Tag Archives: America

Theatre Review: LONESTAR at The Wild Project, NYC

Lonestar
By James McLure
Directed by Pete McElligott
Nine Theatricals
The Wild Project

While the plot of Lonestar is fairly cut and dry – sixty minutes of two brothers coming to terms with secrets and their relationship with one another – this production truly shines in the performances by each of its three cast members.

As Roy, Matt de Rogatis (previously reviewed in The Collector) opens the show surrounded by beers and scattered junk food packaging. He’s back from Vietnam – has been for some time, we learn – and has taken to spending his nights getting drunk on Lonestar beer behind the local dive. His brother, Ray (Chris Luopos) joins him and they relive old memories; we get a feel for the dynamic between these two easily. A third character, Greg Pragel’s Cletis (aka Skeeter), provides us with a glimpse of how Roy and Ray relate to the world outside their brotherhood.

The show’s unpretentious and simple design allows – wisely – the characters to carry this sixty-minute piece. Adhering to a strict economy of props and set, this means that de Rogatis, Luopos and Pragel are charged with bringing images of the scene to life in our minds – something the manage easily.

The greatest strength of Nine Theatricals’ Lonestar is in its performances, and the control over which all three actors – particularly de Rogatis and Luopos – are able to exert over their portrayals of their characters. From casual joking to intensely physical fury, each character is brought to life in these full, emotionally nimble performances that drive the narrative ever-onward.

Lonestar has completed its run at The Wild Project; information on additional performances can be found here.

 

Killing Net Neutrality Till It’s Even More Dead

(Courtesy: Flickr user Steve Rhodes, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, from The Nation blog)

(Courtesy: Flickr user Steve Rhodes, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, from The Nation blog)

Not long ago, the Supreme Court struck down net neutrality laws that said you couldn’t impede data from one provider being transmitted to the customer by another. At first, major players like Netflix were vocal about resisting the inevitable wave of profiteering from ISPs, but they soon went back on their commitment to a free and open internet. In particular, Netflix agreed to pay Comcast to make sure its data – your streaming movies – kept moving quickly on the information superhighway.

Now, it looks like the FCC’s going to sanction this kind of arrangement as the way forward for the internet.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s President just signed an Internet Bill of Rights into law.

Go U.S.A.

Also of interest:

  • Netflix’s blog on why pay-for-play is bad. (I’d have a lot more faith in them if they hadn’t said they’d fight tooth and nail against degredation of Net Neutrality post-SCOTUS case, then turned around to fork cash to Comcast, but hey, apparently we consumers have to take what we can get these days.)

The End of Autos?

Many moons ago, I saw an article that asked whether the auto industry was losing Millennials, and wrote a post about it.

Today I saw this article pop up in my stream and thought it was worth posting as a follow-up.

“Older people are driving less as they retire, and younger people are driving less, too, which Richard Florida thinks is because having a car just isn’t cool anymore.” – Max Ehrenfreund | April 1 at 12:00 pm

While the article is dated April 1st, it references other pieces written previously, so I don’t think it’s meant as an April Fool’s joke.

So what will it signify if car culture in the US takes a steep downward turn in the next few years? Will we finally stop letting oil giants pollute our drinking water? Will efficiency standards continue to rise? And what will lower numbers of drivers mean for America’s national infrastructure, which is widely acknowledged to be in need of serious investment? And can we have some high-speed trains already?

Anyway, I thought it was an interesting article, and hope you do too.

 

Let’s Talk About Guns

Thank you to ponsulak via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

photo credit: ponsulak via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What is there to say about guns?

I don’t own one. I never have. My grandfather owns what I think of as a rifle (although given what I’ve learned about how I think about different types of guns, that may not be a specific enough term*) and the running joke is that when he has stories about crows, deer and other animals getting into his garden, you can always bet the story will end with, “And then I shot it.”

It didn’t make sense to me that one of the reasons people defended the use of “assault weapons” was because they were necessary for hunting. So I did what any self-respecting geek does.

I asked about it on Twitter. The tweet has, of this writing, had 111 retweets and 59 favorites. It also sparked a storm of replies, the answering of which has sent me over my rate limit three times in the last 18 hours.

 

 

A lot of replies were from angry NRA members and tackled one of my favorite topics – the specificity of language, and how we make it impossible for ourselves to communicate. As it turns out, the phrase “assault weapons” is read as an umbrella term by those who know their stuff – and it covers both legal semi-automatics (which can be modified into full automatics, although this is illegal) and illegal, expensive fully automatic rifles.

And a lot of people do use legal, semi-automatic guns for hunting. First surprise of the night. But hardly the last.

While some people replied to the tweet and discussion with blatant trolling, others stopped to get involved in the chat. I’ve been trying to keep track of those people, and have made a public list called “Discussing Guns” on twitter; I’ll update that list as I go.

After the first day or so of discussion, there are some points we seem to have found consensus on, from both sides of the debate. They are:

1. The 2nd Amendment right to bear arms is as fundamental to the US as the right to free speech, or the separation of church and state. Some gun owners had fast reactions to the conversation that came out as, “Don’t take away my gun.” My interest in the discussion was in no way related to the idea of taking away any guns that are already in the hands of responsible gun owners.

2. More gun control is not the same as better gun control. There was widespread consensus that what we need are more effective laws, not more regulation.

3.  Participants had vastly different opinions on what steps can be taken to achieve better gun control in America. This is an area where we need to have further civil discussion/brainstorming, and where innovative responses may be required. Thus far the conversation has included ideas from policewomen, volunteer fire fighters, ex-military and other NRA members, as well as hearing those who do not own or participate in a culture that includes guns as part of their everyday life. Suggestions have included SROs and arming teachers, better mental health checks, the idea of “ammo cards” and more. I raised a question about what kinds of penalties are currently in place for people who own guns but don’t secure them properly, since there are cases where guns are stolen from licensed users. It was pointed out that there are already background and mental health checks in place, although a statistic was brought up regarding gun sales for cash at shows. Statistics were presented on gun deaths vs. other kinds of deaths, although they were from 1997.

One serious issue I’ve noticed in this region of the debate is that for many people who don’t use guns, having children in close proximity to guns makes the children less safe, whereas those who are familiar with “gun culture” feel that there is more safety with guns around than not. This is an area where compromise might be challenging. Many on one side feel it is there right not to be in the presence of guns. I personally agree with that point of view. I can’t scream “fire!” in a crowded building despite having free speech – where does the limit of one person’s freedom end, and another person’s freedom begin? I don’t know how we can dig into this area of the discussion, and we may not be that far along yet, but it’s definitely something that needs to be looked at by both sides if progress is going to be made.

4. Mental Health Care is coming up over and over again. Everyone seems to agree that more care needs to be available for those with mental illness, as part of a responsible culture that includes gun ownership and use. So far there has been no notable resistence to the idea of developing a system in tandem with increased access to mental health care, although there is not consensus on what form that might take. Some have raised the question of how mental health care services could be improved while also being paid for. Definitely an area worth further discussion, and as both NRA members and mental health activists have an interest in providing better care to our country’s mentally ill, it might be worth it for them to have a narrow discussion around that issue.

This has been a long discussion that shows little sign of slowing down, and the way in which people are participating is, for me (and hopefully others) clearing up a lot of the questions I had about why there aren’t easy solutions to what seemed, until yesterday, to be an obvious no-brainer. I’m grateful for the participation of those who’ve joined in so far and looking forward to seeing where this conversation goes.

Finally, since this is a summary of an extended and multi-faceted discussion, I encourage you to come over to twitter and check things out if you want to take part or have a fuller understanding of the live discussion. If you’ve been taking part and feel like I’ve missed a nuance, please point it out in the comments or let me know on Twitter and I’ll make an edit.

And finally, because we all need a smile right now, check out this BuzzFeed article: Moments That Restored Our Faith In Humanity This Year.

 

 *EDIT: 12/17/2012) Are there solutions we overlooked in our initial conversation? Do you have new ideas about how to explore some of the areas of consensus found above? Please join the discussion via the comments, below; I ask that everyone take part civilly and in the interest of a useful exchange of ideas.

*EDIT 12:58 EST – Just spoke to @Texasartchick, a police officer and firearms instructor who has offered to provide a more specific definition about types of guns mentioned in this article at her earliest opportunity. Check back/subscribe for comments. Thank you! And BuzzFeed is on a role with this new post.

In Which I Wax Verbose on Assange, Wikileaks & More

I’ve been giving a lot of brainspace to the Assange case over the last year or two, particularly in light of PIPA/SOPA/ACTA legislation and the signing of NDAA last December, here in the US. Anyway, Julian Assange’s situation has been a long-term story which undergoes long periods of silence punctuated by short flurries of action: his escape to the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge a couple of months ago, and now the announcement by that country that they will grant his request for asylum.

There’s a huge amount of discussion taking place around these issues on the internet right now. One of the major questions relates to the charges Assange may face in Sweden, and the idea that they might be a smokescreen that leads to his being extradited to the United States, where he could face charges of espionage for his role in the leaking of diplomatic cables.

On Thursday, Ecuador announced their intention to grant Assange asylum. Saturday, the Organisation of American States made statements in support of Ecuador’s decision, while meanwhile the UK spoke about their legal obligations to Sweden and the possibility they might go into the Ecuadorian embassy without invitation and arrest Assange. Today (Sunday, EST), Assange made a statement from a balcony of the Embassy (to what I’m sure was chagrin on the part of Mitch Benn, none of the crowd members burst into “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,”).

Friday morning, when Ecuador’s announcement on Assange’s asylum was made, a friend asked me, what side was I on, anyway? Was Assange a hero or a sexual predator? We talked about it a bit and I said that at that point, it seemed like there were actually multiple issues that had become tangled up. I’ve been thinking about how to untangle them for a day or two now, and must be getting somewhere, because I finally got around to writing this blog.

 

Issues:

1. Julian Assange has been accused of rape in Sweden.

2. Julian Assange received classified information from a US military officer in the form of diplomatic cables, which he then published through his organization, Wikileaks.

3. Ecuador has agreed to give asylum to Assange, who has been sheltered in their embassy for two months. In response, the UK has suggested that it might enter the embassy without Ecuador’s invitation, which would breach both formal conventions to which the UK is a party, thus disrespecting Ecuador’s right, as a sovereign nation, to grant asylum as it sees fit.

Breakdowns/thoughts:

1. Assange is not currently (as I understand it) wanted for arrest in Sweden. He is wanted for questioning, as the authorities endeavor to determine whether or not to charge him with rape. It has been suggested that Assange is willing to return to Sweden for questioning on this case if Sweden were to give guarantees that he would not be subsequently extradited to the US for item (2). Sweden has declined to make this promise. To me, this piece of the puzzle suggests Sweden is less interested in accumulating information that could help the two women accusing Assange to find justice, and more interested in getting him back on Swedish soil. Had Sweden actually charged Assange, then I understand why a Skype call or a visit to the Embassy wouldn’t do. [EDIT: A friend pointed me to this article in the Independent, which states that under Swedish law, charges cannot be brought until a suspect is in custody; this adds a new dimension to the question, but still doesn’t explain why if Assange is only wanted for questioning, it can’t take place from the UK.] If the Swedish government hasn’t brought rape charges against Assange yet, why won’t they compromise on the location of the interview in order to get the information they need before they can decide whether charges should be brought?

2.  The cables Manning made available to Wikileaks contained sensitive information which was understandably embarrassing for several countries. Manning has been held without charges in the US for over two years, with international condemnation of the circumstances under which he is being held. Having watched the situation spinning since it started, I do not think it’s unreasonable that Assange might face retaliatory action from the US if placed in a situation where he could be extradited to the US for charges related to item (2). Again, I understand that if the US promised not to seek Assange’s extradition from Sweden on unrelated charges against him (charges related to Wikileaks’ publishing of diplomatic cables, for example, he would willingly go back to Sweden for questioning related to item (1).

3. Oh, UK. I love you, but please don’t go there. Ecuador is it’s own country, and Ecuador now has pretty much all of South America backing them up on their right to grant asylum as they see fit. I hear Russia (Russia!) even sent you a note saying they were concerned about how you might go into the Ecuadorian embassy. You threw a hissy (and rightfully so) when your embassy was disrespected in Iran last year, acknowledging the inviolate sanctity of foreign missions. You’re a member of a convention that expressly forbids barging in on somebody else’s embassy. I understand that you have a responsibility to Sweden, and think that you’re still trying to fulfill it is great, but same question here as I asked Sweden in item (2) – if you’re so concerned about the women involved in item (1) (as you should be), then why can’t you broker a situation where Assange answers the questions the Swedish police have for him within UK borders?

 

So in summary: I’m furious that Sweden and the UK are letting items (2) and (3) get in the way of resolving item (1), because the women who have accused Assange deserve closure. I think item (2) gives Assange a reasonable basis for fear of extradition, particularly based on increasingly restrictive legislation concerning expression in this country (Naomi Wolf has gone on the record stating she declined to meet with members of Occupy Wall Street because  she was, in part, concerned about prosecution under #NDAA).

Finally, item (3) is disturbing because in threatening to enter the Ecuadorian embassy, the UK has made what was a bilateral discussion between themselves and Ecuador into a larger question for the world at large. Already, South America (including Brazil) and Russia have spoken out against the idea of violating a nation’s embassy; that’s half the BRIC nations right there. (And lest we wonder where China would likely come in on this – they didn’t go into the US embassy when Chen Guangcheng was holed up there).

This is where the fiction writer in me yells, “THIS COULD GET ARCHDUKE FERDINAND UGLY!” and goes off to scribble notes for a WWIII novel.

Happy Sunday, everyone.

I expect this won’t be the last post I make on this subject, so if you have any resources or insights, please feel free to link me to them in the comments.

 

Edit: The Guardian has posted the following editorial piece regarding Assange’s statement.

Playing It Cool – now available on Amazon Kindle Select

In the summer of 2004, my second play, the romcom one-act Playing it Cool, was produced at the pend fringe @ Gateway as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The Fringe sees the population of Edinburgh more than triple as hundreds of thousands of visitors descend to experience a round-the-clock theatrical melee that lasts for three weeks of the summer. For a theatre student honing their craft, the city is a mecca.

 

Eight years later, and as promised a week or so ago, the first of my Edinburgh Fringe plays is now available for purchase.

Playing it Cool is a one-act play about two friends, subtext and communication. It’s a two-hander that takes place in an apartment and a cafe, so might be of interest for those looking for audition scenes to read with a partner.

No big monologues here, I’m afraid, although both my later Fringe plays, Stuck Up A Tree and Mousewings (particularly Mousewings) will deliver on that front.

I’m listing Playing it Cool with Kindle Select for at least 90 days, so if you’re a member of Amazon Prime, make sure to put it on your list for a free read.

Cover art for PLAYING IT COOL

I’d love to hear what you think of this little snippet from my writing past.

Those interested in doing a production of Playing it Cool, please email me at PIC@rlbrody.com for more information on securing permissions.

Guns, America, Anonymity, Sad Panda

If you have a minute, download this PDF from the Brady Bill website and read the stories. Obviously, the site has an agenda and the document is inherently political, but…read the stories. You don’t have to read all of them; the document is 62 pages long.

It’s a list of mass shootings in America. Since 2005. I’ve dipped into it a few times now. Whatever your politics, whatever your beliefs, it is a stunning and upsetting document that bears witness to a lot of deaths that could have been prevented.

*

I had a conversation with the twitter rep for AMC movie theaters earlier this evening. The news reported that costumes and fake weapons had been banned from theaters. Now, call me a geek (no really, do) but…I don’t remember any incidents wherein a Guy Dressed Up Like Aragorn stabbed a Guy Dressed Up Like Harry Potter as the two fandoms jockeyed for places in line. Having attended exactly one midnight showing in my life (for The Two Towers, in Edinburgh)…well, can I just say that contrary to the belief claimed by AMC’s twitter rep, that the lack of costumes would contribute to their patrons’ feeling safer…are you kidding me?

We talked. A lot. He clarified the company’s position: fake weapons were banned (you know what? Fine. I’ll give them a fake weapons ban. Even though fake weapons don’t generally, you know, shoot people), but costumes were actually not. Just, you know, masks. And things that cover your faces. If you don’t want to link through to their statement, I’ve copied the full text below:

“Statement About Aurora Incident (updated 2pm CDT)

3rd update: July 21, 2012, 5 p.m. CDT Contrary to media reports, costumes are not banned, but we will not admit guests with face-concealing masks and we will not allow fake weapons in the buildings. We want all our guests to feel comfortable at our theatres and we will be closely monitoring

*********************

2nd update: July 21, 2012, 2 p.m. CDT Kansas City, Mo. – AMC Theatres is deeply saddened by the Aurora tragedy. Movie going is part of our social fabric and this senseless act shakes us to our core. We’re reinforcing our security procedures with our theatre teams, which we cannot discuss in detail for obvious, safety reasons. Local law enforcement agencies, our landlords and their and our local security teams are stepping up nationwide to ensure we provide the safest environment possible for our guests. We couldn’t be more grateful for their collective support.

At this time, our show schedules circuit-wide will not change. We will not allow any guests into our theatres in costumes that make other guests feel uncomfortable and we will not permit face-covering masks or fake weapons inside our buildings. If guests wish to exchange or refund any tickets, we will honor our existing policy and do as our guests wish. We are taking necessary precautions to ensure our guests who wish to enjoy a movie this weekend can do so with as much peace of mind as possible in these circumstances.

*********************

ORIGINAL STATEMENT: We are terribly saddened by the random act of violence in Aurora and our thoughts are with the victims and their families. For the safety and security of our guests and associates, we are actively working with local law enforcement in communities throughout the nation and under the circumstances, we are reaching out to all of our theatres to review our safety and security procedures. Being a safe place in the community for all our guests is a top priority at AMC and we take that responsibility very seriously.”

 

Okay. Interesting proposition. So I ask them: What about a woman who wears a veil or hijab? Would she be refused entry to the theater? At this point, the twitter rep, Shane, said he would look into the situation; reporting back, he said that veils were not included in the theater’s ban on movie-going attire.

I asked for clarification regarding the wearing of hijabs, because issues about veils and other body-coverings have increasingly become an issue in Western European countries over the last decade or so (France being the topmost example in my mind).

At this point, Shane said that AMC was really just asking their customers to use their best judgement. But that wasn’t what AMC was doing, I pointed out. AMC was saying “no fake weapons and no face masks.” Maybe the better policy would be to have a policy of allowing customers to use their best judgement?

*

It sounds as though I’m picking on AMC here, as if they could be at fault for an act of horrifying, senseless violence that took place on their property. As if they could have forseen it. And that is not my intention. The next question I asked was a bit broader:

Were guns permitted in AMC theaters?

Absolutely not.

At this point, one of my twitter followers chimed in to mention that actually, many citizens are able to get concealed carry permits. In this case, how would the theater know that the moviegoer had a concealed weapon? Pat-downs? Searches? Metal detectors?

The thoughts in my head:

– We didn’t have these things in school when I was growing up. Then we had Columbine.

– We didn’t have them in airports – just X-ray machines – when I was growing up. Then we had 9/11.

– If the MPAA thinks they’re losing money to piracy, wait until they start losing money to I don’t want to go through a metal detector every time I go to the movies.

This blog entry rambles. Time to draw it to a close.

My thoughts and gratitude go out to those on social media whose lives have been touched by this tragedy, who have taken The Aurora Incident, as AMC’s website calls it, as an opportunity for dialogue and communication. Both are good things. My heart is with the people who were just out to enjoy a movie they wanted to love – and whose lives were irrevocably altered (or worse, ended) in this morning’s early hours.

Peace and love, friends. Stay safe.