Pre-RIP, Cassiopeia

I was raised by a cat-hating family.  While the hatred never took in my heart, I arrived at adulthood with neutral feelings regarding felines.  I enjoyed interacting with my friends’ cats, but never really considered sharing my life with one until my horrible beast childe, Blythe, came along and started yammering that she wanted a kitty when she was first able to form the words.

One day young Blythe and I were in our (previously) trusted vet’s office with one of our countless dogs, and I gave him the parent-to-parent look, and asked: “Oh, Dr. Randall, there certainly isn’t any way that we could bring a cat into a house with so many ferocious dogs, is there?”

Dr. Randall totally missed the look.

“Sure you can!” he responded cheerfully while Blythe began to shriek and squeal like a small monkey who’d just been handed a crate of bananas.  “You just have to introduce them slowly and….”

And I stopped listening, because I knew we were getting a freaking cat.

That was many moons and many cats ago.

Now, like many of you, I am a cat slave.  I love cats.  I admire their completely alien personalities and supernatural abilities and I fear their swift justice.  I secretly watch cat videos that pop up in my social media feeds, and go out of my way to make friends with as many cats as I encounter.  I am devoted to all things cat.

I am particularly devoted to our cat, Cassiopeia, who was diagnosed with cancer this morning.


Many of our cats have received cosmological names, and Cassie has been a Cassiopeia in every  possible way.


Like the fabled Queen, Cassie loves to recline.  Usually on your chest while you sleep.

When not reclining, Cassie loves to explore the woods and fields outside our home, and is a celebrated huntswoman, having brought home an endless supply of corpses once having belonged to everything from voles to snakes.

Now an elder in our family, Cassie has raised several generations of cats and dogs, and can put a Jack Russell Terrier in his or her place in a nanosecond.  Her presence in our family has been a gift most joyful.

But, cancer.

After discussing options with our vet (there really aren’t any), we’ve made her final appointment for this Monday.  Knowing the day and time really sucks.  As I putter around the house, I catch Cassie reclining out of the corner of my eye, stop what I’m doing, and offer her some love, which she still clearly acknowledges as tribute she is due.  She is a Queen, after all.

After 10 o’clock in the morning on Monday, I think Cassie may take up residence in her constellation, where she can be delighted by whatever our universe reveals to her while happily reclining somewhere in-between Tsih and Shedir.

I’m positive that she’ll look down at the Andromeda Galaxy from time to time and scowl – as only cats can scowl – with disapproval.

As I try, unsuccessfully, not to freak about the short time we have left with Cassie, I’m reminded that our time is short in general.  Give your animal companions some extra love this weekend, and never stop looking at the night sky.

Every Time I Think I’m Out…

I don’t know about you, but I have a bad habit of saying “Yeah, sure!  I’ll do that!”

When I was approached to direct Young Frankenstein at Theatreworks in New Milford, CT, my first thought should have been: I better read the script before I say anything…remember what happened when you agreed to direct Dirty Rotten Scoundrels without reading the script?

But there was no thought.  Just a “Yeah, sure!  I’ll do that!” that flew out of my mouth like a fruit bat zeroing in on a ripe banana.


I’ve directed a lot of shows, and I thought I’d seen and done most of what I was most likely to encounter in theatre until I finally sat down and read Mr. Brooks’ script.

To be fair, Young Frankenstein isn’t exactly great American theatre.  It is, however, a beloved and revered piece of our collective comedic mythos.  Only those of you with the stoniest of hearts don’t crack a smile for at least one of the terrified horse whinnies that dutifully follow the mention of the iconic Frau Blucher.


But the script!  Mel Brooks basically took his screenplay, reformatted it for the stage, and added a LOT of music.

I’m sure that all sounds well and good, and you’re wondering what on earth I have to blather about.  Well, I’ll tell ya what I have to blather about: Spectacle musicals taken directly from the screen to the stage.

Now that I’ve directed several of these beasts, I have this to say to the show creators:  Since a huge part of your residual profits from these shows occur AFTER they’ve closed on Broadway or the West End, take a moment to consider what community theaters all over the world have to put themselves through in order to properly produce something that you spent millions on.

It all rests on this: There are no traditional black outs between scenes, just the mystifying: “…as we transition to…”

Transition to?  Sub-text: this was a jump-cut from one location to another in the film.

Musicals like Young Frankenstein are filled with jaw-dropping transitions.  With a dollar and a dream, you can make these transitions happen quite nicely.  The thing is: most community theaters only have dreams, not dollars.

So why even attempt such shows?  Because audiences want to see them.  Actors want to be in them.  Set designers want to design them.  And crazy people, like me, want to direct them.

So, getting back to my message to the men and women who create these monster shows: Out here in the hinterlands, where a budget for a musical like Young Frankenstein wouldn’t even have covered the catering for the first read-through with the original cast, we’re learning.  And while we learn, we create.  We problem-solve and improvise.  We’re self-taught.  We turn ourselves inside out making your transitions happen.  And we never back down from the challenges left behind in your scripts.  At this point, there’s probably more talent for this work out here in Community Theatreville than exists in all your unions…combined.

There’s no feeling in the world that compares to pulling off a show like Young Frankenstein in a house with less than 200 seats.  Of course we haven’t opened yet, but we will on May 4, and the Heavens will tremble at our audacity, despite the impossible transition-filled screenplay script.

To my sisters and brothers around the world, I salute you!  We do what we do with virtually no money, buoyed only by our love of theatre and the support of our loved ones and our communities.  Imagine what we could do with the resources a show like this one originally consumed!

Transition to: the Heavens trembling at the thought.

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More from Edvard Munch

Something about the fact that the creator of the iconic Scream was also capable of observing and capturing beauty makes me smile.  On a cold, rainy day this really hits the spot.  Thanks, Edvard!



(Still Trying Not to Laugh) Riviera!


Thanks to the #CycloneBomb, we’ve been relatively housebound for a few days.

In my pre-Donner Party mental state, I thought that watching the new-ish Sundance series “Riviera” would at least provide warm, sunny visuals that would take my mind off the sub-zero crap raging outside.

Well, the warm, sunny visuals are there.  No argument.

What isn’t included in this episodic soap are:

1. A story

2. A viable script

3. Dialogue that manages to rise above anything uttered at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

4. With the exception of a few, performances noted for anything other than how awful they are.

I admit “Riviera” had the car crash-effect on me.  It was simply so horrifying I couldn’t stop watching, mainly because I HAD to see what gawd awful schmata they were going to shove Julia Styles into next.  (I had no idea there were THAT many shirt dresses in the world, I shit you not.)


Does this look like an über-wealthy denizen of Monaco to you?  Also, take a good look at that thousand yard stare.  That pretty much compromises the entirety of her performance.

Poor Lena Olin also suffered from the sadistic “Riviera” wardrobe team.


It’s the freaking RIVIERA, not Oslo!  And yes, I know it gets cold in the South of France, I’ve been there, but you tell me: what IS that?  Everyone else was happily cavorting in bathing suits and sun dresses ) except for the previously mentioned hideous shirt dresses.)

To her credit, Olin did her best to rise above the inane storytelling (by Neil Jordan, of all people) and morphed into a neo-Euro-version of Joan Collin’s character on the much missed “Dynasty.”  But even the accomplished Olin could barely get out some of the most stupid lines ever written for an actress.

The plot, such as it is, has something to do with the world of wealthy art patrons (all of whom apparently live in the Riviera), a mysterious hard drive (the contents of which are never revealed, so it could have been someone’s complete collection of Sponge Bob for all we know) that the “Russian government” may or may not be interested in, mean brothel owners…well, one in particular, and…..(trying to think of SOMETHING) oh, rehab.  Yes, heroin is bad!  None of it makes a lick of sense.

Oh!  But it does feature everybody’s favorite bad guy from GoT!


And this young lady:


How come she doesn’t need furs?

Some messes are glorious, like “The Fifth Element.”  Some are just messes.

Unless you’re a straight up masochist, I recommend a hard pass.

Find someplace warmer and sunnier to take your mind off the chilling winds.







I spent a good portion of New Year’s Day binge watching this haunting Netflix docudrama.  Directed by Errol Morris of “Thin Blue Line” and “Fog of War” fame, “Wormwood” is a unique and truly frightening journey into post-WWII America in which maniacs at the CIA were busy developing what would eventually become MKUltra.  What’s a little LSD between friends, right?

When Army scientist, Frank Olson, mysteriously flew out of his window at NY’s Statler Hotel in November of 1953, his death presented his young son, Eric, with a Quixotic life’s quest: to find out what really happened to his father.

The episodes cut between chilling and tragic interviews with Eric, and exceptionally atmospheric dramatic scenes as imagined by Morris.  Peter Sarsgaard’s Frank Olson is a perfectly crafted cypher, challenging us to wonder if ANYONE actually knew this man, let alone his family.  Also turning in wondrous performances are Tim Blake Nelson, Molly Parker, a totally sinister Jimmi Simpson and the much beloved Bob Balaban.

The documentary scenes are filled with heartache and the kind of despair that allows us to glimpse beyond a stranger’s event horizon to the black hole that has begun to devour them.  If the story being told wasn’t so monumentally important, I doubt I could have finished watching.

Perhaps one of the most tantalizing scenes in the series was an interview between Errol Morris and American journalist legend, Seymour Hersh.

No longer the swaggering young hero who exposed the My Lai Massacre and nabbed the 1970 Pulitzer, Hersh has morphed into the Fourth Estate’s Jabba the Hut, not in size but in attitude.  Puffed-up with comfort and hubris, Hersh dismissively stares down Morris and then smugly assures him that he knows exactly what happened to Frank Olson in 1953.  Of course he can’t spill the beans because that would allegedly jeopardize his source.  Hersh definitely believed that he was totally owning Morris, but he foolishly forgot that the cameras trained on him belonged solely to the filmmaker.  Oops, Seymour!  Your callous pomposity is now forever preserved in an age when we’ve come to treat journalists like snakes that we can’t immediately identify as being venomous.

If you’re turned on by riveting documentaries, moody murder mysteries, great performances, the Cold War, CIA skullduggery,  MKUltra, and genuine human pathos – the kind that makes you question pretty much everything – then I highly recommend “Wormwood.”

It’s a slow burn, but once the fire finally catches, you simply can’t look away.  And if you’re wondering about the title, check Revelation 8 verse 10.

Holy Crap, it’s 2018!

NYEWas it my imagination, or was 2017 the longest year on record?  Tweet after laborious Tweet, a never-ending avalanche of political imbroglios, mass shootings, terror attacks, repeated threats of the deployment of nuclear weapons, alternate facts, tiki torches…  You know, Billy Joel should haul his ass out of his La-Z Boy and add about 10 more verses to “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

Of course, keeping your eye trained on the rearview mirror won’t help much with navigation.  That’s what our world needs: Navigators.  Waters once relatively calm and free from hidden shoals have become storm-battled, treacherous maelstroms.  Friendly harbors have become ideologically entrenched and unapproachable.

We need Navigators.

Twister champions, downhill skiers, World of Warcraft end-gamers, mountain climbers, people who read AND understand Proust, underwater cave explorers, people who instantly understood why the Elder Wand didn’t answer to Voldemort, crossword puzzle champs who complete the Sunday Times puzzle in under 6 minutes, Disney Park maintenance personnel, really good tap dancers, half-pipe champions, and Grand prix riders.  These are the people we need.

We don’t need old men and women who behave like Jim Henson’s Skeksis from “The Dark Crystal.”


We desperately need our 40 and 50-somethings to rise.  The world, and our ability to experience it resets itself by the nano-second.  We need young navigators who have come of age in the time of rapidly changing technology to step up and take the helm.  Of course, the incentive to do so is kinda lacking, except for the whole “let’s save the world before it’s too late.”  Happily, that’s enough for many, but not nearly enough for most.

I think that’s our challenge for 2018.  We’ve got to find our Navigators and get them woke and motivated.  Our Voldemort is the rapidly encroaching blanket of Nihilism that’s spreading itself around the world, erupting in bouts of truly senseless violence.  But we don’t need an Elder Wand because we ARE the Elders.

I wish you all a safe and prosperous 2018.  Start keeping your eyes peeled for Navigators, and if you find one, don’t let go.  Lindsey Graham, of all people – stated today that 2018 is going to be very “dangerous.”  Today, and perhaps only today, I believe him.  But it would be so sweet to prove him wrong.

The Legend of Spooky Mama

It seems appropriate to end the year with the dark and twisted origin tale of “Spooky Mama.”

Many years ago, my bff, Melette, knowing that Halloween is my favorite holiday, sent me a huge care package filled with a delightful assortment of All Hallow’s goodies.  One item stood out, however.  A pair of socks.  Halloween socks.  The kind of holiday-themed socks that you’d only wear with a holiday-themed sweater.

Black cats, full moons, witches, and ghosts cavorted with wanton abandon on these socks, mocking me with their diabolically cheerful expressions and vivid colors.

At the time, I was in the company of my other bff, Sean Bagley, to whom I held up the socks and said something much like, “What he fuck?”  He slowly took in the socks, one eye twitching like a German sub commander in a WWII film who knows that he and his crew are headed straight for Davey Jones’ Locker, and then shrugged and said: “Melette must think you’re a spooky mama.”

In that instant, I became Spooky Mama to friends and family.  It’s really appropriate in many ways, and as a nickname, I’ve come to own it.

I suspect that people (who know me) find me scary in general.  Possibly because the governor in my brain was dismantled by the Warner Brothers’ Gremlin long ago, and I’m likely to say anything that I believe needs saying.

Another excellent friend, Mike Walsh, once referred to me as “Jozzgul” in an attempt to liken me to the Nazgul which have been terrifying readers of Tolkein since 1954.  I immediately made that my Instagram account name.

Lord knows what other names float around out there to describe me, but know this: I AM the spookiest of Spooky Mamas.

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