Tom and Thom’s Christmas Songs and Stories – A Review (Dec. 2018)

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Thirty-seven years ago, First Presbyterian Theater Managing Artistic Director Thom Hofrichter met Tom Didier when they performed Of Mice and Men at the Fort Wayne Civic Theater.  These two friends are now currently starring in an original performance that combines their talent and creativity as they, along with local pianist Tommy Saul, deliver a holiday-themed series of songs, stories, and surprises that celebrate the season.

Didier is a Fort Wayne theater regular with several appearances at the Civic Theatre under his belt, but this is his First Presbyterian Theater debut. Fort Wayne native Saul graduated from Bishop Luers High School and has amassed an impressive  résumé that includes being the resident music director for Three Rivers Music Theatre. Director Hofrichter is completing his 22nd year in his role with the FPT this month. Regular FPT theatergoers are no doubt familiar with Hofricther’s distinct delivery, humor, and directorial standards, and this performance does not disappoint.

.   With festive decorations as a backdrop, the “Tom, Thom, and Tommy Show” is split into two distinct acts, which Hofrichter identifies in his director’s notes as the secular and the spiritual, respectively. The opening series of passages provides a delightful soundtrack of popular songs and stories that audience members are sure to recognize. While Saul remains fixed at the keyboard, Didier and Hofrichter perform solos and duets with engaging renditions of classics such as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”  On his own, Didier stretches from crooner to rocker with exuberant versions of yuletide tunes such as “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Hofrichter intercedes the tunes with dramatic readings from classic Christmas tales by Charles Dickens and Clement Clarke Moore, the author of “The Night Before Christmas.” One of the most stirring portions of the opening act is a mixed-genre interpretation of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” which features Didier and Hofricter offering character-driven vignettes that connect with the theme of the classic song. This was a lovely segue into the second act due to its personal approach.  As the saying goes, this part alone is worth the price of admission by itself.

Hofrichter also notes in the program–and emphasizes to the audience prior to the brief intermission–that the second act is devoted to the heralded “true meaning of Christmas.”  Through poignant slivers of significant verses from the Bible, Hofrichter and Didier bookend the stage with spoken-word and musical companionship to the story of the birth of Christ.  Magically weaved into the original script is a connectivity of this beautiful theme to all viewers, regardless of their individual religious foundation. In other words, there is a distinct sense of humanity embedded in the second act.

Throughout the entire performance, viewers are likely to recall personal memories of the holiday season and reflect on the significance of those memories. The value of attending a review such as this has the same majestic power as all theater has: the opportunity to connect the performance to our own lives. Perhaps in the same was as Ebenezer Scrooge was, we are afforded the opportunity to view our pasts and re-experience those joyous innocent days of childhood when we first learned about the holiday.  With a balanced series of playful, heartbreaking, and spiritual songs and stories, this review is the perfect holiday season experience for audiences of all ages.

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Nanowrimo – Warm-up Day 9

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Tues. 10/23 Day 9 – 900 words two or three “super-short” stories (I have 3 separate stories below)

The flyswatter was in the kitchen, hanging on a hook he thought he’d put there for oven mitts–hot pads, his wife called them.  The book he was reading in his lap was for graduate school, but this fly in the room could care less if Tommy’s paper was done on time.   Swoosh. Land. Fly near face. Scatter toward TV. Read a paragraph. It’s back. On page 62. The book is over two hundred pages long and the fly hates it almost as much as Tommy does.  Getting up, retrieving the death device, seemed like it would interrupt his reading flow even more. Then, Tommy considered if he was hungry. If he’s hungry, he won’t be able to concentrate on the book.  He’ll read a few pages, swat the fly away again, come across a word like ‘souffle’ or ‘tapioca’ or ‘whisky’ and think of reasons he should probably just get up and go to the kitchen. Get the damn flyswatter.  End this fucker’s life. Pour two fingers of Jameson. Try to get through this atrocious, pretentious novel. A dog barks outside. He thinks it’s Jasper, their mutt, but then he remembers that he had to bury Jasper two springs ago while his wife Dana cried in the bathroom over their divorce papers.  

—-

Barney ordered his coffee and didn’t move out of the way for the next customer.  He just stood there, staring at a picture he’d been sent on his phone. The cashier talked over his shoulder, assuming he’d click back into humandom and move the fuck over.  He didn’t. The woman behind him was kind and almost too polite to make the person behind her upset that this is not what society has become, is it? Minor acts of civility and manners fall off each day–today from this jackhole who’s too busy looking at his five-inch screen with hair screaming out from under a baseball cap.  The second customer takes the longest possible path to avoid Barney and waits patiently near the area underneath the large Pick-Up/App Orders Here sign.

But no one but Barney knows what the picture is.  No one cares either. Even if he explained. It was her calf.  It was Lindsey’s calf, surrounded by gray bed sheets that he remembered buying for his sister Marie.  Of course, when Lindsey didn’t come home, he assumed she’d stay with someone. She’d stopped texting at eleven or so, and he went to sleep.  But the fact that she ended up at his adopted sister’s apartment across town made him wonder for the next forty years if his lesbian sister screwed his wife and proudly sent him evidence of it while he stood, waiting dumbly for his white chocolate latte with skim milk.

—-

So my neighbor knocked on my door seconds after I settled a fight between my two children that began when one of them threw spaghetti noodles at the other’s face.  Gina, collected as always, discussed appropriate behavior with them in her authoritative voice while I stuffed meatball after meatball in my mouth so I wouldn’t blow up.  She doesn’t like it when I yell at them; she thinks it sends them the wrong message about maturity. Instead of saying or doing anything, I just washed the one-inch think, canned-sauce-slathered meat spheres down with a Michelob Ultra, a beer my wife thinks will help me lose weight.

I answered the door and Dave, my neighbor of ten years and friend of five months, stood there with his hands linked together.  He wore a plaid shirt that was tucked into pleated tan pants. He’d probably just arrived home from his job at the high school my kids were destined to attend.  “Hey, Rick,” he said as I pushed open the squeaky screen door. I eased out after he backed up a step. “Didn’t interrupt dinner, did I?”

“Just finishing.  What’s up?”

“Catch that Mets game?”

He always did this.  He always begins a serious concern by getting me to think about sports or my motorcycle or something nice my wife did out in the lawn.  It’s a great technique to prepare someone for bad news, don’t get me wrong. I’ve done it at work for as long as I can remember. It’s a little insulting, however, because I know exactly what he’s doing, and he knows I know it.  

“Yeah.  Close one.  That closer may not have a job next week though.”

He agreed.  “Listen, I wanted you to know something.  I know you don’t have Facebook anymore, right?”  I nodded. “Somebody in the neighborhood group said something that I thought you should be aware of.”

“What, another complaint about kids walking in the grass?  Trash getting picked up too late?”

He chucked, nervously.  “No, not this time. Someone said something about how sad it was that people didn’t put out their flags on holidays anymore.”  Without realizing it, he glanced to my left to where the owners before us had placed a slot for flags to be displayed. They’d even left one carefully placed in the garage along with a note about the rules of flag flying.

I just sighed.  I wanted another beer at that moment.  He knew I wasn’t going to change anything about what I believed or how I chose not to put a flag out while every other house on the cul-de-sac did so, ceremonially.  I could tell he didn’t want to tell me, but he thought I should know.

“Well, thanks for telling me.  I hope you and Carla have a good night.”

“You too, buddy,” he said.  “Go Mets!”

“Go Mets,” I said, as I stepped inside and closed the door.  

Nanowrimo – Warmup Day 6

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I’ve been doing some catching up this morning.  Here’s my Day 6 (minimum 600 words) on a story based on street art.


Sat. 10/20 Day 6 –  600 words story based on a picture of street art found online

walt whitman street art

Barry needed the waiter to drop the check as soon as possible.  Brunch had been disastrous, though it’s very possible no one else in Sweet Sensations knew it.  His wife Elenor sat across from him and perused through her purse without offering any explanation or reason for doing so.  He assumed it was to bide time until he could pay and they could leave and she wouldn’t have to look at him any longer. Their child, a boy neatened up for the Sunday morning meal, fidgeted idly with a plastic toy made to look like a cell phone.  It didn’t beep, but Barry almost wished it would so they could react to some type of sound.

He knew she was lying about the night before and he couldn’t think of what to do.  As a wedding coordinator, she was often gone for twelve- to fourteen hours many Saturdays, especially during the fall months when some brides prefer the backdrop of crunchy, colored leaves and the ability to be hot and outside but not uncomfortable.  Elenor had, over her nine year career, developed business friendships with photographers, bakers, caterers, priests, ministers, disc jockeys, and hotel managers. In the early years, she focused so much on the business that she never allowed herself time to become too social outside of the events themselves.  Five years earlier, when she’d become a little disappointed with the dip in business, Barry encouraged her to re-brand herself and helped her invest in advertising. It worked to a degree and she was rejuvenated with the bookings that bolstered her position in town as a reputable and fairly priced wedding photographer.  

Then they had Dominick and she was torn because she loved the baby endlessly but her business suffered.  The season was dry with business because she turned down some offers without telling him. The desire to sleep next to her first baby on a rainy Saturday morning, waking only to feed him and coo with him and tickle his minuscule feet swept any cash she’d make taking photos under the rug.  For the most part, Barry didn’t mind. He loved having her home too. Being a dad meant a new series of responsibilities and adventures virtually every day. On the days Elenor was gone, he found himself taking their son to the mall, the park, and even an art museum.

It was at brunch today, however, that art re-entered their lives.  With the check finally paid, Barry, Elenor and the baby exited the restaurant and walked in silence toward nothing in particular.  The damp air was warming rapidly as the sun emerged from behind thick white clouds. Downtown was brightening up and more and more cars were populating the main drags of the sleepy city.  They turned at a corner and he stopped. A large mural of Walt Whitman covered by springtime flowers looked back at the three of them. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that Elenor had lied about the night before.  She didn’t know he’d found a phone number on the floor of their bedroom. For all he knew, she didn’t even know she had it herself. He no longer cared who “Mike” was and chose not to picture the two of them dancing, kissing, or anything else.  Barry had been a supportive husband, but in this moment, staring back at one of his writing idols, he realized that feeling betrayed was useless. Confronting her for having a good time–something he’d stopped doing since their son was born–was completely unfair.  He reached for her hand and she took it. Her grasp indicated that Barry’s suspicions were true, but in this moment it was irrelevant. He hard kissed her and pushed the small of her back into his waist. Their son giggled at a bird or something below them.

 

Nanowrimo 2018

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Below are this year’s suggested warm-up writing prompts to get ready to be in writing mode throughout November!  Have a great month, everyone!

Mon.    10/15 Day 1 – 100 words short story with anagram name, age, “…was just found”

Tues.   10/16 Day 2 – 200 words character commenting on a news item from 2018

Wed.    10/17 Day 3 – 300 words   description of someone at a surprise party

Thurs. 10/18 Day 4 – 400 words   story told from a criminal’s point of view

Fri. 10/19 Day 5 – 500 words   description of a personally significant place

Sat. 10/20 Day 6 –  600 words story based on a picture of street art found online

Sun. 10/21 Day 7 – 700 words “autobiography” of a parent (in 1st person POV)

 

Mon. 10/22 Day 8 – 800 words a short story that includes a found heirloom

Tues. 10/23 Day 9 – 900 words two or three “super-short” stories

Wed. 10/24 Day 10 – 1000 words an evil character is avenged in a bizarre way

Thurs. 10/25 Day 11 – 1100 words description of an inspiring teacher/coach/neighbor, etc.

Fri. 10/26 Day 12 – 1200 words dialogue-only skit between two people in an argument

Sat. 10/27 Day 13 – 1300 words  dialogue-free prose depicting someone having a bad day

Sun. 10/28 Day 14 – 1400 words a completely new short story involving a domestic animal

 

Mon. 10/29 Day 15 – 1500 words  a room where something incredible or sinister has taken place

Tues. 10/30 Day 16 – 1600 words  short story including someone getting hired/fired

Wed. 10/31 Day 17 – 1667 words  two speeches from people arguing a hot-button issue

-or-

Wed.    10/31 Day 17 – 1667 words four “super-short” stories (~400 words apiece) that intertwine

“Shaw Out Loud”: The Doctor’s Dilemma (Review)

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There are those who look at a night out at the theater to be an escape from the daily grind, the pressures from work, and the stress that often accompanies political discourse.  Then again, theater often upends this expectation and arrests our attention by offering, within the confines of a couple hours, a glimpse into different perspectives from past eras.  When director Thom Hofrichter selected The Doctor’s Dilemma for this season for First Presbyterian Theater, he did so by purposely connecting a modern-day moral debate with the thoughts of one of history’s finest satirists, George Bernard Shaw.  Though it was originally published over a century ago in England, Shaw’s play posits questions that force the audience to examine their moral compass and challenges its notions of empathy and compassion.

Hofrichter, who is in his 22nd year at FPT as Managing Artistic Director, elected for this performance to be a staged reading, which means that the actors carry scripts with them on stage.  This technique, he notes, allows for Shaw’s dense language and rhetoric to become the focal point. The experienced cast at FPT chosen for this “Shaw Out Loud” performance succeeds in an innovative and enjoyable manner.  

Over the course of five acts, five physicians are faced with the inability to cure all who are sick and must determine the fate of two local individuals.  Boomeranging throughout the play are the contrasting thoughts and perspectives, not of the actors or even the characters, but rather of an entire society, which is even more reason for a contemporary audience to examine Shaw’s suddenly relevant work.

With a dialogue-driven play set up in this manner, the performers become vessels of philosophical debate.  Theatergoers may notice how they will find themselves noticing less and less how each character is holding the very words he or she has been tapped to recite. This cast gracefully directs attention to the attitudes and rhetoric embedded within Shaw’s words.  By the final act, I would be surprised to learn that any viewer was acknowledging the scripts in performer’s hands. With drama, we are conditioned to identify a protagonist and track his or her progress toward becoming a more morally sound individual. Shaw’s play, however, puts this expectation on its proverbial ear and forces the audience to internalize their own beliefs and actions.  This is a testament to the combined efforts of a cast and director who share the notion that the attention should be on the essence of the play’s thematic focus and not the fate of a single character.

The chief man of medicine from the group is Dr. Ridgeon, played by Larry Bower.  Bower excels at capturing Ridgeon’s bedside manner, especially in the presence of the sick and their loved ones.  Kate Black as Dr. Walpole offers many humorous jabs that lighten the weighty plot. Rounding out the quintet of doctors are convincingly aloof performances by Orion Toepler, Brian Ernsberger, and Tom Corron.  Together these five actors succeed in exposing the audience to the disparaging egos of those whose careers hold human lives in the balance.

I particularly enjoyed Billy Hofman as Louis Dubedat in his arguably antagonistic role because he successfully presents valid arguments that eat away at the stuffy doctors and, perhaps, the preconceived notions of the audience.  Finally, Robyn Pasko, in her return after an outstanding performance in FPT’s My Dead Clown earlier this season, submits a stirring monologue toward the plays conclusion that, at least for this reviewer, instigated goosebumps.

While the first- and second acts may appear to spend a little too much time establishing the distinctions among the five doctors, the three remaining acts deliver a powerful payoff.  Among the most impressive features of this cast’s performance is how each one clearly establishes an identifiable trajectory of his or her character’s own morality.

Rae Surface’s set design is appropriately bare with its simple arrangement of metallic props serving as a subtle reminder of the sterile, callous environment often found in a doctor’s office or surgeon’s arena.  This purposeful void further reinforces the attention that Shaw’s dialogue demands.

The mastery of this early 20th century play perhaps lies in its unlikely relevance to a 21st century audience.  Shaw’s cutting language has evolved into the basis for a present-day ethical debate. The performers convincingly shuttle the audience back to 1906 and leave them impassioned about the reality and tragedy of modern morality.

 

I May be a little gray, but at least my back and feet hurt all the time…or…”Old Dad, Old Grad” announcement

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Yeah.  Since I have so much time on my hands, I thought, “Why not start an entirely new blog on a completely different platform?”

https://sites.google.com/view/olddadoldgrad/home

Enjoy (or ignore…)

My Dead Clown (Review)

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Starting off the 2018-2019 season at First Presbyterian Theater in downtown Fort Wayne is My Dead Clown, an original play written by David Rousculp, a licensed funeral director from New Haven.  The story follows Bill, a funeral director whose most recent project is preparing the body of Dingy the Clown.  However, Bill’s reputation is in jeopardy because he’s shown a decline in job performance since the passing of someone close to him.  Once he inadvertently brings the clown back to life, his life becomes even more complex.

This premise offers a multitude of options for audiences to explore their own lives, which is what quality theater should do.  Of all the people in the world, funeral directors should be among the most seasoned individuals who have a firm grasp of the effects of our eventual death.  However, Rousculp’s script is evidence that even those who would presumably be the most accepting of our ultimate fate are susceptible to death’s ramifications on the soul.

Director and Stage Designer Rae Surface succeeds in creating the multi-level environment this play demands.  Surface’s chosen details found in Bill’s apartment exhibit the depth of character required to portray a troubled protagonist.  Throughout the two-hour performance, this large cast offers a story of how one’s faith can be restored from the most unexpected and unlikely sources.

Duke Roth performs as the overworked and increasingly cynical Bill, the protagonist who is rapidly drowning in work and sorrow.  Roth exhibits a strong handling of balancing the stressors of Bill’s professional responsibilities and a longing for his past while dealing with the consequences of the clown’s arrival–and unintentional re-spawning–in his workspace.

Dingy the Clown is played by Reuben Albaugh.  Albaugh’s energy and cheeriness are suitable for any successful clown.  Additionally, Albaugh succeeds throughout the play with his undying (ha!) desire to bring laughter to replace sadness and smiles to erase frowns.

Among the other “living” characters are Chuck, BIll’s boss; Nancy, his assistant; and Eric, his brother.  Tom Corron’s humorous role as Chuck serves as the embodiment of Bill’s profession demands.  Jennifer Netting’s performance as Nancy shines with an exuberant portrayal of youthful spirit, innocence, and loyalty.   Eric, Bill’s younger sibling who has yet to find any firm path in his own life, is played by Nathan Driscoll.  Driscoll’s comical presence counters Bill’s apparent stress while simultaneously portraying how inspiration can come from unexpected places and events.

This play, perhaps understandably, also features a few “deceased” characters.  Leonard, played by acting and theater veteran Scott K. Strode, humorously excels as a potential aspect of Bill’s consciousness.  Deborah Kerr’s small but impressive performance as Mrs. Sticklebush is suggestive of Bill’s devotion to his responsibilities as a funeral director.  Jennifer Poiry Prough excels as Bill’s deceased wife Mary, and, peppered throughout the performance, appears in flashbacks where she exposes those gorgeous moments that offer and explain the depth of despair Bill is experiencing in the painful time since her sudden departure.

Rousculp’s rather unpredictable script features many pleasant surprises, many of which are found in the roles of characters who rarely escape their longstanding stereotypes and stifled reputations.  Among the remaining secondary characters are strong performances by real-life married couple Robyn and Rod Pasko.  Robyn, who is performing in Fort Wayne for the first time after establishing herself on stage and screen in Chicago, turns in an animated and vivid performance as Lucy, a.k.a. The Devil.  Rod Pasko offers an unanticipated yet charming down-to-earth version of Death.

Jeanette Walsh’s costume design is poignant and effective, especially in the gimmicks and shenanigans of the title character.  Theater Manager Thom Hofrichter’s production and lighting succeed in creating the obvious balance of humor and despair when grouping a boisterous clown, a funeral home, and hell on a single stage.

Bill’s anguish is a direct result of a past tragedy.  However, that tragedy has impacted Bill’s faith and perception of humanity’s significance.  During the few glimpses from the past with his spouse, we see a jovial couple who epitomize the human desire for love and devotion.  Once that was stripped away, Bill became the universal version of humanity who is forced to question that faith.  From the moment the first corpse rises up and interacts with the protagonist, any audience member who sees My Dead Clown during its first-ever run will recognize that he or she is in for an amusing and introspective experience.