Friday, November 17, 2017

The Santaland Diaries (2017)

Photo by Steve Wagner
It happened last month in a cottage in Yalding, England, where I received an email from Beth Wood at Cleveland Public Theatre, asking if I would not like to perform the stage adaptation of The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris and Joe Mantello.

For several years now, CPT has produced this holiday favorite. The Santaland Diaries is one of the most produced plays in America, and has consistently been for over a decade, so much so that American Theatre magazine has stopped including it in their annual list of most-produced plays.

Actors who have played the role in Cleveland include Ray Caspio, Kevin Joseph Kelly and (for Bad Epitaph) Curtis D. Proctor.

I was excited to have been asked. So, I have spent the past several weeks rehearsing with director Eric Schmeidl, who played the role of "Crumpet the Elf" himself for CPT three years ago. I love working with Eric, who has previously directed me in The Velocity of Autumn at Beck Center, and Night Bloomers for Dobama.

When I first announced the production and my place in it on Facebook the other day, I was delighted by the strong and happy response. I was inspired to put out a call for questions, because folks were so curious about my finally playing Crumpet the Elf. Here are my responses.

Q: Explain the juxtaposition of tragedy and comedy in this this line; "Today a child told Santa Ken that he wanted his dead father back and a complete set of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Everyone wants those turtles."

A: Actually, Donald, I think the line speaks for itself. The line you should be asking about is; "I am a thirty-three year-old man applying for a job as an elf," and how exactly I am going to play that when I am certainly long past thirty-three. 

For this production, and in fact when Eric himself performed the role in 2014, there is a set piece which makes it clear this play takes place in the past -- 1989, to be exact -- and that we are treating it as a memory play.

When first produced in Cleveland at Bad Epitaph Theatre in 1999, we tried updating the couple line. The boy wanted Pokemon cards. When I directed the show at Beck Center in 2002 the boy wanted a "SpongeBob SquarePants BackPack. Everybody loves SpongeBob.

You have to admit, "Everybody loves SpongeBob," is a funny thing to say. But now we leave the line as is.

Q: Have you seen David Sedaris in person and what did you think?

A: Good question, David. Sedaris read at the Ohio Theatre in 2000 when he was promoting his collection of essays "Me Talk Pretty One Day." He was on a certain medication and at one point had to ask the audience if it was all right to take a much needed pee-break, and we all thought that was fine.

Q: What's your favorite emoticon?

A: đźŽ…

Q: Reflect on being a writer who creates and performs autobiographical one-person shows performing another writer's autobiographical one-person shows.

A: Insightful query, Phil. Yes, I have written and performed my own solo shows, "I Hate This" and "And Then You Die." Standing on stage and talking for an hour without interruption is not unfamiliar to me. Those who are close me are no doubt aware that sitting in bars and talking for an hour without interruption is also not unfamiliar to me. 

It is perhaps because of these stage experiences that, while I had a few concerns about whether to accept the offer, actually being able to perform the piece wasn't one of them. I have at least that much ego.

Performing someone else's story, especially one as lighthearted as this, is particularly liberating. I just need to say the words and it's funny. Sedaris is really good that way. But it is also a thrill channeling my own feelings through the words. I don't have to play a character. Just as with those other solo plays, I still get to be myself. 

Q: Compare and contrast your Crumpet with Eric Schmiedl's Crumpet. I'm assuming you have seen Eric Schmiedl's Crumpet, yes?

A: No.

Q: How did you levitate that box (see photo)?

A: Well, Carolyn, how do you know that box is not slowly floating down into my loving arms, like a drunken cherub? 

Q: Have you ever actually worked in a retail store during the holiday season?

A: Thanks for asking, Nina, though your use of the word "actually" makes me a little defensive. 

I am happy to report that almost every Christmas season since 1991, I have been employed by one theater company or another. This means my holiday contributions to society have included productions like "Stealing Christmas" (Karamu 1991), "The Wayward Angel" (Bad Epitaph 2000), "Adventures In Slumberland" (Talespinner Children's Theatre, 2013), educational programs surrounding Great Lakes Theater's annual production of "A Christmas Carol" and that Yuletide favorite, "Simpatico" by Sam Shepard (Dobama Theatre, 1995).

However, during my college years I had several holiday jobs in mail rooms, wholesale outlet stores, performing data entry, and packaging and labeling volatile chemicals. I have also had my turn as a server at several restaurants, but have never "actually" worked retail during the holiday season.  

Q: What's with the knickers?

A: Yes, Halle. The knickers are satiny and very comfortable.

Q: Where?

A: The Outcalt Theatre at Playhouse Square, 1407 Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, Susan! See you there!

(Many thanks to Blayne, Bob, Carolyn, David, Donald, Halle, Nina, Phil, and Susan for all the great questions!)

Cleveland Public Theatre presents "The Santaland Diaries" at the Outcalt Theatre in Playhouse Square, December 6 - 17, 2017

Friday, November 3, 2017

My Friend Dahmer (film)

Local comics legend Derf (see: The City) composed a cartoon memoir of his high school years in the late 1970s and his association with serial murderer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer.

That book, My Friend Dahmer has gone on to international acclaim, been translated into a several languages, and on Friday a motion-picture adaptation starring Ross Lynch as Dahmer goes into general release.

Derf has been and will be accused of cashing in on a horrific tragedy, but that charge can more reasonably be made of previous made-for-TV films which capitalized on the gruesome and inhuman acts performed by Dahmer during the years of his crimes. This story has as much to do with the psychology of a would-be-but-not-yet killer as with the world which fostered his desires and compulsions, and provided the opportunity to make his fantasies come to fruition.

As one of the more self-pitying members of Generation X, I have loudly and at length whined about the disastrous effect the 1970s had on its children, when media was skewed entirely toward the interests of rising Baby Boomers. Our television programs and films churned out tales of easy sex, transient relationships, and graphic violence, while popular music dwelt on maudlin thoughts and liberal mores, and no one was looking after the kids.

From "My Friend Dahmer" the graphic novel by Derf
Two months ago I surprised the wife for her birthday by taking her to a sold-out, pre-release screening at the Cleveland Cinematheque. I am excited for Derf, and hope My Friend Dahmer, the film, receives the attention I believe it deserves.

The film captures that late 70s mood without fetishizing it, as so many contemporary films do. The suburban torpor of a nation in decline, and the effect that has on its citizens, especially the young people is on full display.

Derf has often suggested that his book is an indictment of the adults who failed in their responsibility, providing no oversight, and in this way allowing a neglected, alienated monster to come to life. Dahmer may have been destined, either through fate or natural design, to become a murderous sociopath. But why did no one see the signs?

The screenwriter and director Marc Meyers made the decision not to employ a narrator. Derf comments on the proceedings in his novel through the use of captions, and in this way he himself leads us through the narrative. We are never alone with Jeffrey Dahmer. Without narration, Dahmer's increasing isolation from humanity (portrayed hauntingly by Lynch) is ours to witness in isolation.

It is this emotional connection -- not sympathy, which is feeling, but empathy, which is understanding -- that makes the final scene of the film so chilling. I won't spoil it for you. It's enough to say that in any other film, it would be moment of triumph, and of celebration. Our main character finally knows who he is.

And he is free.

"My Friend Dahmer" makes its Cleveland premiere at the Capitol Theatre next Friday, November 10, 2017.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Assessment

It has been two years since I wrote an assessment, which has been a useful tool to reassure myself that, in spite of any sense of inertia, the work continues.

Last week there was a reading of These Are The Times which was very productive, and when I have a moment I will be able to tweak a few things and then, if you can imagine, I will finally be able to begin the submission process. And it only took eight years!

Meanwhile, I composed a piece for Grand Rounds: Four 10-Minute Plays, which will be performed on December 6th at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage as part of the exhibit Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews In Medicine.

Just yesterday I was a "Writer In the Window" at Appletree Books, brainstorming a writing collaboration with my colleague Chennelle which will make its formative debut in early 2018, and tomorrow evening rehearsals begin for a play I will be performing in, to be announced.

Basically, after months feeling a bit adrift, November is packed. Suddenly, I have no time. And you know what? That is a good thing. When I am pressed I am most productive, which is stupid but there it is.

What is not good is how I have almost entirely stopped exercising. Nerve pain has made working out this past summer less than fun, but the fact is I have not gone for a run in over a month. Seriously, October 1 was my last time out. I haven't run so little since 2011, when I was taking antidepressants.

But the kids are all right. My education work is meaningful and sustaining. What I most need is to (literally) get off my ass, and move.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened (documentary)

Lonny Price, Ann Morrison and Jim Walton
(Merrily We Roll Along, 1981)
A documentary on the creation of Hamilton would, of course, be very exciting, especially if you are a fan of Hamilton.

But it wouldn't have much of a dramatic arc, would it? Acclaimed young theater artist sets out to create a musical based on the life of a little-regarded figure from American history ... and he succeeds.

Wouldn't you be more interested in the creation of Moose Murders?

Well, they haven't made that film yet. But I remember seeing Moon Over Broadway, the Pennebaker/Hegedus documentary about the creation of Ken Ludwig's farce, Moon Over Buffalo. That production, though an eventual success, was initially hampered by set-backs and interpersonal tension which makes for compelling backstage drama.

Netflix, which has apparently cornered the market on quirky, at-home theatrical events like the Disney musical Newsies and Oh Hello On Broadway, has made available Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened. Directed by Lonny Price, this is a film about the original and ill-fated 1981 production of Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along. Mr. Price knows a great deal on the subject, as he was one of that production's starring performers.

Time has been extremely kind to Merrily We Roll Along, and several Sondheim's standards were created for it, including "Old Friends," "Our Time," and "Not a Day Goes By."

Adapted from the 1931, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart classic of the same name, the story follows the lives of a trio of friends, writers and performers, from aspirational youth to jaded success and disappointment-- only going backwards, scene by scene, from middle-age to college graduation.

Sondheim's musical follows this same reverse-chronological timeline. As if that conceit weren't challenging enough, the Broadway premiere of was cast with a team of very young performers, to play aged at the beginning of the play, and younger as they go.

When the production closed after only sixteen performances, we can lament the end of the professional team of Stephen Sondheim and director Hal Prince … but you know they've done just fine. What of the company, the eldest only twenty-five, and some as young as sixteen?

Joseph Dunn
(These Are The Times, 2013)
Their lives in the time since may provide meaningful solace to those given to regret of the road not traveled. The lead performers went on to good lives as actors, educators, and journalists … but even Merrily company member Jason Alexander, featured performer in the wildly successful sit-com Seinfeld, even he has regrets over the failure of this important first work in their careers.

I was describing the documentary to my twelve year-old son as I walked him to the bus stop this morning. "Huh," he said. "Sounds like the plot of the musical."

Tomorrow night I host a private reading of a newly revised version of These Are The Times, my Cleveland history play which received a workshop at Cleveland Public Theatre almost five years ago.

The first act of Times is presented as a Federal Theater Project “Living Newspaper,” presenting the events of 1936 -- and in the 2013 workshop these events also occur in reverse-chronological order, as in Kaufman & Hart’s Merrily We Roll Along, which was produced at the Cleveland Play House that year. There's even a reference to the Play House production during one scene in the act, as if explaining that show would give the conceit additional clarity.

“It’s just too complicated to tell a story backwards,” laments Hal Prince in Best Worst Thing.

In the newly revised version, my first act now proceeds in proper chronological order. Note taken, Mr. Prince. Note taken.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Shakespeare On Stage

The Dark Lady of the Sonnets
with Magdalyn Donnelly & Anne McEvoy
Great Lakes Theater
I am tired of Shakespeare.

Not tired of his work, that I am still quite fond of. I am tired of William Shakespeare, the man. A man about whom we know less than we know about any other individual about whom we have decided it is important to know things.

We know where he was born (not exactly when, though) when he died, a little bit about his family, and that he wrote thirty-eight plays. Respectable scholars are even still debating about that last bit.

For someone about whom we know nothing, there is an ever-expanding industry in making shit up about him. Each biography gets fatter than the last, containing greater amounts of conjecture, and the slightest potential new discovery turns out to be inconsequential or downright fantasy.

Someone found a painting in Canada twenty years ago of a young man, the artifact carbon-dated to the late 16th century. Bares a slight resemblance to Shakespeare, must be him.

More recently, however, is the cottage industry in stage plays, films or TV shows in which Shakespeare the man is a character. It began, more or less, with George Bernard Shaw, who wrote not one but two plays featuring the Bard in a lead role.

Oh, look. Shaw is lecturing.
Shakes vs. Shav (1949) is a ten-minute script which was written to be performed by marionette puppets in which the two famous playwrights argue over who is the better writer.

The Frogs, adapted from Aristophanes by Stephen Sondheim and Burt Shevelove in 1974, stole the "Shakespeare-against-Shaw" debate conceit entirely, drawing it out and making it much less amusing. But I digress.

Decades earlier Shaw wrote The Dark Lady of the Sonnets (1910) which was created expressly to promote the idea of England creating a federally-funded theater, which they eventually did with the National Theatre, though Shaw never lived to see it.

Dark Lady runs about a half-hour, and presents a blocked Shakespeare creeping around the streets of London after hours, searching for his mistress (about whom he writes in the Sonnets) and stealing inspiring snatches of dialogue from passersby for use in his future works. He eventually runs into not only his “dark lady” but also a sleepwalking Queen Elizabeth I, whom he first mistakes for his love. Comedy ensues.

The last third of this short play concerns Will’s efforts to persuade the Queen to establish what he calls a “national theater.” Most of the wit, however, involves the phrases uttered by the night watchman, the “dark lady” and the Queen herself -- familiar from Shakespeare’s canon-- which the frustrated playwrights jots down in a notebook for inclusion in his plays later. So the comedy depends upon these lines being familiar to the audience.

Mr. Shakespeare
Are you familiar with the phrase, “Frailty, thy name is woman”?

Perhaps you are.

“All the perfumes of Arabia”?

Yes, no? What is it from?

How about, “a snapper up of unconsidered trifles”?

No, of course you aren’t. Even I had to look that up.

Great Lakes produced Dark Lady for the outreach tour in 2006, and I played the role of Shakespeare. This was not a stretch, I had been playing the role of “Mr. Shakespeare” as a promotional gimmick for the company for two years by that point, making public appearances at art festival and rib cook-offs. I was their “unofficial mascot” for seven years. The costume shop created for me a beautiful, velvet doublet in the company’s signature purple.

The thing I learned performing Dark Lady … it isn’t funny. I mean, it would be, if the audience were composed entirely of those well-versed in the canon. Ever see The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)? It’s not funny because of references to Shakespeare. It’s funny because there’s a stoner in a dress and they rap Othello.

Actually, Complete Works isn’t funny, either. But I digress.

But therein lies the problem with plays about Shakespeare. We know nothing about him, we feign familiarity with him through his work, and inevitably we lean on the work itself to carry the narrative the pathos, and the humor.

Yeah, I saw Something Rotten. It’s funny, if it’s funny, because of the song about musicals. But "Will Power" is really painful to sit through. I know the idea of Shakespeare as a rock star is the joke, but is it? There’s this pretentious notion, flouted by complete nerds, that the man from Stratford was some kind of celebrity in his own time. Listening to Adam Pascal (who played him at the Palace) growl through “shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” like some kind of Jim Morrison or something isn’t funny, it’s embarrassing.

It’s like that SNL sketch where Lin-Manuel Miranda plays a substitute teacher at a high school, determined to turn the kids onto how cool Shakespeare is, and they’ve heard it all before.


That’s actually part of a play I wrote once for an educational outreach tour, comparing verse to rap music. It was very awful and I will never mention it again.

Which brings us to the most produced American play of the 2017-18 season (as determined by American Theater) Shakespeare In Love, adapted for the stage by Lee Hall, from the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard.



As in the film, this is a purely fictionalized tale of a young William Shakespeare, like so many of us in the mid-90s (in his case, the 1590s) slacking and suffering writer’s block. He’s trying to write a new play titled Romeo & Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter. A great deal of the charm and interest hangs on seeing Shakespeare as fallible, flawed, with the same passions and potential for falling short as the rest of us. Kind of the way he’s represented in The Dark Lady of the Sonnets.

He has to work at writing, it doesn’t come easy. The best stuff is taken whole cloth from someone else (kind of like in Dark Lady) in this case usually Kit Marlowe.

Rhys Ifan as Edward de Vere
Anonymous (2011)
And just as with Dark Lady, over one hundred years earlier, much humor is dependent upon the audience being well-versed in Shakespeare. When I was in an audience for the Cleveland Play House production they definitely enjoyed the dog, while somewhat familiar Shakespearean allusions  bounced awkwardly off their heads in silence.

When Will is asked for new pages of the script and he promises them “tomorrow and tomorrow” and his producer adds, “... and tomorrow?” there was a general is somewhat delayed chuckle of recognition and the woman behind me tittered, mumbling, “heh heh, ‘creeps in this petty pace…’”

I turned around and said, “oh, you got that one?”

Now, I enjoyed the film of Shakespeare In Love, too. But I also enjoyed Anonymous, which tells an alternative history based on a popular conspiracy theory that the works of Shakespeare were actually written by Edward de Vere, a nobleman about whom there is a deep and rich biography available. A man who was actually once captured by pirates.

HE WAS CAPTURED BY PIRATES.

My colleagues who abhor such theories dismiss that film out of hand, because it’s utter nonsense. One critic even pointed out that a flashback from the mid-1500s featuring the young de Vere performing a scene from “his” A Midsummer Night’s Dream was preposterous because there is no possible way Dream could have been written before the early 1590s.

Yeah, well? Shakespeare In Love is how the man from Stratford created the story to Romeo & Juliet, based on his own personal romantic experiences, when Arthur Brooke’s poem "Romeus and Juliet" had been in heavy circulation since 1562, and even that is not the original tale.

But Shakespeare In Love is a comedy, Anonymous is meant to be taken seriously.

Really. Is it?

Shakespeare In Love
Charlie Thurston as Will Shakespeare
Cleveland Play House
Photo credit: Roger Mastroianni
But what about the children, they cry. Someone might see Anonymous and think that it’s true. Yes, and I am sure there are those who believe Shakespeare In Love is true -- not in it’s every particular, but in the larger sense that the playwright and poet William Shakespeare was charming, passionate, and had lots of friends. Only he didn't.

The real reason people want to believe Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare's plays is because he is the kind of exciting character we want William Shakespeare to be. Only he wasn't.

Couldn't we at least, then, present the unfaithful horn dog in Shakespeare In Love, a man who spends far more time partying and having sex than actually writing, as the opportunistic, litigious, status-obsessed striver with the weak chin, beady-eyes and receding hairline that the available historical record makes evident?

Instead we get another fictional yet admittedly extremely handsome, roguish-yet-self-effacing charmer, like the one who played him in the CPH production, pictured here, resplendent in his beautiful, velvet doublet.

Wait. Where did you get that doublet?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Hurricane (song)

Let us now sing the praises of the lighting designer.

The most mercurial of theatrical craftspersons, the light designer, put simply, illuminates the space. This was an element of stagecraft of which I was entirely ignorant as I entered college. I had literally never considered what if any thought went into the lighting of a stage -- and I had even directed plays in high school. Someone else took care of it for me, and I remained uneducated.

I thought you just, well. Turned on the lights.

Light design was a course I took my freshman year and I began to understand color and shape and their countless variation. I learned what a gel was, could tell the difference between a Leko and a Fresnel (and how to pronounce them.) I developed a fetish for gobos. But my appreciation for light has been slow. It is always the very last thing I think of.

Touring I Hate This the very first thing I did was get rid of the bed special, a rectangular light which would appear when my character was in the hospital, and disappear when he wasn’t. It was impractical for such a basic tour. Video I needed, and sound. But just turn the lights on, a general wash, that will be fine. Light design is a luxury.

When Double Heart went from touring to the New York Fringe, someone reminded me that the tour never employs a light designer (general wash, please) and that we would need one for the Connelly. Couldn’t we just use some other show’s plot? Seriously, I wanted to get away with that. Lucky for me I’d met Cris a few years earlier, a professional designer living in New York and he was able and amenable not only to do the work, but made us all look so much lovelier in the production.

Double Heart tech rehearsal
Light design by Cris Dopher
Watching Hamilton at the Richard Rogers last summer was a bit of a blur, not least of which because we were seated high in the galleries, but the light made me see and appreciate a trope which got by me when first listening to the score, that of the eye.

The set for the production is deceptive in its simplicity, it is a big, open room. Tables and chairs are brought in, sometimes the mere suggestions of tables - a board held by company members - and so the light has a lot to do to set mood, to isolate areas of the stage, and people. And there are those two turntables which sweep people and set pieces around the stage, sometimes quite fast. The action swirls, and light swirls with it.

In the first act, when Washington first sings history has its eyes on me, the turntable is ringed with blue, but the unlit (black) center shrinks, and you realize you are seeing a great eye, the pupil constricting.

In the second act, this effect is mirrored when Hamilton sings “Hurricane.”

This used to be my least favorite song on the recording. There’s always that song in the second act, the low-point song (and yes, I know the show goes lower) which is slow, reflective, and usually, somnabulant. Lin-Manuel Miranda has a fine voice, but speaking honestly I feel he wrote this one for someone else to sing.

Lucky for us, someone else did sing it the night we were there, the incomparable Javier Muñoz, and it was downright operatic. But if the singing raised my estimation of the song and its place in the production, the choreography - and the light - gave the words the emotional weight which was intended.

As Hamilton is struggling with his choices as he confronts a potentially career-ending scandal, he recalls his childhood in St. Croix, and the hurricane which nearly destroyed the city. “In the eye of a hurricane,” he sings, “there is quiet - for just a moment. A yellow sky.”

The eye returns, a sickly yellow, dilating, slowly rotating circle. As he describes the chaos and destruction of the disaster, a tragedy whose record he created as a young teenager, and which record created the conditions for his education in colonial America, company members hoist and hold props and furniture - tables, quills, chairs, books, paper - and people, slowly and unnaturally held in the air and swept around the circle, caught in the maelstrom. Helpless.

The hurricanes come, and we prepare for them as best we can. What follows after is the definition of how successful and competent we are as a civilization. The current administration was swift to respond to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which struck Texas and Florida, respectively. But Trump’s response to Hurricane Maria, which devastated the American territory of Puerto Rico has been shamefully slow.

When President Trump chose to rage-tweet at San Juan Mayor Carmen YulĂ­n Cruz for criticizing these efforts, Miranda - the son of native Puerto Ricans - jumped into the fray.


This was surprising, because the artist is notably polite, positive, and generous on Twitter. After the curtain speech for Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, Miranda kept his cool, telling Terry Gross:
“I don’t get engage in a tweet battle with anybody. Twitter is optional, y'all!” 
It is a fine show of character not to respond to personal insults directed at one’s self. But the president’s drawing politics into this humanitarian crisis was apparently a step too far, and Miranda’s response has made headlines.

You, too, can assist, Miranda has been promoting the Hispanic Federation, which has two funds that are going directly to on-the-ground relief in both Puerto Rico, and also in response to Mexico’s recent devastating earthquake. Donate today.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

How I Spent My Summer (2017)

Raising Cairn
Celeste Roberge, 2000
Portland Museum of Art
As summers go, this past was not as historic, nor as creatively productive. We won no basketball championships, directed no productions of Shakespeare, attended no theater festivals, nor were we present for the nomination of a tyrant.

I wrote no new plays.

But summers are important, they always have been and for different reasons. I still work, to be sure, but this is when vacations are had, and my wife and I do strive to make the most of those brief moments as we can. Once it was because our children needed attention and occupation, and now it is becoming increasingly apparent our summers with them as children are running out.

And she wonders why I am depressed this week.

Humming
Jaume Plensa, 2011
deCordova Scultpure Garden
The first major journey was to attend, and in my case, to officiate, a wedding for my wife’s cousin and his beautiful bride. Perhaps you didn’t know I am an ordained minister, but seriously, who isn’t these days? I needed to register with the state to conduct ceremonies in Ohio, in Illinois they don’t ask. Are you in good standing with your church? Well, you better be, that’s the only thing they have to say about it.

We turned this delightful event, held in Aurora, into an extended stay in the Chicagoland. Funny, I set one of my recent works in suburban Chicago, though I’d never really spent any time there. Just research. Passing through and investigating those sites I thought appropriate, I was not disappointed. I tried to imagine my characters there. They must have been happy once.

The weather in Chicago was perfect, we did the architecture tour, saw the Neo-Futurists, spent a whole day at the Museum of Science and Industry. I had my own memories of that place from when I was a kid, I was probably there more for myself them for them.

A Sunday Afternoon On
the Island of La Grande Jette

Georges Seurat, 1886
Chicago Institute of Art
In July, I bought a new car.

Our schedule fell out so that we needed to be in town by August 1 for my daughter to begin soccer practice, so we barely got Boy Camp in before it was time to leave for the east coast, this year spending several days in Salem, MA before continuing on to Friendship.

Between the Art Institute back in Chicago and the deCordova and Peabody Essex in Massachusetts, we spent much leisurely time at art museums, both indoor and out. Our time in Maine, however, was brief. Before long we were heading back, a stop in Concord to meet friends and check out the grave sites of famous authors before making our way back home.

Throughout the summer there were macaroni and cheese topped burgers at the Speedtrap Diner, deep dish at Navy Pier, drop-dead ramen at Kokeshi, and our favorite waiter at Congress Bar & Grill. Also, I developed a strange obsession with Oh Hello, On Broadway on Netflix, which I watched at least three times.

Real Estate Goldmine
Joshua Starcher, 2017
Rooms To Let
After Maine, we still had all of August, which ended up being something of a blur, driving back and forth across the state. The truth is, a cloud has been hanging over us since the very beginning of the season, on what may have been the first unofficial day of this summer. It was a Saturday in late May, the kids were on a year-end, school-related Cedar Point trip, the wife and I had the day to ourselves and witnessed Rooms to Let in Slavic Village, the first of our many art-related summer explorations. It was while waiting for the kids to return on the bus that we received the call.

It’s personal. It’s family-related. I don’t want to go into it right now. It is enough for now to say I have been looking at things more closely at things this summer, and finding them horribly beautiful.