Sunday, November 27, 2022

Theatre: Dueling Carols, Part 1

 Q Brothers Christmas Carol, a musical by Q Brothers Collective, Directed by Daniel Cruz. Arts West through  December 23rd

Ah, the Holiday Season in the Theatre, when the standard, go-to, feel-good performance pieces pulls from a writer who died 150 years ago, and whose work has nestled the Victorian Era firmly into our Christmas Spirit. I speak of  Charles Dickena and A Christmas Carol. Both Arts West and the Seattle Rep are doing versions this year, so I (and you) are subjected to dueling Carols.

The story itself has incredibly plasticity over the years. I have encountered the original version, along with musical versions, deconstructed versions, back-stage comedy versions, innumerable TV show episodes, and all manner in between. It has been performed by Albert Phinney, George C Scott, Bill Murray, Patrick Stewart, Scrooge McDuck, Tim Curry Michael Caine (with the Muppets), and Mr. Magoo. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is running version where the Christmas Spirits are played by the Marx Brothers. And here we have a hip-hop version of this timeless classic. 

Hang on, don't click away from here in fear. These are friendly spirits,  filled with good cheer, and this actually is a really good presentation of the story.

You all know the drill on this - everyone knows the drill. Ebeneezer Scrooge is wealthy rat fink who is visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve and from the lessons of the Past, Present, and Future, chooses to become less of a rat fink. It breaks down into pretty manageable chunks. We see Scrooge as a rat, then he gets a heads-up from his dead partner Marley that he is about to be ghosted, then we ratchet through the ghosts and end up with Scrooge so relieved by his change of heart that he makes people worry about his mental health. 

And yeah, this is hip-hop, all the way through. We are in the modern era, and this Scrooge is a former math nerd who turned to his capitalistic dark side. Marley is Bob, not Jacob. Christmas Past is Run DMCish with bucket hat and chunky chains, Christmas present echoes cooking-show era Snoop Dog, and the  spirits of Christmas Future invokes  the dance troupe Jabberwock. You don't need to know the history of the art form to enjoy it all as its sprawls out with hep beats and solid rhymes. Yeah, it is hip hop hooked to an ancient carriage, or perhaps a venerable vehicle with fresh horses, but it works.

We caught it on opening night, which had a late curtain and the program only available with a QR code. The house was friends, families, and financial supporters of the theater, and could be literally assumed to be "friendly". Yet the actors earned their many applauses, and bounced through the proceedings with a contagious energy that you can't help to embrace.

Christopher Kehoe Is Scrooge and portrays him in that white-boy-forced-to-be-funky dance moves when he cuts loose. The rest of the talented team (Dre Anderson, Jerik Fernandez, and Lola Rei Fukushima, who I will now think of as a "regular" for Arts West) get the good stuff, shimmering through proceedings as the ghosts, Marley's family, old friends, and encounters, often playing a couple parts simultaneously. The silliness gets contagious, and the performances are solid.

And they play it, for the most part, pretty straight. Scrooge talks to a sack of money he carries around and replaces "Bah Humbug" with "Chris-my-ASS-mis" as a tag line, and there is some Swiftian hints of cannibalism in the Marley household, but for the most part the really nail the beat, both narrative and musically.

I was going to wait for the Seattle Rep version to compare/contrast, but this was good enough to give you a good heads-up at the get-go. It is an enthusiastic entrance into the Holiday Season, and good rendition of the old Dickens chestnut. Go check it out.

More later,

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Shulz Centennial


Oh, Good Grief.

Psychiatric Help 5 Cents. Fussbudget. Slugs. Rats! Security Blanket. Kite-Eating Tree. Great Pumpkin. Sweet Baboo. Snicker-Snacks. Blockhead. Joe Shlabotnik. Round-Headed Kid. Supertime Dance. Sidney or the Bush. Cat Next Door. Beethoven. World War One Flying Ace. Sopwith Camel. Red Baron. Vincent Van Gogh. Joe Cool. Vulture. Miss Othmar. Lazy Eye. It Was a Dark and Stormy Night. The Six Bunny-Wunnies. I Got a Rock. Don't Call Me Sir. Naturally Curly Hair. Woodstock. 

Good Old Charlie Brown.

This weekend marks the 100th Birthday of Charles Shulz, creator of Peanuts. Peanuts was a touchstone for much of my generation and and for generations before and after us. It was incredibly popular, expanding from the daily and Sunday strips to movies, TV shows, comic books, records, songs and Broadway shows. Even its huxtering brought attention to Dolly Madison Cakes and Met Life. Its Christmas Special is one of the wonders of its age. 

A lot of people (in particular other cartoonists) are commemorating the centennial, but I just want to note how much of our childhood language was influenced by his comic strips. Words, history, and situations have taken on an extended life in our memories after being incorporated into his strips. The kids were kids, but they were very smart, generally well-informed kids.  Snoopy had an incredibly detailed alternate life, ranging from the coolest guy on campus to being a lawyer to an astronaut to captaining the Starship Enterprise. All of this formed a common ground for our generation, a shared experience told in four panels per day, with color versions in the Sunday paper. 

Shulz passed on in 2000, the day after his last comic strip was published. Yet his reprinted strips are still often the most amusing thing on the comic pages, and reach far beyond the nostalgia of our youth. Charles Shulz was one of the most influential writers of the later 20th Cent. He just did it while drawing the pictures as well.

More later, 

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Theatre: Scottish Play

 Macbeth By William Shakespeare, Directed by John Langs, Seattle Shakespeare, Center Theatre at Seattle Center, through 20 November 2022

Wow, this was good.

While I appreciate a lot of what is happening in "today's theatre", offering a variety of performance styles and new works, I do really long for some meat-and-potatoes old-time-rock-n-roll type theatrical plays. And you don't get more Original Gangster Playwrite than Willy Shakes.

And there has been a lot of Shakespeare variants and Shakespeare-related works out there, but it takes a lot of effort to strike close to the original source material and make it stick. I've seen about a half-dozen Macbeths in my life, the most recent being one transported to a group of schoolgirls in a vacant lot (which was really good), but this is the real deal, the original flavor version and it is so good. 

Sacnoth and his lovely bride, Janice, were going and invited me along. The venue is in the basement of the Armory in the heart of the Seattle Center (large building between the fountain and the space needle - the one with the food court). The space itself is relatively low-ceilings and intimate, which brings the players right up to the actors. I've been there before, for a performance of Mother Courage from Book-It, which also uses the space. 

You should know the basics of the play by now. Three witches appear to warriors Macbeth and Banquo. They prophesy that Macbeth gets to be king, but Banquo's descendants get to be a lot of kings. Macbeth, along with his wife, choose to speed up the coronation by killing the current King, then turn on Banquo to try to foil the prophesy. That trick doesn't work, Macbeth and his wife go crazy in very different ways, and Macbeth's former allies overthrow the mad king in the name of Banquo's child, who goes on to become the ancestor of many kings of Scotland and James I of England (who just HAPPENED to be King of England when the play was written).

The performers are top notch.   Reginald Andre Jackson is a thoughtful Macbeth, determine to create his own fate, and increasingly losing control. Alexandra Tavares is an excellent Lady MacB. Both their natures are warm, turning to negatives as the full consequences of their actions descend on them. Banquo is gender-swapped, played spot-on by Jonelle Jordan, and that swap works so much better in this male-dominated play. The rest of the company are fine, and we spent part of the intermission checking the credit lists to see what else they had been in locally (another plus for this performance - local talent as opposed to being "thrilled to be in Seattle for the first time." in the credits). 

The direction was excellent, and John Langs chooses to embrace the supernatural fully, moving the play into the half-realm where the mystic meets the real. The witches don't just do their bits and get off, but rather remain as they see their prophesies become true. They evolve to become the Fates/Norns, embodying the destinies of the characters. Many productions banish Banquo from our sight, letting Macbeth react to nothing on the stage. Here Banquo is a guest at the worst dinner party ever, and Macbeth's terror feels earned. Plus, Lady Macbeth's ghost makes a curtain call right before her death is announced (Shakespeare has a tendency to let his female characters die off-stage).  Bringing the supernatural fully onto the stage is one of the things that really grounds this version of Macbeth. It is not one single ghost or haunt or phantasm, but rather an entire world overlapping on our own.

So, this is one to hunt down in the coming weekend and take a look. Seattle Shakespeare does not do a lot of plays each year, but when they do, they are worth it. Check it out.

More later,

Thursday, November 10, 2022

The Political Desk: Summing Up

So, how did things go?

For Washington State, surprisingly well. The Red Wave/Tide/Tsunami that the media was intoning about failed to materialize to a great degree. The Republicans made some advances on the national scale, which is to be expected in an off-year election, but in Washington State they hit a wall, and actually lost ground. The best news is that it looks like the Election Denier wing of the GOP took the worst hits, and will hopefully be replaced with more reasonable candidates in the future.

Election denial has struck me as a tough sell as far as an election campaign - "These elections are bogus! It's all a fraud! Please vote for me anyway!".

And in a land where a three-percentage point margin is usually considered a landslide and a mandate to govern, a lot of the candidates and measures not only beat the spread, but did so in handy numbers.

In any event, the numbers quoted are as of Thursday night, but it looks like most of them will hold as the late results come in (which tend to trend more liberal in any event). There is only one measure that is "hanging fire" right now, and ironically, it is one about how to vote. 

So. How did things go?

Advisory Vote No. 39 Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5974 and Advisory Vote No. 40 Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2076 - Both REPEALED  (by 59%-40% in one, 53-47 in the other). These are Advisory Votes and have no bearing on the bills as passed other than saying we are disappointed in you for doing so. I really think we need to either give these things some teeth, or get them off the ballot entirely.

Charter Amendment No. 1 Even-Numbered Election Years for Certain County Offices - YES, by overwhelming numbers (69-31). As a game designer, I will attempt to run for office/launch an initiative in odd-numbered years, but then I'm just going to cheese the system.  

Proposition No. 1 Conservation Futures Levy - overwhelmingly Approved (68-31), which is nice.

United States Senator - Patty Murray wins handily (57-43). Man, there was a media kerfuffle about how close this was going to be. Turns out that running against King County (where a third of the state's voters live) was not a winning strategy. Go figure.

United States Representative Congressional District No. 9 Adam Smith (71-29). This was an honest-to-gosh wipe-out, and I've seen nothing in the press about the depth of this wipe-out. 

Secretary of State Steve Hobbs (49.7-46.7 with 3.6% write-ins). This would have been much closer if not for write-in campaign by the organized GOP in the state, which bled off enough votes to really make a difference. Now the organized state GOP is blaming the media for actually POINTING OUT that the GOP was running their own candidate. Though really, this is a good argument for Ranked Choice Voting and Approval Voting, as it turns out.

Legislative District No. 11 Representative Position 1 - David Hackney (69-31)

Legislative District No. 11 Representative Position 2 Steve Bergquist  (68-32)

King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion (56-44). Oddly, I missed this race in the summary, but I will catch up here.

And on the Stuff I'm Not Voting on(TM)? 

Changing up how Seattle votes for particular offices is actually one of those where the votes are close, and the winner may change after all the votes are counted. Right now, enacting the change is losing by a thin margin (49-51), but may catch up in further voting. BUT if they do change, RCV is smoking the more easily understood Approval Voting (75-25).

And up in the 8th US House race, Kim Schrier is winning handily (52-47) over her Extremist GOP opponent, in a race that everyone said was also going to be a nail-biter. While down in the 11th US House, I am delighted to note that Marie Glusenkamp Perez has shown the election-denying MAGA candidate the door (also 52-47). Yeah, the 11th is considered a conservative district, but it looks like voters will be actually be willing to wait for a reasonable conservative.

And in the 47th State Rep (which includes much of Kent), Claudia Kaufmann is doing well (43-47). Her opposition gave me a robo-call late election day (note: I cannot vote in that race, so next time, just send me the money you would normally spend on such nonsense), where he did himself no favors by endorsing the Republican Senatorial candidate.

And I will note that the same media that embraced the whole "Red Wave" thing are now embracing the "Trump is gornisht, the GOP is in disarray" meme. These were the same outlets that said the Seahawks would be lucky to win three games this year. So yeah, I'm not buying that, either.

And with that, The Political Desk slouches off to the bar to have a few drinks and a good lie-down. See you next election.

More later, 

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

D&D: Relatively Speaking

 It's going to be a little while before all the dust settles and the votes are counted, so The Political Desk is on hold for the moment. In the meantime, I've been going through my LBBs (Little Brown Books for D&D) and thinking about how we played back in the old days (#BackInMyDay, #TrulyOldSchool, #OGDnD, #GetOffMyLawn). And here's a favorite section from the original Men & Magic booklet (Page 13).

Relatives: The referee may allow players to designate one relative of this character to inherit his possessions if for any reason the participant unexpected disappears, with or without "death" being positively established, for a period of one game month, let us say. At this time the relative would inherit the estate of the character, paying a 10% tax on all goods and monies. The relative must start at the lowest level of the class he opts for, but will have the advantage of the inheritance.

    If the character returns, he takes possession of his estate once more (referee's option as to willingness of the relative to give it up) but must pay an additional 10% tax in order to regain his own. Optionally the relative may be allowed to stay on as a non-player character in the service of the player-character. Loyalty of the relative in such circumstance would be at a penalty of from 0 to -6, and he would possibly intrigue to regain control.

    Characters with a relative will lose all their possessions should they disappear and not return before whatever period is designated at establishing death.

Note that at this early stage of the game, the DM is referred to as a "referee". Also note that "taxes" are a part of the game from the start. Also, given the amount of precise legalese in the entry, you KNOW that this had to be the result of a particular situation encountered in a game. 

Just thought it was amusing. More later,

Monday, November 07, 2022

Life in the Time of the Virus: Update

Railroad Train, Edward Hopper - 1908
 At the time of this writing, about 350 people per day are dying of coronavirus. For those morbidly keeping score at home, we lose 251 people/day to drug overdoses, 118/day to car accidents, and 123/day to firearms. So the pandemic keeps inching closer to daily life as "just one more thing" that can kill you around here.

One of the results of this is that Washington State and Seattle are ending the emergency. Which is sort of like an old Doonesbury cartoon where they ended the energy crisis because everyone was used to it by now, so it could hardly be a crisis, eh? We will continue to see hospitalizations and deaths, but they will be at a more manageable level as far as the institutional structure is concerned.

Most of those who are worst affected are, unsurprisingly, those who have eschewed shots in the first place. But a lot of friends and colleague, including the vaccinated, have come down with it and their symptoms have varied from mild and irritating to miserable and lingering. So even with proper vaccines, it remains dangerous.

On a local level, the Lovely Bride got her bivalent shot and seems to have emerged unscathed. I was grumping around for a day or so, but in my case, I triple-shotted a flu shot, COVID shot, and pneumonia shot in one go, which was probably a bad idea. Still, both the LB and I have dodged the viral bullet so far (touch wood).

Masks are still a thing, but in a much more limited sense. Theaters, medical offices, and tai chi are the only places that they seem mandatory. I haven't had to show my vac card for the past six months. so my freedoms have pretty much been intact. It is at most a very limited oppression. I still wear a mask when shopping. though I am in the minority these days. I am fortunate in that masks really don't bother me much (I have a bin of them by the door), and I seem to be able to communicate without too much difficulty (I have very expressive eyebrows).

On the horizon, there seems to be some new wave of variants coming out of Europe, which there has been a limited amount of information. And the flu season is hitting. AND there is a new RSV (Respiratory Syndrome Virus, similar to the common cold) going around. And Monkey Pox. So yeah, I'm still comfortable with a mask.

More later,

Sunday, November 06, 2022

The Political Desk: Bonus Round: Stuff I'm Not Voting On

Why yeah, I'm going to nag you about voting. I expect that most of the readers of this blog (both of them), have already voted, but if not, get out there and vote, and encourage others to do so.

There is stuff I can't vote on around here, primarily because I am not in particular district or community that has those elections. So this a lot of this is distant thunder, and may affect me (and you) eventually.

The big one is a two-part vote up in Seattle that monkeys with how they vote. The current system is that whoever gets the most votes wins. Pretty straightforward, but as the Primaries show, it is a bit of a pain with multiple candidates, and tends to be dominated by the major parties. So the first question is do you want to change the system?

If you do, the next question, do you want the beef  or the fish? I mean, do you want Approval Voting (AV) or Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). Here's the diff:

Approval Voting says you can vote for as many candidates for any office as you want. You like all four Democrats? Vote for 'em. Don't like the incumbent? Vote for everyone except that one person. All the votes have the same weight, so the candidates with the most votes win. Approval Voting has been playtested in a couple locations, though not extensively.

Ranked Choice Voting says you do that, but list them in order. You like the hot educated young professional but will settle for the incumbent but don't care for the climate-denier? Rank them 1, 2, and 3. when the votes are counted, the low guy gets thrown out and the ballots for them look at the second choice and toss those votes onto the higher-ranked candidate. Continue the process until you get to the winner. So if you don't get your first choice, you at least have a shot at getting a decent candidate. RCV has shown up in a number of places, including Alaska, New York City, and the Hugo awards, and has been pretty effective.

Both versions reduce the binary nature of campaigns and removes situations where multiple candidates running who have a particular viewpoint results in that viewpoint getting frozen out. It will likely push voting towards the middle as opposed to opposition camps. It can weaken the power of political parties and promote more independent candidates. That's all good. But it they are admittedly more complicated (knowing how difficult it is to get people to fill in ONE little oval on the ballot). They are intended to be for Seattle's Attorney, Mayor, and City Council, so there will be "hybrid ballots" with two different types of voting on them. And this is proposed for the primaries, which are still "top two". In fact, this type of voting can negate the need for primaries at all (though you'll end up with Goodspaceguy being considered for the general election).

Here's the thing I really want to do. The Secretary of State should call on a brain trust of game designers (hey, he knows a few) and turn them loose on the system with the question "How do we cheese this system?" If anyone knows how to milk exploits out of a set of rules, it will be game designers. Let's run a development cycle or three.

But then, that's not on my ballot. If it were, I'd say No, then swing over to RCV if forced to make a choice. And get rid of primaries entirely, but that's not on the ballot this time.

There are also races that are actually kinda tight, but because of the way they draw boundaries around here, I can't vote in them, either. A few blocks away is Legislative District 11th, a redrawn district that was once traditionally GOP, but last election went Democrat, so they redrew the boundaries to put more red and rural voters into it. Kim Schrier is the incumbent who has done well in her rookie season. Her opponent is Matt Larkin, who definitely on the whackadoodle train - he's just now getting around to saying "Yeah, Biden won" effectively gaslighting his own supporters. Both sides are running attack ads on the tube, the difference being while Larkin's are all about how scary Schrier is (Ominous music, grainy photos, yellow police tape), while ads against Larkin tend to just use voice clips from Larkin's speeches about how this is no time for moderation. So, yeah, there is a difference.

But Larkin's the not the worst GOP Candidate in Washington State. That away goes way to the south, far outside this blog's throw weight. Joe Kent is a newly-arrived carpetbagger looking for an easy grift in a conservative area around Vancouver, Washington. He's got Trump showing up to support him, and ticks all the MAGA boxes. Most recently, the Seattle Times notes that Joe Kent wants to go after those really responsible for Jan. 6 - the FBI. Because attacking the capitol building was a sting operation. So yeah, support his opponent - Marie Glusenkamp Perez. Southern Washington is "Let's Go Brandon" territory, but there are enough sane GOP supporters down there that the race is tight.

Finally, MOST of the city of Kent (but not this household) is in the 47th state legislative district, and actually has a race between two competent, reasonable candidates. Bill Boyce and Claudia Kauffman both come out of the Kent City Council, and have proved to reasonable and responsible grown-ups. This is a choice between two good candidates. I favor Claudia Kauffman because of her positions, it is one of those races where I feel the political responsibility is in safe hands. And I want to point out that there ARE sane Republicans out there. But I still don't like their positions.

In the meantime, if you are in Washington State, or any state that allows early voting. Go Vote, and encourage others to do so as well. 'Cause you have some real loons out there.

More later,