Monday, December 22, 2008

Bragging Rights

Journey's End, the show I did last January with Griffin Theatre, has been named as one of the ten best shows of the year by Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones. I am particularly proud of this one, in spite (or perhaps because) of the hideous mustache I wore for two months. Congratulations to everybody involved!

photo by Jonathan Berry

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Um, Awkward

I haven't had to do a monologue audition in quite some time, so when a string of them got scheduled I kinda had to scramble and dig up some stuff from my school days. I felt fairly confident in my ability to execute the monologues well enough, having used most of them before, although frankly I could probably use a refresher course for these kinds of auditions. Then again, I don't know what kind of class could prepare me for the faux pas I pulled off this evening.

One of my monologues come from the play Those the River Keeps, by David Rabe. I like the speech a lot. The character is a former mobster discussing the incident that made him realize he was not cut out for the lifestyle. The event he describes involves him punching a dog, and accidentally killing it. The description is vivid and detailed, enough so that I actually have to cut it down some to make it an acceptable length for an audition piece. Still, it's moderately violent, and somehow the fact that the violence is directed toward a dog makes it a little more . . . something. You know what I mean?

Tonight I needed two monologues, contrasting. I've got this dog one, plus another that is funny but straight-laced, and a third that is straight up silly. Given the kind of plays this company was known for, I figured I'd hit 'em with the dog speech first, and then give them the straight-laced comedic one. I was a little rough on the lines for that one, but the combination seemed right. At least, it did until I walked into the audition room and saw an actual, honest-to-god dog lying there. I didn't say anything aloud, and the auditors were making a few preliminary notes and therefore did not notice my double-take.

I got through it. What else could I do? Afterward one of the auditors told me that the speech didn't really work for him. I was too frazzled to explain that I had just done a speech about killing a dog in front of a dog.

There is a part of me that feels like I should have known about the dog. Like I should have remembered, oh yeah, there is a good possibility that there will be a dog in the room. It was a nice enough dog. Black lab, very well-behaved. It just laid on its little doggie mat the whole time. I had to fight hard not to keep looking at it as I worked. I think it was watching me, and judging.

Oh, and that second monologue? The one I was a little rough with on the lines? I scrapped that. No way was I gonna remember that thing. I went straight for the silly. Probably not what they wanted, but at least I got an amusing story out of it.

Monday, December 01, 2008

A Slight Break In the Action

My sincerest apologies for the lack of posts, but I swear I have a good reason for it: I’ve just been too damn busy. I had just enough time off to enjoy Thanksgiving with the folks up in Michigan. But I am not complaining.

The Mark of Zorro just closed last Sunday, bringing to a close the longest run I’ve ever had on a single show, as well as the longest streak of non-stop theatre work in my career. I was sorry to see Zorro end. It was a huge amount of fun, and Lifeline Theatre is just a great group to work with. Fingers crossed, I’ll get another opportunity soon.

This week, I dive back in and try to get a new streak going. Tonight I have a small role in The Strange Tree Group’s holiday party, The 12 Grave Errors of Christmas. I also have auditions lined up for this Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as next Sunday, plus two more the Saturday after that. I am a little stressed about the auditions for this week. They are all monologue auditions, which I have had to do very little of for the past several years. In fact, since 2004 I have done exactly two monologue auditions, total. My success rate is fifty percent.

I also have a small stage combat gig lined up: I will be choreographing the violence for Steep Theatre Company’s production of In Arabia We’d All Be Kings by Stephen Adly Guirgis, directed by one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with (and one of my best friends), Joanie Schultz. She’s usually good enough to give me a call whenever one of her plays requires a beatdown, and I am always happy to oblige.

There is other stuff to report regarding books I’ve read, albums I’ve heard, and jobs I may or may not have gotten. More on all that coming up. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Atomic Nerdery!

This Saturday is the second (and possibly final!) installment of Atomic Nerdery at the Playground. Once again the hour of dork-based comedy features swashbuckling duo The Gentleman Rogues engaging in mortal combat, their fates decided, literally, by the roll of the dice. Last time I (that is to say, the 8th Level Lawful Good Human Fighter, Orlando Cabanban) defeated my arch-nemesis, the foul Chaotic Evil Thief, Sinister Pinch (Ryan Zarecki). Who shall prevail this time? Come to the Playground, 3209 North Halsted, this Saturday at midnight to find out!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Progress

Last night was a punch in the face covered in Awesome Sauce.

I am ashamed to admit I was unable to get down to Grant Park in time to take part in the historical event, but I doubt I was missed. I made it home from rehearsal in time to see MSNBC call it for Obama, and just seeing that blue number jump above the 270 mark sent a thrill up my spine. As an added bonus, the Democrats picked up five more seats in the Senate, including Elizabeth Dole's. This will be the first time in three decades that neither a Bush nor a Dole holds a seat in Congress or the White House. Huzzah!

The night was not perfect. Michelle "Joe McCarthy" Bachmann kept her job, as did Norm Coleman, Saxby Chambliss, and (inexplicably) Ted Stevens. And worst of all, California passed Proposition 8. I have a few friends in California that I just want to hug right now.

Still, I woke up this morning feeling like anything was possible. When was the last time that happened?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

O'Bama!

It's a bit long, but who cares. I might be related to the next President!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Vote Early, Vote Often

The above quote is one of my dad's favorite lines. I always assumed it was attributed to Richard J. Daley, mayor of Chicago from 1955 until his death in 1976, and father of our current mayor. Turns out, however, that the more likely source is an earlier mayor, one that we don't really hear much about these days: William Hale Thompson.

Thompson served as mayor from 1915 to 1923, and again from 1927 to 1931. His second stint came about in large part thanks to the support of Al Capone. In a classic example of Republican irony, his campaign centered around a promise to clean up the crime in Chicago. Thompson was mayor during the Chicago Race Riots of 1919, and the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

In a twist I find comparable to our current Presidential election, Thompson's popularity was at an all-time low during his bid for re-election in 1931, and he resorted to mocking the foreign-sounding name of his Democratic opponent, Anton Cermak. Unhappy with its reputation as a center of organized crime, the city elected Cermak as the first in an as-yet-unbroken streak of Democratic mayors.

I found the following quote in Wikipedia. After Thompson's loss, the Chicago Tribune had this to say about him:

For Chicago Thompson has meant filth, corruption, obscenity, idiocy and bankruptcy.... He has given the city an international reputation for moronic buffoonery, barbaric crime, triumphant hoodlumism, unchecked graft, and a dejected citizenship. He nearly ruined the property and completely destroyed the pride of the city. He made Chicago a byword for the collapse of American civilization. In his attempt to continue this he excelled himself as a liar and defamer of character.

Now take out "Chicago" and replace it with "America," and take out "Thompson" and replace it with "Bush." See how easily it fits.

Mandy and I voted yesterday. I am on pins and needles waiting to see how it turns out. Are any of you planning on heading down to Grant Park on election night?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Four Years! (and a day)

Yesterday was Mandy's and my fourth anniversary! I intended to post something, but never got the chance. Today is a bit more mellow, so I'm getting to it now.

Huzzah!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

McNosferatu


Be afraid. Be very afraid.

[Part of me feels bad for picking on an old man. But most of me thinks a guy who acts like this shouldn't be president. Also, I think it's hilarious.]

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Gentleman Rogues!

How's this for a big bucket of Awesome Sauce? Next Saturday, October 18th, my good friend Dan Telfer will host an evening of dork-related shenanigans called Atomic Nerdery. The show starts at midnight at the Playground Theater at 3209 North Halsted, right by Belmont. The evening will feature stand-up, sketch comedy, live music, puppets, and the debut of the Gentleman Rogues, a new stage combat/comedy duo featuring myself and Ryan Zarecki.

In truth, Ryan and I whipped up this thing just for Atomic Nerdery, but so far we're having so much fun that we thought we'd give ourselves a cool name just in case we were inclined to continue it elsewhere.

Admission is five bucks. There will be a second show on Saturday, November 8th, but who plans that far in advance? If you're interested, you can get more info at the Atomic Nerdery MySpace page.

Friday, September 26, 2008

My Christmas List

Christmas is three months away. What? I hear you asking. Atheists do Christmas? Sure! Why not? It's the end of the year, everyone has vacation time to use, and what's wrong with spending a little time being nice to people? Especially when there is a chance those people will give you presents?

Speaking of presents, here are some toys I want from Santa this year. You will find that they are very practical and reasonably priced. Sort of.

1. Ibanez S7320 7-String Electric Guitar

Ain't she a beauty? I need it so I can keep doing silly crap like this. That seventh string is what will help me really find that sound I want for my fake band, Clown Stigmata. We (which is to say, I) are going for sort of a Ministry vibe, but with that deep crunchy sound that bands like Killswitch Engage and Meshuggah have found. I have a really good guitar now, a Fender Stratocaster, but it has a couple of problems. First, Strats are not really made for this kind of music. Straight-up rock-'n'-roll or punk, sure, but not so much for heavy metal. And it only has six stings. Second, the guitar is not actually mine. My good friend Dan Telfer loaned it to me a few years ago and has been kind enough to let me hold on to it and play it ever since. But, like America's debt to China, if he ever wants it back I'm kinda stuck. So you guys can help me out with that.

The guitar is my one frivolous Christmas request. Everything else is stuff I need for work, like this:

2. Rogue Steel Cup Hilt Rapier

Ooh, and Ahh! I do own a rapier already, with a sixteenth-century German style swept hilt. It's very pretty, but I have issues with it. First of all, somebody painted the damn thing, which is annoying. And it needs a new blade, because the one it has now is ridiculously heavy and has "Made In China" stamped on it. I really don't know how well it would hold up in performances. But the rapier in this image, made by Neil Massey, has a nice classic look that would go great in almost any period piece. Give me a black leather grip and a diamond Schlager blade and I'm set. And Mr. Massey makes great stuff. You just know it's gonna hold up.

Now, if I have a rapier, I'm gonna need a dagger. So, next up on my list is this:

3. Rogue Steel Main Gauche

Girthy, ain't it? And it is often paired with the cup hilt rapier, so there ya go.

Of course, I would be more than happy to go the more traditional route and take one of these:


4. Rogue Steel Ring Dagger













And then there's always the chance I'll get a crack at the Scottish Play again, so I'm definitely gonna need one of these:

5. Rogue Steel Hand and a Half Broadsword

Oh. Hell. Yeah.

So, I'll let you all discuss this list amongst yourselves. I love to be surprised!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

After Dark Awards

Gay Chicago Magazine's After Dark Awards were just announced, and there were a few winners I'm very excited about and want to point out here:

The original run of the show I'm opening this weekend, Lifeline Theatre's The Mark of Zorro, won two awards — one for fight director Geoff Coates (who also directed and choreographed Bloody Bess) and one for Outstanding Production. So, we've got a lot to live up to.

Trap Door Theatre's Emma, for which I provided the fight direction, won for Outstanding Ensemble. And my friend Blake's company, The Building Stage, won several technical awards for Noir.

Congrats to everybody!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I'm Gonna Have Brian Urlacher Take Out My Appendix

How did I not hear about this earlier? Florida Gators quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner and home-schooled born-again Christian Tim Tebow spent his spring break circumcising young boys at his father's orphanage in the Philippines.

"The first time, it was nerve-racking," Tebow said. "Hands were shaking a little bit. I mean, I’m cutting somebody. You can’t do those kinds of things in the United States. But those people really needed the surgeries. We needed to help them."

Thanks to a friend of mine who happens to be a Gainesville, Florida, native, I am something of a Gators fan. And any fan of football will agree that Tebow is a once-in-a-generation talent. He is, in fact, such a good football player that I can usually tune it out when ever he has to give props to his lord and savior in TV interviews. But this is over the line.

Tebow is not a doctor. He has had no surgical training. If he attempted this kind of bullshit in the United States he would be in jail now. Furthermore, his argument that these children "really needed the surgeries" is ridiculous. The arguments for the medical necessity of circumcision are shaky at best, but that is beside the point. There was no emergency. The lives of these children were not in danger. In fact, their lives were put further into danger by letting a 21 year old college student hack at their genitals as if they were lab specimens in a biology class.

And the press' coverage of this . . . insanity . . . has been appalling. Nobody has a clue how to handle it. At best they make a joke out of it. At worst, they bestow praises on Tebow for committing what can only be described as child abuse. I mean, if I found out that when I was an infant my doctor let some college kid handle my circumcision then I would be suing the holy hell out of some people right now, now matter how well the procedure went.

The fact of the matter is that Tebow had only one reason to do what he did. His and his family's religious convictions are well-documented. That they would force their convictions upon poor children in such a devastating way is unpardonable.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Metallica — Death Magnetic

If you haven't been able to get my attention for the last couple of days it's because I have the new Metallica album, Death Magnetic, on repeat on my iPod. That I have listened to nothing else since last Friday should not be an indication one way or the other about my opinion of the album. It is a new Metallica album, therefore I will listen to it until I know it inside and out. These guys and me, we go way back.

I probably first heard of Metallica somewhere in the seventh grade. Somebody in my junior high school had a denim jacket with one of their album covers spray-painted on it. I associated the band, and all heavy metal, with the burnouts who snuck out during lunch and smoked behind the gym. All I knew about heavy metal music was that it was noise. I don't know why I thought that; I suspect I heard a parent or other authority figure say so and it just stuck. I had no evidence to present against the accusation; I had, in fact, never actually heard real heavy metal before. I listened to whatever was on the radio.

One afternoon when I was fourteen I was kicking back in my bedroom, reading a book and listening to the radio. By then my musical tastes had refined only slightly. Instead of getting my music solely from the radio, I also got input from MTV, so I had moved on to Def Leppard and Motley Crue. I knew that some sources called these guys "metal," but I could tell they weren't "heavy" metal. For all the guitars and distortion and power chords, these guys were still just pop acts.

This commercial came on the radio. Metallica had a concert coming up, somewhere nearby. A collage of snippets from their songs played underneath the voiceover. I had to put my book down and listen. I didn't know what I was hearing, but it sure as hell wasn't just noise. I could feel something in it that those other bands, the hair bands, were hinting at but could never reach. After thirty seconds the commercial was over, but I knew I needed to hear more. That week I tuned in to the Headbangers' Ball, and I saw the video for "One." The next day I rode my bike to the record store and picked up . . . And Justice for All and Master of Puppets on cassette. I had to get Justice because that had "One" on it, but I grabbed Puppets as well because that was the title I'd heard the burnouts talk about. I had a paper route, and so I grabbed my cheap knockoff Walkman, popped in my new copy of Puppets, and headed out. The first track on that album, "Battery," made me dizzy. And it just got better from there.

It was a strange time to become a Metallica fan because since that point the quality of the band's output has steadily declined. I never had the opportunity to anticipate a new Metallica album and then have my expectations exceeded. The so-called Black Album, while excellent, was watered down compared to the fury of Justice. Load and Reload have a few decent cuts on each album that are balanced by some genuine crap. And while they all have some great material, you can't really count Live Shit, S&M or Garage, Inc. as albums.

The film Some Kind of Monster documented the difficult process of writing and recording St. Anger, the end result being a film far more interesting than the album it was about. On St. Anger Metallica attempted to create this raw, urgent sound but ended up sounding like their board op wasn't paying attention. At the time of its release I was enthusiastic about the new sound because I could see what it was trying to do, but in the end, in spite of about three decent cuts, the album proved to be almost unlistenable. You have to understand, though, that these albums were really only disappointing compared to other Metallica albums. When you listen to, say, Kill 'Em All or Ride the Lightning, you realize they've set the bar pretty damn high.

So I was nervous about the new album. I wanted it to be good, of course, but each album they've released since I first discovered the band has been distinctly less amazing than the one before it. The steady, almost 20-year-long downward trajectory did not bode well for whatever might follow up the mess that was St. Anger. But it was Metallica, so of course I was gonna buy the thing and listen to it at least a couple of times before I passed judgment.

First, I was very curious to see how new bass player Rob Trujillo fit in. Metallica's sound has never relied much on the bass (it is almost completely absent from the mixes of Justice and St. Anger), but Trujillo is such a dynamic, exciting player that he just had to bring something new and interesting to the table. What he brought was not at all what I expected. He's there all right, but very much in the background. There's a moment or two where bass takes center stage, but those moments are fleeting and serve only to set up the main groove. At no point does Trujillo cut loose the way he did back in the day when he worked with Suicidal Tendencies and the Infectious Grooves.

The other big question was the guitar solos. One of the most memorable segments in Some Kind of Monster involves producer Bob Rock arguing with lead guitarist Kirk Hammett about the relevance of the solo. Watching it, one cannot help but think of the "retro/nowtro" conversation from This Is Spinal Tap. Kirk lost that argument and his role on St. Anger was reduced to mirroring James Hetfield's riffs. But Hallelujah, the band has seen the error of its ways. The whole structure of their songs have been rearranged to highlight the solos, making this, for all intents and purposes, Kirk's album. It has some of his best solo work since Justice.

The overall sound on Death Magnetic is amazing. Before Justice came out Metallica released a stop-gap EP of covers called Garage Days Revisited, which, according to the liner notes, was "not-very-produced" by the band. As the title suggests, the EP sounds like four dudes bangin' out some tunes in their garage and having the time of their lives doing it. With the help of veteran thrash producer Rick Rubin, Death Magnetic sounds like no expense was spared in an attempt to recreate that vibe, and for the most part it succeeds. There are moments when I wish they could have kept the drums a little more under control. It isn't the sloppy sound of St. Anger, but occasionally the kick drum sounds like a mallet hitting a watermelon. It's still a huge improvement over the hellish ringing from the snare throughout St. Anger. And most of all, Death Magnetic really does sound like four guys plugging in and lettin' it rip. You hear a little of everything that has come before on this album, but all the old pieces fit together to create something new and awesome.

So, not only did they halt the downward spiral, Metallica skyrocketed back up with their best material since the '80s. And they're coming to town in January. The shows are probably all sold out already, but a guy can dream.

But really, if you need me it's gonna be while. These headphones aren't coming off any time soon.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Because Nothing Else of Any Import Is Going On Anywhere

At the risk of sounding like I'm writing something just to write something, I thought I'd just give a brief status update on what's going on here in Chris World. I have this goal, see, that I would post 300 words here twice a week. It is a modest goal, and yet I keep getting bumped off schedule. All the political wackiness of the last couple weeks helped, but I want to try and maintain some level of consistency.

As astute observers might have noticed, I did not return to school this fall as I repeatedly said I would. A number of factors went into this decision, but it all boils down to money and my lack thereof. With temp assignments being unsteady at best and a discouraging response from the resumes I've sent out, I find myself more and more needing to make sure I am available for any money-earning opportunities that may arise. A couple of such opportunities have appeared in the forms of theatre work. The last twelve months saw my heaviest theatre workload since I first started acting, and the majority of it was paid work. After having relegated theatre to a hobby several years ago I now find myself having to re-evaluate my position. I seem to be somewhat "in demand," as it were, and my wife and I seem to agree that I owe it to myself to see where, if anywhere, this might take me.

The other reason I am not in school this year is less exciting: I just didn't get the financial aid I needed. If I had, this might have been a very different blog entry, but perhaps not. The theatre work was raising questions about my plans before I knew the financial aid was going to be an issue.

I started rehearsals last week on The Mark of Zorro for Lifeline Theatre. I'm performing in the show, and I've also taken on the duties of fight captain. Mostly that involves making sure the cast remembers the choreography before each performance and then cleaning the weapons afterward. It's not glamorous, but I really enjoy the work. I also am working on my Spanish and Mexican accents. I think they are coming along.

This weekend I will also join the rehearsal process for Shakesploitation!, which should be a hell of a lot of fun. I'm choreographing the fights for this one, which will mark the third show I've choreographed that involved ninjas. Pretty much all of my spare time this week is split between working on the choreography for Shakesploitation! and learning my lines for Zorro. As a result I am awake at 1:00 AM writing for my blog even though I have to be up for work in five hours.

Since I am not in school this fall I am seriously considering taking another crack at National Novel Writing Month. My writing has lagged sorely this year, I am ashamed to say, and I need something to push me back into that mode. I was frustrated when the stuff I worked on for the class I took a year ago just kinda fizzled out, and then when I got laid off I spent a lot of time moping around the house, unwilling to do anything that required actual effort.

I just got hit with a wave of tired, and so I'm going to wrap up this pointless little note. At least I passed my word-count goal.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Not to Harp On It, But . . .

From Sarah Palin's acceptance speech:

As the story is told, "When McCain shuffled back from torturous interrogations, he would turn toward Moe's door and flash a grin and thumbs up" — as if to say, "We're going to pull through this." My fellow Americans, that is the kind of man America needs to see us through these next four years.

So, basically, we're all gonna get tortured for the next four years, but every once in a while John McCain will give us a thumbs up and say, "It'll all be over soon!"

Ms. Palin delivered a good speech. I'll give her that. The hockey-mom/pitbull joke had crackerjack timing. My lovely wife made a good point, though: We've been waiting to hear this woman tell us something about herself, and so we were all riveted as she ran through her biography. She has certainly led an interesting life. She wavered some when she got into the policy part of the speech, however.

I also thought it was condescending to an extraordinary degree. Suddenly being a community organizer is a career of which one should be ashamed. And apparently nobody heard Obama's promise last week to lower taxes for ninety-five percent of the population. I thought she was inappropriately snarky, sarcastic and jokey. But it certainly killed in that convention hall.

And then here comes McCain, pulling an Obama and popping out onstage at the end. Is it just me, or is Sarah Palin physically repelled by McCain? You can see her ick factor go up every time he stepped near her. Hilarious.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Don LaFontaine, 1940 — 2008

Every single one of you have heard his voice a thousand times. "In a world" may be the most famous voice-over phrase since "Let's get ready to rumble". I'd imagine that hearing that gravelly voice utter that phrase over the trailer for a movie you made would be a sign that you'd reached the big time. (Although not really. According to Ain't It Cool News LaFontaine recorded over 5,000 trailers. Some of those movies had to suck. But at least they had an awesome trailer.)

A Moment of Silence for Don LaFontaine:




























Monday, September 01, 2008

Technically, Shouldn't We Be Stoning Somebody Right Now?

In response to the news that Sarah Palin's seventeen-year-old daughter Bristol is five months pregnant, Barack Obama took the high road, saying, "This shouldn't be part of our politics. It has no relevance to Governor Palin's performance as governor, or her potential performance as a vice president." He stated further that he would fire any staff member caught spreading malicious rumors about the Palin family.

Fair enough.

What I think is fair game, however, are Gov. Palin's stances on abortion and sex education. Her anti-abortion stance was one of the things that got her on the GOP ticket. In 2006 she stated that she would oppose it even if her own daughter had been raped. In the same '06 survey she responded that she while she approved of abstinence-only sex education, "explicit" sex-ed programs would not receive her support. I think Obama would agree that we all need to be aware of Gov. Palin's opinions on these issues so that we as voters can make an informed decision. And I think the current situation with the governor's own family is relevant to our decision-making.

I assume (and perhaps this is a mistake) that the policies she advocates from her office are the same choices with which she educates her own family. If that is the case, I think we can agree that providing children with nothing but abstinence-only sex education has a pretty lousy success rate. And while the decision has been made (by whom we do not know) for Bristol Palin to have the baby, why is it also deemed necessary for the girl to marry the baby's father? How often does that work?

A little less than a year ago Lynne Spears had a deal to write a book on motherhood. Then her seventeen-year-old daughter Jamie Lynn announced that she was pregnant, and that particular book deal went away.

I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Time Is Now

I was not, initially, a fan of Barack Obama. I mean don't get me wrong, I was glad he was my senator, but in the early stages of the primary my choice was Dennis Kucinich. Yeah, I know, but hear me out. As you may have noticed if you've read this blog before, I lean pretty far left. Of the politicians whose names regularly appear when the presidential campaign season heats up, Kucinich was the one who leaned furthest in my direction. Did I ever think he had a real chance of winning the nomination, let alone the general election? Not really. He's just too spazzy to take seriously, even if he does have a smokin' hot British wife. (Seriously, how did he pull that off?)

From Obama's appearance at the 2004 Democratic National Convention I knew the guy could give a speech. It was easy to see the excitement growing around him, especially here in Chicago where he is considered a favorite son. When the talk about him running for president really got going I thought he would make a great candidate someday, but not just yet. There were others in line who, considering the clusterfuck that is the Bush legacy, simply could not lose. My one fear was that Hillary might get the nomination, not because she'd be a bad president (she'd be a great one), but because the Clintons are so hated by the Right that her nomination might inspire the Republicans to new lows to keep her out of the White House. As for Obama, brilliant orator that he was, he was just too middle-of-the-road for me. I wasn't feeling it.

It had been my intention to vote for Kucinich in the Illinois primary, but for the second time in as many presidential primaries my candidate dropped out of the race before I got the chance. Again, I knew he wouldn't win, but I felt it was my duty to vote for the candidate I felt best represented my views.

It got down to Obama and Clinton, and things got interesting. I was pretty sure I would go with Obama, but what clinched it was his speech on race that he gave last March. As Jon Stewart remarked that day on The Daily Show, "a prominent politician spoke to Americans about race as though they were adults." I knew then, like so many had figured out before me, that something was happening here that had not been seen in my lifetime.

I watched his speech last night on MSNBC, and for the first time in my life I felt like I was a part of something historic. I was watching something my grandkids will ask me about. I saw, for the first time, a real statesman — the kind you only knew about from history books. Men like Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton. Men like Lincoln. Men like Roosevelt and Kennedy. Men who changed the world with the force of their words.

It is trite now to point out that this election is a turning point, but what else can you call it? If all goes well then years from now we will look back and see the time before, and the time after, and we will marvel at how close we came to disaster, and far we've gotten from it since.

But right now, these few weeks between the nominations and the election, is a strange sort of twilight. We all feel it. November cannot get here soon enough.

[ADDENDUM:]

John McCain has chosen Alaska governor and "hockey mom" Sarah Palin as his VP candidate in a misguided and rather offensive effort to steal away a few Clinton PUMAs while simultaneously shoring up his cred with the religious right. This is fantastic: All this talk about the Democrats selecting their first African-American presidential candidate being historic, while the NY Times calls the first female Republican candidate for the vice presidency a "novelty." Is that sexist? Or more proof of the press' "liberal slant"? Who cares? It's hilarious. She's anti-abortion, anti-polar bear, and under investigation for abusing her power as governor. Way to pick 'em, John!

Monday, August 25, 2008

That's What She Said

This Wednesday, August 27th, I will be participating in the staged reading of a spec script of The Office written by my good friend, the brilliant comic and writer Dan Telfer. The Office reading is the second of two readings that evening. The festivities begin at 7:00 at the Lakeshore Theater, 3175 North Broadway Avenue in Chicago. Tickets are COMPLETELY FREE, so you have no excuse. Be there!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Barack Obama Drunk-Dialed Me

First he goes and talks to the Evangelicals, and now this. I'm a little disappointed in Barack Obama.

I signed up to receive one of the text messages announcing Senator Obama's pick for VP. I put myself on the list because I wanted to be the guy in the office who, in the middle of the afternoon, could stand up and say, "Hey everybody! Barack Obama picked so-and so!" Fat lot of good that plan did me. I ended up getting the news the same way everybody else did — from the actual news. Did I not receive the text message? Oh, I got it . . .

. . . at 3:40 in the morning.

I don't even remember I own a cell phone until I've been awake for an hour and eaten breakfast and read the news on Yahoo. Was that supposed to be a play on the whole 3 AM phone call thing? Who knows? [Apparently it was an attempt to beat a press leak that revealed the name. Still, dick move.] All I know is that I gave this guy my cell phone number, thus opening myself up to untold annoyances in the form of requests for support and donations, all for the promise of being "one of the first" to receive the news. What a gyp.

However, I cannot say I'm disappointed, or even surprised, by who Obama selected. By now you must have heard that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee selected Senator Joe Biden of Delaware as his running mate. I'm cool with this; I've always liked Senator Biden. I will enjoy watching him shred whatever douche McCain picks when they debate. I almost hope it's Leiberman, just because I already saw Senator Biden totally own that tool on Meet the Press just a few weeks ago.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Evolution. Is Nice!

Several months ago a film came out called Expelled. Narrated by Ben Stein, the film purported to uncover some sort of anti-creationist bias in the scientific community. I did not see this movie, nor will I until I have the opportunity to see it for free. I can't bring myself to give the producers a dime. By all accounts (at least, all accounts that I consider worth listening to), the film not only fails in its mission as creationist propaganda, but also fails as an example of documentary filmmaking. In many an Atheist blog the producers of Expelled were taken to task for the underhanded methods they employed to get prominent pro-evolution figures to agree to be interviewed for the film. My favorite evolutionary biologist PZ Myers, for example, was told he was being interviewed for a film with a different title, subject, and even a different production company. Many accused the filmmakers of fearing the truth; people claimed that the producers lied because they were afraid of what the interview subjects might say if they knew who was really interviewing them, and why. Or worse, these scientists and scholars might refuse to be interviewed at all.

Now comes Religulous, featuring Bill Maher. I intend to see this movie because I know in advance that it will give me a smug sense of self-righteousness, and that is a pleasant sensation even if it annoys the people around me. Part of me wishes the film could score a TKO against all organized religion, or at least the douchebags who want to blur the line separating church and state. Of course it won't do that. Most creationists probably won't see it, or at least not pay to see it, and either way their minds are already made up. There are probably very few people in the country who will be moved to change their lives as a result of what this movie has to say. Rather, many folk will probably be put off by the devious methods the filmmakers employed to get interviews from noteworthy figures representing the other side. According to this article from the LA Times, the makers of Religulous pulled pretty much all the same crap as the guys who made Expelled. Of course Religulous was directed by Larry Charles, who also spearheaded Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, so you can imagine he's pretty much an expert at this kind of stuff. We Atheists and anti-creationists will at least have the satisfaction of knowing that our movie was better made.

And thinking about Borat, I realize that I have no problem with the filmmakers fooling their subjects. Seriously, can you think of a recent film that gives a more realistic depiction of heartland America than Borat?

The downside here is that, when using Borat-style filmmaking tactics to tackle subjects like evolution and religion, you can't take the end result any more seriously.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Slight Makeover

As you can see, my little corner of the Internets has undergone a very slight remodeling. I hope you don't mind. I was kinda bored. There may be some more changes in the near future, depending on whether or not I feel like it.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

A bunch of us saw The X-Files: I Want to Believe last night because, well, we wanted to believe. I, for one, wanted to see if the dynamite chemistry between Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny still had the old magic, and in that particular case I was not disappointed. The movie would have made for one of the better stand-alone episodes of the original series. Having entered the theater with modest expectations thanks to the many bad reviews and poor box office showing, I can say that I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the storytelling and filmmaking. There were some issues, sure — Mark Snow's iconic theme was probably the only part of the score that was not distracting — but the performances and most of the technical aspects were entirely satisfactory.

There was, however, something about this movie that surprised me in a very unpleasant way.

Now, the religious subtext in The X-Files is nothing new to fans of the show. Scully's Christian beliefs were a major part of the show. I tended to only pay enough attention to that stuff to make sure I wasn't missing part of the larger story arc. The theme is carried over in the new movie, which finds Dr. Scully working at a Catholic hospital. In a slight twist, it is now Scully who chafes under authority as she clashes with her hospital superiors over a patient, suffering from a rare and fatal brain disease, who reminds Scully of her long-lost son. I have no issue with this subplot, and in fact enjoyed the several great acting moments it provided for Gillian Anderson. I do, however, find myself rather grossed out by what seems to be the Catholic message the film provides.

A central character in the movie, Father Joe (played ably by Billy Connolly), is a convicted pedophile. For some reason the reveal of this fact leads to dry one-liners from Mulder. Throughout the course of the film we are forced to feel sorry for Father Joe, and eventually come to the conclusion that he has performed his penance and received absolution from God for his sins.

M'kay.

On the other hand we have the villains, about whom I do not want to go into too much detail lest I spoil the film. I will point out, however, that the two main villains are, for no reason that relates to the plot I can see, homosexual (married in Massachussetts, no less). Without giving too much away, I can tell you they are revealed to be perverted in the extreme. They are X-Files villains, after all.

So, what did we learn? We learned that we should forgive the child-molesting priests, and that homosexuals are filthy perverts who will stop at nothing to satisfy their obscene lust.

Oh, and it turns out that after all those years of chasing aliens and ghosts and things that go bump in the night, all Mulder and Scully really needed was a vacation. The End.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

My Faith Is Shaken!

I am distraught. The evolutionary biologist, Atheist blogger and all-around cool guy PZ Myers has revealed himself to be the worst of heretics. And no, I am not referring to his recent simultaneous desecrations of a Catholic communion waver, a copy of the Qu'ran, and Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. That was merely hilarious. No, the good professor has raised my ire with something far more insidious:

He saw The Dark Knight, and didn't like it.

My fingers twinge in revolt just typing the words.

"The plot wandered all over," says Professor Myers, "and the movie seemed less interested in telling a story well than in throwing up moral ambiguity and ethical dilemmas which, instead of actually pursuing with any depth, it would resolve with a punch from Batman's fist or an explosion." I feel compelled to point out two things:

First, the point of the story was that Batman and the so-called "good" people of Gotham were incapable of addressing moral ambiguity without violence; pointing this out was pretty much the Joker's raison d'être.

Second, the movie is based on a comic book. There's gonna be punching, and shit's gonna blow up.

That said, the good professor is certainly free to like or dislike any movie that moves him one way or another. I have a fondness for movies in general and Batman in particular, and when they are put together I am known to squeal with delight. (Seriously. Ask the wife.) And I cannot help but agree with those who claim this to be the best movie of the year. However, I do wish to follow Professor Myers' example — "Nothing must be held sacred" — and so I will finish my little tirade against his (slanderous! blasphemous! SCANDALOUS!) critique by saying, "I disagree. But that's cool."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pirate Rock!

Another show is in the books. Bloody Bess: A Tale of Piracy and Revenge left me sore, battered and bruised, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I had a hell of a lot of fun, met some fantastic people, and I got to swing swords around for half the summer. Now if I can only find somebody who will pay me to do that on a regular basis my life will be set.

One thing about the show that amazed everyone who saw it was the original music. Our composer, Tom Haigh, was good enough to post his work on his website. Check it out here.

I would like to leave you now with a couple of examples of a joke carried on way too far. On opening night of Bloody Bess, an actor backstage made an offhand comment that several of us thought would make a good song title. With the aid of GarageBand, fellow castmember Mathias Maloff and I made the dream a reality. Twice. Mathias provided all the lyrics and vocals, while I wrote and performed the music.

Get ready to rock.

Nut Punch Thunder


If U Could U Would


And hey, if you like 'em, feel free to download them and keep them for your very own!

Nut Punch Thunder

If U Could U Would

And the scary thing is there might be more coming. Watch out.

Next up for me is a fight choreographer gig: Shakesploitation by Andy Grigg, directed by Josh Miller. Three hilarious one-act plays based on the works of Shakespeare, with titles like Kung-Fu Hamlet: Burning Fist of Denmark. Awesome.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Dog Days

My apologies for having nothing new to report in the last two weeks. The big news so far is that the wife and I finally received our stimulus check from the government, and like good American consumers we went out and bought an X-Box 360 and the game Rock Band. As you can imagine, we have done much of anything else for a few days.

My show has one more week, so if you are in the area please come on down to Gallery 37 on Randolph and check it out. If this play has taught me anything, it is that I am not a young man anymore, and that doing something as simple as a shoulder roll now requires a hell of a lot of prep time. I've been sore all over for about a month now.

Hellboy II opened this weekend, and we're gonna check it out tomorrow. As much fun as I expect it to be, it is merely an appetizer before next Friday's main course: The Dark Knight. We will be at the Imax on Navy Pier at midnight to behold the awesomeness.

Aside from those little batches of fun, things are in a holding pattern. School doesn't start for another six weeks or so (if at all — financial aid is being difficult) and while I may have another theatre project coming up over the horizon it is not definite enough yet to go into detail.

It's still early in the morning, so I'm gonna go try and slog through the last few chapters of Richard K. Morgan's Thirteen. It was at the top of a few Sci-Fi/Fantasy lists last year. I can't figure out why. It better have a hell of an ending.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

My Jesus Year — The Wrap-Up

I turn thirty-four today, and for the first time I can remember I am unhappy about getting older. A few days ago I realized that this constitutes the beginning of my "mid-thirties," and I definitely feel older today than I did a year ago. Mostly because of my show, Bloody Bess. I'm just generally sore all over, all the time. And the temp assignment I'm on right now has me sitting in these godawful bar-height chairs that do unholy things to my spine. And, of course, my Jesus Year has come to an end, and I don't feel like I'm really any farther along than I was when I wrote this blog entry a year ago.

Which is not to say the year was a total loss. I did get some stuff done. I took that writing class. Unfortunately it did not spur me on to feats of literary greatness. In fact, I've written very little since that class ended. I go in fits and spurts, and in the end I find myself tossing aside whatever I came up with. I haven't given up on it completely — to the contrary, when I return to school I plan on diving head first into a writing concentration — but I don't feel like I accomplished what I set out to do when I took that class in the first place.

And of course there is my theatre work. Since July 2007 I've been in four shows and one staged reading, and I choreographed the fights for two others. A pretty good year. I've enjoyed myself thoroughly, and made a few new friends along the way. I just wish I felt like I had some sort of a career growing out of all this work. All told I probably earned about four hundred dollars from everything I did in the last year. An audition popped up a few weeks ago that made me wonder if maybe I should put school on hold a little longer and try to pursue more paid (i.e. daytime) acting work, but it didn't pan out. So, I'm kinda back where I started with all that. Unlike the writing, at least I've been getting out there and doing stuff theatrically, but I don't know that I've made any real progress.

Also, all that running I was gonna do? Not so much.

I did enroll in school, which is . . . something. My enthusiasm about school waxes and wanes, and I find myself having difficulty defining my reasons for going back. When people ask, I say things like, "Everyone else I know has finished school, and I feel left behind." Which is true. But it was pointed out to me that this is not, by itself, a good reason. To be honest, I cannot really define why I am returning to college, other than to say it just feels like something I am supposed to do. Like writing, it isn't something I really want to do, but it is something I want to have done. Does that make sense?

It's just after 5:30 in the morning on this, the first day of my thirty-fourth year. I need to shower and get prepared for another fun-filled day of data entry. This evening, my wife and one of my best friends are taking me out to dinner, and that will be awesome.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Another Rave for Bloody Bess

Chicago Public Radio's Dueling Critics Jonathan Abarbanel and Kelly Kleiman can't get enough Bloody Bess! Follow this link to hear them rant and rave over all the awesomeness.

Then come see the show yourself. Seriously, people!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Reviews are In for Bloody Bess

We've received quite the positive reaction from the critics. A small sampling:

"It's 'Kill Bill' on the high seas, and it's a blast." — Chicago Tribune

"[Director and fight choreographer Geoff] Coates takes a visceral, ultrarealistic approach to staging the violence so that it seems both surprising and remarkably immediate." — Time Out Chicago

"Sometimes playful and sometimes gripping, Bloody Bess combines brains with brawn—it’s exciting enough to make even the most jaded viewer go 'Arrrr!'" — Chicago Reader

". . . the spectacle-driven narrative (enhanced by Tom Haigh's original music, invoking vistas of limitless adventure) delivers thrilling martial exhibitions showcasing the multicultural composition of the bandit privateers." — Windy City Times

"The highlight is the fight choreography done with real swords brandished with delicious malice." — Centerstage

"The ensemble displays their machismo and their fighting skills. The gusto of this play dominates. It is light hearted and spirited." — ChicagoCritic

And if that isn't reason enough to come see the show, then check this out:


Photo by Johnny Knight

Yeah, that's me. What? I don't see the problem.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin, 1937 — 2008

He hosted the first episode of Saturday Night Live. He proved, as Lenny Bruce did before him, that humor could be simultaneously intelligent and raunchy. And if there had not been a George Carlin, there would be no Lewis Black and no Patton Oswalt.



A Moment of Silence for George Carlin:





























Is it just me, or is there something about this year? It's like we are moving into some kind of singularity.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fight Call

photo by Adam Hinkle

Fellow Bloody Bess cast member Adam Hinkle took this photo of me during fight call last week. I look pretty badass, if I do say so myself. I assure you that we are not wearing Chuck Taylors in the show.

We have our first audience tonight, and officially open tomorrow. Holy crap.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Fixing It In Post

"Horrific, deplorable violence is okay, as long as people don't say any naughty words!" ~ South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut

Before I get sidetracked, I must let you know: I am not writing a review of A&E's recent screen adaption of Michael Crichton's novel The Andromeda Strain. I will sum up my opinion of it by saying that there's no reason to go out of your way to see it, but if it happens to be on and you've got nothing better to do, there are probably worse ways of wasting your time. And if you happen to catch it airing on a Sunday afternoon you may find certain choices to be very interesting.

The wife and I decided to check out The Andromeda Strain this past Sunday afternoon because the Sox had a rain delay and the only other thing on was gymnastics. I'm not a fan of Crichton, but I did enjoy reading this particular book all the way up until the last chapter, where I think he realized he'd reached his word count and just decided to stop. Quite the letdown. Anyway, Mandy had caught the first half a few nights earlier and was curious to see how it ended, and from what she told me I got the impression that this new version diverged significantly from the events in the book. Which it did. All things considered, I'd say it was a not-half-bad made-for-TV movie. It was certainly more ambitious in its storytelling than the novel was, and it had a few powerful images. For the most part the acting was adequate, as was the screenplay itself. The directing left a little to be desired, in particular a scene in which three characters have to endure a decontamination process that is shot like the prelude to a three-way sex scene. I just don't think that was the message this movie was shooting for.

But again, I'm not reviewing the movie.

It's trite now to question our nation's moral stances on sex and violence in entertainment. Everyone knows that Americans just don't think like other people. When you think about it, it should not be at all surprising; our forefathers came here because, quite frankly, they couldn't hack it wherever they came from. From what little I know of the religion-based motives that spurred many of the first European settlers to cross the Atlantic and shove the Native Americans aside, I get the impression that their fellow Europeans found their beliefs too conservative, too constricting, and too damn weird. And, as evidenced by the rise of the megachurch and the glut of religious programming clogging the airwaves, things haven't changed all that much in the last six hundred years or so. This is all old news. However, occasionally I will still witness something that leaves my jaw hanging open in awe of just how screwed up we really are.

Mandy caught the first half late in the evening a few nights earlier, and mentioned to me that for a made-for-TV movie it had a level of swear-word usage she found surprising, and some moments of violence that were downright shocking. Neither of these things offend my wife, nor myself, so long as they serve the story in which they are employed. She indicated to me that in this case they did. When we watched it on Sunday afternoon, however, steps had been taken to make the broadcast "safer" for a daytime audience. What the censors removed, and what they allowed to stay, blew my fucking mind.

You cannot say a dirty word on basic cable on a Sunday afternoon. Every instance of "shit," "god damn," and even "ass" got the silent treatment — as in, the audio cut out when any character uttered the word. As per usual in such cases, it only served to punctuate the fact that somebody said something naughty. After the first scene or two we found it amusing. It might have made for a good drinking game. But Mandy observed that if these mere words could not be heard, then surely some of the content that was coming up would be excised completely from the broadcast.

Dude, there's a scene where a guy chops his own head off with a fucking chainsaw. Shortly after that another woman covers herself in gasoline and lights herself on fire and you see every horrible moment of it. Later, another guy enters a diner and shoots three random people before placing the gun under his chin and blowing his own head off. The blood effects, CGI though they may be, were present, plentiful and gruesome. And let us not forget the repeated images of buzzards picking at dead bodies. That was a recurring motif. And all of this stuff was deemed suitable for an audience too sensitive to allow the word "ass" to sully their eardrums.

Now, before anybody thinks I'm a prude, I want to go on record as saying I oppose and abhor censorship in all its forms. If foul language or gorey violence or graphic sex is necessary for an artist to relay his message then he has the freedom to do so. On the flip side, if some "artist" wants to use such things for no reason other than he knows it will make money, well, he has the freedom to do that as well. I, however, have the freedom to choose what films or TV shows I watch, what plays I attend, and what books I read. Turns out, I like stories with a good bit of violence and dirty talk in them, but that's just me. What I don't understand is the prioritization. I do not understand how a single word of dialogue — little more than a lazy way to add emphasis — can be more shocking or offensive than a graphic depiction of self-immolation, or a murder-suicide, and therefore be more deserving of excision from the film. Hell, there are several scenes of animals doing normal Discovery Channel-style violence to each other that, were I a seven-year-old, would freak me out so bad I wouldn't even remember that somebody said "shit" two scenes earlier. Just who do these censors think they are protecting, and what exactly are they protecting us from? What is the message here? Is there a message at all, or are they just paying lip service to some outdated concept of propriety, making a handful of simple audio edits to look like they did their job? Part of me wonders if it's just laziness. In this particular instance most of those violent scenes could have been re-edited in a way that maintained the shock factor and preserved the integrity of the story while "protecting" the more fragile viewers from genuinely graphic imagery, but what a pain in the ass that would be. Am I right?

I can only assume that whoever made the decisions places a greater value on decorum than they do on human life. I can think of no other explanation for the choices made here. I suspect that there was some thought or discussion about "protecting the children," but if so I have to worry about whether the censors who worked on this broadcast have children of their own. I plan on having kids of my own someday, and if I have to raise them in an environment that frets over their choice of words but allows expressions of violence to go unchecked, it's just going to make my job as a parent that much more difficult.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Harvey Korman, 1927 — 2008

"Where's my froggy? Daddy loves froggy. Does froggy love Daddy? Ribbit. Ribbit."

~Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) in Blazing Saddles


His mind was aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention. All I can say is, "Ditto."

A Moment of Silence for Harvey Korman:




























Monday, May 26, 2008

The Atheists' Mission Statement

Greta Christina nailed it again. In her latest blog entry she lays out a clear vision of just what we Atheists are really aiming for. Actually, she lays out two visions; the utopian version and the version that requires more compromising. She points out the irony that in this case the utopian vision is actually the more achievable one, as religious beliefs do not really allow much room for compromise. But she also points out that, misguided as religious believers may be, positive change cannot be brought about by force. Imposing laws that regulate belief, or imposing belief systems by force, are antithetical to the true goals of Atheism. Religious believers must be persuaded. It's a lofty goal, and one that won't be achieved in my lifetime, but it needs to start somewhere, sometime.

I think it's my favorite thing she's written since Atheists and Anger. You should check it out. When she gets going about Atheism I feel like she's talking directly to me. Not so much with her sex articles. Not that I don't find those interesting; I just think she writes those for someone else.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Few of My Favorite Things

The next six to twelve months look promising, and not only because I am starting school in the fall, or because the Bush presidency ends in January. (Unless McCain wins — then we're stuck in a same-shit-different-President situation. But I'm trying to stay positive.) There's a bunch of stuff coming out in the next year that I'm pretty sure was created specifically to entertain me, Chris Walsh. I would just like to take this moment to thank the entertainment industries for thinking of me. To be honest I would have preferred it if you offered me a job, but making these movies and books and whatnot just for me is pretty cool, too.

First of all, there's The Dark Knight, which opens in less than two months. You are all looking forward to this too. Don't lie. Batman Begins was everything I dreamed a movie based on a comic book character could be. The one thing it lacked was the greatest comic book villain ever created: The Joker. Sure sure, Jack Nicholson blah blah seen it before blah. I'm not gonna lie and say I disliked Mr. Nicholson as the Joker in Tim Burton's film. He was larger than life. He made the movie. In fact, that movie was more about the Joker's arc than Batman's, which I think is where the movie failed. From what I've read about The Dark Knight I feel confident that the filmmakers avoided that particular pitfall this time around. And just based on the trailers I think they succeeded in one important aspect where the Burton film failed: This time around, the Joker is scary. I cannot wait.

Then, a year from now, we're gonna get something I've been wanting since I was eight years old: A live-action film adaptation of G.I. Joe. Granted, I do not feel the abundance of confidence in this project that I do with The Dark Knight, but so far I don't think the filmmakers have given us any reason to complain. The film is directed by Stephen Sommers, with whose work I am not very familiar. I know he made the Brendan Fraser Mummy series, and Van Helsing with Hugh Jackman. I have not felt the need to see any of those, but from the clips I've seen in commercials and trailers Mr. Sommers does appear to have something of an eye for action set-pieces, which is certainly going to be necessary here. I'm hoping, however, that there are not too many huge battle sequences, as that is not really what G.I. Joe was about. I was always more interested in, say, the Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow feud, or Snake Eyes' relationship with Scarlett, or the weird power struggle between Destro, the Baroness, and the Cobra Commander. Looking at the cast list on IMDb, I think they are going to focus more on these smaller stories. There's a kid cast as Young Storm Shadow? The Hard Master makes an appearance? Awesome. That was the best storyline in the comic book.

In general I'm pretty psyched about the cast, too. Ray Park of Darth Maul fame is playing Snake Eyes, which is just dream casting right there. Back in 2005 Ain't It Cool News came up with a fantasy cast of a G.I. Joe movie that included Mr. Park. They had some other great suggestions which were ignored, but this one was dead on. I'm equally jazzed to see Christopher Eccleston as Destro, Sienna Miller as the Baroness and Lost's Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Heavy Duty. Some other casting (like Marlon Wayans as Ripcord) I understand less, but I'm willing to give these guys the benefit of the doubt. And there are two characters that I am dying to see: Brendan Fraser as Gung Ho (whose action figure in the 1980s looked like a member of the Village People) and Joseph Gordon-Leavitt as Cobra Commander. That last one just leaves me scratching my head. I hope it works.

Those are the big ones that I've been dorking out over whenever I have an internet connection and nothing better to do. But do not for a moment think that those two movies are all I have to look forward to. First of all, The Voice of the Falconer, the sequel to David Blixt's amazing debut novel The Master of Verona, just became available for pre-order on Amazon.com. I've already got my order in. I am itching to find out what happens next with Pietro, Antonia, Cangrande and the rest of the gang.

And there is the upcoming Fourth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons to look forward to as well. I haven't participated in a role-playing game in a few years now, and I never played D&D with the 3rd Edition rules, but apparently this new edition is set to revolutionize the way table-top RPGs are played. I'm eager to get my hands on the new books when they come out in a couple of weeks.

Also, a little over a week ago the latest issue of Casanova hit the shelves. I've never been a huge comic book nut, but I'm curious to pick up this title because of who wrote it. When I was about eight or nine years old I lived down the street from this kid named Matt. We were pretty much best friends. We slept over at each others' houses and stayed up into the wee hours playing either Star Wars or G.I. Joe or building stuff with Legos. Matt had the better Star Wars toy collection; I had all the G.I. Joes. One time we got it into our heads to try and make our own comic books. I remember mine was called "Omega Squad" and it was pretty much entirely a rip-off of G.I. Joe, only all the main characters wore motorcycle helmets for some reason. I recall showing it to my dad, who said he thought it was very violent. I don't remember what Matt's was about. Anyway, eventually Matt's family moved away and we lost touch.

Cut to a quarter of a century later. There I am, bored at work one day, and just for funzies I'm plugging names of old acquaintances into Google. It occurs to me to wonder whatever became of my old friend Matt, who I used to think was one of the coolest people in the world. My Google search lead me to the home page of star-on-the-rise comic book writer Matt Fraction. Turns out, my old friend Matt still is one of the coolest people in the world. I am, of course, insanely jealous. But I also can't help but feel slightly responsible for Mr. Fraction's career path. For that reason if nothing else you all should check out his work.

Now I'm off to stab pirates. More on that later.

Friday, May 16, 2008

"MonkeymonkeymonkeymonkeyYOU!"



Mandy and I saw Eddie Izzard at the Chicago Theatre last night. Really good show. Not a great show, but really, really good. I posted a review over at Chicago Metblogs, if you're curious.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Small Victory

Turns out I won't need to make that trip down to City Hall after all. Good thing, too; my dress shirts all need to be dry-cleaned.

The Event Promoters ordinance has been tabled pending further discussion and input from the public. It will be at least a month before it comes up again. Some version of this thing will eventually be put to a vote and will almost certainly pass. The impetus behind the ordinance was the wish to prevent things like the E2 nightclub tragedy, but it is unclear how the actions of that club's promoters led to the deaths of those 21 people. The trick is making sure the language is clear enough so that the honest artists who are struggling just to acquire an audience are not lumped in with the unscrupulous scammers who are the intended targets of this ordinance. The Chicago Music Commission is already involved in reshaping the language; they were largely responsible for the decision to delay the ordinance in the first place. It seems to me that certain other organizations such as the League of Chicago Theatres also need to have a place at the table during this discussion.

I'm grateful to everybody who got involved; everyone who wrote or called their aldermen, or showed up at their offices to voice their opposition to this ordinance. I felt like I was part of something important. I still do; the work isn't done yet. We'll have to see what the next version looks like.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Tipping Point

Cross-posted at Chicago Metblogs:

The Event Promoters ordinance will go before the city council at 10:00 AM, Wednesday, May 14th. I received an e-mail from Brad Maier letting me know about a campaign to flood city hall with opponents of this ordinance. The campaign is being organized through The Point, and the goal is for 100 people to commit to attending the council meeting tomorrow. Save Chicago Culture will present a petition opposing the ordinance at the meeting.

Because the proposal was fast-tracked through committee, the Chicago arts community has had very little time to respond. I, for one, will be attending the council meeting tomorrow. If you care about preserving Chicago's theatre, music and comedy I expect to see you there too. If you can't make it, please e-mail your alderman and express your opinion.

Otherwise, I suppose you could just pay a hundred bucks a pop and go see Wicked again.

Monday, May 12, 2008

An Open Letter to Alderman Eugene C. Schulter

Dear Alderman Schulter:

This Wednesday, May 14, the city council is scheduled to vote on the Event Promoters ordinance. I ask that you vote against this ordinance. A large number of young artists, actors and musicians who would be negatively effected by this ordinance live in your ward, and there are several venues in your ward, including the Cornservatory (4210 N. Lincoln Ave.) and Martyrs' Restaurant and Pub (3855 N. Lincoln Ave.) whose business would be hurt if this ordinance passes.

I moved to this city twelve years ago because of the opportunities it afforded young artists, and I have made a career working with the many and diverse groups that perform in small venues. These groups already operate on shoestring budgets, and the Event Promoters ordinance would effectively destroy their ability to function.

Chicago has been the birthplace of many noteworthy artistic successes, from the Second City and Steppenwolf, to Smashing Pumpkins and Liz Phair. It is success stories like these that attract new artists to the city. None of this would have happened, however, if the ordinance had existed when these artists were starting their careers. If the Event Promoters ordinance passes, artists will be forced to pursue their crafts elsewhere, and Chicago's reputation for cutting edge theatre, music and art will be diminished.

Please do not allow this ordinance to pass. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Christopher M.Walsh

Friday, May 09, 2008

I Can’t Hear You! I STILL Can’t Hear You!

[Cross-posted at Metroblogging Chicago.]

My ears are ringing.

Last night at the House of Blues the wife and I finally saw the Ministry concert I wrote about getting tickets for a few months ago. At that time it was the first of two final U.S. shows for the band; it became the first of four. For those of you who are interested, there are apparently still tickets available for Sunday.

I must confess, I am getting old. No more jumping around in the pit for this guy. We found comfortable seats along the rail in the mezzanine section, near the bar. We had a great view, and managed to avoid all the crap getting thrown around down on the main floor. Being slightly removed from the action did not stop me from getting up and doing a little headbanging when the moment called for it though. Now, of course, my neck is sore. Like I said, I am getting old.

Things kicked off early with opening act Hemlock, who, according to frontman/bass player Chad Smith, have been around for fifteen years but just got their first record deal last year. I don't know if that is something to brag about or not. Smith has an interesting stage presence. Imagine Hurley from Lost, and give him locks and a beard. Hemlock had a fun set, although their music did not exactly blow me away. It had a lot of crowd-friendly hooks, but lacked the visceral thrill one expects from a metal show. Smith is a capable enough frontman, but trying to talk the crowd into chanting the band's name came off a little sad.

The second act was Swedish band Meshuggah, whom I'd seen once before a few years ago when they opened for Tool. They put on a hell of a set. Their material is dark, heavy, and intricate, and their stage presence is almost overpowering in the House of Blues' rather intimate confines. Meshuggah never met a time signature they did not like, and frequently invite several of them to make appearances in a single song. The band is exceptionally tight — you'd have to be, to pull off music this complicated. Drummer Tomas Haake pulls off some virtuoso work here: He'll keep standard 4/4 time with, say, the cymbals or snare, while his feet kick out something entirely different to match the bass and rhythm guitar. Hearing it recorded is one thing; seeing it done live is a real experience. And the whole time frontman Jens Kidman just stood front and center, his presence all the more sinister for his economy of movement, just nodding gently with the music. Of course, eventually the lyrics would come around, and he would put one foot up on a monitor, lean into the crowd, and rip everyone's head off with his voice.

He kinda looks like my friend Blake. I never realized how scary Blake could be.

The main event started off with a fifteen-minute self-promotional PowerPoint presentation, or at least that's what it looked like. The first thing to appear was the logo of the Chicago Blackhawks projected on the massive screen behind the stage. We were then treated (or, depending on your opinion of the song, forced to listen to) a recording of "Keys to the City," Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen's homage to his favorite hockey team. The punk band Dropkick Murphys is famous in Boston for songs about their local sports teams, and there is a certain charm about it. "Keys to the City," by contrast, gave me the embarrassment shivers. It's not the best song. And it's way longer than a sports anthem really needs to be. That was followed by a trailer for the grindhouse-style horror film Wicked Lake, for which Jourgensen composed the score. Then we were treated to another recording, this time of "I'm Not Gay" by the Revolting Cocks, one of Jourgensen's many other projects.

Then, finally, finally, Ministry took the stage. They opened with "Let's Go," the first track from their last album The Last Sucker. The first set, which lasted an hour and a half, was comprised entirely of songs from Ministry's last three releases, Houses of the Molé, Rio Grande Blood, and The Last Sucker. The albums combine to form an epic three-hour anti-George W. Bush polemic. Seeing them performed live before a projected backdrop of brutal, disturbing imagery juxtaposing 1950s educational films about nuclear safety with the footage from the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq war is about as depressing as a rock concert can get. Combine this with Jourgensen's stage presence, which is eerily reminiscent of Ozzy Osbourne in the last few years, and I found myself starting to wonder just what I had paid for. There seemed to be a break in clouds for a moment when Jourgensen announced the title of the next song as "N.W.O.", a song from the band's 1991 mainstream breakthrough album Psalm 69, but he meant to say "No W.", which is from Houses of the Molé, and which is what they actually played. Not that the set was bad, by any means. It was worth it just for the exceptional guitar work from Tommy Victor and Sin Quirin.

The second set began with the band members meandering onto the stage one at a time, picking up their instruments, and creating random bursts of noise and feedback that built into mind-numbing cacophony until the dam finally burst and everything melded into the opening bass groove of "So What" from the 1989 classic The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste. From that point on the show was a relentless, non-stop wall of Awesome. When they finally got around to actually playing "N.W.O." Jourgensen handed over the vocals to special guest Burton C. Bell from Fear Factory. Bell's stronger voice raised the bar for the rest of the set, which confirmed for me that "Just One Fix" from Psalm 69 is still one of the heaviest songs ever written.

The band rounded out the night with a set from their final release, Cover Up, a collection of covers that include industrialized takes on the Doors' "Roadhouse Blues," ZZ Top's "Just Got Paid," and the Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb."

I wanted to hear "Stigmata" and "Jesus Built My Hotrod," but you can't have everything. All in all I'd say the hearing loss was completely worth it. I came, I saw, I bought a t-shirt. I gotta do this stuff more often.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Jeffs

The Non-Equity Joseph Jefferson Award nominations were announced, and I gotta admit I'm disappointed. Journey's End totally got the shaft. I thought we deserved a nod for Ensemble at the very least, if not for Production — Play. And some mention should be made for the technical achievements on the show, too. Our set was awesome, as were the sound, lights and costumes. And what about Nigel Patterson? How did he not get a mention? Robbed, I tell you!

Harrumph.

There were a few nominations that did make me smile, however:

Signal Ensemble Theatre's 1776, which featured several fellows whom I met working on Chalk, is up for Production — Musical or Revue and Philip Winston, whom I met on The Hound of the Baskervilles and who got me cast in Chalk, is up for Actor in a Principal Role — Musical or Revue.

Paul S. Holmquist, who played the indefatigable Sergeant Major in Journey's End, is up for Director — Play for his work on The Island of Dr. Moreau with Lifeline Theatre. Hans Fleischmann (Captain Stanhope in Journey's End) is nominated for Actor in a Supporting Role — Play for In a Dark Dark House at Profiles Theatre. And Terry McCabe got a nomination for his adaptation of Hound of the Baskervilles.

On the technical side, Bob Knuth (whom I've worked with at Circle Theatre and who also happens to be my wife's boss at Second City) got a nod in the Scenic Design category for his company's production of An Ideal Husband, and Stephen Ptacek is up for Sound Design for his amazing work on Faster at the Side Project, for which I provided the violence.

So, congrats to all of those guys. I'm excited to have gotten chances to work with all of them.

Oh, and once again no Fight Choreography category. Lame!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

In a Hole In the Ground There Lived . . .

. . . a motherfrackin' Hobbit, bitches! Booyah!

It is official: Peter Jackson will produce and Guillermo del Toro will direct the big-screen adaptation of JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit, along with a second film bridging the gap between the prequel and The Lord of the Rings. I cannot adequately state what a gigundous nerdboner I have for this whole thing. Rumor has it that Ian McKellin is already set to reprise his role as Gandalf, along with Andy Serkis as Gollum. There's a part of me that thinks if these two guys can't or won't do the films, the films maybe shouldn't be done. I can't wait to find out who plays Beorn, or Bard the Bowman. Or who voices Smaug. And you know the Wargs are gonna be bad-ass. And Mirkwood! Don't even get me started on Mirkwood!

But I'm most curious about the second film. There's a ton of material in the LotR appendices, along with all the notes published since The Silmarillion, but it hasn't all been collected into a single narrative piece.

So who's gonna play all these new parts? I know I've asked this before, but it's my favorite game: Cast The Movie. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ben Stein Gets a Bad Grade

Onion AV Club film reviewer Steven Hyden gave Ben Stein's Intelligent Design propaganda film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed an "F."

"Even for those who buy into the idea that intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory," Hyden writes, "Expelled offers little substantive illumination." The film, he says, is guilty of some of Michael Moore's worst indulgences. Of co-writer/narrator Stein's trip to Dachau and attempt to link Darwinism to the Holocaust, the review states, ". . . he strides proudly over the last line of decency in contemporary documentary filmmaking."

You can read the entire review here.

Awesome. I admit I'm still curious, but there's no way I'm dropping ten bucks on it.

Friday, April 18, 2008

sExpelled!

The Richard Dawkins Foundation's parody of the upcoming Ben Stein movie Expelled:



"Stork Theory"! Hee!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Aside From That, It Was a Pretty Good Day

Before I begin, I want to point out something: I consider myself to be a pretty upbeat, positive guy. In fact, I put a considerable amount of effort into it. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Even politicians, sometimes. I think that my effort shows in this blog. I try to keep any whining, kvetching or complaining down to a minimum, unless it has to do with things that really piss me off . . . like creationists. For the most part I try to focus on things which inspire my enthusiasm. I think I've done a good job with that. Therefore, I apologize in advance to anyone who feels the following entry is just Poor Me Wants a Pity-Party. I know I think it is. Enjoy.

Were I to make a list of my favorite things, somewhere near the top would be: Riding my bike through the city. I love, love this. I cannot stress enough how happy this activity makes me. I love how close I feel to Chicago itself when I'm riding. It's a feeling I don't get when I'm in a car, or even walking around. When I'm on my bike it's like I'm a blood cell flowing through the veins and arteries of the city. I can't get enough of it. You can understand, then, why it upsets me when someone tries to ruin the experience for me.

It was as simple as it was lame: I was riding north on Milwaukee Avenue. I had maybe two or three blocks to go before I reached North Avenue and Damen. Everything was great, and then a gray car passed me on my left. As it came even with me, maybe four or five feet away, the person in the passenger seat made a loud, high-pitched barking noise at me. I was not expecting it. The sudden noise made me jerk my handlebars a little, and I felt a rush of adrenaline dump into my veins. I became very aware of my sweat. Mostly, though, I felt like I was eleven fucking years old.

I think I am a good rider, and by "good" I mean that understand my place in the flow of traffic. I am not very fast, but I know how to place myself so that faster riders can pass me. I stick to streets with defined bike lanes, or at least streets that are bike-friendly as indicated on the official Chicago Bike Map, whenever possible. I don't swerve in and out of traffic. I am careful of pedestrians. I am wary of parked cars — you never know when a driver's side door might open. I have a decent amount of reflectors on my bike, and also on my person. I do not always wear a helmet, which is sort of indefensible but I will say that I feel safer without it. I have yet to find a helmet that does not mess with the acoustics. Cars behind me are never where I think they should be when I'm wearing a helmet, and it makes me very nervous. When I find a helmet that doesn't have that effect, I will wear it every time I ride. I promise. But aside from the helmet, I don't think there is anything I'm doing that should make me a target for derision.

So, my only conclusion is that there must be something comical about a fat guy riding a bike. And that sucks for me. I mean, I'm riding the bike because I'm a big fat guy and I'm trying to do something about it. Now if you caught me tooling around on one of those scooters old people ride in shopping malls, then by all means give me all you got, because at that point I have obviously given up.

I cannot adequately state how embarrassed I am about my weight. It is difficult to describe the way my brain just shuts off whenever there is food around. I am incapable of sticking to self-imposed limits. I lose all self-control when presented with a choice between healthy or unhealthy foods. Social functions, job interviews, auditions, any situation where I have to meet new people . . . I have to push down these waves of anxiety just to get out the door because I am convinced that everyone is noticing my weight, horrified by it, and talking about it. When I ride my bike I feel like I am taking steps toward regaining control. Of course, the people I meet these days are pretty much all adults, and if they do notice my weight or even care about it at all they have the good grace to keep it to themselves. I am an intelligent man who is moderately quick of wit, but I am entirely unprepared for junior high teasing. Instead of enjoying the last several blocks of my ride home I spent the whole trip flushed and embarrassed, and wishing I'd had something brilliant and cutting to shout back.

After the gray car disappeared from view a series of fantasies flashed through my mind. I imagined myself doing this Jackie Chan move where I leap from my back and crash through the rear passenger side window, landing in the backseat, where I reach forward and grab the douchebag by his hair and slam his face into the windshield, or maybe put him in a sleeper hold, or possibly just snap his neck. After I've calmed down a little the dreams get less violent; I picture myself pulling up next to the car at a red light, and just before the light turns green I lean toward them and say, very clearly so everyone in the car hears, "Too bad about your tires." Then I take off, and just as they hit the gas all four of their tires blow out in a spectacularly humiliating fashion. Of course it ties up traffic, and a tow truck has to be called, and maybe the cops show up and find a few ticketable offenses? But of course the dickheads from the car won't be worried about that. They won't be able to stop thinking about that fat dude on the bike, and wondering how in the hell he did that.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Expelled Exposed

The National Center for Science Education has set up a website for its response to Ben Stein's new movie, Expelled. Right now the site has a collection of links to reviews of the film along with a number of other articles and media coverage. The NCSE will post its own official response on April 15.

The movie opens in theaters Friday. I'm curious, but I cannot bring myself to give my money to the hypocrites who made the damn thing.