Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine give us their family dysfunction with such a combination of loving and loathing, tenderness and violence, and whiplashing from one to the other so adeptly that they become fearful to the extreme. Fearful to each other, to the lands they contest to rule, and to us in the audience.
Why should they frighten the audience, you ask? Well, maybe it’s just me but I kept seeing King Donald and Melania of Slovenia on the stage with the kids and dad’s chief paramour, all contending for a slice of the pie.
Well, set that aside and stay focused on the Twelfth Century. Just relax and enjoy family dysfunction as entertainment. This play, this director (Judi James) and this cast deliver.
For example, here’s an argument at the dinner table.
Much of it has to do with the complicated relationships involving Pop and the lady they picked when she was younger (a lot younger) to be married to one of the sons.
And if you thought Mama was taking her incarceration lightly (her loving hubby’s doing), she will remind you that she carries a switchblade.
But believe me, this is serious drama and the cast is fantastic. If you are a BCS follower and fan, you will know Susan Moss (Mummy, aka Eleanor of Aquitaine), Devon Smith (Pops, aka Henry II), Craig Fritz (as one of the conniving sons), Lisa Chapa (as Alais), and lots of new ones. And the newbies are very good.
If you enjoyed the photographs, thank the lighting designer. (I’m not sure who that is, but I think one of the actors may have been involved. I’m guessing Lisa Chapa.) Also the costumers, set designers, builders, and all the people it takes to put on a production of this quality. Thank them all. They have done a superb job under the most difficult mid-pandemic conditions.
It opens Friday in the Freeport LNG Theater in the Brazosport Center for the Arts and Sciences. But only about a quarter of the seats are being sold to reduce the risk of spreading Covid. They won’t tell you this, but I don’t care what the guvner won’t allow, I’m gonna tell you anyhow: Wear a mask, dammit.
Make your reservations here. See more rehearsal photographs here.
Monday night I watched the invited dress rehearsal of An Iliad, a solo play about war and the toxin of rage which lives so near the surface in humanity. If you are like me, your exposure to the classics of Greek literature is very limited. This is a re-telling of Homer’s great epic poem about the Trojan War. The play’s authors, Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare, have done a nice job of putting the action into modern language and making it relevant to the warring world we have lived in, yes, ever since the Trojan War.
As a solo performer script, it requires an outstanding actor. Monday night I was able to see Wes Copeland in the role of The Poet. Brazosport Center Stages presents the play with three such outstanding actors taking turns in the role of The Poet. (When you go to buy your tickets, you can choose your own Poet, either Wes Copeland, Bobby Britton, Jr. or Jeremy Todd. I have seen all of them perform in BCS productions and they are all excellent.
Here are a couple of shots I took at the dress rehearsal of Mr. Copeland performing.
This is no dry recitation of the epic poem you tried to dodge reading in college. The driving theme here is that humankind never learns the great cost and sorrow of war. At one point in this telling, The Poet runs through a list of all the wars since the Trojan War, all with the same burden of tragedy and and senseless loss. In the script, the list runs four full pages. A friend said, “I kept thinking he would get to the wars of our time. But he just kept citing more wars.” That in itself gives the audience a staggering moment of realization of the persistence of rage and violence in the human heart.
These three fine actors, Copeland, Britton and Todd, learned 56 pages of difficult and emotional script including a few lines in Greek as The Poet goes back to his roots. That in itself is quite a challenge, but what they do with it is one of those little miracles that happens in live theater – you learn a little more about who you are, what humanity is, and how we manage to live together – or not.
The actors are accompanied on stage by a muse, a solo guitarist, who has no lines but who does share a haunting accompaniment with the audience and a drink with The Poet. I would give you the Muse’s name if I knew it. Maybe I will learn it and update this piece when I get my own copy of the program on opening night. (His name is Jonathan Peachey. See Connie’s comment below.)
Get your tickets now. Six performances, weather permitting, outdoors in The Glen at Brazosport College. Masks, social distancing, and outdoor venue make theater possible in the Age of Pandemic. Please come prepared to comply with the simple rules meant to get us to The Other Side.
Brazosport Center Stages held its annual business meeting and appreciation night on August 8. Missing only the food and drink, BCS members gathered online via streaming technology. I can’t tell you how they did it. I was barely able to tune it in on my computer.
Except for the unusually boring presentation of the financial report, the meeting was excellently produced by Mr. Dennis Ulrich. (Disclosure: The person serving as treasurer at the time of the meeting occasionally writes for SOTLJ.)
The centerpiece of every appreciation night is the presentation the Superstar Award. The suspense actually centers around whether or not there will be an award since it is given from time to time to people who have made extraordinary lifetime contributions to BCS in acting, directing, theater technical areas, and governance. The minimum standards for the award are high and have eliminated some significant talent whose primary contribution has been in acting, say, or design. The award is decided by the theater board of directors and it is not unusual for several years to pass without a new Supertar.
But we have a new Superstar in 2020. It is Susan Moss who has acted (in many roles), directed, served as president of the board, and worked in a variety of tech positions to see that Brazosport Center Stages never misses curtain as advertised.
One of my favorite of Susan’s many performances on our stage was in the role of Violet Weston in August: Osage County in 2016.
You can see photos of Susan on stage at my Flickr site. I have selected a few an placed them in a Susan Moss Superstar album. See them here.
A great friend and photographer, Ed Christman, passed away June 30 after battling with Parkinson’s for many years. A few years ago, after his tremors became profound and disabling, he had a surgical procedure that helped some but it could not protect him from the continuing ravages of the disease and time.
Ed was my photography mentor. I met him sometime in the 1980s or 90s when he was Dow’s head photographer. I worked at United Way and we needed a volunteer to help us with our color brochures and other campaign graphics.
I was surprised to learn that Ed didn’t mind talking to a family snapshot photographer about some of the finer points of getting good photos. He didn’t pretend that better equipment makes you better photographer. Mind you, as a corporate photographer, Ed had the good stuff but it was apparent to anyone who watched him work that his genius was in positioning, distance, relationship with human subjects, ability to read the light and a lot of other things that the camera can’t do for you, at least not with the same degree of perfection as a human who understands his machine and knows how to make it do what he wants it to do.
This is a photo of Ed I took eight years ago when we worked together on some publicity shots for “Dividing the Estate,” a Horton Foote show being produced by Brazosport Center Stages. I felt happy to tag along with Ed, mostly to see how he went about his work. You will notice in the photograph that he has adorned his flash with that photographer’s cheapest and most cost-effective gadget, an index card flash reflector. But he did have the nice Nikon gear. I followed him around with my little point-and-shoot (a pretty nice one actually – the Canon Powershot G11) and got a few fair shots. Ed’s, of course, were spectacular.
The things he did with light outdoors gave me an education in the possibilities for softening natural light on sunny days. His interaction with people who were posing for him struck me as being icing on the Nikon cake. Equipment alone could not explain the cooperation he got from the play’s actors. He didn’t ask people to say cheese, he made them feel happy to be on the other side of the lens from such a genuinely nice and happy man.
There wasn’t a lot of energy in him for show photography after that. He came out to The Center in November that same year to take some publicity shots for the Elizabethan Madrigal Feast. He allowed me to post a few of them on my Flickr site so others could view them. He was a little too early for Instagram and all the online toys that photographers like to use now. But he was happy for me to put some online for the cast to see. They are all carefully attributed to Ed. I do that even though it would be apparent to anyone that the difference between his shots and mine would quickly show me up as a photo-plagiarist. Here are a couple of Ed’s shots from that November EMF shoot.
I was stunned by the beauty of his work. Here is the steward bearing the wassail. And, then, there is this Dutch master. I found this one to be simply breathtaking.
When our son got married in 1999, we asked Ed to do the wedding. That, if you remember, was back when photographers used film. What Ed did with that film was remarkable.
Nor was there anything fake or plastic about Ed’s presentations. No scrapbooks, silver frames, special sets for Grandma and Grandpa. All you got from Ed were packets of prints and negatives. No watermarks. No special permission for reprints. No proofs to pick from.
I will never forget when he came to our house after the wedding with about twenty packages of color prints and negatives. He left them with us. That was his total presentation. I asked if he wanted us to go through them and pick some for final printing.
“No, they are all yours. You may print as many as you wish.” He recommended a local photo printer who could give us any size, matte or glossy, and who had scrapbooks, mailers, frames, etc.
He left and we started to go through the envelope – twenty envelopes, each with 36 exposures. They were almost all beautiful photographs. I don’t think there were half a dozen throwaways in the whole batch. The man wasted no film. It was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen.
He had no need for PhotoShop. In fact, his wife has told me he detested it mightily. His philosophy was that you should do it right when you open and close the shutter. And sure enough, all but a few were perfection. He made a precise exposure and an elegant, perfect composition with each frame. I am still in awe of his art and his skill in coaxing the best work out of the camera.
We had one more wedding to go after that. Needless to say, we asked Ed to do it again. By then he had moved to digital. I have also stored a few of those on my Flickr site. Again, his art is at another level. Those wedding photographs he took of our children have given us anchors in time on two of our happiest days. Ed was able to see those life events with the same intensity of feeling that the parents felt on those days and he captured them for us to enjoy for all these years. All these years later, they live on.
Ed was a photographer trapped in a literary family of writers, teachers, and actors. I don’t know which of them was the primary author of his obituary, but whether by the Christman team or one individual author, they have said it best:
While raising his family, Ed became one of the most popular photographers of Brazoria County. Early evenings—when the light was perfect—weekends, and holidays were filled with portraits, weddings, celebrations. Attired in a utility vest and a broad-brimmed hat, he captured moments of joy, solemnity, achievement, honor, camaraderie, daring, and love. Ed taught people to see, to focus on the light in the eyes, to find a person’s best angle, and—as light does—to illumine the beauty sometimes concealed by shadow. In his art, whether a portrait, a candid shot, a cityscape, an industrial, a shell in the sand, or an old oak draped in Spanish moss at dusk, Ed found the uncanny perfection hidden in plain sight. He showed us ourselves and our world as only he could see them.
We miss Ed’s presence in our community. But he has captured time for us in photography’s special way. We see the images and we feel those moments again. Thank you for those treasures, brother Ed.
Well, maybe that isn’t such a good idea during a pandemic. But it is a lot of fun during healthier years. In fact, it’s more than fun. It touches a whole community so deeply with the beauty of the music, dance, costumes, and Shakespeare performance that it raises us to a new level of that experience we call the Christmas Spirit.
They set a memorable table, too.
Who ever thought that they were designing a super-spreader event when the first EMF was planned in 1988? Public health professionals might have known the term but it wasn’t in our vocabulary in Brazosport, Texas. In 2020. however, we know enough about coronavirus to know that those little devils would love the intimacy, the powerful vocal projections, and the intense rehearsals required to make the experience everything that it is. And food service, too? It couldn’t happen in July, 2020.
November? We await the Executive Committee’s timely decision.
Hover over the table with your friends. Everyone is commenting about how pretty the layout is. Stab an olive with a twice-used toothpick. It’s about saving the forests after all. Or glance furtively around the table. No one is looking. Grab one between thumb and index finger. Double dip the cheese melt with a cold green bean. No one noticed that first bite. Dip the other end. Hands are clean and dry. Now reach across the table and shake hands with a friend you haven’t seen in at least a week or two. On the return from that greeting, swoop down and land a chunk of sweet pineapple.
Moving on to the new year.
The crowd is still forming. Scotch eggs, maple-iced doughnuts, French roast coffee, artichoke dip, veggies, nuts, wassail. Before the morning passes, sixty or so friends will crowd in around the table, serve a plate, exchange greetings, and tell tales of the year gone by, hopes for the year ahead and mostly true stories from all the walks of community life.
Our love is manifest in food and words.
How will we greet 2021? There is virtually no safe and healthy way to do it the way we have been doing it. But January is so far in the future. We can hope.