Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Play: Wet Squib

Dry Powder by Sarah Burgess, Directed by Marya Sea Kaminski, Seattle Rep through April 15th, 2017

So. Yeah. I'm going to hit a bump in our plays every so often. You sign up for a season ticket with the acknowledgement that not every play is going to be to your particular taste. And sometimes (hell, often), you come out feeling that, even if the subject didn't appeal to you or the acting was weak or the plot needed some punching up, you've gotten something out of it.

Not this time. Not only do I resent the hour and half in the theater. I resent the time it took to commute there up and back in deary Seattle weather. I resent the price of my parking spot. Heck, I'd even resent the gas money if my car didn't run on house current.

Dry Powder is about high finance, a great subject, particularly in these days of Occupy America. Rick (Shawn Belyea) runs a private equity firm with the cold, calculating Jenny (Hana Lass) and the glad-handing, deal-making Seth (MJ Seiber) as the angels/devils/employees on his shoulders. The company has taken on some serious bad PR and protests from the fact that they bought out a supermarket chain and gutted it. Now they have the chance to redeem themselves with the purchase of an American-made suitcase firm in Sacramento. The founder of said luggage firm  is looking to sell out, and its CEO Jeff (Richard Nguyen Sloniker) is looking to revitalize the company with fresh cash flow and an eventual IPO.  Seth has put together a deal which risks an on-line presence but keeps the company intact. Jenny advocates a massive work-force cut and offshoring production.

And from that description you'd think the Rick was the central character, but he quickly fades as he slips from one side of the argument, then the other. Actually, it is Seth's story, as he tries to preserve the deal he made against his own supposed allies. And it is not much of a story, really, and despite its relatively tight running time, it feels like it goes on too long to get the simple conclusion: Rich People suck.

And wealth carves the deep chasm between the principles and the little people who suffer for their actions, as well as a gulf between the actors and the audience. Rick is primarily concerned that the continual protests make him look bad on the eve of his wedding in Bali (his engagement party got bad press by springing for an elephant while they were cashiering cashiers). Seth has yacht. Jenny refuses to take cabs. Jeff has the corporate jet and the struggling personal winery. There's not of lot of empathy between the characters and us, even though Rick is getting married and Seth has a kid on the way. These are the wealthy, and they are not very interesting. They are cartoons in a cartoon graveyard.

I want to like Seth or Rick, but they are both blatantly sexist and uncaring. Seth get the most potential depth where his loyalty is tested, but there is no real risk for him. Rick is the kind of boss who is firm in his beliefs until he changes his mind and then expects all to follow.  Jenny is an office Randite, quite frankly, without a single redeemable feature as she drives one of her analysts into rehab without even remembering his name. Jenny in particularly offends me deeply, since she is a character bled of anything resembling humanity. The rivals/frenemy relationship between her and Seth falls flat, and I can't ever see the two working at the same office for longer than two months. And CEO Jeff? He's a speed bump, needed for the plot and resolution.

Here's where I normally pump up the actors who are laboring with a bad script, but I can't do it. Lass delivers a Jenny that feels like Sheldon from the Big Bang, but with less self-reflection - and when she allows some passion, she scrunches her nose like a bunny. Belyea has to change his mind as Rick continually and still sound like a leader - in fact, he's often verbally abusive to both. His thought process and emotions are lost to us as he pivots. Sloniker as Seth doesn't seem to extend the warmth he feels with Jeff to either his boss or co-worker. I don't even see the actors struggling with this - they know where they are going, and deliver it with the passion of an accounting review. These aren't characters so much as talking points, and I think the actors have tweaked to that. I'm not believing that these guys, despite the jargon, actually know anything about business.

OK, we're down to praising the set, which has the Seattle Rep standard of desks and bars and chairs flying in from the sides to show progress. The cool thing is that everything is askew, presented in trapezoids, which creates a feeling of uncertainty and being off-balance. Qualities that the play itself did not have.

I will pause from all this foaming at the mouth to say the Lovely Bride actually liked it - or at least was not as deeply offended by the facile nature of the characters and the tediousness of the plot. We talked about plays about business that feature terrible people (I like Glengarry Glen Ross, for example, she does not, and I felt The Comparables from last season was better than this, while she disagrees). She is a bit more accepting of the cynical nature of people, and points out that play has some value if it provoked such a strong negative reaction from me. So there's that.

The robotic Jenny' gets the last line of the play - "That's all I have". That  pretty much sums up the play, and this review. Rich People suck. That's all I have.

More later.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Gaming News

One thing leads to another in the Gaming News this week:

First off, I got my Kickstarter Special Edition version of the new Blue Rose RPG from Green Ronin using their AGE engine. It is a beautiful looking hardback with embossed leatherette cover, gold foil edged pages, the whole schmear. Sat down and prompty began to consume it.
Last year's logo. They always look cool.

But I had to stop almost immediately because the very NEXT day I got a package from North Texas RPG Con. NTRPG con is a venerable haven of Old School roleplaying, and while I cannot make it down to Texas this year, I had volunteered to be a judge for their Three Castles Awards. So a package with the four finalists showed up on my doorstep and demands attention. I know what I'm doing in the evenings for the next few weeks.

And speaking of the older schools of gaming, Troll Lords has put together a Kickstarter for the 7th Printing of their successful Castle & Crusades Player's Handbook. The game is old school, Their Siege Engine mechanics uniting the simplicity of earlier versions of D&D with the unified mechanics and skills of later editions.

And speaking of Kickstarters (see how I'm seguing here?), there is a brief Kickstarter up from Oscar Rios' Golden Goblin Press for Cold Warning, a semi-lost Call of Cthulhu adventure by Scott David Aniolowski. The Kickstarter is running only for one week, so check it out sooner as opposed to later.

And further speaking of Kickstarters, the Lovely Bride dropped into the home office to say that she wanted me to fund the Dry Erase Game Tiles from Gaming Paper. She said she saw it on a Facebook post by the ever-talented Stan! So, social media does work!

I always wanted to write something for Empire of the Petal
Throne. Now I have.
And finally, I earlier in this blog praised The Excellent Traveling Volume, a Tekumel fanzine by James Maliszewski, I liked it so much, I wrote a up a brief adventure for it, and submitting it to him. He's publishing it in Issue #7. I'm looking forward to it! (and you can find back issues of TETV here).

More later,

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Short Story: That Fitzgerald is a Funny Guy

The I.O.U. by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The New Yorker , March 20, 2017 Issue

The magazine in question.
Provenance: I've subscribed The New Yorker recently. I read the magazine sporadically in the late 70's when it was laying out on the lobby tables in my dorm at Purdue, but it never really caught.It felt at the time to be dry and bloodless and unconnected with my Midwest Engineering Life, even down to the cartoons (and I was a big fan of Chas Addams work growing up). In my most recent stab at East Coast culture, I now find the magazine deep, engaging, and with a lot going on. Cartoons have improved a bit as well. There is usually some huge article (Anthony Bourdain, the Mosul Dam, Russian cyber-policy) which I find worth plowing throw in detail.

In any event, the most recent issue found its way to my mailbox, with a lovely cover by Tomer Hanuka I found nice, but that my friend Stan! asked to have after I was done with the magazine, and my Lovely Bride declared "That would be worth the subscription". The magazine contains a "lost work" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Written for Harper's Bazaar but never published, The I.O.U. is a short piece about, well, let's leave the summary  for the review section. In any event, there is a book of unpublished stories from Fitzgerald coming out in a single volume, which includes this one, and so the promotional nature of publishing lays it at our doorstep. Which is amusing, since the story is about publishing.

Review: This is a humorous story about publishing, ts characters larger than life, its resolution as straightforward as a punchline. Our narrator is a publisher who has unleashed his most recent bestseller - a book of spiritualism in which a noted psychologist and psychic researcher communicates with the spirit of his nephew who died in the Great War. The publisher goes into great detail about the process of preparing the book for launch, and upon a successful release, sets out by train, a case of books under his arm, to meet with the author in Ohio. And on the train he meets someone who will completely blow the gaff and doom his publication. To say more is to reveal too much. Our publisher is set up for the fall from the onset, and we get to see him scrambling faster and faster to keep all the balls in the air.

Illustration from the story.
Heck, just go read the thing.
The story was written and published in 1920, around the time Fitzgerald's first novel  This Side of Paradise, showed up up to great acclaim and suitable sales. Yet this period was also one where Fitzgerald was getting published mightily for his short works - magazine pieces that paid surprisingly well, yet today live in the shadow of The Great Gatsby. And Fitzgerald's language is firing on all cylinders, particularly when he it is laying out litanies, be it towns in which the books with be distributed or reporters calling out their representational papers.It is, at heart, a good read.

This could be Wodehouse with only a few more malaproped allusions. Bertie could be saddled with this mess with some ally in the Drone's club in the publisher's role, Jeeves directing the final shatterer of their plans in the proper direction. Psmith could serve equally well with just a bit more trimmings. The female lead, Thalia (Goddess (well, Muse) of Comedy - shall F. Scott put a lampshade on all this for us?) is one of those drippy dedicated young maidens that populate Wodehouse's work. Happenstance weighs heavy in the plotting and the resolution.

Fitzgerald can be a funny writer, and Gatsby itself is filled with comic bits that get glanced over in the seriousness of being a "great novel". The Owl that Nick encounters in the library is one such moment, as is the comparison of the names of East Egg and West Egg cognoscenti. Yet we breeze past these, and I wonder if we think of Gatsby as a comic novel with a bleak ending, it holds together better. I'm sure there is some doctoral dissertation out there on "Uses of Humor is F. Scott Fitzgerald's Canon", and if there isn', there should be. Perhaps Fitzgerald, like God,  is ultimately a comedian playing before an audience that is afraid to laugh.

More later,

Thursday, March 02, 2017

DOW Breaks 2100!

Hey, it's something. Powered by the revalation that the President of the United States can actually read off a teleprompter (remember when that was considered a BAD thing?), the DOW took a nice healthy boost to loft itself to another milestone.

OK, it's more than that. Part of it is that the administration is now filled with people FROM Wall Street who promise to not investigate Wall Street EVEN HARDER than previously. Add to that others running the government who seek to reduce the influence of consumers, minorities, safety, and/or the environment. Plus, we have a president who likes to sign bills, get applause, and be photographed with important business leaders (the actual job of being president - not so much). So Wall Street is getting the go-ahead to engage in the very behavior that almost laid us low more than eight years ago, though I'm SURE they will have learned their lessons from that previous debacle well.

I will admit, not all is rosy. Flights are seeing more empty seats as people are less likely to travel if they are being hassled at the US airports. Agriculture that relies on migrant workers is discovering their workforce is staying away from the fields (perhaps they can ask those nice people from ICE to lend a hand). And in the tech industry, the status of foreign workers is screwing up day-to-day operations (Amazon called back everyone from overseas that might have trouble returning in a more hostile environment).

And of course, at any time, a mean tweet from the White House can send stock prices spiraling. But he can't get EVERYONE all the time, so those who are willing to send their CEOs to smile and make nice will likely avoid the stinging lash of retribution. You aren't a CEO? Well, that's not Wall Street's problem, is it?

More later,