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.