Easton Town Center
by Rick Brown
by Dennis Toth
end in lovers' meeting
In shady lanes
Or lonely country roads
Or open plains
Or simply some small
Where the latte is warmer
Than the heart.
Journey's end in lovers' meeting
Unless it rains
Or simply turns into that
Partly cloudy which is
Never really fish nor fowl
But always cool
Journey's end in lovers' meeting
In paperbacks for sure,
Or occasionally in Dear Abby,
Though she sent the last
Three lonely hearts to smell
At the same place where the latte
Is always warmer than the heart.
Journey's end in lovers' meeting
Unless the bus is late
And the car breaks down
And sometimes, simply sometimes,
The effort goes to waste.
Dennis' Blog at:
Easton Town Center
a Broadway touring company’s performance of Rent
at the Ohio Theater several years ago. I came away from the show
feeling somewhat empty emotionally. The small cast and sparse staging
made the Ohio feel existentially vast; the desperation of the characters
seemed all the more desperate. The garbled sing song dialogue and
the way too loud (even for me) rock score combined with
the seriousness of a tragic 90’s AIDS related storyline, created
an emotional abyss that would startle Friedrich Nietzsche.
Still, an entire generation of young people embraced this musical
as self-identification…a validation. Being from the so called
“Woodstock Generation” this both confused me and forced
me to think of this wave of young people as being nihilistically
self absorbed, carrying a giant chip on their shoulders. Typical
middle-aged response on my part I suppose. But it’s how I
So along comes Shadowbox Live’s presentation of Rent…and
I thought…”uh oh!”
You can imagine my trepidation.
And as the troupe
has done so many times in the past, the piece has been reworked
in ways that not only suits their talents well, but also makes Rent
their own. The Rent Band, led by guitarist Matthew Hahn,
is the heart and soulful infrastructure here, guiding the actors,
singers and dancers skillfully with such subtle yet disciplined
nuance most will not notice. With guitarist Dante Wehe (No Yvonne
and I do not have a son, though he would be a great one to have.)
Erik Rau on drums, Eric Flores on Bass, Thomas Young on keyboards,
and a myriad of percussionists, the score of Rent is both
respected yet interpreted in ways that bring out the best in the
Using video screens and offstage phone messages help make the story
line much clearer. The dynamic direction of Stev Guyer (assisted
by Julie Klein) and the crisp choreography of Katy Psenicka make
effective use of the entire stage. Kudos especially to sound operator
Brian Rau for making the dialogue and singing sound “out front”
enough, without excessive volume. Brea Badger once again has done
a great job with costuming. This equation jells wonderfully, making
the performance easy to follow, visually rich with aural acuteness.
Enhancing this formula further is the strong narrative performance
of John Boyd who plays Mark, a videographer whose heart has been
broken when his lover Maureen left him for JoAnne.
Of course this makes it all the better for the actors to become
their characters. Tom Cardinal’s exhilarating drag queen
Angel is both outlandish and approachable, making her relationship
with more pensive Tom Collins (superbly done by Jerrod Roberts)
genuine and touching. Nikki Fagin portrays Mimi, a heroin addicted
stripper with a controlled fierceness wrapped in a gentle sweetness.
She is streetwise without being cynical, despite the fact she is
dying. The interaction between Mimi and her lover musician Roger
(Brandon Anderson) is tender and touching. Their togetherness near
show’s end is moving yet hopeful, despite the despair.
The love affair between Maureen (Valerie Witherspoon) who recently
left Mark, and JoAnne (Kara Wilkinson), is treated as healthy rather
than preachy, with only subtle residual breakup bitterness. And
of course there is the always-indomitable JT Walker III. He excels
in the role of Benny, the inscrutable ex-friend/landlord who eventually
comes back around to his Bohemian, down on their luck, AIDS riddled,
broke but not broken tribe. Not many can portray a nice guy turned
son of a bitch turned nice guy with the casual aplomb of Mr. Walker
III…and make you buy it hook, line and sinker. Oh but can
The use of musical ensembles shine through Rent as it has
in previous Shadowbox Live productions. “Over the Moon”
is especially wonderful under Valerie Witherspoon’s lead vocals.
“La Vie Boheme / Should I Tell You” is all encompassing
superb. I could go on…but I choose to be a little vague here.
The final 1/3 of the show tied me into an emotional knot.
So you can see I came away from this Rent with an entirely
new point of view. I won’t say the play got “mainstreamed”.
I won’t say that it got “Midwesterned” either.
But by making the characters more approachable…within the
glorious visual, aural staging framework…every one of them
becomes approachable…personable…worthy of love. The
audience can empathize…relate on some level…and appreciate
their humanity in a way worthy of any generation’s attention
I’m pretty sure Nietzsche would agree.
Hurry and see
this! Rent only runs Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. through
April 17th. For more information please go to: http://www.shadowboxlive.org/shows/rent
in the Snow
by Rick Brown
was just a huge broccoli stem. But it had to go. Not in the disposal.
And the food scrap cans on the mud porch were full. Better to
just run it out to the backyard compost bins. It would only be
an Ohio winter minute.
Living here all my life I should have known better.
Mattered not that I was in pajamas … house shoes. My neighbors
see me a lot in my Pajama Boy garb. Wintertime equates to Pajama
Boy sightings in my neck of the woods. No large deal I thought.
Stroll out … open lid … dispose of big green stem …
close lid … stroll back in.
The first 60% of my plan was flawless.
As I turned to go back into the warmth of the house my right foot
… ever so gracefully … began sliding forward in the
newly fallen snow. My left foot however, stayed put. The trunk of
my body …followed by my head … went lower and lower
at a perfect 90-degree angle towards the earth. An experience that
at once was both speed of light yet seemingly slow motion.
I did the splits … right there in my backyard. It
was not my intention to do the splits. I do not normally
do the splits at all … ever. Truth be told …
I have NEVER BEFORE successfully done the splits. I do
not possess the desire to do the splits. And the
fact that I was in the middle of doing the splits …
in the snow … wearing pajamas … did not change my opinion
concerning personally participating in the doing of the
While all this was transpiring, I began singing what could be called
“The Swearing Like a Sailor Operetta”. I pray there
were no children within earshot. Wailing … gnashing of teeth
… caterwauling even … I posed in the snow like some
splits challenged cheerleader from a school granting degrees only
in Shop: Wood or Auto.
DOING the splits took mere seconds. Yet it took several minutes
for me to un–split myself. And now … with every limp
… every pulled hammy grimace … I become more
and more steadfastly resolute in my determination that some day
soon … no matter what ageist slur the locals may call me …
I will reside someplace warm for the entire winter.
And live happily
in a splits free environment.
by Rick Brown
loved the 3 Stooges.
The French adore
Hmmm # 24
a recurring thought
that it might be nice
not to have this
On St. Patrick’s Day
the Olive Garden
Naked Sunfish on Facebook
book, Best Bites is available at:
in the Room
by Rick Brown
by Daniel Eley
Tommy Castro Band
Vonn Jazz & Blues
March 13, 2011
never been to the Vonn Jazz & Blues I was immediately
taken by the place. With its red and black décor, heavy
drapes, big chandeliers and zebra skinned lobby chairs it
hinted at New Orleans … part dinner club … part
brothel. The food was good. The service was good. The music
proved to be incredible.
Tommy Castro and his soulful band roared onstage, tearing
into “A Good Fool is Hard To Find”. Mr. Castro’s
band of Keith Crosson (sax), Ronnie Smith (drums), Scot Sutherland
(bass), Tom Poole (trumpet), and Tony Stead (keyboards) is
one talented and versatile outfit. Their support give Mr.
Castro a wide spectrum of musical styles.
The show almost soured after the opening number. Some woman
was videotaping stage left and Tommy asked her to stop. I
couldn’t hear what she replied, but it was evident she
felt entitled. Whether she had a connection to the club I
can’t say. But once Mr. Castro informed her that she
had not gotten permission he urged the crowd to come up and
dance in front of the stage … that I assume was both
his preference and a veiled way to block the chick’s
camera angle. He also insisted the chandeliers be turned way
down, since blues is supposed to “be in the dark”.
The woman soon took her camera and walked out briskly.
Tommy was congenial. But I could tell he was pissed. And after
playing in bands most of my adult life I certainly understood
the anguish. Back to the job at hand, Mr. Castro & Co.
immediately cranked it up a notch. He gave the crowd what
they wanted and more … taking requests … jamming
while walking through the “joint” as he referred
to it … and even laying down some mean cover material.
Hell, he even tossed in the riff from the age old Shadow’s
instrumental “Apache” during one extended jam.
Only those of us who cut their teeth playing instrumental
surf music might have noticed.
Much of the 2 sets were made up of tunes from his more recent
CDs of the past 4 or 5 years. But he did revive some old favorites
like “Just A Man” and “Nasty Habits”.
Tommy featured cuts from his most recent CD “Hard Believer”
including “Make it Back to Memphis”, “Monkey
Paradise” and of course the title track.
There were some nice surprises. Set one ended with a celebratory
cover of Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody”.
There was a rousing rendition of Wilson Pickett’s “Ninety
Nine and A Half Just Won’t Do”. Too cool. And
his own “Big Sister’s Radio” was not only
soulful but also biographical in how Tommy attained his.
The high point of the evening for me was a totally awesome
jam on James Brown’s “Sex Machine”. With
the Hammond B3 sound pulsating from Tony Stead’s fingertips,
wrapped in the torrid, sweltering sounds emanating from the
trumpet of Keith Crosson and the soaring swagger of Tom Poole’s
trumpet … over the driving funk of drummer Ronnie Smith
and bassist Scot Sutherland … Tommy Castro peppered
this soul stew with blues infused licks from heaven. It don’t
get no better than this folks. No sir. No better indeed.
by Sue Olcott
Non Fiction Theater of the Truly Mundane
by Rick Brown
an Irish Pub in Gloucester, Massachusetts. A long, well stocked
bar stretches across the back of the stage with several tables
directly in front of the bar. About 15 patrons sit scattered at
the tables conversing and quietly sipping drinks, mostly bottled
beers. At the end of the bar, stage right, 2 very drunk older
men sit facing each other. They are engaged in a heated argument.
It is summer, 1978 and a few people are dressed casually in 70’s
attire. Most of the men are in casual working class, fishermen
garb. Behind the bar is a portly, bald Irish bartender wearing
a white apron. Sitting at the bar far stage left, is a passed
out man with his head between his arms, face on the bar. Twenty-somethings
Rick, Yvonne and her younger brother Rod enter stage right.
man #1 (in very slurred speech) – No you cannot!
Drunken man #2 (equally slurred)– Oh yes I can!
Drunken man #1 – CAN’T!
Drunken man #2 – CAN TOO!
Drunken man #1 – You cannot shave faster than
me!! Can’t! Impossible!
Drunken man #2 (making violent, slashing movements with his hand
all around his face) I just lather up and shwoo! Shwoo! Shwoo!
Drunken man #1 (making similar gestures only more exaggerated)
WHAP! Five fucking minutes! FIVE FUCKING MINUTES! That’s
all the time it takes me to shave!
Yvonne and Rod are standing close by in awe of their argument.
man #2 – FUCK THAT! Only takes me like a fucking MINUTE
and a HALF!!
Rick, Yvonne and Rod tentatively stroll up to the bar and take
a seat next to the man passed out with his head buried in his
arms. The three sit down while the bartender saunters up.
bartender (gruffly) – What’ll ya have?
Rick – Do you sell Rolling Rock?
Irish bartender (rougher and dripping in sarcasm) – Whaddya
from the GODDAMNED Midwest or somethin’?
the man sitting next to Rick who had been passed out, jerks up,
struggling to hold his head up.
Previously passed out man (very, very slurred) - Rolllllllllliiiiingggg
Yvonne and Rod – their 20s selves
Patrons – themselves
Drunken man #1 - himself
Drunken man #2 – himself
Irish bartender – his Irish self
Passed out man – his passed out self
by Jessy Kendall
makes me think
of past times- supper times-
"my childhood" whatever childhood is..
tuna fish sandwiches,
and a VHS from the video store
(which was this back room of some woman's house
in the late eighties/early nineties in w. sumner, maine).
a double feature of old star trek episodes, the original series.
when that intro music plays,
i feel like i'm tuna fish sandwiched
in some of the only peaceful time my family had together-
watching those tapes,
seeing the stars above
showcased in video screen,
hearing that intro
(esp. the one with the vocal)
and feeling thankful,
for something, or just at ease.
gets to be sirens every now and then
and it blends with a low whooshing hum
that seems to be in the city always;
a combination of all the engines and buzzing light sounds around.
traffic sounds, like a
coming-into-being, and then a receding.
tooting quick about something.
they're another story that i follow, and think about.
it's a little world that has been created within me, the
history of my story of neighborhood traffic sounds in the evening.
need to sit now because it will Real me out,
stop my motion so i can feel Me for a minute;
see where i'm at,
by Emily Glenn
was trying to write, nothing specific, just trying to get some
words down on the page, something to start with, so I went and
made some popcorn. Well, actually, the laundry was dry, so I went
to the basement, folded and hung it, moved the wet clothes into
the dryer, and then carried the clean laundry upstairs and put
it away. I’ve noticed that putting one load of laundry away
at a time is less discouraging than letting it all pile up, the
stuff on the top of the basket nearly teetering out, smashing
the things at the bottom and then there’s so much laundry
to put away. All at once. It’s discouraging.
I put the laundry away, and then it was time for popcorn. And
then writing. I measured the popcorn into a paper bag with a ¼
measuring cup. Then I looked at the handful kernels left in the
package and--what the hell--added those too. The popcorn is old,
purchased during my last Popcorn Phase, and I’m just starting
a new Popcorn Phase. So there’s a lot of duds. That’s
how I rationalized the extra ¼ cup. I fold the bag closed
and put it in the microwave for 90 seconds. I learned the popcorn-in-a-paper
bag trick from Mark Bittman’s book Food Matters. That way
you can have quick popcorn without the nasty chemical stuff. I
need to buy more paper bags.
the popcorn is done, I take the bag out of the microwave, dump
the contents, both popped and unpopped, into a bowl, then mist
it with olive oil, give the bowl’s contents a shake, mist,
shake, mist. I grind pepper, shake, sprinkle salt, shake, and
am satisfied. Almost. On the way out of the kitchen I grab the
walk back upstairs, and as I reach the last step, I change my
grip on the bowl so I’m holding it by the bottom, and then
I drop it. The bottom, warmed by its contents, is surprisingly
hot. The bowl falls to the floor, sending popcorn and kernels
shooting down the stairs. The seasoned salt rolls to the lowest
spot in the hallway, the corner next to our bedroom door. I stand
for a moment in disbelief. The house is silent. The dog is snoring
in the next room. There was a time when he would’ve rushed
out to the hallway and gobbled all the popcorn he could get, probably
taking care of most of the kernels too. Now he just sleeps on;
he’s getting old.
few pieces are left in the bowl. Not moving yet, I eat them. Then
I step away from the sea of popcorn and kernels. I notice there
are kernels caught in the decorative folds on my shoes. I take
off my shoes and shake them out. Several unpopped kernels rattle
on the wood floor. I go into the spare room and get the vacuum
cleaner. As I roll the vacuum cleaner by his bed, the dog wakes
up, and stiff with arthritic joints, goes out into the hallway.
I wonder if I’ll have to prevent him from excitedly eating
his way up and down the stairs. But no. He surveys the popcorn
mess tiredly, as if to say “What have you done now?”
then trots wearily to his bed in another room.
plug the vacuum in and start methodically in the hallway, pulling
up popcorn detritus with the hose. I accidentally turn the vent
side of the vacuum toward the stairs, long enough to send a drift
of popcorn down to the first landing. After that, I vacuum awkwardly,
moving the bulky machine down the stairs, with the vent away from
the popcorn, clearing an area before I put the vacuum on it. Occasionally
popped corn stops up the end of the hose temporarily, creating
a hydrangea-like bloom on the end of the nozzle. I reach the bottom
landing and start working my way back up, capturing stray kernels
as I go. I wonder how many kernels I will pick up, here and there,
in the coming week.
put the vacuum away and take the bowl downstairs. I open a new
container of popcorn. These kernels are much bigger than those
in the first batch. This is Orville Redenbacher corn; the kernels
are the size of pencil erasers. The previous package was an Amish-grown
popping corn, and in Mennonite fashion, the kernels were modestly-sized.
I put a quarter-cup of kernels into a paper bag, then add a little
more. I fold the bag and put it in the microwave. I check the
laundry. It’s not dry yet. I take the bag out of the microwave,
dump the contents, both popped and unpopped, into a bowl, then
grab our olive oil spray, mist, give the bowl’s contents
a shake, mist, shake, mist. I grind pepper, shake, sprinkle salt,
walk back upstairs. On my way through the hall, I pick up the
seasoned salt, which is still lying near the bedroom door. The
dog has settled on the carpet in the spare room. I sit on the
couch, eat a few pieces, and read the paragraph I wrote forty
minutes ago. A piece of popcorn drops on the floor. I pick it
up and toss it to the dog. It lands two feet in front of him.
The dog startles, then spies the popcorn. He stares at it with
a pained expression. He feels obligated to eat it, but he’ll
have to move to do it. I feel guilty for introducing this dilemma.
I remember Fritz as a puppy, when we first got him, bouncing around
our apartment, snuggling on the couch. We let him on the furniture,
before we bought new furniture, our own furniture. Before we started
caring about the cleanliness of the house.
gingerly stands, then walks stiffly to the popcorn and eats it.
He looks around, wondering what to do next, then walks to his
bed, the one he started the afternoon in, and folds himself into
it. In the basement, the dryer buzzes. I think about the young
woman, the young man, the puppy, the apartment, and the house.
And then I go downstairs to get the laundry, picking up a popcorn
kernel as I go.