All The Way

Jules Feiffer on LBJ

Jules Feiffer on LBJ

I still remember where I was when I heard JFK was shot. It was a Californian Catholic classroom. The nun then asked us to put our heads down on our desks and pray. I can still hear Lawrence weeping next to me. It was almost that same hour that “All the Way” begins. This play by Robert Schenkkan opens onboard the flight of Air Force One from Dallas to DC. Lyndon B. Johnson has been sworn in; Kennedy’s body is in the hold and the plane is about to land. Over the next two hours, the audience is transported through the subsequent tumultuous year in US politics, culminating in Johnson’s 1964 election as President. The play takes its name from his campaign slogan, “All the way with LBJ!”

The play’s first act is dedicated to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill, with an emphasis on the legislative procedures involved and is reminiscent of similar congressional machinations that were portrayed in Spielberg’s “Lincoln”. The first act is the stronger of the two and would have been enough of a story to stand on its own, but then it would have told only half of the story. The second act deals with Johnson’s 1964 campaign, where he strived to transform his “accidental presidency” into something more. Its real story though is of the political consequences of the Civil Rights Bill for the Democratic Party. Before ’64 the South had been solidly Democratic. In ’64 several southern states defected to the Republicans and voted for Goldwater. As LBJ predicted, after ’64 the South became solidly GOP. Almost as an afterthought, Vietnam is left nibbling at the periphery of this American tableau.

“All the Way” sports a large cast, featuring most of the political luminaries of the day, including such headliners as Humphrey, Wallace and Hoover. Special attention is paid to Martin Luther King, where his relationship with LBJ is portrayed differently than in the recent “Selma”, which covered events in 1965. Notable absences include Goldwater and Bobby Kennedy. In this sympathetic biography, we see LBJ acting as ringmaster of the nation’s political circus laid bare before us. What carries “All the Way” are the many, some profane, but mostly funny stories and mannerisms this characterization of our 36th President gives us. Throughout both acts, we see Johnson threaten, cajole and flatter his intended opponents, exhibiting whatever facet of the “Johnson Treatment” best suits his purposes and sways his intended subject to his will and sway they do.

Last night’s show was the end of the run at the Saint Louis Repertory Theater. Writing about a show that is over is typically of little interest, but after this production, the show will go on. Later this year, HBO will be broadcasting their version of “All the Way”, which will feature Bryan Cranston reprising his 2014 Tony Award winning roll as LBJ. Since, it is too late now to see the Rep’s production, I’ll recommend sight unseen, HBO’s. It is just that good a story.

January, February, Izzo, April …

Regal Thorny Oyster

Regal Thorny Oyster

Rob, our plasterer and painter finished his work last night. The rooms look beautiful and we have already made plans with him for the next phase, the back half of the house. As soon as he was done and paid, we rushed out the door behind him, for a night on the town, dinner and a show. Dinner was just a quick bite at Houlihan’s, we were running late by then. The show was the Rep’s season finale, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”, a comic send up, with overtones of Chekhov. It was good fun. 

Stuck in their family home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Vanya and his adopted sister Sonia live a quiet existence until their lives are thrown into comic upheaval with the arrival of their B-list celebrity sister, Masha, and her 20-something boy toy, Spike. Add to that a sooth-saying housekeeper, a star struck young neighbor and a rather odd costume party, and the stage is set for mayhem and hilarity in this present-day homage to Chekhov. Winner of the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play.

Dave blew into town, later that night. It will be good to have him home for this Easter weekend. His arrival had been an open question until yesterday though. He had a line of final four tickets for today in Indianapolis, but that deal fell through and his dear old parents were the next best offer. I’ll cook and serve dinner tomorrow, nothing fancy, flank steak, asparagus and new potatoes. Spartan fare for our dining/living room’s still rather Spartan décor. I want to do some work on the floors, before we start to move everything back in again. Speaking of those Spartans, Go Michigan State!

When I was just a boy, I used to collect seashells. After living on Guam and along the California coast, I had a pretty good collection. One of those shells was a Regal Thorny Oyster. It was my favorite.

Molly’s Hammer

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more. – Isaiah 2:4

US Holocaust Museum

US Holocaust Museum

On September 9, 1980, the Berrigan brothers, Daniel and Philip, and six others, the “Plowshares Eight”, began the Plowshares Movement under the premise of beating swords to ploughshares. They trespassed onto the General Electric nuclear missile facility in King of Prussia, PA, where they damaged nuclear warhead nose cones and poured blood onto documents and files, as a protest against United States nuclear weapons policy. One of the other six was Molly Rush, a Pittsburgh housewife. “Molly’s Hammer” tells her story surrounding these events.

Saturday afternoon, Anne and I attended the third and final ‘Ignite!’ reading for this year. “Molly’s Hammer” is a play written by Tammy Ryan and is based upon the book, “The Hammer of Justice”, by Lianne Ellison Norman. The play was read by two actors; Nancy Bell read the part of Molly Rush and Dan McCarthy read the part of her husband, Bill Rush and every other character in the play. The play covers the time leading up to the action in King of Prussia, the event and the subsequent legal proceedings. I found the play to be very moving and it will cause me much personal soul-searching in the future.

Molly is a person driven to do what she believes is right, no matter the cost. McCarthy as Dan and all of her other relatives and friends try to talk her out of doing what she is planning, but she will not be dissuaded. After the action, the Plowshares Eight surrender peaceably and go to jail, awaiting trial, where they remain until just before trial, when they finally accept bond. At trial, Molly is looking at sentences of from thirty to sixty years if convicted. Still standing on principle, Molly refuses to adopt a defense that would offer a greater chance of acquittal. Instead, she chooses to put the military-industrial complex on trial, infuriating the judge (McCarthy) and leading to her conviction. In the end though, Bill, her husband, who has fought her every step of the way, stands with her and likewise turns his back to the judge. After ten years of appeals, while still out on bond, the government capitulates and resentenced the Plowshares Eight to probation and time served.

After the reading there is always a Q&A. Seth Gordon always asks two questions: “What do you remember most about the play?” and “What do you think that the play is about?” In the past, even though he says that there are no wrong answers, I have always seemed to have found one. Now I just sit on my hands now and wait for this part to be over and for the wine and cheese to be served. I would say that the most novel answer that I have ever heard in any of these Q&A sessions was one voiced by a mother for her teenage son, “What my son remembers most about the play is when his Uncle Dan said he was pregnant.” McCarthy was portraying Molly’s daughter at the time.

After the Q&A I got to speak with Ryan, the playwright, and for once I asked an intelligent question, “Why did you write this play?” She is also from Pittsburgh and was approached by the author, Norman, to write the play. She interviewed both Molly and Dan Rush, who are both still together and living in Pittsburgh. They are in their eighties now. Molly is still active in the movement, but has never gone to jail again.

The Full Catastrophe

Am I not a man? And is a man not stupid? I’m a man, so I married. Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe. – Zorba

Ill-Matched Lovers, Quentin Massys, 1465

Ill-Matched Lovers, Quentin Massys, 1465

As part of this year’s ‘Ignite!’ season, we went to hear a reading of the new play, “The Full Catastrophe”, by Mark Weller. Adapted from the David Carkeet novel of the same title, this is a tragicomic story of the verbally disturbed Wilsons, Dan and Beth, of Saint Louis, MO (Ladue actually) and their troubled marriage. In order to save their marriage, they hire linguist Jeremy Cook to act as a live-in marriage counselor. Cook has only recently lost his longtime gig of studying preschooler’s speech patterns and has just snagged this new job with the mysterious Pillow Agency. Roy Pillow the strange founder of the Pillow Agency, author of the Pillow Manual and creator of the Pillow Method has as his main dialog contribution the line, “The Horror. The Horror.” He repeats this line throughout the play, all Kurtz-like, as from Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”.

This is Jeremy’s first case. To say that Jeremy is a little off-kilter himself is a bit of an understatement. He comes to the subject of interpersonal relationships with the same understanding that a visiting space alien on his first trip to earth might have. Still, he is able to diagnose the problem with this linguistically troubled marriage right off the bat as “complementary schismogenesis” or the mutual creation of division, but once diagnosed he seems at a total lost at how to cure its woes.

Part of Jeremy’s problem is his own tortured history with love. Years ago, he let his one true love, Paula, walk out of his life and has come to regret it ever since. Tension in the Wilson household comes to a head when news arrives that the summer camp that Dan and Beth had planned on housing their son, Robbie in, has suddenly closed. They had planned on spending their summer together, jetting off to Italy, renewing their lost passion for each other and saving their marriage. Beth is heard yelling at and accusing Dan, “The summer is ruined! The summer is ruined!”

Not knowing how to relate to, let alone counsel Dan and Beth, Jeremy’s big moment comes when he helps the kid do a homework assignment that is requiring him to write a sentence ending in a preposition. The linguist tells him to imagine a little boy who is upstairs in his room waiting for his father to come read him a story. He goes to the top of the stairs and waits. He hears his father coming, but when he sees the book his father has chosen, he’s disappointed. So he says to his father, “What are you bringing that book that I don’t want to be read to from out of up for?”

New Spring Crocuses

New Spring Crocuses

New Spring Crocuses

We started today walking through the botanical gardens. Even with the time change we got there relatively early, before the crowd arrived. Today is another beautiful early spring day, just like yesterday was. There were plenty of birds about. We could hear woodpeckers, making rat-da-tat-tat noises in the early morning still. I got some photos of them. There were only a few flowers that were just starting to come out, witch-hazel; always an early bloomer and the above pictured crocuses were two that we saw. Afterwards, we tried out a new to us vegetarian restaurant, The Tree House. I had the vegan biscuits and sausage gravy, which were interesting.

After we got home, we quickly re-launched on our bicycles for Forest Park. Being only the second nice day in the last month, the park was mobbed again. We quickly bailed from the trail, because that was a total zoo, only to discover that the roads were worse. Our schedule only permitted a shorter than normal ride, but by its end we were ready to escape from Forest Park.

Tonight was a date night, with the usual dinner and a show. Actually it was a double date night with Don and DJ too. Dinner was at another new to us restaurant, the Robust Wine Bar & Café in Webster, not to be confused with the other one on Washington. Last night we were headed to the Trailnet supper, when we passed the Washington Ave. branch of the Robust Wine Bar & Café and confusing that night’s agenda with tonight’s, Anne announced, “Here we are!” Tonight’s show was at the Rep, The Winslow Boy. Based upon a true story, here is the Rep’s synopsis of the play:

When young Ronnie Winslow is expelled from military school for stealing a five-shilling postal order, his father wages an exhaustive fight to clear his son’s name. What begins as a private matter quickly becomes a larger question of the rights of the individual against the power of the state. Though the legal battle jeopardizes his health and the reputation of the entire family, Arthur Winslow is determined that right will prevail, no matter what the sacrifice.

All-in-all, this has been one busy weekend, with lots of biking, lots of culture and lots of eating too. It just goes to show what good weather can bring. I may have to go to work tomorrow, just to get some rest.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner


Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Movie Poster

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner Movie Poster

Last night was a date night, with dinner and a show. We dined at Cyrano’s, which was unusually crowded. There was even a wait, a first, plus there wasn’t a chair to be had in the bar. Still, we got in and out, with plenty of time. We even had sufficient time before the show to exchange tickets for some of the forthcoming shows at the box office window.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a new play that was based upon the Academy award-winning screenplay, written by William Rose. In both the movie and the play, parent’s Matt and Christina Drayton are a couple whose liberal attitudes are challenged when their daughter brings home a fiancé who is black. In addition to best screenplay, the 1967 film of the same name also won best picture and Katharine Hepburn won best actress for her role in this picture. Her co-star and close friend, Spencer Tracy, was gravely ill during the filming of the movie and died just ten days after shooting ceased. Lead, Sidney Poitier, was on a roll back then, with starring roles in back-to-back best pictures. His In the Heat of the Night role helped that movie, win best picture in 1968.

It has been a long time since I had seen the movie, so I only faintly remembered the bare outlines of the story. Combine this fact with the fact that the Reps season’s January slot is usually reserved for their more artsy, read less commercially successful productions and I was expecting a scold. Last year, was the worst year for race relations in the thirty plus years that I have lived in this city. When I saw this play on the schedule, I thought that it was added to the schedule in response to the problems in Ferguson. It was actually picked last spring, before the difficulties began. I’m pleased to say that I was very happily surprised with the play. It was an excellent show.

Dan went bi-coastal today. He landed in NYC early this morning or late last night, depending upon your perspective. The boy who never sleeps meets the city that never sleeps. All I know is that he is attending a wedding in Virginia. I will go on record here saying that if Dan would ever brings someone home, I would welcome them.

The Boxing Report

Galleria Christmas Tree

Yesterday, the day after Christmas was Boxing Day. In times gone by the landed gentry would get a box of Christmas gifts to each of their servants. In modern times this tradition has morphed into kids going to the mall to spend their Christmas money. This is what the boys did in part. I got to come along to make up for any monetary shortfalls. Dave got a PC laptop and Dan ordered a Mac laptop. Surprisingly, the Mac was the cheaper of the two, but not by much. Last night at the Rep, we saw Ring of Fire, a musical revue and biography of Johnny Cash. It was a full house, which is unusual for a Rep show, this late in its run. Anne and I both enjoyed it. Here is a synopsis of the show:

Featuring a company of multi-talented performers and over 30 hits from his iconic songbook, this spirited musical takes you on a journey through the life and career of The Man in Black. Exploring love, faith, struggle and success, songs such as “A Boy Named Sue,” “Daddy Sang Bass,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Jackson” and “I Walk the Line” tell the story of Johnny Cash in a salute to this unique American legend.