Friday, April 22, 2011

Death of a Theater Phobia

I'm a patron of the arts—always have been, always will be. But I haven't developed a taste for all performing arts. Theater is one of those arts. Nearly a decade ago, my wife and I would go to a few plays a year—maybe 1 or 2. [She may disagree with that number, but she certainly wouldn't dispute that I quit theater-going cold turkey about 5 or 6 years ago.] I can't even remember the last one I attended, but I do recall the last 3 or 4 plays that I did go to, I became ... disinterested. Disinterested during the performances. Thespians may have been pouring their heart and soul into their craft, regardless, it didn't connect with me and the daydreaming machine would inevitably start (Hmm... At intermission, should I have beer or wine? Did I leave the iron plugged in? I wonder if the Brewers are winning? etc.). In all likelihood, I probably just wasn't going to a play suited to my predisposition—sort of like reading a Haruki Murakami novel before graduating from Green Lantern comic books. So, for at least a half of a decade, I avoided theater the way Kathy Griffin avoids funny jokes.

Lee Ernst as Willy Loman
However, last night we decided to give it a whirl and we went to the Milwaukee Repertory Theater—more commonly known as "The Rep"—for their production of "Death of a Salesman." And, boy, did I enjoy it! I was riveted for the entire performance—no daydreaming, no adult beverage contemplation, no nothing. I just fell into the story and stayed there. I was really impressed with the whole show, but particularly with Lee E. Ernst's portrayal of Willy Loman. It was incredibly powerful. It made me wonder why in the world anybody would want to be an actor! To put that much energy and emotion into a performance every, single night would be draining—both mentally and physically, I think. And Mr. Ernst holds nothing back.


I am certain that I wasn't the only one moved by Mr. Ernst's interpretation of Willy Loman. In the final seconds of the play, when the actors and actresses walked off the stage, you could hear a pin drop. And, had a pin actually dropped, it would have sounded like a cannon blast. The players walked near our seats on their way out and my wife and I were both transfixed by the look on their faces—they were playing their role until they were fully off-stage. Hell, I bet they stayed in character until they were finally resting comfortably on a barstool 7 blocks away!

Finally, a note about the play itself. This has long been considered a classic work by Arthur Miller. I recall reading it in high school literature and thinking it was okay, however, there is no filter like the prism of age and experience to bring Mr. Miller's vision into focus. Having been a working person for at least 20 years, I could connect with certain emotions and verbiage expressed by Willy. These are expressions I could not possibly have understood at 17 years of age.

Now I completely understand why Death of a Salesman was the recipient of the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. It gets my award for the best play that I've seen in the last 5 years for sure!

It runs through May 8th at the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater in Milwaukee. Go see it if you get the chance. You won't regret it.


Important follow-up: I shared the above post with Mr. Ernst and he replied with the following:

Hi Mike,

Hey, thanks so much for your kind words. I'm glad we were able to get you with this one. I love the play, and, while it may be draining (yes it is!) it is also a great honor to be able to share Miller's incredibly profound story eight times a week.

Best Regards,

This made my day!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Free Cheese!!

Not many things are better than free cheese (free beer notwithstanding). But imagine how good free cheese would be when you are out of a job, struggling to make your house payment, your kids need shoes, gas is over 4 bucks a gallon—basically, you are just about at the lowest, most difficult time in your life. I bet you'd really appreciate some free cheese then. And not only cheese, but milk, bread, butter, fruits and vegetables—oh, and clothes!—the stuff that's pretty much the base of the pyramid on Mr. Abraham Harold Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs [I knew that stuff I learned in college would come in handy someday!].

Today I had the unique opportunity to visit a place that makes sustenance products for destitute members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, or LDS for short. About 20 years ago, the LDS's dairy bought one of my company's machines for bottling fluid milk. After two decades of solid service, they had begun to wonder if it was performing as good as it should be, so they called us up for a machine audit and the next thing you know...I'm in Salt Lake City. I really didn't have a good idea what a church was doing owning a dairy, but after discovering their purpose, I was a little awed and very moved. Every single thing produced at this facility is given away to needy members. Every. Single. Thing. They bottle milk (chocolate too!), produce cheese and cottage cheese, and, in nearby facility, bread and other items. The people operating the plant are among the friendliest I have ever worked with too, and that's saying a lot, because dairy folks are generally some of the nicest people I've worked with in any industry.

I don't know a lot about the Church of LDS. I know some people have rather strong opinions of their institution. Heck, just last night I was reading a book about beer bars in Nauvoo, Illinios—the city on the Mississippi named by Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement (also the place where Mr. Smith was charged with treason, imprisoned, and shot in 1844)—and the local conflict with the influx of teetotaling LDS residents who are affecting their businesses (supposedly), but I have a heck of a lot of respect for the way they take care of their own. It's a worldwide exemplary model. Visitors come from all of the world to visit this operation and learn how they do it. Every president since Reagan (except the current one) has visited the same dairy that I worked in today. All marvel at the self-sustaining nature of this organization and their ability to provide basic and effective services to their members.

Unfortunately for them (or fortunately, depending how you look at it), I'd be tough to convert, but I had a true and genuine respect for what I saw today. In this day, when it's easy to be sarcastic and full of cynicism, it was great to see people caring for those less fortunate and giving them the basic necessities to they need to get back on their feet.

Speaking of giving, I was also given a block of cheddar cheese and a book: Pure Religion - The Story of Church Welfare Since 1930. If there's anyway to convert me to anything, free cheese is a pretty good start!

And, after today, I may even just root for BYU in a football game next year!
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Friday, April 8, 2011

Eating Crow [I'm Sorry Pete Yorn]

I feel bad.

In 2001, a friend gave my wife a copy of Pete Yorn's "musicforthemorningafter". I said Pete who? Well after a few listens, I fell in love with this album. It was a lot of what I love about music: tuneful, well-produced, good rockers, a few well-crafted ballads ... in general - a really nicely balanced record. I wasn't the only one who loved it - it went on to become an RIAA Gold record. In 2002 or 2003, we went to see Pete at Milwaukee's Rave, it was a rollicking good show. It seemed everybody was loving Pete. I recall my sister swooning every time his face was on TV.

Then came his sophmore album - "Day I Forgot". It might as well have been the named "The Day We Started to Forget (Pete Yorn)". It wasn't a terrible album (I don't think; I don't remember for sure), but it didn't live up to Pete's stunning debut. Then "Nightcrawler" in 2003. Okay, I think. A few good songs, but still, it didn't captivate like "musicforthemorningafter". Blah, blah, blah. Some album with/for Scarlett Johansson. Blah, blah, blah. Sadly, Pete lost me. I even stopped following him on twitter [In my defense, Pete blows at Twitter. Tweets like, "What do you like better? Fish sticks or chicken nuggets?" just weren't captivating.]. I had written Pete off.

He played Milwaukee about a month ago and I had no interest in seeing him. I believe I called him "Pete Yawn".


Then he did it.

That son of a bitch.

He released an album on par with "musicforthemorningafter".

Driving. Rocking. No bad tunes. No filler.

Pete, you fucker. You got me.

Credit goes to Amazon MP3 and their 30-second samples and their daily deals (Pete's "PY" album was only $3.99 with 4 bonus "live" tracks a day or 2 ago.). Remembering the great debut, I always give Yorn's new work a brief listen - if nothing else. But immediately I heard it. PETE YORN WAS BACK! From the opening riffs of Precious Stone to the old-timey country-sounding Wheels, he did it. He made an album that matches - dare I say surpasses? - his great freshman effort.

Anyway, Pete, I'm sorry. Please come back to Milwaukee soon. You'll see me in the front row. I'll be the one eating the crow Po' Boy.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

How'd You Like a Nice Playan Punch?!

You meet some interesting people on vacation in Mexico. Some are the usual people that you meet from the U.S. - you talk to them long enough and you soon find out that you know some of the same people ... somewhere, somehow. It happens every time.

Yongehead* Canadians are a dime a dozen. I swear, don't these people work? I'm only guessing, but the U.S. has got to have at least a 20:1 population advantage over Canada, don't we? Yet the resorts, beaches, and restaurants are clogged with America's tophatters. And here's the thing that gets me about "Yongehead" Canadians: they ALWAYS bring up their national healthcare. It's like it's the only thing they have over the States, so they bring it up at every opportunity. Example: "I could cut my nuts off with a torn-in-two Tecate beer can and my government would pay for my surgery. Would yours?!" It's precisely at that time when I order a Tecate, shotgun it, and tear it in half. "Here you go, ay!"

But the people that I find the most interesting are the ones that are here because they're on the run from something. I haven't a clue what they've done, but I am a bit jealous of them. They're typically grey-haired, suntan, and drunk - but different in that they have a certain worldliness about them. Undoubtedly I ask when I meet these fellows, "You've lived down here for 16 years and you still don't speak Spanish?" and they'll usually reply with a hearty "Fuck 'em!!" We've met a couple of these characters. Last night we met just such a chap. He explained to us that he moved around the U.S. a lot, made an obscene amount of money doing "marketing," but his bastard lawyers fucked him over and he spent a year or two in jail on tax evasion charges [I always suspect that there's more to the story]. Upon release, to Mexico he went.

So after enjoying a few moments with this character, out comes his motive for introducing himself to us: "My name is C.J. Sharky and I just wrote and published my first novel. Please read it and spread the good word." First of all, "C.J. Sharky." Is that a great, made-up novelist name or what? Second, despite this man's crimes -- which I am still not certain of -- I could not be more jealous. He has the BEST life! I'd be so good at it! Just living on the beach, drinking stuff, and writing. I also suspect Mr. Sharky enjoyed a few other of Mexico's finest herbs too, but that ain't my thing.

So because C.J. was such an entertaining fellow and a pretty welcoming guy, I pass along to you the we link for C.J. Sharky's first novel: Playa Punch - Book One of the Mayan Trilogy.

I'll check it out when I get back home. From what I understand, it's only $5 and quickly downloadable to a Kindle. Furthermore, if there are enough clicks on the above link, Mr. Sharky assures me that all of my toes will properly remain on my feet for decades to come.

My feet thank you.

* Originally I had used a different word than "Yonge," but I thought it a little harsh. Also, not all Canadians are Yongeheaded, just the ones that participate in the behavior described.  Furthermore, "Yonge" is pronounced "Young" in Canada, but for a more insulting effect, pronounce it "Yonj."