! Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Hanukkah Story......Still Illuminating After All!

I think I was five years old when the light bulb went on, eliminating any shadow of doubt....Christmas and Hanukkah were not the same! I guess it was Kindergarten that set the flood gates open. Until then, I had been either at home or nursery school, which was held at Temple Concord, so my only experiences were all based on being raised in a Jewish household.

Being exposed to all of my new classmates , out there in the “real world”, set in motion the many changes that take place as children begin the adventure of learning about the world around them. I came home filled with questions about Santa Claus, Christmas trees, Stockings filled with toys...even a few about Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Somehow, in the good ole’ days, my mother always seemed to be one step ahead of me. Ever prepared, she brought out a new ‘Golden Book’ which I vaguely recall being entitled “The Festival of Lights- the Story of Judah and the Maccabees”. I tried to find it on Ebay, but no luck yet.

“After all, you can read now” my mother reminded me, “I think you’ll find the story illuminating” she added. “Let me know if you have any questions”

I ran up to my room, excited to know that there was a great big book, filled with illustrations, that would provide the answers to all of these new and perplexing queries. Until that moment, I had assumed that every family on every street was lighting the candles, one at a time, and speaking Hebrew. It was the same year that the concept of giving...and receiving gifts, really started to take hold.

I read that book over and over again. I was entranced with the very idea that a small but determined group of people
led by Judah Maccabee and his brothers, could band together and find like-minded individuals, who all believed that they had the right to choose their God.

Jerusalem had been under siege by Antiochus Epiphany, who dreamed of being as powerful a ruler as Alexander the Great had been over 100 years earlier. In his ignorance of the Jewish faith, coupled with his desire to change and dominate the people who lived in the land he had seized control of, Antiochus began the destruction of the Jewish Temples, and drove those who would not obey, into the hills.

It was hiding in those hills and knowledge of the land that allowed the Maccabees to build their resistance and and become a tiny faithful group that, after months of planning and praying, began to fight back- winning battles that seemed impossible to the great Syrian army that had been sent to destroy them originally.

Against all odds, The Jews were able to finally reclaim Jerusalem and Judah found a Temple that had been defiled, but not destroyed. Knowing that his first task was to rededicate the Temple, he gathered the holy men to help. Traditionally, in the days before Antiochus, all sacred temples had oil lamps that continuously burned, as a symbol of the peoples faith and their dedication to Judaism.

Finding only enough oil for one night was a blow to Judah and the Maccabees, as they needed more time to spread the word that the fighting was over- and that the hundreds of others who had been in hiding could safely return and rejoice.

Judah knelt before the altar and prayed that the lamp would remain lit, allowing them the time they needed.Miraculously, the oil continued to fuel the flame for eight nights. Some say that it got even brighter with each day. The Temple once again glowed with the symbol of the Jewish Faith. Those eight days and nights came to be celebrated with an annual festival and ever since then, Jewish people all over the world have celebrated this event.

Suddenly, the menorah made sense to me. The gifts exchanged, one per day, over the 8 days also had new significance. I don’t remember being sad that I didn’t have a Santa Claus, or midnight mass. What I remember is a renewed sense of what it meant to be Jewish and that people all over the world had many different beliefs.

I remember my mother filling in the gaps and explaining diversity and faith. I remember feeling special that our family had different traditions than my friends up the street. I remember going to a neighbors to see them light their tree and their family coming to our house for latkes and the ceremonial lighting of the menorah. I remember reading about Judah and The Maccabees. As I remember, it’s still a pretty good story.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I am not a political pundit, nor do I have any desire to act as such. While I may have an opinion about almost everything, political agenda has never been a platform from which I choose to dive (head first or otherwise).

This election year has been most stimulating, however- and while I usually go out of my way to steer clear of such conversation at the occasional cocktail party or the Elks Lodge pancake breakfast, I found myself chatting with a neighbor last week at the local crafts fair petting zoo.....and Sarah Palin finally managed to get my goat.

An article in TIME MAGAZINE,8599,18379,00html
two weeks ago referred to certain actions that Ms. Palin took during her term in office as Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska in 1996. Apparently, these factoids are a matter of public record.

According to Vicki Naegele, (then managing editor of the Mat-Su Frontiersman) Palin told department heads that they needed her permission to talk to reporters- “She put a gag order on those people, something you’d expect to find in the big city, not here” says Naegele. “She flew in there like a big-city gal, which she’s not. It was a strange time, and (The Frontiersman) came out very harshly against her”

Palin went on to attempt to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. “She asked the library how she could go about banning books”, according to political opponent John Stein, “because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them- the librarian was aghast” That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn’t be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had “threatened to fire Baker for not giving ’full support’ to the Mayor”

A contributor to names the books that Palin attempted to ban from the library. Here’s where it gets personal. (and the canker gnaws, not unlike the aforementioned goat)

The first book on her (to be burned) list was A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engle. When I was seven years old, my mother took me by the hand and led me to our local library in downtown Binghamton, New York - which started my journey on a lifelong path of discovery and enlightenment called reading.

It was a bright, sunny day and I was still young enough to believe that the world was a beautiful place. My life was filled with joy and laughter, climbing trees and Kool-Aid. Tears and sorrow, disillusionment and pain were yet to be thought of- still light years off, in a galaxy far, far away.

With the help of our (long dead) librarian (I still have my very first library card, buried in the abyss ) and the gentle guidance of my mother, I scampered out of the library, my first ‘borrowed’ books clutched ever-so-tightly in my tiny, innocent hands and flew to my room to read (all by myself- for the very first time) A WRINKLE IN TIME .

I was instantly, magically, transported to a new world- one of imagination, creativity and excitement. A world that flung wide it’s arms to me and opened the floodgates that, to this day, amaze and delight me every time I crack open a new tome, another chapter in the
"NEVERENDING STORY" that is literature.

revolves around a too-smart-for-his -own-good little boy (I could relate), his older (too-nerdy-for-her-own-good) sister (I had one of those) their loner-boy neighbor (yup) and their wild and crazy adventures through space and time in a quest to find and connect with their (too-often-absent) father . The enchanting and Nebula Award winning story made me think. Made me learn. Made me laugh. Made me cry.

It was that moment that steered me toward the path I still meander. I was lucky- I had the “Leave it to Beaver”, stay-at-home Mom that told me to “look it up in the dictionary” (ooh, that reminds me- WEBSTERS NINTH NEW COLLEGIATE DICTIONARY was on Sarah Palins’ list of “objectionable” books) when I came across a word I did not recognize. Reading actually taught me, inspired me, nurtured me and ever so gently nudged me forth into a BRAVE NEW WORLD (yes, Aldous Huxley is on “The List”) - a world that the Sarah Palins of the planet would control if they could.

This frightening thought gives me pause. If Palin had been around in 1962 to dictate what books I checked out of the library (free will intact) would I be who I am today? Would I have matured into the man I am at this moment? Would I still possess the desire to learn, to imagine, to grow? Would I have developed the desire to write my own thoughts on a blank page?

There are other authors names on the now - famous list......Chaucer, D.H. Lawrence, Arthur Miller, Shakespeare, Steinbeck and The Brothers Grimm to name a few. I can’t even imagine a world without them. In fact, I’m still trying to imagine what “LIPSTICK ON A PIG” would look like.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Reprinted with express permission of The Towne Crier email comments or questions to:



By Jonathan Fox
The Towne Crier

The Tusten Theatre in Narrowsburg, NY is a charming venue nestled in the Catskills and apparently produces a variety of interesting and thought-provoking productions in association with the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance.

Last nights performance of “Two Men Talking” was certainly no exception. The authors, Paul Browde, MD and Murray Nossel, PHD are not actors, nor is the non-scripted production a play, per se. The gentlemen - and the production are nonetheless highly entertaining, thought provoking, often very amusing and theatrical and the audience arrived in droves, during a torrential downpour, no less, to show their enthusiastic support.

This “Performance Piece” is unusual in many respects- there are no sets nor props, the “staging” is non-existent and yet the mood created by these two men, alone on a bare stage is both moving and inspiring.

Paul Browde is a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City and Murray Nossel is an Academy Award nominated documentary film maker and practiced as a clinical psychologist in their native South Africa.

These men are both adept at story telling and their personal stories have intertwined in fascinating ways over the span of two decades. While no two performances are exactly alike, like snow flakes, they are each unique and beautiful and they weave their spell over the audience each night in different ways.

From their boyhood meeting as privileged, white upper-class South African Jews- to their adult lives - which take many twists and turns over the years as gay men dealing with the issues of Apartheid, AIDS, family and friends, their tales range from charming to alarming in the blink of an eye, the whole while captivating the audience with their wit, intelligence and panache.

From the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem to the streets of London to the decadent decade of “Sex, drugs and Rock ‘n Roll” in San Francisco, their stories are infused with humor, pathos and entertaining anecdotes that kept the audience mesmerized for 75 minutes or so, with no intermission.

An informal “question and answer” mini-event was held after the performance and surprisingly, the vast majority of theatergoers stayed in their seats for an opportunity to ask some probing and thoughtful questions of the authors, providing yet another opportunity to be entertained and informed about the variety of topics covered in the too-short addendum to the show.

The pair have performed this piece, in it’s many incarnations, all over the world and have formed a company that takes their unique perspective to private corporations and various organizations, encouraging the “private sector’ to share their own personal stories as a path to personal enlightenment and emotional growth.

How fortunate we are, that even here, tucked away in upstate New York (where both men own homes and spend much deserved “down time”) there is a place where we can gather as one and share some of these very special moments together.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


Norman Duttweiler, Producer
Forestburgh Playhouse/Theater AMDG, Inc.
39 Forestburgh Road
Forestburgh, NY 12777

Dear Norman:
(I address you informally, since I feel as if we know each other- I have been attending shows at the theater for almost eight years.....and you appear to recognize me when I walk through the door- one of the many charms of a night out at the FBP)

I am writing you in regard to my most recent experience at the Playhouse: “GYPSY”........

One of the reasons I am doing so is that you and your associates ask us for feedback, on stage and in the programs- the insert questionnaire makes it clear that you are interested in what we, the viewing audience, think and feel in response to the various performances- and while I wish I had more positive comments regarding this particular production, please be aware that I have enjoyed many shows in the past and have contacted you in other seasons with praise as my interest in doing so is not an isolated incident.

I’m an avid theater enthusiast and have enjoyed many performances at the Forestburgh Playhouse over the years- therefore I implore you to receive this in the spirit in which it is intended. I am a fan and shall remain so- however, for me, GYPSY was a disaster- from the second the overture began.....and remained so until I left at intermission- something I have done fewer than six times in the fifty years I have been attending live theater.

It would be fair to say that I have a soft spot in my heart for GYPSY- it has always been one of my favorites and I was thrilled to see that you were mounting a production this summer- I have seen the show done many, many times, in assorted venues, from Broadway to Summer Stock, so it would be unfair to assume that I arrived with any sort of preconceived notion of what was to come.

That being said, I felt strongly enough about this particular production to share my thoughts with you and purposely waited a good period of time before doing so, since my initial reaction (aside from horror and dismay) was one of pure anger.

I, as an audience member, felt cheated and betrayed on Tuesday, July 1st, perhaps even more so because I was excited to be seeing one of my favorite shows- in one of my favorite places- the Forestburgh Playhouse!

I think I am fairly well versed in the theater and have had my share of experience both on and off the stage , which gives me some insight to both viewpoints (in my own humble opinion)- so without further ado- I will now share.......

I think that there are some pieces better left to their own devices- and GYPSY to me, is no exception. While it might be “fun” to play with Shakespeare and set MACBETH in the Wild, Wild West- it is not necessarily a good idea, nor (in my humble opinion) is it a good idea to “rethink” the role of Mama Rose and make her playful, sweet, adorable,sensitive, lovable, naive and vulnerable. I believe that Jule Styne, Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim were well aware of what characteristics they wished to portray in Rose- and made fine decisions regarding when to manipulate the audience into realizing those various aspects of a such a dynamic and multifaceted individual.

The fact that the character of Rose is based on an actual living human being also comes into play. While GYPSY is “suggested by the memoirs” of her cannot escape understanding that the show was written about real people and that certain basic and fundamental aspects of their personalities were facts and not necessarily open to interpretation.....

This remains another good argument (in my humble opinion) to not reinterpret a role which has virtually become a part of the American Theater Landscape. When one thinks of the term “Stage Mother” one conjures up a vision of Mama Rose.....and I believe the role should be interpreted by both actor and director as such, along with the respect due the authors of such a brilliant piece of Theater History.

Honestly, I was horrified. If I didn’t know that I was supposed to be ‘surprised’ by Rose’s entrance from the back of the house, I would certainly not have made that assumption based on the entrance made by Leslie Alexander. Given her meek and totally unimposing interpretation of the character, coupled with a choice to have her not be loud, obnoxious or “over the top”- hardly left room for her to appear vulnerable or for the audience to feel for her when her guard is finally let down later on in the show.

The only emotion I felt was one of pity for some of the other performers, who had to work with Ms. Alexander and her incredibly boring, ill-conceived , one-note interpretation of Mama Rose. (Of course, this is only my humble opinion)

Even though I have allowed time to pass between my seeing the show and putting “pen to paper”, I still shudder at some of the unbelievable choices that were made. I phrase this carefully, since I do believe these were, indeed, choices. It would be far more forgivable to think otherwise.

Somewhere along the "rehearsal road” someone made a choice to use a stuffed animal instead of a real, live dog. This seems inconceivable, yet it’s true. One of the many charms of the Forestburgh Playhouse is it’s intimate setting and that there isn’t a “Bad Seat in the House”......why then, even attempt to make me believe that the poor creature is holding a real dog- this isn’t ANNIE for God’s sake......the dog is hardly an integral part of the story line. If a live dog couldn’t be found, or there wasn’t money in the budget, or the dog that had been cast (if only!) died on opening night, why oh why, did someone not just open their mouth (anyone- even the Janitor) and say “For Christ’s sake- just cut the damn dog” ?

To fail so miserably to create the illusion (perhaps I should say “specter”) of poor ‘Chowsie’ immediately set the tone for the evening ahead and barely ten minutes had elapsed.

Quincy Confoy
gave a competent and vivacious performance as Baby June. For some bizarre reason, Tim Mulalley was apparently directed (?) to portray POP as a grinning, foolish New York Cabbie who smirked his way through a thankless role, made even more so by the actor’s performance.

Unfortunately for the audience, (and I must say, the lack of response was palpable) we then had to suffer, as a group, through Ms. Alexander’s rendition of ‘Some People’. Weak, unfocused, tuneless and ineffectual are only some of the words that come to mind. I thank God she wasn’t dragging the “Pound Puppy” behind her on a string or holding an “invisible dog leash” from Disneyland in the hand that wasn’t calculating each and every second she had to endure before grabbing that damn plaque off the wall, since we could actually see the actor calculating each and every move she was about to execute before doing so.

By some stroke of extraordinary luck, we had the good fortune of some talent appearing in this train wreck. Bruce Sabath (as Herbie), Jessica Wagner (as June) and Laura Beth Wells (as Louise) were the proverbial “breath of fresh air” in an otherwise talent-free cast. This is a wonder to me, considering the enormous pool of talent that the theater has at it’s disposal. Considering it’s proximity to New York City and the vast array of actors available for the season, it seems incredible that there were not other fine casting choices that could have been made.

Bruce Sabath
brought depth and a fine singing voice to the table and must have had difficulty working opposite the wooden, one-note (off key, no less) performance of the aforementioned Leslie Alexander.

While “Small World” could have been a golden opportunity for the audience to catch a glimpse of what lies underneath the facade of false bravado that Rose presents to the world at large, we had already been given little else from her and as a result, the number fell flat on it’s face, despite the valiant efforts of Mr. Sabath.

Suffice it to say that “no comment” is the best tactic to employ rather than discussing some of the other musical numbers in the show. While Quincy Confoy (Baby June)did her best with “Let Me Entertain You” she was backed up by a clumsy gaggle of girly-boys, who apparently were given as little direction as everyone else on stage that evening. The very same group limped their way through “Mr. Goldstone”, a number that is usually performed with vigor and enthusiasm- sadly, this time, not so much.

The clouds parted briefly as Laura Beth Wells took the stage alone to offer her beautiful and plaintive rendition of “Little Lamb” giving the audience a moment to sit back and remember that “GYPSY” was written beautifully and artfully, even though the actress was singing to some sort of stuffed animal- probably the synthetic-fleece version of Chowsie from Act One, Scene One.

Ms. Alexander continued to sedate the audience (and undoubtedly her costar) while performing “You’ll Never Get Away From Me”, which reminded me of the old adage about the “Pink Elephant in the Room”, since all I could think about was “getting away from her” as we suffered through the barnyard sequence and were finally rewarded with two talented people on stage, at the same time.

Jessica Wagner and Laura Beth Wells sang their hearts out (“If Mama Was Married) and roused the audience into showing our collective appreciation for their efforts. As far as I can recall, this was the first time there was actually a positive reaction from the audience, including myself, and we all enthusiastically applauded. Funny, isn’t it?

The role of Tulsa is a plum for any actor lucky enough to pluck it from the audition process.....Not only does the character play a pivotal role in the story line, but has one of the best numbers in the show, which is saying a lot, since the show is (under normal circumstances) chock-full of ‘show-stoppers”.

Apparently, the director (Edward Juvier) did not feel it necessary to cast someone who was capable of both singing and dancing at the same time- since Scott Patrick Allan was in no position to do so, even though it is the only requirement for the actor chosen for the role. Mr. Allan was clearly not up to the challenge since he was literally huffing and puffing
half -way through the routine and clearly had no business attempting to do so, once again leaving it up to Laura Beth Wells and her wig, ( which apparently was a football helmet covered in fake fur-) to salvage the scene.

At this point in the show, one is normally deeply involved in the story and therefore moved by Mama Rose’s reaction to June and Tulsa running off, along with the Newsboys (couldn’t wait to see them go!) and Act One has built up enough momentum to allow Rose to knock us out with one of the show’s signature songs, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”. Sadly ,I was wishing that I had been knocked unconscious, rather than having to suffer through yet another poorly executed hatchet-job. Everything may have been coming up roses, but in this case, they were already wilted and instead of a lovely lingering scent, they left behind the stench of death and decay.

It was never my intention, even after the curtain fell on Act One, to abandon ship- since there were so many wonderful moments in the show still to come. The Toreadorables, the Strippers, Louise’s transformation from ugly duckling into the amazing Gypsy Rose Lee, the list goes on- but I was afraid of what might lie ahead. Act One was such a disaster, I could only imagine the butchering of Act two and I just didn’t have the heart to see it unfold before my already saddened and disillusioned eyes.

It may not have been fair to the performers, but I already felt that they and the director (and ultimately, the artistic director of the company at large) had been incredibly unfair to me. Apparently, I was not alone - as I made my way to the parking lot, there were others leaving, undoubtedly as disappointed as myself, some heatedly discussing it, some simply shaking their heads in disbelief.

When I got home, I called my Mother and told her the bad news. Her reaction? “How do you F***K up GYPSY”? she asked.
“I don’t know, Mom” I replied. “You’ll have to ask Norman Duttweiler. After all, he’s the producer”