Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Dave Roberts became Tony Roberts



(D NW Editor’s note:  Since the regular Daily reviewer was out of town last weekend, Norman Mark was assigned to review “Don Juan” for the paper.)

The Northwestern theatre department is currently presenting a delightful evening’s entertainment, an “Introduction to Dave Roberts,” under the name of Moliere’s “Don Juan.”

In the role of Sganarettle, Don Juan’s valet, Mr. Roberts carries or participates in nearly everything that comes off right during the evening.  Facial reactions to other characters’ dialogue, pauses scattered through his own lines, the bits of humorous business -- all produce the desired comic effect without resorting to slapstick.

The play opens with Sganarelle speaking to Gusman (David Cremosnik) about Don Juan’s life and loves.  Gusman speaks his lines so lifelessly, in comparison to Sganarelle, that the reviewer is forced to surmise that he is not really interested in the play.

In the middle of this scene, Don Juan enters, played inadequately by David Zegers.  The seducer of 1,003 women in Spain doesn’t know how to wear his costume or live up to his legend.
Errol Flynn and who cares?

Everything about him tends to enforce this impression -- from the distracting movements of the head and hands to the emaciated bit of peach fuzz under his chin.  Someone playing in the legend of John Barrymore, Doug Fairbanks, and Errol Flynn (all past Don Juans -- in films), should at least look like he has some talent in the bedroom arts, rather than a boy caught in the wrong costume party without his I.D.

As soon as Don Juan enters, Sganarelle goes to his knees and from then on the part could have been played by an amputee.  With the focus being on Mr. Roberts so much of the time, why did the director choose to have him in a position where it is difficult for the audience to see him?
Roberts and Walther

Don Juan announces that he has found a new love and he is going to give up his present one, Donna Elvire.  After she comes in and scolds him, for some unknown reason he has to leave.  Then he almost drowns off the coast of Scotland, makes love to two peasant girls, goes through a forest manhandling, saving Spaniards and inviting statues to dinner on the way to the end of Act I.

Gretchen Walther (Donna Elvire) is much more convincing when she returns in the second act to reform Don Juan than in the first when she gives vent to her anger.  Holding crosses rather than beating her side with riding crops seem to be her forte.

Marcia Rodd

Pierrot (Pat Brumbaugh), Charlotte (Susan Shanks), and Mathurine (Marcia Rodd), all portray Scottish peasant folk almost too well -- their accents sometime obscure the dialogue.  

On the technical aspects, the set does not look Spanish.  It . . . [piece missing]

play was Donna Elvire’s brothers, Don Carlos (Laird Williamson) and Don Alonzo (Larry Kamm).  Embodying the “pundonor,” or point of honor that bound Spanish noblemen to revenge a family disgrace with the blood of the debaucher, the two brothers help Don Juan with one of his better scenes, when they try to decide whether or not to make him part of a shish-ka-bob.

The second act goes from the wild to the weird, with fathers scolding, tradesmen being outfoxed, a statue coming to dinner and finally a full company of spectres and demons.  All of these supporting characters are quite believable in their roles.  Unfortunately, they have to deal with Don Juan, who isn’t.

After having dinner with the statue, Don Juan tries a hypocritical reformation and outwardly embraces religion.  This deceit precipitates his final downfall and, in the last scene, hell (located immediately under the stage) opens and gives him a bid.

He accepts with reluctance, while demons leap out and run around in tights for the pledging ceremony.  There is some static, probably unintentional, is followed by Sganarelle’s last words which left Saturday’s [gap] on the public address and at last Don Juan leaves the stage.

The effect of the acting by the two leads is perfectly summed up in the last lines when Don Juan says that hell is burning his feet and the audience is moved to the extent that one wants to get him a Dr. Scholl's food pad.  This

 . . . [rest is missing].


This is the publicity on February 18, 1960.  I’m surprised to discover I was the assistant director!  


Don Juan,Moliere’s comic tale of the legendary Spaniard who was reputed to have had a thousand love affairs, will be the final winter quarter production of the Northwestern University theatre.  The play will be presented Feb. 26, 27, 28, and March 4, 5, 6.

The production will include two scenes generally omitted from printed and performed versions, director John E. Van Meter said.  The scenes were cut out after the initial production because the audience misinterpreted them as blasphemous.

A favorite in France, the play has not received much attention in this country.  The legend is fairly well known in the United States because of the popularity of Mozart’s opera, “Don Giovanni.”  the opera is a more swash-buckling version than Moliere’s play, which concentrates on the comic adventures of the Don.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


DAILY NORTHWESTERN   Wednesday, February 3, 1960


(D.NW's Editor’s Note:  This is the first in a series of three articles devoted to the Northwestern speech school’s workshop theatre.  We chose to publish such an extensive series on workshop because we feel it is probably the most creative and at the same time least known activity on campus.  This first article deals with the organization and development of workshop.  the second article will discuss the problems workshop faces.  And the third article will be a close look at an original scene by Gary Vitale, now in rehearsal.)

by Norman Mack

The room is dingy . . . there are a few wooden chairs around . . . cracks in the ceiling . . . dust generally and a wooden creaking floor.  In the center of the room is a girl, who is ordinarily beautiful, but is now dressed in blue jeans and a sweatshirt with little make-up and unruly hair.  She is shouting angry words at a boy while her director encourages her.  This is workshop theatre.

The scene shifts.  The same girl, in the same working outfit, is in Centennial hall.  The same director is encouraging her, only her performance is considerably subdued -- the walls in Centennial hall are hard and echoes result.  This, too, is workshop.

Now the applause has died down, most of the non-theatre majors have left the speech auditorium.  Miss Alvina Krause, faculty sponsor of workshop theatre, stands on the audience’s level and praises the girl’s performance.  This workshop bill for the director and the girl has come to a happy conclusion.

Workshop is the first arena where the hopes of novice directors, actors, and actresses get tested at Northwestern.  It adds more students to the to school education than any other activity on campus and it gives the new blood of the theater a chance to present themselves to an audience.

And yet this activity, so important to speech majors that as soon as new tryouts are announced every book containing the new plays disappears from Deering, is nearly unknown to the rest of the school.  What is workshop?  What is it for?  When?  Who and why?

According to Dr. Mitchell, head of the theatre department, workshop started out under the  name of Studio Theatre on May 4, 1932, charging 50c admission, paying royalties, running two nights and having publicity.

“However, this allowed less freedom in choice of material because recent plays could not be used.  We then stopped charging admissions but limited ourselves to plays in the public domain,” he said.  “Eventually we drifted into the present way of doing things -- with one performance, little publicity and no admission charge.

“This is the most successful method we’ve had with better performances, larger audiences and a wider choice of material than ten years ago.”

Miss Krause states that workshop was instituted “primarily to give opportunities for acting and directing, under liberal supervision.  A greater number of of people are studying theatre than are in university theatre productions and workshop keeps them acting and working.”

It originally was planned to be a practical application for the techniques learned in directing class.

Through the year as many as 18 plays or scenes or cuttings from plays are presented.  Two bills, containing three plays of forty-five minutes or less are given each quarter.

In the past workshop has presented scenes from “Lysistrata,” “Merchant of Venice,” “Peer Gynt,” “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “Taming of the Shrew.”

Directors are chosen by Miss Krause, usually have attended a directing class, and have had experience in earlier productions.

In turn, the directors choose the play they want to do (ranging from Shakespeare to Tennessee Williams to originals) and their actors and actresses.  While the talent be anyone enrolled at Northwestern speech majors make up the bulk of the people on the state.

The rehearsal schedule is three or four hours a night, five days a week for three to four weeks.  This would be an exhausting timetable in any other activity, with accusations of slave-labor being mumbled in the ranks.

The people in these productions are a dedicated lot and it is not usual to hear of Saturday morning, Thanksgiving vacation, and “let’s get together and run through that once more” rehearsals.

The practice sessions take place at 1831 Chicago, Centennial hall and, because of its tight schedule, only twice on the speech school stage.

Currently in rehearsal (to be presented this Wednesday, Feb.10, at 7:30) are an original student written and directed play, “The Love of One Captain” by Gary Vitale and two other scenes directed by Mary Gottlieb and Dan Roth.

In the past workshop has produced such stage stars as Gerald Freedman, who is directing “Taming of the Shrew” in New York and who also directed several workshop production here; Charlton Heston; Jim Olson, once actor-director in workshop, now appearing in “The World of Susie Wong”; Inga Swenson, who has played “Juliet” in Stratford, Conn.

That is the basic outline of workshop theatre -- an activity that’s extra-curricular.  A great amount of time is spent on it with near professional productions being the result.  It is a trainer, a trial by fire and another step on a theatrical ladder.


Workshop theatre can be compared to the proverbial statue with the feet of clay.

The audience sees a well-acted, near professionally directed play.  But if they would look closely at the feet of this statue, the technical end, they would note a paucity of good lighting, little or no scenery, and props that sometimes seem out of place.

As Gary Vitale, present director of a workshop production, said, “Workshop is a proving ground for actors and especially for student directors, and, in the same way, it should give experience to the technicians in theatre -- the lighting, set, and costume designers.”

One of the chief reasons for the above mentioned technical problems seems to be the philosophy that workshop is strictly a classroom exercise in directing and that if anything were added to it, it would tend to become a production.

It is for this reason that directors are allowed no budget for their plays, and, also, why they often provide costumes such as $25 silk pajamas out of their own pockets.

Workshop seems to hold the unenviable position of being just out of the classroom but not quite in the theatre.  It is not allowed to make any props nor to have a budget and yet it is expected to entertain an audience.

But the problem gets more complicated when one realizes that even if money were given for costumes, etc., there would be no room to make them.  The existing costume shop, about the size of a large guest closet, is just too busy making UT apparel to work on workshop.

A suggested solution to this congestion is to expand and consolidate the far-flung speech school.

This new theatre plant would have to include new shops and a replacement for the ancient stage now used.  But this utopia has been planned for the last 15 years. 

Some say the reason for the delay is lack of endowments, or the fact that the present stage is too old to remodel while a new building is too expensive to build, or that all the money taken in by UT productions does not go back to the speech school.

The lack of proper facilities is felt in many areas.  Because of the cramped schedule for the speech auditorium, lighting can only be worked on two days before curtain time.  The scene shop, a damp, coldly inadequate place near the lake, is too small to handle any scenery needed for productions.  The same holds for props.

A certain amount of the crowded condition could be alleviated if UT moved into Cahn and workshop into speech building.  But because of maintenance the the fact that a fireman has to be on duty if the full stage is used, it costs $75 ro rent Cahn per evening.  This, and the fact that it is difficult to take flats from scene shop to Cahn eliminates this as a possible solution.

Another complaint stems from the fact that most of the props used in workshop come from the university theatre bins under Kresge.  Only technical assistants can go down there and, because of this, directors are required to give them a list of what they need.

Problems raise their ugly little heads because the bin won’t have exactly what the director calls for and the assistant has to play mind reader for what’s closest to his wishes.

Some of the scarcity of props could be alleviated if basic units, such as windows and doors, were made especially for workshop.

Still, from a technical angle, the technical assistant and not the people in lighting classes design the lighting for the productions.  This lessens the possibility of practical experience for people interested in stage lighting.

To move from behind the scenes, the acting and directing situation seems to be better than the technical end.

Occasionally one hears grumbling about the “star system,” meaning that certain people tend to get more roles than others.  Opinion seems to be divided on this matter, with some students saying that “some people are just better than others,” while some claim that directors “don’t take enough chances on inexperienced people.”  Most students can justify the latter complaint when they realize that the director himself is usually inexperienced.

Favoritism in casting of directors casting their friends is universally denied.  Theatre majors all say that a director would be a fool to jeopardize a production just to cast a friend and that casting is done “amazingly on the basis of merit.”

After looking into workshop theatre from both the technical and directorial angles, one is struck by the multitude of unanswered questions.

Will there ever be a new speech building?  Why is it that Northwestern, with such a good speech faculty, is stuck with a theatre plant that is disgraceful?

Why is it that while NU has the foremost teacher of lighting in the midwest, Mr. Theodore Fuchs, students graduate with less practical designing experience in this field than can be had in other schools?

Why doesn’t workshop have some basic props?  When scenery is so scarce for workshop productions, why are old flats stored in Dyche stadium, two miles from campus?

Why can’t directors go into the bins under Kresge?

In short, what is workshop, merely an extension of directing classes or a test of the abilities of everything connected with theatre?


“You see there’s a beautiful day, a lovely day, with sun and flowers and there’s a path, a winding path, going right through the middle of this beautiful day.”

“You want me to marry a twelve year old?  Who do you think I am?  Bing Crosby?”

The above lines were spoken, completely extemporaneously, at a rehearsal of “The Love of One Captain,” done in the Comedia de L’Arte manner, directed by Gary Vitale, to be given Wednesday, Feb. 10.

This play serves to illustrate what a usual workshop production is like and also, the way workshop can portray unusual ideas.

Drawn from the 15th century plays in which townfolk sought to portray stereotyped characters in impromptu situations, this play presents seven personalities going through a plot outline given to them by Gary.  The characters, themselves, have to supply the dialogue.

The cast is representative of every grade level on campus from freshman to grad school.  It ranges in experience from appearances in seven school productions to Northwestern audiences and is split 50-50 between independent and affiliated.

The director in addition to appearing in several workshop dramas has been seen as Hamm in “Endgame,” as Henry IV in “Henry IV, Part I,” and in the “Legend of Lovers,” “Sandhog,” and “School for Wives.”  He took a directing class from Dr. Schneideman this summer and, last quarter, applied to Miss Krause to direct this play and was accepted.

Joy Hawkins, playing Isabella, a typical sweet young thing, is a direct contrast to Mr. Vitale.  A freshman, with some experience in musical comedy in high school, this is her first appearance at this school.

For her the most impressive thing about workshop is trying out which is an experience in itself, whether you make it or not.  It helps you to get your own interpretation of a part instead of trying to mimic others.”

Gary tried to make most of the character types relevant to our own society.  for instance Isabella was modeled after a southern belle while Columbine, Isabella’s worldly friend played by Marsha Rodd, is modeled after a New Jersey gun chewing waitress.

On the other hand some of the characters have a long history in theatre.  There is Arlecchino, portrayed by Richard Kovara, who is a basic servant type.  In the beginning of this character’s existence  he was a stupid lout, like the Dromios of “Comedy of Errors.”

Through the ages he was transformed into a witty, fast talker, although sometimes given a black mask on stage, Eddie Cantor.  Al Jolson and Emmet Kelly are modern examples of this character.

Along the same line is Pedrolino played by Bud Beyer, who is a deaf mute in this play but whose ancestors and grandchildren can be seen in Pero in “Don Juan.”  Felix Adler and other white faced clowns, and Charlie Chaplin.

Bud, a radio-TV major, claims that this part “develops comedy timing and forces quick thinking.”

Other characters include Dr. Gratiano, played by William Mumms, a learned, philosophical mind who can ponder for hours the proposition that “if a ship is on the high seas it cannot be said to be in port.”  One gets the impression that he is a caricature of a college professor even though he was formulated in the early 15th century in Bologna.

There is also Pantalone, played by Tom Foral, a miserly octogenarian who is always ready to enter into “marriage type situations.”

And finally Captain Spavento, played by Doug Dudley, the bragging coward mentioned in the title.

Universally the actors praise the improvisational play as an excellent vehicle, one which every theatre major should participate in at one time or another.

On the other hand the particular part of the workshop theatre that they would pick out as worthy of note raises a multitude of opinions.  “The experimental angle is best”; “you see every rehearsal is a performance”; “the close relationship with actor and director -- the freedom to criticize without fear of hurting someone”; or that it “gives a lot of people a chance to do different roles than they are used to.  It’s a good training ground.”

While there were several comments about the fact that the audience for these productions is probably one of the more difficult to please.  Richard Kovara claimed, perhaps rightly, that this is a good thing.

“I usually enjoy going to workshop more than UT because the plays are more for a college audience.  The three presentations are on the same wave length with people who come to see and discuss theatre.  The specialized audience is a good thing.”

Summing up, “The Love of One Captain” will, according to Gary Vitale, be “completely spontaneous the night of performance.”  For the director, that night will culminate a successful college career, while for the younger members of the cast it may very well start one. 

Monday, April 28, 2014


Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian’s Wall was built between England and Scotland maybe 120 years after the Beginning of the Christian Era (BCE), which is probably about two hundred years before the New Testament was written and organized.  There are two ways of looking at it:  as a fortification to keep the wild people out (a la “Game of Thrones” -- which is not an invented tale so much as adapted and embellished history) or as a boundary that declares “this is as far as we go.”  A measure to prevent overreaching, which some feel is what always destroys empire in the end.  Only decades ago a parishioner sent me a postcard from the actual wall when he was there, with this comment  above on it and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  

The Great Wall from "Game of Thrones"

The Chinese Wall in the Bob Marshall Wilderness of the Rocky Mountains

Now I’m reading “Born Fighting” by Jim Webb and he uses the wall in a slightly different way.  The book is about the Scots-Irish, sometimes called Ulster Scots, and their belligerence, independence, and ties of loyalty among peers and through families.  Tribal, in short.  A system of governance extremely resilient, resourceful, and organized around strong leaders.  That’s what was going on north of Hadrian’s Wall and over in Ireland.  

South of the Wall was Roman and their hierarchical system of military-style organization with accountability in a pyramid of responsibility that was controlled from the top -- orderly, secure, protective enough for high culture to exist, and dependent on laws, authority, organization.  South of the wall: civilization.  North of the wall: guerrillas.  This pattern came to America.  It is even local:  I interpret the Flathead Valley as having a Roman/English/
mercantile ethic while the East Slope people are Celtic. 

Of course, America was tribal.  And they soon learned to be guerrillas.  If you look at the Blackfeet dissension, it breaks between the freeform family and friendship systems characteristic of tribes, and the Euro style that goes back to the Roman Empire.  Not that the latter is imposed by White people now, but that it has been learned and accepted by a high percentage of the enrolled people and others intermingled.  On one side leaders are personally known and trusted; on the other side, leaders are elected according to the code and regulations.  The trouble is that the tribe has grown too big for personal relationships to do the job; but not enough people have accepted codes, regulations, and all that stuff.  The system is fighting itself.

Highland Croft

Webb also picks up on another split that continues on the rez today:  that between seeing land as a shared resource where “ownership” is a matter of usage and presence, which is how the Scots crofters saw it; and land as owned from the top down in the Roman style, so that the King was the ultimate owner and could allocate and delineate areas as he chose in order to control and reward those under him.  By the time this system got to the bottom, the poorest people were possessions themselves. (Compare to Indians as wards of the government.)  Serfs were not allowed to just move away for whatever reason.  But Scots, while not nomads, were able freely to leave a place to seek a new situation, maybe in Ireland.  Their identity remained their own, their loyalty to their gentry was a matter of mutual obligation, as is often expressed on “Downton Abbey” where the moderns are the Romans and, ironically, the Earl of Grantham is the carrier of the Highlands ethic.

I have sympathy because the same split is in me, partly because of my family heritage (Scots and Irish) and partly because of my genetic makeup (I guess that’s a family heritage, too) and partly because of my life experiences.  I really am naturally meant to be north of Hadrian’s Wall, but in order to do some of the things I need to do (like the internet) I need to be on the south side.  I try to maintain a kind of outpost right on top of the wall and luckily it’s pretty big and flat up there.  But there are sea captains in my family heritage and I can "see ships" from here.  Even light beacons.  If I can find enough fuel.

from "Braveheart" the movie

I’m only eighty pages into the book and already I come to another “elephant” in my family:  the dread of poverty, the contempt for over-achieving and thus getting “better,” the ambivalence over education (identity change balanced against higher status), and the constant preparation for disaster.  Uncomfortably mixed-in is family pride that can easily become arrogance, or rejection of all help.  

In the days Webb is describing, life happened between raids from enemies.  The English kings kept thinking that if they punished what they considered to be traitors (Braveheart and Robert the Bruce) in horrible enough ways, this would be a deterrent.  But as demonstrated on “Game of Thrones,” the heroes insisted they could not be traitors since the English were not their kings, and the resistance only increased more bitterly.  Why does no one think this dynamic is in play in the Middle East?  Why doesn't Homeland Security ring a bell?

Like gated communities, the English kept thinking they could set limits, survey boundaries, build roads, and that would assure the all-important control necessary for order.  It was a goal motivated by merchants who wanted to transport for profit.  Like oil pipe-lines.  And such industrial technicalities are always vulnerable to both those who resist control and to the shrugging surface of the continents themselves.

Father DeSmet arrives at the Flathead  (CMR painting)

As I read I’m just coming to the next source of schism: religion.  On the Anglo-Scots island, the Protestant Reformation took hold.  On the English side it was to side with the Kings and Queens.  On the Scots side, after a brief flirtation with Mary’s French version of Catholic, the people went to a stony, resistant, practically bulletproof Calvinism.  Their disciplined asceticism has come down through my family (until recently) in a strange form: no smoking, no drinking, no big spending on luxuries (spectacles and fountain pens are okay), but no church.

In Ireland the Jesuits brought God and syncretism: pre-existing Celtic saints and festivals simply turned “green.”  One by one the priests endeared themselves with personal relationships and support to the needy, just as the Jesuits did among the Blackfeet, even going to far as to travel with them in war and hunting parties.  But back in Washington, DC., where the Roman notion of top-down authority and land allocation dominated, the Blackfeet reservation (now marked out on a map) was assigned to the Methodists.  In truth, in the Sixties, the Methodist church and the Presbyterian church (which folded into the Methodists during the Depression) were for the whites, the mixed bloods, and the dissenters.  The style differences have persisted in spite of pastors who were diligent in their work for all people there and a mass exodus of the white people since the Sixties, leaving their mixed-blood children.  
Lockley Bremner, Pentecostal pastor

Today both Catholics and Methodists honor Blackfeet ceremonies, but maybe not the deeper underlying “tectonic plates.”  In those spiritual realms it is probably the Pentecostals who have absorbed the old prairie tribal “felt concepts.”  But to be honest I should go visit them to see for myself.  I do slightly know some of the pastors.

When we look for the “Others” it is often true that we meet ourselves.  Maybe that’s what we were looking for anyway or maybe it makes us blind to anything different.  I do have the feeling that my blood relatives on both sides have gone “English” while being back among the Blackfeet has let me stay Celtic.  But I hope that leaves me in the “borderlands” along both sides of Hadrian’s Wall, and therefore able to see both sides.

Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland

Sunday, April 27, 2014

ALMOST FAMOUS: An Autobiography by Pam Munter

ALMOST FAMOUS: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Dr. Pam Munter is copyrighted in 1985, so I expect she was writing it in the years I was circuit-riding in Montana for the UU fellowships.  I had paid her to talk me out of this ministry.  She said she knew nothing about Christians, that she was Jewish.  She did NOT tell me she was raised Christian Science.  That’s a whole different ball game.  If I were her therapist, I would press her about why she didn't tell me.  "Recovering Christian Scientists" are an interesting category.  

We had a lot in common and things went well.  I dreamt of her showing up wearing tennis shorts and a rumpled Columbo trenchcoat, which entertained her, but she didn’t press me about it.  We didn’t really press each other very hard at all.  I was Hans Christian Anderson at his darkest and most ambiguous; she was Walt Disney at his most winning and tuneful.  However, my minister scoffed.  His idea of therapy was for the shrink to feel around for something that hurt the worst and then press it until you screamed.

This autobiography is not like that.  It’s more like a case for the defense in a trial, a role she has played many times.  One of the earliest, the most problematic, and the spot where a shrink who played by my minister’s rules should press, was the end of the book when she describes her role in suing Lifespring, a group therapy cult connected to deaths.  The irony is that Lifespring believes in finding one’s emotional cracks, pressing them even to the point of suicide, which is what triggered the law suit.  Maybe that influenced her to go easy.  Another irony is that my Clinical Pastoral Care experience, which the UUA Department of Ministry told me was the single most helpful way of predicting success in the ministry, was based on those same assumptions.  They were signs of the times.  Those were the days of "Primal Scream."
Munter as Sinatra

When Munter was growing up, her choices were between a career and a marriage.  When I was growing up, five years earlier, I was taught that everyone owes the world -- boys must join the military and girls must have babies, both fates arduous and even life-threatening.  Neither of us settled into marriage or a career, but she succeeded in producing a fine son.  In some ways we’re too high-powered for our own good and in other ways we just don’t accept cultural sex role assignments easily.  You could say we’re androgenous (she says her husband was androgenous but no one suggests Bob Scriver was that) or you could just say we hate being typecast.  When she’s not playing Doris Day, she’s fond of the role of Frank Sinatra.  Me?  When I found out I would never be Piper Laurie, I sorta gave up the game.  Sometimes I’ve said “late Simone Signoret.”  

Simone Signoret

The more relevant difference between the two of us is not the gender of our objects of desire, but her need for a sidekick (usually a sympathetic woman) and my need for solitude (no hitchhikers, no leftovers).  Of course, obviously, I never hoped for a singing career nor one on the stage either.  Munter has acted in movies, but much more recently than the ending of this book.  I assume that by now as much more has happened to her as happened to me after I left ministry.  (I recognize a case for the defense because I’ve had to make one for myself.)

When I located her website, I sent her an email.  She wanted to steer me away from this book as naive and probably written too early (I agree) but it includes the time period when I was in her office.  She recommends the book she wrote about character actors.  Indeed, since she grew up in Pacific Palisades, CA, and was surrounded by movie industry people, she can drop names from her earliest years.  She could visit these people and later she was in business roles that put her in contact with them.  Somehow she never lost her starry-eyed attitude nor her ability to resist the casting couch.  This book was not published by mainstream publishers and suffers for it.  Munter prides herself on her writing, but every writer needs a decent editor.  (My shunning of editors is very much like hers.  We never discussed that.)

Torch-singing is about pain and passion, but -- at least in this book -- she doesn’t have a torch singer’s kind of wounds and smoke.  Even in Portland, Oregon, even if one sings in clubs and shares an occasional set with blacks, one COULD find the heart of darkness, but I don’t think that’s happened by the end of this book.  There are many kinds of singing.  For her, singing is a kind of hypnotism and even she suggests it can be an avoidance.  She doesn’t spot emotional enablers even when it comes to singing.  I have a phobic reaction to enablers and -- a confession -- actually kept her at arm’s length as well.

There was another female "shrink" during my ministry internship. (I should say these people are “therapists” who are mainly sorters and helpers, as distinguished from psychoanalysts -- who take an almost poetic approach to the deep mind -- or to the psychiatrist who takes a medical stance and can prescribe drugs.)  The second woman was in Hartford, Connecticut, a major center for this stuff.  She was not much like Munter.  A very sexy lady in tight jeans practicing out of a mansion where she lived with a much older psychiatrist (male).  She quickly dug up bodies for autopsy.  VERY helpful.

But the closest I came to breaking down was in that Clinical Pastoral Education with a supervisor who was trying to work out his stuff at my expense.  In those weeks as a hospital chaplain my/Bob’s granddaughter (whom I had tried hard to save) was killed in a car accident, struck head-on by an emergency vehicle with lights and sirens running.  Also Mt. St. Helens, the serene and symmetrical mountain I had seen from my bedroom window the whole time I was growing up, exploded.  I do not think that Pam Munter could have foreseen that this was part of becoming a minister.  I didn't.  It was dark stuff.

To her, things happen well because of planning and energy.  One commits, one persists, one prevails.  As my second counselor pointed out, this is grandiose narcissism.  No one can control loved ones far away in traffic nor can one suppress a volcano.  But both Munter and myself were taught to take responsibility, rise to the challenge, save the Titanic.  Thirty years later, I expect both of us would have a good laugh over that idea.  

"Eban's mom" as played by Munter

I don’t know what happened to that second therapist -- I can’t remember her name so I can’t google her up.  As for the CPE instructor, a lot of people know about him.  I should have been warned.  In fact, a few people intervened -- late.

People read autobiographies expecting to find a script for triumph or to revise an opinion of someone or for immersion.  None of those applies to my reading of this book.  I just felt as though I’d spent an evening with an old friend, sometimes laughing ruefully.  For Munter, her website suggests it has all come together in the end.  She was right to persist and strive.

“A half dozen films, two CDs, a dozen commercials and infomercials, live jazz/cabaret shows all over the country, countless radio and television interviews - it has been a great ride.  Thanks to all of you for your kind and persistent support over these years. And thanks to the people at Excellence in Media who have given us another Angel Award for "Best Stage Performance" for that last show in New York, "Hooked on Hollywood." It was an upbeat way to end the cabaret career.”   

She says she always knew I’d write.  So did I.  We're just not in the same genre.

Saturday, April 26, 2014


Front yard  4/26

Back yard  4/26

This morning the cats and I rose to discover that the white stretch limousine parked across the street as part of preparations for prom night in Valier was covered with snow and the trees and bushes everywhere were bowed over with their snow load.  I knew the forecast, had seen the building cloud snow-shelf behind the Rockies, and have lived through many of these Spring monsoon snows, but I was still startled.  It’s not cold and the snow is already melting enough to chute off the trees and roofs.  Soon it will be only ermine trim, like that on the theatrical homemade crowns for the prom King and Queen.  

People who haven’t lived here long will joke about global warming (bring it on!) and the farmers will smile about the moisture.  When I drove to Cut Bank a few days ago in a howling, pounding high wind, there was one section where a newly plowed field was so dry that it was blowing so much dirt across the road that the road was hard to see.  The topsoil of that field is now in Minneapolis.

On the environmental listserv for the organization called the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment, a professor has posted a question both ethical and strategic.  She wants to know how to handle the teaching of research and empirically-based thought in general writing courses when the topic is climate change.  Because her community adamantly and sometimes angrily opposes the idea.  

The list, for all its sophistication, calls it “global warming” but it is far more than that when one gets into research about what many people now call "global climate change".  It’s even more than that.  Heat=energy and it is the retention and driving convection of that energy that interacts with geology to create the mammoth planetary currents of air and water through the oceans and across the continents.  You've heard of the Japanese current?


Coping with the rise in sea level caused by melting of ice at the poles will be major, because humans have always built along waterways and some countries (Bangladesh) will disappear underwater.  Already villages in Alaska have had to move.  Loss of permafrost, the depletion of the glaciers that feed major rivers, general shifting of tornado "alleys" and increased intensity of droughts and hurricanes, deaths of forests, expanding territories for disease and their vectors, extinction of species like polar bears and penguin, loss of fish due to the failure of water column turnover -- it’s enough, as one of the respondents said, “to make semi-grown men cry.”  And that happens.  I’ve seen it.  Of course, grown men and women often fly into a rage when they realize the real nature and dimension of the problem.

ASLE conference panel

The inquiring professor wanted to know how she could keep from being shifted from classification as a dependable teacher to being considered a trouble-making activist and therefore losing her job, as well as short-changing the education of the students.  Those latter may not give up the pursuit of money and refocus on saving the world, but they will be a different kind of voter.  That will make some politicians very angry.

Therefore, I will shield the identity of the professor who said, “If institutional priorities . . . can [make] top-down changes in curriculum occur which would make GW education more than optional, and I don't know what to do about this, particularly in regions where a) the majority culture is skeptical of or indifferent to GW and b) where the institution wants/needs as many enrollees as possible to generate funds, and therefore seeks to exclude all Negativity.

“Your questions bring up lots of other thorny issues, e.g., what channels of future activism can the teacher actually offer the motivated student?  What psychological effect will a continual focus, however realistic, on a problem generating hopelessness have on the person "just starting out" in adulthood (I assume here the "traditional" student)?  As we sing 'roun here, "Everybody wants to go to heaven/But nobody wants to die."  For this innerness of global warming awareness I strongly recommend the new book by Steven Pavlos Holmes, exploring personal responses to gw.”   

Steven Pavlos Holmes, Independent Scholar

“Facing the Change: Personal Encounters with Global Warming” by Steven Pavlos Holmes.  On Amazon for about ten bucks or Kindle.  I ordered a used paperback, my usual standard.  I had thought that this climate change was moving slowly enough that at 75 years old, I would be gone.  I don’t have children.  Now it appears that the beginning has already begun.  Just not this snowstorm, not even this dust storm, and the snowpack on the Rockies is “normal”-and-above for the time period in which we’ve been keeping records.  But there are other things to consider.

An Australian fire whirl

If something drowns Bangladesh, if something forces an Alaskan fishing village to move, if something caves off the sides of mountains and changes the intensity of cyclones in Kansas and turns Australia into a holocaust -- it changes me, too, because everything is connected.  This is grain country and we know that the profit of our grain depends on the world climate -- not just in terms of rain and sun, but also in terms of politics.  What happens to the Ukraine happens to our wheat elevators.   The markets are the same. 

One of the first responses is to compensate by evading expensive regulations, particularly when owners are faraway (not in physical danger) and workers are local (in danger), which is the case with many of the services in our area.

“A Minnesota-based agriculture company was fined $211,000 by federal safety regulators who said Wednesday it had repeatedly failed to ensure workers weren't exposed to grain-dust hazards in Montana.
“CHS Inc. was cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for 19 workplace safety violations at grain elevators in Cut Bank, Glendive, Denton and Valier. A company spokeswoman said CHS will challenge the violations.
“Three were repeat violations, including failing to test the air quality in work spaces for potentially explosive grain dust, hazardous gases or lack of oxygen, regulators said.
“Dust from grain in elevators is considered highly combustible and can be more explosive than coal dust, Funke said.
“Fourteen of the violations alleged against CHS were classified as serious, meaning there was a substantial probability of a worker death or injury.”

Another consequence is a deepening wedge between two demographics in a state where liberal populations are concentrated in the scenic and university towns and conservative people are spread across the rural landscape.  So there are climate rallies to support clean-energy in 13 communities today: Bigfork, Billings, Bozeman, Columbia Falls, Great Falls, Hamilton, Helena, Kalispell, Lame Deer, Missoula, Pablo, Red Lodge and Whitefish.  NOT Cut Bank, Glendive, Denton and Valier.  (The rumor that a coal company arranged for this snowfall is only a bitter joke.)  

From my point of view it's a very interesting development that the Native American people, who have been scorned in small town settings but championed by universities and environmentalists, are now arriving at a position where they can provide payback politically.  Consider the impact on negotiations over irrigation water rights to Birch Creek, which divides Valier from the Blackfeet Reservation.  Consider frakking.  Consider wind farms.

Prom tonight -- then what?

As is often remarked, the only real constant is constant change and as grain farmers know, life is always a trade-off between givens and surprises.  Culture can foster collaborative changes in attitude or it can ignite wars.  Both are happening.  This is not a simple squabble over where to set the planetary thermostat.  

Friday, April 25, 2014


Sex is a portal.  It opens the door to adulthood.  In fact, partly because of its entanglement with the law and partly because it changes a lot of interpersonal dynamics, for most people it is the only criterion.  Maybe a driver’s license comes close, but the tie to educational progress is pretty well broken.  Money?  I have too little experience to know.  I've never made a "grown-up" salary.

I’ve been watching “Game of Thrones” at the rate of four episodes per night, which means that the child actors grow up by leaps and bounds, something like watching all the Harry Potter movies one-after-another.  

Isaac Hempstead-Wright

Isaac hempstead-wright (Bran Stark) in particular develops quickly away from his beguiling child face, so that his upper lip shadows and then his nose asserts itself.  I don’t know how parallel this is to the character in the story.  The girls seem to be easier to manage visually, since no testosterone is giving them Adam’s apples and beards.  

Also Isaac Hempstead-Wright

When one looks at Google Images, Isaac looks almost nerdy, though endearingly so, but he probably will have to assure all of us that he is an adult by somehow looking sexy, which is the only main thing a lot of people know about adulthood.

Daniel Radcliffe in "Equus"

Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe made the transition through the "door" by stripping onstage to be in "Equus."  It worked well, partly because he’s an excellent actor anyway, and now he’s turned out to be quite handsome as an adult.  

Daniel Radcliffe

He is helped because the spotlight shifted to J.K. Rowling anyway.  By now he's taking adult roles in series.

Neil Patrick Harris as Dougie Houser

Neil Patrick Harris was once Dougie Houser whose whole shtick was acting like a genius adult while he looked like a little kid, needed something strong to turn the "doorknob" to adulthood.

Annie Leibowitz' photo of Neil Patrick Harris in Vanity Fair

Natassja Kinski by Richard Avedon

Annie Leibowitz, always resourceful, took him there in the Natassja Kinski way.  Double snakes, one overtly penile -- the bigger one.  It works in part because though Harris’ body is hairless, his face is not a child’s.  On the other hand, Kinski looks almost a child, though she was twenty.  In our culture women need to be childlike; men need to be more than adult.  Kinski herself, who was born into the risky edge-world of a daring and powerful actor father, feels exploited.  Hard to argue.

Parallel to sexy-child women and super-competent men, there is a dynamic of innocence versus wickedness.  Somehow wickedness is considered a feature of adulthood and victimhood (though certainly powerful men can become victims like Ned Stark), but moral wickedness or criminality is considered not just adult but also sexy in both men and women.  Consider "Oz" or "Deadwood," et al.  It is presented as an entitlement to abuse -- or at least use -- the childish. 

Childishness and innocence in pre-pubertal boys is sexy to certain people.  Defiant wickedness in adolescent boys is sexy to almost everyone except authority figures.  Authority figures, especially ones who are either protective of innocents or else cruelly powerful, are sexy.  Bureaucrats are not.  Grownup crybabies are not.  Unless they're Russell Crowe full-out grieving while clasping the feet of his dead wife in "Gladiator".

Natassja Kinski grown-up

These are cultural categories that vary from one time period and one place to another.  In our kakatopia, they are not so much about sex or even power as they are about wealth.  They are ways to get richer and to demonstrate wealth, which always attracts more money.  But they are definitions for groups bent on survival.  What about individual lives?

The highly technical announcement for professional psychoanalysts that I've pasted below is about "opening doors" through the embodiment/incarnation of sexual transgression.  I think "The Black Swan" ballet movie was aiming for this but missed.  I will not be doing real-world research.  But isn't the embodiment of sex what happens to all of us at puberty? And doesn't it mean the old and powerful can consume the young and helpless?

Transgression: murdering the future


This presentation extends Botella and Botella’s (2005) and Levine’s (2012) work on figurability and unrepresented states to the domain of sexuality, and specifically, transgressive sexuality. Transgressive sexuality operates within an economical regime of escalating excitations, pushing against the limit of what is tolerable. Its insatiable appetite for intensified stimulation can lead to a welling up of pleasure to the point of pain or exhaustion producing pleasure that is suffered. Such suffering of pleasure can override homeostatic controls and, at its apex, may result in a shattering of the ego (Bersani).

This shattering, I will propose, behaves like a portal that allows unrepresented experiential fragments to leap forward. These embodied bits are akin to Bion’s beta elements: insofar as they have evaded representation they cannot be thought with or thought about. By nature impossible to gather into language, they arrive as sensuous bodily states which can then be worked with in the consulting room. A vignette will illustrate how an analysand’s transgressive sexual encounter and the generative dysregulation it produced made it possible for us to find a way to think and speak about previously unrepresented states.

More when the book comes and I've had a chance to read it.