Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Venice Diaries (1991)

First floor apartment on Elkgrove Circle

For two months in spring, 1991, I lived in Los Angeles. That’s it, that’s the longest I have ever lived anywhere that is not in Ohio. I was basically a squatter, sleeping on a couch in Venice. My best friend from college and his best friend from high school had an apartment on a cul-de-sac, and my best friend’s best friend was supposedly moving out soon and I’d take his room but I didn’t even last that long.

In spite of the fact that I never found a job, and in spite of the fact that I never made any new acquaintances, and in spite of the fact that I was only there, as I said, for two months, I managed to keep very busy. Early on I determined that if I was to survive, in a mental-health sense, I would not eat fast food, I would not drink before sunset, and I would not watch any television alone.

Thank goodness, this was before the internet.

Also, shortly after I arrived, a small cohort of Cleveland expats took to driving to the Santa Monica Mountains every single day at 6:30 AM to hike and run in the hills. After, those of us without regular work would get coffee at the Rose and spy on stars and other writers.

This is what I thought worth writing down.

April 5, 1991 Within an hour of moving into Rich and Adam's place I visited an L.A. emergency room after popping the nail off my left big toe in what can only be described as a freak domestic accident.

April 10, 1991 I spotted Christopher Mulkey from "Twin Peaks" at the Rose Cafe!

April 11, 1991 Apparently Chris Mulkey stops in at the Rose every morning.

April 17, 1991 I applied for work at three different places today; two restaurants and a strip mall bookstore.

April 19, 1991 We went to the apartment of some friend of Adam’s to watch the Holyfield vs. Foreman fight.

April 20, 1991 Betsy, Rich and I went to see "American Splendor" at Theatre Theater, starring Dan Castellaneta and Siobhan Fallon. Understudies went on for both Dan Castellaneta and Siobhan Fallon.

April 21, 1991 A couple of us went see "The Object of Desire." We’ve seen three movies this week and they all have that song by Enya.

April 22, 1991 Elvis Costello is going on tour, and we waited in line at Tower Records to get tickets for the show at the Wiltern on May 26th. Betsy convinced me to buy a half-dozen tickets, that we'll be able to convince more people to come with us.

April 23, 1991 I had a dinner date with a friend from high school at some chain Mexican restaurant.

April 25, 1991 I had a mad impulse to return home to visit my ex-girlfriend because I heard she was seeing someone else. I found round-trip tickets to Cleveland in the L.A. Times and bought them with cash from some guy in El Segundo.

April 27, 1991 Rich and I stalked a site where Aidan Quinn and Isabella Rossellini are making a movie. Quinn paced the parking lot, smoking constantly. He’s not very tall. Rossellini stayed in her trailer until it was time for the shoot, and then walked past us very fast.

April 28, 1991 We headed to the Third Street Promenade for a date with that same high school friend and her roommate. We met at a bar that only sells frozen alcoholic beverages, a “squishy” bar. After, we all went back to our apartment for a couple hours of small talk when I finally said, "Ok, it's late. If you're not staying we need to walk you back to your car.” We walked them back to their car.

May 8, 1991 One of Rich’s co-workers attends Santa Monica College and needed assistance with an in-class performance that takes place in a max museum. I stood in one place for 10 minutes, with a mask on my face, dressed as a Canadian Mountie, in a Mountie's hat and a wool Mountie coat, while she ran her hands over my motionless body. I sweat a lot and almost fell over.

May 11, 1991 Rich, Adam and I created a short film on video in which he prepared to ask a woman out on a date, only he really was asking a woman out on a date, someone he’s met at the local video store. Where the film went depended on whether she says yes or no. She said no, so the film ended with Rich taking off all of his clothes while walking down Fourth Street.

May 12, 1991 We discovered the porn flick, "Still the Brat," which is hysterical.

May 13, 1991 Pete works in a record store, and after work he brought over "Mighty Like A Rose" which will be released tomorrow. About four songs in I started to doze off.

May 14, 1991 We’re thinking of starting a newsletter to send to our friends back home called "Notes from L.A." I completed an article called "The Nowhere Generation," my first Gen X manifesto. I showed it to Rich but he says he doesn't see the point.

May 15, 1991 Tomorrow, Rich is supposed to take his final exam to be a server at T.G.I.Friday’s. Apparently, everyone cheats on the exam but he doesn’t think that’s right. Unfortunately, he doesn’t drink and doesn’t know or much care how different alcohols are different, which makes the drinks part of the test impossible.

May 16, 1991 Rich failed his final exam at T.G.I.Friday's.

May 17, 1991 We went out with some friends from Athens who came back to our place and wouldn’t leave. I have totally not gotten used to the time change and always feel like it’s three hours later than it actually is. Of course, I also got up at six o’clock this morning.

May 18, 1991 We went to this place at the beach for framed posters. Rich got Béatrice Dalle, I got Isabella Rossellini.

May 20, 1991 Rich and I moved furniture for Victoria Williams. She is a folk musician who was on Carson a few weeks ago.

May 23, 1991 I stayed up late to watch “The Moderns” for the first time. I didn’t like it as much as I thought I was going to based on the soundtrack. In the morning I’m flying home to spend the weekend with my ex-girlfriend. I'm going to miss the Elvis show. No one wanted those extra tickets.

June 2, 1991 Back in L.A. Drew a nude portrait of my ex-girlfriend from memory. I think it's really good. Actually, we're dating again.

June 4, 1991 Rich and I are driving back home tomorrow. Tonight, Adam and I met Gary Marshall. He was hosting the final exam films of the Masters class in Film making at USC. Adam and I had a bet as to whether Penny Marshall was his sister or his daughter, and we walked with him to the parking garage asked him about it. I lost the bet.


SNL Oct. 8, 2016

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Mysterious Affair at Styles @ Chattanooga Theatre Centre

Poirot (Patrick Brady) & Hastings (Evans Jarnefeldt)
Chattanooga Theatre Centre
Photo by Brad Cansler
My stage adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles was first produced as an outreach tour six years ago, and published by Playscripts, Inc. a short time later. Since then it has been produced at a few high schools, college and community theaters, and most recently in a production at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

An interview on WUTC 88.1 FM (Chattanooga's NPR affiliate) was broadcast yesterday, a conversation between host Richard Winham and Steve Ray, head of the Theatre and Speech Department at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the production’s director. I am not so widely produced as to be in any way accustomed or even prepared to listen to people with whom I am entirely unfamiliar discuss my writing thoughtfully.

One element of interest during their ten-minute discussion, one point which makes this book -- Christie’s first book -- different from the rest, is that it is her "Great War" mystery. It takes place during the war, not after, which required me, when writing it, to have a crash-course in history of that period, and the many ways the war affected all aspects of British life.

In particular, the character of Hastings -- the narrator of the novel and my adaptation -- is an outsider. Not only is he new to Styles, but he is also a soldier, the only one in the story who has witnessed the horrors of the trenches first-hand, and for him very recently.

In the WUTC interview, the director Steve Ray comments:
“There’s a couple of moments that ... you see that this family in the manor do not get what Hastings is going through … And one moment where it’s kind of up-front, where a character makes a kind of off-hand comment about the war and it just takes Hastings off-guard.”
Thought I haven’t read the play in years, I knew exactly the moment he was referring to. What I could not remember was whether it was an exchange taken directly from the novel, or one I had created on my own. I discovered to my delight that it was the latter.

Mary (Courtenay Clovich) & Evelyn (Dana Cole)
Chattanooga Theatre Centre
Photo by Brad Cansler
Here is the passage from the novel which inspired that moment:
“The papers, of course, had been full of the tragedy. Glaring headlines, sandwiched biographies of every member of the household, subtle innuendoes, the usual familiar tag about the police having a clue. Nothing was spared us. It was a slack time. The war was momentarily inactive, and the newspapers seized with avidity on this crime in fashionable life: 'The Mysterious Affair at Styles' was the topic of the moment." 
- The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Chapter VIII: Fresh Suspicions
And here is how I represented that moment in the script:
JOHN: ...Ghastly though, the papers. Headlines glaring, “Mysterious Affair at Styles” and all that. Rubbish. Makes you wish the war would pick up.
HASTINGS: No. Not really.
JOHN: Hmn? Anyway.
Not to pat myself on the back too hard, I am also aware that I stole Hasting’s reaction from the first episode of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
FORD: Six pints of bitter, and quickly, please. The world's about to end.
BARMAN: Oh, yes, sir? Nice weather for it. Going to the match today, sir?
FORD: No. No point.
BARMAN: Foregone conclusion, then? Arsenal without a chance?
FORD: No, it’s just that the world's about to end.
BARMAN: Oh, yes, sir. So you said. Lucky escape for Arsenal if it did.
FORD: No, not really.
What Douglas Adams wrote as an affectless observation I reinterpreted as an understated reaction to a thoughtless remark, and I am totally cool with that.

Listen to the complete interview, "Chattanooga Theatre Centre Presents Christie's 'The Mysterious Affair at Styles'" by Richard Winham, WUTC 88.1 FM (1/31/2018)

"The Mysterious Affair at Styles" continues at Chattanooga Theatre Centre through February 16, 2018.

My stage adaptation of "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" is available through Playscripts, Inc.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Here Are The High School Plays!

10 Ways to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse
(My girl, left)
Several years ago, playwright and teacher Stephen Gregg, in his blog Playwright Now, put forth an argument that high schools drama departments should stop producing hoary chestnuts of yesteryear.

Last year, as in most years of the late twentieth century, the top ten most produced plays in American high schools were crowded with scripts written at least a half-century old (or much older) including You Can’t Take It With You, Twelve Angry Men/Jurors, Our Town and The Crucible.

Add to that works of Shakespeare like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth (which are at least on the curriculum) A Christmas Carol and Alice In Wonderland, and you only have room for two plays written in the past generation; Almost, Maine and Peter and the Starcatcher … that last an adaptation of Peter Pan.

Gregg’s point is not to put down the works of the past, or to place some kind of moratorium on Shakespeare (as some have suggested) or the works of Kaufman and Hart. One of the most basic disconnects between today’s professional stage and its high school equivalent is that economics have driven playwrights to create plays with small companies, where your average coach needs to cast as many kids as possible.

There is an opportunity here, for aspiring writers to create new works, geared towards the needs of your average troupe of teenage thespians.

My daughter is a high school freshman, and though I have roped her into performing a few ten-minute plays at Pandemonium, she has only this weekend performed in her first complete play -- a performance of 10 Ways to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse by Don Zolidis. This one-act play (it clocks in at about thirty minutes) is one of the most-produced short plays in America.

In fact, if you peruse the list of popular short plays, there is a much wider variety of contemporary work (including This Is a Test by none other than Stephen Gregg) several of which satisfy one of the needs described by Gregg, that works for high school stages should have many characters, and that these characters should be largely teenagers.

But that last point, however, leaves me unsatisfied. While it is true that classic plays can seem dated (obvs, how can it be classic if it ain't old) and designed to keep the manufacturers of spray-on gray hair color in business, the act of playing is the art of being someone else. And producing period work, if executed properly, can be an education in history, class, race, and much more.

Runaways (Bay High School, 1984)
We did a contemporary play when I was a junior in high school, Runaways by Jay Christopher (not the musical by Elizabeth Swados) about a shelter to keep kids off the street. But I was relieved to be cast as director of the shelter, and not as one of the teenagers. I already was a teenager. I wanted to be someone else.

So, why not have both? My recently published adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Secret Adversary features two plucky protagonists barely in their twenties, and a variety of colorful characters who are not necessarily any specific age. It’s a large-cast show with thrills, comedy and romance. Also, you get to learn about the aftermath of World War One and the sinking of the Lusitania. Wins all around!

I agree, it is bizarre that one play in particular, You Can’t Take It With You, has remained on the most-produced list pretty much since the rights were made available. This, in spite of an increasingly long list of references which have faded from collective awareness and, of course, the problem with Donald and Rheba.

Heck, that was the first play I ever performed in, when I, too, was a high school freshman. And I have had colleagues speculate that certain plays and musicals remain in rotation is precisely because high drama directors did those shows when they were in school.

My recommendation would be equal parts of each; that drama directors should dig deeper into the classical repertoire, and produce and promote new work by contemporary playwrights.

Speaking of which, The Secret Adversary is available from YouthPLAYS.

Sources:
"Where Are The High School Plays?" by Stephen Gregg, Playwright Now (5/24/2015)
"The Most Popular High School Plays and Musicals" by Elissa Nadworny, NPR (9/15/2017)
"We Should Ban Shakespeare From The Stage For Five Years To Foster New Plays" by Lachlan Philpott, The Sydney Morning Herald (5/2/2016)
"Top 10 Most-Produced High School Plays and Musicals of 2016–2017 Revealed" by Adam Hetrick, Playbill.com (9/15/2017)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Entry Point (2018)

Rehearsal for "The Lost Diary."
One of the happier surprises last year was Entry Point at Cleveland Public Theatre. When they proposed the idea of inviting audiences to attend a weekend of short scenes from new works, unfinished works, only recently started works -- and then provide feedback, I was skeptical. Who would want to see that?

A lot of people, as it turned out. Better than that it was amazing, exciting, adventurous, like a miniature fringe festival all in one building on a frigid winter’s evening. With free beer!

My participation was as a performer in someone else’s new work, work that has moved into the Test Flight phase (story for another time, perhaps) and also as an audience member. I also got to enjoy the experience from the point of view of my (then) eleven year-old son, who really enjoyed all the different works he experienced, as well as hanging out and having soda pop in the temporary yet cozy lounge that had been created in the downstairs “storefront” space.

Also, and perhaps most importantly for the writers and creators, each brief scene concluded with a strictly moderated feedback session which provided the kind of audience response that was direct and, so it appeared to me, extremely useful.

So, of course, I wanted to get involved this year as a writer.

But not alone. So much work I witnessed last year was collaborative; collaboratively written or devised, with movement and music. I can write a play, host a reading, take notes, edit and move forward. What would justify participation in this unique and uniquely visible process of creation?

Collaboration, of course. To that end I entered into this process with a partner. For a couple years now I have worked with Chennelle Bryant-Harris; she directed one of the scenes for our immersive Love In Pieces, she directed me in a refreshingly new performance of I Hate This, and I directed her in Twelfth Night (As Told By Malvolio).

Now we co-write. And I am so glad.

I am glad, not least of which reasons is because the material is dark, and plunging into a world of paranoia, hate and violence is not an adventure I wanted to wade through alone.

And where are we going? What is this dark material? What is The Lost Diary? Yeah, we’ll get to that.

It’s enough today to report who I get to work with, which includes Kelly Elliott as our director and two splendid actors, Bianca McElroy and David Obney.

Now here’s the thing; right after out first rehearsal, my co-writer, director and I headed to the bar next door to the theater to talk. What happened, exactly? What was the incident? Why was he found like that? Who is she? There is a mystery, and we don’t know the end yet but we were actively figuring it out.

On Sunday, Chennelle and I met for coffee and bagels and hammered out even more of the history. What was the plan, and what is the goal? Traditionally, this is a discussion I have entirely in my own head. It was like a whole new world.

One rehearsal, and we have picked up the writing from where we left it when we handed the Entry Point rehearsal draft to Kelly. It’s not even work that will be performed next weekend, but that’s the thing, we’re not even waiting for the event to move the script forward, the work is already continuing.

Entry Point will be presented at Cleveland Public Theatre, January 18-20, 2018.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Beyond the Fringe

Pete & Dud in Cleveland
(Spoiler for the Netflix series "The Crown" ahead.)

My mother stayed with us one evening before the holidays, and she set herself up to watch The Crown on Netflix. She’d gotten ahead of me, and was taking in the final episode of the recently released season two. I was trying not to pay attention, but something caught my eye.

“Is that Peter Cook and Dudley Moore?” I asked. She wasn’t sure, but it was apparent to me that it was, two men in suits with skinny ties, one noticeably taller - or, the other significantly shorter, anyway - performing a sketch on a stage in a theater. The short one had on a woman’s hat and was clutching a handbag. It was obviously a comedy sketch.

Anyway, I tried not to pay attention, I would get this episode eventually. I was doing housework and trying to shut down the house for the evening. But then I saw four men, and it was obvious what I was looking at, because the other two were dead ringers for Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett. I was looking at a recreation of Beyond the Fringe (circa 1963.)

Most Americans are familiar with the absurdist satire of Monty Python, and I would suggest its international success was based on its platform - television, and later film. It had wider reach and longevity. However, that team has roots in the same university cabaret traditions which were the basis for earlier comedy teams which made their fame in Great Britain through stage and radio, including Beyond the Fringe, Flanders and Swann, and one the most inspirational comedy troupes of the century, The Goons.

Patrick Warner (center) as Peter Cook in "The Crown"
In Cleveland, my family were exposed to a great deal of their work on WCLV “Saturday Night” (now Weekend Radio) a weekly show where program director Robert Conrad let his hair down to play comedy and satire from both sides of the Atlantic. Staying up late, listening to this show, hearing selections from not only the aforementioned British troupes but also everything from Nichols & May to the National Lampoon, I received a tremendous education in wit and satire before I had even reached adolescence.

Even so, I was a bit young to attend the 1975 American tour of “Good Evening” starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (post-Fringe) which played the Hanna Theatre the week of May 19th -- which also happens to be my brother Henrik’s birthday. My father took him to an evening performance, but brought the three of us to the stage door following a matinee performance to see if we could score some autographs.

Moore did not make an appearance at the stage door, but Cook did, and he was a tall man -- taller than my father at 6’2”. I was not yet seven years old, and I remember the look of complete incredulity on his face as he leaned over to take and sign my little autograph book. What bizarre American would bring a small child to this somewhat cerebral and somewhat filthy comedy revue?

Anyway. In the episode of The Crown in question (S02E10 "Mystery Man") Prime Minister Macmillan is goaded into attending a performance of that West End smash, Beyond the Fringe, by his surprisingly cruel spouse. The company generated a great deal of attention satirizing modern politics and even the royals, in a time when it was still technically illegal to do so (see: The Licensing Act of 1737.)

In case you didn't know who Peter Cook was.
Macmillan's wife intimates that he is set up for harmless ribbing. However, when he attends, the PM is not only humiliated, but in a surreal moment, the gigantic Peter Cook (Patrick Warner) actually notices him in the house, breaking the fourth wall, leaning into the house, and drawing the entire audience's attention on him for ridicule.

Prime Minister Macmillan promptly resigns.

Last year I wrote a meandering piece inspired by an episode of Mad Men in which Don and Megan attend a performance of America Hurrah!  As with that event, I am almost touched by the loving artistic detail paid to recreating a moment in theatrical history. Even more so, by the defiant protestation from the creators of television programs that live stage performance once did and could still affect the course of history.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Twenty-Eighteen

Boxing Day, a day to assess, to look, forward, to make plans, to try and figure out where it’s all going.

I need to return to the regular habit of writing by hand every morning for thirty minutes. I used to think I need to create blocks of time -- hours, say, on a Saturday, to accomplish the writing. This is not practical, however, and was only rarely successful.

When I began writing longhand a little bit, every single day, the work mounted up. It was a highly productive time. But it takes discipline, and sleep, and each have been lacking the past two calendar years.

I have always written but since I began writing in earnest -- ten years ago -- the productions have begun, the publications followed, and the opportunity to engage and collaborate with numerous companies in town.

In the past year I had my third publication (The Secret Adversary at YouthPLAYS) revamped by website (Thank you, Dreamhost Remixer) and created work presented at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage and Talespinner Children’s Theatre.

There are only a few things in the coming year that I am able to report, though I am in negotiation to revive previously produced works, and have made a few proposals for the coming season.

Chennelle Bryant-Harris and I are co-writing a new play, The Lost Diary, inspired by a notorious piece of white supremacist fiction. A fragment of this new work will be workshopped as part of Entry Point at Cleveland Public Theatre, January 18 - 20.

Also, this coming month, the Chattanooga Theatre Centre will present a three-week run of my adaptation of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, January 26 - February 11.

In addition to new writing (and there exists new writing) one thing I have wanted to do is return to old writing. It is not necessary, of course, to bring every old idea to some kind of fruition, you could go mad doing that.

But there are certain pieces which went through considerable revision and even successful workshops which were abandoned for other projects. These Are The Times was one of these, and I was very happy to return to that this past summer. There are one or two of those abandoned piece to which I would like to return.

Best wishes to you in all your endeavors in the coming year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Top Ten Events of 2017

Washington D.C., January 21, 2017.
So, you thought 2016 was some kind of horrorshow. That was nothing.

Our national government has embraced kleptocracy, sciatica has had me entirely sidelined from running, and in spring, my father-in-law was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. He passed away last Wednesday. My beautiful wife has spent several weeks out of town this fall, caring for him and for my mother-in-law, our children managing to keep their chins up through fall semester.

Twenty-seventeen has not been my favorite year, either.

And yet, it was worth it, and it is necessary to take stock, and remember those moments which make life worth living and keep me moving forward. In chronological order, my top ten events of 2017.

1. The Women’s March

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose … and "feminist" was not a word my (then) thirteen year-old daughter threw around until the evening of November 8, 2016 when she was surprised and shocked to learn she lives in a country where an admitted sexual predator could be elected by enough people in enough states to become president.

Holding down the fort Inauguration weekend while the xx contingent of our nuclear family caravanned with thousands of others to Washington D.C. for this event was the first in many salvos against the current administration -- and for something greater. My daughter's penchant to be outspoken and artistic will be tried in the months and years to come, but how much more proud could I be?

The company of Red Onion, White Garlic
2. Red Onion, White Garlic

Five American women in hijab told a simple Indonesian story of sisters and womenhood in Red Onion, White Garlic, which I wrote for Talespinner Children's Theatre. Like so many other stories of basic decency this year, it is remarkable that just their telling stands out as a protest against the status quo. What does that say about the status quo?

3. Reception

Recent events have made it necessary to put our weekly salon on hiatus. However, most Sundays this year we have opened our doors for friends to join us for two hours to share and talk. It is a simple social event which has brought people into our home in a way unique to this time and place in history.

4. Artists’ Rehabilitation Coalition

Experiencing the women of the Northeast Reintegration Center perform a one-hour adaptation of Macbeth was an inspiring evening, demonstrating the transformative power of art and language. Anyone can interpret the work of Shakespeare, tell their story through it, and own it.

5. Weddings

The father with the bride.
It had been five years since I had performed a wedding. This summer, I had the opportunity to conduct two. We also attended a third. All Millennials (and one Gen Xer) cousins and friends in their thirties (and Doug) all stylish and smart. Nick and Tara in Aurora, IL. Doug and Carrie at the 78th Street Studios. And Nick & Adrienne in Athens.

When Chris, my father-in-law, took a serious turn in August, the great, unspoken fear was that he would not be alive to attend his daughter Adrienne’s wedding on September 9. But he did. He rallied. And the father danced with the bride, which may be been the greatest moment of the entire year, or any year.

6. Road Trips

The wedding in Chicagoland invited an extended stay in the City of Big Shoulders. We also decided not only to stop in Salem on our way to Friendship, MA, but to stay for a while, and really take in the history. My wife and I have always felt intensely grateful that our children really do like to be with us and do things with us, even now as they slouch in adolescence.

Aware that these road trips, along with events unfolding in Athens, would necessitate hours upon hours in her car, the wife got a satellite radio subscription. The fact that most commercial music stations in America are now all owned by the same corporation, there is no longer any joy or interest in picking up local radio stations.

One late evening, as we were passing through Indiana on our way home from Chicago, we caught Billy Idol’s SiriusXM program Live Transmission. That evening was his tribute to women rockers and it was all about the strength of the music. It was awesome and also touching. Thanks, man.

7. Heights High

Old friends, new school.
Watching my own daughter step into the beautifully restored and expanded Cleveland Heights High School was a moment of personal and civic pride. In the days and weeks since we have had many opportunities to enter, experience and share with our community all of the amazing and outstanding work our students have to offer.

8. A walk with Julie

It was a surprise to discover how popular folks would find my blog post account of one night, walking, talking, and drinking with an former college girlfriend. Hundreds read it within the first day it was posted. Reflecting upon that evening was a sweet reminder of simple gifts in difficult times.

9. Lydia’s Graduation

My niece graduated from the University of Winchester this October. It has been a long time since I have traveled to Britain. Ten years, actually. It’s become so expensive to travel. My eighty-two year-old mother was planning to go, and we have agreed to disagree whether I invited myself along for the journey, or if I offered to escort her there, which are two very different ways of looking at it.

My brother in Minnesota also met up with us in London, before the long drive to Kent. My brother Henrik’s family now reside in Yalding, the kind of rural English town that gets sent up so much in old BBC situation comedies and the works of Alan Ayckbourn. Folks at work asked if I was going to take in any theater when I was in England and I told them I was not going to England, I was going to Yalding.

Yet, it was a marvelous time, in spite of the fact that I missed my own wife and children terribly. It was not the year to be away from them like this, but when is? I was very happy to see Lydia receive her degree in Winchester Cathedral, where Jane Austen is lain to rest, and we all had some marvelous evenings talking about every little thing.

The best part, I think was all the travel I got to do with my own mother, who really is a wonderful person, and one that I have to admit I have gotten to know a lot better since my father died.

Photo: Steve Wagner
10. The Santaland Diaries

I do not take the opportunity to perform very often. I prefer to write, but I miss being onstage sometimes and there are those who say I am good at it. When Cleveland Public Theatre asked me to take a turn as Crumpet in David Sedaris’s least favorite play (look it up) I knew would regret saying no.

As it turned out, during this time of holiday cheer and personal sorrow, walking on stage to interpret this classic American monologue -- and doing it my way -- was a great relief, distraction, and challenge. It was also fun.

Happy holidays to you and yours, however you spend them, and best wishes for a new year of great events worth sharing.