Book Reviews: Aliens, Sherlocks, and Rogues

Copywriting Made Simple: How to write powerful persuasive copy that sells
The title does not lie, as far as simplicity goes. The first graphic shows this perfectly: a man (reader) crossing a bridge at the urging of a woman (copywriter), exactly as the text just said. It’s kindergarten level. Thankfully it doesn’t continue this way, once your intelligence gets over feeling insulted.
The chapter on structure is amusing, because it perfectly mimics the steps I take to write a book, movie, or music review.
It’s a pretty big book, so there’s no surprise that there’s a few gems in here, mostly the examples of famous or just hilarious ads. I ended up making a lot more notes than I thought I would. At the same time, there are sections I skimmed through, with the thought that “If I ever need them, I’ll look them up then, but they won’t help me now.”
3/5

Dethroned
Of course Syl and Rouen can’t spend even a Christmas in peace, as the dark king decides this is the perfect time to take out the fair heir and his own daughter.
This is a novella that goes between the latest book and the upcoming one, with Ro basically facing the same choice Syl did last time. No surprise she makes the same decision. What I didn’t expect was for all kinds of fairie kids to be so instrumental. If there’s one low point, it’s that for such a short book there’s so many mentions of how Syl would have been dead from her injuries had she been merely human.
It’s tough keeping up with all the magic, new and also old, but then I’m here for the fun interactions, the snarky wordplay, and there’s plenty of that here.
3.5/5

Taking Flight
Recent widow thinks it’s time to get her life back, starting by returning to her speaker business. Flying to Vegas, the plane she’s in runs into a huge storm, necessitating a diversion to Denver. The pilot is a fan of hers, and his plan to woo her takes off (all pun intended). Though because of their schedules they don’t get much time together—plenty of time skips, which are not ideal—they do manage to have moments in Vegas and NY before he whisks her off to Hawaii for a week of relationship building.
Everything’s happy for the first half, but it can’t last, otherwise there’d be no story. Finally something happens to destroy their happiness. Some of it is a little obvious, like when a baby’s introduced; I instantly knew where he’d end up, and I’m pretty sure most readers did too.
I liked the writing well enough, but the plot was kinda clunky. At times felt by the numbers.
3/5

Killing Jane
Ugly murders are taking place in DC, with hints—especially the intro—that it’s a Jack the Ripper copycat. But this killer seems to have info on those famous slayings, including a theory I hadn’t heard: Jack might have actually been Jane.
This started slow, and I didn’t like the main character. Even though she’s just starting out as a detective, having been promoted from beat cop, you’d think she would have grown a thicker skin. Instead she’s very touchy, as well as insecure when she’s saddled up with a much more experienced investigator. I feel like there was too much of this: too often mentioned, too often shown. There’s only so many times you can read the same character flaws over and over. Likewise, her partner can be too forgiving.
The murder scene is horrific; I tried my best NOT to imagine it, unlike most books where I’m trying to find the killer before the fictional detective does. At least this allows a reaction from the protagonist that humanizes her. Turns out she’s still got PTSD from being raped, which she did not report. It’s made obvious that this is affecting her performance, or at least her mindset as she hunts for the killer.
Once I got over the goriness, I enjoyed the craftwork. Always good when an investigation is true to life and isn’t solved in 60 minutes (40 with commercials). The story itself was good, kept me guessing, though in my defense I don’t think there were enough breadcrumbs.
In a story with many brutal elements, there’s one near the end that’s even more so. And I can’t see any reason for it. Maybe it’ll pop up in a sequel, but it annoys me the way the author piles things on, almost like she doesn’t like her main character. And after that particular tidbit, it gets even worse for her. Sheesh.
Didn’t like the ending, came out of nowhere. Felt tacked on.
3/5

Marriage Under Fire
In a short novel that takes place in Seattle, two Marines who just worked an undercover case have to jump right into the next one, pretending to be married in order to infiltrate a spy ring.
She’d be absolutely fantastic if she could dump some of the testosterone she forces on herself to deal with the men. Him I simply didn’t like at all, but I can’t say he’s all that different from most Marines I’ve known.
The whole denouement hinges on him being so in love that he forgets his training and rushes in without waiting for backup. As a former Marine, I find that far-fetched. I would almost say it ruined the book for me, but the truth is I wasn’t feeling it anyway. It couldn’t decide whether it was a spy thriller or a romance, and those two parts didn’t mesh all that well.
2.5/5

Murder in Keswick: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery
As often happened back when Sherlock took a vacation, another mystery finds him, in this case a grisly murder, followed by a break-in at the now-widow’s house.
Unlike most attempts at writing a Sherlock novel, I enjoyed this one right off the bat. It sounds authentic. For instance, there was a clue in the laundry that rang true to Arthur Conan Doyle, subtle but I got it. What happened after, and her aim with the shotgun, only strengthened my theory. (In the end I got it right. . . except for the actual murderer. Sigh.)
Read it in a couple of hours on a burning summer afternoon. Only problem is the next day I couldn’t remember any of it.
3.5/5

Stage Bound
A lady ostensibly in charge of a theatre company has to juggle her boyfriend, her boss, her friends, and a mysterious new act as they put on a show. She not great at handling the pressure, but she perseveres, mostly with the help of Pez dispensers. But when things go wrong. . .
Despite the shortness, it felt really long. A lot of times it seemed like I was making no progress at all. In particular, the mechanical explanations had me skipping.
On the plus side, there were some thoroughly funny moments, and the relationships were fun to see. A couple of well-crafted erotic scenes helped too. I wish I could up the score a notch, but the main plot could have been much better. I feel like I could have cut at least ten pages off and it would have been better.
2.5/5

The Sherlock Effect
A modern—or a few years ago, anyway—version of the great detective goes into that same business when his friend offers him start-up money. His father was such a fanatic that his middle name is Sherlock, but that’s about the only qualification he has as the two go around solving some relatively simple crimes.
Anyone familiar with Sherlock Holmes knew how the first story would end. The local cop in the second story is way too loose, telling civilians everything about the case. At least one of the characters notices, but a not very satisfactory answer is given. Basically it feels like a halfhearted attempt at recreating Arthur Conan Doyle, which is an impossible thing to attempt, let alone achieve. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it didn’t engage me; not even the inclusion of aliens managed to pull me in.
3/5

Devoted
A director and the manager—and sister—of a famous actress butt heads on a new film production. She’s trying to keep her sister from falling off various wagons while he completes his magnum opus. Turns out they knew each other growing up in a small Canadian town—odds of that?—and she’s always had a crush on him.
Really easy reading! Love it when it flows so well. I particularly like how the author doesn’t beat the audience over the head with how much the characters want each other. Yes, it’s there, but it’s not overdone like a lot of books in this genre I’ve read lately.
Everything about this was pretty standard, except for the enjoyable writing. Even the sad tragic moments felt lyrical. I might have given this a higher grade if the typical jumping to conclusions wasn’t present.
3.5/5

Lord of Secrets: Rogues to Riches
She’s lower class and working for a rich cousin, gathering more money by drawing caricatures of the twits she sees at various events. He’s upper class but works as a fixer. He can’t figure out who the artist is. She didn’t think he would care. But then it gets personal. There’s a puppy pug involved.
This has some finely written characters and plenty of humor, but every scene is stolen by the appropriately named Captain Pugboat. There’s a great part with the two trying to teach the puppy to heel, followed by an even better moment of them dancing. This is where the romance blossoms, and is worth the read in itself. Another hilarious scene occurs when she meets his sisters for the first time. This author could be writing for sitcoms.
The plot is easily established; the point is how to get to the inevitable end, and that’s what I enjoyed here. For once it wasn’t a by-the-numbers romance; it wasn’t about obstacles they put on themselves, but rather the crap the society of the time loads on them. This wouldn’t have worked in a modern setting; they had to go against the entire social structure of the time and country they lived in, which means they truly earned their happy ending.
This is how this genre should be written.
4.5/5

Summer Sizzle
Two people end up renting the same house and, though they can’t stand each other, can’t fight the attraction either. He’s got a doctorate in sociology, which he gave up when his little boy was killed. She’s an accountant building up money to get an advanced degree, and nothing will deviate her from that plan. . . so she thinks.
I wanted to like her, but except for sex and the kite lessons, she’s got a bug so far up her ass she’s just no fun. This is not someone I would want to know in real life, especially when she lets her cat do all the emotionally dirty work for her. Speaking of, this may be the first feline in history I’ve ever liked. (Gimme a break, I’m allergic.) But the cat giveth, and the cat taketh away; it was a silly way to cause the inevitable trouble in the relationship, but plausible, I suppose.
Points off for “orgasmic climax.”
Doesn’t matter how great they may be, because when it comes down to it, they’re both dumb as rocks, lacking in emotional intelligence. His PhD in sociology taught him nothing. Both invented stupid reasons for artificial roadblocks. Up to that point I’d liked this, but the last quarter was a mess.
Even worse, there’s a lot of loose ends. Her lost/stolen money issue is never resolved; she doesn’t even go to the police. With his reluctance to do just that, I thought the slimy lawyer was in on it.
And speaking of that character: what good was he? To make the main guy jealous? To make him look good in her eyes? Or did the author have someone in real life they couldn’t resist throwing in as vicarious revenge?
The ending, or next to ending, I hated. Brought down the score.
3/5

;o)

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INsiders: Tale of Two Cities

The start of my third year with this prestigious group turned out to be one of the best meetings yet, much more fun than one would expect in a lecture about a famous and often-discussed book/play/story.
First, a little background: The INsiders is a discussion group that meets during the run of each play at A Noise Within (not counting the annual A Christmas Carol). Some people liken it to an old-fashioned salon—a term invented in 16th Century Italy, but that’s another story—where people gathered to banter about the art of the day, usually literature and poetry. For those who don’t know, A Noise Within is a relatively famous theater company in Pasadena, known for being a tiny powerhouse amongst the giants of the stage world. The theater is easily accessible, as it is right off the 210 freeway, as well as being directly at a stop of the Metro Gold Line light-rail train.
Every INsiders gathering has two guests, one a distinguished scholar who usually teaches the work being discussed, the other an actor involved in the production. At this past Tuesday’s meeting the acting guest was Emily Goss, who portrays Lucie. She’s one of the few actors at A Noise Within whom I was familiar with before seeing her on the stage here. In this episode of the You Tube series Princess Rap Battle, she played Goldilocks (behind Cinderella, not the one in red), but with her newly brown/red hair she no longer fits that role.
The scholarly guest was Dr. Lana L. Dalley, a professor of English Lit at Cal State Fullerton. Far from the stereotype of a stodgy academic in tweed, she was instantly notable for her short blonde hair and script tattoo on her right arm; when asked about it later, she admitted it read “Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress,” which is the first line from Middlemarch, by George Eliot. She’s also an X-Files fan, as we’ll see later.

Armed with computer slides that were both amusing and educational, Dr. Dalley regaled us for the next two hours with little-known tidbits on the life of Charles Dickens, as well as placing his life and works into context. The first note that struck me was the reveal of Dickens World! Yes, an amusement park was built around his novels, with such features as a water ride, haunted house, and animatronic show. Even though I would have never thought to go, I’m disappointed I won’t have the chance, as it has since closed down.
Unlike most famous authors, Dickens never wanted to be a writer. Like Shakespeare, he was more interested in acting, but missed his first audition due to sickness. He did eventually work on the stage, but ended up writing to make money, eventually becoming so famous that at the height of his popularity he did tours around England as well as America, and was reportedly quite the diva about it. He even had a rider that would put most rock stars to shame.
One of the most intriguing tidbits for me was his friendship and collaboration with Wilkie Collins, a vastly underrated author whose most famous works were The Woman in White and The Moonstone, some of the best early British mysteries.
At one point Dr. Dalley showed movie posters of some of Dickens’ works, the first being a recent Bleak House production starring Gillian Anderson. . . except she called her “Scully.” Anyone who can reference The X-Files during a English Lit lecture is more than okay in my book.
The lecture ended on a fun note about Tale of Two Cities having the first ever mention of potato chips:
“Hunger rattled its dry bones among the roasting chestnuts in the turned cylinder; Hunger was shred into atomics in every farthing porringer of husky chips of potato, fried with some reluctant drops of oil.”
I don’t know how oil can be reluctant, but it sounds awesome. I might argue, though, that since fries are called chips in England, this isn’t so much about potato chips as French fries, which I love a thousand times more, but I digress.
It felt like there wasn’t as much time for questions as usual, but since Dr. Dalley let us interrupt her whenever we wanted, there wasn’t much left to ask. The lecture was so entertaining that poor Emily spent most of the time as a fellow listener, but did get to bring some insights into her portrayal of Lucie.

If I’ve piqued your interest in attending, here are the remaining dates for the 2017/18 season:
The Madwoman of Chaillot | Oct. 24, 2017
Mrs. Warren’s Profession | Nov. 21, 2017
Henry V | Feb. 27, 2018
A Raisin in the Sun | March 27, 2018
Noises Off | Apr. 24, 2018

In addition to the guests and discussion, you get refreshments—cookies and strawberries are the favorites—and if you arrive early you can join a lot of the attendees for dinner beforehand, usually Chinese food (I go to the burger joint).
Fair warning: it does cost, though it counts as a tax-deductible donation. For more info, contact Alicia Green, the Director of Education & Community Outreach, at education@anoisewithin.org or call 626-356-3104. (Don’t be scared, she’s a sweetie.)

;o)

Theater Review: Romeo and Juliet at A Noise Within

On a typically warm SoCal Sunday afternoon I jumped onto a frigidly air-conditioned bus for the seven-minute jaunt to the Eastern Pasadena locale of the theater company known as A Noise Within. But as always my first stop was Hook Burger, though I was in a time dilemma: I wasn’t hungry yet at 1:30PM, but the play wouldn’t be done till 4:30, which meant my stomach would be gnawing at me around intermission time. So I did the only logical thing: rather than having a burger that I wasn’t in the mood for yet, I ordered an orange cream float, because everyone has room for ice cream, right? I even found out I can have it to go, which sounded weird but turned out easier than I anticipated, in a regular fancy-coffee-style cup with me adding the orange cream soda whenever needed through the hole in the dome on top.
Once inside the stylish 1960’s building housing the theater, I spent some time perusing the display of past productions, as next year is the company’s 25th anniversary and they want the fans to play a part in choosing next year’s shows. That wasted enough time for me to finish my dessert-first-or-only meal before heading down to my seat. Once comfortably ensconced, I took in the stage, which featured a graffiti backdrop with similarly decorated dumpsters. More to the point, the actors were on stage, walking around, talking to each other, as though psyching themselves up. In my head I joked that they were going to form in a circle and put their hands in for “Break!” only to find them actually doing it!
Okay, on to Romeo and Juliet, no doubt the most famous of Shakespeare’s plays, along with Hamlet; star-crossed lovers and all that. In the lobby I’d seen plenty of teens, so I wondered just how surprised they would be to find the play isn’t just the love affair that is emphasized in most high school English classes, no doubt in order to get the students to pay more attention.
Unlike people I’ve talked to who are fascinated by every rendition of the Queen Mab soliloquy, I’ve never thought of it as that special. . . until Rafael Goldstein did it here. I can’t even tell you why it got to me this time, only that it did, at least enough for me to remember it as one of the highlights.
Just about every Shakespeare piece has some music to it, in this case the party at the Capulets, where Romeo sneaks in and first sees Juliet. The difference in this production was the inclusion of a live violinist up in what would later become Juliet’s window (don’t get me started on the “balcony” thing). There’s also enough banging on the dumpsters during the fight scenes to remind me of Stomp.
I’ve seen Robinson Dean in plenty of productions here, as well as being the translator for Antigone, but this is my first time watching him do comedy, shuffling about barefoot like a ditzy old man; his exclamation of “Holy Saint Francis!” had me metaphorically rolling on the floor. Lacy Capulet, played by company regular Jill Hill, brought some levity as well as heavy angst to the small role, looking like a Beverly Hills matron/airhead in her gold boots while smoking and drinking before letting it all out when she wanted Romeo dead for killing her nephew Tybalt.
But if I had to single out one actor, it would be June Carryl, whom at the beginning shows a barely controlled rage as the Prince—I love how this company has a tradition of casting women in male roles, as though thumbing their nose at Shakespeare’s time, when all the actors were men—and then delivering a hilarious performance as the nurse, particularly when she exasperates Juliet by claiming she’s too out of breath to tell the news. I wish I could remember her turn on Castle, but I’ll sure be on the lookout for her name from now on. Also switching genders was Charlotte Gulezian as a tomboyish Benvolio, who quickly made me forget the character was supposed to be male, so natural was she.
If I had one small quibble it would be with Will Bradley in the male lead. Let’s face it, Romeo is well described as the world’s first Emo, so there’s plenty of room to ham things up. Still, I thought that in this performance he might have taken it too far; having seen it so many times, this is the first time I really didn’t like Romeo, thought he was a selfish jerk more than just a guy carried away by love. Will was so excellent in Figaro, but that was a farce, where there’s no limit to the ham, cheese, and relish you can stuff in that acting sandwich, but here I would have appreciated just a touch more restraint. Also leaving tooth marks on the scenery was Alan Blumenfeld as Capulet, but whether being jovial at the party or angry during the fights scenes and his disagreement with Juliet, it seemed completely in character.
I almost hate to leave out Juliet, because it’s not that I had any problem with Donnla Hughes’ portrayal. I suppose because some of the other actors were so amazing, she didn’t register as much with me, or perhaps as the voice of reason she didn’t get as much opportunity to shine.
As for the set, I don’t think the graffiti-clad alleyway did anything for me; not worse, but not better. Same for their clothes, though Romeo in a hoodie was as perfect as possible. What was strange was seeing the actors hanging around the stage, both in the wings and on the steps around the stage, almost part of the audience, watching but not part of it, seeing things their characters didn’t. Have to admit it was a little distracting.
The dumpsters, on the other hand, might be considered their own characters. They are used to full effect, like in the scene with the apothecary, where he’s inside the usually-smelly rolling box, wearing a mask so we don’t see it’s same actor as Mercutio. There’s plenty of acrobatics on them, with some of the actors lying on them as they watch the action, banging for sound effect. At one point Juliet is climbing back to her window and hangs with her foot on the narrow side protrusion, a precarious position that had me fearing for her safety. Even more so was when the dumpster was used to hold her supposedly dead body at the end, though fortunately for her comfort they added a mattress. Since it’s impossible to gauge how wide the thing is from the audience, I was again distracted by the thought she might fall off, more than doubly so when Romeo joined her up there. The paper lanterns didn’t help the depth perception either, and made the scene kinda eerie, yet also produced a beautiful light as Juliet lies there. And then there’s Paris lying on the floor for what seemed like forever. . .
Whooo! Deep breath as the light come up. As usual I waited while most people scooted out, then glanced at the nextrip app and saw that my bus was leaving in two minutes! Dashing up the stairs, which none of my doctors recommend, I dodge through the crowd like a running back, out the back door, along the small tree-lined walkway between the condos and the construction site, and into the cavernous bus station under the parking structure and light-rail station. Made it just as the bus was pulling in! Endorphins flow!

Bonus coverage!
Last night was the meeting of the INsiders, a group under the auspices of A Noise Within who gather to discuss the plays being done, and of course this was Romeo and Juliet night. That was why I waited to write this review even though I saw the production last week. We were joined by Miranda Johnson-Haddad, who is a renown Shakespearean expert, and Amir Abdullah, who brought Paris to life. . . and death.
But first I had to go to Hook Burger of course, for my customary Prime Burger plain with cheese and bacon, with an orange cream soda to wash it all down. It only helped that they had sent me a coupon for a free burger in the mail, and I went early enough not to worry about being late to the meeting. In fact I had enough time to walk down the block to the really long strip mall, where I bypassed Jamba to hit up Baskin Robbins, finding to my amazement they had a bucket of orange sherbet open for business! I have not seen orange available for at least five years, so it felt like this was a night where nothing could go wrong, and to hell with tempting fate!
Hard to remember all the topics that were covered once things got started, but with this being such a popular play there was plenty to discuss, even for me; in the past I’ve felt left out when I didn’t know the production all that well. My main question for Amir was: considering the setting and costumes, was there any discussion to completely modernize and set the play in contemporary times? He admitted they had talked about it, and he joked that he would have liked to pull out his cell phone when he’s asked the time, but they ultimately decided against it, which I think was the right call for two reasons. First and foremost, the tragedy hinges on Romeo not getting the news that Juliet’s faking her death, with the Black Plague as an excuse for the messenger not getting the job done. In modern times it would have simply taken an email, and would have been especially timely, since Romeo would have heard about Juliet’s death on Facebook or Twitter. The second reason was that even if modern doctors were fooled by the potion simulating Juliet’s death. . . autopsy! Yikes!
One point that I forgot to bring up was that this is not just an infatuation between teens, but an infatuation between RICH teens. Had they been peasants, no one would have cared, and all the deaths wouldn’t have happened. In fact, poor teens probably wouldn’t have reacted that way anyhow; they had work to do.
{Hmmmm, I just remembered there were a couple of times when Miranda said, “What’s discussed in this room stays in this room.” Oopsie. . .}

;o)

Mozart non-opera and opera

Despite severe exhaustion from the volleyball day at Northridge, I valiantly headed out to A Noise Within for Figaro; it helped that all I had to do was cross the street to catch the bus. It also helped that I’d already paid for the ticket, otherwise I might not have tried it. Bus almost zoomed by me, maybe because it wasn’t expecting to pick anyone up, considering there was only one person aboard. Very rare. Driver told me I shoulda used my flashlight, but it wasn’t until walking back that I remembered I had a flashlight with me. Two actually, but why quibble? After that a couple got on, she Indian with a British accent, he hippie from South Philly, and on an almost-empty bus they sit right behind me and subject me to such inanities. . .
Okay. Off the bus, I walk down the length of the bus station, then cross the small road, and I’m at the back door of the venue, first one there. Unfortunately there’s a late rehearsal, so the audience is dark and they’re not letting anyone in just yet for fear of someone going splat. By the time they open there’s a dozen people and I don’t feel special anymore. Also didn’t feel special when I had the row all to myself and someone else came by, but oh well.
Tonight’s production of Figaro is the same plot as the famous Mozart opera, just no singing. And it’s in English. The only music we get is during scene changes, and it’s a rock version–heavy on electric guitar–of Mozart’s music. The main characters are on first, Figaro and Suzanne, but it isn’t till the Count comes out–dressed in what a stylish 70s rocker type might be sporting–that things really take off. Later there’s a scene where he takes off the long wig, and yeah, definitely changed not just the actor’s appearance but his whole mojo; we would not have believed all that bombastic entitlement from the meek accountant-like guy underneath.
Though the play is witty and sarcastic, what really sells the comedy is the body language, particularly by Suzanne. The character doesn’t have much grace, sitting with her legs spread and shoulders slumped, especially opposed to the mincing high-heeled steps of the Countess. But later in the play, when the roles are reversed, the maid has to fix the countess’s body language, slumping her shoulders and spreading her legs rather forcibly. All small touches, but add up to a lot of funny, the best being when Figaro has to describe what’s in a letter and Suzanne is behind the count giving him huge pantomime hints. . .
If you’re at all familiar with the plot, you know it’s about Figaro coming up with grandiose schemes and not realizing how clueless he is; Suzanne’s gonna be the one wearing the pants in that family. Everyone’s got their own ploys and scams, and for a while it’s hard to keep all the tangles clear in your head, but of course since it’s a comedy everything will work out fine in the end. . .
I had told myself that if I wasn’t having fun by halftime I would leave, thereby catching the last bus home. But it was so good I stayed, and then had to walk for an hour, as I said already exhausted from the previous day. Strangely enough, only one person passed me, and that was outside the Taco Bell. Two bikes overtook me, but other than that it was actually a pleasant solitary walk which left me with plenty of time to think. . . except with my senses attuned to the extra dangers darkness brings, I didn’t think of much anyway.

Sorry, UCLA gymnastics. Far too exhausted to trudge across town on Saturday. Gonna miss you and your amazing smile, Elette.

Still a bit tired–losing an hour made it worse–but more than game Sunday morning to head out to real opera, if you can call it that. As usual went early, and as it turned out the bus downtown had to take not just one but two detours, missing Union Station, heading off a block away from the house–probably no longer there–where I spent the first seven years of my life. Ended up at the central library after another detour, due to some gathering in front of City Hall, then had to wait some minutes for it to open so I could hit the restroom. Not only that, but the little old Asian lady sitting next to me on the bus stole my water bottle! What is the world coming to?
At least I catch the subway right in step, and even with the detours I’m pretty early when I step into the sun of North Hollywood. Earlier I’d googled–can’t believe that’s a real verb–restaurants but couldn’t find anything that my taste buds and allergies could take. There was some diner nearby, but it was closed. After catching a pure vanilla at Coffee Bean, I set off down Lankersheim toward Universal, walking and walking and kept walking till I finally found a burger place about a half hour later. Had thought about eating there in the air conditioning, but instead figured I’d eat while waiting for the bus. Nope, something ornery in my mind said go ahead and walk by while eating, which is difficult when you have a burger, fries, and a drink to deal with and only two hands. If they’re right about evolution, how come we don’t have an extra hand sticking out of the chest or something? (old joke)
Finished off the fries just in time to get in line for theater, where my ticket was found with no problem, once the guy realized my last name wasn’t Franklin. A cute Orion slave girl handed me a program, then I gave my ticket and was led–not just given directions–to a small hutch on the left side, where there were five seats in two rows–combined. Instantly the two ladies in the three-seat row, Portland and Ruth, pronounced me their new best friend, so there was a little bit of chatter as I tried not to listen to their conversation when they weren’t including me. At the last moment two guys, one in an original pilot command shirt, sat in the two-seat row in front of us, so no leg-stretching allowed after all.
Finally it gets going, with the Star Trek theme, including “these are the voyages,” played by the orchestra in the pit. . . but just when you think they’re gonna launch into the main song it instead turns to the Mozart, which got a chuckle.
Instantly we get Captain Belmonte, played with relish, ham AND cheese, by Brian Cheney. His credits show he is indeed an operatic tenor, but I doubt he’s ever done anything like this. Not that the singing is out of his wheelhouse, but the sheer. . . Shatner-ness cubed of his performance. . . it’s actually shocking that anyone could out-Shatner Shatner, but then his many aside glances to the audience proves this is well past anything that pretends not to be farce. . . and I mean that in a good way! Later on he plays a certain “Scottish mechanic,” and that accent is, again, something he’s never done in his opera career before. . . I hope. But the contenders for his biggest laugh are the barrel rolls and when he works in an “Oh my!”
Once the Klingons come out he hides in front of a rock to spy on them, which is good because the Klingons are singing in. . . well, Klingon! Even the supertitles say “Some Klingon. . . more Klingon.” At this point Belmonte calls for the Universal Translator, and order, such as it is, is restored. Nice touch.
The Spock is named, just like in Mozart’s version, Pedrillo, which makes it fun when the bimbo pronounces it wrong later. Constanza–a name as close to the original as you can get without actually using it–is the Uhura, whom Belmonte has fallen in love with; not something we ever saw in the show or the movies, though considering Kirk’s reputation, not out of the question. But easily my favorite character is the Orion slave girl; in the original the character was simply called Blonde, so it makes sense here she’s Blondie. Her Brooklyn bimbo accent is so perfect; she plays ditzy so well that when she sings operatically it’s almost shocking. She gets a great stealth joke where she complains that people are trying to get the “slave” part of the name out, but traditionalists back in Orion–most of them below the belt, in the South part–are resisting. I think the only reason they made the Orion Slave girl a major character was for the obvious–saw it coming a kilometer away–“It’s not easy being green” line.
Gotta say, these are some wimpy Klingons, though to be fair they were wimpy Ottomans in the original too. The chancellor is easily toyed with, and even the cruel Osmin gets played with by Pedrillo, Blondie, and even the captain. He does have a really funny chuckle, though. It didn’t occur to me that these are Next Generation Klingons interfacing with original series Federation until the end. But then, considering even the laser burn effects were cheesy–I’m hoping purposefully so–everything just fit together in an outrageous and hilarious way.
And nothing was more out there than the recreation of Kirk’s battle with the Gorn! Even the conductor in the orchestra put got into it, throwing Belmonte a rock as a weapon in the middle of battle. But since we didn’t have time for him to rediscover gunpowder, Belmonte pulls out his phaser and Indiana Jones’s the Gorn to oblivion. BeeTeeDubya, as I was walking out of the place I saw that the Gorn was actually a pretty brunette, without the Gorn head that is.
Can’t have the thing end without a redshirt showing up! And of course getting his head chopped off right away. No rescue there. Then we get the main four singing about how they should be escaping, not singing, and of course get captured. Those of you familiar with the Mozart, it ends the same way here; those who don’t, find out by going to see it somewhere.
The whole thing was so over-the-top they needed oxygen masks and Sherpas, but again, it was all in good fun with only a couple of eye rolls.
After all the bows we get a tribute to Leonard Nimoy, as it should be.
Well, that was simply awesome, though my own pleasure was somewhat mitigated by my eyes going watery throughout. Thought it was due to the darkness and my still-new glasses, but once outside on the way to the subway–just two blocks away, convenient–the nose went runny too, so I took an allergy pill with a Gatorade I had to buy off the street, since you might recall my water bottle was stolen earlier. Yeah, like Chekov’s gun. . . and not the Star Trek Chekov!
Three nights ago, after the Northridge day, I was thinking how dark it got coming back from North Hollywood; this time the sun is still high, thanks to daylight savings. Too bad, I like the dark. . .

;o)

Dance of Death at A Noise Within

Been a long time since I wrote about one of my adventures in the City of Beautiful Angels, though I’m not at all sure going to see a play should be labeled adventurous.
This was the second time I would be seeing theater at A Noise Within; I’d bought a season package simply because I could cross the street from my apartment, get on a bus, and a few minutes later debark and be right at the rear entrance of the theater. This was especially helpful as the last few times I’ve gone to see live acting it’s been over 100 degrees.
This Sunday was not nearly as hot, but there were other worries. The first time I’d taken an early bus and was consequently the first person there, trying not to flirt too obviously with the concessions girl while waiting for almost an hour for things to start. When I saw there was a bus that would leave me where I needed to be with ten minutes to spare till curtain, I chose that one instead. . . only for the bus to be late, and catch all the red lights. Yikes!
So I arrived, after a bit of a dash through the bus station, with two minutes to spare. . . only for them to start well late. Sigh, story of my life. . .
Okay, on to da show. For some reason I can’t figure out I prefer watching the previews, and in this case the very first one. This day’s performance would be Dance of Death, by Strindburg, who I certainly can’t say is among my favorites. I pictured something heavy, like Proof, but was ready to take a break from all the funny musicals I’ve seen recently.
Though there was plenty of psychological drama, I certainly didn’t expect a bickering couple to be so humorous! Perhaps this was included by the guy who’d adapted it–I need to check that–but some of this wit was classic!
It’s basically the story of a married couple who’ve been together almost 25 years, he a martinet of a non-commissioned Army officer–the reasons why he never rose very high in rank were spot-on–and a retired stage actress. And yes, they hate each other; he threatens to throw her out of the house or have her arrested, while she claims she’ll divorce him and leave him by himself, and then who will take care of him, especially now that he’s sick, though he’ll never admit it. . . and the local doctor hates him.
The set was fascinating; in act one we learn they actually live in the old jail! Seems appropriate, though I found it hard to watch, especially the humorous moments between all the psychological torture. At one point it occurred to me that he was an evil version of the The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper! The most memorable moment–can ya tell I love alliteration?–comes when she plays the piano, or rather harpsichord, and he goes into a hilarious dance, like a demented Russian or Bavarian folk dancer, before spinning–literally–out of control.
There’s one more character, a relative of the woman, who becomes the prize they fight for as they categorize their grievances against each other; his innocence is of course tainted by all this. There’s a great line where he tells his cousin that as a doctor he carries certain drugs, leading her to gasp, in a happily surprised tone, “You have morphine?”
But the most telling line is “It is too late for shame.”
As I said earlier, despite all the hilarious moments, this was simply too hard to bear! But as good as it was, I hated the happy ending!
So once it was done I checked the handout and found the main actor was Geoff Elliot, who founded the company with his wife and is a much younger man than the old coot he’s playing; makes me wonder if he ever played Mark Twain. In all the makeup and especially the broad acting style he reminds me of James Whitmore Jr. in Proof. It also made me ponder about the art of acting; playing subtle moments allows an actor to shine, but playing a character like Edgar must be all about fun!
From there I settled my long-gnawing hunger–can’t remember the last time I had lunch after four, if ever–across the street at Hook, now my second fave burger joint after In-N-Out. . . and they have bacon, which almost gives them an edge in this contest. They also have orange cream soda, and as I’m reading the painted label on the bottle, I see the second ingredient–after water–is cane sugar. No wonder it tastes so good. . .
And that’s the way to end a day at the theater. . .
;o)

Everything’s Better With Redheads

This time I got to the bus stop with one red light to spare, even though I left way earlier than usual. The drivers insist on getting here early, as though testing me. Then it did the 40-minute route to downtown in 25. Next, I only had to wait two minutes before the subway took off; I’m gonna be way early again. . .
And of course I was, despite more time in Radio Shack than I’d anticipated. Was greeted by Annabel–you don’t know her–right at the door, who helped me choose some cheap folding headphones, then led me to the counter, where we find that because of a printing glitch my $10 off coupon is not working. But since I still had the email, I took out my Kindle Fire and she plugged in the store’s wi-fi code. . . but then the email didn’t show up on the app, so she suggested I go through the web. . . and it worked! Got my $10 off, then got another $10 off coupon. That’s the most satisfying shopping experience I’ve had in a long time. . . I know, I know. . .
Always feel better after my Jamba Orange Dream Machine, or more likely during. And as many times as I’ve been in this elevator in Ackerman, and seen the sign, it never seemed funny until now. “Bridge to Kirckhoff Hall, this is the Captain. Mr. Hall, please respond.”

002
Just like it happened at the Daniela Ruah play last month, I was way early, even with the long walk up to the NE corner of UCLA. 003

Even though I spent countless days studying in the sculpture garden,010

I had never been past it into what must be the Theater, Movie, and Television Arts area. Found a theater, but it was wrong one, so I changed direction and walked past a group of loud kindergarteners apparently graduating. . . ah, there it is. Finding the place open, I ask about doors, where I find it would happen only ½ an hour before showtime instead of the usual hour. . . see, that’s why you ask.
And as I move back the way I came for a shady bench on which to have the first half of my Subway bacon and egg footlong–not a plug–there’s Molly Quinn striding into the theater. . . once again, timing is everything. Later, as I went to throw away the drippings into the trash, I almost bumped into Susan Sullivan, who did not look like she wanted to be bothered, so I didn’t.
Bored with sitting, I stroll around the area–like I said, I’d never been up here–and then watch as a clarinetist in a black strapless ballgown sets up to entertain the people waiting. As she got her reeds ready I asked her some basic clarinet questions–no Rhapsody in Blue or Mozart today. Only thing recognizable throughout her entire show was Somewhere over the Rainbow.

The Cast

The Cast

The Poster

The Poster

The scene

The scene

The clarinetist

The clarinetist

First here, almost last in, as usual; not as big a deal this time because seating was reserved. Still, people got seats wrong, so I had to stand up a lot. Finally took a look at the stage, finding only seats, stools, and old-timey microphones, making it obvious this is gonna be a radio play.

The stage

The stage

There’s a screen up there, as you can see in the photo, running commercials for their previous stuff, including apparently their whole collection for $1000 dollars instead of the normal $1500. One of the previous plays was Art, which readers of this blog might remember I saw earlier this year; one of the actors in this version was the incredibly Machiavellian Cyrus from Scandal.
First we get the media guy telling us about the taping and make sure all the cell phones are off–yeah, right–then the director came up to inform us this was the 75th year since the crux of the story, the Kinder Transport. Interestingly, the final paper for my history minor at UCLA was the different ways in which people escaped the Nazi regime; my favorite was the Danish fishermen, but that’s a story for another time. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who’d ever heard of Schindler (besides Spielberg) before that movie came out. Anyhoo, this is just to say that I had heard about this story, but hadn’t read more than the basics; even though this is fiction, it personalized everything to a tremendous degree, with the repercussions that are bound to happen when kids leave their parents. This was especially important, since the director announced three of those Transport Kinder are here! Wow!
According to the program, the playwright has also written about Mata Hari; suddenly I wish she were here, as I have some interesting theories about that dancing lady. . .

Cast
Shannon Lee Clair–Eva
Jane Kaczmarek–Helga
Angela Paton–Lil
Susan Sullivan–Evelyn
Molly Quinn–Faith
Hugo Armstrong–Ratcatcher/other roles
Foley guy at stage left

As the play starts the main character seems to be Eva, and Shannon gives her a huge German accent; actually, she speaks quite a bit of German here, and sounds natural to my semi-experienced ear. Jane alzo. . . I mean, also with a heavy German accent, which is fun for me, having so many German friends and even an ex. Molly, on the other hand, has a delightful–almost subtle but definitely there–soft British accent. Angela, on the other hand, had a bit of a cliché lower-class British grandmother tone, not nearly as bad as Monty Python though perhaps owing a little bit to Benny Hill; still, it worked. Hugo did German as well as a number of British drawls, all very well. Did not detect any accent from Susan.
The first scene is between Evelyn and Faith takes place in the attic–we know that by the photo on the screen–where Faith is moving out to go to college; it reminded me a bit of Alexis doing the same with Castle, which was cute. Then Molly went into even more adorable range by singing “Runaway Train,” which I know I’ve heard Benny Hill do, though not as well. From there on it was too dark for me to write many notes, though I do remember a point where Eva is on the train heading for England and mentions the “Hook of Holland,” which made me laugh because I’ve taken that train route and she’s right, it looks nothing like that.
Not to toot my own horn–couldn’t reach anyway–but I figured out Eva was Evelyn long before the script expected me to. Yay me. . .
I know this is a little ridiculous, but having seen Molly only on Castle and Avalon High–definitely need to see Hansel and Gretel Get Baked–it was a bit jarring to hear her utter “Shit!”–twice!–as well as “Fucking!” But then I grinned and moved on.
At this point I should mention that, since it’s a radio play, what the actors wore didn’t matter, yet I think some of them did dress up. Susan didn’t seem to, even wearing heels, but Jane was all in black, in seemingly dowdy clothes, and Angela was draped in a housecoat that looked distinctly like something a woman her age would wear in England. Shannon was dressed cutesy in a short dress and stockings, but Molly was in jeans and a tight purple top. At one point I thought she looked hippie-ish with her multicolored belt and long blonde-looking hair, but more on that later.
So, I know four of the five actresses here, so leave it to the one I’d never seen–Shannon–to give such an overwhelming performance that left me breathless; really, everyone was fantastic, but she nailed this role–sometimes it seemed like it was dual roles, her German life contrasted to her British life, with corresponding accents–so amazingly I really can’t imagine anyone doing it better. It also occurs to me that the Foley guy must be having so much fun. . .
At halftime, after navigating the steps down to the restroom–can’t imagine how the wheelchairs get there–I stayed standing against the wall just outside the seating area, stretching a bit, only to notice an open door to the side, with an old lady on a cell phone and two guys who were probably crew smoking. Taking a peek outside like a curious gopher, I spot written on the wall next to me “George Burns Soundstage” in giant block letters. I look further, and indeed it looks like a studio backlot; once again I’m amazed that after all these years I still find new places at my alma mater (and not in the science area!) I hope Molly got a chance to explore. . .
As the second act begins I take more notice of the way the actors are seated when not standing at their mics. As I mentioned, there are stools between the seats and the microphones, short ones that seemed to swivel; at times the actors’ backs would be to the audience, while at others they would be facing to the side, all planned I’m sure. At one point Molly and Susan were facing each other, really close, and Molly grinned so delightfully. . .
A few funny lines: first of all, apparently Hitler smells! All Germans do, according to the male British character. I’ve actually heard that before; I had an Ethnic Studies teacher who’d been in WWII who’d said the same thing. Too bad for him I was dating a German girl at the time, and she smelled divinely. He retired soon after, thankfully. Another funny was when they were talking about the parting of the Red Sea and how the Egyptians drowned trying to follow the Jews: “They deserved it!”
Pretty sure Angela has been in every scene in the second half, switching between present day–though not really present day, more on that later–and back when Eva first came to England. I haven’t mentioned it before, but all of the actors were holding scripts, with Shannon the only one using a folder. It’s about at this point, when Molly’s character Faith forces her mom into hidden revelations, that we find out Helga–Jane’s character–survived the concentration camp and met with Eva–now Evelyn–after the war; not even her English mother knew about this. Having given up her parents for dead, resigned to making a new life, Evelyn–who insists that is now her name–won’t go with her birth mother to New York, and apparently never sees her again. In about fifteen minutes of heartbreaking disclosures, this was the toughest of all to watch. . .
At this point Molly’s character gets to tell Susan’s character some really terrible stuff, making me wonder if Molly gave her a hug after the first time they rehearsed it. There was just so much to take in–before a bit of a happy-ending finale–that the only way I can think of putting it is. . . shit got real. . .
Considering I always have trouble going into the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam, I feel I did pretty well with this. . . but still. . .
Talked to the Foley guy after, I told him it must be so much fun and he definitely agreed, even if he didn’t get to break anything this time. Waited a while to talk to the cast; they were speaking to the special guests, the original German kids sent to England, and I wasn’t about to interrupt that. But when Molly was finally free, she passed close enough for me to ask if I could get a photo, and once again I’m stunned by my calm demeanor; I think I was even more composed than I was with Daniela, since I now had the previous experience of speaking to a favorite actress without getting rattled.

Cuteness overload

Cuteness overload

Molly is incredibly cute in person–though she is on stage or camera too, of course–and very nice. After the photo I told her how fun it was to watch her as something other than Alexis, then asked what kind of accent she was doing. She seemed to light up as she told me about the research she did, how the counterculture in the late 60s in England wanted to sound anti-posh, definitely not at all like their parents; to this point I hadn’t been aware the play took place in that era and not in modern times. . . though this did make wonder if that belt and her hair style were part of the same characterization. It looked like she enjoyed it when I realized it was all her and not in the script; I can only hope she was pleased to have all the work she put into it acknowledged. We talked about accents a bit more, which is an interest of mine, and though she seemed okay with it I could tell she wanted to go, so I shook the hand she offered and went away happy, my only regret being I forgot we were both lefties and shoulda shook that way.
After the longest walk through UCLA I’ve ever suffered through,

Men! {and pigeons!}

Men! {and pigeons!}

I Just missed the Sunset bus as usual, so on to Wilshire again, where after only a couple of minutes a regular turned the corner, thus guaranteeing me a seat, even if it would take longer to get to Vermont–the street, not the state–than the express; as it was we didn’t get passed by an express until we were almost there, so that’s okay. Unfortunately I was in a bit of a dead zone transportation-wise, with no way out of a long wait for one bus or the other after I was done with the subway, but no time to eat the second half of my Subway bacon and egg footlong either.
On the subway I saw conclusive proof that not all babies are cute, though I can’t imagine why anyone would pierce the ears of a three/four month old; that’s just wrong. Kid already has bags under eyes too. Is that enough evidence to call child services?
Got a little harassed by a painted-blonde deputy checking passes while looking so bored, in direct contrast to the last time, when the male cop had seemed friendly as a puppy. Looking over these photos you see here while on the light-rail, I played around with the buttons on the still-new camera, making sure once again I had it set to never use flash, since that’s against my photographic religion. Once I saw the symbol on the display area I couldn’t help but laugh as I named it flash/slash.

Not-so-super moon. . .

Not-so-super moon. . .

So. . . if I were to extrapolate the happenings of the past few months, hopefully the next checkmark on the actress bucket list is Katherine Heigl. . . hey, dare to dream!

;o)