Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Play: Community Theatre

The Odyssey; By Homer (unaccredited in the program book) Adaptation/Music/New Lyrics by Todd Almond, Original Concept and Direction by Lear DeBessonet, Directer by Marya Sea Kaminiski. Seattle Rep, Sept. 8-10 (Yep, it's over).

When last we left the the Seattle Rep, they had ripped out most of their seats to turn the venerable Bagley Wright into a disco for David Byrne's Here Lies Love, an opus about Imelda Marcos. Now they return for a one-weekend-only event (sorry folks), a rendition of Homer's Odyssey. And in doing so it pushed the borders of modern theatre back in different ways.

One of the challenges of modern theater is manpower. You've seen it - plays that are four to five actors, tops, dealing with tight little stories or people in multiple roles. This version of the Odyessy, done through Public Works Seattle, is one huge crowd scene. The cast lists 80+ characters, not counting a host of cameo artists (more on them later). Four of the cast are Equity actors, the rest volunteers of various stripes. The result is you can have huge vibrant mobs moving across the stage and a variety of voices being heard. This is pretty darn impressive.

Oh, and did I mention this was a musical? Yeah, musical. One part Hamilton, two parts Disney rhyming schemes. And it all worked.

The plot you should already know. Odysseus is en route back from the Trojan War and gets delayed for a decade. Wife Penelope is cooling her heels back in Ithaca fending off a bunch of suitors and raising her son Telemachus. Odysseus is fighting to get back home to her. Cyclops, Circe, sirens, whirlpool, monster. You know the drill, right?

And all of this is here, but what makes it work is that the focus is placed on community, both in Ithaca and for the crew of Odysseys' ship. The massive tide of people are not a mere Greek chorus, but have their own voices and their own moments. I was amazed time and again by the strength of the voices in song and acting. Yeah, a lot of it was punching over their weight class, but it was impressive.

And there are the cameos. Circe is played by a drag queen that tempts man with burgers from Dick's and Pagliacci pizza. She's backed up by a pair of flamenco dancers. Small children are ghosts from Hades. A symphonic orchestra sets up for the voyage home to Ithaca. And the Seahawks Blue Thunder drum corps helps wrap up the entire deal with the suitors. They appear as guest stars for a number or a scene, then move on. But they are part of the community as well.

And the Equity Actors? Terrence Achie is an amazing Odysseus - strong-voiced and sympathetic, both crafty hero and doubting human. Justin Hertas last showed up in his original musical Lizard Boy and serves as narrator/master of ceremonies, and creates the glue between the present and past. Alexandra Tavres (last seen in Constellations) is Penelope, holding the stage and Odyesseus' equal and keeping the motorcycle-jacketed suitors at bay. Sarah Russell is the leader of a tripartite Calliope (with Rheanna Atendido and Jala Harper) who are our musical Greek Chorus. What is missing here is the direct presence of the gods, though they send in messages and help from time to time. And that's OK, because there's not a lot of room left on the stage for them.

This is an amazingly audacious production, born out of the idea of community coming together in the theatre. This is theatre of and for the people. Yes, it has a happy ending, and everyone gets a curtain call in a celebration that spills off the stage and into the audience. This is a theater taking big risks, and even should the rest of season settle into more traditional fare, it is an excellent start.

And keep your eyes peeled should they try something like this again.

More later.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Model of Major Middle Manager

The Red Sphinx by Alexandre Dumas, Translated by Lawrence Ellsworth, Pegasus Books, 2017

Provenance (Or how I came to read this book): I asked for this book as a gift from my Lovely Bride for our anniversary back in February, and she delivered, noting only in passing how massive (800 pages plus) the tome was. I had found out about it on Facebook, where I follow Lawrence Ellsworth. Actually, I follow Lawrence in his identity that gamers may recognize, Lawrence Schick. That would be Lawrence Schick the designer of White Plume Mountain and the current lead loremaster on Elder Scrolls Online. I don't know Lawrence all that well (his tenure and mine at old TSR did not overlap, and we have met maybe a handful of times), but I always liked his work and found the idea that he had translated a "lost" Dumas book was intriguing.

Review (Or what I thought about the entire thing): The book is an unfinished, partially published, manuscript from Dumas. Back in the day, Dumas serialized his stories in Parisian magazines. As a result, his completed books tend to be a bit... long and perhaps even ... rambling. This one in particular was titled The Comte De Moret, and was a bout a figure from the swashbuckling age who was the recognized bastard son of King Henri IV, and therefore half-brother to Louis XIII. Count De Moret was a historical figure, and was involved in one of the other royal brother's rebellions against the crown, and was supposedly killed in a battle against the Louis's forces. He has his own mythos that has grown up over the years, as the "good, loyal son" of Henri.

But in the book, as presented, De Moret is more of a supporting character, and Ellworth is completely within his rights to rename his translation after the true protagonist - Cardinal Richelieu. Yes, those who have seen numerous adaptations of The Three Musketeers think of Richelieu as the bad guy, the scheming spider in clerical red. But Dumas admires him, and presents him, not only sympathetically, but as the hero, the only man who cares about France, even if its king is a fool and his family are greedy intriguers.

Richelieu is, within this book, the perfect middle manager. His boss is a fool, but the Cardinal has gathered together a team of loyal, devoted, and talented individuals to make the entire country work. This is most dramatically shown in a section where, having lost a crucial argument with the Crown, Richelieu lays down his tools and retires to a private life, and the King attempts to do his job. In quick succession, every agent of the Cardinal lays out how dire the situation truly is, how everyone thinks the King is an idiot, and then resigns themselves. Less than a week after his resignation, the King implores Richelieu to return to govern the kingdom correctly. Richelieu is free with his favors, loyal to his workers, and has no fear about getting directly involved to get to the truth of the matter. The Cardinal could write his own business advice book and do a decent TED talk about management.

This is a 21st Cent translation of an 19th Cent book set in the 17th Century. And, though it has not seen much print in English, it feels very much like the shared-world adventure fiction I've read and written, and it makes the case that Dumas is very much an antecedent of popular fantasy as Tolkien or Howard.

To spoil just a bit, the book opens on a professional duelist (dueling is banned in France) who is approached by a hunchback to duel and kill the Count De Moret. De Moret has apparently stolen the affection of woman away from the hunchback. The professional refuses, because he knows the Count as a good man (though not above sleeping around) and the hunchback and his colleagues set upon the duelist with their swords and leave him for dead ( spoilers - he does not die). The hunchback and his colleagues then leave, but one of the colleagues reveals that HE is the one sleeping with object of the hunchback's affections, which results ANOTHER swordfight, in which the hunchback is badly wounded and feared to die (spoilers - he does not die, either). Both duelist and hunchback survive, only to have YET ANOTHER duel while they are both wounded and seated in sedan chairs on a street in Paris.

This entire exchange feels very Realmsian, and could have transpired on the streets of Suzail or Waterdeep. And the adventure fiction of the age can show strong connections with the shared worlds that TSR launched in the 80s and 90s. In this case, instead of a lore bible, the cornerstone of these tales come from the history and legend of France itself. If you are a fan of Ed Greenwood's work, yes, you should check out Dumas in a good translation.

The translation helps in all this. As opposed to a bowdlerized and simplified translation, Ellsworth embraces the passion of Dumas' language and subject, and creates a readable text. This reader freely will admit that there are sections where Dumas deals with history (from a Francophile view of course) that I put the book aside, but quickly returned as the action and plotting picking up again.

So the manuscript is unfinished - the magazine Dumas was serializing it in went under and he never got back to it. Ellsworth puts forth that he had an ending in mind from a short story he had written decades earlier about the count and Isabel, who he is in love with (despite dallying with others) in the earlier section. Set after the battle in which the Count had supposedly perished (Dumas played fast and loose with the truth), the two lovers are reunited by a carrier dove, and have numerous near misses before their relationship resolves.

I'm not so sure. I think Dumas was aimed at this as an eventual ending, but the two texts are dramatically different. The short story is completely epistolary (consisting of letters and diary entries), and the characters more passionate than shown at the start of their relationship/the end of the manuscript. The Cardinal is here in passing, wise and willingly fooled to help reunite the two. Dumas may have been aiming at the facts of the short story as his endpoint, but would have been involved in much revision should he have ever reached it.

In general, this is worth hunkering down and reading, particularly if you are a fan of the old Realms or DL novels. Swordplay, battles, plots, treachery, and the most effective middle manager that France has ever seen. Go read it.

More later,


DOW Breaks 22,000!

And it is not so much of a "break" as it is a slow oozing over the line. Usually such news gets a lot more excitement, but most of the stock market news has been "three steps forward, two steps back:, while there hasn't been colossal collapses, but by the same time no fantastic rallies. It has been a slow progress. Even the news articles have been filled with "meh" and a warning eye towards its sluggish pace.

Part of that probably comes from the uncertainty in the rulerleadership of the States, but even there Wall Street has pretty much decided that what damage will be done can be limited to particular industries and short time frames. Business as an organism indicates that they adapt to situations if they are going to survive and thrive. And this does come under the current administration's watch, even if their primary contribution has been to not screw things up too quickly or two much.

In the meantime, we'll cast baleful eye upon the housing prices in this neighborhood, the challenges of abandoned trade agreements, and the ongoing retail apocalypse, and coast this pleasant trend upwards as far as it goes.

[UPDATE: Annnnnd the President is talking about nuking North Korea and the stock market drops 200 points. Ah, well.]

More later,

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Political Desk - Results (The Late Edition)

OK, it's been a week or so, and most of the results are pretty much settled (stuff still comes in, sometimes things are close, but pretty much the dust has settled). Here's what we got for Fall:

King County Proposition No. 1 Sales Tax for Cultural Access Program: Rejected

King County Executive: Dow Constantine versus Bill Hirt

Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 1: John Creighton versus Ryan Calkins

Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 3: Stephanie Bowman versus Ahmed Abdi

Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 4:Peter Steinbruek versus Preeti Shridhar

City of Kent Mayor: Jim Berrios versus Dana Ralph

City of Kent Council Position No. 2: Satwinder Kaur versus Paul Addis

City of Kent Council Position No. 4: Toni Troutner versus Tye Whitfield

Kent School District No. 415 Director District No. 4: Bryon Madsen versus Denise Daniels

Soos Creek Water and Sewer District Commissioner Position No. 2: Alan Eades versus Merle Reeder

Public Hospital District No. 1 Commissioner District No. 1: Aaron Aboudara versus Pete DeLeyser

You'll note that I'm not highlighting the ones I recommended because a) it is not about my batting average, it is about getting good people into office, and b) I'm pretty bad at picking horses right now. Moving forward, I'm going to revisit all this when we get closer to the election day, but here are some guiding principles:

If you're an incumbent, what has happened on your watch to part of the discussion.
If you're say you hate politics, I am less inclined to make you a politician.
If you want to run government as a business, remember that that trick never works.
If you're a Republican, I'm giving you a particularly hard look. All these positions are non-political, so it is inevitable that I will recommend a Republican, either not knowing any better, or the fact that we actually have some competent Republicans out here. But you're starting at a disadvantage.

And that is it until the next ballot shows up. More later,

More later,

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Political Desk - In Which We Summarize.

So,

Primary Day is August 1st, which is a really stupid day for a primary. Part of it is because we're looking at the height of summer, when people's minds are miles away from the political scene. It is also the first day of the month, which means most people won't think about it because it's next month.

The end result is that is that fewer people are likely to vote than normal, even given things like the over-stuffed race for Mayor of Seattle (which I can't vote on, but I will mention Bob Hasegawa and Mike McGinn in passing).So your vote counts more than usual.

You've heard the drill - in these elections, old people tend to carry the day, because we've (and yep, I am officially an old duffer these days) have been trained through years of voting and seeing our candidate or the other candidate winning, and having to deal with the consequences of an election. So ultimately, I want youse mugs to vote.

And don't just listen to me. When I started this tour through my own ballot, I laid out a list of resources that are available, including other people's endorsements. Go read them. Weigh the options. Cast your votes.

So, here's my two cents worth:

King County Proposition No. 1 Sales Tax for Cultural Access Program: Approved

King County Executive: Dow Constantine

Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 1: Claudia Kauffmann

Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 3: Ahmed Abdi

Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 4: John Persak

City of Kent Mayor: Elizabeth Albertson

City of Kent Council Position No. 2: Satwinder Kaur

City of Kent Council Position No. 4: Tye Whitfield

Kent School District No. 415 Director District No. 4: Denise Daniels

Soos Creek Water and Sewer District Commissioner Position No. 2: Merle Reeder

Public Hospital District No. 1 Commissioner District No. 1: Pete DeLeyser

And with that the Political Desk takes break, until the results come in next week.

More later,

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Political Desk: And the Rest

Now we are clearly far from the lands that we know and love. School, Water and Sewer, and Public Hospital. Here is where the foundation of a well-informed voting populace breaks down entirely. Even the local papers are bit lax on coverage, the municipal league knows not, and we are left with only their desires expressed through the voter guide write-ups. I feel the need to hire a private detective, a slouching, chain-smoking type, to use his contacts to find out who has the rap sheet, who has the business in trouble, or who has been getting free pizza from the local chain store.

But anyway ....

Kent School District No. 415 Director District No. 4. I tend to like people who know the territory, who have been in the building, and know the job (and who have not be indicted, to the best of my knowledge). I'd go with Denise Daniels, an administrator in the school district, for this one.

Soos Creek Water and Sewer District Commissioner Position No. 2 has an incumbent in Merle Reeder, who replaces Larry West, who passed on earlier this year. This is for the remainder of Mr. West's term. Sure.

Public Hospital District No. 1 Commissioner District No. 1 has been surprisingly quiet for the past year or so. The District, which includes Valley Medical right down the hill, has been a swirl of controversy for many elections involving the pay for its CEO, and culminating in the merger of Valley into the UW Medical system, which still leaves some folk uncomfortable. The merger leaves the elected officials outnumbered on the board by the appointed officials, which really reduces the effectiveness of the voters in all this. I've got two candidates who, in their Voter's Guide descriptions, are calling out the current situation - And of the two I would with Peter DeLeyser, who has some volunteer experience with the hospital itself.

And that's a wrap. One more entry, with a summary, and then Dobie is free (until November).

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Political Desk: A Taste of Kent

And here we start getting deeper into the weeds once we reach the borders of Kent, my home town. The big newspapers to the north think the world ends at the southern edge of Georgetown, and we are left with candidate statements and what forums the Kent Reporter covers. I would almost recommend grabbing some dice.

But that would be wrong, because the mayor and the council are facing some pretty dire challenges in the next few years. They did OK with the dangers of the Green  River flooding, but their budget is going to come under some strain soon. And part of it is my fault.

And by my fault, I mean my neighborhood up near Panther Lake. Almost a decade ago, we were unincorporated King County, but the county pressured the localities to adopt these ungoverned municipal islands, and offered Kent a tidy sum to annex us. This is the political equivalent of hanging a pork chop around our necks to get the dog to play with us, but it has in general been a good thing, and I am positively disposed to the local organization as a result. However, we're getting to the end of the ten year agreement, and that money is going to disappear from the budget. So they have to deal with that.

Furthermore, there's been a change on how state sales tax is collected, which reduces the share that communities with warehouses and factories get. And the valley floor is thick with warehouses and light industry. So the budget will take another hit, which means fewer services or higher taxes. And since they are grown-ups, they are talking about it now as opposed to after the election.

Now, by the same token, they've had great success with instituting a B&O tax, to the point that they are bringing in twice of what they anticipated? Good news? Not quite. When they sold that tax in, it was with the idea that it would be used to repair the local road systems (warehouse means a lot of trucks which means a lot of wear and tear). So while the money is there, there's some question about whether we can/should/be allowed to tap it. Business interests, which weren't too happy with it in the first place, say no now that they have it.

And then there's the idea of selling of city property. Last year, the city sold the land of Pine Tree Park to a developer. Problem was, the park was part of another annexation packet, and part of the agreement to annex was that if the city sold the park, they would have to provide land of equivalent value. That and the fact that the sale was a bit of a surprise to people in the neighborhood left the city to break the deal, at a cost of $800,000+.

And then there was the fate of the par3 golf course. Here the deal goes through (so far), but the developer is getting a major tax break to come play ball. As a result the larger golf club is still in the red.

All of the above sends me more in the direction of newcomers as opposed to old hands in facing the various challenges to the city. Elizabeth Albertson is running for mayor, and while a former council member, hasn't been part of the shenanigans of the past five years. So let's go for her.

Looking at the council itself, I'm going with Satwinder Kaur (who is packing a buncha endorsements plus has experience with previous budgets) for position 2,. And Tye Whitfield (who is also heavily endorsed, but also had the most earnest robo-call I ever received) for position 4.

But to be honest, check out your own research on this one.

More later,

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Political Desk: Portal to Portal

Ah, the Port of Seattle. Come rain or shine, this agency, responsible both for the physical seaport and the airport, can always be relied upon to provide political entertainment and frustration.

A few years back, the port welcomed a Shell drilling rig into the Sound as its winter home-away-from-home when it gets too cold in the Arctic. This managed to cheese off environmental types (who, armed with kayaks, swarmed the rig) as well as other traditional democracy-fanciers by doing it in the political dead of night with little public input. But that's old news. The new news is that the CEO of the Port (chosen by the Port Commissioners) seized on a measure to give non-union port employees a raise to give HIMSELF a raise to the tune of $24k. Said Port CEO is no longer with us, and Shell has decided we're saving too much gas to make drilling in Arctic worthwhile for the moment, but we still have the Commissioners that make things like this all possible.

And incumbency and name recognition counts, so the incumbents will likely be back. So let's look at this with an eye towards who can handle them.

Commission Position No. 1 has John Creighton and the incumbent, who has been burdening my mailbox with fliers about how great things are going, if you only ignore the kayaks and CEOs. Oh, and trying to keep airport employees exempt from the new minimum wage law. There have been times when I've been on his side. Not this time. I see Claudia Kauffman is on the list. Claudia was my state senator, and didn't embarrass us (which is always a plus, in my opinion).  Bea Queida-Rico actually has experience working in the port, so I think she's be a good add as well. But for the primary I'm going for Claudia Kauffman.

Commission Position No.3 has Stephanie Bowman and the incumbent, who has not been particularly bad, but asleep at the wheel things keep happening under her tenure. Opposing her are Lisa Espinoza and Ahmed Abdi. I'm going for Ahmed Abdi, but we'll have this discussion again.

Commission Position No. 4 is a jump ball, as there are no incumbents here. There are a couple regulars that show up on ballots every so often, one or two that have no visible signs of campaigns, and a couple good ones. Of the good ones, it boils down to Preeti Shridhar and John Persak for me, and if pressed, I will look at John Persak's union bonafides and give him the nod.

More later,


Monday, July 17, 2017

The Political Desk: County Executive

This one is going to be between experienced incumbent Dow Constantine and, well, a candidate with an axe to grind. Goodspaceguy (who refers to himself in the Voter's Pamphelt as GoodSpaceGuy - get with it, ballot people) is against the minimum wage. ANY minimum wage. Bill Hirt is anti-light rail and is running to gain attention to his anti-light rail blog. Stan Lippman starts with his anti-vaccine stance, then goes onto his plant for a solar farm east of the Cascades and turning the monorail into a maglev system.

I'm looking at the names on the ballot, and thinking of creating a contest: King County Candidate or Dude in the Star Wars Cantina Scene? Anyway one of these other guys we will see again. But for everyone else, Dow Constantine.

More later,


Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Political Desk: Proposition

There is a single proposition on the ballot this time - King County Proposition No. 1 Sales Tax for Cultural Access Program. And its OK.

Here's the intent: a teeny-tiny sales tax increase, one tenth of one percent, going to cultural education in schools, tranportation to cultual venues for public school kids (read that as "bus fare to museums and zoos"), and make more funds about to expand such programs. It is a good cause, and something that I have a hard time opposing.

Still, there are some troubles with it. Liberals point out that it is an increase (though tiny) of the sales tax, which is a regressive tax (that is, hits people with lower incomes harder than those with higher incomes). Conservatives fear it like a holy symbol or garlic because it is a tax (though tiny), and therefore has tax cooties.

Me, I think the potential outweighs the price, and am going for Approved.

More later,


Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Political Desk: A Little Primary

So, it is with some trepidation that I pull the dust cover off the Political Desk, having been so drastically, horribly wrong in my predictions from the previous big election.

Mind you, I wasn't alone, and even nine months afterwards there does not seem to be any sort of consensus about what exactly happened. Factionism is blamed, scapegoats are rounded up, and theories ranging from the conspiratorial to the divine are bandied about, but no one seems to get the CREDIT for the win. Weird.

In any event, it is a reminded that the Desk is not here to play pundit (for we have more than enough of them out there), but to survey the field, do the bare amount of research, and make recommendations. And in this, the primary for the off-est of off-off-year elections (Primary date is August 1st), it is a good place to practice.

There's not a lot. There is a huge field for the Seattle Mayor's race (21 Candidates, which means you HAVE to find something you like somewhere), but I only work here in Seattle, and live in Kent. There's a single proposition on the ballot. A County Executive race that might as well be uncontested. The Port looks interesting, but the Port is always my favorite hive of scum and villainy. And we have some really local stuff that will interest fives if not tens of people.

So I have stuff to look at. And I'm not alone on that either. Crosscut has done a good job summarizing the races and candidates, with additional links to endorsements and candidate sites. Here's the King County candidates' statements (always good reading).  And here's the Municipal League ratings. The Seattle Times rolls with the establishment/pro-business/politely conservative viewpoints, where they even-handedly examine all the candidates and issues, and then endorse Dave Reichart anyway. The Stranger is on the trailing edge of its journalistic golden age, as much of hot young talent from a decade ago has moved on to gigs that actually pay. Seattlish awakens from its slumber to wade into the discussion. But much to my surprise, the Seattle Weekly has emerged from its cocoon to actually do some local political coverage. Welcome back, Seattle Weekly!

So for the next week or so, I'll be strolling through the primary ballot. Oh, just so those outside the area know, we are running a top-two primary, which means the top two candidates, regardless of party, go through to the final.  For those who are waiting for more stories from the ancient past of TSR, hearing about my commute, or interested in collectable quarters, you will have to be patient. This too will pass.

More later,

Monday, July 03, 2017

Mystara Redux

So while I did not break the Internet, the last entry did give my social meeting (Facebook and Google+) a charlie horse.

First, I'd like to thank everyone who posted something along the lines "I loved the final Karameikos project that you guys did". We got knocked back more than a little from the demanded changes, but everyone rallied and produced a top flight boxed set in Karameikos: Kingdom of Adventure. Kudos to my colleagues at putting it all together!

Second, I'd like to point out that I'm not mad at the Marketing/Sales guy who put us through logo hell. Well, not much. I left months after this particular debacle, and it was primarily my own exhaustion with how things worked plus a new opportunity with friends. This was just the tipping point.

Lastly, there were suggestions of publishing this anyway. The document itself was in first draft state and then abandoned before it was completed, is awash in typos, sarcastic comments, and unfinished sections. It is unplaytested, unreviewed, unrevised, and untouched by human hands. Even with permission, it would need a lot of work. So I have doubts about its usefulness, other than as a historic artifact. But I am posting here a summary of what survived in the files I had printed out at the time.  I'll point out that most of them are just gatherings of previous information scattered about the various Gazetteers, updated and brought into 2nd edition. Here's how it all broke down:

Introduction was our statement of intent, and declared that Mystara as a very new and very old world, gave its history, and stated that this was intended as a useful tool to both fans of the Known World and newcomers who came over from their first Dungeons & Dragons game or Dragonstrike (yes, there are a lot of cross-product plugs in this manuscript). It gives a very short overview of the history of Mystara, including mentioning Blackmoor and Alphatia, which are otherwise absent. The intro notes that is will concentrate on the "Known World" section (from way back in the red box era), and ends in the seasons, months, and days of the Thyatian calendar, which I was using to bring together all the timelines.

Next chapter talks about  the Kits and Characters of  Mystara. These are the kits that are universal throughout the various nations of Mystara, the ones that everyone (mostly) could get. They include Warrior Kits (Rural Hero and Veteran), Rogue Kits (Highwayman and City Rogue), a single Wizard kit (The Mystaran Wizard which hews tighter to the D&D mage, giving them Read magic and 7 spells of their school) and Priest Kits (Priest to a particular Immortal, Alignment Priests, and Druids). It wraps up with the player character races (the standard group from AD&D, with the note that most have their own countries), and multi-classing (which looks like was restricted to non-human races.)

This is followed by the Standard Spell Listings (including some notes about the ones I left off the list, including unkind words for Charm Plants) for Wizards and Priests. Then a slew of proficiencies, incorporating a lot of the ones that showed up in the GAZes, including Groveling (also called Toadying), Bravery, Food Tasting, Hard-Ball, and Piloting (Airmanship). There's a sidebar about how to handle charisma-based proficiencies). And wraps up with a huge summary of all the languages in the Known World, identifying Thayatian as the "Common" of the world.

I broke the nation descriptions into three parts. The first part contains The Core Lands, the most "Standard-fantasy" of the lot - Karameikos, Darokin, Glanti, and Thyatis. Each section had an Overview, geographic desctipion, People/Languages, History (sidebar of imporant dates), Ruling class, how they feel about Magic, Faiths and Philosophies, Cities, Adventuring (what you DO there), and finally kits. Karameikos has the Karameikan College Mage and Karameikan Guild Rogue, and Priests to Halav, Zirchev, and Petra. Darokin has Merchant-Mages, Darokin Guild Rogues, and Diplomats.  Glantri has Glantrian Mages and a Glantrian Guild Rogue (No priests allowed),  Thyatia has Gladiators, Foresters (A wizard kit), and Rakes. The Karameikos section still refers to Specularum at this point, and details the Shearing ceremony.

The second chunk of nation information is the Lands of Adventure, which is much the rest of the Known World with human cultures similar to other parts ofEearth - Atuaghin, Ethengar, Ylaruam, Minrothad, Ierendi, The Reaches, Sind, and the Heldannic Territories. They get the same outline as the Core Lands and their own tailored kits developed from their classes.. Minrothad has Marines, Minrothad Guild Rogues (not a lot of variety in guild rogue names, it seems), and Pirate/Privateers.  Ierendi has Naval Cadets and Marines for warriors, Ierendi Pirates/Privateers for rogues.  Ylaruam (does anyone know where this name comes from?) has Desert Warriors, Ylari Wizards and Battle Mages, and Scholars and Dervishes for priests (Yaruam spell-caster kits have their own spell listings, as they avoid necromantic and fire-based spells). The Reaches (Ostland, Vestland, and Soderfjord). wizard kit is the Norse Wise Woman (also known as the Soul Weaver), rogues get Skalds, and priests get Godi (Thor, Odin, Freya, Loki).

Take a deep breath before we continue on with: Ethengar has Horse Warrior as the only fighter kit available, Hakomon as the wizard kit, Bratak for the rogues, and Priests of Ethengar Immortals and Shamans as the Priest options. Heldannic territories have Heldannic Knights, and Warrior-Priests of Vanya. Atruaghin has Tribal Warrios (broken down into the various Clans), Hallilans (Scouts) for rogues, and Priest of Atruaghin's Servants, Druids, and Shamani for priests. Sind separates classes and kits by caste, and have Rihshyas for its priest kit.

Then we do the same for the Nonhuman Nations - Five Shires, Alfheim/Aengmore, Rockhome, and the Broken Lands. Alfheim is wrapped up with Elf/Shadowelf conflict, Its warriors are Clan Warriors, wizards have Treekeepers, and priests have their Immortals. (Elves only - no Shadowelf PCs). Rockhome rogues can be Undersiders ("Mad" outcasts), and priests are Dwarven Priests of Kagyar.  The hin of Five Shires have a grab-bag of other peoples' kits, and the Broken Lands don't have PC races, so no kits (Though there is a plug for the Complete Book of Humanoids).

Then there was to be a second book in the set, the Spellbook of Mystara, where I was dumping all the unique spells that came out the Gazeteers. It looks like I reformatted them for AD&D, and included the Glantri Secret Crafts. This volume was supposed to include transforming you D&D characters from previous campaigns to AD&D. But it looks like this was the point where the change occurred, or at least there are no other pages in the manuscript. So ends the tale of the Big Campaign Setting of Mystara.

As I said, it was pretty much a grand tour of the Known World (no Savage Coast, no Hollow World), with a lot of kits that are centered on the flavor of the surrounding area. Looking at it, the plethora of kits would probably drive most DMs mad trying to figure out the NPCs, but it was a big attempt. And re-reading it (and ignoring the typos), it is not bad at all.

More later,

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Why I left TSR

A couple years back I talked about Stormfront, the TSR world that I never ended up creating. And in the initial entry I said:
" Stormfront was pretty much my swan song at TSR. I was sad about the decision, though this was not what eventually convinced me it was time to leave the company (that would be Mystara ...)."
And I left it there until someone asked about. Well, someone finally did ask about it, I wrote up a response to them, and now I'm putting it in the blog as well. Here's the story of Mystara, why it was the way it was, why it was as good as it was, and why it sent me out the door.

The initial idea was "Bring the Known World of D&D into AD&D Second Edition". D&D had an excellent life apart from the AD&D line, through the BECMI line of boxed set rules (That's Basic, Expert, Companion, Masters, Immortals) and the Gazetteer series of source books. But D&D as a competing game system to AD&D was going to be curtailed. The Known World (as it was called at the time) would be converted to AD&D.
I was dubious. The Known World already had a long and successful life over in the D&D (mostly due to the work of Bruce Heard, who was its champion). The Known World had a unique look and feel and should it be made an AD&D world would be in direct competition with FR. But D&D was going to end as a set of game rules, and it would be AD&D going forward. And because I brought the Realms into TSR, I was a good candidate to help translate the Known World into AD&D.

I've been a fan of the Known World. I loved the maps and I loved the ever-increasing number of character sub-classes that showed up in the Gazetteers. Kits had worked very well in Al-Qadim, and I brought that concept over to revised setting. The initial idea was to do a massive overview on the world laid out by the Gazetteers, with a lot of crunchy bits in transfering all the regional subclasses to kits/. Unlike the Realms, which had empty space where Ed hadn't any stories/games in (Sembia, for example), there was a very complete world to start with here I wanted to embrace the complexity.

And I set to work - renaming the world Mystara (Known World felt too close to Forgotten Realms), and poking at all the nooks and crannies. And then everything went to hell over the logo. Yeah, the LOGO.
The Sales VP (perhaps it was the Marketing VP - TSR seemed to always have one but not the other) wanted to be deeply involved in creating the logo. And since fantasy meant knights, dragons, castles, and wizards, he wanted all of these things. On the logo. It was a dog's breakfast of a design. A couple of the artists threw up their hands trying to put it together, and no one in design liked the proposal much. Any attempt to minimize any one element was rejected. Finally there was a come-to-Jesus moment where a multi-discipline group confronted the Sales/Marketing guy and said this was a bad idea. (We eventually ended up with the logo shown here).
 
And he backed down. That was Thursday.

And by next Monday the entire nature of the project had changed, by order of management (including the Sales/Marketing guy). Instead of doing all of Mystara, the project would concentrate on Karameikos only. Oh, and since it would now tie in with our First Quest line, we would put Audio CDs into it. And the deadlines would not change.

All the material I had put together was pretty much wiped off the board (I found a manuscript of part of it the other day, while looking for other things). Fellow creatives came to my aid - Thomas Reid took up the adventure and the CD. Andria Hayday did a championship job with the editing and influenced the graphic presentation (as she had previously done on Al-Qadim). We got good artists. Jennell Jacquays did a triptic art piece we chopped up for three different covers. Walter Velez did some interiors. The fact that Karameikos had a indigenous population and a group of conquerors made it an interesting setting, and reflected in such things as we did the art as if it were in the world - so we had the same event drawn with different styles.

One of the challenges to Karameikos, though, was that Aaron Alston did a great job in creating a complete fantasy kingdom, but as a result, it was very difficult to add the Player Characters to the mix. What would they do in a kingdom where all the political forces were so evenly balanced? I referred to this as "trying to bite a billiard ball" and was pleased to have come up with some things for the PCs to do. I managed to do that without destabilizing the kingdom too much. I liked that.
And I renamed the Known Worlds as Mystara (or at least I'll take the blame for it). I also take the blame for renaming Specularum to Mirros - at the request of several co-workers who were squidged out by the similarity of the original name to "speculum" - explanations that both words came from the same core availed me nothing, so I changed it.

I stayed away from the CD side of the project for this and for Mark of Amber - I let Thomas carry that forward, and any stories on that I leave for him to tell. The books were also problematic - DJ Hienrich and Thorrin Gunnarsson were both pen names, and I had little influence on their efforts. I completed my part of the revision, wished Monte the best of luck on Glantri and walked away (well, there were Poor Wizards/Joshuan's Almanacs but I was pretty much done with the world).

Looking back through the 'net, most of the response to Karameikos, Kingdom of Adventure was very positive, which is nice. What we ended up with worked well. Whatever challenges we faced getting it across the finish line didn't reflect on the quality of the final project. However, getting there involved some scrambling to account for managerial decisions, and kinda burned me out. I was pretty much done.

After Karameikos, I just sort of moved on. Mark of Amber was a smooth design, but there was little to do beyond adapting Aaron's work to the new CD-based reality (I actually growled at my boss about my getting billing on that). Neither Man nor Beast for Ravenloft would be my last original project. But by that time I was disappointed with the atmosphere at the company. I would love to say that I was prescient about the bad financial times to come, but actually I had no real clue, and just felt it was time to go. Most of my cadre of designers and editors had moved on. When Margaret Weis offered me the chance to join Mag Force 7 in 1994, I took it, and left the operation. I loaded up all my personal stuff in a couple boxes, and everyone came down to wish me well as I left the building.

Then they went back up and looted all the stuff I left back in my cube.

More later,

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Gaming News

With summer Kickstarter has suddenly exploded with RPG options. I have swooped in and collected a bunch of them for your consideration.  Kickstarter has demonstrated an ability to reach out to a target market at a very personal level, which makes it fantastic for niche-operations like RPGs (and for niches-within-niches like Spy RPGs). I'm not backing all of these, but there some interesting stuff here that should pique yours interest.

The Lost Citadel: Some campaign settings aim at big, sprawling canvases that can accommodate any style or subgenre of play. The Lost Citadel is a lot more defined and refined - its world is founded by a single event, an underlying tragedy that informs everything that follows. Magic has died, the dead have risen, the last outpost of the living is a huge city of Redoubt. It is a dark world, with a single flickering point of light. This one has some serious talent, behind it and has funded and is knocking down stretch goals left and right. It also wraps in about a week.

The Yellow King: I don't know if this would exist without Kickstarter's ability to fund extremely dedicated markets. This is a four-volume set of adventures based on the Gumshoe rules used in Trail of Cthulhu, but not based on Lovecraft's work (a niche to start with) but in the King in Yellow, the creation of Robert Chambers. Starting in Belle Epoque Paris, the story bounces to an alternate universe with a horrific war, then to the present of that world, then back to "our" world with a few nasty changes around the edges. As a heads-up, this one looks like it is based out of England, and notes up front that the pledge does not support shipping.

War of the Cross: This looks like a diplomacy variant set in Theah, the "Europe" of the 7th Sea RPG. When I say diplomacy variant, it has armies, navies, area movement, convoys, etc... But it also has heroes (do differentiate the various nations) and treasures. This one has a while to go, both in time and funding - as a board game, it has a large up-front.[Update: Alas, this one has been suspended]

Torg Eternity: Long ago and far away there was TORG (The Other Roleplaying Game) from West End by BIll Slavicsek, Greg Gordon, and others. It used the multi-genre idea in divvying up the Earth into different zones, like the pulpy Egypt, the cyberpunky religious France, and horror-filled Indonesia. Now its back. You're a Storm Knight that can move between zones and fight the big bads.Torg Eternity rolled out with a 16-page introduction on Free RPG Day which was a good enticement.

Calidar: Dreams of Aerie: I mentioned Calidar as while back as Bruce Heard's design descendant of the Princess Ark concepts of flying ships. This time out he brings to the table a literal flying circus (as in three-ring) as a the centerpiece of his adventure. Suitable for use in any campaign with an atmosphere. You can see the initial maps at the link, which look cool. This one has just hit its numbers, but can increase through its stretch goals.

Top Secret: New World Order: This one has yet to go live, [Update: it is LIVE] but has an excellent provenance. The original Top Secret was one of the early non-fantasy games I encountered back in the day, and I contributed to the Top Secret: SI line with a cyberpunky future called FREELancers featuring old movie monsters re-imagined in a sinking Mirror-shaded Chicago.  And I had a pitch in for a TS Module called: Operation: Tin Man, which involved a camera on Mars sending back a picture of a banner saying "Surrender Dorothy!". Ah, yeah, good times. Do not know more about the details here, other than Merle "The Administrator" Rasmussen and Allen "The original editor" Hammack are on board for this  It has a spiffy video as well.

Check 'em out. More later.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Play: Serious Wimsey

Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers (and M. St. Claire Byrne, whom the program neglects to credit), Taproot Theatre Company, through June 24th.

The Lovely B and I recently removed ourselves from the safe bounds of Seattle Rep season tickets with an excursion to a new venue - the Taproot Theatre, north of the city on 85th Street in Greenwood. Situated at a confluence of major roads, it is one of those neighborhoods with a variety of restaurants and somewhat challenging parking (the e-tickets specifically state that, though it may look tempting, do NOT park in the Fred Meyers).

The Taproot is a 200-seat venue built around a thrust stage (that is, audience on three sides). This particular performance of Dorothy Sayers' mystery is very popular, such that we got tickets on the right-hand balcony, along a single row fronted by a low, extremely clear glass. Nice seats, good view of the action but I have a bit of crick in my neck from two and half hours of looking slightly to the right to follow the action.

Busman's Honeymoon was originally a play (one of Sayers' first) and later a novel (one of Sayers' last). It is set in Hertfordshire, where the newly-married detectives Lord Peter and Lady Harriet Vane have decamped for a honeymoon away from the bright lights of the press, with their loyal butler Bunter. They arrive at their newly-purchased cottage to find nothing prepared for them and the previous owner dead in the basement. The house is soon awash with typically British characters; the previous owner's mousy niece, the pottering vicar, the angry handyman, and the local constable (who actually says "What's all this, then" upon his entrance).

And Sayers/Byrne do an excellent job of the challenge of bringing the mystery genre to the stage. Sayers tends to play fair with her readers, and it shows here. The scene of the crime shows up early, and all the clues are in place to be discovered, including bits of business that seem innocent but later become revealing. If you've read the book, you'll know from the outset, but for those who have not, and those who have forgotten, I will leave it there.

But where the play succeeds is in the relationship of the newlyweds Peter and Harriet. Peter at his core is delighted to be married, but saddened by his very serious detective work, which will ultimately result in the destruction of the life of the guilty. Terry Edward Moore is a weary Wimsey, and you can see when he is positively delighted and when he is putting on the good show for others. With Harriet (a sparkling Alyson Scadron Branner) he has his strength, urging him onward, matching him pace for pace, but she comes from writing mysteries as opposed to solving them, and now she is yoked to that same sense of duty that drives Peter forward.

The rest of the cast is very good. Nolan Palmer is an arch-eyebrowed Bunter, settling into having a mistress as well as a master to tend to. The setting is Hertfordshire, but the accents of the locals span the the British Isles, and fortunately are carried forward with the vim and vigor of an island fragmented by a common language. Reginald Andre Jackson as Mr. Puffett the sweep digs in deep every time he has to talk about the "carroopted sut" clogging the chimney, while Brad Walker as Constable Sellon is a bit too young and slender to pull off the officer.

It is a good performance with good performers, and actually does a bit more digging into the characters than the 1940 movie (based on this play) which has the American Robert Montgomery as a very Mid-Atlantic Wimsey. In fact, I like the play more than the book that evolved out of it - the play is tighter, stronger, and uses the space to front the relationship of Harriet and Peter and to demonstrate that they are a match made for the courts.

One minor niggle, from the program book - Sayers is identified as a member of the Inklings, an Oxford group of writers that included Tolkien and Lewis. Yes, she was Oxfordian, and her letters are included with some of the Inklings at Wheaton College in Illinois but she was never a member. That's sort of like calling Ed Greenwood an Alliterate - while a fine writer with a shared heritage, he never officially part of the group.

As for the play - worth seeing, better than the movie and the book.

More later,

Monday, May 08, 2017

The Return of No Quarter (Pieces of VIII Edition)

It has been a while, but let us engage in the yearly ritual of the America the Beautiful series (AKA the National Parks Quarters, though most of them are not about National Parks). We are now in the eighth edition of this venerable review (which is the sequel to an earlier series). But let me address a matter from last time we talked on the subject.

I asked last time if quarters are getting lighter. The metal FEELS lighter, and seems less substantial than old quarters. But I was not sure, since I did not have a scale suitable to weigh them. Spurred in the spirit of scientific inquiry a friend produced a scale that would measure small amounts, and two piles of quarters, old and new. Weighing a similar number of each type would magnify any discrepancy.

And the results were ... surprising. The two stacks came up pretty even, but the NEW quarters were just a little heavier than the OLD. So my initial assumption (which I now blame of being an old fogey) was wrong.

And that is why we science.

Anyway, here's this year's bunch of quarters. For those new to this (and shame on you, it starts way back here and here ), here's the rating system:

Way Cool =A
Not Bad = B
Kinda Lame (also known as Meh) = C
Very Lame = D
The tooth fairy will not even leave these = E

Let us begin:

Effigy Mounds National Monument.- Iowa

When the Europeans pushed west across the North American continent, they were wandering into an apocalyptic wasteland. Disease brought by earlier arrivals decimated the local populations, and the remnants were pushed out or swallowed up by the new culture. However, the newcomers found mounds throughout the northern woodlands, large earthen structures built by human hands in isometric designs or animal shapes. When they weren't looting them for valuables or tearing them down for fill, the newcomers posited who could have built these structures - ancient civilizations, lost religious tribes, even space aliens. Anyone except the ancestors of the people they whose lands they were now claiming.

So. Effigy Mounds. These are in the northeast corner of the state (have you noticed that a lot of these places are far away from the center of their states?), hard on the border of Wisconsin, across the Mississippi from Prairie du Chien. It is a collection of 200-some mounds, including many in the rarer animal shapes, including birds and a procession of "marching bears". Yet it is interesting to note, per the wiki article, that even under Federal protection we're still dealing with looting and unauthorized construction.

The coin itself? Peeps in the grass. Sorry. Maybe it's the season, but I'm looking at this and it looks like marshmallow peeps, cast-offs from an Easter Egg hunt. It is a good and accurate representation of the shapes, or even the arrangement (I'm looking at maps here, and there are three mounds in tclose proximity that look just like that), but the end result looks a bit blobby.

Good choice for the subject matter. OK execution.

Rating:  C (Just ... meh)


Frederick Douglass National Historic Site - Washington DC

So in writing this one up, I went back to the last time Frederick Douglass was in the news - When the President, in a ham-handed recognition of Black History Month, referred to Fred as if he was still next door in a briefing room waiting for Lincoln to show up. Looking at the quote, it seems to be the traditional word salad that most people have come to expect from our gonna-get-better-any-moment- chief executive, but at least Mr. D got a shout-out.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about. Instead, there is something else going on here. I mean, Frederick Douglass was a major statesman, writer, and linchpin of abolition (we noted last year that he gave John Brown some very, very good advise about attacking the government (that it was a very, very bad idea)). But Washington DC is chock full to the rafters with monuments run by the National Park Service. How does Fred Douglass (regardless of his achievements) get the nod here?
Image from CoinNews.net, June 20, 2008

Then I found this: A Frederick Douglass quarter, with a flipped image to the current version, was one of the nominees for the STATE quarter series, only to be beaten out by Duke Ellington (whom I always connected with New York City and the Harlem Renaissance). So the Freddie-D quarter was already a backup, and got the slot as a consolation prize.

Still, it is nice quarter, a mirror of Mr. Ellington's, Mr. Douglass at his writing desk, the Haney Place in the background, which was finally finished by Alf and Ralph. A perfectly nice coin, but I have to call shenanigans on the selection process. Alternately, I could credit them with saving money on not commissioning a new piece but instead using pick-up art. Nah, I will go with shenanigans.

Rating:  B  (Not Bad)


Ozark Scenic National Riverway - Missouri

There seems to be a definite anti-urban pitch to these coins. I mean, I get it - it is the America the Beautiful series, and it has done a pretty good job at pointing out national forests mountains, and other natural sites that normally get overlooked, but would it kill them to point out a few more locations that people may have actually seen? Missouri did put the Gateway arch on the state quarter, but turned St.Louis into a fungal forest in order to do so.

Anyway, the the Ozark Scenic National Riverway is a tetris-block assembly of territory along the Current River and the Jacks Fork. It apparently has great canoeing and tubing, along with a number of natural springs. The coin shows Alley Mill, which used steel rollers to grind grain and is still mostly intact. And it is really not that bad, what with the tree framing the mill and the water (which doesn't look wide enough to qualify as a canoeable river, so let's call it a tributary), dominating the center.

Its a challenge, when the feature you are supposed to be centering on is a river, and supposedly flat river at that. It does the job.

Rating:  B  (Not Bad)


Ellis Island  National Monument (Statue of Liberty) - New Jersey

Here we see a similar-but-different problem to the South Carolina Fort-Moutraine-but-not-Fort-Sumpter quarter of last year. We have Ellis Island which is (mostly) part of Jersey (and has been since a 1998 court case), but what attracts everyone's attention is Liberty Island and the large green lady there (No, I am not talking about She-Hulk). On one hand, the entire complex is Federal property (so it really doesn't matter WHO owns WHAT on the island), but on the other, New Jersey DID claim this for their quarter.

Ellis, of course, was where a good chunk of immigrants debarked back in the day. That day would be about 3 decades surrounding the turn the last century. Millions of immigrants passed through its gates during that period, though it was not the only immigrant port in the US (other ports conducted their processing on the boats that brought individuals in), it has the rep for the biggest and most permanent. The cool looking building on the coin is the second Immigrant Station. The first was made of wood and burned to the ground in 1897. Crackdown on immigration laws starting in 1924 dwindled the use of the island fast, and eventually it became a detention and deportation headquarters, sending people the other direction.

The happy people shown on this coin most likely showed up before we shut the gates (again) in 1924. Given the number worn on their shirts, they come from the Village, a small state that remains part of the United Kingdom but is run by a secret government agency. These new arrivals are clearly happy to be in a new land with welcoming peoples and lack of giant white beach balls that haul them back to the Village if they try to escape. The woman, pensive, is wondering if she left the iron on.

The coin design itself is pretty good - It captures both the site and its purpose, working together to make it a better coin. And of course, New York claims to be 5 cents worth of the coin itself.

Rating:  B  (Not Bad). In fact, make it B+, the best coin of the season.


George Rogers Clark National Historic Park - Indiana

This coin commemorates the first official "fun run" in Vicennes in 1777. OK, actually, it represents George Rogers Clark (he's the one in the hat) leading his forces to take Fort Sackville. Or rather, to retake Fort Sackville, since they had lost it to the British), actually, I guess it is to re-retake since it was originally a British fort that the rebels took, then lost, then took again. I mean, this can only be expected with a fort called SACK-ville. I mean, why not just call it Fort "The Key is Under the Mat"?

OK, fine, George Rogers Clark was dispatched early in the revolution to the part of the world that the Americans would call "The Old Northwest", the British called "This is part of Quebec, now", and the natives called "What are all these Europeans doing in our living room?". The Brits had put up forts through this area, but had problems funding them, until the Quebec Act put the cost on the colonials (which did not end well). Clark bounced all over the region, capturing British outposts and founding Louisville in the process. This scene shows him and his men moving through the swamps to take the fort (we don't know exactly where it is (no really), but is somewhere off to the right of the coin).

It's not a horrible coin. It is well-crafted, but I did have to go through a long song and dance just to explain what the heck you were looking at. Which is a pity, since the site of the Park itself has a really cool, distinctive memorial building on the site, with statues and murals (it would be, dare I say, both beautiful and in America). Using the memorial itself would have been a cool coin (though I would have pointed out similarity to the Jefferson Memorial - same architect), and is a missed opportunity.

And that may be ultimately what has started to bother me about the coins in these series - they are so innocuous. Mountains. Streams. Questionable actions. The carving itself has gotten better over the years, but the subject matter has become more bland in the process,

Rating:  (Just ... meh)

Next Year: We head for the beach with a lot of National Seashores - three islands, a set of rocks, and some Canadians. I'm holding out hope that the Canadians are the most interesting.

More later,


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Play: Thriller in Manilla

Here Lies Love: Concept and lyrics by David Byrne, Music by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim,
Additional music by Tom Gandey and J Pardo, Choreographed by Annie-B Parson, Directed by Alex Timbers. Seattle Rep through May 28th.

So let me right off the bat salute the Rep for the ballisest production of recent years. I have in the past tweaked them for relatively safe performances that fit within the bounds of traditional theatre. Small companies of actors, one-person shows, self-contained productions that fly in and out without seemingly touching the ground upon which the stage rests.

Yeah. All of that goes out the window for Here Lies Love, in which the theater itself, seats and all, is transformed into a disco, where the audience can be on the disco floor among moveable stages, where the actors come down and press the flesh with the masses in front of live TV cameras, where there is a continual disco backbeat and an excellent cast powers through a tight ninety minutes that tells the tale of Imelda Marcos. This is one of those performances that poses and tremendous risk for the theater, and it pays off creatively (and should pay off financially, because - spoilers - you really should go see it).

The theater space is tranformed into a massive disco cathedral. The seats on the main floor are gone, and what once the right and left banks of seats are replaced with huge stacked levels for those who chose sitting over standing. Most of us are on the floor, which it tighter and brighter and noisier. The disco beat plays, and yes, there is a DJ. The action takes place on moving platforms that slide and rotate during the performance. Unsung heroes (in the fact that they don't sing) are the jump-suited attendants with glowing sticks (called aircraft marshalling wands, I have just discovered) that keep the groundlings from being crushed by the action.

Here's the not-quick summary: Imelda is poor, romances and is rejected by Ninoy Aquino, rising young senator. She goes to the big city, has a whirlwind romance with Marcos (who in the real world is 40 years her senior, but here is just a bit older), marries him. She is Jackie to Marcos' JFK, and tries to do good, but is swept up in the heady drug-fueled seventies and betrayed by her cheating husband. She returns to pick up the gauntlet when Marcos gets ill (lupus) and effectively runs the country with an iron hand, claiming to know what's best. Her old boyfriend Ninoy returns in her life as a leader of the opposition - she has him imprisoned, exiled and is assassinated upon his reveiw, but his shooting kicks off the revolution that causes her to flee the country.

It is a potted history of the Phillipines, shrunk to 90 minutes and shown through Imelda's eyes. She is is betrayed time upon time, and feels that the wounds she has suffered justifies her actions. Her costume over time becomes more armored and military as she becomes the Steel Butterfly. Even at the end, she feels betrayed by the people she felt she served in the name of love. 

That sense of betrayal spreads to the audience as well, as the the rousing back-beat and line-dancing becomes a demand to party as the military rolls in, the cities burn, and martial law descends. The feel-good optimism of the early play becomes dark as the audience is forced to uncomfortably condone the heroine. There's a moment when it dawns on each individual (a different moment for each audience member) that this is going down the wrong path, and their encouragement is demanded.

All that said, it is a powerful performance. All the singers are fantastic and the ensemble is frenetic as they change supporting roles at an instant. Jaygee Macapugay is a beautiful, fragile, convincing Imedla. Mark Bautista is Marcos with a seducer's smile. Byrne's style of lyrics comes out fully with Conrad Ricamora, as the white-suited (no subtlety here) Aquino. Melogy Butiu is Estrella, the childhood friend left behind and the reminder of the world Imelda no longer is part of. They are fantastic, throwing everything they have into the performance.

The musical ends (spoilers) with Imelda fleeing the People Power Revolution, but in the real world, its not that easy. Marcos is dead, but Imelda has returned to the Philipines and is a senator for her home district. Two of her four children (shown in pictures but not referenced in the performance) are heavy hitters in politics, and the family fortune, built up from all the corruption, is involved in the recent Panama Papers scandal. Yet that is not the happiest of endings for the people of the Philipines, and the play ends with the positive sense of finality of the revolution and a reprise of its main song.

This is spectacle. This is an event. This is one of those plays that long-term theater goers and those who avoid such traditional forms of entertainment should see. Well worth it.

A final review of this season: Here Lies Love wraps up the Seattle Rep's season (which is just as well, because they have to put all the seats back, now). And the season has felt like a time machine this years. We started in the late 50s with Raisin in the Sun, jumped to the AIDs crisis in the 80s with Roz and Ray, jumped a few years more years to the Post-Queen Elizabeth era of King Charles III, back to the 70s with Vietgone, rolled through the Great Depression with Woody Sez, jumped into a weird interior mindspace of the 60s with Well, went contemporary with Dry Powder (the only one I really didn't care for) and then wrapped up with the 60s-80s in the Phillipines. This was a very political, wide-ranging season, and the Rep did a damned fine job. Theater as Tardis. Looking forward to what happens next year.

More later. 





Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Small talk with David Byrne

The Lovely Bride and I (along with 47 others) had dinner with David Byrne at Canlis. Let me explain what that means and how that happened. Yes, there will be copious links to help out.

As the kids today say: Pics or it did not happen.
David Byrne was the lead singer/songwriter for Talking Heads, a new wave band of the late seventies and eighties. And while I was a fan of the Talking Heads, I really particularly loved his music from Knee Plays, of which the Lovely Bride had a copy. We are not sure where the cassette came from, but we think it came from a mutual friend who was into such things as Brian Eno, Jon Anderson, and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. Suffice to say, we had the album on an old tape cassette and I knew most of the lines by heart; the music was New Orleans brass band backing up the simple and quirky wordplay of the lyrics.

OK. So. Big fan of David Byrne's work (more recently, he's been recording with St. Vincent). And one of his latest projects, Here Lies Love, will be wrapping up the season at the Seattle Repertory. We won't see it until next week, but (spoilers from the meal), the early previews are doing well. Here Lies Love is the story of Imelda Marcos, First Lady of the Philippines, set to a disco beat. In fact, they have converted the venerable Bagley Wright auditorium into a discotheque for the performance. More on that, again, when we see the performance next week.

Anyway, the Rep had sent out a fundraising flier for a dinner with David Byrne. As long-time subscribers, we got the postcard, which we normally pass on. But this time, the Lovely B, having missed a number of things because it is tax season, decided we should take them up on it. So, we made an (embarrassing large) donation for dinner at Canlis with David Byrne.

The private upstairs room at Canlis.
Ah, Canlis. People in Seattle know about Canlis. It is our legendary top restaurant, the place for big anniversaries and important celebrations, the one restaurant in Seattle where one is expected to wear a suit and tie (I discovered later that evening that the Columbia Club used to have this restriction until recently as well, but has slacked off at the tie thing). Nestled at the southern end of the Aurora Bridge which crosses the canal to Lake Union, Canlis commands a view of the Lake, the ship canal to Lake Washington to the East, Fremont and Wallingford, and the U-District in the distance. The view is wonderful, and the food, which has gone through a couple incarnations in the time we've been there, is legendary.

And, there is a main dining room, and a private room with an even better view directly above. This smaller space has large wooden shutters that can be opened to the dining area below, or closed for more private functions. I had never climbed the stairs to this area, though the Lovely Bride had snuck off during one dinner to explore (the staff caught her, and since there was no function upstairs at the time, gave her the full tour). So, a private function at the priciest joint in town. We arrived slightly early and we were ushered up the stairs.

These excellent photos courtesy of Seattle Rep, by the way.
And I met David Byrne. Lean, grey-haired, bright-eyed, dressed in a powder blue suit with an American flag on the lapel. He was standing next to Braden Abraham, the art director. At the time, I thought he was art director for the production, but eventually, the penny dropped for me  and I realized he was the Art Director for the entire Seattle Rep. So that was a bit stunning. I introduced Kate first, then myself. Handshakes were made. Kate moved on towards the bar for a mojito, Braden faded back into another discussion, and David Byrne and made small talk.

And here's the thing. In my very small modicum of fame (blessedly limited to gaming conventions for the most part), I have met fans who have squeed over my very presence, been dumbfounded at my words, or sought to argue some point of a project I worked on several decades previously. And I want everyone to know, that I completely understand those attitudes. Because as we made small talk, cocktail talk,, the back of lizard brain was shouting My God, I'm Talking to David Byrne! 

We talked about the process that brought Here Lies Love to Seattle, I told him I was a great admirer of his work. We talked about the weather (after constant rain since October, we were blessed with a beautiful beautiful day). We talked about seaplanes. He admired my trilobite pin.We spoke briefly of on-line comics. Others came up the stairs, and, my moment passed, I thanked him again and made way for the newcomers (it always being bad form to bogart the Guest of Honor).

Just a wonderful photo of the Lovely
Bride and I.
And, delighted (that was David Byrne!), I moved off and talked with other guests. By the time Kate returned I was chatting with Darragh Kennan, an actor I had seen at the Rep who was serving as a rep for the Rep that evening. Darragh had been Sherlock Holmes in two productions at the Rep, and we chatter about our long-standing season tickets at the Rep, favorite plays, theater in Milwaukee and elsewhere. Servers circulated with wine, and later hors d'oeuvres. When Kate could not have the steak tartar because of her allergies (a mayonnaise aoli), they retreated and reappeared a few minutes later with a sample that was egg-free. They're good that way.

We mingled. I declare that I am not a social animal, but I do like to listen, and ended up spending time with an expediting engineer who handled programming problem children, a retired couple whose apartment we could see from the horizon, and a UW geologist who had written a book on roadside geology (he, too, was curious about why I would wear a trilobite on my lapel). The Rep had a photographer present, so we did get pictures.

David Byrne takes questions from the floor.
Dinner was a limited menu but completely up to Canlis's standards. Five tables of ten. Ours had Darragh, Braden (alas, I missed my chance to recommend that, since they were ripping out seats at the venerable B-W, they could replace them with recliners), the retired couple, a psychologist working on his dissertation, married to author who writes books on investing. And a couple, the husband of which I had little chance to talk to, but whose spouse worked for Wells Fargo and was part of the Arts Fund, and who worked for one of the OTHER Jeff Grubbs in the universe. Dinner was a perfect filet mignon for me and a flaky halibut for the LB, but out attention was on the discussion, not the food. 

David and Braden gave a brief talk on Here Lies Love, answered a few questions, and had to leave for a preview of the production that evening. We chatted among ourselves -art and politics (Imelda Marcos is still with us - no, she has not seen the musical), and adjourned some time afterward. Kate and I had booked a room in Seattle, overlooking the new site of the Museum of History and Industry, and the next morning brunched at Salty's on Alki and wrapped up a wonderful 24 hours in Seattle, a vacation without a plane trip.

And yeah, people are going to catch me smiling at work for the next week  for no obvious reason.

More later,