December 20, 2010

My Kleksography Story

DC's Rorschach Theatre recently solicited via Facebook a call for odd family stories that would then be used as launching pads for a series of short plays that would be written, cast, rehearsed, and produced in a pretty short period, presented under the collective banner "Kleksography: Home For The Holidays," and it ran last weekend.

My story was one that was submitted. I couldn't see it now that I'm Boston-based, but I'm honored to have been selected. Of course, the story was a launching-pad for the playwright's vision, and bore little resemblance to the actual event that inspired it.

So I'd like to share a slightly fuller version of what really happened.

In the summer of 2002, I was visiting my Dad in Kittery ME. I'd temporarily moved out of NYC to take an internship at Lost Nation Theatre in Montpelier VT, and I kept my stuff at his house while I was away (turned out to be five months, the summer internship and the fall Shakespeare show).

I had intended to drive to Montpelier that day, but my car (kept in his driveway for the year or so that I'd been in NYC) was acting up. So while it was in the shop, we made the best of the extra day and had a taco night. Old El Paso taco kit, just like the old days, with our regular filling: shredded cheese, lettuce, pickles, olives, tomatoes and taco sauce. We had sat down for our first round when the phone rang. He sighed heavily, thinking it was likely a telemarketer.

He wound up being on the phone for over an hour, as his tacos grew cold on the plate across from me. I could only hear half of the conversation, and couldn't piece together what was being discussed from context, but I could tell that it was definitely a significant conversation.

For Dad to be on the phone for more than fifteen minutes with me was a rarity - most of our phone conversations when I was in college, or while he was living with Grampa in Florida during his final years, or when I'd left for New York were of the "checking in" variety. Everything OK? Yup. Car running? Yup. How's New York? Fine. Got enough money? Mostly. Okay, don't wanna run up the bill, so I'll letcha go. Love ya, Kiddo. We didn't have really deep conversations.

At the time there was a lot that I was keeping from him; I wasn't out about my sexuality at the time, so we sorta kept to the tip of the iceburg. I was also aware that there was a lot that he kept from me. He almost never talked about his time in Vietnam, his divorce from Mom, etc. We never went deep. So there's a lot about my dad that I didn't know.

So after an hour or so, he sat down across from me again. Sighed heavily. Obviously he was quite emotionally moved. Then he said...

"So, John, did I ever tell you about your big sister?"

(a pregnant pause...)

"Um, nnnnnnno...."

A long explanation followed.

Once upon a time in 1968, there lived the son of a prominent city official. After graduating high school, he tooled around aimlessly in his Corvette, worked some construction jobs, and had a girlfriend. The girlfriend was still in high school, aged 16 or so. One day, girlfriend got pregnant. Parents on both sides raged. Decisions were made. In the days before Roe v Wade, it was decided that the child would be carried to term; it was a girl, and after a week was then put up for adoption. Babydaddy appears to have been given a Hobson's Choice of Vietnam or jail, so he sold his Corvette and enlisted in the army. Babymomma eventually married someone else. Babydaddy served honorably as an MP in the First Division, survived Tet, earned a Purple Heart, and came home. Shortly after, he met and married my mom, and thus begat yours truly.

A few weeks before the phone conversation, Dad attended the funeral of Babymomma's father, seeing her for the first time in years. The subject of their daughter came up. Any news, perchance, of what became of her?

Turns out that it was Babymomma on the phone. And over the course of the hour she informed him that their daughter, who was adopted by a loving family and had a pretty happy life, had nonetheless wanted to know who her biological parents were and had managed to track her down. She lived in Massachusetts on the north shore, had three children, etc.

I had no knowledge whatsoever of her existence. I knew that Dad had a girlfriend named Donna before Vietnam, but never knew about my half-sister. I'd been raised as an only child , although it turns out my mom knew about her too.

Long story short, while I was off in Vermont she contacted my Dad, they met, and once I came back I met her too. She's a sweetheart, and I'm glad to have her in my life. I've met the younger of her three kids (all are mid/late teenagers now), and the oldest is serving alongside his own father in Afghanistan.

It explained a lot about my Dad. I never knew what a burden he carried, but I could appreciate how finding her and establishing a relationship with her gave him a lot of inner peace. And were it not for a worn brakepad, I wouldn't have been present for the revelation.

November 17, 2010

Beatle Cassette Continuity

In honor of the Beatle catalogue FINALLY being available for download on iTunes (which is of minimal interest to me as I already have virtually everything they ever did), I look at a very odd chapter in Beatle history.

The accounting staff of EMI (the Beatles' label in the UK) appeared to value material expenses over artistic integrity, and so in order to save a few inches of tape (and thereby a few pence per unit), released the UK albums on cassette in the 1970's with the song order hopelessly scrambled in order for side A to be equal in length with (or a few seconds longer than) side B.

To add insult to injury, the tracks are arranged with no logic whatsoever. Their debut album Please Please Me no longer opened with Paul's iconic count-off "1-2-3-FAWR!" at the start of "I Saw Her Standing There," but with the tinkly piano chord at the start of "Misery," even though they were placed on the same cassette side! "Good Night" was inexplicably moved to the middle of side B on the cassette of The White Album, which closed with "Revolution 9"

American fans got a taste of this travesty in the mid/late 80's when the Beatles' catalogue was first released on CD, as the UK albums were also released on cassette in the US with this same deplorable running order.

Below are the Beatles' EMI cassette releases, with the vinyl album order in parentheses ("B3" = track 3 on side B)

Please Please Me
One of the greatest album openings of all time, Paul's count-off "1-2-3-FAWR!" at the start of "I Saw Her Standing There" gets pushed to the middle of side A. For No Reason Whatsoever, since it's still on Side A.
Side A
(approx 16:33, vinyl timing 17:13)
1 - Misery (A2)
2 - Chains (A4)
3 - PS I Love You (B2)
4 - Do You Want To Know A Secret (B4)
5 - I Saw Her Standing There (A1)
6 - Ask Me Why (A6)
7 - Baby It's You (B3)
Side B (approx 16:24, vinyl timing 15:44)
1 - Please Please Me (A7)
2 - Love Me Do (B1)
3 - A Taste of Honey (B5)
4 - There's A Place (B6)
5 - Anna (Go With Him) (A3)
6 - Boys (A5)
7 - Twist And Shout (B7)

With The Beatles
Side A (approx 16:56, vinyl timing 15:54)
1 - All My Loving (A3)
2 - Little Child (A5)
3 - Devil In Her Heart (B5)
4 - Not A Second Time (B6)
5 - Please Mr. Postman (A7)
6 - Hold Me Tight (B2)
7 - You Really Got A Hold On Me (B3)
Side B (approx 16:56, vinyl timing 17:58)
1 - It Won't Be Long (A1)
2 - All I've Got To Do (A2)
3 - Till There Was You (A6)
4 - I Wanna Be Your Man (B4)
5 - Don't Bother Me (A4)
6 - Roll Over Beethoven (B1)
7 - Money (B7)

A Hard Day's Night
The album's original running order put the songs from the movie on side A, and new non-movie songs on side B. Now they're mixed around willy-nilly.
Side A
(approx 15:49, vinyl timing 16:46)
1 - I Should Have Known Better (A2)
2 - When I Get Home (B4)
3 - I'll Be Back (B6)
4 - I'm Happy Just To Dance With You (A4)
5 - Tell Me Why (A6)
6 - Any Time At All (B1)
7 - I'll Cry Instead (B2)
Side B (approx 15:06, vinyl timing 14:09)
1 - A Hard Day's Night (A1)
2 - Can't Buy Me Love (A7)
3 - Things We Said Today (B3)
4 - If I Fell (A3)
5 - And I Love Her (A5)
6 - You Can't Do That (B5)

Beatles For Sale
Side A (approx 17:23, vinyl timing 16:56)
1 - No Reply (A1)
2 - Baby's In Black (A3)
3 - Eight Days A Week (B1)
4 - I Don't Want To Spoil The Party (B5)
5 - I'll Follow The Sun (A5)
6 - What You're Doing (B6)
7 - Honey Don't (B3)
Side B (approx 17:12, vinyl timing 17:39)
1 - I'm A Loser (A2)
2 - Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby (B7)
3 - Rock And Roll Music (A4)
4 - Mr Moonlight (A6)
5 - Words Of Love (B2)
6 - Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey (A7)
7 - Every Little Thing (B4)

Ditto ditto with A Hard Day's Night - movie tracks had been just on side A, but not anymore.
Side A (approx 17:19, vinyl timing 17:25)
1 - I Need You (A4)
2 - Another Girl (A5)
3 - I've Just Seen A Face (B5)
4 - Yesterday (B6)
5 - The Night Before (A2)
6 - Ticket To Ride (A7)
7 - Act Naturally (B1)
Side B (approx 17:11, vinyl timing 17:05)
1 - Help! (A1)
2 - You've Got To Hide Your Love Away (A3)
3 - You're Going To Lose That Girl (A6)
4 - It's Only Love (B2)
5 - You Like Me Too Much (B3)
6 - Tell Me What You See (B4)
7 - Dizzy Miss Lizzy (B7)

Rubber Soul
Side A (approx 18:13, vinyl timing 18:46)
1 - Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) (A2)
2 - You Won't See Me (A3)
3 - Think For Yourself (A5)
4 - I'm Looking Through You (B3)
5 - Nowhere Man (A4)
6 - Michelle (A7)
7 - Wait (B5)
Side B (approx 18:00, vinyl timing 17:27)
1 - Drive My Car (A1)
2 - If I Needed Someone (B6)
3 - What Goes On (B1)
4 - Girl (B2)
5 - In My Life (B4)
6 - The Word (A6)
7 - Run For Your Life (B7)

Side A (approx 17:24, vinyl timing 18:38)
1 - Good Day Sunshine (B1)
2 - And Your Bird Can Sing (B2)
3 - Doctor Robert (B4)
4 - I Want To Tell You (B5)
5 - Taxman (A1)
6 - I'm Only Sleeping (A3)
7 - Yellow Submarine (A6)
Side B (approx 17:46, vinyl timing 16:32)
1 - Eleanor Rigby (A2)
2 - Here, There And Everywhere (A5)
3 - For No One (B3)
4 - Got To Get You Into My Life (B6)
5 - Love You Too (A4)
6 - She Said She Said (A7)
7 - Tomorrow Never Knows (B7)

Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
No difference between vinyl and cassette running order.

The Beatles (aka "The White Album")
Good God, why couldn't they just have switched "Long Long Long" and "Happiness is a Warm Gun" and left the remaining tracks unscrambled? WHY?
Side A (approx 46:37, vinyl timing 46:16)
1 - Back In The U.S.S.R. (A1)
2 - Dear Prudence (A2)
3 - Glass Onion (A3)
4 - Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da (A4)
5 - Wild Honey Pie (A5)
6 - The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill (A6)
7 - While My Guitar Gently Weeps (A7)
8 - Martha My Dear (B1)
9 - I'm So Tired (B2)
10 - Blackbird (B3)
11 - Piggies (B4)
12 - Rocky Racoon (B5)
13 - Don't Pass Me By (B6)
14 - Why Don't We Do It In The Road? (B7)
15 - I Will (B8)
16 - Julia (B9)
17 - Long Long Long (C7)
Side B (approx 46:30, vinyl timing 46:51)
1 - Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey (C4)
2 - Sexy Sadie (C5)
3 - Helter Skelter (C6)
4 - Revolution 1 (D1)
5 - Honey Pie (D2)
6 - Savoy Truffle (D3)
7 - Goodnight (D6)
8 - Happiness Is A Warm Gun (A8)
9 - Birthday (C1)
10 - Yer Blues (C2)
11 - Mother Nature's Son (C3)
12 - Cry Baby Cry (D4)
13 - Revolution 9 (D5)

Yellow Submarine
Side A (approx 19:30, vinyl timing 21:40)
1 - Yellow Submarine (A1)
2 - Only A Northern Song (A2)
3 - All You Need Is Love (A6)
4 - Hey Bulldog (A4)
5 - It's All Too Much (A5)
Side B (approx 20:09, vinyl timing 17:59)
1 - All Together Now (A3)
2 - Pepperland (B1)
3 - Sea of Holes (B2)
4 - Sea of Time (B3)
5 - Sea of Monsters (B4)
6 - March of the Meanies (B5)
7 - Pepperland Laid Waste (B6)
8 - Yellow Submarine in Pepperland (B7)

Abbey Road
The only difference is that opening tracks of vinyl side A ("Come Together") and B ("Here Comes The Sun") are flipped on the cassette.
Side A (approx 23:34, vinyl timing 24:49)
Side B (approx 23:42, vinyl timing 22:27)

Let It Be
Side A (approx 17:33, vinyl timing 19:14)
1 - Two Of us (A1)
2 - I Me Mine (A4)
3 - One After 909 (B2)
4 - Across The Universe (A3)
5 - Dig It (A5)
6 - Let It Be (A6)
Side B (approx 17:36, vinyl timing 15:55)
1 - Maggie Mae (A7)
2 - Dig A Pony (A2)
3 - The Long And Winding Road (B3)
4 - I've Got A Feeling (B1)
5 - For You Blue (B4)
6 - Get Back (B5)

A Collection of Beatles Oldies (But Goldies)
Side A (approx 19:40, vinyl timing 19:01)
1 - She Loves You (A1)
2 - From Me To You (A2)
3 - We Can Work It Out (A3)
4 - Ticket To Ride (B5)
5 - Help! (A4)
6 - Yesterday (A6)
7 - Day Tripper (B3)
8 - I Want To Hold Your Hand (B8)
Side B (approx 19:29, vinyl timing 20:08)
1 - Michelle (A5)
2 - I Feel Fine (A7)
3 - Can't Buy Me Love (B1)
4 - Bad Boy (B2)
5 - Yellow Submarine (A8)
6 - A Hard Day's Night (B4)
7 - Paperback Writer (B6)
8 - Eleanor Rigby (B7)

Beatles 1962-66 (aka "The Red Album")
No difference between vinyl and cassette running order.

Beatles 1967-70 (aka "The Blue Album")
The only difference between vinyl and cassette is that "Revolution" and "Back in the USSR" are switched.
Side A: (approx 50:30, vinyl timing 51:06)
Side B: (approx 48:52, vinyl timing 48:16)

So how much did the EMI beancounters save? Given that the standard playback speed of a cassette tape is 1 7/8" per second, we can determine the length of the cassette tape that EMI saved by the track re-ordering.

Please Please Me: 40 seconds difference = 75 inches of tape saved per unit
With the Beatles: 62 sec = 116.25"
A Hard Day's Night: 57 sec = 106.875"
Beatles For Sale: 16 sec = 30"
Help!: 6 sec = 11.25"
Rubber Soul: 33 sec = 61.875"
Revolver: 52 sec = 97.5"
Sgt Pepper: no savings
White Album: 14 sec = 26.25"
Yellow Submarine: 91 sec = 170.625"
Abbey Road: 67 sec = 125.625"
Let It Be: 98 sec = 183.75"
A Collection of Beatles Oldies: 28 sec = 52.5"
1962-66: no savings
1967-70: 36 sec = 67.5"

If someone knew what the EMI production factory's cost was per inch of cassette tape, as well as the amount of cassettes pressed per album, we could actually determine the dollar amount (well, GBP amount) of EMI's overall savings. I'd be interested to learn this.

I'd also be interested to know from the EMI powers-that-be from that time just who it was who made this decision, and who oversaw the track re-ordering. George Martin took great care in ordering the original tracks for their vinyl releases, so I want to find this person and ask just what his/her logic was in, say, putting "Good Night" in the middle of side B on the cassette of the White Album.

Did EMI do this for their other artists' releases? Pink Floyd appears to also suffer at their hands, if Ummagumma's track ordering is any indication.

Anyone know anybody who worked at EMI back then?

Doctor Who DVD Geekery

On pre-order:
Jan 2011 - The Dominators (#44), Meglos (#111)
Feb 2011 - The Mutants (#63), The TV Movie
March 2011 - The Ark (#23), The Seeds of Doom (#85)
April 2011 - Kinda (#119), Snakedance (#125)

Remaining classic-era serials unreleased on DVD:
Releasable (no more than two missing episodes) serials only
Red shading - released or confirmed to be released in the UK

William Hartnell era:
  • The Sensorites (#7)
  • The Reign of Terror (#8, reconstruction of eps 4 & 5 required)
  • Planet of Giants (#9)
  • The Crusades (#14, reconstruction of eps 2 & 4 required)
  • The Gunfighters (#25)
  • The Tenth Planet (#29, reconstruction of ep 4 required)
Patrick Troughton era:

  • The Moonbase (#33, reconstruction of eps 1 & 3 required)
  • The Ice Warriors (#39, reconstruction of eps 2 & 3 required)
  • The Krotons (#47)
Jon Pertwee era:

  • The Ambassadors of Death (#53, re-colorization of B/W material required)
  • Terror of the Autons (#55, fresh re-colorization required)
  • The Mind of Evil (#56, complete re-coloration required)
  • Colony in Space (#58)
  • The Dæmons (#59, fresh re-colorization required)
  • Day of the Daleks (#60)
  • Invasion of the Dinosaurs (#71, re-colorization of ep 1 required)
  • Death to the Daleks (#72)
  • Planet of the Spiders (#74)
Tom Baker era:

  • Terror of the Zygons (#80)
  • The Android Invasion (#83)
  • The Face of Evil (#89)
  • The Sunmakers (#95)
  • Nightmare of Eden (#107)
Peter Davison era:

  • The Awakening (#132)
  • Frontios (#133)
Sylvester McCoy era:

  • Time and the Rani (#148)
  • Paradise Towers (#149)
  • Dragonfire (#151)
  • The Happiness Patrol (#153)
  • The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (#155)

The Ones We'll Never See Again, Barring A Miracle


  • Marco Polo (no surviving episodes)
  • Galaxy Four (no surviving episodes)
  • Mission to the Unknown (no surviving episodes)
  • The Myth Makers (no surviving episodes)
  • The Daleks' Master Plan (only eps 2, 5 and 10 are known to exist)
  • The Massacre of St Bartholemew's Eve (no surviving episodes)
  • The Celestial Toymaker (only ep 4 is known to exist)
  • The Savages (no surviving episodes)
  • The Smugglers (no surviving episodes)

  • The Power of the Daleks (no surviving episodes)
  • The Highlanders (no surviving episodes)
  • The Underwater Menace (only ep 3 is known to exist)
  • The Macra Terror (no surviving episodes)
  • The Faceless Ones (only eps 1 and 3 are known to exist)
  • The Evil of the Daleks (only ep 2 is known to exist)
  • The Abominable Snowmen (only ep 2 is known to exist)
  • The Enemy of the World (only ep 3 is known to exist)
  • The Web of Fear (only ep 1 is known to exist)
  • Fury From the Deep (no surviving episodes)
  • The Wheel in Space (only eps 3 and 6 are known to exist)
  • The Space Pirates (only ep 2 is known to exist)

November 14, 2010

More Cassette Continuity

More Cassette continuity issues, following up on an earlier post. If you know of others, let me know and I'll add them to the list.

The Who - Tommy
I swear growing up my dad had a single-cassette release of Tommy that faded out "Sparks" early and skipped a couple other tracks ("Eyesight to the Blind" was one, I think), but I can't find any corroborating evidence on Google.

Moody Blues - On The Threshold of a Dream
"Never Comes The Day", which opens side B on the LP version, is moved to the end of cassette side A, creating a lengthy gap at the end of side B.

Led Zeppelin II
All screwed up. Side A closer "Thank You" and Side B opener "Heartbreaker" are swapped on cassette, as are "Moby Dick" and "What Is And What Should Never Be." The natural link between Heartbreaker and "Livin' Lovin' Maid" which motivated FM dj's consistently to play the two songs together is lost.

Cream - Wheels of Fire
The side-closing tracks, "As You Said" on vinyl side A and "Deserted Cities of the Heart" on side B, are swapped on the original cassette release.

Beatles - Abbey Road
One of the less egregious track re-orderings in the Beatles' cassette catalog (subject of a forthcoming blogpost), but still odd. The opening tracks on either side, "Come Together" and "Here Comes The Sun", are swapped on cassette. This means that cassette listeners get both Harrison songs over and done with at the start.

U2 - Boy, October & War
I had these three albums on cassette in the 80's, and it's worthy to note that in all three releases, each side contains the entire album. Although it used twice as much cassette tape (how EMI's accountants would've blanched at such a notion!), it completely solved the track re-ordering dilemma.

Pink Floyd - Ummagumma
The concept of "One album live, one album studio" goes to pot on the cassette release, with the songs scrambled out of any semblance of order. It's an EMI release; go figure.

Monty Python - Contractual Obligation Album
They left the running order unchanged, but since side A was six minutes shorter than side B, Michael Palin bookends the six silent minutes at the end of side A with opening and closing narration. (The intervening silence is about as funny as most of the rest of the album, particularly "Finland" and "I Like Traffic Lights.")

November 6, 2010

More Civil War Ancestors - C. W. Gray

Out of the four Gray brothers (Robert H, Clarendon W, Augustus L and Madison J) of Stockton, Maine, who enlisted in the Union cause in the Civil War, only Clarendon returned, having seen every major battle from Bull Run to Appomattox. After the war, he served as a Boston police officer. This article, in a September 1897 issue of the Boston Evening Record (a precursor to the Boston Herald), features his Civil War service and his being awarded the Kearny Cross.
[Septe]mber 18, 1897

Patrolman Gray Has Kearney Cross.

One of the possessors of the coveted “Kearney Cross,” awarded for especial and conspicuous bravery at the battle of Fair Oaks or Seven Pines, as it is sometimes called is Patrolman C. W. Gray of station 3.

It is a simple maltese cross, dangling at the end of a strip of red, white and blue ribbon, with the words “Kearney Cross,” engraved upon its face, but it is rich in signification, and its value to Mr. Gray cannot be estimated in terms of this world’s riches.

Mr. Gray comes from a family of men who were foremost in answering the call for the defence of the Union. Three brothers, with him entered in the army at the first summons of President Lincoln.

Three of the four brothers left their lives upon southern fields. Mr. Gray alone returned home after the bloody conflict.

And strangest of all the father of these four gallant men was a staunch democrat, bitterly opposed to the war and all that it signified.

It was a bitter irony that three of his sons should have given their lives for the cause to which he was so entirely hostile.

Mr. Gray was but 18 years of age when he entered, and two of his brothers were one and two years younger, respectively. Patrolman Gray is still a young man, and few people who see him on his daily beat would deem it possible that a man so youthful in appearance should have undergone such hardships and attained so great a proof of gallantry as the Kearney Cross.

When I questioned at the station house about the cross and the circumstances under which he gained it he was extremely loath to talk of the matter, preferring, as he said, to leave the relation of the facts to others.

He invited me, however, to come to his home, and see the trophy, and finally I obtained a recital of the circumstances from his own lips.

Mr. Gray and his brothers were of good old Maine stock, and they enlisted in the Third Maine volunteers. Their first experience under arms was at the first battle of Bull Run, in which engagement Mr. Gray was wounded in the thigh.

His corps was commanded by the gallant Gen. Howard. Mr. Gray fought in all the battles in which his regiment took part, but it was at Fair Oaks that he received the cross for his notable gallantry.

It was after a fierce engagement when the troops were resting after the heavy labor of the day. Mr. Gray, then a sergeant, with two other men of his regiment named Roper and Millano started out to do a bit of independent reconnoitering.

They went far beyond their own lines, and had almost reached the lines of the enemy when they noticed, under a tree a group of Confederate soldiers, who afterwards proved to be a Georgia colonel who was wounded, with five of his men as a body guard.

Their weapons were stacked against a tree nearby, and the men were reclining about apparently with feelings of great security.

“We slowly circled about them,” said Mr. Gray, “through the woods, and suddenly, when we were as near as we could safely get, we leaped out with a great shout and commanded to surrender.

“They were absolutely dazed, and almost before they knew what we were or what they were about, we had them ‘yarded up’ and on the way to our lines.

“But when that Georgia colonel came to his senses, and especially his sense of speech, the language he used was almost as focible as a charge of musketry.

“It was the most picturesque swearing I ever heard, and if profanity could have availed we would have left our captives then and there and fled in terror to our lines.

“We were proof against his wordy assaults, however, and marched him and his men straight to camp, where, as you may imagine, we were received with great ovations.

“This was on May 3, 1863, and May 16 Gen. Braney, who commanded the Third Army Corps, issues a general order commending the splendid gallantry of our corps.

“At the same time the Kearney crosses were presented to the favored few. We were drawn up in line of battle, and Gen. Sedgwick, our division commander, passed along and pinned the crosses on the breast of our coats.

“We were told to wear them continually, and to keep them free from disgrace. We did not have to be told that, and my cross was never removed until the day Lee surrendered at Appomattox.”

So far as Mr. Gray knows, there are but two other men in this city who have the Kearney cross. They are George Woods, a baggage master at the B. & M. depot, and George Flynn, the janitor of the Lexington School at East Boston.

Both the other men who assisted in the capture of the Georgia colonel and his men were killed in later engagements. Millano was a wealthy Spaniard who left Spain for some political reason. He was killed one month before the expiration of his term of service.

Mr. Gray has, besides the Kearney cross, other tokens of his fighting days, which he values only less highly. Among these are the adjutant general’s report of the records of his three brothers.

R. H. Gray, major of the Fourth Maine, was killed in the battle of the Wilderness. The youngest of the brothers was killed at Fredericksburg, and Mr. Gray buried him with his own hands. The third brother was also killed at Fredericksburg.

Other mementoes are Mr. Gray’s corp badge, a diamond of red cloth which was worn on the cap, and a badge which was given him by his comrades when he was made lieutenant.

Mr. Gray is of the opinion, and it can hardly be disproved, that the record of his family cannot be duplicated among the soldiers of the United States who fought in the Civil War.

At the close of the war his corps was commanded by Gen. Miles, and thus, beginning with Howard, one of the most gallant of the surviving generals, he ended with Miles, no less gallant, who commands the army of today.

My Great-Great-Great Grandfather at Bull Run

I spent the afternoon at the Houghton Library with my uncle Bob, transcribing documents from the MOLLUS Civil War archives. While he worked on our ancestor Major Robert Henry Gray's 1863 war diary, I transcribed two newspaper clippings. What follows below is then-Lieutenant Gray's first-hand account of his experience at First Bull Run, originally printed in the Rockland (Maine) Gazette sometime in 1862, and re-printed in an unknown newspaper some time later (source unknown).
Statements of Lieut. R. H. Gray
[From the Rockland Gazette]

EDITOR GAZETTE: – Agreeably to my promise, I make some remarks concerning the affair at Bull Run.

Of the general features of the battle you have probably before this been well informed. Our brigade commenced moving at about 2 o’clock P.M. We were kept waiting for other troops, who fell in so slowly that at sunrise we had not advanced one mile from our camp. This was a fault. – Had we advanced promptly, we should have taken the northern batteries, as the enemy were not expecting an attack in that quarter. But as our column was some 5 or 6 hours in marching a distance we might easily have gone in two, the enemy, who watched our movements, and saw where the blow was to fall, had time to throw reinforcements into those batteries from Manassas, only three miles distant.

The force detailed to storm the batteries was insufficient. The army generally halted a little short of the battle field, and the battle was fought by detachments from the main body, and marching from one to three miles on a “double quick.” These detachments, after fighting as only brave men will fight, and performing, in many instances, deeds of valor which will never be written were compelled, by being outflanked by superior numbers, and for want of support, to fall back, and abandon the advantages they had gained.

The most glaring fault on the field that day was that, with a few exceptions, our attacking columns were not supported. I make no comments; I am not allowed to censure the conduct of a General, but men will think.

On arriving at a point about one mile from the centre, and about two and a half miles from the right of the enemy’s line, we halted in a wood. While there Major Nickerson was ordered forward to reconnoitre, I got a horse and went with him. Major N. advanced to where Ayer’s battery (formerly Sherman’s) was playing into a [w]ood, where were stationed a body of the enemy’s riflemen and cavalry. They were finally driven out. I passed through this wood later in the day. The havoc was fearful. The trees were splintered and limbs cut off, the ground plowed up, and horses and men dead and dying, lay thickly scattered about. Major N. having finished his reconnaissance, gave me permission to remain a little longer, and returned. – Hitching my horse I climbed a tree and saw Hunter’s brigade engage the enemy. They were about a mile distant, in an open field inclining toward me. I had a fair view. – They had an equal number, no outflanking, and the fight was with musketry alone. – They advanced until the lines were very near, and for about fifteen minutes the roll of musketry was unceasing. The lines of the rebels then began to waver and break, and finally they rallied in four or five confused masses. The rebels were between me and our men. In a moment more the glistening bayonets of our troops came bursting through the smoke-cloud, and rushing on the confused rebel masses. The slaughter for a moment or two was great. The rebels ran to the wood; where they were reinforced and advanced again, and again, after a smart fight, were driven by the bayonet to the wood.

Mr. Russell, the correspondent of the London Times, who pretends to have been an eye-witness of the Battle of Bull Run says there were no bayonet charges on that day. This writer prefers sarcasm to truth, and states what is false.

Thinking I had staid too long, I hastened to join my regiment which was marching by a circuitous route, over to attack the enemy’s left. Before getting into position, […] to [peer? pass?] some distance over a hill.
[column break; two columns of newsprint have been cut and pasted together, and some text is lost here]
[…] missed me, but [reeling? feeling?] so badly, I was some-what indifferent as to the result. I had almost reached my friends, when I was cut off by rebel cavalry, who came charging back, cutting down stragglers. I turned, went into a house used by our troops for a hospital, and lay among the wounded. – The cavalry came up, shot two men who were unwounded, rushed in and took all the guns, pistols, knives and watches they could get, and left. A guard was soon placed over us, which prevented personal violence, but not wordy abuse, for which the rebels have a particular gift. The officers were gentlemanly, but the questions of most of the soldiers showed them to be extremely ignorant. One said to me, “I spose ye are all starvin’ up North, now you don’t git our cotton.” “We do not eat cotton, sir.” “Well, ye wont git any corn up there, neither.” Another, the poorest specimen of humanity I ever observed, ragged, dirty, and ignorant, said to me, “What are you down here for, meddlin’ with out instooshuns?” Our “instooshuns!” I pitied him. The poor class of whites at the South ignorantly worship the Juggernaut “institution,” whose wheels crush them into the mire of society.

A certain rebel colonel belonging in Richmond, after making himself agreeable, as he thought, tried his hand at pumping. – He asked me how many men we had in the fight? I replied, “We had 60,000. How many did you have?” He told me “they had 45,000 at 1 o’clock P.M., besides a reserve,” the number of which he did not inform me, “and at 4 P.M., Johnson arrived with 15,000” I then told him we really had only 32,000 including the reserve, He said I “knew nothing about it, the Yankees had 80,000.” The loss of the enemy must have been severe. An Alabamian remarked with a deep sigh, “If this is war, by —— I want to go home, for our regiment was almost wiped out!” On of their orderlies told me that his company consisted of between ninety and a hundred in the morning, and only forty came out of the fight unhurt.

We received no bad treatment. The good woman of the house made us some goose broth. The good soul was fearful that a bit of the meat would hurt us, and so she kept it for herself and family, giving us only the broth. Whether it was gratis, or the paid her in “Virginia scrip,” I do not know. The dish was without much salt, and being strongly flavored with goose grease, we could not appreciate her kind gift.

The arms of the rebels are generally good, but most of their clothes are cotton, and their shoes are thin and unserviceable. If they stay in Virginia they will suffer much this winter. They have a numerous cavalry and but little of the hay in that State was cut.

I was with the rebels seven days. My condition, to me, was intolerable, and I determined to escape or die in the attempt. I made what little preparation I could, taking some biscuit, (which got wet and I threw away,) and some bandages and salve to dress my wounds, and also a secession blanket. I was thirty-four hours in reaching Georgetown, during twenty-four of which I was saturated with water. I crossed the Potomac by wading and swimming, using a rail to compensate for my arm. I had a slight fever when I started. I was seen several times by soldiers and others, but my blanket deceived them. For the first fourteen hours I repeatedly saw their pickets and sentinels, but they did not see me. – However, I escaped, assisted by a chain of fortuitous circumstances, and a little of that peculiar wit with which Nature kindly furnishes a Yankee.

UPDATE: An 1899 book about Maine Major General Hiram G Berry by Edward K Gould, published by the Rockland Courier-Gazette, contains an account of Lt Gray's escapades at Bull Run that appear to be drawn directly from the above article. It includes information about his wounding that is ostensibly drawn from the missing section:
"Lieutenant Robert H. Gray [...] was wounded and taken prisoner at Bull Run. He received his wound just before the order came to retreat. On his way to the rear Lieutenant Burgin of the Searsport company found him and bound up his wounded arm, and afterwards sent some men to conduct him to a place of safety. They did not find him, however, as his wound commenced bleeding soon after the lieutenant left him, and he started for a stream near by for water. Before he reached it he fainted from loss of blood, and on reviving, saw the retreating column of the Union army nearly a mile away. Replenishing his canteen at the brook, he attempted to rejoin his comrades by a short cut, but soon came in view of rebel troops who began firing on him, but he escaped further injury. His wound was so painful that he was indifferent to the danger he run, and continued steadily on his course until he had nearly reached his friends, when he beheld rebel cavalry rapidly approaching. Hastily entering a house which had been converted into a hospital by the Union forces, he lay down among the wounded, and had just made himself comfortable, when the cavalry dashed up, shooting two unwounded men."

November 4, 2010

Theatre Review: I AM HAMLET

"Never eat at a place called Mom's. Never play cards with a man named Doc. And never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own." - Nelson Algren.
Very sound advice, that. I would add a codicil: never go to plays (especially Shakespearean adaptations) written and directed by someone who bills himself as "The Shakespeare Guy." Would that I had heeded that advice this evening. Having seen the list of Joe "Shakespeare Guy" Siracusa's other Shakespearean adaptations, including "A Midsummer Knight's Ice Cream" and "The Bard and the Bear," a creeping sense of dread set in as I awaited the curtain.

A wise man once said, "The play's the thing." It's a quote that both writer/director Siracusa and actor Brian Morey should know well, and it's a pity that they put the focus elsewhere, on a self-indulgent production that puts the focus on the actor, the performance, and a grab-bag of gimmickry rather than on the play itself. I found it to be a rather intolerable display of ego, both of the writer and performer. What does it add to our understanding of the play, or of its title character? Nothing.

This is a one-man show; and no, it's not a re-telling of Hamlet from the perspective of a single character. Morey plays everybody, so inevitably the show won't be about Hamlet (the play), or Hamlet (the character), or for that matter Shakespeare. It's all about Morey's bag of actor tricks, and not a single one goes unused. His entire vocal range is utilized, as are a dozen distinct stereotypical characters and physicalities, he dons all manner of costumes, masks, and wigs, and he sings his heart out in a variety of styles and pitch ranges. He makes sure he shows us the length and breadth of his substantial talent and training, and won't let us go until we know just how hard he's working. And that's the problem here; this show is not built for the audience to appreciate the psychological profundity of Shakespeare's humanist masterpiece, it's built for us to marvel at the efforts of a single actor.

The strength of an actor, we're told, is his or her ability to lose one's sense of ego, and go boldly and fearlessly into situations of emotional vulnerability or extreme ridiculousness. And Morey certainly finds himself in such situations. As the Ghost, wearing a giant horned helmet, wearing platform shoes and bearing an enormous shield, I'm sure he felt fearsome indeed, but it was all I could do to suppress the urge to shout "NI!!"

And as Ophelia, which he performs in a white dress and blond wig, I really wish the burly brunette actor had shaved his full beard, especially when he launched into an earnest falsetto (and self-composed) love ballad. High camp? Apparently not. If he was daring us to laugh, it was a dare I only resisted by biting the inside of my cheek to the point of bloodletting.

Siracusa's adaptation doesn't do Morey any favors either. Shakespeare's text has been re-assembled in order for Morey to only have to play one character at a time, turning dialogue into monologue, but in some places Siracusa cops out and has Morey shout to offstage characters and converse with a pre-recorded voice (also Morey). The Players sequence is done as a pre-filmed silent movie - quite cleverly, actually - in which Morey of course plays every character (and provides, thankfully, a beardless Ophelia), including the watching courtiers, while the actual solid flesh actor gets to take an early intermission. This is a solo show, so I call "cheat."

Siracusa also takes some liberties with the wording, adding in his own original contributions which jar. Really, why does Ophelia say "Oh, my lord, I have been so scared of Hamlet's madness!" Does he think we wouldn't know what "affrighted" means? And we really don't need the updates: "I am Hamlet. I am being watched. People are trying to kill me." And when Morey namedrops both himself and the BCA in the "What A Rogue And Peasant Slave Am I" speech, it's Brechtian in the worst sense of the word, and to no apparent purpose.

A scene most telling in its absence is Act Three, Scene Two, Hamlet's advice to the players. It's sound advice that Siracusa and Morey seem to have deliberately chosen to avoid, to their peril: "Oh, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb-shows and noise". And later on, he famously counsels "for anything so o'erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as 'twere, the mirror up to nature."

Would that they had.

PS - A recurring line, both spoken and sung, is "Something's Rotten in Denmark. Something Stinks." Although they open the door for me, I won't take the bait. It's just too easy.

October 27, 2010

Shakespearean Geekery Du Jour - Elizabethan Mack Daddies

There are precious few accounts of Shakespeare that date from his lifetime, as opposed to memorial anecdotes from descendants of relatives, colleagues, townspeople, etc. I love this one, a contemporary joke about a romantic rivaly between Shakespeare and Richard Burbage, from the diary of Inner Temple law student John Manningham on 16 March 1601: (spelling updated)
"Upon a time when Burbage played Richard III, there was a citizen grown so far in liking with him, that before she went from the play she appointed him to come that night unto her by the name of Richard the Third. Shakespeare overhearing their conclusion went before, was entertained and at his game ere Burbage came. Then message being brought that Richard the Third was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard the Third. Shakespeare's name William. (Mr Tonse)"
What can we conclusively prove from this? Not much, but it does suggest a lot of things. I hypothesize this joke was told to Manningham by "Mr Tonse," presumably a fellow student, hence the citation at the end. It's consequently unknown from whence Mr Tonse heard it, or if he invented it. If he did invent it, good on him. If not, it was a joke that was going around, so it suggests that Shakespeare and Burbage had sufficient celebrity status to merit being the subject of such jokes. There's little to suggest that this is an account of an actual event, no more so than a joke about any celebrity or politician pecadillos in Dave Letterman's opening monologue. But it could suggest that Shakes and Burby had a reputation for being Elizabethan mack daddies.

I also get a kick out of how Manningham feels compelled to explain the joke at the end, suggesting to me that although he appreciated a good joke, he wasn't all that good at delivery. Skimming through the diary (hooray for YahooBooks), it seems that all the clever or funny bits are cited from colleagues.

Even if it doesn't tell us anything definitive about Shakespeare or Burbage, it's still a funny joke.

August 11, 2010

Trust The Play: TheatreGuru Speaks

Thank you for climbing to the top of this high, craggy mountain to come and see me in my lonely cave, my child. Sit and rest yourself. Have a Snickers bar.

Now, what seems to be the trouble?

I see.

I understand. The theatre is struggling these days. It has been for quite a long time. Once theatre was the sole means of telling a story through acting. Then came cinema, radio, television, VCR/DVD/Tivo, the internet, etc. So if we are to commit to the theatre, we have to discover what it offers that these other media do not.

Quite right. Live performance. Direct connection and interaction with the audience. Every night a slightly different experience.

Nonetheless, we must not overlook the primary obligation of making theatre: to tell the story. The playwright wrote a story, and it's your job to deliver that story to the audience through good acting and efficient staging. Any additional distractive elements should be avoided.

These distractions can come in many different forms. Maybe you feel the need to inject a political statement onto the play. Some vaguely-defined directorial or design concept. A re-interpretation. In the recent past, I've seen Oscar Wilde done with all the men played by women and vice versa. The Scottish Play done entirely in the nude. One of my favorite plays, Overmeyer's On The Verge, done by a local Major Regional Theatre on a catwalk spanning a chasm (why?). And Chekhov's Cherry Orchard done... well, actually, I don't know what the fuck that one was all about... and I was in it.

What it boils down to is one thing, my child... you might want to write this down: trust the play.

Trust that the play itself, as written, contains all the elements required to be interesting: a good plot, interesting characters, conflicts, humor, tragedy, whatever. You chose to do it - unless you owe the playwright a favor - so the play must therefore have some redeemable qualities and you are aware of them. So trust them.

Bend your choices around the play, not the play around your choices.

That doesn't mean play it safe. Risk big, but risk in the service of the script.

Thank you. Take a Snickers for the road.

July 19, 2010

Doctor Who Geekery Report - Matt Smith's First Season

Spoiler Alert.

I've finished watching the newest season of Dr Who, with Matt Smith as the Doctor.

I like Matt a lot, much more than I thought I would when he was announced. I confess to a bit of age prejudice, given that he's only 27. But he succeeds in capturing the essence of the Doctor. He's alien, he's funny, he's dark, he's hyperintelligent, he's awkward... he evokes the classic era of Doctor Who, where characterization trumped - by necessity - special effects. He has the rumpled integrity of Patrick Troughton and the boyish charm of Peter Davison.

He does lack, however, the gravitas of Tom Baker, as well as the sexy charisma of his predecessor David Tennant, and I suspect that over the long term this may prove detrimental to the show. Tennant was responsible for expanding the show's appeal globally. It grew, over three years, into a show that was must-see viewing, rivalling Lost, Battlestar Galactica, and even it's own spinoff Torchwood. I don't know if the new fans that the show gained with Tennant will stick around.

The companion is a plus. Amy Pond is likable, self-sufficient, spunky, tortured, and really pretty. I'm largely immune to that last quality, but she also scores points for a Scots Burr that, unlike Tennant, she doesn't mask for the role. And I adore Rory and their relationship.

I also love River Song. Her character is the greatest non-Companion addition to the series since the Brigadier and the Master, and she's skirting the dividing line of actually being more interesting than the Doctor.

So what's missing?

Why aren't I as emotionally invested in this season as I've been with the other New Series seasons? Why am I more excited about receiving The Time Monster, Underworld, and The Chase (arguably the worst stories in the Classic Series' canon) on DVD in the mail this week?

The stories are decent. The writing is solid (which I figured would be a given, with Moffat producing). So why am I missing Russell T Davies and his occasionally questionable contributions to the program? Thankfully there are no farting aliens, no Jackie Tyler, no pigs in space uniforms, no Absorbaloffs, no smarmy Captain Jack, no dredging up Rose Tyler yet again, no instant daughter, no human/Dalek hybrids, no Mini-Me Doctor...

...but then again, for every one of those forehead slapping moments, there was the iconic moment or the brilliant idea: the Doctor meeting a Dalek for the first time since the Time War, "Are You My Mummy?", Rose and her father, Sarah Jane and K9 returning, Daleks vs Cybermen, the Asteroid containing Satan's lair, the Doctor losing Rose, the Chameleon Arch turning the Doctor human, the entire episode of Blink, the return of the Master, the chill of Dr Moon: "your reality is a lie, and your nightmares are real"... I could go on.

If there's a fault in the Matt Smith/Steven Moffat era thus far, is that it's too safe. They're not going big. The crack in time is a very solid unifying concept, but I kept waiting for that big choice. That over-the-top, fandom-splitting, attention-getting moment that attracts the interest of the non-fan. Though hardly boring, I can't think of a Major Iconic Moment this season. We got another old enemy returning, but so far removed in design and characterization that I wondered why they bothered. They brought back a Cyberman, but by making it say "You Will Be Assimilated", it's not even pretending to be anything else than Budget Borg. They tried to go for the big Emotive Moment with the Van Gogh episode, but not only did I feel manipulated, but I kept wondering why they broke the Cardinal Rule of time travel by bringing him forward to the present day and making him aware of his legacy? Why was I shocked but not shattered when Rory died?

They almost hit it a few times. The big reveal of the nature of The Beast Below. The unexpected humor in "Vampires" and "Lodger". The Valeyard-evoking Dream Lord. There are no clunkers this season (although Victory of the Daleks and Hungry Earth/Cold Blood come close), but no home runs.

To take that baseball metaphor further: with RTD we got a lot of strikeouts, but a lot of home runs and bottom-of-the-ninth walk-offs. With Moffat, we got a steady streak of singles and pitchers duels. Singles win games too, but lack the drama and celebratory catharsis of homers. What baseball game would you rather watch?

I'm not overly worried, but I want more. You've got nine months, guys. Get moving.

A Tale of Two Fringe Shows

Dear readers: I've been lax lately in my postings. I blame Twitter and Facebook. Why post a blog when a tweet or status update will suffice, says my ever-dwindling attention span. I note that I have as many draft postings as I do live posts. I'm great at starting, and need to work on getting to the end.

I just closed my second production of the Capital Fringe Festival, Steven Dietz's The Nina Variations. I was hoping to repeat (and thereby build upon) the success of last year's Bad Hamlet, which was an award-winning sleeper hit that sold out its last two performances and was an arguable profile-raiser both for me and my producing banner, the Adequate Players.

Well, Nina didn't quite capture the same lightning in a bottle.

It was a very solid and successful production from an artistic standpoint (Melissa and Kevin, you were marvellous, and Bob, you rock), but otherwise? We played to less than 40% capacity, and after Fringe Pass discounts and press and producer comps, even with a smaller cast (2 vs 6), a director working for free, no stage manager or designers, no set or costume expenses, minimal prop purchases, etc., this is one Fringe producer who is taking a bath. My percentage of ticket revenue might just cover my two actors' and one techie's stipends. No luck in recouping the participation fee, insurance fee, script royalties, or publicity expenses. Oh well.

It occurred to me just how fortunate I was with Bad Hamlet; above and beyond the quality of the show and the people working on it, we caught a favorable confluence of circumstances that set the stage for a success above and beyond my most optimistic expectations. (As a producer, it's fine enough to have a great show, but better still to have a great show that gets great press, sells out and wins awards.)

To say that Nina didn't catch that same confluence is not to declare it a failure, nor to point the finger of blame at anyone. Both shows were great. We got lucky last year. We weren't as lucky this year.

Let's compare:

The Bedroom (Nina), versus the Bodega (Hamlet). Both are 'found spaces'. The Bodega was larger, the Bedroom was slightly cooler (better AC). Neither venue had bathrooms, neither was ADA compliant, both had significant sound bleed between neighboring venues.
Result: a wash... to get the sweat smell off.

Bad Hamlet - Twelve days passed between our opening and closing shows. We opened with back-to-back shows Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, were off until the following Friday, then another Sunday afternoon show, and a Wednesday evening close. Between show 2 and 3, we had a full workweek for our good reviews to come out and generate buzz, and then a good solid 5 days afterwards on which to capitalize. And we did; show 3 was nearly full and the final two shows were sellouts.

Nina Variations - Our five performances were compressed over an eight-day period, opening on a late Friday (11:30pm) and closing the late Saturday (11:15). Our most favorable reviews came out the day before our closing show, leaving hardly any time to capitalize. I recognize in saying this that other Fringe productions had as brief a run as mine, and did just as well if not better. I present the two cases merely as comparison.
Winner: Bad Hamlet coasts the final length

Pre-Show Publicity:
Bad Hamlet: Apart from one blog interview from a colleague, none.

Nina Variations: Seeing the level of other shows' pre-Fringe media blitzes last year taught me the value of generating early buzz. I sent two rounds of press releases, had postcards ready before Source Fest, and Bob took a fabulous promo pic (see above) that appeared in the Post and its daily digest, The Express.
Winner: Nina, by a flock of (dead stuffed) seagulls.

Bad Hamlet: Although I did little to actually encourage them to do so, practically all the local media covering Fringe came, and came early. As a result their reviews, almost all of them positive, all came in a big mid-week cluster a week or so before the end of our run. Our ticket sales for our latter three shows exploded. And either through luck or by design, practically all the reviews contained perfect quote nuggets that I could capitalize upon for future marketing. "A Fringe Must-See"... "Fascinating and wonderful to watch"... etc.

Nina Variations: Only one critic at opening, so until the day of our penultimate performance the only review was DCTC's decidedly mixed assessment; not exactly a buzz-generator. The Post followed Wednesday with warmer but similar sentiments. DCist apparently skipped over us this year, and we got exactly the review I expected on Allartsreview4u; no link is warranted or merited. For what it was worth, Rich Massabny of Arlington Weekly News came on Tuesday and gave us a brief but glowing online review (skip to the end) that came Friday. The City Paper's Fringe & Purge "Hip Shot" that came late Friday was by its own admission a cop-out. Having run out of time to write a thorough review, this picture served as the critical evaluation in lieu of a deeper study that I hope will follow, either posted publicly or shared privately.
Oh, and our quote nuggets? Read on.
"An interesting approach, but only a partial success." - DCTC
"The novelty started to wear off..." - WaPo
"When are people going to realize that Chekhov's plays are already perfect
and don't require any deconstruction or re-imagining?" - Express (that was
supposed to be a joke, right?)
"It appears that I may not be able to produce an actual Hip Shot before its
final performance" - Fringe & Purge (City Paper)
Winner: Do I even need to tell you?

Play Selection
I have to swallow my pride and accept that perhaps the Nina Variations just wasn't as effective of an audience draw as Bad Hamlet. Deconstructed Shakespeare is evidently more buzzworthy than deconstructed Chekhov. Even though Nina is a published script with a solid pedigree and a small core of fervent admirers, and Dietz is a solid and nationally respected playwright, it didn't gain the "must-see" patina from either the critics or general public. Maybe under a different set of circumstances it could have taken off, but ultimately there's nobody to blame except perhaps myself.
Maybe next year I'll sell out and do a play that adds zombies to a work of great literature (Don't laugh, I already wrote it).
Winner: Bad Hamlet.

But ultimately I can either obsess until I'm blue in the face about what didn't happen this year or be grateful for what did. What we did get was a tight band of friends, loved ones, colleagues and general public who came and greatly enjoyed The Nina Variations. It's still one my favorite plays, and being so easy and relatively inexpensive to produce, I can do it again whenever and wherever I want. So I'm not sorry. At all.

April 14, 2010

Some thoughts on overtime in the NHL

The NHL standings are based on a point system. Originally, 2 points were awarded for a win, 1 point for a tie, and 0 points for a loss. There had been no regular season overtime since before WW2.

Ties were considerably frowned upon as anticlimactic. Beginning in 1983, the NHL instituted a 5-minute sudden-death overtime period to cut down the number of tied games. The point system remained unchanged, 2 pts for wins, 1 for ties.

Beginning in 1999, however, 1 point was also awarded for teams losing in overtime. This rule saw the end of symmetrical standings. Before then, every game had two points up for grabs. Either the winning team would get both points, or in a tie each team would get one. Now, when a team wins in overtime, there are three points awarded: 2 for the winner and 1 for the loser. So a game can be worth a total of two points if it ends in regulation, but 3 points if it ends in overtime.

This also leads to a disproportionate number of teams finishing nominally over .500. Twenty-three of thirty teams finished with more wins than losses, chiefly because the win column includes both regulation and overtime wins, when the loss column only counts regulation losses.

Ties were eliminated altogether with the introduction of the shootout in 2005. If the overtime expires with no score, a 3-round shootout would decide the outcome, with 2 points going to the winner and 1 to the loser. Still unsymmetrical.

A way to preserve the symmetry would be the format used in the qualifying rounds of the 2010 Olympic ice hockey tournament. Three points for a regulation win, 2 for an overtime or shootout win, and 1 for an OT/shootout loss. Some pundits have proposed instituting this format, but there's no sign that the league is seriously considering the change.

I was curious to see how this season would have played out under the various formats listed above. Would there be a difference in playoff seeding and/or qualification?

Format 1 - Current Format: 2 pts for wins (RW, OW & SW), 1 pt for post-regulation loss (SL & OL)
Format 2 - 1983-1995: 2 pts for wins (RW & OW), 1 pt for post-overtime tie (SW & SL)
Format 3 - Pre-1983: 2 pts for win (RW), 1 pt for post-regulation tie (OW, SW, SL & OL)
Format 4 - 2010 Olympics: 3 pts for RW, 2 pts for OW & SW, 1 pt for SL & OL

RW = Regulation Win, OW = Overtime Win, SW = Shootout Win, SL = Shootout Loss, OL = Overtime Loss, RL = Regulation Loss

New Jersey402652271032E952E952E1432E
NY Rangers34134733879E777E836E1217E
Tampa Bay255475368012E7112E7112E10512E
NY Islanders206864377813E6614E6415E9814E

San Jose431765201131W1011W1051W1561W
Los Angeles3241081271016W907W876W1337W
St Louis

There are some interesting things to note in this breakdown. The Rangers make the playoffs (and Montreal misses) in every alternate scenario. Atlanta replaces Boston as the 6th seed in the pre-'83 setup, and in the other two alternates, the Bruins face the Caps in the first round. Over in the West, apart from a few neighbors trading places, there are few changes except Calgary qualifying in place of Colorado in the '83-'04 setup.

So is one setup better than another? I am drawn to setups where there's symmetry, and as long as there's gonna be a differentiation between overtime and regulation losses, there ought to be differentiation between overtime and regulation wins. Hence I like the Olympic format, though I don't think they'll be changing any time soon.