Friday, July 17, 2009

Barney is Evil

When I was sixteen, I stayed home sick one day from school. My father, in a burst of nostalgia for my little girl days, brought me home a coloring book. As an inside joke, it was of Barney the dinosaur of kiddie TV. Inside the front cover, he inscribed: When you're feeling bad, Barney can help you -- just color him and his pals in the most horrid colors, add obscene captions, then rip the picture into tiny pieces & flush them down the toilet. There -- don't you feel better already? Love, Dad Remember: Barney personifies all that is evil in society.

Well, I took his instructions to heart and colored away. I even got out the white-out and added a few embellishments. I did not, however, rip them up and flush them. The other day, while cleaning out the stacks of books and papers in our basement, I came across the coloring book. It made me smile. Here are two of my favorites:
Stinkin' Barney. Still loathesome after all these years.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cool Sites New to Me (And, Perhaps, to You)

Just when I was resigned to agreeing with Solomon that, on the web at least, there is nothing new under the sun, I have recently come across some delightful sites and new (to me) blogs that I simply must share.

I have not had much of a chance to thoroughly peruse this interesting site, but Neglected Books has won my instant approbation because of their excellent, thoughtful review of Isabel Paterson's The Golden Vanity (which I am currently reviewing and will now have to try very hard not to steal Neglected Books's insightful observations and claim them as my own). What are some neglected books about which you wish the world knew?

I had thought that I had to be the craziest, most obsessive Carole Lombard fan in the greater Seattle area. I was wrong; so wrong. Yesterday, I found this wonderful fan site run by a startlingly beautiful, startlingly young lady who is writing a biography of our Profane Angel. Check out her site and revel in the glory that is La Lombard.

Jane Austen people are cool. And, when a Jane Austen person is also a mom, wife, artist, and writer, then the cool level increases exponentially. So, here is The Little White Attic (Mansfield Park fans are nodding their heads) in which Lynnae waxes wise and witty on Austen-ish things. She also has a Liberty blog, which only raises her in my already high esteem.

And, speaking of blogs, I just found this gem of a political/religious one from Robert Moeller, A Voice in the Wilderness. He is from Chicago, IL, which is the first point in his favor; he writes thoughtfully and entertainingly, which is the second; and he has posted in his sidebar a great pic of Ronald Reagan throwing out the first pitch at a Cubs game, which is the third.

Anyway, that's where I have been recently on the world wide web. Do you have any suggestions of hot spots for cool cats?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

What To Do In Seattle: Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, July 8 - August 8, 2009

The ephemeral nature of theatre is never more frustrating than when perusing the cast profiles in a play program. You begin to mourn for the shows that existed so briefly and that you never got to see. In 2006, I had never heard of Taproot Theatre Company in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle. So, I missed their production of Smoke on the Mountain that year. And you should pity me, because, I have seen the sequel, Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, and it is a blast.

Rather than dwelling on what might have been, I shall instead revel in what is now. And what is now is another Taproot triumph. OK, I am a bad critic, because I go into every Taproot Theatre show with a ready and eager determination to be pleased. Even in shows of which I am not excessively fond, I can find merit in the acting and direction and set design. Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming is, perhaps, even a little more special than the always high-quality, uplifting, entertaining theatre coming from Taproot.

And, I suppose, that is because of the sweet sincerity of the show. If you are not a Christian, you can hardly imagine what it is like to see your religious beliefs held up constantly to mockery and ridicule in entertainment media. It is so very rare to come across a piece of theatrical artistry in which the devout are not portrayed as simpering fools, one-dimensional cut-outs, or -- worst, and by far most common -- sanctimonious hypocrites. Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming -- and, I imagine, the original as well -- sees the Sanders clan and their extended Baptist family as honorable, quirky, interesting, noble, funny, complicated, and sincere. There is some gentle good fun poked at the saints, but the overall charm of the show is that these are godly people doing the best they can to live by their professed ideals. And throwing in a bunch of old-time gospel bluegrass is the cherry on top.

And, in a way, it is the music that is the star of the show. Wonderful songs. It was hard not to think I was in some little Baptist church in Mount Pleasant, North Carolina on a pleasant fall evening in 1945 and just sing along like any member of the congregation. I do not know where Taproot Theatre finds these actors -- able to create lovable, memorable characters as well as play instruments ranging from bass guitar to accordion and, not to mention, sing like angels. I am, however, most grateful that they do.

If you belong to a church family, then you know the Sanders family. Blessed almost to the point of overabundance with musical talent, they match that only with boundless faith. The only thing that makes them bearable at all to us mere mortals is their fundamental honesty. And, as they in turn share their stories during the evening service, you recognize them and love them.

Reverend Merivn Oglethorpe (Kevin Brady) is leaving Mount Pleasant Baptist Church to plant a church in the wilderness of western Texas. He is taking his expecting-at-any-moment wife, June (Jenny Cross), with him. Now, June is the eldest daughter of the Sanders clan, and she is the only one who does not sing. Instead, she has felt called to interpret the hymns in sign-language, and she resolutely sticks to that calling, despite their congregation's never having had someone in need of it.

Her husband is delightful -- still awkward and goofy after years of shepherding his flock, yet untouched by any amount of cynicism or hardness of heart. His leaving is the occasion of this special gathering of the church, where they will sing him out and sing in the new pastor, Sanders scion and singing twin, Dennis (Brent Ashton). This green lad may stutter and stumble at the pulpit, but, underneath, is an iron core of faith forged on the battlefields of World War II, where he served as an army chaplain.

Where there is one singing twin, there has to be another, and that is Denise (Candace Vance) --the one streak of blazing neurosis in this well-grounded family. She's put away dreams of Hollywood stardom to settle into the role of wife, mother and appliance saleswoman, and she's almost reconciled to that. What a set of pipes!

Of course, the heart of the family beats in mother and father, Burl and Vera (Edd Key and Theresa Holmes, respectively). They are everything you want them to be, not a whit more or less. Burl relates his agony over going into debt to purchase the farm his mother rented when he was a child -- a story that resonates in today's debt-soaked culture. Vera's children's sermon is one for the ages (and, as a Sunday school teacher, I could absolutely relate).

Bring a handkerchief or a wad of Kleenex, because Uncle Stanley Sanders (David Anthony Lewis) steals the show. And I wept and wept and wept. So much so, that I had to run out to the bathroom as soon as the final bow was taken, for fear that my tear-stained face (and snot encrusted back of hand) would scare the others, including, with no small consideration, my husband.

Again, my proverbial hat is tipped to director Scott Nolte, who knows how to put on an amazing show. In June it was Around the World in 80 Days; now it is Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming. My cup runneth over. Lucky, lucky me! I get to see this show again on August 1!

Go see it for yourself, and come back here and argue with me if you do not absolutely love it!

Taproot Theatre Box Office: 206-781-9707

Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming: July 8 - August 8

One last thank-you to Anne Kennedy, for the opportunity to "sneak preview" this wonderful show.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Welcome to America, 2009 or What a Dead Frenchman Observed that Living Americans Refuse To Notice or Maybe Just Do Not Care

"I see," wrote Alexis de Tocqueville in his masterpiece of political philosophy, Democracy in America, "an innumerable multitude of men, alike and equal, constantly circling around in pursuit of the petty and banal pleasures with which they glut their souls."

As Mark Steyn wryly observes of this passage in June 2009's edition of The New Criterion, "He didn't foresee 'Dancing with the Stars' or 'American Idol' but, details aside, that's pretty much on the money."

Alexis de Tocqueville, having observed and commented upon all aspects of the American experiment as during his 1830's tour, began to meditate and prognosticate about the ramifications of unbridled democracy, the "soft despotism" that occurs when "Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money." Under such a situation, de Tocqueville reasons that the American Republic cannot stand.

De Tocqueville continues: Over this kind of men stands an immense, protective power which is alone responsible for securing their enjoyment and watching over their fate. That power is absolute, thoughtful of detail, orderly, provident and gentle. It would resemble paternal authority if, fatherlike, it tried to prepare its charges for a man's life, but on the contrary, it only tries to keep them in perpetual childhood. It likes to see citizens enjoy themselves, provided that they think of nothing but enjoyment. It gladly works for their happiness but wants to be the sole agent and judge of it. It provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, makes rules for their testaments, and divides their inheritances. Why should it not relieve them from the trouble of thinking and all the cares of living?

The entire chapter, "Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear," is full of such prescience:

Thus it daily makes the exercise of free choice less useful and rarer, restricts the activity of free will within a narrower compass, and little by little robs each citizen of the proper use of his own faculties. . . .

Having thus taken each citizen in turn in its powerful grasp and shaped him to its will, government then extends its embrace to include the whole of society. It covers the whole of social life with a network of petty, complicated rules that are both minute and uniform, through which even men of the greatest originality and the most vigorous temperament cannot force their heads above the crowd. It does not break men's will, but softens, bends, and guides it; it seldom enjoins, but often inhibits, action; it does not destroy anything, but prevents much from being born; it is not at all tyrannical, but it hinders, restrains, enervates, stifles, and stultifies so much that in the end each nation is no more than a flock of timid and hardworking animals with the government as its shepherd.

I have always thought that this brand of orderly, gentle, peaceful slavery which I have just described could be combined, more easily than is generally supposed, with some of the external forms of freedom, and that there is a possibility of its getting itself established even under the shadow of the sovereignty of the people.

Under this system the citizens quit their state of dependence just long enough to choose their masters and then fall back into it.

On this approaching Fourth of July weekend, one thought keeps repeating in my mind: I miss America.