Hartford’s Bushnell Theater
Reviewed By Edmond D. Smith
After being in show business for over 60 years it’s not surprising that a person should have a large store of good stories to tell. But it’s something of a wonder that at 85 he could tell them with the same kind of energy and enthusiasm that a man 30 years younger would have a hard time summoning.
Famed actor, writer, director and cultural phenomenon Williiam Shatner’s one man show, Shatner’s World: We Just Live In It, presented October 15 at Hartford’s Bushnell Theater was funny, moving, interesting, and totally engrossing. At 85 Shatner spent over 2 1/4 hours flawlessly and engagingly delivering the story of his life. He incorporated movie clips, TV clips, music and ended the night with a song. He was unfailingly warm and Real, which just happens to be the title of the song he closed with. He didn’t shy away from some of the controversies that have surrounded him over the years, told of his post-Star Trek poverty and desperation and dropped many famous names without appearing to be a tiresome name dropper.
Shatner was often at his most affective relating stories about his family
Pacing from one side of the stage to the other, he punctuated his stories with his famous staccato delivery and physicality, rarely sitting down on the chair that was his only real prop; at one point lifting said chair above his head to highlight a particularly dramatic moment. But the whole night was not taken up solely with over-the-top gestures. Shatner was often at his most affective relating stories about his family and their varied travails including his father’s death and coming home and finding Nereen, his then wife dead at the bottom of their pool, a victim of the alcoholism she couldn’t beat. At moments like that Shatner displayed a range that most might not realize he possesses.
. Thematically the show touched upon life, love and the inescapability of death. He has been doing the show all around the world since 2012 and has honed it and refined it to the point where it appears to be a man just telling stories but is in fact a very well-crafted entertainment. Even if you have spent the last 60 years in a cave and had no idea who William Shatner was the show would’ve been entertaining and enjoyable. Shatner as we all know is somewhat ubiquitous so you never can tell when he might show up near your town. If he does you’d be doing yourself a favor by going to see him and finding out why this really is Shatner’s World.
A Powerful Lesson
August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson
At The Hartford Stage
Through November 13, 2016
Reviewed By Edmond D. Smith
1916 saw the start of what has come to be called The Great Migration, the movement of millions of Southern African Americans to the North in the hopes of finding better lives than the South was affording them. Playwright August Wilson sets his famed ten play The American Century Cycle, of which the Pulitzer Prize winning The Piano Lesson is the fifth, in 1936 Pittsburgh where a large migrant population had taken root. Like all the plays of The American Cycle The Piano Lesson, currently at Hartford’ elegant Stage Theater, addresses aspects of how this dislocation impacted the African American experience.
This is what theater is all about.
The play revolves around the return of Boy Willie Charles, who has spent the last three years in Mississippi, some of the time in jail and all the time scheming how to gather the money to buy farmland in Mississippi that his family had once worked as slaves. He drives back to Pittsburgh with his friend Lymon in a truck that’s on its last legs filled with watermelons that he intends to sell to accumulate funds to help pay for the land. The last part of his plan is to sell a family heirloom, a 137 year old piano engraved with images that relate his family’s history in America currently in his sister Berniece’s possession. He returns to the bosom of a family that is unimpressed with his plans; Berniece being adamant that he will not sell what she sees as the family legacy. The stage is then literally set for a battle of how best to reconcile yesterday and today in a way that makes tomorrow worthwhile.
Christina Acosta Robinson uses her slight, almost frail body to heighten the power of her inner resolve.
The Stage has gathered an exceptional ensemble of actors who through stories and song highlight those things that have held the African American community together in their struggle in America; religion and African spirituality among them. Clifton Duncan fully embodies both the charming and manipulative aspects of Boy Willie. Christina Acosta Robinson uses her slight, almost frail body to heighten the power of her inner resolve. Other standouts are Rosco Orman (who you may remember for playing Gordon Robinson for years on Sesame Street) as Uncle Doaker who brings an appropriate naturalness and reasonability to the role. Cleavant Derricks plays Doaker’s bombastic brother and nearly stops the show with his soulful, thunderous singing voice.
This terrific cast is able to express themselves to full advantage thanks to Jade King Carrol’s subtle direction which synergistically uses story, acting talent, lighting and stage design to create something greater than its already highly impressive parts. The lives of migrant African Americans in all their humor, love and desperation are sensitively evoked.
In our continuing era of racial strife, The Piano Lesson does us all a service by stripping away stereotypes to reveal the humanity common in us all. August Wilson was (he sadly passed away in 2005) not only a master of the lyricism of words but also of the human condition and brilliantly found the dignity of his characters in their everyday struggles.
With their current production, The Stage Theater burnishes their reputation of presenting important, quality theater to Connecticut. This is what theater is all about.
The Monster Speaks: Dr. Jordan Peterson at the Shubert
Edmond D. Smith
Tuesday night, May 22 at the Shubert Theater in Boston the monster spoke. Dr. Jordan Peterson the Canadian clinical psychologist, author, professor and newly minted YouTube and media sensation gave a two hour (a one-and-a-half-hour lecture followed by a half hour q&a) presentation expounding on the themes of his internationally bestselling book, 12 Rules For Life, An Antidote To Chaos. Dr. Peterson’s emergence as a public intellectual with a growing following has been met by howls of protest and derision including accusations of his being a Nazi, homophobe, misogynist, anti-Semite and the leader of a cult of neocavemen.
Tuesday night, the monster himself took the stage at the Shubert to a capacity house of, if his critics are to be believed, exclusively male, knuckle-dragging troglodytes. The first shock of the evening came when it turned out that in reality his audience consisted of casually dressed, polite (predominantly but not exclusively) men; but women were certainly there in abundance as well. The evening’s second shock came when Dave Rubin walked onstage to warm up the audience and introduce the monster. Rubin is a former liberal, a Jewish comedian, and host of the increasingly popular podcast The Rubin Report. He is also a happily married gay man. His introduction of Peterson was funny, warm and admiring.
Then came the main event. The monster walked out onto a stage bare but for a stool holding bottles of water. He was thin, of average height, wore a gray suit and tan shoes (loafers?). When he began to speak his voice was mild. His mannerisms were restrained. He presented as the antithesis of the fire-breathing hate monger that much of the press has portrayed. Over the next two hours he covered a wide-ranging territory that included some personal history, (He grew up in a small, rather bleak town in Alberta, Canada. The closest big city was Edmonton, five hundred miles distant.) much discussion of his intellectual heroes Carl Jung and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, his distaste of deconstructionist philosopher Jacques Derrida, and his fascination with both biological and social hierarchies. Apparently, his audience of devolved knuckle-draggers had come out to hear a lecture about ideas.
And he was an explosion of ideas. His manner of speaking was professorial without being didactic.
And he was an explosion of ideas. His manner of speaking was professorial without being didactic. He gave the impression of a man who isn’t just teaching: he paused often as he seemed to be carefully considering what he would say next, checking it in his mind for consistency, veracity and value. Its an unusual style that has the effect of making his audience feel as if they are discovering ideas with him, as if they are part of his process. And he readily admits that he doesn’t have all the answers but is sincerely interested in finding them.
At times he was personal and emotional, choking up a bit in remembering his mother-in-law’s difficult passing. At other times he was amusing as when he talked about the need rats have for physical nurturing. He also addressed some of the criticism he has gotten from the media including his now infamous TV interview with British journalist Cathy Newman, in which prior to the TV cameras coming on she was polite, charming and sympathetic and then completely changed her demeanor when the cameras were turned on. He also addressed another recent controversy in which a phrase, “enforced monogamy”, has been used to delegitimatize him. His explanation of his actual meaning was dealt with in the post-speech q&a which can be seen in the link below:
If there was any one issue that propelled him into the spotlight it was his stance on a piece of Canadian legislation, Bill C-16 which stipulates that people must address transgendered or other “non-binary” people by a pronoun of their choosing. To fail to do so can lead to governmental sanctions. Peterson took to YouTube to voice his objection to the idea of compulsory speech which he vociferously contends is a violation of the principle of free speech. Suddenly he went viral.
Much of what Peterson has to say is his extrapolation of what are the consequences of the hierarchical structure of society, itself embedded in the biological foundations of humanity. His analysis considers the stories of ancient heroes and stories of how man succeeds and fails. This leads him to Christianity which relies on the primacy of the individual. This he contrasts with the collective, which history shows invariably leads to tribalism and the segmentation of society into separate interest groups. And it is here that we can see the genesis of the Left’s hatred of Peterson. By his reckoning history is rife with the failures of collectivism, including the horrors of Nazism, socialism and communism. And he sees the current growth of intersectionality, the collision of differing groups invariably leading to the strong marginalizing the weak, bringing about group conflict, with groups of the privileged victimizing the groups of the less powerful.
He believes that the only way out of these constantly recurring collectivist societies which distort man’s true nature and inexorably leads to societal disaster is through making the individual preeminent. Thus Christ is literally and metaphorically the individual who shoulders responsibility and saves the world. Individual consciousness, the individual’s sense of responsibility despite the burden it places on man is the way out of the collectivist trap.
And it is Peterson’s utter rejection of collectivism as anathema to the flourishing of the human spirit that makes him such a target for the Left.
And it is Peterson’s utter rejection of collectivism as anathema to the flourishing of the human spirit that makes him such a target for the Left. If people once again start to believe in the primacy of the individual, the individual with a sense of meaning, then the Left’s entire narrative crumbles and blows away like dust. This is why they see him as such a danger, as such a monster. To watch the cheer that rose up from the audience when Peterson pointed to the necessity of their taking responsibility for their own actions would be enough to drive the Left to the paroxysms of hate that they have directed at Peterson.
So the monster concluded with a call to people to live up to their “true nature” by accepting personal responsibility for their lives, and taking up… “an ethic of fair play and courage” which “…keeps us a good distance away from Hell.”
By the conversations that could be heard when Dr. Peterson had concluded his presentation the now obviously non-troglodytic audience left inspired to shoulder heavier burdens of responsibility in order to dedicate themselves to a higher purpose.
At this point it became impossible to view the humble academic whose words had just held our attention for two hours as having any of the characteristics of a monster. If a monster had been expected to show up on the Shubert stage that night, he never appeared. In fact he seems never to have existed at all.