Thoughts on the conclusion of the FTC production ‘Blithe Spirit’

November 5, 2014 Leave a comment

I just finished doing my fourth play since returning to theater as a hobby in 2012. This past weekend we wrapped up a three-week run of the British comedy Blithe Spirit. Being cast in it was a very pleasant surprise, as I saw several talented men audition for the two parts of Charles Condomine and Dr. George Bradman. Ashleigh, Kerry, J.D., Priscilla, Cindy, Dawn, Heidi and the rest of the backstage crew were all absolutely wonderful to work with.
 
I was cast as Dr. Bradman, which was an acting challenge for me in two ways: I’m an American, and it took a lot of work to speak in a decent English accent. And, while I might have played a doctor on the stage, I’m most certainly not a doctor. If someone from the audience had sustained an injury and someone else had screamed, “IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?!” and eyes had been cast upon me, my response would’ve been: “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on stage. Sorry.”
 
This play, like others, left me bittersweet at the conclusion. I was relieved to have more free time but also very sad to say goodbye to the crew. As friends, I grew very fond of them during the production and enjoyed chatting with them. With any luck, I’ll get to work with them again.
 
A few anecdotes from the play:
 
Right before I came on for my one and only scene in the second act, my wife Violet mentioned she’d accidentally destroyed my research paper on “Hyperplasia of the Abdominal Glands.” To this day, I still have no idea what hyperplasia is–even after googling it. 

The hardest part for me was pretending I had 20/20 vision. I’m very nearsighted (about 20/200 left eye, 20/400 right), but my glasses are too modern and since there was no suitable alternative, I did all nine performances without glasses. One particular worry of mine was that my squinting might be noticeable.

Dr. Bradman is a polite but, I’d say, somewhat arrogant man who’s very skeptical about the supernatural. I tried to play his skepticism as a nicer version Dr. Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary professor who’s very critical of creationism and intelligent design. As for the arrogance, I based Dr. Bradman on someone I once knew in Michigan.

Still, I wonder: what would Dr. Bradman have thought if he’d realized Madame Arcati wasn’t a charlatan and that Elvira and, later, Ruth, really did dwell in the afterlife realm?
 
All nine performances, I kept wondering: what IF the table falls off the stage? Thankfully, it never did.

Kudos to Paula Dean, who did the makeup for the crew and made it a very tolerable experience for me. I know some men like to wear makeup, but that’ll never be me. As soon as the performance is over, I wash it off.

In one performance, the seat of my pants ripped when I bent over to help pick up Madame Arcati. What did I do? Ignore it and continue. (During my hiatus until the second act, Nita Regester repaired it). If it had been noticeable, I probably would’ve ad-libbed something about needing to lose weight so I didn’t have to visit my tailor so often.

And speaking of ad libs:

In the previous production I was in, Little Shop of Horrors, I decided to do an ad-lib during the final performance. This time, I stuck with the script. In live theater, ad libs are best left for two cases: if you honestly can’t remember your line or if your fellow player forgets theirs and you see the need to step in, help them and get things going again. I think the best way to practice having to “step in” would be to have my sons read lines to me and then have them pick one at random, say nothing and look at me, as if they went blank.
 
Theater is something I’ll probably do only once a year due to being a single parent and the enormous amount of time required, but I may try to find ways to hang out there and stay involved since I consider the folks there my “second family.”

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Being humble

March 30, 2014 Leave a comment

I recently chatted with a dear friend from college about humility. Wonderful guy. We don’t agree on everything, but one thing I enjoy about him is his humility.

It made me think of some of the people I’ve known who were, um, not exactly humble. It also made me think of some celebrities who also aren’t humble. We can probably imagine.

There’s nothing wrong with being self-confident or having self-respect, but when those traits aren’t kept in check and are allowed to develop cultures that fester into ego and arrogance, that’s when it gets bad.

I tell my kids that being humble allows you to be able to relax and see things objectively instead of becoming overconfident, condescending and being unable–as the saying goes–to see the forest for the trees.

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A visit with Rube Waddell

March 16, 2014 Leave a comment

A big left-hander who pitched in the Major Leagues from 1897, 1898-1910, he was 193-143 lifetime. One has to wonder what his lifetime wins-against-losses record would’ve been if he’d been a more dependable player, not given to alcoholism or to what would be considered Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder today.

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Rube Waddell during his playing days.

His career earned run average of 2.16 and his 2,316 career strikeouts (six times, he led the league in strikeouts as a pitcher) are both astonishing, considering he pitched in the Deadball Era, when batters focused more on making contact with the ball and getting on base rather than trying to hit tape-measure home runs. 

The true irony of George Edward “Rube” Waddell was that he had little control over his personal behavior or his spending habits, but had excellent control of his fastballs and curveballs. Baseball managers, such as Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics, tolerated Rube because, when he was on, he was close to unhittable. Unfortunately, he was also high maintenance: he’d often show up late or not at all for scheduled starts, would leave a game abruptly to follow fire engines and was easily distracted by opponents.

And, on March 16, I got to meet him.

That day my sons and I went to Mission Burial Park South to visit the final resting place of Rube Waddell. He died in a sanitarium on April 1, 1914 at 37 of complications from pneumonia. Having no money, it’s been said Waddell would’ve been buried in a pauper’s grave if not for the generosity of Mack.

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A few weeks from now on April 1, 2014, it will mark the 100th anniversary of Waddell’s passing. His tombstone is an impressive large, vertical slab, about six feet tall. There is what appears to be a stone ball protruding out of the top. As I looked at the slab, weathered by time, I wondered how many people know this is the final resting place for a man who, for the first decade of the 20th century, was considered one of the top draws in Major League Baseball.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Waddell,” I said. “I’m sorry your life ended so soon. I read about your life and it sounds like you were very fun to watch play. I don’t know what your spiritual beliefs were, but I’d love to see you in heaven someday.”

Next time I visit, I think I’ll print out a picture of Waddell, laminate it and leave it there along with a baseball.

Richard Zowie’s favorite baseball team is the Houston Astros, Like Waddell, he is also left-handed. Post comments here or e-mail them to fromatozowie@gmail.com. 

Les Misérables–that’s about miserable people singing in French, right?

March 12, 2014 Leave a comment

This past weekend, I and the rest of the very talented cast at Fredericksburg Theater Company finished a three-week run of the comedy-horror musical Little Shop of Horrors. In it, I had two parts: as Customer #1 and in the Skid Row chorus.

This is the third play I’ve been in since revitalizing my hobby for acting a few years ago. When I lived in Michigan, I was Protean #2 in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and then Sam Hendrix in Wait Until Dark.

Even then, I have a lot to learn about theatrical plays. I remember googling Forum a week or two before auditions, since I had no earthly clue what it was about.

In fact, there are a lot of famous plays that I know little about. Here’s a sampling of how I’d describe them.

Death of a Salesman — I saw the TV version with Dustin Hoffman. I remember a salesman going insane, talking to himself a lot and then wrecking his car.

Les Misérables — A bunch of miserable French people. They can, however, sing pretty well.

Phantom of the Opera — A phantom wears a mask and haunts an opera. He’s bitter because his plastic surgery went horribly wrong.

Hello, Dolly! — A man who can sing very well wants very much to meet Dolly Parton.

Meet Me in St. Louis — Duh! Two people meet in St. Louis. I’m guessing, though, that catching a Cardinals game isn’t the reason why.

La Cage aux Folles — Gay men dress in drag and sing, marveling at how often final consonants are ignored in French. I remember watching something on TV where a man sings the number “I am who I am”. He proceeded to sing he didn’t “give a damn” about something, and then concluded the number by tossing his wig into the crowd and marching off the stage.

Kinky Boots — A man puts on a pair of boots that serve as a natural aphrodisiac. Other than that, all I know is Harvey Fierstein wrote it.

A Chorus Line — A bunch of people audition for a musical. They all want in very badly. They have lots of issues.

Honk! — Geese fly through the air and sing about how superior they are to ducks. (They aren’t, by the way).

The Dining Room — A family gathers for dinner and each proceeds to talk about their favorite and least-favorite dishes. The consensus is that everybody likes enchiladas but nobody likes liver and onions.

The Book of Mormon — This two-person play consists of two young men–dressed in slacks, short-sleeved dress shirts and ties–arriving on stage riding bicycles. They then proceed to read passages from the Book of Mormon and then order the doors locked: NOBODY leaves until at least half the crowd agrees to serve as a Mormon on the mission field.

Richard Zowie loves acting and being a smart aleck. He blames The Annoying Orange. Post comments here or e-mail them to fromatozowie@gmail.com. 

5k yesterday, 10k today

February 1, 2014 Leave a comment

Last month at work, I was sent to get pictures of people walking in Fredericksburg for a Volkssport event. They walk, they get credit for it.

I was given two maps of the routes: one was for a 5K (three miles to those who rely on the English system of measurements) and another for a 10K (about six miles). I then went out and took pictures of people walking. Some pics turned out not too bad.

And as I took pictures, I thought, Why not walk these routes also as a way of getting exercise?

Friday was a short day at work, so I drove downtown and walked the 5K. It wasn’t too bad, although I was sweaty and a little sore afterwards.

Today, I faced a decision: walk the 5K again or be adventurous and try the 10K?

Something possessed me to try the 10K. I think I was just in the mood to try a longer route to help burn more calories and work towards my goal of losing 120 pounds (I currently weigh 276 and have lost almost 14 pounds; my target weight is about 160).

So, I walked.

As I walked, I made sure to consult the map a few times so as to not get lost. The skies were somewhat overcast, making me glad I wore my hat.

Along the way, I took brief breaks to relax and enjoy the scenery. A few times I saw squirrels, my second-favorite animal. I also had to stop for traffic. At one point, as a biker and his girlfriend were stopped at a light, I hurried on the crosswalk, noticed some debris on the road (it was one of those reflectors they embed into the asphalt, but it somehow became loose), picked it up and tossed it off the road into a pile of dirt. The biker smiled and nodded at me, and I did the same back to him. Those guys have far less margin of error than cars do when it comes to obstructions on the road.

About halfway through the journey my hips and shins began to ache. Around that point I walked a path through a cemetery called Der Stadt Friedhof (according to Google translate: “The City Cemetery”) where lots of Germans from long ago were buried. 

I walked. and walked, and walked. A few dogs barked at me, no doubt thinking I was a cyborg. I also said hello to a few fellow walkers. And at one point, I noticed four women walking about 100 yards in front of me. My age. I tried to catch up but traffic slowed me down. C’est la vie

I was finally able to finish, and it felt great to sit in my car and relax. I started wondering if I should try a 10K again and felt maybe I should save those for when I’m doing more and more walking.

So, in my weekends off I keep thinking I should do a 5K and then maybe do a longer walk around town where I just walk and not worry about how long it’ll take.

Will I walk tomorrow? If I can talk my legs and knees into it.

Post comments here or e-mail them to fromatozowie@gmail.com. 

From A to Zowie review of ‘Iron Man 3′

On Friday, May 3, my two youngest sons and I went to see the latest installment in the Iron Man saga–Iron Man 3.

I like this series a lot. At home I own the first two movies, including the first one in a special-edition DVD.

Despite my busy schedule lately, I was able to watch this movie without falling asleep. Still, I think it might’ve been easier to follow if read the comic book series it is based off of.

In this installment, our hero Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is now in a relationship with his manager/assistant, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow). His latest enemy is actually a group of enemies headed by Mandarin (as it turns out, played by Guy Pearce, one of the true underappreciated actors in Hollywood). Stark appears to be some human villain who through a science experiment can regenerate himself from injuries. Stark and Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle) work together to take on Mandarin and, ultimately, try to save the president.

I should probably stop there since to discuss more would give away plot points.

What I liked about Iron Man 3: Very gripping as Tony lets his ego get the better of him and then has to rely on others to help him in his quest. Pearce does a great job as a bad guy seeking revenge for having been slighted. And the Iron Man suit continues to evolve in ways that lead to fascinating surprises. Many of the plot lines were very gripping.

What I didn’t like about Iron Man 3: I LOVED the first movie, liked the second one but felt this one lagged in ways. By the end of the movie, I was telliing my sons, “I REALLY hope there’s no Iron Man 4.” It’s as if the story went from a job to a quick walk as it crossed the finish line.

Overall, I liked Iron Man 3. I hope they stay with a trilogy. We’ll see.

Post comments here or e-mail them to fromatozowie@gmail.com.

 

From A to Zowie reviews ‘Django Unchained’

If this review seems late, it’s because I rarely have the time to go to the theater to watch first-run movies and since I’m not a “professional film critic”, I don’t get free passes.

I am a Quentin Tarantino fan, so, despite Spike Lee’s boycott of Django Unchained, I decided I had to watch it on DVD.

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Django centers around Django, a slave (Jamie Foxx) who in Texas in 1858 is freed by a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, who is actually Austrian) for the purpose of helping Dr. Schultz locate three men. These men have a connection to Django’s wife, so the bounty hunter becomes a partner with Django to not only collect the bounty, but also to free Django’s wife.

Lots of shooting, including graphic sprays of blood, flesh and tissue, and a prolific use of the N-word. Unfortunately, as historians will tell us, in the American South in 19th century America, the N-word was very commonly used. Sometimes as a way to refer to African-Americans and also as a very derogatory term. I suspect that even without the comic book-style, over-the-top blood and gore that tends to be a staple of Tarantino films, the movie could’ve received an R rating alone for the N-word and other profanities.

The movie also has another unsettling truth about antebellum Southern America. Slave owners would amuse themselves by pitting muscular slaves in a fight to the death. I suppose the strongest was rewarded with the opportunity to mate with any women he wanted for the purpose of producing strong slave offspring.

If you don’t want spoilers, don’t read any further in this paragraph: Django gets his wife back but it comes at the expense of Dr. Schultz’ death. Quentin Tarantino makes a brief cameo and then Django, to ensure he and his wife are able to escape, blows up the plantation of the recently-murdered plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

With that…

What I liked about Django: It featured bit roles by a few actors I have soft spots for, including Don Johnson as Big Daddy and M.C. Gainey as Big John Brittle. Gainey, a Mississippi native, was a fitting casting choice. Johnson showed that while his career has cooled considerably since his Miami Vice days, he is indeed a brilliant actor. And, yes, so is DiCaprio.

Waltz again was wonderful as a character who is so charming you forget how cunning and dangerous he can be.

And, yes, I thought the scene where the KKK struggle to put on their masks was. Absolutely. HILARIOUS!!!

Samuel L. Jackson goes very much against type as the head house slave. Seeing him subservient to whites in a convincing way really showed how great an actor he is. And, yes, he even gets to drop his favorite profane line in the movie.

What I did not like about Django: A few times, a man gets shot right in the groin. Ugh. I hate seeing that. America has probably become desensitized to this due to all the stupid America’s Funniest Videos of men getting nailed in their happy spot, but for me it’s something I care not to see.

I can’t quite describe it, but this movie just didn’t flow with the excitement of Kill Bill or Inglourious Basterds. With those movies, I could not wait to see what happened next. With Django, I didn’t have a strong, itching desire to watch the movie in one setting.

The movie goes down as not my favorite QT film, but I don’t get Lee’s criticism. He finds it disrespectful of African-Americans during their time of slavery. Well, in the movie the antagonists are the slave owners, and many of them and their henchmen meet their doom in gory ways. Not to mention, according to his time on the show Who Do You Think You Are?, Lee actually has a white slave owner ancestor. Perhaps Lee just found the underlying dark humor distasteful.

Overall, I offer two thoughts.

One, Django Unchained wasn’t too bad a film. Not one I will add into my DVD library someday, but a decent film nonetheless.

Two, Spike Lee is jealous with Tarantino because Lee’s star is declining in Hollywood. Anyone care to guess the last time Lee directed a movie that actually made money? Back around 2001, after reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I rented Lee’s movie about X and stopped after half an hour. Too much disjointed storytelling made for an unwatchable film.

Post comments here or e-mail them to fromatozowie@gmail.com.

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