

Tickets for Ain’t Misbehavin’ go on sale to the public Monday, November 13 and may be purchased in one of three ways. Tickets are sold via phone at the Live Arts Box Office, in person Monday through Friday from 10a.m. to 6p.m., or one hour before the performance. The preview performance of Ain’t Misbehavin’ is November 30 at 8 p.m. Free tickets to this Thursday preview are available in person at C-VILLE Weekly starting Wednesday November 22. This ticket giveaway will be available on a first come, first served basis, and will continue until gone. Limit is two tickets per person, and free admission is only via these tickets.
The photo at upper right shows the Charlottesville cast of Ain't Misbehavin' and is courtesy of Live Arts. The poster on the left from the national touring company of Ain't Misbehavin' has been hanging on my kitchen wall for more years than I care to remember.

Greetings from Your President

The first holiday greeting card of the 2006 season arrived in my snail-mailbox today. To my surprise, the envelope had a return address of "The White House, Washington, D.C. 20500" and a postmark of "Crawford, TX":



The card inside was signed -- OK, it was an autopen or even a printing-press facsimile signature -- by George and Laura Bush:



As one might expect, the back of the card informs us that it was "Paid for by the Republican National Committee. WWW.GOP.COM. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate committee." (We're also told that the picture on the front is an oil painting by James Blake entitled "The Oval Office in December.")

I'm a bit puzzled. Not by the heavy snow on the White House lawn in December, since that's just artistic license, and there are rare early snows in Washington that could serve as the basis of this painting.

My puzzlement stems, rather, from the fact that I am not a big financial contributor to the Republican Party, and I have never received a White House Christmas card in the past. I know that the list of recipients is limited to only a few thousand people, and most of them are top-dollar donors to the GOP. So how did my name get on the list?

I'm not complaining -- just curious.

It looks like now I'll have to add the Bushes to my own Christmas card list. It would be so gauche not to reciprocate.



Update:
Check out the Christmas items I have designed at my CafePress shop, called (naturally) "Gifts from RickSincere.com."

Thursday, November 23, 2006

'Legends!' Lays an Egg

Here is a preview of my review of Legends!, which should appear in The Metro Herald a week from Friday:

Legends! Lays an Egg:
Twenty Years On, “Comedy” Still Not Ready for Broadway
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

Advice to producers: If you’re putting on a show about putting on a show, don’t include a line like “We’re putting on a steaming turd.” For a theatre critic, that’s the equivalent of handing a teenage boy the keys to a Ferrari with a pat on the back and a “Go for it, kid!”

Legends!, a two-act comedy by James Kirkwood, opened at the National Theatre on Thanksgiving eve, and oh!, what a turkey it was.

Developed two decades ago as a vehicle for theatre legends Carol Channing and Mary Martin, this “revival” of a play that never made it to New York was reconceived, instead, as a vehicle for legendary television rivals Joan Collins and Linda Evans.

As one of the few who saw the original, I can testify that Channing and Martin were far better suited for the material – what little there is of it – and that Collins and Evans fall flat. If one really wanted to take this show to Broadway (the producers’ stated goal), the roles of Sylvia and Leatrice could be far more adroitly handled by the likes of Candice Bergen and Lily Tomlin. Who knows? Perhaps they were offered the chance and discerningly turned it down.

In a nutshell, Legends! is about two washed-up actresses brought together by a manipulative producer who wants them to star in his play. Apparently the producers of Legends! were successful in getting life to imitate art when they recruited Collins and Evans to play themselves – or, at least, cardboard cutouts of themselves.

What we have in Legends! is unrealized farce.

Kirkwood’s play has only enough comic moments in it to fill a half-hour failed pilot episode for a 1970s or ‘80s TV sitcom. The deadening moments in between are best forgotten. What’s worse, that sitcom would not center around the alleged legends of Sylvia and Leatrice (Collins and Evans), but rather around the secondary character of Aretha, the maid (played by Tonye Patano), who is forced to deal with their antics with composure and aplomb, despite gratuitous racial barbs aimed at her by Sylvia.

The characters of Sylvia and Leatrice are drawn so poorly that it is hard to eke out any sympathy for them, even after heart-tugging speeches about a cruel mother and a mastectomy. Of the two, Joan Collins as Sylvia may deliver the better performance, but that’s not saying much: Linda Evans’ portrayal of Leatrice has about as much electricity as Martha Stewart on Valium. It is hard to imagine either of these two actresses as Oscar-winning movie stars (as the script alleges).

Unfortunately for our leading ladies, the best writing (and acting) in the play comes with two short, curtain-raising scenes, which feature solo turns by Joe Farrell as Martin Klemmer, a budding Max Bialystock and “producer of the off-Broadway hit, ‘Craps,’” who hopes to produce the turkey-within-a-turkey. (His proposed title, which serves little purpose: “Star Wars: The Musical.”)

Farrell’s two monologues both involve multiple telephone conversations (one in the first act including Paul Newman, who is such a good sport that he allows his voice to be heard). In the second act, he juggles receivers from three subway-station pay phones as he deals with potential investors, his secretary, and a caller to a suicide hotline. He hits every note with a bull’s eye, as he does later, when he finally gets to interact with Sylvia, Leatrice, and Aretha.

As for the writing itself, it is embarrassingly flaccid, and in some cases demonstrates that adjustments have not been made for the new cast. (An off-color joke about Ethel Merman only really had impact when it made Mary Martin blush.) A line about Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds, and Eddie Fisher simply went over the heads of a 21st-century audience. References to Bernard Jacobs and the Nederlanders might work for a New York audience, but on the road the point is lost in the ether. Scenes involving a male stripper and hash brownies are sad examples of "been there, done that." Fresh is a not a word to describe Legends!

Some of the play’s best comic potential is wasted. Off-stage characters are mentioned, tantalizingly described, and then forgotten. (I would have liked to have known more about the woman eaten by cats in her snowbound Vermont farmhouse.) Set-ups in the first act lack a substantial payoff in the second – even though they are transparently set-ups, and we see limp payoffs casually thrown off.

I came to Legends! under the disadvantage of just having seen the tributes to Neil Simon on the PBS telecast of the Kennedy Center’s presentation of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Remembering what a master like Simon can do makes Kirkwood’s writing in Legends! pale by comparison.

There is a nugget of farce in Legends! that could have been fully realized if the script had been adapted as, say, a television movie, which could have included flashbacks, location shots, and a larger cast of characters. A low-budget stage production lacks the capacity for these things, and the constraints show.

If Legends! succeeds – and I use the term advisedly – it will be by relying on the star power (such as it remains) of Joan Collins and Linda Evans. Yet fans of Dynasty will be disappointed to learn that the pair’s only real catfight occurs off-stage and that the rest of the play is limited to weak verbal sparring and sub-par bitchiness.

Only the above-the-title names are going to fill theatre seats for Legends!, and if the investors are going to see any return, this show had better stay on the road for a long, long time, since it’s surely not ready for Broadway.

Legends!, directed by John Bowab and starring Joan Collins, Linda Evans, Joe Farrell, Will Holman, Ethan Matthews, and Tonye Patano opens November 21 and runs through December 3 at the National Theatre in Washington. Tickets, priced $36.25 to $71.25, are on sale now through Telecharge, at Telecharge.com or by calling (800) 447-7400. Tickets are also available at The National Theatre box office. Group tickets are available by calling (800) 432-7780.

For more background on Legends!, see my "Interview with Tonye Patano."

Update: Washington Post drama critic Nelson Pressley largely agrees with my assessment, though he gives a bit more attention to the physical look of the play: costumes, set design. No one else seems to have yet bothered to review Legends!

Further Update: More reviews -- Tom Avila in D.C.'s Metro Weekly calls Legends! "decidedly undelightful." The play next moves to Kansas City, where it opens on December 5.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

HRT Cancels 2007 Season

The shortcomings of the Daily Progress web site became clear again to me as I searched and searched for an article I read in Saturday's print edition, to no avail.

Local entertainment correspondent Jane Dunlap Morris reports that the Heritage Repertory Theatre, the decades-old summer stock company at the University of Virginia, has decided to cancel its 2007 season, because construction near the Drama Department's building will make it difficult for patrons to attend performances.

In the article, which appears on page B7, inside the sports section, cites the assistant business manager of the UVa Department of Drama, James Scales, as explaining that

construction of UVa's nearby studio art building and a new parking garage that's slated to accommodate 478 cars will overlap, creating headaches for Heritage patrons, hunting for parking spaces.

After looking for alternatives, officials decided to go dark for the 2007 season, [Scales] said.

"Our plan had been to shuttle folks from the Ivy-Emmet Garage," Scales said.

They learned that shuttle buses would be able to bring theatergoers only as far as Beta Bridge on Rugby Road, and patrons would have to walk up Culbreth Road to the theaters, which could be difficult for disabled or elderly guests and inconvenient for everyone, Scales said.
The Heritage Rep is a real treasure, and even a temporary absence is a loss to Charlottesville's community of culture. While some might say it sticks to the tried-and-true, its ambitious (and emotionally moving) production of Sunday in the Park with George in the Culbreth this year more than made up for Nunsense and Don't Hug Me in the Helms.

Perhaps the HRT's decision will serve as an incentive for Live Arts to expand its Summer Theatre Festival, which shrank last year, and for Ash Lawn-Highland to add more offerings to its summer opera festival -- perhaps even staging a genuine opera next year, instead of ill-suited, dance-oriented musical plays (this past summer's West Side Story) and operettas (2006's The Merry Widow).

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Visionary

About a year ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke, Virginia.

O. Winston Link (his parents thought it cute to give him the initials “OWL”) was a trained engineer who went into the public relations business during the 1930s. A self-taught photographer, he experimented with light and shadow for his own amusement and also took photos for his PR projects and advertising campaigns.

In the mid-1950s, Link decided to photograph the dying years of the Norfolk and Western Railway in Virginia. At his own expense, and with no intention of exhibiting or selling his work, he devoted almost two full years of his life to setting up elaborate photographs of coal-fired train engines, watering stops, train depots, railway trestles, and other sites along the tracks of the Norfolk and Western. Oddly enough, this photographer supported his hobby by recording the sounds of the railroad and selling the records to train buffs around the country.

Link used his engineer’s training to create what is no less than sculpture of light and dark, of shadow and smoke. He created many of his photographs simply because he saw a challenge in getting them done. For him, photography was as much an intellectual as an aesthetic experience. He sought self-satisfaction and perfection in his work.

It was not until years after he completed his project that his photographs landed in a public exhibition. When a New York gallery put them on display, they elicited sensational reviews. People simply had not seen the kind of photographs that O. Winston Link created – largely because he found unique settings and went to great lengths to get the light and movement exactly right.

In the process of enjoying himself, Link created a new vision for photography, one that has echoes in contemporary works, such as the black-and-white cinematography in George Clooney’s 2005 film, Good Night, and Good Luck.

I was reminded of my trip to the O. Winston Link Museum (which is housed in an old railroad terminal in downtown Roanoke) when I came across a young artist in New York City who is also working in a new medium and expressing himself in pioneering experimentation.

Calling himself Skydin, he just turned 18 years old but already has a bachelor of fine arts degree from New Jersey City University. He has exhibited his work at the Jadite Gallery in New York City and at the VAB Gallery and Courtney Gallery in Jersey City, the Puffin Foundation in Teaneck, and the Montclair Art Museum in Montclair, New Jersey.

Skydin’s medium is computer generated imagery (CGI) – something most of us are familiar with in animated movies like Toy Story and Antz, as well as the epic battle sequences in the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings movies. A lot of CGI in daily life can be mundane and banal – it is simply the background that shows up on web sites and TV commercials, sort of a visual white noise in too many cases.

Skydin’s ambition is to make CGI into something greater: “I want to change how digital art is viewed,” he says. To him, “it is the new ‘painting.’”

“People have a misconception of CGI or digital art,” Skydin explains, because “they believe it’s inherently commercial. It isn’t, it’s a tool like any other, [but] it’s a non-physical tool.” Continuing to make his point, Skydin argues that “it’s the motive that defines what’s commercial. When I create digitally I’m doing it to sell a concept or image, not a product. A painting can be used to sell Coke,” he says, or it can be appreciated simply for what it is.

Noting that many consumers of art – which includes all of us, whether we realize it or not – have trouble accepting CGI as highbrow as well as middlebrow culture, Skydin offers that “the reason it’s misunderstood is the same reason photography was misunderstood: it’s a new medium, one step less physical than the previous, one step more technological. However, the artist is still the controller.”

Skydin aims to open the eyes of the 21st-century arts audience. “One problem with the viewing of art,” he explains, “is that many tend to equate quality with physical difficulty or physical labor. Even with digital art there is high degree of technical understanding and work that has to be undertaken. But even so, that’s not the sole identifier of strong work; concept and composition are very important and are actually inherently more focused elements in this quasi-physical medium, digital art.”

Something of a prodigy, Skydin got his start early in life. “When I was around 6,” he told me, “I was drawing more than other kids. It was a pretty big part of what I did during the day. But [as far as] realizing I had talent, that came later, when I was 11 or so. My parents were supportive, especially my Dad who taught me my first color rendering techniques with colored pencils.”

He experienced different environments growing up. “I grew up in many, many neighborhoods, [with] no stable memory of home,” he says, which may have influenced the slightly disoriented feel for some of his landscape and architectural renderings. Even his portraits – many of them self-portraits – have a certain dream-like quality, suggesting both alienation and eroticism.

These aspects of Skydin’s work, however, make them fascinating to observe. They are neither static nor mundane. They insist that the viewer think about them. When I first came across Skydin’s work on the Internet, I associated it in my mind with the challenging, photographic self-portraiture of Anthony Goicolea, who populates his group scenes with images of himself. Both Goicolea and Skydin possess ethereal, androgynous personae that leap from the screen (or wall) and become integrated with the immediate environment. Their faces haunt you from the moment you first see them.

Skydin is an exceptionally gifted and ambitious artist. He jokes that, through his art, “I’m going to make everyone think I’m an angel and when I have power I’m going to create an army of giant robot toys and take over the world.” That impishness permeates the gallery of works available for viewing on his web site. Some of the self-portraits, especially, leave you wondering whether this artist is a devil in angel’s garb, or an angel disguised as a devil.

That’s up to you to decide.

The O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke, Virginia, is open 10 am to 5 pm , Monday through Saturday, 12 pm to 5 pm, Sunday. Entrance fee is $5 for Adults, $4 for Seniors, $3 for Children. Call the Museum at (540) 982-LINK for information or visit the web site at www.linkmuseum.org.

Skydin’s digital imagery can be seen at www.skydin.com. Some of Skydin’s works are available for purchase through the Yessy Art Gallery and at ArtWanted.com.

Milton Friedman and the Pencil

In Free to Choose, the influential 1980 PBS series written and hosted by Milton Friedman and his economist wife, Rose, there is a short (less than three minutes) sequence that has become legendary. In it, Friedman explains that no single person can manufacture something as simple as a pencil:



When I saw this video on YouTube earlier today, it struck me as resonant of Leonard Read's famous essay, "I, Pencil." Read was the founder of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), which was the first free-market think-tank in the United States -- preceding the creation of the Mont Pelerin Society, American Enterprise Institute, Hoover Institution, Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, and Future of Freedom Foundation.

On FEE's web site, Dr. Friedman gives credit to Read and "I, Pencil" for inspiring that segment from Free to Choose. He wrote in 1996:

Leonard Read's delightful story, “I, Pencil,” has become a classic, and deservedly so. I know of no other piece of literature that so succinctly, persuasively, and effectively illustrates the meaning of both Adam Smith's invisible hand—the possibility of cooperation without coercion—and Friedrich Hayek's emphasis on the importance of dispersed knowledge and the role of the price system in communicating information that “will make the individuals do the desirable things without anyone having to tell them what to do.”

We used Leonard's story in our television show, “Free to Choose,” and in the accompanying book of the same title to illustrate “the power of the market” (the title of both the first segment of the TV show and of chapter one of the book). We summarized the story and then went on to say:

“None of the thousands of persons involved in producing the pencil performed his task because he wanted a pencil. Some among them never saw a pencil and would not know what it is for. Each saw his work as a way to get the goods and services he wanted—goods and services we produced in order to get the pencil we wanted. Every time we go to the store and buy a pencil, we are exchanging a little bit of our services for the infinitesimal amount of services that each of the thousands contributed toward producing the pencil.

“It is even more astounding that the pencil was ever produced. No one sitting in a central office gave orders to these thousands of people. No military police enforced the orders that were not given. These people live in many lands, speak different languages, practice different religions, may even hate one another—yet none of these differences prevented them from cooperating to produce a pencil. How did it happen? Adam Smith gave us the answer two hundred years ago.”

“I, Pencil” is a typical Leonard Read product: imaginative, simple yet subtle, breathing the love of freedom that imbued everything Leonard wrote or did. As in the rest of his work, he was not trying to tell people what to do or how to conduct themselves. He was simply trying to enhance individuals' understanding of themselves and of the system they live in.

That was his basic credo and one that he stuck to consistently during his long period of service to the public—not public service in the sense of government service. Whatever the pressure, he stuck to his guns, refusing to compromise his principles. That was why he was so effective in keeping alive, in the early days, and then spreading the basic idea that human freedom required private property, free competition, and severely limited government.

If "I, Pencil" is not required reading in high school economics classes, then Milton Friedman's 3-minute summary of it should be shown to students in its place. In just a few words, he explains how and why the worldwide market works, why cooperation is better than autarky, and why freedom is better than centralized planning.

Interview with Tonye Patano

Last week I had the pleasure of spending about half an hour on the telephone with actress Tonye Patano, interviewing her for an article scheduled to appear in Friday's Metro Herald in Alexandria. This is what I wrote; next Wednesday -- the night before Thanksgiving, go figure -- I will see Tonye in Legends! at the National Theatre in Washington.

An Interview with Tonye Patano, Star of ‘Legends!’
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

Tonye Patano, one of the stars of the hit comedy-drama, Weeds, on Showtime, will be appearing at the National Theatre in Washington from November 21 through December 3 in a Broadway-bound revival of Legends!, starring Joan Collins and Linda Evans.

The original production of Legends!, which featured authentic legends of the musical theatre, Carol Channing and Mary Martin, played the National Theatre in 1986, but never made it to Broadway. The show’s circuitous (and bumpy) path was chronicled by playwright James Kirkwood (who was also one of the book writers for A Chorus Line) in his memoir, Diary of a Mad Playwright: Perilous Adventures on the Road with Mary Martin and Carol Channing

.


In an exclusive interview, The Metro Herald spoke with Tonye Patano, who plays “Aretha” in Legends!, by telephone in Hartford, Connecticut, where she is traveling with the show. (It next plays East Lansing, Michigan, before arriving in Washington.)

We began the conversation by noting that I had seen Patano’s movie, Little Manhattan, in a theatre last year – perhaps the only person outside of New York or Los Angeles who had done so.

Writing about Little Manhattan late last year, I said: “A lighthearted companion piece to [Noah Baumbach’s Oscar-nominated] The Squid and the Whale, I can almost guarantee that you haven't seen this movie, which apparently has appeared on only about three dozen screens nationwide. Like The Squid and the Whale, the premise of this movie has divorcing parents (Bradley Whitford and Cynthia Nixon) and a child coming to terms with the new situation (Josh Hutcherson). Here, however, the focus is on the pre-teen's own first love, with an 11-year-old classmate. The best thing about this movie, though, is the way New York City is not just its setting, but a character all its own.”

Patano told me she had not seen the film in a theatre: “I had to wait for the video to come out,” explaining the sparse distribution of the film by saying that “I don’t think they figured out how to market it. You can’t sell to the kids and it’s bittersweet for adults.”

Asked how she came by the role of Heylia James on Weeds, Patano said that she is “one of those people who goes by what comes and what presents itself.

“There was something about the character that spoke to me. I just knew who Heylia was. It’s about her sensibility. She is a strong woman, like the mamas that know how to tell you what they need to tell you, they have a wonderful sense of humor, they rarely cry, they rarely raise their voice. It’s about love.”

In regard to the characters she plays, Patano said, “I like to push the envelope and challenge people. I like to say I’m writing a play called ‘Maids, Whores, and Nurses: May I Help You?’ -- but that’s not who we are. It’s important to tell those stories,” because these women are so much more than the job titles they possess.

“I don’t judge characters,” she said, but “if I can enlighten as I go along, it’s wonderful.”

In regard to Legends!, Patano noted that “the show was written in the 1980s and it’s about its time. The fun is seeing how it holds up or doesn’t hold up. It’s a fluff piece, but it’s about something substantive, too.”

The play, she said, is about impersonations. Like the characters played by Joan Collins and Linda Evans, who are “two down-and-out actresses putting up a false front,” her character, Aretha, “impersonates a maid” so that one of the women can impress the other.

There is a story that, when Legends! first played the National Theatre in 1986, President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan passed up an opportunity to see it because one of the scenes in the play involves drug use, and this was the middle of the era when Nancy was saying, “Just Say No.” Patano said that James Kirkwood’s book about the making of the play, Diary of a Mad Playwright, has stories like this, but more than that, it provides “insight into the playwright, saying more about the process and making the play even more intriguing.”

The point of Legends! is to offer an evening of entertainment, said Patano: “It’s all of a piece – the idea of acceptability and inviting yourself to have a judgment-free, fun evening in the theatre. If you’re expecting Shakespeare or high art, you’ll be disappointed.”

Patano said the tour so far has been fun for the cast as well as those who come to see the play. “It’s been delightful having the audiences – they are so generous and so wonderful. The people who come, get it.”



Noting that Legends! is a project for her between shooting new episodes of Weeds, Patano admitted, “I miss doing theatre. It’s my first love and what I get the most juice out of.”

Asked if she prefers stage work over movies or television, Patano replied, “I love all of it for different reasons. The main reason is that when you’re doing some television, you get to do several performances and other people get to pick what the audience gets to see. Sometimes it even surprises you. What I see and the reaction I get from another actor is different than what director or editor chooses. It’s a lot more collaborative in that way.

“As a creator of your own work,” she added, “it’s interesting to see how someone else might interpret that for you.”

In contrast, Patano continued, “With stage, it is what it is. If you see it from a different seat in the theatre, it’s a different show. If you see it a different night, it’s a different show. The final character in the show is the audience; what they bring to the table affects the show. There is a freedom of ongoing creativity and energy that only happens in that two hours.”

Patano related a story about how one night before a performance, legendary actress Marian Seldes “grabbed my hand and said, ‘Isn’t it wonderful that we get to do this every night?’ She said it with such joy, I was thrilled. Even if it’s our worst of days, it’s a blessing.”

The different media – film, TV, and the stage – are “just not comparable. The energy you get is just wonderful. I enjoy the work, period. I enjoy doing all of it.”

We finished up our interview with a question of how Tonye Patano discovered she loved performing. She said both her parents were actors, and in fact they met while doing a show together. But if she were to pick one moment in time that made her aware of her desire to be an actress, it was when “I was 5 years old, in kindergarten, standing up in class, reading Green Eggs and Ham, and I remember the faces of the other children, enraptured. That was the feeling I remember having.” It was then she realized what a gift she had, because “It’s one thing for kids to entertain adults, but it’s another to be able to entertain kids.”

And now Tonye Patano is entertaining kids and adults alike.

Legends!, directed by John Bowab and starring Joan Collins, Linda Evans, Joe Farrell, Will Holman, Ethan Matthews, and Tonye Patano opens November 21 and runs through December 3 at the National Theatre in Washington. Tickets, priced $36.25 to $71.25, are on sale now through Telecharge, at Telecharge.com or by calling (800) 447-7400. Tickets are also available at The National Theatre box office. Group tickets are available by calling (800) 432-7780.
The photos above were provided by the National Theatre.

In upper right: Tonye Patano, Ethan Matthews, Linda Evans, Joan Collins © Carol Rosegg

In lower left: Linda Evans, Joan Collins, Joe Farrell, Tonye Patano © Carol Rosegg

The website for the show is www.legendsthecomedy.com.

Friday, November 17, 2006

'Nijinsky's Last Dance' Revisited

Actor Jeremy Davidson was a featured player in Friday night's new episode of Law & Order, NBC's venerable crime drama, now in a new timeslot after years anchoring the Peacock Network's Wednesday night schedule.

Davidson played a distraught father who shoots dead the murderer of his diabetic daughter in a massacre at an elementary school.

Years ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing Jeremy Davidson in a one-man play, Nijinsky's Last Dance, at the Signature Theatre in Arlington. Here is what I wrote for The Metro Herald on December 4, 1998:

Nijinsky One on One
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

An awestruck balletomane once came upon Vaslav Nijinsky, the great Russian dancer, at a Paris cocktail party and asked breathlessly, "How is it, Mr. Nijinsky, that you create such an effective illusion of leaping up, stopping in midair, and drifting gracefully back to earth?" Nijinsky smiled and replied: "It is very simple. I leap up, stop in midair, and drift gracefully back to earth.”

The arrogance and talent of Vaslav Nijinsky are now on display at Signature Theatre in Arlington. In Nijinsky's Last Dance, a new one-man play by Norman Allen, Jeremy Davidson plays the ill-fated dancer, whose career ended before he was 32 years old and who spent his next 30 years in mental institutions.

Yet Davidson portrays more than just Nijinsky. He also effectively portrays -- as Nijinsky might -- the major figures in Nijinsky's life: his first ballet instructor, his lover and impresario (Sergei Diaghilev), his wife, his sister, and others. Davidson gives us a Nijinsky who clearly had strength but who was hopelessly naive (if not innocent) and adrift when his relationship with Diaghilev ended. He shows us a man who practically invented the concept of "celebrity" yet who was unable to purchase a railway ticket onJeux his own.

Nijinsky, as dancer and choreographer, pushed the envelope of dance. He pressed forward even when he was booed off the stage in such works as Jeux ("Games") and Le Sacre du Printemps ("Rite of Spring"), which caused riots in Paris theatres. He was world famous in an era before radio or television, and when movies were just beginning to take hold. He became famous by touring Russia and the United States, Europe and South America.

Allen's play is fairly straightforward. We come upon Nijinsky as he enters the first of the asylums that will be his home until he dies. He begins a monologue that describes his life as a series of flashbacks. There are no props, no furniture.

The wonder of Nijinsky's Last Dance lies in its integrated use of set design, lights, color, and sound. Lou Stancari's minimalist set strips Signature Theatre to the bare walls. (The building's former use as a machine shop becomes clear, and it becomes apparent what a small space Signature has to work in, making its long string of hits all the more remarkable for the constraints in which the theatre has to work.) In the center of the stage is a square, white platform, slightly raked. Davidson, as Nijinsky, never wanders beyond the confines of this platform, which might well be a padded room.

Lighting designer Daniel MacLean Wagner uses the platform as a canvas, upon which he choreographs colors and shapes that press the show forward. Light and color create new locales for the "action" to take place and also reveal the inner workings of Nijinsky's mind. While never quite psychedelic, the lighting design might well be a drug that helps us to better understand what drives a mad genius like Nijinsky.

So, too, the sound design and original sound composition by David Maddox: bits and pieces of the music that Nijinsky made famous -- or that made Nijinsky famous -- drift throughout the play. We hear the applause that affirms Nijinsky's claim on grandeur. We feel ourselves transported to imperial Russia.

All these elements are brought together ably by director Joe Calarco, in his first Washington-area effort after his off-Broadway sensation, Shakespeare's R&J, a new take on the Romeo and Juliet story. Here, he has hit just the right note in every aspect of the show.

Playwright Norman Allen again demonstrates his facility for imagined historic drama. His previous piece, Waiting in Tobolsk, dealt poignantly and humanely with the final months of the family of the last Tsar. That play had its full-scale premiere last summer by the Moonlight Theatre Company, in the same month that the Tsar's family were laid to rest in St. Petersburg, 80 years after their assassination by Bolshevik thugs. He also wrote The Ballad of Lady Jane Grey for the Signature in the Schools program with Wakefield High School last January.

Any actor faces a real challenge in a one-man show, but Jeremy Davidson meets his with particular aplomb. After all, it must be difficult to imitate the movement of the century's greatest dancer and make it believable. In collaboration with Signature's mainstay choreographer Karma Camp, Davidson approximates Nijinsky's moves without actually dancing -- something appropriate for a dancer in decline. One scene (portrayed with full frontal nudity, a warning for the squeamish and the prudish) is particularly moving and erotic at the same time.

Nijinsky's Last Dance is not perfect, but it is a terrific demonstration of how the raw elements of theatre can work in concert -- how theatre is a collaborative art in which the whole is far more than the sum of its parts.
For a review of Davidson in another of his beguiling stage roles, see "'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' -- Take Two."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Milton Friedman, R.I.P.

Nobel-prize winning economist Milton Friedman is dead at age 94, various news outlets are reporting.

Friedman was a great intellect and great innovator. A monetarist who taught at the University of Chicago from 1946 to 1976, he also worked for the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis, where he did much of his seminal research on monetary policy. Friedman invented tax withholding (a temporary solution to the problem of the government's lack of cash flow during the Second World War), which he regretted years later. He also was the first to suggest ideas like vouchers for housing and education, and that the solution to overbooked airline flights should be to ask for volunteers who would receive vouchers for later travel in return for taking a later flight.

With his wife, Rose Director Friedman, he was the author of Free to Choose, a best-selling book that became a television documentary and set the economic tone for the 1980s. He is also the author of the groundbreaking Capitalism and Freedom (1960), which introduced the general public to classical liberal thought.

This is now breaking news, but I expect it to be a major topic of conversation in the libertarian blogosphere in the hours and days to come.

Updates: Ed Crane, president of the Cato Institute, issued this statement today:

"Here's a guy who won the Nobel Prize in economics for his work in monetary theory and he was a great Chicagoan, a great empiricist and theoretician of economics. But ultimately, what Milton believed in was human liberty and he took great joy in trying to promote that concept... Milton would say, 'Maybe I did well and maybe I led the battle but nobody ever said we were going to win this thing at any point in time. Eternal vigilance is required and there have to be people who step up to the plate, who believe in liberty and who are willing to fight for it.'"
The New York Times offers this extensive obituary. A Reuters story in the Washington Post quotes California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger:
"When I was first exposed to his powerful writings about money, free markets and individual freedom, it was like getting hit by a thunderbolt. I wound up giving copies of his books and 'Free to Choose' videos to hundreds of my friends and acquaintances."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Déjà Lu

What's with the new design at the Charlottesville Daily Progress?

If it weren't for the occasional color photographs on the front pages of each section, I would swear that the paper was designed in the early 1970s and printed with hot type.

Each time I pick up the new Daily Progress, I half-expect to be reading the latest news about the Watergate hearings or Governor Godwin's tax policy, previews of The Poseidon Adventure or The Exorcist, and reviews of the newest songs by The Osmonds and The Partridge Family.

It's a real nostalgia trip. Check it out at your newsstands -- it'll make you believe that "Peanuts" is fresh and funny.

Isn't That Nifty?

There are two organizations that serve teenagers and young adults whose abbreviations are often pronounced "nifty": One, NFTY, is the North American Federation of Temple Youth, which, according to the history section of its web site, "was founded in 1939 as the youth arm of the Union for Reform Judaism (formally known as the Union of American Hebrew Congregations)." I am familiar with NFTY from my time as a member of the Hebrew Choir at Georgetown University, which over three sucessive years placed first, second, and third in Georgetown's annual foreign-language Christmas carol contest. Somewhere among my vinyl record albums is an LP called "Songs NFTY Sings."

The other, NFTE, is the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, one of the lesser-known organizations in the large family of libertarian movement groups. NFTE's history is summed up like this:

Founded in 1987 by Steve Mariotti (a former business executive and entrepreneur) while he was a public high school teacher in New York City’s South Bronx, NFTE began as a program to prevent dropout and improve academic performance among students who were at risk of failing or quitting school. Combining his business background with his desire to teach at-risk students, Steve discovered that when low-income youth are given the opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship, their innate “street smarts” can easily develop into “academic smarts” and “business smarts.” Through entrepreneurship, youth discover that what they are learning in the classroom is relevant to the real world.

NFTE is widely viewed as a world leader in promoting entrepreneurial literacy among youth. When young people participate in our programs they begin to unlock their unique entrepreneurial creativity, have a greater understanding of the free enterprise system, improve the quality of their lives, and dare to dream for bright futures.

To date, NFTE has worked with over 150,000 young people from low-income communities in programs across the U.S. and around the world.

NFTE came back to my consciousness on Monday when I saw a Washington Times article about a D.C.-area teenager who received one of its awards.

The business-section article describes how Montgomery Blair High School senior Thomas Dant
won a $5,000 prize in a national competition for teen entrepreneurs, taking second place in the Youth Business Plan competition for his proposal to provide fine-art photography as a business.

Thomas stood before a panel of judges and explained his business plan for Fine Foto, exhibiting his "Passion for the Planet" series of photographs featuring Montgomery County firefighters.
Dant, 17, was one of 28 students from across the country who were invited to participate in the competition. He plans to attend business school at the University of Maryland and continue growing his small enterprise.
As for his Fine Foto business, Thomas said, he will focus on selling his works in regional galleries.

"I'm going to invest the money back into the business to make more prints of the artwork for my prospective galleries," he said, adding that several local art retailers have asked him to display his photos in their galleries.

"Thomas is just one of the bright lights that could be out there," [Montgomery Blair teacher] Mr. [Derek] Sontz said. "There's too many kids that get into trouble for doing something wrong, and Thomas is one kid who should get recognition for doing something right."
It's good to learn that NFTE is still out there, promoting free enterprise among high school students.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Predicting the Past Perfect

I received this email today from the conservative movement's direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie, dated November 13 at "4:19:45 A.M. Eastern Standard Time" -- six days after the November 7 general election -- with the subject line, "Predict the November 7th Elections!":

Dear Concerned Citizen,

Regardless of how you’d like the November 7th election to come out, what do you think the results will actually be?

Go to the Conservatives Betrayed website at http://www.conservativesbetrayed.com/survey_110106.php and make your predictions on the key races around the country for Senator, House of Representatives, and Governor.

The top five predictors can have their names and pictures on the websites to recognize their abilities and election seers.

While you’re at it, take a look at the many new articles on the Conservatives Betrayed website at http://www.conservativesbetrayed.com/index.php.

By the way, I really believe you’ll enjoy reading the book, which you can purchase on the website or at most bookstores.

Good luck in predicting the outcome of the elections!

Cordially,

Richard A. Viguerie

In politics, as in comedy, timing is everything.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Mr. President


Congratulations and best wishes to President Gerald R. Ford, who today becomes the longest-lived former American president, surpassing the lifespans of Ronald Reagan, John Adams, and Herbert Hoover. He is now 93 years, three months, and 29 days old.

In an editorial-page tribute, the Columbian newspaper of Clark County, Washington, states that the American people have fond memories of Ford, who took office during the dark days of Watergate, adding

when it comes to presidents who had just the right temperament, personality and empathy for the collective mindset of Americans at a crucial moment in history, Gerald Ford was one of the very best.
Ford's current hometown newspaper, The Desert Sun of Palm Springs, California, offers these memories:

In Washington, he's remembered as the great healer, the president confronted with the Herculean task of rebuilding trust in the White House on the heels of Watergate and Richard Nixon's resignation.

In Michigan, they recall the former Big 10 star who spurned a professional football career after graduation from the University of Michigan for a life in public service.

And in the Coachella Valley, he and his wife, Betty, are our neighbors in the desert, a former president and first lady who have contributed richly to the area's civic and social scenes.

As I have written before, Ford -- though much maligned and remembered perhaps too much for physical stumbles and not enough for principle and conviction -- represents an authentic conservative tradition of limited government, a "leave us alone" philosophy in tune with Barry Goldwater's and Ronald Reagan's and in contrast to the Republicans who just got "thumped" in the mid-term elections.

One of Ford's favorite maxims was this: "If the government is big enough to give you everything you want, it is big enough to take away everything you have."

Despite an undeserved reputation as an amiable if dull thinker, Ford actually had a consistent and well-considered political philosophy, as well as a deep understanding of the meaning of the American experiment. This latter vision was perhaps best expressed in his remarks at Monticello on July 4, 1976, on the dual occasion of the Bicentennial of the United States of America and the annual naturalization ceremony for new citizens held on the lawn of Mr. Jefferson's house.

Addressing the dignitaries present -- Virginia Governor Mills Godwin, Senator Harry F. Byrd, Justice Lewis Powell, and others -- but aiming his words more directly at the new Americans, Ford said:
After two centuries there is still something wonderful about being an American. If we cannot quite express it, we know what it is. You know what it is, or you would not be here today. Why not just call it patriotism?

Thomas Jefferson was a Virginia planter, a politician, a philosopher, a practical problemsolver, a Palladian architect, a poet in prose. With such genius he became a burgess, a delegate, a Governor, an ambassador, a Secretary of State, a Vice President, and President of the United States. But he was first a patriot.

The American patriots of 1776 who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to declare and defend our independence did more than dissolve their ties with another country to protest against abuses of their liberties. Jefferson and his colleagues very deliberately and very daringly set out to construct a new kind of nation. "Men may be trusted," he said, "to govern themselves without a master." This was the most revolutionary idea in the world at that time. It remains the most revolutionary idea in the world today.

Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison and all patriots who laid the foundation for freedom in our Declaration and our Constitution carefully studied both contemporary and classic models of government to adapt them to the American climate and our circumstances. Just as Jefferson did in designing Monticello, they wanted to build in this beautiful land a home for equal freedom and opportunity, a haven of safety and happiness, not for themselves alone, but for all who would come to us through centuries.
I have attended several of the naturalization ceremonies at Monticello, and unfortunately on too many occasions, the celebrity speakers seem to offer little more than platitudes. There's nothing wrong with that -- the ceremonies tend to take place under the hot sun in the heavy humidity of Charlottesville's summers, and so keeping it light may be the polite thing to do -- but one wants to have a bit more to sink one's teeth into. Ford gave his audience something to think about.

Perhaps unconsciously, Ford used quite libertarian language to describe the benefits of living in a society made up of immigrants and the sons and daughters of immigrants. In terms that, say, Tyler Cowen might use, Ford continued his address:

To be an American is to subscribe to those principles which the Declaration of Independence proclaims and the Constitution protects -- the political values of self-government, liberty and justice, equal rights, and equal opportunity. These beliefs are the secrets of America's unity from diversity -- in my judgment the most magnificent achievement of our 200 years as a nation.

"Black is beautiful" was a motto of genius which uplifted us far above its intention. Once Americans had thought about it and perceived its truth, we began to realize that so are brown, white, red, and yellow beautiful. When I was young, a Sunday school teacher told us that the beauty of Joseph's coat was its many colors. I believe Americans are beautiful -- individually, in communities, and freely joined together by dedication to the United States of America.

I see a growing danger in this country to conformity of thought and taste and behavior. We need more encouragement and protection for individuality. The wealth we have of culture, ethnic and religious and racial traditions are valuable counterbalances to the overpowering sameness and subordination of totalitarian societies. The sense of belonging to any group that stands for something decent and noble, so long as it does not confine free spirits or cultivate hostility to others, is part of the pride every American should have in the heritage of the past. That heritage is rooted now, not in England alone -- as indebted as we are for the Magna Carta and the common law -- not in Europe alone, or in Africa alone, or Asia, or on the islands of the sea. The American adventure draws from the best of all of mankind's long sojourn here on Earth and now reaches out into the solar system. [Emphasis added]

Ford concluded his remarks on that historic occasion with a reminder about our responsibility to the past and the future:
Remember that none of us are more than caretakers of this great country. Remember that the more freedom you give to others, the more you will have for yourself. Remember that without law there can be no liberty. And remember, as well, the rich treasures you brought from whence you came, and let us share your pride in them. This is the way that we keep our independence as exciting as the day it was declared and keep the United States of America even more beautiful than Joseph's coat.
Historians are rightfully reconsidering the presidency of Gerald R. Ford and finding it better than it may have fared in the assessments of 30 years ago. If this be revisionism, let's have more of it.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Charlottesville Write-Ins

The other results from Tuesday's election will be widely available. We know that George Allen and Jim Webb have a razor-thin difference between them as of now (10:38 p.m.) and that all three ballot questions have passed by comfortable margins.

Of course, Charlottesville is an anomaly. Jim Webb took Charlottesville with more than 77 percent of the vote, while Al Weed beat Virgil Goode in the City of Charlottesville with more than 74 percent.

On Ballot Question No. 1, the Marshall/Newman Amendment, Charlottesville voted "no" by more than 77 percent. In two precincts, Venable and Alumni Hall, the "no" vote was more than 81 percent. Even in the largely African-American precinct, Tonsler, more than 78 percent of voters said "no" to Marshall/Newman.

Voters in Charlottesville took this election quite seriously. Only 38 write-in votes were cast -- 20 in the Senate race and 18 in the House of Representatives race.

Among those who received write-in votes for the U.S. Senate in Charlottesville were Libertarian Party activist James W. Lark (6 votes), former City Councilor Rob Schilling (2 votes), and -- with one vote each -- 2000 and 2004 presidential candidate Ralph Nader, current City Councilor Dave Norris, incumbent Congressman Virgil Goode, basketball legend Michael Air Jordan, one-time City Council candidate Thomas Hill, as well as "None of the Above" and "Fair Tax Plan." (Two names I do not recognize, John Harrison and Robert Hardie, also won write-in votes.)

In the Fifth Congressional District race, no write-in candidate received more than one vote, but Robert Hardie, James Lark, and "Fair Tax Plan" made repeat appearances. Other write-in votes went to libertarian philosopher Loren Lomasky, Grant Hill, Malcolm Randolph, Christopher Grossman, former City Councilor Meredith Richards, "Tomm Albro" (presumably former City Councilor Thomas Albro), and fictional characters Daffy Duck and Marty McFly. God was also on the list, as was this odd entrant, Frozen Peas. The single words "None," "Blank," and "Juanes" also received votes.

The name A D Copeland received one vote for the U.S. House, as did the variant, ADCOPELAND, for the U.S. Senate.

As another indication of the gravity by which Charlottesville voters viewed the election this year, besides the write-in votes, only 126 voters chose to skip the Senate race and only 155 chose to skip the House race. Moreover, there were no write-in votes cast by the 773 absentee voters.

Return of Virginia Patriot

After a long hiatus, George Mason University student-blogger Richard Morrison returns with a set of predictions for Tuesday's elections in Maryland, Missouri, and Virginia.

I see three candidates -- including Gail "for Rail" Parker -- listed in his forecast for the Virginia Senate race, but where is Kevin Zeese, the fusion candidate in Maryland? (Zeese has been nominated, in what is widely seen as a first anywhere in the nation, by the Green, Libertarian, and Populist parties.)

And I would expect one of the signatories to the Republican Pledge against Ballot Question No. 1 to mention the Virginia referenda. (Speaking of Republicans voting "no" tomorrow, check out Jay Hughes' analysis and apologia on Not Larry Sabato.)

Maybe Richard will do an update before the polls open at 6 a.m. in Virginia and 7 a.m. in Maryland.

One final question before going to bed. (I have to wake up in 4 hours.) What does a full moon portend on Election Eve?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Celebrities Are People, Too

Knowing that my sister, a new mother, is far too busy to be attentive to celebrity gossip, I took it upon myself to email her a news story about Neil Patrick Harris, who at 16 years of age gained fame as Doogie Howser, M.D.

The story reported that Harris, now 33, has come out of the closet. As the Washington Post put it today:

Doogie Howser is gay -- and he wants to quash recent reports that he has denied it. Neil Patrick Harris, 33, recently told People magazine: "The public eye has always been kind to me and until recently I have been able to live a pretty normal life. Now it seems there is speculation and interest in my private life and relationships. So, rather than ignore those who choose to publish their opinions without actually talking to me, I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest and feel most fortunate to be working with wonderful people in the business I love."
The reason I thought she might be interested in the story is that I have in a frame on my wall a photograph my sister sent me about 15 years ago. As I recall the story of how it came to be, Cathy and some of her friends were at a Hollywood-area restaurant when they ran into Neil Patrick Harris and a friend of his in the parking lot. So they all posed for a picture:


(My sister, Cathy, is on the far right in the Mickey Mouse shirt -- a nice touch, considering she now works for Disney. Neil is the tall one, second from right, and a pre-Blade Stephen Dorff is to his left.)

The friend turned out to be Stephen Dorff, who at the time was starring in a syndicated TV show called "What a Dummy". (As explained by TV.com, "The premise of the show was the discovery of a wisecracking ventriloquist dummy named Buzz, who had been locked away in a trunk for 50 years.") Dorff played 16-year-old "Tucker Brannigan" in the short-lived (24-episode) series.

At the time the picture was taken, Neil Patrick Harris was in the middle of his long run (1989-93) as a teenage prodigy physician, but his career was just beginning.

In reply to my email, my sister noted that this was not the last time she encountered young Mr. Harris:
I met Neil again like *gosh* 8 years ago maybe, at Alyssa Milano's house. We played Taboo together or something. He was doing Rent at the time. VERY nice guy. I love love love him on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. Now this will be interesting as he is hysterical as the womanizer on that show. Wonder if this news will affect anything.
In a follow-up, she mentioned the sort of trivia that only real fans would want to know -- how Alyssa Milano found her house.

She didn't remember who else had been at the party, but was certain they played board games. As to what she calls "Alyssa's GIANT mansion," it had years earlier belonged to Tyne Daly and her husband, actor-director Georg Stanford Brown. According to Cathy, "my friend Kat" -- their daughter, actress Kathryne Nora Brown -- was Alyssa Milano's roommate at the time and "heard the mansion went on the market so Alyssa bought it." She adds:
Must be nice huh? Alyssa was NOTHING but nice. Hope she still is. Again haven't seen any of them in 8 years.
There's a (possibly apocryphal) story about an exchange between Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. When Fitzgerald said, "The rich are different than you and me," Hemingway drily retorted: "Yes, they have more money."

It's the same with celebrity. A person might be starring in a Broadway musical and go to parties hosted in a Hollywood Hills mansion owned by a TV star, but everyone ends up playing board games -- just like the rest of us in Middle America do.

That said, the choice of board game may say a lot about the players: Monopoly? Scrabble? Scruples? Taboo? Trivial Pursuit?