Saturday, June 18, 2022

Theatre: Beauticians and the Beasts

 miku, and the gods by Julia Izumi, Directed by Alyza Delpan-Monley, co-presented by Pork Filled Productions

This one left me confused. 

I'm not alone. The Lovely Bride and I always wait to get back to that car and start the drive home before discussing a play, mainly because we've had strangers dip into our discussions with their own insights (not a criminal offence, but not appreciated). And as we made our way down off the hill of West Seattle, she said, "That was ...." and she paused.

"Weird?" I said.

"Weird." She repeated almost immediately. "Nice costumes though."

And it was weird. More performance than play, it was narratively frustrating. It started strong, but threw me off the path about forty-five minutes in and I never quite recovered. Even now, I have a hard time describing what the play was ultimately about.

OK, here goes for a summary: Miku (Lola Rei Fukushima) is a brilliant 12-year old who lost her brother in an accident in a river. Determined to fix an unjust world, she seeks out the One Who Is Wise (NEVE), an acid-tongued beautician to find out how to become a god. She also encounters Ephraim (Ben Symons) who wants to become an Olympic-level swimmer. Seeing connection between Olympians and Olympians, she recruits Ephraim to help in her god-quest. Meanwhile, Miku's grandmother Seiko (Naho Shioya) is dealing with dementia, aided by Shara (Sherif Amin), who is a minor god of Beauticians and War. Or maybe just a beautician. We're not quite sure.

And that's about as far as I can go before I get kinda confused. I am not sure exactly who the story is about and whether it is real or in one of the characters' headspace. There is interpretive dance. There are announcements. There are muffled announcements, and I'm not quite sure if that was intentional. There is a strong feeling if these characters are the characters they have declared themselves to be, or are gods, or mortals, or memories. The play has good bits, but defies me to put them together in a coherent order. Which, since they are talking about gods and mythology, may be part of the point. The play ends softly, and again, I am not sure that it has ended, except for an announcement that "The Play Has Ended." But has it ended? Really?

The actors are great, committing to characters that are over the top gods and super heroes - you know, maybe. Fukushima had been at the Arts West previously, and brings that same direct energy into holding the center together here. The stage is minimalistic and effective, bringing the question of where are we to the front. 

But ultimately is does not bring me anywhere close to enlightenment or closure or comprehension. Gods, death, memories, all sort of get thrown up at once. That's cool. Some forms of art don't engage at a cerebral level or an emotional level, but rather at a quasi-mystic feeling. Ballet and poetry come to mind, which are spider-webs, beautiful but incredibly delicate, unable to withstand a harsher examination. I didn't hate it. I was just puzzled and frustrated by it. The play ultimately feels like it is still trying to figure out what it is.

Nice costumes, though.

More later

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Theatre: The Bigger Boat

Bruce, Music by Richard Oberacker, Book & Lyrics by Robert Taylor and Richard Oberacker, Based on the book The Jaws Log by Carl Gottlieb, Directed and Choreographed by Donna Feore. 

Spoilers: I loved this, and strongly recommend that others go see it. Fair warning: The Lovely Bride did not, but we will get to that.

Long ago, musicals would show up on Broadway, then turn into films in Hollywood. Now the opposite is true - Intellectual Properties arrive from films and TV shows and are turned into comfortable songfests in NYC, then tour the nation in road companies. And this particular project goes even further - it is a musical based on a book about a movie about a book. So I will admit I was a little cautious going into this one.

And I enjoyed myself tremendously. I thought it was great. This is one of those performances I want to heartily recommend to others. Five years ago, I got to see Come From Away at the REP before it got big and was floored by the production. Bruce had the same effect on me. It a musical about the making of one of the first big modern Hollywood blockbusters. And you should go see it.

It is about the making of Jaws, and Bruce is the name for the infamous, problematic, mechanical shark that almost sunk the entire production. A young film-maker off his first modest success gets the nod to bring a best-seller about a killer shark to the big screen. At that time the best-seller was not yet published, and did not even have a final title. This was the first of many hurdles in the process.

And the show is all about the process. Putting together the initial team, casting, planning to record in a real ocean, finding the set location. The first chunk of the musical is laid out on a three-by three vertical grid, where the various component parts are spinning and people are contacted, recruited, convinced to come together. Like Jake and Elwood Blues, they are going to put the band together. Like Judy Garland and Micky Rooney, they're going to put on a show. About a shark.

And then they go to the island itself - Martha's Vineyard, and as with every plan, it disintegrates upon first contact with the greater reality. Problems with locals. Problems with scripts. Problems with the weather.  Problems with the actors. And most of all, problems with the mechanical shark that fails spectacularly and repeatedly, forcing the team to shoot around it. In the process, they succeeded with the shadow of the knife as opposed to the knife itself.

The cast is fantastic here - strong-voiced and solid, top to bottom. Jarrod Spector is an idealized Steven Spielberg at the start of his career. Ramzi Khalaf is a pugnaceous, insecure Richard (Ricky) Dreyfus. Hans Alwies is a drunken veteran Robert Shaw who acts the diva right up to the Indianapolis scene, where he disappears into Quint's character. Beth Devries is Lorraine Gary, whose character in the movie gets sidelined by the three male stars but here is a supportive foundation. Geoff Packard is the production company's Dad-figure as Roy Scheider. But it is the people behind the scenes, Alexandria J Henderson (as talent director Shari Rhodes) and E. Faye Butler (as film editor Verna Fields) that are fantastic, even if their real-life counterparts of that era were much paler. Top to bottom, everyone was brilliant. Heck, they even have you rooting for the producers (Eric Ankrim as Richard Zanuck and Timothy McCuen Piggee as David Brown).

How much of the story is ultimately true? Don't care. This musical actually hit me where I live and work. I have spend much of career as a corporate creative, working with teams of talented people, sometimes but not always in a leadership position, and the things found here ring true to me. I have done casting, I have been in the room where the deals are made, I know the chaos that often results in looking like we had it all planned. In many ways, this play gave me the reverse of PTSD - it was joyous and my eyes were wet by the end of it (It might have been the smoke, but hey, its Hollywood). And to honest (and a little cynical), while the actually making of the film involved a lot of plucky young professions working against long odds and nasty conditions, the original book got a huge promotion from Doubleday and the movie itself had a major ton of promotion, licenses, and distribution.  Don't care. It really hit me.

I even marveled at the set design. I have an allergy to "gizmo plays" that have flying sets and sliding furnishings and multiple levels of production to fill vertical space. But the Hollywood Squares initial set-up actually WORKED, and when everyone decamps to the island, that set splits apart to reveal a wider, more open world, and I was completely taken in. It was Dorothy stepping into Oz. 

The Lovely Bride did not care for it. In fact, she used the word "deplorable". And the big reason was that for her is did not work as a musical. I think that's a fair cop. A lot of the tropes you get from a Broadway Musical are missing = There is the "Statement of Purpose" song at the beginning, but there is not a lot of toe-tapping memorable melodies here. There is no catchy little comedy number or showstopper solo or big production number right before the intermission (heck, there isn't even an intermission). She felt it was closer to opera, and she doesn't care much for opera. But I liked it. I would buy the CD (Do they still do CDs?)

And, to be fair, would it have the same effect as it had on someone my age as on someone who had never seen the movie it was based on, or knew anything about the stories that have grown up around it? I dunno, go find someone who doesn't know about the film that traumatized a generation about swimming in the ocean. I can wait.

Summary on Bruce? Let me oversell it. I think it is great. I think this was a tonic for everyone who is involved in creating things in the real world. It made me want to return to projects that have been abeyance for a while, and return to my daily creative task with new vigor. 

So yeah, I think you should go see it. 

More later,

Saturday, May 28, 2022

No Quarter: The Next Gen I

So, I don't know if I really want to go on with this blog's ongoing practice of talking about collectible quarters, but old habits die hard. After the States Series and the National Parks series, the US Mint has launched a new collection of collectible/commemorative quarters. And it was pretty easy to mock pictures of birds and mountains and the mudflap that Wyoming used for its quarter. But this new series is on famous American Women, some of whom have passed on in recent memory. So I think I will walk a tad more respectful this time out.

Originally, this was supposed to be similar to the previous currency series, in that each state would get one woman to brag on, but that was revised because they want to do a sesquicentennial (250 years) set in 2026. So we get four years of famous women for 20 total as opposed to 50 national parks/monuments/seashores/parking lots. The idea that women get about 40% of the attention given to other subjects is such an American Thing.

But as I said, I'm going to walk a little more carefully, in part because a lot of these women are unknown/forgotten/ignored in the standard narratives. Also, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the majority will be from the twentieth century, as opposed to something from the Civil War era, in part because women have been unknown/forgotten/ignored in a lot of traditional texts.  I'd like to to concentrate (and mock) the design a lot more than the subject matter, and to encourage readers to follow the links to learn more in detail of these remarkable women.

But first off, let's talk about the other side of the coin, literally. The side with Washington on it.The face/heads/obverse of the coin has made some major changes, and some minor ones. Big one you'll probably notice - Washington is facing the other direction. Also, the sculpture is from a 1931 dollar, and you can see differences in the artistic approach (George has an even thicker neck, and the rat-tail at the back of his head is more pronounced). Also some of the text has switched sides - The denomination and United States of America are now on the other side, and the year moves back to being on the same side as George. As a result the reverse side does have more text to deal with as it previously had

Anyway, I am not expecting a lot of coins to get a review below C (They have gotten much better at it over the past 20 years), but here are the review levels. 

Way Cool =A
Not Bad = B
Just Average (also known as Meh) = C
Kinda Lame = D
So bad you don't want to show your mother = E

Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

This is a strong lead-in, both from subject and presentation. Maya Angelou is known for her autobiographic works and her poetry, but also for her work in Civil Rights. Now I Know Why The Caged Birds Sing is pretty much a standard text for a generation of English classes, and she was the second poet to read one of her poems at a presidential nomination (the first was Robert Frost, the most recent was Amanda Gorman). 

Her pose is dynamic and evokes Caged Birds in its presentation. I really like it because, right off the bat, it gives us more than the standard portrait and creates an active presentation for the coin. She is also the first African-American woman on a coin. Buckle up, there are going to be a lot of firsts in this series.

Rating: A

Dr. Sally Ride (1951-2012)

It is no longer big news to have women in space, but Sally Ride was a big thing back in the 80s - the first (American) woman in space. I know - it took us THAT long to put a woman in space, but hey, equality has always been a process. She is also the first known LGBT person on a US coin (get back to the closet, Buchanan - your family burned all your correspondence, so we're still not sure about your status, shy of a seance). 

The coin itself is, well, OK. Sitting portrait along one side, big globe in the background, bit of a swirl that evokes orbit and window on the shuttle. Its a pretty nice quarter, but nothing that makes me really engage with it. 

 Rating: B

Wilma Mankiller (1945-2010)

No jokes on the name, please.While there's a good chance you know about Maya Angelou and Sally Ride, now we get into more esoteric heroes. And its a pity, because Wilma Mankiller's background is impressive, including both Native American activism in California and Oklahoma, and as a chief of the Cherokee people. 

The coins are already settling into a comfortable type - figure on the left-hand side, shown torso up, symbology in the background on the right-hand side (A symbol of the Cherokee nation,  all contained by a circle with all the required data. I think we are going to lose her note as Principal Chief and the Cherokee words beneath in the folds of her shawl. It is a very busy coin.

 Rating: C

Nina Otero-Warren (1881-1965)

We are probably going to see a lot of suffragettes, particular for those famous women born before 1900.  Maria Adelina Isabel Emilia "Nina" Otero-Warren is the oldest representative of this crop of coins, and her achievements span politics and education. She argued for bilingual education and was the first Latina to run for the US House of Representatives (as a Republican. She lost). She is the first Hispanic-American portrayed on US Coinage.

Like Mankiller and Ride, we see the sitting portrait on the left side of the coin. In addition, there is a LOT of text - in addition to the stuff shoved onto this side from the obverse side, we have Votes for Women on this side, which to some folk is STILL a controversial subject.  Plus a collection of Yucca flowers to represent her native New Mexico. I think it is going to be a cluttered quarter, much like Mankiller's. One good bit - her head does break the plane of the surrounding circle, making it a bit more dynamic.

Rating: C

Anna May Wong (1905-1961)

Wong Lui-tsong is the first actress on the group, and a pioneering Asian-American in the film and TV industries. That's good. However, a lot of her roles were very much in the stereotypical vamp/dragon lady that smacks of Orientalism and exoticism, so that's a little less good. Plus the fact that a lot of early work are "lost films" that have not survived into the present day, and her ground-breaking TV show was on the now-extinct Dumont network, and few records exist of it as well. Yet she has been recognized for her work in recent years, as well as her work for the Chinese-American community.

The quarter itself is exceptional in that it gets away from the already-trope of the previous three with a closer headshot that plays off the natural beauty of Ms. Wong. This is a very stylish coin that feels like a silent movie poster of the era. I like it.

Rating: A

That's it for the first batch - tune in next year for five more, and keep checking your change!

More later,

Sunday, May 22, 2022

This Just In: Latest Arrivals

So, more Kickstarters have shown up at Grubb Street, along with the occasional purchase from local brick and mortars and one author copy. As always, I want to note that these are not reviews so much as "first looks", and in most cases I have not read them cover to cover nor tested out their mechanics. But I still want folk to know what's out and what's happening, as opposed to doing a thorough deep dive and getting back to around, let's say ... Christmas.So this is a better approach for me.

And what do we have in this collection, Johnny?

Grimstone Roleplaying Game (Angelos Krypianos, Writer/Creator Spiral Lane Productions, 126 page Hardback). Greek writers, Greek publisher, this is part of what I was talking about last time in the global nature of RPG design. This is actually the crunchiest of this collection of games, with a great backstory - all of the races are human, but made up of different parts of the Sun and Moon. A nice setting, low-magic, with a unique RPG system.

Ships of the Expanse (Keith Garret, Lem Lemke, Mari Murdock, Nicole Winchester, Writers/Designers, Green Ronin Games, 144 page Hardback). I have not played the Expanse RPG, but I really like the design of the games in this line, and the spaceships in general. It scratches that Traveller itch of my game design history. The Ronins have done a fantastic job with this production, not only on presenting the ships but also talking about hard-science intra-solar system space travel. And I want to unleash these deck plans on others, now. Picked this copy up at Olympic Cards and Comics down in Lacey, which has a LOT of non-traditional RPGs that I don't find elsewhere..

Coyote & Crow (Conor Alexander, Creator/Writer/Developer), Coyote & Crow LLC, 474 Page hardback) There has been a strong movement for authenticity in game design, in particular for games which find their origins in other cultures and heritages. Coyote & Crow, rooted in Native American heritageis created by mostly Native American talents. The game deals with an alternate cyberpunk North America on a world where the European colonizers were wiped out by a space anomaly before they could get up to any mischief, and the survivors on this side of the planet gained low-level magical abilities. The book is a massive full-size, full-color hardcover. The system itself looks like Shadowrun with d12s, and the worldbuilding itself is interesting. It has also was nominated for a Nebula, which is a rare thing for RPGs (Alas it lost out to Thirsty Sword Lesbians, which was covered in an earlier writeup).

Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game Playtest Rulebook (Matt Forbeck, Writer, Marvel Worldwide, Inc, 120 page softbound). Got this at Fantasium, my local comic store as an inexpensive addition to my weekly comics pull, and read through it over the weekend of its release. It is the "playtest copy", but it compares favorably with the now-ancient Yellow Box Marvel. Amused that the ability scores spell out MARVEL instead of FASERIP, and there are diceworks that echo the old D6 system from West End (it has botch dice, which can be negated by .... Karma!). It is what it says on the tin - a playtest copy, so it is not a complete overview of all of Marvel and its powers, and I don't think it has anything for experience and character advancement. Inexpensive and definitely worth checking out (And I welcome Matt into the "Brotherhood of Marvel RPG Game Designers" - next week we fight the Great Lakes Avengers!).

Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding Volume 2 (John Joseph Adams, Editor, Kobold Press, 108 page softbound digest). The Kobold Guides are just fantastic reads - essays by some of the best and brightest in the field on a variety of subjects. The books are veritable wonderland of insights and commentary on various components of campaign, fiction, and world design. An excellent product. Oh, did I mention that I have an essay in this edition? I talk about Space Hamsters.

Corsairs of Cthulhu, Fighting Mythos in the Golden Age of Piracy (Ben Burns, Writer, New Comet Games, 297 page hardback) Pirates Vs. Cthulhu! Who could argue with that? The book consists of a set of modifications to the core Cthulhu rules (the Investigators are now Corsairs, and have skills like Alchemy and Artillery), and a huge world-sweeping adventure. I like some of New Comet's Games (Devil's Swamp was quite good), and don't care for others (A Time for Sacrifice  left me cold). Leafing through Corsairs, the adventure itself looks like they have everything and the kitchen sink involved here. Looks very interesting, and may yet get to my gaming table..

Remarkable Cults & Their Followers (JVC Perry, Jeff Lee, RP Davis, Writers, LoreSmyth, 180 page softbound). This is a 21st century version of the Book of Vile Darkness, though its definition of cults extends to factions and secret societies, but has enough that are just Evil Evil Evil. This is a really beautiful book that deals with a great subject for players - Setting up and running cults both as opponents and as player organizations. They have about a dozen cults/secret societies/factions that can be dropped in (including maps of their secret headquarters), along with rules for setting up your own. Plus evil artifacts! It is "system-neutral", which means it plays well with 5E. Of this group, I particularly like the layout and art.

And that's about it for this haul. Did I mention that I have an essay in The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding, Volume 2? As luck would have it, I talk about Space Hamsters.

More later,

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Theatre: Mother's Rave

Alma, by Benjamin Benne, Directed by Sophie Franco, Arts West, through May 22.

The Lovely Bride and I took another journey to that mystical land beyond the Duwamish River called West Seattle. I am almost at a point where I can get there without getting lost (the West Seattle Bridge is still shut down). Our goal (in addition to great sushi, is the Arts West Theatre, a small but great theater group ensconced in the shell of a renovated former furniture store. The LB and I have been hitting opening nights, and to a great degree, have be rewarded for the effort.

Case in point, Alma. Yolanda Suarez is Alma, Leah Sainz-Jones is her daughter, Angel. Angel is supposed to be taking her SATs tomorrow. Alma has been preparing for this day, the next step of her daughter's success, to have the life she was denied. Angel does not plan to take the test. The resulting discussion/argument is the core of the play itself. Two actors, one problem, ninety minutes.

And the playwright pulls it off. The analyst in me can tweak to the ratcheting up and unwinding of dialboue as their relationship plays out over the course of the argument. Alma and Angel are friends and also mother and daughter, with all the baggage and hidden traps that that involves. They curse, bluster, accuse, mock, make up, cuddle, cry, tease, and love each other, and the script itself dances from one point to another.

Also a sizable chunk of the dialogue is in Spanish, in that halfway domain in families where the parent has come from another country and the child groks the new language. Yet they slip in and out of it gracefully, and there are only a few points where I felt I missed something - that would be the universal nature of parent/child relationships. Also the PTSD that comes from High School testing.

There's a third player on-stage, unseen but not unheard- America and the American Dream. The ghosts of an old country. The play takes place in that weird temporal borderland between Trump's election and inauguration, in that weird quantum state when everyone was wondering how bad could it be. The newly-elected voice, over a malfunctioning TV, blasts into their lives about building a wall and making Mexico pay for it (yeah, how did THAT work out). Alma is an illegal, and Angel is aware that the rules have changed, and what they have both hoped for is now much, much more difficult. 

The set design is excellent, open-spaced and beneath (at times) the stars, setting the eternal nature of the parent/child discussion. The program book also carries a bit of weight in the proceedings. There is interview with the director, which is par for the course, but also a page of translations and explanation of what the Prologue (storms, horses, soldiers, Military music) means within the larger whole. Even th art in the hallway underscores the players on the state. It was very much a total package.

Alma is a small play (Two people and the ghost of the American Dream) and a greater play as well, set within its time and within the long timeline of mothers and daughter. I liked it, and think you would too.

More later, 

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Book: Pulp Fiction

The Dictionary of Snow Hill by Jess Nevins, 2022

Provenance: Another book recommended by Facebook ads. I get a lot of ads for books on Facebook, so the Algorithm has me pegged.  Yeah, I'm getting worried about that as well. This one caught my attention because of the Author - Jess Nevins. Nevins has written one of my favorite reference books (You have a favorite reference book, right?): The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, as well as doing annotations on things like Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics. So, yeah, he comes from a good background, so I'm in.

Review: This is a love-letter to Pulps of the 20's and 30's, with parts spilling over to before and after that era. Set in the Maryland city of Snow Hill, the largest and shiniest city in the US, it is a collection of tales involving Science Heroes and Villains. This is tropes gone wild, and features a host of familiarish players - Micheal Ferrum, the two-fisted "Doc Bronze" and his Sensational Six, World-famous Consulting Detective Havelock Blake, the Shadow-esque Laughing Monk, along with talking ape detectives and luchadors. Roman a clef with the predecessors of the super hero universes.

Yes, it is a madhouse, literally so in places. There are invasions from other planets, inner worlds, and undersea menaces. Lovecraftian horrors abound (and we have the Doctor Strangish/Inner Sanctum magician named Anton Weird in the mix as well). It is a world where all the heroes of the pulps are all active at the same time, sharing the same universe and the some of the same enemies. Physics itself tends to bend around such challenges.

The format is in encyclopedia format with rough alphabetization. Entries are narrated by different in-world inhabitants, so we have unreliable narrators throughout. Radio scripts, media articles, and personal memories all mix and twist. Being an overview of the various characters' careers, many of them end badly. Particularly there is a lot of reference to the events of June 21st, 1937, a solstice where many things go badly for many, many people. This is the ongoing narrative that stretches throughout the book, the approaching cliff that the characters are hurtling towards.

So, does Nevins gather together the collected strands and resolve them? He has been an annotator of a lot of Alan Moore's work, and Moore has had challenges with stories not so much resolving as running out of pages, and of playing nastily with his creations. Does Nevins "stick the landing"? Yes, in part because of the unreliable nature of his narrators and the who is giving information when in the book. There are a couple tweaks and twists, but the book delivers.

The Dictionary of Snow Hill entertains and delights. It would make a solid sourcebook for a era-specific superhero gaming campaign. It feels very much like Kurt Busiek's Astro City comics - Set firmly within its genre, with characters whose archetypes are easily identified. It's a great read if you remember the pulps, and worth checking out even you don't.

More later,

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Theatre: Tuned to a Dead Channel

Selling Kabul by Sylvia Khoury, Directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton, Seattle Rep through 22 May

This one is rough. It is a challenge. It was also the best production of the year so far. 

Part of the challenge is subject matter - a play about Afghanistan so soon after the recent departure of US military support, the collapse of its government, and return of the Taliban. And part of it because of the characters themselves, all of whom are confronted with the ever-increasing danger resulting from the lies they tell to protect each other. You empathise with them and and internalize their peril.

Taroon (Yousof Sultani) has been hiding in the apartment of his sister Afiya (Susaan Jamshidi) and her husband Jawid (Barzin Akhavan) for four months now. Taroon worked for the Americans and is hiding from the rising Taliban. Jawid is making uniforms for the Taliban in exchange for their protection. Afiya is trying to hold everything together, including keeping Taroon's presence hidden from the outside world, which is embodied by friendly/nosy neighbor Leyla (Fatima Wardak). At the start of the play, Taroon's wife has given birth to their son in the hospital, and Taroon is willing to risk everything to see them. However, the Taliban has people at the hospital looking for him. Afiya want to keep her brother alive.

And from there is just gets worse for everyone involved. It is a slow burn as the truth regarding the devastation from the authoritarians is revealed, and as the knowledge of the danger to the major characters is slowly leaked out. The risks ratchet up, the potential dangers increase, and the collateral damage is high. 

The actors are excellent. Most of them are "making their Seattle Rep debut" with the exception of Wardak, who had been in A Thousand Splendid Suns from the Rep a few years ago (and which is being apparently being turned into an opera). They embody their characters and their secrets with grace and humanity. Jamshidi as Afiya is the heart of the play, as she struggles to work out the most survivable results in an ever-darkening landscape. The set is no-nonsense, will none of the flying props or multiple levels we've seen in other Rep productions. And the directing is subtle, direct and well-placed. As I said, it is a slow burn.

This is a bleak play. Much bleaker than Ghosts, and much, much more immediate. There are fewer laughs at these characters, less distance between us and them. The performance is gifted with excellent actors, a tight script, and spot-on direction. I really, really don't want to take it apart and analyze why it works right now because it really connected and affected me. So yeah, with all the caveats that this is not a musical, not a blast from the past, not a retelling of another better known play, but is really solid, good theater. Just don't expect to feel good about it afterwards.

More later,

Friday, April 22, 2022

The Reading

 So, how did it go?

All in all, it went very well. Very well indeed.

Readers at the Theater
This past Monday, our play-writing group, The Quills, held a reading of our works at the Driftwood Players in Edmonds. The Quills are a group of would-be playwrights who have been meeting mostly monthly for the past few years, reading scenes and commenting on each others work. This was the first public reading of most of them.

This was reader's theater, which meant we were not doing blocking, sets, action, or anything. Just sitting in chairs. The Readers, a group of students from Shorecrest High School and some women of a certain age who were friends of the other playwrights were seated in front of the curtain. OK, I read for one of the plays, which needed an older man of a certain age for the reading. 

The plays were a a mixed bag of types we've been working on, and included: Plays about earthquakes, WWII history, masking, layoffs, moving to Seattle, sending kids to college, making a recipe book in a concentration camp, and wildfires. And lest you guess, I was responsible for the layoff and wildfire scenes. They were comedies.

The venue was excellent, with great sound (though we had to get the young people to speak up initially), and they even managed to put the music from the Moving to Seattle play over the speaker system. It is a large small theater with a lot of seating. Edmonds is more than an hour north of Grubb Street, but I'd definitely take in a play there again.

And the readers were good. There were a couple misfires - one young person referred to a local restaurant as "Ivan's" instead of "Ivar's - but in general they acquitted themselves well. There were a couple of the younger folk who understood the brief and took control of their parts. That qwas greatly appreciated.

We had, counting authors, actors, and audience, about 50-60 people total in the house. The overwhelming bulk were friends and family of the playwrights. We passed out review sheets and encouraged people to respond to the plays. Most of the friends and family were very kind their comments. Since my plays were comedies, I was hunched in my seat, seeing what lines landed and which ones missed. Most of them landed.

The Housemates made the long drive up to Edmonds, as did a couple who were members of my regular Monday Night D&D group and a fellow designer from Amazon. Afterwards a group of us adjourned to Bucatini, a small Italian joint about four minutes south of the theater. The food was excellent, the portions large, and the conversation involved a lot of gossip about Amazon. 

Thanks to fellow Quills Catherine Benson, who organized the whole shebang, Susan Weingarten, who MCed the proceedings, and Lisa Emerson who provided the response sheets. And of the young readers, a shout out to Peyton Catt, who will never know I've given him proper credit unless he's the kind of person who googles his own name. 

And who knows? We may do it again sometime. 

More later, 

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Invitation to a Reading


You are cordially invited to: 

The Quills New Works Evening 

Monday, April 18th, 2022

6 PM to 8 PM


Edmonds Driftwood Players

(Wade James Theater)

950 Main St. Edmonds, WA


The Quills are a group of amateur playwrights from the Seattle area. Please join us for the first public reading of our short works and scenes from longer plays.

Free (But we will be soliciting feedback)

Masks are required for the audience.

So what's all this?

Many (many) years back, I took a couple play-writing classes at the Seattle Rep, taught by Kristina Sutherland. After those classes, a group of us would-be playwrights stayed together, and have met once a month to share scenes and talk about play-writing. This is the first time a lot of these scenes are going to be seen in a readers' theater atmosphere (Readers up on the stage but in front of the curtain, no blocking or sets, but real voices reading our stuff).

While I would not recommend flying in for the event (and even a drive from Tacoma might be a bit much), if you happen to be in the North Seattle area and have a free evening this Monday, come check us out!

More later,

Friday, April 15, 2022

Theatre: Norwegian Would

by Henrik Ibsen, Translated from the Norwegian by Paul Walsh, Directed by Carey Perloff, Seattle REP through May 1

On the drive home from this play, the Lovely Bride wondered if it was time to retire Ibsen from the theatrical canon.

This is a major statement on her part. Ibsen had a strong impression on her in her youth. The LB had an Ibsen phase growing up (She also had a Bertolt Bretcht phase, but we won't dwell on that here). Ibsen wrote strong women into his works and castigated moral hypocrisy and talked about issues that were at that time conveniently buried beneath the floorboards. If modern theatre had a list of saints, Ibsen would at the head of the line. So, retire him from performance? Seriously?

Let me get to that matter in a moment - I need to walk through the play itself. Helena Alving, widow of ten years, lives on a manor out in the wilds of Denmark. She is on the verge of dedicating an orphanage on her grounds to her late husband. Her son has returned from Paris. She has a dedicated maid, whose ne'er-do-well father is overseeing the orphanage's construction. She is dealing with the final details with the family pastor, who is an old and affectionate friend. Things are going well.

Well, no. Secrets start leaking out. Helena's sainted husband was a philandering bastard. The dedicated maid is really the husband's illegitimate child. The son is taking a shine to the maid, risking inadvertent incest. And the son, back from Paris, has venereal disease, which in the Ibsenian universe is inherited from the father and also results in sudden and certain madness. And the orphanage is uninsured, for, in the words of the Pastor, to insure it would be to show a lack of faith in god to protect it. So you know where that is going.

And yeah, that line about insurance got a laugh in the audience. In fact, a lot of Pastor Mander's lines got inadvertent laughs, which I am going to say was not the intent back in the 1880s. Mander's hypocrisy and stiff-necked morality is met with derision by modern audiences, so the lines land completely differently now than they did then. For a harbinger of modern theater, Ibsen comes off as, well, quaint.

The cast is crackerjack. Award-winner David Stratharin as Pastor Manders is soft bullying, responding to society's requirements as his compass. But Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio  is the heart of the play, dominating the stage and by turns conventional and rebellious, the look on her face when the Pastor's plans come crashing down on his ears is electrifying. Albert Buio III and Thom Sesma are good in their roles as the scion of the Alvings and the carpenter, respectively, but it is Nikita Tewani as Regina, the maid, that ultimately shines as she denies Helena her happy ending, and for excellent reasons.

The roles throughout are played subtlety as well. Sesma's carpenter could be more snakelike, Straitharn's Pastor even more stiff-necked, but the direction gives them nuance and depth that could otherwise be lacking. The actors are portraying their characters more realistically, to a degree that I don't know would have been possible on the 19th century stage.

The set design is intriguing as well. The manor's setting with its grass roof makes it feel like a barrow grave, its pale wood timbers definitely fit for IKEA. And in the center back is a glass-paneled room that serves both as storage for lost furnishings and as housing for David Coulter, who provides the music. Coulter's work does a lot of the heavy lifting for the tone of the work, creating musical effects on tympani, zither, and glass armonica (I'm guessing here) that underscore the unsettled nature of the characters. 

The pieces are all here, but it still feels odd. And the fault is not in the original work or the actors, but rather in the fact that it belongs to a different time and a different audience. The 21st Century has moved through the shock value of forbidden topics (though we will always still find them) and what required stern reflection is now met with nervous laughter. What was once scathing is now just cringe. The past, indeed, is another country, and in the case of Ghosts, it is a desolate county indeed.

More later, 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Life in the Times of the Virus: Mandate's End

So, an end of things is in view, I think. It is not as clear-cut as I would like, but rather is a ragged tear, a muffled gasp, and a hopeful (if chancy) outlook.
Blackwell's Island - Hopper, 1928

The numbers have come down, and with it the barriers are slowly falling. Mask mandates and working from home decisions are falling, one by one. There are no church bells ringing - this is not a war declared won. It is merely a war declared over. A draw, if we are lucky. A resurgence if we are not.

And the reasons for declaring this cease-fire are good enough, but not great. We don't have maximum vaccination, but we have enough in our region to staunch the outbreaks. Those who are vaccinated seem to be having milder symptoms, but are still getting "Breakthrough" Covid. The stories have shifted from "Public anti-vaxer who then dies horribly" to "Famous person, vaccinated, who tests positive and secludes for about a week". A lot of those reports, ironically enough, have declared Coivd is like having the flu, something the nutjobs were claiming at the beginning of all this. It might be the worst flu of your life, but still .... the flu. And yeah, the flu can kill people.

But we are no longer overloading ERs and storing bodies in refrigerator trucks or buried in mass graves. We still have people super-spreading (most recent, someone attending GDC, a big game developers' conference, after they tested as positive with the disease). We still have people catching it and yeah, dying from it. But the numbers are almost in the manageable state, and we really, really want to forget about it.

So the mask mandates are elapsing and not being renewed. Compliance varies from situation to situation. My grocery store is about 50-50 right now. My friendly comic shop has dropped mask requirements and resumed evening gaming events. Theaters are definitely still requiring masks for the audiences. My favorite rib joint has done away with them entirely. On the other hand, the airline industry is completely fouled up because it doesn't have enough staff in the face of folk calling in sick.

Me? I'm still comfortable with masks, so I keep using them for the moment. If the workers where I go shopping are masked, I'm going to help out by wearing a mask. If not, I'm still going to go with masking becuase they are not horribly uncomfortable (speaking as someone who spent many winters in Wisconsin, and used to something called scarfs). I have a mask in my jacket pocket. And a spare mask in my zippered jacket pocket. And one in the car. And a door mask. And a desk mask, still in its original plastic bag. Just to be sure. 

As I write this, the numbers are slowly bumping back up again. They are talking about a new variant. Omicron XE, which sounds like it was named by Microsoft's marketing department. There are articles on long-term effects of Covid. And the Feds have approved a second booster for us late-middle-aged folks. It does not feel like it is truly over, but I really, really want to be done with it this time. 

But if it is not, well, we know what we have to do. 

Thursday, April 07, 2022

Books: Beyond Bond

 Forever and a Death by Donald E. Westlake, Hardcase Crime Imprint, Titan Books, 2017

Provenance: A gift from the Housemates. They have been here a year, and in thanks, Anne tracked down a pristine copy of the Lovely Bride's Favorite Cookbook, the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook from 1976. She had worn the previous version to tatters, the spine shattered and the pages held together with a thick rubber band. In addition, because I have been reading some Westlake, she hunted down this edition for me.

Review: Westlake is an impressive author. There is the funny Westlake that's on display here. There is the hard-boiled Westlake of the Parker stories. And here we see the action-adventure Westlake.

This is a lost manuscript found among the writers' papers, written sometime between 1997 and the author's death in 2008 (though probably towards the start of that period). Westlake had been contracted to write a treatment (an outline, effectively) for a new James Bond picture. The work came to nothing ultimately, but the author liked a lot of the component parts, and refashioned them into this book, published by his estate.

And while it is a very different book, the spirit of James Bond (the movie versions) hangs over it.

What was kept? The exotic locales, the master plan, the super science, the plucky young woman (a blonde scuba diver here, but Asian in the treatments). Bond himself is missing, replaced by more of a ensemble of characters, including a two-fisted engineer, the aforementioned young woman, a gay pair of environmental activists, and various members of police forces scattered across the southwestern Pacific. 

Here's the summary: Richard Curtis (no relation) is multi-millionaire running on economic fumes. He lost most of his fortune when Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, and has an outrageous plan for revenge. He intends to rob the banks in Hong Kong of their gold reserves, then pull down the buildings behind him in a way to cover his tracks. To do this he has an earthquake machine, created by two-fisted engineer George Manville, who is unaware of the plot. They are testing the earthquake machine on an abandoned atoll at the north end of the Great Barrier Reef. The Greenpeace-like activists arrive, and the plucky young woman puts on her scuba gear and swims towards the island, hoping to convince them to call off the test.

They don't, and the island is leveled. The plucky young woman is assumed dead, but is instead pulled out of the ocean by Curtis's yacht. She and the two-fisted engineer hook up and discover that millionaire is up to no good. They manage to escape and the rest of the book is various members of the group criss-crossing the South Seas (Sydney, the Outback, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore) trying to discover what exactly the nefarious plot is and how to foil it.

But what is interesting (and very non-Bond) is that Westlake spends a lot of time inside Curtis's head. He's the secret protagonist here. He thinks nothing of the devastation he will unleash on the landfill islands of Hong Kong, but has to steel himself to kill (or at least order the deaths) of individuals like the plucky young woman and the two-fisted engineer. You can see every step he takes as he moves into full super-villaindom, and it is the most interesting thing to watch.

Its a genre tale, and there are some things that place it firmly within the genre. There are way too many cases of chance encounters and people being right there when they need to be (including a case where the environmentalists and the millionaire are on the SAME PLANE flying to Singapore). There are gay characters (yay) who are mostly tortured or killed (not so yay) because the leads can be threatened but never killed. And there are a lot of office meetings with various police agencies and lawyers as they attempt to prove that the evil millionaire is up to no good.

So how is it? Its better in many ways than a Bond film. It holds together for all its serendipitous plotting. And its a good thing to see it see the light after all these years. And yeah, its a lark, a genre peace, but shows the versatility of Donald Westlake.

More later,  

Sunday, April 03, 2022

This Just In: Attack of the Tchotkes

 A lot of stuff has arrived at Grubb Street over the past few months, as Kickstarters resolve and the global supply snarl continues. Many are late, but not horribly so. But because of the nature of Kickstarters, a lot of them have extra STUFF attached to them. Counters. Plastic miniatures. Separate maps. Bonus Booklets. Pdfs (not shown, of course), STLs (3D printer stuff). Art prints. Dice. Stickers! And all these components they have a nasty tendency to go walkabout once they are sprung from their original containers.

And to be honest, while all of this is nice, I just want the book most of the times. Unless the maps are a vital part of the adventure, don't send them separately. Yeah, we had this problem going all the way back to TSR, which was one reason to shrinkwrap everything back in the day. 

Anyway, here's the current haul. These are not reviews as much as "Received and Flipped Through"

Meeples and Monsters - (Ole Steiness, Designer, Paul Grogan Rules, AEG, Two inch deep box) This was a Kickstarter, and I don't do a lot of Kickstarters for boxed games, primarily because it is a high risk factor as to if I'm going to like it. The original Kickstarter did well enough to include an expansion in the shipment, and as such the box is over-full (hopefully it will be less clogged when we punch everything out). The game itself is themed around raiding different types of troops to defend a town against monsters. A lot of mechanics echo other games (Lords of Waterdeep, Alhambra). Looks interesting. 

The Seeker's Guide to Twisted Taverns - (Logan Reese, Lead Designer, Eldermancy LLC/Ghostforge, 320 page Hardback). Seventeen fantasy taverns that cover just about every fantasy genre you want to hit. We've got elven taverns, dwarven taverns, creepy taverns, Asian-themed taverns, Arabian Nights-themed taverns, underwater taverns, and dream taverns. We even have a traditional Tolkienish tavern - "The Dancing Horse" . Complete with staff, menus, maps, and adventure hooks. Came with stickers and a map pack, and a separate map for an additional tavern that was added as a stretch goal. Trying to try to keep it from being scattered through my office.

Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos - (Amanda Hamon, Lead Designer, Wizards of the Coast, 224 pages hardback). Picked this up at the Page Turner, a nice used and new bookstore in downtown Kent with a lot of genre material. The book is Harry Potter strained through a Magic:The Gathering card set. As such it represents the versatility of the 5th edition, where everything is NOT going down into the dungeon and taking stuff from evil creatures. It is not my brand of playing, I will admit. The Lovely B, however, has been running adventures of a modern magical academy on one of the islands in Puget Sound, so there is a genre to be supported here.

The One Ring: Roleplaying in the World of The Lord of the Rings - (Francesco Nepitello, Lead Writer, Free League, 240 page hardback) Is a Free League operation, so it means it is a luscious-looking volume of thick paper and beautiful art. Has a new system to learn which uses d6s and d12s. Came with a Starter Box set with condensed rules, character sheets, full map of the shire, and adventures, among other things. Also included in the Kickstarter were customized dice sets, which they got slightly wrong and have to send NEW dice sets. Oh, well.

Fateforge: Epic Tales in the World of Eana, - Creatures (Joelle "Iris" Deschamp and Nelyham, Editorial and Conception, Studio Agate, 416 pages) and Encyclopedia (Joelle "Iris" Deschamp and Nelyham, Editorial and Conception, Studio Agate, 360 pages) These are books 3 and 4 in the series (1 and 2 are the worlds' Player's Handbook and DMG), and were ordered separately on Kickstarter, but arrived with all manner of additional material. Art prints, maps, an adventure by Ed Greenwood, additional booklets, pdfs, stls, and miniatures. They are very hefty and impressive, but I prefer the Encyclopedia to the Creature book. The former is a worldbook for the campaign, while the latter, while containing new monsters and fitting old ones into their ecosystem, uses stats direct from the Monster Manual's SRD. On the other hand, why reinvent the wheel if you're going to use ogres and minotaurs and tie them into your cosmology? Also a challenge for Creatures is that they split them up by biome and geography as opposed to a straight alphabetical run, so finding that particular monster may be a challenge. On the plus side, with all the additional material, they provided a stylish BOX so it doesn't go all over the place. And I greatly appreciate that. 

Occam's Razor -  (Brian M Sammons, Stygian Fox, Softbound 156 pages)  Another Kickstarter, the but one is a singular book (Huzzah!) of Modern-day adventures for Call of Cthulhu, noted for Mature Gamers. And it deals with non-mythos horror and the supernatural. High production values, perfect thing for small adventures, and incredibly creepy.  

BranColonia - Setting Book (Samuel Marolla, Acheron Games, 192 Pages) and Macaronicon  (Samuel Marolla, Acheron Games, 160 page hardback). These were a Kickstarter I missed, the first being a settings book for D&D 5e, the second being a collection of all the stretch goals from that same Kickstarter, but picked them up at Olympic Cards and Comics down in Lacey. These are interesting, not only because they delve deep into Italian folklore, history, and humor, but also because they concern themselves with the Epic 6 school of RPG design - that the INTERESTING stuff in roleplaying is in the first six levels, so they concentrate on those, and let the players plateau after that. The result is a permanently low-level campaign of rogues and rapscallions, grimier though not grittier, than many other campaigns. A lot to consider here. 

Tak'Dorie Reborn - (Mathew Mercer, Hannah Rose, James J. Haeck, Darrington Press, 280 page hardback)? OK, I will confess - I never watched any of Critical Role, nor its animated spin-offs, and I really should, since the DM, Matt Mercer and some of his players were voice talent on Guild Wars  as well a whole host of other computer games. And I had picked up the WotC Wildmount book earlier. But getting this volume at the Fantasium, my local comic book store, I found the opening sections of Tak'Dorie Reborn, which cover some of the same ground as the Wildmount book, to be incredibly readable and addictively engaging. Really nice production values, and shows off a personal campaign wonderfully. This one does go on the read pile.

Looking at this particular haul, I am stunned by the international nature of it - Italy, France, England, Australia, Denmark, and the US. That's kind of nice. Also nice is the fact that, despite getting a good chunk of these from Kickstarter, there feels like there's a healthy biome of brick and mortars in the area as well. You never know you're in a golden age until it passes, but I'm going to call it - it is good time to be a gamer.

And yet more games will arrive soon. More later.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Theatre: Those Girls

This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing by Finegan Kruckemeyer, Directed by Johamy Morales, Arts West, through 10 April.

Another expedition to the Hermit Kingdom that is West Seattle. Last year, the main span to that region from the mainland was shut down, forcing traffic to approach by lesser roads from the south. This particular trip we did not get lost, but the traffic was slow and jammed along those routes. However, we had an excellent meal at Mashiko Sushi (tuna tartar, grilled squid, and the Lovely Bride's favorite, spider roll (actually a soft-shelled crab)). Then the play itself, just next door.

How was the play? I liked it a lot. The LB felt it lacked depth and gravitas, and was more suitable to children's theatre, and indeed both the award-winning writer and director have serious chops working with young audiences. But after musical plays, improv rap, and blocking set dressings, I was ready for a simple, straightforward play, and I thought it was great.

The play itself is as linear and as convoluted as a faerie tale. There are three sisters, triplets at birth, identical but different. Their mother dies, their father remarries, the stepmother is of the evil variety and (it is supposed) commands the father to lead the children (Age 13) out to the forest and abandons them. The sisters are distraught and go their separate ways into the wider world. One goes East and has adventures. One goes West and has adventures. One remains in place and has adventures. Eventually they come back together, both united and changed.

And it works. I complain about actors who have to fight with tough material, who are visibly struggling with the lines and characterizations. Not here. The ensemble grasps, internalizes, and conquers their world. They dance, sing, laugh and make the world a living and (mostly) pleasant place. The roles are broad and yes, it is a fairie tale, a fable, a simple thing, but they nail it. 

The company is great and many of them are making their first appearance on the ArtsWest Stage. Mara Palma, Bella Orobaton and Lola Rei Fukushima are the triplets, who sell their unity and their differences wonderfully. Anjelica McMillan has the quicksilver ability to shift characters, ages, and genders smoothly and effectively. Tyler Campbell is equally versatile as heartbroken father and a very unpleasant badger. All fill in the other roles and encounters that the daughters encounter, effortless dropping one guise and taking on another. 

And yeah, the set works this time. a collection of 20-odd stools, tables, trunks (with additional props within) and a ship's wheel are transformed and re-transformed through the play. The stick is a cane. The stick is a sword. The stick is mixing spoon. The props are just tools in the hands of capable actors. 

So. A wonderfully pleasant play delivered by talented and capable actors. An excellent evening. And yes, if you have daughters, this is a great play to take them to (most of the Friday evening house was traditional mix of middle-aged local supporters and some folk in their 20s). A good yarn, with excellent actors. A nice fable. Worth seeing. 

More later,

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Tekumel: Ditlana

 What happens when bad people make good things?

The latest serious discussion on this subject involves M.A.R. "Phil" Barker and Empire of the Petal Throne. It turns out the creator of this classic RPG setting was a full-on, deeply engaged Nazi. Wrote under a pen-name a Third-Reich wish-fulfillment novel that was published by a notorious white supremist publisher. And he sat on the board for a holocaust-denier group. Yeah, definitely a bad person.

And yet there is a good work. The original Empire of the Petal Throne campaign setting was a marvel of its age. Published by TSR in 1975, at a time when D&D was still emerging from its "little brown books", it was an amazing product: the first full campaign setting in a box, with detailed maps, tons of lore, and a high price tag. In a genre already dominated by Western Medieval tropes, it carved a non-western, exotic, unique setting. I have been a fan, and EPT's very publication has had deep repercussions within the gaming hobby about how to do this sort of thing. Since its release, there have been numerous attempts to simulate the world with a number of game systems, but the core world remains as Barker laid it down.

A horrible person created something worthwhile. And his work will forever be tainted by the failures of its creator. I want to separate art and artist, but that just doesn't fly in a world where we bind the two together, for the purposes of analysis, enlightenment, and more mundane marketing. How we live affects how we write. The creator infuses the creation. So, what to do? 

Nine years ago in this space, in the midst of another tempest involving another author, I wrote about Lovecraft, who was definitely problematic. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that while we cannot fully separate creation from creator, we can TAKE the creation away from the creator. We recognize Lovecraft's racism, and will not excuse or bury it. But moving forward, we take the good parts and evolve them fully, and leave the worst behind. In RPGs, in the modern interactive tradition, that can be done more easily than in other media. RPGs are ultimately a group activity, and the bad actors can be overwhelmed by the common good.

I wrote that in 2013. How has it worked out in Lovecraft's case? Well. in 2017 the award winning RPG product Harlem Unbound showed up, which deals with marginalized populations in Lovecraft's universe. Originally from Darker Hue studios, the book has been expanded upon and republished with Chaosium, publisher of Call of Cthulhu putting an official mark on it. The novel Lovecraft Country deals with this in fiction, and has not only been a best-seller but turned into a TV series in 2020. And Alan Moore produced a decidedly creepy comic called Providence dealing with sexual issues within the straight-laced original stories. None of this would have met the approval of the original dead racist.

So yeah, take the ball and run with it. Jeff Dee, who wrote an excellent set of recent rules set in Tekumel, Bethorm, has posted the suggestion to OCCUPY TEKUMEL Challenge or remove the violent, authoritarian, and unchanging nature of the empires. Give it a cleansing scrub. I think this would work. I get the feeling that, much like our own histories, the illusion of a continuous civilization is misleading, as looking at it hard reveals civil wars, uprisings, revolutions both quiet and violent. Yan Kor not only wins its war but inspires other breakaway chunks of Tsolyanu to find their own paths. Let the PCs lead a revolution for a city state within one of the Empires, and forge their own destinies.

The interesting thing is, Tekumel has a couple things already hard-wired into it that encourages this approach. There is the custom of ditlana, a renewal process where cities are literally razed, buried, and new structures place atop them. In game terms, this process creates a a huge number of underground areas with ancient treasures and lost tombs, which facilitates the entire "Go Down In the Dungeon" aspect of play. I have noted in an essay in the Kobold Worldbuilding Guide ("Apocalypso: Gaming After the Fall") that traditional fantasy by its nature is a post-apocalyptic world, in that there were previously great fallen empires that overshadow the "modern day" as well as provide a location to create new adventures in.

In addition, Barker himself spoke of alternate universes, and the desire to let players make the campaign their own. Part of this always sounded like not having to be the "authoritative" source for all things Petal Throne, but also to recognize that others will want to further develop. So be it. The Tree of Time has many branches, and it does us little good to adhere too closely to the main trunk..

The World of Tekumel may need a ditlana and a rebirth after all this. Not to forget the foundations, nor to excuse its original creator, but rather to distribute the depth and potential of the world among others, and let them continue to create and, more importantly, to grow. 

More later, 

Monday, March 21, 2022

A Change in the Life

 So, long-term readers (both of you) may have noticed that I rarely talk about my personal life up here on Grubb Street. Yeah, I talk about the effects of the recent pandemic on our daily lives, and often talk about the weather, the seasons, and local wildlife. Sometimes I talk about food. Sometimes I talk about adventures with the Lovely Bride But mostly it is book reviews, theater reviews, collectible quarters, and the ongoing saga that is local politics. I know, boring stuff.

However, it this is a good place to mention a major change in my life. As of last Friday, I am no longer with Amazon Games. It was a good run, and really like the people I was working with and the projects I have contributed to. I have great hopes that the current project I left will be a smashing success. You want any gossip, the deal is you have to buy me a beer. Several beers. 

As of today, I have joined Tempo Games, and am working on The Bazaar, and new game they have under development. I remain a Senior Narrative Designer, responsible for sorting out the lore and minimizing the typos. My new team includes a lot of new folk, but also a lot of veterans I have worked with before at ArenaNet and Amazon Games. I'm looking forward to it, and not just because I spent the bulk of the afternoon playing the game intensely. I like it, and I think a lot of other people will like it as well.

I am also serving as a design consultant on a new RPG called Everyday Heroes. A descendent of D20 Modern brought up to date for the 5th Edition, I serve as the "old guy" walking around behind the others and giving various warnings about how we used to do things. I am not the primary designer - those roles are Sig Trent and Chris "Goober" Ramslay, and they're doing a bang-up job. But beyond that, I will say nothing (OK, there's a Kickstarter coming. There. You happy?)

And that's about it for right now. I didn't have a lot to say about what I was working on before, and probably will not have a lot to say about it right now. And a big part of it is that most of what I am working on is "in process", which means it can change, evolve, revise and otherwise mutate between now and when it seems like the light of day, and I don't want to say things on Monday I will have to correct on Friday.

Back in the old days, before everyone carried a recording device in their pocket, the TSR gang could go to GenCon and say any number of things to small rooms of people, confident that we would not be called upon to make corrections when things changed. And often, things WOULD change after we talked about them, because our bosses would ALSO be at those conventions and listen to a lot of fans about what THEY would want us to do. Such things are a part of the past, since we live in a real-time world these days, so I will wait until the cake is done and iced before inviting everyone in for a slice.

That's about it. It's a new adventure, and I am looking forward to it.

More later,

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Theatre: Little Richard

Teenage Dick by Mike Lew, Directed by Malika Oyetimein, Seattle Rep through 3 April.

Lord, let me get through this one without an off-color joke. 

OK, Teenage Dick is one of those "Shakespeare Adjacent" plays you might find at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Not the Bard, nor even his verbiage in a new setting, but still related to the Shakespearean canon to that playgoers go in with something that feels like a reference point. 

In this case, Richard III set in a high school. 

Yeah, I know. It has been done. 10 Things I Hate About You. West Side Story.  Heck, the play itself even references Clueless, which was an updated Jane Austen's Emma, for god's sake. It is everything old is new again, filtered through high school melodrama and twitter-based technology.

Except it isn't. Yes, Richard Gloucester is a disabled young man (cerebral palsy), bullied and picked on, and has evolved a nasty attitude that mirrors that of his Shakespearean namesake. And he sets his sites on wresting the senior presidency from pretty boy jock Eddie Ivy (Edward IV), and part of his plan involves going to the big dance with the Eddie's ex-girlfriend, Anne Margaret (Anne Neville). Richard is mentored by off-kilter teacher Elizabeth York (Elizabeth of York), aided by fellow disabled frenemy Barbara Buckingham (Duke of Buckingham), and opposed by christian student Clarissa Duke (Duke of Clarence). The names are familiar, as is the starting point for the play. Here is man who feels himself scorned, who plans for vengeance, pulls out all stops to get it, and ultimately dies for it. His twisted mortal form that hides a black heart.

But. This is set in a high school and the stakes are slightly lower (and in reality more intense) than England's throne. And Richard, unlike the black-hearted villain of Shakespeare's history, actually has serious doubts about what he truly wants as he starts to break out of his self-imposed shell, such that actually, his decisions carry some weight, and we start to wonder - can the blackguard be redeemed?

But this is Shakespeare, and you know the answer to that. Much of the play is Machiavellian Chess with Teenage Richard putting his plans into motion, wallowing in his own cleverness. Then he falls for a dream he did not see coming and, once he makes his resolution, things turn very savage very fast. There is no Earl of Richmond here to carry home the point here, to make better promises for the future. The ultimate damage is self-inflicted. It is very much a tragedy.

The actors are excellent. MacGregor Arney is a transformed Richard, his twisted body turning more controlled and mannered when he turns from his fellow actors to soliloquize to the audience, selling the double-faced nature of Richard's treachery. But Rheanna Atendido is absolutely fantastic in a role (Ann) that, under Shakespeare, was merely a stepping stone for Richard's conquest.  Here playwright Lew gives her the moment she needs to drive Richard's cruelty home, and she kicks everything up several notches in the process. The Rep is pushing the play as satiric, which seems to undersell it. It takes the tropes (both Shakespeare and high school PTSD) and melds it into something stronger than either.

The original play was propaganda, of course. Richard was the last of the York rulers, and succeeded by the first of the Tudors (Richmond becomes Henry VII), of which the then-current ruler Elizabeth I was very much in present tense. So any historical play which blackened the name of the last York King would be well-received in court, and Shakespeare hangs a brace of bodies around Richard's neck. And in the centuries since, there is a lot written on how most of Shakespeare's reporting on the man was invention, or stealing from other sources that were equally skewed. Yet it is the theatrical Richard that survives in our minds, and the source which this play mines.

Teenage Dick succeeds in that it builds from a known base, and takes the discussion in a new direction. Lew internalizes Richard's own struggles even more than Shakespeare does, both broadening and deepening his emotions and reasons. Young Richard is hot garbage in a shirt, but a sympathetic villain none the less. It is a hard thing to pull off, and the play does so admirably. 

More later.

Sunday, March 06, 2022


A box arrived this week the contents that you see. They are all candidates for the Three Castles Award.

The Three Castles Award is an award given every year at the North Texas RPG convention (NTRPGCon) in Dallas IWell, Irving, within sight of the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. It is awarded to Old School RPGs/ Revival/ Renaissance/ Reformation projects (OSRs for short). The category of OSR is not reserved to just early editions of D&D, but include a wide variety of related works, other elder games and derivative projects thereof. The award's steering committee put together a short list, and it went out to a team of esteemed designers.. 

I am one of those esteemed designers this year. I will leave it to others to identify themselves, should they see fit. We have received detailed instructions on judging Presentation, Organization, Content, playability, Uniqueness, and Art.

Why yes, we take this seriously.

The candidates for this year's awards are: 

A Time For Sacrifice by Ben Burns, Brian Courtemanche, Jonathan Bagelman, For Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, New Comet Games

Moon Daughter's Fate by Alive Peng - for 5th Edition Compatible, Necromancer Games

An Occurrence at Howling Crater by Levi Combs, for 5th Edition Compatible, Planet X Games,

Seekers of the Un-K'Nown by Louis Hoefer, for MCC RPG, Dand Y Line Games

Crypt of the Science-Wizard by Skeeter Green, for DCC RPG and MCC RPG, Skeeter Green Productions,

The Basic Rules for the Majestic Fantasy RPG, By Robert S. Conley, Bat in the Attic Games.

I'm not going to review them in this space - that is reserved for the award ceremony itself, but the convention is June 2-5, 2022. I cannot make it, but there are a lot of people who can. So we'll see what we/they decide when the day comes.

 More later, 

Monday, February 21, 2022

Theatre: Beat Box Baby

Freestyle Love Supreme - Conceived by Anthony Veneziale, Created by Thomas Kail, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Anthony Veneziale, Directed by Thomas Kail, Seattle Rep through 13 March.

So, let me be honest with you. I go into these plays pretty blind. I may read the summary when we ordered season tickets, but that was months ago. I don't read the preliminary press, the interviews in the Seattle Times, the promos over on the Stranger. Yeah, Lin-Manuel Miranda's name is evoked for this one in that awed "before he got famous" tone. My first warning of what is to come is usually the program book. Of course I still get a program book. I'm not an animal, you know.

In any event, my first warning for Freestyle Love Supreme (FLS from here on in) was the magenta and blue lights that swept the audience and got in our eyes. The stage itself is a wall of speakers with FLS logoed prominently (All about the branding). The actors all have rap names. The program book has a bug-splat qr code that allows you to suggest a word to be worked into the performance. The crew arrives, and, after a number on "Mike Check" introducing the team, start taking suggestions from the floor on what to rap about.

Yep, it is hip-hop improv. Lord have mercy on us all.

And yet, despite settling deep into my seat, pulling my cap down to protect my eyes, and preparing to grumble my way through the hour and half performance, I had a good time, and by the end was bopping and rocking with the rest of the audience, a mix of older regulars and younger families (I blame Encanto). It was light. It was fluffy. The rhymes were dope without being dopey. One of the suggested words was "narwhale". It was cute, and most of all, it was entertaining.

The crew is tight without being a fright (OK, I will stop doing that). Andre (Jelly Donut) Bancroft is one of the founders of the FLS academy and acts as MC, wheedling words and situations out of the audience, who in turn quickly warms to him. Anthony (Two Touch) Veneziale is a founder and one of the show's creators, and comes off as sort of the Dad of the group. Jay C (Jellis J) Ellis is the most physical of the assembly, twisting and turning as he raps. Aneesa (Young Nees) Folds has a wonderful, powerful voice, but the breakout is Kaila (Kaiser Roze) Mullady, who is a fantastic beat-boxer. Yeah, yeah, for all you folk who haven't thought about beat-boxing since the guy on Police Academy, let me say the craft has advanced and she's a wonder to behold. Musical beats are provided by Richard (Rich Midway) Baskin Jr and James (Not Draggin) Rushin. 

So, Jelly Donut wraggles words and situations out of the audience, and they tangle their raps around it. Word choices, things you hate (Big score there with "Girl Pockets"), things you love (Nature), embarrassing situations (someone who as a kid confused exlax with chocolate), and wrapped up with rapping about someone's day so far. They hit gold with that one - a young woman who was attending the show with her mom, boyfriend, and five aunts, who had been teaching belly-dancing that morning and had a local-legend, now-retired belly dancer named Mish-Mish attend the class. Those are the mileposts of this particular show, and the journey the crew weaves through them is both entertaining and impressive. Your mileage WILL vary, because that's the point of it all. 

So. Not the deepest of dives ever to develop on the Rep stage, but still pure enjoyment and a very pleasant way to spend an overcast, rainy day in Seattle. Just keep the lights our of my ancient eyes.

More later, 

Sunday, February 13, 2022

The Political Desk: Quick Shot Results

You folks know the drill. It takes a while to process all the ballots for a mail-in election, so it will be a little while before know for certain. Still, early results see that most of the School Board measures are passing, including Kent School District No. 415 Proposition No. 1 Replacement of Expiring Educations Programs and Operations Levy.

The KCD results are a little quicker, in that they were totally on-line this year. Kirsten Haugen is dominating the race with 70% of the vote, but only three-quarters a percent of eligible voters (of less than 10,000 voters total) cast their ballots. That ain't a great result.

But here's an interesting thing. One of the candidates, Dominique Torgeson, gave a nice, balanced candidate statement, finishing up with "KCD is a non-partisan organization. I shall not seek the endorsement of any politician or political party." She may not has sought it out, but this spam DM showed up on my phone right before the deadline.

"Hi, Richard. I am Jay for ElectTorgeron-R. Official Online Election of King Conservation District has begun. You will not get a ballot in the mail., We need every conservative Vote for Torgerson! Please go to the official website [Link] Tks STOP to Stop"

Yeah, first of all, I'm not Richard, but I get messages for him all the time - usually conservative pitches. But that's not the thing - The thing is that while such positions are listed as non-partisan, the candidates may be as partisan as they choose to be - they just don't have to tell you. So we have to dig a bit more to find out where the support is coming from. 

So NOW we're done. At least until the next primary. I hope.

More later,