Monday, October 29, 2012

The Political Desk: Summing Up

So, putting everything on the ballot in one place, here's what we have:

Proposed by Initiative Petition
Initiative Measure No. 1185
(Retain supermajority to raise taxes) - NO

Proposed by Initiative Petition
Initiative Measure No. 1240
(Approve charter schools) - NO

Passed by the Legislature and Ordered Referendum by Petition
Referendum Measure No. 74
(Marriage Equality) - APPROVED*

Proposed to the Legislature and Referred to the People
Initiative Measure No. 502
(Decriminalize and regulate marijuana) - YES

Proposed to the People by the Legislature
Amendment to the State Constitution
Engrossed Senate Joint Resolution No. 8221
(Changing debt collection and definition of general state revenues) - REJECTED

Proposed to the People by the Legislature
Amendment to the State Constitution
Senate Joint Resolution No. 8223
(Allow Washington universities to invest in private companies and stock) - REJECTED

Advisory Vote of the People
Advisory Vote No. 1
Engrossed Senate Bill 6635
(Close a Loophole) - MAINTAINED

Advisory Vote of the People
Advisory Vote No. 2
Substitute House Bill 2590
(Extend a tax on oil companies) - MAINTAINED

King County
Proposition No. 1
Regular Property Tax Levy for Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) Services
(What it says) - APPROVED

President and Vice President of the United States
Barack Obama and Joe Biden

United States Senator
Maria Cantwell

United State Representative Congressional District No. 9
Adam Smith

Jay Inslee

Lieutenant Governor
Bill Finkbeiner

Secretary of State
Kathleen Drew and Kim Wyman

State Treasurer
Jim McIntire

State Auditor
Troy Kelley

Attorney General
Bob Ferguson

Commissioner of Public Lands
Peter J. Goldmark

Insurance Commissioner
Mike Kreidler

Legislative District No. 11
State Senator
Bob Hasegawa

Legislative District No. 11
Representative Position No. 1
Jim Flynn

Legislative District No. 11
Representative Position No. 2
Steve Berquist

King County
Steve Strachan

State Supreme Court
Sheryl Gordon McCloud**

Superior Court
Judge Position No. 42
Christopher A. Washington.

City of Kent
Proposition No. 1
Levy to Support Kent Parks and Street
(Yeah, that) - APPROVED.

More later, but right now I need a bit of a lie down.

* So while I was writing this list up last night, I got a robo-poll from a group called "Preserve Marriage" or something like it. My choices were: Punch 1 to maintain marriage as one man and one woman, or Punch 2 to redefine marriage. No third choice was offered, so I punched 2. Apparently it was the right answer, since it quickly told me that was the end of the questionnaire. So you get a robocall like this, you can get out of it easily by punching 2, even though you're not redefining, you're recognizing. Pah-TAY-toe, Pah-TAH-toe.

**MASSIVE ERROR - I put the wrong candidate down here initially. See the Law and Order entry for the reasoning.Thanks to Wolf for catching it.

PS - And Furthermore, My friend and Tolkien Scholar Sacnoth is writing up his views as well.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Political Desk: Picking Up The Spare.

So, we're done, right?

Not quite.

The city of Kent, my new home town, has been oddly quiet this year, with no one on the ballot for any of its positions. To which I can safely say, thank goodness for that. But it DOES have Proposition No. 1 - Levy to Support Kent Parks and Streets.

It is a tax increase, a property tax increase, to fund improvements to parks and streets. And they sent out some flier about which particular parks and streets would be covered by this. It's not like the money is dumped into a big bin and pulled out until the bin is empty. They've done the due diligence, and have a list and a schedule and ...

Hmmm. It looks like my road is on the list. OK, I'm surprised. Not because we can use some improvements - the area is seeing a massive increase in population of late, and the roads, while hardly a gravel path (that would be our driveway) are a Frankenstein-quilt of cuts and patches to handle both the additional locals and the increased car traffic. What surprises me is that we're so far up on the list, what with the Panther Lake neighborhood just joining Kent officially a few years back.

OK, I'm sold. Vote Approved on this. Because I'd do the same to improve your roads.

More later,

The Political Desk: Law and Order

OK, let us move into Judges and the County Sheriff. I will only be making recommendations for races that are actually races. For some of the Judgeships, if a candidate gets more than 50% in the primary, they just go onto the final ballot without a challenger. Which is why you should vote in primaries (but you've already heard me go on about that before).

So, law and order -

King County Sheriff  - Normally this would be the entrenched establishment type against a new broom. The strange thing here is that the new broom is the incumbent, and the good old boys is the challenger. Steve Strachan was appointed to the office with the departure of the previous Sheriff, Sue Rahr, and has done a good job in moving the department forward. He's been progressive, positive, and has cleared away a lot of the debris that tends to grow up around any entrenched operation. That's a good thing (casting a baleful eye at the Seattle Police department, which now has to have the Justice Department holding its hand). His opponent, John Urquhart has been part of the old guard. I've talked to those who follow this sort of thing, looked at the Muni League endorsements, and I'm going with Steve Strachan.

State Supreme Court Justice Position No. 9  - Sheryl Gordon McCloud. She gets good marks from the Voting for Judges. I'm good for that. Her opponent, Richard Sanders has a strong libertarian streak that shows up in ill-considered, inflammatory  and often racist statements. He was a former Supreme and got voted out for his shenanigans before (like yelling "Tyrant" at a Bush-appointed AG), and now he wants to be back.Yes, go for McCloud.

Superior Court Judge Position No. 42 - I went for Sue Parisien in the primary, but am flipping for Christopher Washington. I was good for Parisien even though Voting for Judges gave Washington better endorsements, but since the primary there have been a spate of the candidate claiming endorsements that were not particularly true. I'm going to recommend Christopher Washington.

Just one more, then we sum up.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Political Desk: State Legislature

Let me tell you something about the Washington State Legislature. It is triple-A ball. The minor leagues. The governmental equivalent of the QA department. It has a lot of gifted amateurs and first-time politicians with potential. And that's a very good thing.

Our state legislature is a part-time operation. It is not continually in session. The pay is respectable but modest (about 42k). As a result, it attracts people starting out, those who have a passion for governance, people with day jobs. This is a place where you have firemen, local council members, real estate agents, writers, florists, and others who are help running the state as a side job. Some are professional politicians  Many are not. Experience is preferred but not necessary. This is the entry-level job, where you get the experience.

And as a result, we tend to have a responsive legislature which is in contact with its constituency. And I'm good with that.

So, for the 11th District, here are my recommendations:

State Senate - Bob Hasegawa. Mr Hasegawa is an upgrade from Rep to Senator (he even just made a slight modification to his yard signs - thrifty!). He's in the department of experienced, and worth going up to the Senate.

State Representative, Position 1 - Jim Flynn. Allow me my pure personal preference on this. Both Jim Flynn and fellow Democrat Zack Hudgins are in favor of reforming our state budgetary mess by ditching our state sales tax and creating a state income tax, but Flynn is REALLY in favor, making it the centerpiece of his campaign. I'm always saying this would be a good thing, and this is a place to put my money where my mouth is.

State Representative  Postion 2 - Steve Berquist. Mr. Berquist wasn't even on my radar in the primaries, but his message is that if we're going to deciding education issues in the legislature, it makes sense to have at least one teacher present. He's right. And keeping with what I said above, the State Legislature is a great place for people to turn interest into concrete results.

So, having dealt with that, let me take a couple more swings at the Seattle Times. Here are their recommendations, written before they shredded their rep by paying for ads. Those ads which, by their own analysis, are not completely true. Go read it.

Their endorsements are Thomsen, Hudgins, and Berquist. That's cool - they have their opinions. But their logic is tortured to the point that we should bring in UN Observers.

Hasegawa is bad, apparently, because he opposed five bills the Times liked, and supports a progressive income tax, and his opponent, though lacking experience, is more in line with what they want. And that's OK, it is their editorial page. But then they note that Zack Hudgins ALSO opposed the bills that Hasegawa opposed, AND supports progressive income tax, but they're endorsing him anyway because his opponent is even more committed to a progressive income tax. So Hudgins is ... OK, even though he believes the same thing as Hasegawa? And while Hasegawa's opponent is OK despite a lack of experience, Bergquist's opponent is not OK because of a lack of experience.

I've read this a couple times, and it makes my head hurt with every iteration. I mean, it's their editorial page, and they are free to promote as they see fit. But if you can't maintain consistency of thought through a single article, you've got some problems going on. Were it a hardcore conservative (or progressive) screed, I could understand it, but the reasons given in paragraph five are completely subverted in paragraph seven. Do they not see the problems? Did three different people write this? Did the board provide a list of names and expect the writer to come up with something? Were they celebrating the passage of I-502 a WEE bit too early?

I mean, I expect this sort of thing from the Stranger, but not from a paper that purports itself to be Seattle's paper of record.

Next up, Law and Order (and I try to stop being such a hard-ass on the Times)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Political Desk: State Executive

I think it is clear by now I have a political "type" - Wonky, goal-oriented, achievement-based, progressive-minded, centrist in results, consensus-driven. I WILL vote against a particular candidate from time to time, and there are a couple on the ballot that I will throw my weight against. but I'd much rather vote FOR someone. Just so you know.

In any event, Washington State elects it ENTIRE EXECUTIVE every four years, timed with the national elections. So we have a lot of ground to cover.

Governor - Jay Inslee fits the above-mentioned type I favor. Former US Rep, centrist, strong on green energy and jobs. Yeah, I think he's do the job. He doesn't make me take to the streets in support, but he sounds pretty competent. And he's pro-environment, but then, in Seattle, who isn't? (oh yeah, the guys who want to run coal trains through downtown to send coal to China) Vote Inslee.

By the same token, Rob McKenna has evolved into the type of candidate I will vote against. He strikes me as the cartoon-Republican we see parodied on the Daily Show. Runs as an outsider while he's been part of the administration for the past eight years as Attorney General. He started strong in that role, but is known best for opposing things (ACA, a case against the Bureau of Public Lands) than accomplishing things. And then losing in court in that opposition. Talks small government and thrift while his department got bigger and his paycheck heavier. Slew of gaffes early on, such that he's currently laying low with the aid of a compliant press and acting more moderate.

Yet, despite my misgivings, I still suspect McKenna is going to take this. We've had of lot of Democrat governance for the past decade and this could be a change election.  Plus, the Seattle Times is running its own ads for the guy, and should be expecting a payout if he wins.

And note to the Times: If you're going to trash your journalistic ethics to campaign for a candidate, the least you should do is make some good ads. The one in yesterday's paper would get lost on a mailer.

Lieutenant Governor - On the other hand, I will gladly endorse Republican Bill Finkbeiner. Finkbeiner was for marriage equality before it was cool, and is more to the left than the incumbent. Yeah, let's go with him.

Secretary of State. No endorsement, because I simply can't make up my mind. Both Kathleen Drew and Kim Wyman are excellent candidates. They have good endorsements and ideas. They would be challenged to fill the shoes of Sam Reed (the wise and understanding grandfather of Washington Politics) but either would be up to that challenge. I've written this paragraph five times, and each time ended up endorsing one or the other. Let me endorse both, then. I mean, its my blog, after all.

State Treasurer - Jim McIntire. Incumbent. Competent. Should be re-elected.

State Auditor - Here's the flip side of the Secretary of State. I didn't particularly care much for EITHER of these guys in the primary, but hey, we're a democracy. I'm going to go with Troy Kelley because he is less conservative and anti-government than James Watkins. And you really should have people in government that LIKE government.

Attorney General - Bob Ferguson shows up for the job and has a couple armfuls of endorsements. Opponent Reagan. Dunn is running off name recognition, the hope you won't notice his voting record, and deep out of state pockets. Said pockets (Karl Rove's Republican State Leadership Commission) are running a scare ad against Ferguson about him working to defend a cop-killer. Twenty five years ago. When he was a law student. And by "working for" we mean seeking to get death row criminals decent representation. Yeah, that's all they got, a lot of faux outrage. Did I mention that this outrage did not extend to the Washington State Patrol Troopers Association, which endorsed Ferguson? Well, now I have.

This ad has been running in heavy rotation during sports games for the past two weeks. The Times only has chosen to address it once the Dems starting running their own pearl-clutcher of an ad about Dunn making deals with criminals (which in the real world is called "plea-bargaining"). Because as a referee of public discussion, it only worth reporting if the other side hits back.

Commissioner of Public Lands - Peter J Goldmark, unless you're a Redskins fan. Even then, you might think again.

Insurance Commissioner - Mike Kriedler. see above for Jim McIntire.

Next up, we go to the State Legislature, and I beat up on the Seattle Times some more.

More later,

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Political Desk: Federal Level

Grubbstreet endorses Barack Obama and Joe Biden for President and Vice President.

I know, you're stunned.

The simple fact of the matter is that Obama has done a lot of things that have been on the to-do list for some time. Saving the economy is one of those. So is getting Bin Laden. For most people, that would be enough., But there is a lot more, and here's a nice, boring list of some of thing accomplished by the Obama' administration. Here's another one, even longer and more acredited and therefore more boring.

Here's what I take away from all this - capable, competent, almost wonkish, a little boring at times, working within the framework to accomplish things. Deserving of a second term.

Perfection? Hardly. There is a lot I don't like about this administration. Gitmo, Drones. Hardline drug policy. And the ACA really could have used Single Payer. But the simple truth is that I don't seem anything getting better on these fronts from a Republican administration  and given that the GOP's current brain trust are the guys that got us into this mess in the first place, I really don't want to toss them the keys quite yet.

As for Mr. Romney, I have no doubt that he has some firm convictions and ideas, but I have no idea what they are. While I've gotten used to "Say-Anything" candidates, he's the first "Say-Everything" candidate I've ever encountered, where his statements vary according to audience, live mikes, location, time of day and phase of the moon. There HAS to be some version of Romney that you'd vote for in all that, but I have no idea which one is going to show up for work on Day One. (In the last debate, he moved from condemning the President's foreign policy to endorsing it over the period of three weeks).

I understand that some people may be repelled by both candidates, and for that reason I recommend cruising through the other names on the list, for no other reason to appreciate the two guys in the majors. I flirt with Libertarianism, for example, but what they have is socially progressive but internationally isolationist and economically crazy even by GOP standards. The Greens have that earnest, hey-kids-let-put-on-a-show vibe but the only ones who really want to talk about climate change. But, I point them out as a viable options if Biden backed over your dog, and then Ryan tied him to the station wagon's roof.

Also at the Federal Level, for Senate I recommend Maria Cantwell, who is also a deep-hearted wonk who has brought enough business into Washington State to make even the Times happy. Her opponent has attacked her for her support of the war, and I strongly recommend that the State GOP find more office-seekers like this and run them in races where they actually stand a chance.

And finally US Rep, I'm going to go with Adam (not the Wealth of Nations guy, the other one) Smith, who has been a workhorse as well, and looks to represent the new redrawn district well. This is a first-time vote for Smith, and we'll see where we go with this.

More later,

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Political Desk: Initiatives

Let's start with the most painful part, since it is at the start of the ballot and likely to dissuade others from proceeding.

I've been a critic of the initiative system in our state for some time. Created with an eye to encouraging more direct democracy, it instead sometimes feels like handing a paint gun to a child in the depths of a sugar rush. We get some good ideas, a lot of bad ones, and some that arcane to the point of no return.

And it is made event more confusing by mudging together Initiatives, Referendums, Amendments, Propositions and Advisory Votes (oh my).

Let's get down to cases.

I-1185 is the return of the Magic Pony initiative, which requires that tax increases require two-thirds legislative majorities or receive voter approval. The old initiative that does this is going away, and thi\e purpose of this is is to keep the state from having too much money to spend. Because, you know, forced austerity has worked out SO WELL for the past few years. The promised result is, with less money, the state will be more budgetary responsible. The real result we reduce the amount of money the government can spend, and then complain about how it can't do anything. I vote NO, but it will probably pass, given that everyone is afraid of taxes.

I-1240 is another repeat, for Charter Schools, which has gone down three times so far. I would be more pro Charters if I had a good handle on whether they were effective in the other forty-some states where they are. So far, some are, and some aren't, which leads me to believe that they might work with proper oversight. Unfortunately  the lack of oversight is something that is promoted as a positive thing for Charter Schools. I remain dubious, and say NO.

R-74 is not a Initiative but a referendum. Initiatives are new laws proposed by the citizenry, which gathers sufficient signatures to put them on the ballot. Referendums are a REACTION to laws passed, while citizens seek to overturn them by popular vote. Just so you know the difference. Washington already PASSED and SIGNED INTO LAW a marriage equality law, and those who don't like it are trying nullify it. So you are voting to confirm something that the guys your elected to represent your will have already voted on. Confused? Welcome to our more direct form of democracy.

Did I mention the REIN FIRE RANCH?
R-74 recognizes same-sex marriage. I support this idea. In fact, I not only support it, I will point out that an ideal place for your wedding reception is the REIN FIRE RANCH, operated by Rich Kaalaas, who was my boss for a while. Nestled in the "serene Sugar Loaf Mountain Valley", a short drive from Renton, the REIN FIRE RANCH is a great place for your reception, regardless of the gender of the participants. That's REIN FIRE RANCH.

Oh, and yeah, R-74 should be APPROVED.

I-502 sounds like another reason to not let the citizens make up their own laws. It decriminalizes marijuana and allows it to be licenced and regulated. Despite my curmudgeonly nature, I'm in favor of this, because our drug war has been a pretty big bust (Heh. you see what I did there). The history of marijuana regulation shows nothing but the frustration of trying to enforce prohibition, and it is time to start making the change. This version has real law enforcement people on its side, so I'm paying attention.

Yes, the Feds will come down on this like a ton of bricks, but you know, that's what we need if we're going to figure out how to get the war on drugs under control. Left to its own devices, it just keep sprawling, and this administration has shown that when folk push, it will listen. So push. YES on 502.

And these were the easy ones. From here on in it gets dicey. I freely admit I could be wrong on these, but they have terminology that threatens to throw you on the first curve.

Engrossed Senate Joint Resolution (ESJR) 8221 is a great example of illegible legibabble. It reads like the terms of service you have to agree to before playing a video game. You hit "Agree" but you wonder if two big guys named Louie are going to come over and take your cat. Nearest I can figure out this is to reduce the debt (that's good), but it does so by rejiggering some definitions of what counts as state revenues (that's bad). From the Voter's Guide, those against it are concerned that the process will increase the interest rates, actually giving us LESS money to work with. I think. I will admit to confusion, and in the process, I will REJECT it.

SJR 8223 allows the Washington universities (UW and WSU) will give them more freedom to invest public fund in private companies. Because private companies are safe and secure places to put our money., Ummm, let's REJECT this one as well.

Advisory Vote No. 1 - ESB 6635.  This is arcane beyond belief. This is an advisory vote, which means it is more of a poll question.And as a result, we DON"T get for/against argument in the voter's guide (thanks, guys). But if I understand it correctly, This is about closing a loophole, ending a tax break. So yeah, I think its a good idea.

BUT, it uses the phrase "This tax increase should be:" and that's what has me fired up a bit. We make it damned near impossible to raise taxes (see I-1185 above), and then define everything as a tax increase. BRILLIANT!  Sorry, this is not a tax increase. This is closing a loophole. Vote to Maintain.

Advisory Vote No. 2 - SHB 2590. Same thing as before. This is NOT a tax increase so far as I can tell, despite the language. This is delaying the expiration of a tax. This is loopy tax logic, but if it doesn't pass, it encourages everyone who has to pay something to the government to call that a tax increase and challenge it. What's next? I made more last year, so I have to pay more, and its a tax increase? Vote to Maintain this tax on its current schedule.

And finally, we have one at the County Level:
King County Proposition No. 1 Regular Property Tax Levy for Automated Fingerprint Identification System. (Oddly, the description of the Levy is longer than the title, which I did not expect). This is a re-upping of a system by which we share fingerprint information with other communities through a central database. I think its a good thing (Some may differ). I vote APPROVED.

Believe it or not, this is the worst of it. It gets easier after this.

The Political Desk Opens Late

Sweet Mother Malarky, the ballots and voting guides have arrived, and we are little more than two weeks away from the elections, and I am rousted from my sluggard nature only by the fact that some of my regular readers (of which I have tens if not dozens) in Washington State have already voted. So now I am under the gun for a quick turnaround.

I've been doing this for a while now, and the regulars know that I'm a tad bit left of center in my recommendations. But let me point you to some other options as well, for the Seattle area. The online version of the Washington State Voter's Guide is here, and that for King County is here. Voting-For-Judges does a good job compiling judicial recommendations. The Municipal League is here for candidate and here for a couple ballot measures. If you like your recommendations liberal and foul-mouthed, the Stranger provides for that need here. If you go for a more lefty but polite version, here are some of Publicola's (they don't seem to compile them so you'll have to bounce around). And if you rely on the Seattle Times editorial page ...

Well, why would you do a damned fool thing like that?

The Times editorial page is conservative but not arch, and does lend its considerable weight to progressive causes and often endorses Democratic candidates. But it would, all things being equal, prefer to see pro-business Republicans in charge, and it shows strongly both on their editorial page and in their presentation of the news itself. They are more than wiling to carry water for the State GOP on the occasional hatchet job on Dem candidates, while keeping mum on GOP problems until they are commonplace on the local blogs (and/or in the pages of the aforementioned foul-mouthed Stranger). Democrat sins are to be dwelt upon on the front page, Local Section, while Republican candidates in dire straights merely "face challenges" and their travails show up deeper in the paper (sometimes after the comics). They just did a endorsement of Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell, but were so effusive about her Republican challenger I had to double-check the lede. Their own "Truth Needle" can be a flaccid thing, draped over the EMP. Such behavior is pretty much par for the course.

But this past week, the Times has announced that it will now be writing, creating, and presenting their own in-paper political ads for a candidate, in this case Republican Candidate Rob McKenna, in addition to supporting R-74. They have stated that this is an experiment to show that newspapers still matter. This is not the owners of the paper buying space or keeping their opinions to the editorial page or supporting a particular initiative, but rather the newspaper's editorial board campaigning directly for a particular officeseeker. It is a pretty radical move, and its own reporters are pretty staggered by it.

This is, of course, a horrible idea, and puts into question their coverage of everything they report on, regardless of political slant. As the only daily paper in town, and a paper that is deeply proud of its independent roots, this one is a messy, self-inflicted wound. The Stranger (did I mention it was foul-mouthed?) is blatantly and obviously biased as well, but even it is not creating ads for its chosen candidates.

But here, have some ammunition. I will catch up when I can.

More later,

Friday, October 05, 2012

Commercial Message

This Saturday is "Star Wars Reads" day, with events all over the country. In Seattle, I will be at the University Book Store up at UW at 6 PM, signing my Star Wars: Scourge book. If you're in the area, and/or a fan of Star Wars, stop by and say hi, 'cause that's where I shall be.

May the Force be with you. More later,

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Play: Theatre in the Abstract

Medea/ Macbeth/ Cinderella Adapted by Bill Rauch and Tracy Young from Euripides' Medea, Translated by Paul Roche, Music and Lyrics by Shishir Kurup, William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Music by Richard Rodgers, Book and Lyric by Oscar Hammerstein II. Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Bowmer Theater.

Short Version: A Brief History of Theater. I think.

This is a mystery basket of a play. No, really, like when you’re watching Chopped, and they open the basket for the appetizer round and the chefs are given watermelon candy, Brussel sprouts, and reindeer meat and given twenty minutes to come up with something? In this case, the basket contains The classic Greek play Medea, Shakespeare's Macbeth, and the Broadway version of Cinderella. You have three hours. And your time starts - now.

And the result is sort of like watching three televisions tuned to different channels. Sometimes the connections of there (the overlap of conversations answering questions asked in another dimension), and save for the three are protagonists, there isn’t a lot obviously binding them together.Our entry character into the play is an usher (Mark Bedard) who finds himself impressed in a number of minor roles through the play, shoved out to be a servant or a herald or some necessary piece of exposition, but he is more framing device than viewpoint character. He pitches down this rabbit hole and is soon as lost as the rest of us. And while some characters do flip over (Banquo's ghost dances with the Ugly Stepsisters at the Prince's ball, The Fairy Godmother (a sparkling K.T. Vogt) transforms to Hecate to speak with Macbeth's Witches), most of them stay in their dimensions, acting out the play in parallel dimensions.

Deja Vu: Lady Macbeth at the Tate
They run at the same time, the conversations of one supposed to be overlapping the others, creating noise from which you can pick out the plots. At first I thought it was a microphone problem, but soon you succumb to the cacophony and get to an initial first point - its not about the words. Instead you start following the general arc of theater as a performance in itself. Here is exposition. Here is rising action. Here is the first crisis point. Here is the initial decision by the protagonist. Here is the big number before the intermission. Here is the complication. The exact nature of these developments are different for every play, but they are still there - we're showing off the integral building blocks of a play.

Another thing happens as we progress - we start deconstructing the actors themselves. The Medea cast is female and masked. The Macbeth crew is decked out in Modern Regulation Shakespearean and mostly male: Lady Macbeth (Christopher Liam Moore again) is wearing the green Ellen Terry dress that John Singer Sargeant painted (and I saw a month ago at the Tate in London). Cinderella has all the costuming gewgaws of Broadway. But as we move to the final resolution (Macbeth fights Macduff knowing he will lose, Cinderella agrees to try on the slipper, Medea confronts Jason), the masks and costumes are shed in a slow striptease that leaves the actors in their basic black shirts and slacks, their characters themselves peeled away from them.

So this is a comparative history of theater, taking three examples, running them over each other and looking for commonalities. The true interweaving the the characters happens at the 11th hour and may not make sense if you've been thrown earlier on. It is a play with a lot of words, but the words are not important, actions but the actions are deceptive, characters where characterization is ultimately secondary, where knowledge of the source material both helps and hinders (I never had seen the R&H Cinderella and thought it the Disney version initially, while the Lovely Bride says that she has spent thirty years trying to forget the "Impossible" song, only to have it be laid on her brain anew). It is an abstract approach to theater as a whole, which is good, but like abstract art, can completely throw the viewer.

At heart, I liked this play, but it is a tough, uphill sort of affection, more applied after the fact than when you're trying to come to terms with it in its midst. I have bagged on traditional theater for not reaching more. This one does, but it is wobbly about whether it achieves it.

More later

Monday, October 01, 2012

Play: Hey, Hey, LBJ

All The Way, Robert Schenkkan, directed by Bill Rauch, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Bowmer Theater

Short Version: Lyndon Baines Johnson schools everyone on politics. 

A little personal background.This is set (only slightly) before my time). I was 7 when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. My political depth of that age consisted of sending LBJ a birthday card (since we share the same birth date). I got a response, thanking me, which was nice, and typoed my last name, which makes me feel sad to this day and probably accounts for my deep cynicism of political office, a cynicism which would blossom in the Nixon era. 

The story pulls a chunk of LBJ's life from between his ascension as an "accidental president" (his words) to his re-election (and with it his validation), and in particularly his work on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 played out against the politics of the era. Jack Willis is LBJ, wheeling with others as well as dealing with his own limitations. Kenajuan Bentley is a stern, cautious Martin Luther King, Peter Frechette is both Hubert Humphrey (his Happy Warrior feels like he is huffing laughing gas) and Strom Thurmond (at his unctuous best). Jonathan Haugen is a bumptious, bullying George Wallace. Christopher Liam Moore is Walter Jenkins, LBJ's aide, deeply supportive, but in the end betrayed by the very realpolitik forces that LBJ trafficked in,

The great thing about Jack Willis' portrayal is that he never truly tips his hand. His LBJ almost feels Nixonian in nature, willing to play any card, pull any favor, make any threat in order to get what he wants. And through it all, we don't know if he supporting Civil Rights because he believes in them, or because he sees it as a means to the end of his own re-election. We see him maneuvering around his conservative opposition while manipulating the liberal wing of the party at an arm's length (MLK and Humphrey in particular, who he schools in the fine art of politics). Willis's LBJ is both restless and focused, deeply aware that he is changing the nature of the Democratic party, both for the better and to his own ends (much is made in recent years of Nixon's "southern strategy", adopting the hard-core former confederacy, but that transferal of conservative loyalties goes back through LBJ to Thurmond's Dixiecrats in the 40's).

The facts are all here, both the major (Freedom Summer) to the forgotten (The seating of the Mississipi Delegation at the convention) to the ignored (the Gulf of Tonkin is considered a distraction and a sideshow). Decisions are made both on the shortest of short-term goals (beating Goldwater) and the longest (improving the rights of a large chunk of Americans). It is a great history lesson wrapped up in theatrical form.

The set is simple with with a open center and rising desks around it, flexing from Congress to the Oval Office to the Campaign trail. The gallery is always occupied, as the cast takes on general roles as observers when they aren't in their main roles, with the end a reminder that the whole world is watching. The play is written by Robert Shenkkan, who penned By the Waters of Babylon, a smaller play that did not impress me. Here, on a larger stage, he excels. 

The strength of both the writing and the acting makes this a solid tour de force of American history, and shed light on the ugly and brutal methodology of how change really occurs within our political system. Bismark is credited as saying that anyone who loves the law, or sausage, should not watch either being made. Bismark would have watched this play, and taken notes.

More later,