The Alignment of Storytelling Stars

StarBlogPost
In this post, three separate stories will converge into an evening of events that I choose to give more meaning than I probably should. These three stories are depicted in the photo banner above.

Photo #1
In 1988, I attended an American Theatre Wing panel discussion that featured Michael Crawford, Judy Kaye, Blythe Danner, John Lithgow and B.D. Wong. I was so taken by the discussion of M. Butterfly that I scurried over to the TKTS Booth afterward and purchased tickets to the show, which I would be attending with my father. Following the show, he and I went backstage to meet John Lithgow, as my father had met him back when he did The Changing Room. I was all of 19 years old at the time and when I handed my Playbill to Mr. Lithgow for his autograph, he inscribed upon its cover: For Alicia, We’ll work together soon. John Lithgow.

Photo #2
In 2008, I saw a musical that changed my life: [title of show]. I learned that creativity, perseverance and talent can, in fact, get you to Broadway. Shortly thereafter, I arranged for Susan Blackwell to teach her Die Vampire, Die! creativity workshop at the theatre I was affiliated with at the time. I need to say this: Susan Blackwell is my spirit animal. She has taught me how to unleash my creativity and how to kill the vampires. She is also one of the classiest ladies I’ve ever met. I don’t know if she realizes what a tremendous impact she has had on me. But I think she does.

Photo #3
Also in 2008, shortly after In The Heights won the Tony Award for Best Musical, I braved a virtual hurricane to see my friend Robin de Jesús in his Tony nominated performance. Minutes before curtain, as I raced to the Richard Rodgers in a torrential downpour, I lost my wallet on Manhattan street  Despite this unfortunate turn of events, I was blessed to have experienced the original cast perform the work of a fresh, new voice in American musical theatre: Lin-Manuel Miranda. After the show, when I was telling Robin my tale of the lost wallet after the show, Lin stopped by to nuzzle Robin’s neck and posed for a picture.


On Sunday night, my husband and I had the enviable pleasure of attending a performance of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton at The Public Theater. The sold-out run has extended three times prior to its scheduled opening on Febuary 17th. To say it is the hottest ticket in town is an understatement.

When we arrived at the theatre, my husband and I were commenting on how large the stage looked compared to the last time he had been there, which was for another contemporary musical with an historical figure as its focus, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. I mentioned that I was taken by the size of the space when I went to see Fun Home there last year. He asked me if I saw it alone and I reminded him that I saw it after I attended Susan Blackwell’s full-day creativity workshop in January.

As we sat in our seats reading our programs, my husband leaned over to me and said, “Isn’t that Susan over there?” Sure enough, a few rows in front of us, Susan was taking her seat. It was a little freaky, actually. As much as I respect and admire the woman, I assure you that I don’t frequently find myself bringing her up in conversation.

During intermission, I ran into Susan and we exchanged the brief pleasantries suitable for the ladies room. Afterward, I hastened to the bar to grab, appropriately, an ale to enjoy during the second act. As I placed my order, I looked up and standing there, in all his tallness and grandeur, was John Lithgow.

I shit you not!

I wanted to say, “Hey, remember that time a quarter century ago when you said that you and I would work together soon?” Instead, I averted his gaze and thought to myself, “Oh my God, he’s the Trinity Killer!”

I am going to reserve my review of Hamilton until the show opens one week from today. I will, however, say this: this show alters the landscape of contemporary musical theatre in ways you cannot imagine.

So, to Mr. Lithgow, who gave a young girl the hope that she could have a career in this crazy business of show, I say, “Thanks for letting me believe that I have a shot.”

To Ms. Blackwell, the loveliest vampire killer I know, I say, “Thanks for showing me how to have faith in the words that will allow me to take the shot.”

To Mr. Miranda, the man who has raised the bar for every theatre artist living today, “Thanks for inspiring me to stop throwing away my shot.”

Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?

I now know the answer. Here I go.

The Thirty Pound Journey: Weight Loss Tips From A Layperson

LoseWeight

I have struggled with my weight my whole life. While I’m not someone who is considered obese, I’ve almost always carried between 20 and 30 pounds of extra weight. My addiction to food, for both pleasure and comfort, combined with my genetic predisposition to gain weight has made shedding pounds a constant challenge. I’ve tried fad diets, calorie counting and Weight Watchers and, while there has been initial success, I usually ended up back where I started, proclaiming loudly, “Who cares if I’m fat? At least I’m happy.” (Yes, food and drink make me THAT happy!) The only diet that put me in the 130-pound range was what I’ve dubbed The Diabetes Diet. I ate and ate, the pounds melted off and I was down to a size 6. Of course, the reason was because my body was developing adult onset Type 1 diabetes, so that was probably not the best weight loss program. It was the easiest though.

So, here I am, once again attempting to lose weight and make healthy choices. I am not a fitness instructor or nutritionist but I thought that I would share the things that have worked for me. Perhaps they will work for you, too.

Eat foods that are organically low in fat and calories. Reading food labels and calorie guides becomes an obsession for me when I am trying to lose weight and feel healthier. When I’m not eating right, I think nothing of picking up a Big Mac from McDonald’s but I’m always shocked when I am being conscientious and am reminded that there are 530 calories in one sandwich and 27g of fat! When I follow a Mediterranean or Weight Watchers type diet, I focus more on lean proteins (chicken, fish, beans, egg whites) and lots of fruits and vegetables. It is also important to pay attention to the fats that you consume. I eliminate or minimize butter from my diet and use olive oil (usually from a Misto) or a light butter substitute like I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Light. I also try to incorporate at least one serving of dairy into my daily intake, usually in the form of a low fat yogurt, cheese or a glass of milk.

Get active for at least 20 minutes per day. This is usually the hardest aspect of weight loss for me. I was NEVER the athletic type. I hate running and yet, when I do get moving, I find myself incorporating walking/running into my exercise routine. I think it is also important to diversify your workout. Walking and running is usually the easiest way to incorporate cardio into your life but there are other ways: Zumba, swimming or ball sports are great ways to get moving that don’t seem quite as mundane as a half an hour on the treadmill. Strength training is also an important element of your routine, whether it is free weights, Nautilus machines, resistance training or a DVD targeting abs, legs and/or arms.

Drink at least 64 ounces of water per day and limit your intake of carbonated beverages and juices. It is fairly common knowledge that it is important to consume eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day, whether you are dieting or not. Not everyone needs exactly 64 ounces, so check out this way of calculating your water intake requirements based on your weight and activity level. Staying hydrated is important to flush out impurities, increase energy, aid in weight loss and maintain regularity. Additional benefits of consuming water are an improved complexion and saving money! If you eat at a restaurant once a week and you only ordered water, you could stand to save $150 or more a year, depending on what you normally order. Drinking a glass of water before mealtime not only helps to increase your water intake, it also helps to trick your mind into thinking you aren’t as hungry. If you aren’t a fan of water, these helpful hints for consuming more water are worth looking into.

Take a multivitamin every day. This is a habit that I picked up from Weight Watchers. While it is important to pay attention to the nutritional content of the calories you are consuming, your food may not always provide the vitamins and minerals you require. My stomach is sensitive to multivitamins so I take One-A-Day Vitacraves, which are gummy vitamins that are easier on my stomach. There are variety that meet varying needs: immunity, energy, Omega-3, etc.

Measure and weigh everything that you put in your mouth. This is one of those areas where there stands to be a large margin of error. When I’ve done Weight Watchers, I would start out weighing and measuring everything and then I’d get lazy and “guesstimate” the quantity. Sometimes, obviously, it is impossible to weigh and measure but, when you are at home, there is no excuse. For under $20 you can get a decent digital kitchen scale with a zero/tare function and it is worth every penny, I assure you. I am often surprised and how much (or how little) 4 ounces of something ends up being.

Do not drink your calories. I love martinis. I love beer. I love wine. Without doubt, if you consume alcohol, you should allow yourself this indulgence from time to time. However, in addition to the effects that alcohol has on your body and your sleep, it is highly caloric. A 3-ounce Grey Goose vodka martini is 240 calories! By the way, my martini glasses hold 6 ounces of liquid, so when I’m making a martini at home, a martini glass with 3 ounces is not half full, it is half empty! A light beer or a glass of wine is a less caloric way to go but a couple glasses of an adult beverage can definitely add up.

Track the calories that you consume and the calories you burn. Whether you are doing it through Weight Watchers points or calorie counting, you simply must track what you are eating. You can do it the old fashioned way, with pen and paper, but there are so many apps available for Android and iPhones or on your computer. With the most recent IOS release, Apple has the Health app where you can track measurements, fitness, nutrition and sleep. I personally use the MyFitnessPal app, which is also available from your computer, because it syncs with my Fitbit. If you don’t have a Fitbit or other activity tracker, I would highly recommend investing in one. As silly as it seems, when you hit your step goal and the little device lights up and vibrates, it really does feel like you’ve accomplished something. I also like the MapMyFitness app because it does a live GPS tracking of walks/runs, in addition to other workouts. One thing I have found with these apps, however, is their tendency to over-assess the calorie burn. If you are using an app to track intake and burn, don’t eat back the calories or use the activity points. If you must, reference this site from the CDC which more accurately depicts the calorie burn for exercise.

Allow yourself a treat from time to time. The thing I hate about changing my eating habits is that I feel that I’m depriving myself of the things that I love. I’m not really a sweets person but for some reason, when I am monitoring the foods I eat, I find I have insane cravings for things like chocolate ice cream. This is where your discretion comes in. I am perfectly happy with a half a cup of fat free chocolate frozen yogurt. If you are a purist, however, make the indulgence and have the Hershey’s chocolate (whether it’s a kiss or full candy bar). Just make sure you account for it in your daily intake.

Schedule a “cheat day” for yourself. I allow myself two cheat days a month. How you define cheat day is up to you. In my mind, I intend for it to be a day when I won’t track and food, drink or exercise, knowing the plan is to get back on track the next day. However, on cheat days I usually end up being aware of the long-term plan and find myself making smarter choices. Instead of a dozen buffalo wings and fried mozzarella, I might have only six buffalo wings and a salad with shredded mozzarella. Instead of that yummy 300 calorie IPA, I opt for a 95 calorie Amstel Light.

Weigh yourself only once a week. This is one that I have a very difficult time sticking to. I’m constantly thinking about the number on the scale. The prevailing opinion is to weigh yourself once a week because of how gains and losses vary from day to day. I’ve seen some diet experts recommend weighing yourself daily so that you can see the direction the scale is going. To see the big losses or gains, once a week is probably the best way to do it. Right now, I’m weighing myself every other day but I intend to change that habit.

Understand that a pound of muscle does not weigh more than a pound of fat. This reminds me of the old riddle, “What weighs more? A pound of feathers or a pound of rocks?” The answer is that they both weigh the same. The same applies here. A pound of muscle weighs the same as a pound of fat, so it should not be factored in to your weigh-in number. The difference is that muscle tissue is denser and leaner than fat tissue. The reality is that a pound of muscle takes up less space than a pound of fat. Where the change can be seen is not on the scale but when you compare your measurements over time.

Reduce salt intake. I am a saltaholic. I would sooner give up my dirty (read: salty) martini before I give up salt. Salt is another weakness of mine but I do know that it is a dieter’s enemy. In addition to the negative impact salt has on blood pressure, maintaining a high level of sodium forces our bodies to retain water in order to dilute the presence of salt. By reducing sodium levels in our diets, we stand to lose 2-3 pounds in water weight alone.

Eat spicy food. Adding chili pepper in the form of hot peppers, cayenne pepper or hot pepper sauce can help boost your metabolism and suppress your appetite. Studies have shown that people that add spice to their food consume less calories at meal time and burn in the neighborhood of 10 extra calories. In addition, I find that spicy food has me reaching for more sips of water, so it’s a win/win!

Plan meals ahead of time. When I’m watching what I eat, I am constantly thinking about food. This is the addiction factor creeping in, I know, but I am sure that this is not uncommon. Every morning, I plan out what I am going to eat that day. I try to have my biggest meal at midday and generally account for about 200 calories in snacks, which I have to do because there are couple of times a day when I have to drink juice or eat fruit to raise my low blood sugar. The benefit of planning your meals is that it helps to prevent last minute indulgences that can throw off your calorie intake. Another activity that I enjoy when planning meals is finding great low-calorie recipes. Two sites that I absolutely love are Skinnytaste and Hungry Girl. In addition to the recipes being healthy, tasty and interesting, each one includes the nutritional information as well as the Weight Watchers Points Plus values.

Find reasons to add extra steps or activity to your regimen. This is one that I’ve heard for years now but it is amazing how you can rack up additional activity points or steps just be being a little less lazy. Park in the spot furthest from the door, take the stairs instead of the elevator, use the shovel instead of the snow blower or get up from your desk and walk for five minutes. It is surprising how quickly this activity can add up.

Get a good night’s sleep. Sleep is a vital aspect to our lives and one that we tend to deprive ourselves of. A higher sleep efficiency leads to more focused and alert waking hours. In addition, the earlier you go to sleep, the less likely you are to engage in late-night snacking. More to the point, sleep deprivation increases the production of the hunger hormone ghrelin  and decreases the satiety hormone leptin. People who are sleep deprived tend to consume more calories, are less active and compensate for fatigue with poor eating choices.

Make weight loss fun! I don’t usually thing that weight loss and fun belong in the same sentence. However, one things that I have found surprisingly beneficial is doing a Diet Bet with some friends. In addition to the financial motivation of the Diet Bet, you have a group of friends with the same goal: to lose weight. The support of friends during a weight loss journey is invaluable. You can start your own Diet Bet or join an existing one at the Diet Bet site. There is also an app for Diet Bet, too!

Winter on Broadway: The Times So Dark & Dreary

Closing NoticeJanuary is typically a bleak month for Broadway. Every year, the winter months prompt the curtain to fall on the final performance of many shows. It’s just the cruel truth of the Great White Way. As audience members, we can look at a certain show and, if there is any artistic merit, we scratch our heads and ask, “Why?” Believe me when I say that any theatre producer worth his (or her) salt does the same thing. They crunch the data and look at shows that have recouped and/or have had long runs and they try to come up with the magic formula that will make their production the next Wicked or Phantom of the Opera.

My colleague and Editor in Chief of OnStage, Chris Peterson, published a blog post regarding the recent shuttering of shows and those that have posted closing notices, specifically Side Show and The Last Ship. He is of the opinion that dramatic musicals in the 21st century, by and large, are destined for failure because people don’t want to shell out the high price for the ticket. On the surface, I can see how he could come to this conclusion. It would appear that musical comedies and epic musicals fare better than their dramatic counterparts but his post got me to thinking about the many other factors that are involved in the closure of a Broadway show.

Without doubt, I am a fan of the original musical. Likewise, I prefer the darker, more dramatic shows to the lighter fare. However, it is getting harder and harder for audience members to take a leap of faith and trust a show written by unknowns about a story that is unfamiliar to them. More and more, Broadway is offering up musical adaptations of well-known films or jukebox musicals. According to the Broadway League’s report of the Demographics of the Broadway Audience in 2013-2014, 80% of the admissions into Broadway theatres were tourists, 21% of them being international. If a tourist is going to purchase a ticket, it is likely going to be for a show that is familiar to them in some way. With a commodity like a well-known film or popular musician’s canon, there is some familiarity, even if the audience member happens to speak a foreign language.

An additional factor to examine is the demographic of the typical audience. In that same study, it was revealed that 68% of Broadway audiences are female and that the average age of the Broadway theatergoer is 44. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the average audience age has remained in the early to mid-forties. Now there is always an exception to the rule but let’s look at shows that have garnered critical or commercial success in the past decade. The Pulitzer Prize winning musical Next to Normal, a rock musical about mental illness, is far from a comedy. Despite the dark subject matter, the show ran for 733 performances. Perhaps it was because the central character was a middle-aged woman suffering from bipolar disorder. Likewise, the three act drama August: Osage County, which ran 648 performances, is a play that explores many dark topics: alcoholism, drug addiction, suicide, incest, marital discord and pedophilia. Clocking in with a running time of three and a half hours, this Pulitzer Prize winner centered around one of the most monstrous matriarchs in contemporary drama and her three middle-aged daughters. These were two very successful, very dark shows that resonated with a principal demographic of the Broadway theatre.

To say that a Broadway production, comedy or tragedy, will not succeed without a celebrity is a little shortsighted. Yes, a celebrity from film or television can pique a person’s interest in a show but it isn’t a guaranteed ticket sale. Look at the musical comedy Honeymoon in Vegas which is based on the 1992 film. Despite having well-known B-list celebrity Tony Danza in a starring role and Tony Award winning composer Jason Robert Brown to its credit, the show has been gasping for air to get to opening night. With a capacity hovering at 75-80% and only 36% of the potential grosses being pulled in during its preview run, it is sure to have investors nervous. Conversely, Spring Awakening, a decidedly dark musical, won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2007, ran 859 performances and starred Lea Michele, Jonathan Groff and John Gallagher, Jr. who were, at the time, virtual unknowns.

When we see closing notices we should also consider elements that are beyond a producer’s control. January is a rough month for New York City. In December 2013, Manhattan Hotel Occupancy was at 90% and plummeted to 77% in January 2014. This is a pretty good barometer of when those 80% tourist theatergoers are in the City to see a show. Even domestic theatergoers feel that post holiday pinch, not to mention Mother Nature’s impact on travel plans. Furthermore, current events could have an unpredictable impact on a show’s success. When hot topics like gun control or racism are constantly in the headlines, shows like Assassins or The Scottsboro Boys do not provide the escapism that an audience member may be craving.

Theatre, despite all of its magic and majesty, is still a business. When a show doesn’t play to capacity, money is being lost. Whatever the reason, be it the economy or the production itself, a show that is losing half a million dollars a week is not going to last long. There will continue to be the warhorses and the surprising juggernauts that come along and fill the pockets of very happy producers but those productions account for a small fraction of all of the shows on Broadway. Instead of mourning the loss of a favorite show (and believe me, I’ve seen favorite shows prematurely close), I prefer to see the glass as half full and look forward to all of the new shows that are waiting in the wings to become the next Wicked.

On The Importance of Stuff

Welcome, January, you cruel month you. For the past six weeks most of us have stuffed ourselves with turkey, attended decadent holiday parties, unwrapped gifts galore and rang in the New Year with perhaps a little too much to drink. Now we are perched at the top of 2015 preparing to traverse the road before us, no matter how smooth or rough it may be. We are at the point now when we face the burgeoning debt accumulated over the last few months, start setting our alarm clocks for the daily grind that now seems to grind harder and begin the hibernation forced upon us by winter’s chill.

Yesterday, I was looking for a Phillips screwdriver to fix a chair that had gone wonky. For weeks that screwdriver had been in a certain drawer. Naturally, when I went to get it, it wasn’t there. Was it in the Elf Kit? Was it misplaced after Izzy put batteries in her RC quad-copter? The only thing I knew was that I couldn’t find it when I needed it. So that got me to thinking about the things which I will, for want of a better label, call “my stuff.” I spent a good deal of time this year filling two 10-yard dumpsters with “stuff” that we no longer used or that was damaged beyond repair. There were many moments during that process that the word “stuff” made me think of this infamous George Carlin skit.

Every year, shortly after Thanksgiving, my husband and I get requests for lists of what we want for Christmas. I try throughout the year to add things to my wish list and to my children’s so that when I am asked it is only a matter of sending a hyperlink. As I speed toward my 50th year on this Earth, I find that I am less concerned with tangible objects and more with experiences which, again, leads me think about stuff. So, I’ve come up a timeline, of sorts, about stuff.

Infancy to 3 Years: “I am so glad that there are people that make sure I get all of the stuff I need. Food to eat, clean clothes to wear, a warm place to sleep at night and people to love me because I can’t do that stuff for myself.”

3-10 Years: “I still like the food, the clothes and being warm but now I could really use some stuff to entertain me because, let’s be honest, hanging out with grown-ups is boring unless they are playing with me and my stuff.”

11-15 Years: “I really need more stuff. Stuff that will keep me out of my parents’ hair. Stuff that will make me popular and attractive and stuff that will make people want to be my friend. Also, I wish my siblings would stop touching my stuff.”

15-18 Years: “So you’re telling me that in order to get more stuff I need to get a job and pay for my own stuff? Oh, by the way, thanks for the food, clothing and shelter. Or not. Because I’m a teenager and I’m entitled to all that stuff.”

18-21 Years: “Oh. My. God. My roommate is touching my stuff. Also, can you please send me money and stuff like laundry detergent, Ramen noodles and spending money because they don’t have the same stuff here in the dorm as they do at home?”

21-25 Years: “Wow! I have a credit card and I can buy a lot of stuff for my new apartment and pay for stuff at the bar (and I won’t realize how much it will cost until I am in my thirties). Also, I look amazing in all of the stuff I bought at the mall yesterday. I’ll make my school loan payment tomorrow.”

25-30 Years: “So I can’t buy any more stuff because I have to save money for my wedding and/or down payment on a house/apartment. Once I have the house, though, I will need to fill it with stuff.”

30-35 Years: “Wait! My stuff is now our stuff? WTF? And, Oh. My. God. People are coming over so we need to move “our” stuff out of the way so that people think we live life according to Martha Stewart Living.”

35-45 Years: “After I have spent most of my money on a mortgage and paying bills, anything I have left is spent on buying stuff for my kids. Also, it would appear that my stuff is now their stuff. WTF? I need a drink. So the stuff I need has to be 80 proof or higher.”

45-55 Years: “We can’t afford any stuff. We are paying off a legacy of debt and sending three kids to college. Also, we are having a lot of tag sales to sell our stuff.”

55-65 Years: “This house is really big and there isn’t as much stuff in it anymore because we threw it in a dumpster or sold it at a tag sale. Time to move to a smaller place where we intend to only bring the special stuff with us.”

65-75 Years: “Now that we’ve retired and live in a smaller house, we don’t need any more stuff. We will gladly buy stuff for our children and grandchildren but we have everything we need. Also, we’re on a Social Security budget. So there’s that.”

75+ Years: “The stuff we want can’t be shipped via Amazon. The stuff that is most important is the memories we made, the traditions we established and the people that we share our time with. We are so glad that there are people in our lives that make sure we get all of the stuff we need. Food to eat, clean clothes to wear, a warm place to sleep at night and people to love us. Because we can’t do that ourselves.”

george-carlin-stuff

I Am, Always, A Work In Progress

calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutionsNormally, when the New Year comes, I don’t succumb to the trend of resolving to do things better, faster and/or more efficiently. Generally speaking, I don’t make resolutions because I believe that making them is a way of just setting yourself up for failure. I mean, who am I kidding? I won’t lose 30 pounds, I won’t stop having diabetes, I won’t stop living paycheck to paycheck and I won’t write the next award-winning play/novel. Does that make me a realist or does it make me a pessimist bound to fulfill her own prophecy? Hard to tell.

So began last year’s post about my New Year’s resolutions followed by a list of somewhat attainable goals. Looking back on the year, I can see where I succeeded and the many places I faltered. So, let’s take a look at last year’s resolutions, shall we?

  1. Be accountable for my actions and the impact those actions have on my life and on the lives of others. I think I have learned to be more accountable for my actions. When I screw up, I more readily admit that I screwed up. I’m still not perfect and, to be honest, this is sort of an ongoing resolution that will never be attained 100%.
  2. Be more honest with myself and with the people in my life. Especially myself. I have learned to trust people a little bit more and have a few friends that I have grown closer to this year. Honesty is hard and I am still not there. But I am trying.
  3. Be more relentless about saying “I love you” to the people that matter. I am not what you’d call an affectionate person. I’m not a hugger, a kisser or a PDA person. I still find myself making a concerted effort to say “I love you,” which means that I’m still working on this, too.
  4. Clean the basement and attic and utilize the space for something that is more effective than being a hiding place for our junk. Well, in 2014 we filled two 10-yeard dumpsters with junk. The attic was almost there and then one of the twins made it her bedroom. She’s a good sport and lives among boxes of Christmas decorations and toddler clothes. I suspect this project will be done in short order as will the basement, which is more than halfway there. If you’ve seen either our attic or our basement, you would know what at truly daunting task it is.
  5. Complain less. Comparatively speaking, I’ve got it pretty good. I still complain. Or maybe, more appropriately, I pass a lot of judgment. My kids accuse me often of drinking too much “judgy juice.” Fortunately, I have a very small group of people to whom I voice my complaints and judgment.
  6. Do more jigsaw puzzles. I did a lot of jigsaw puzzles during our two week vacation in Maine. Once I have a space where we can keep a puzzle going (or the puzzle board that has been on my wish list for two years now), I think I will do more puzzles. I love working a puzzle while the TV plays in the background.
  7. Eat more fruits, vegetables and seafood. Eat less fatty meats, cheese and carbs. Well this has been a roller coaster of a year for me in terms of my diet. I made a lot of headway and lost about 20 pounds but then managed to do a 180 and reclaim all of that lost weight and then some. I am at the heaviest I’ve been in my whole life, with the exception of when I was pregnant with twins, which tilted the scale over the 200 pound mark. While weight loss and better living is a boring resolution, it clearly needs to be a priority in 2015.
  8. Eliminate jealousy from my life and realize that another person’s success does not mean that I have failed. I know I should not judge my own self-worth when I see other people succeed. I think that social media does not help. People tend to bring forth their best or their worst selves on social medial. While I can just roll my eyes at the complaining, I can’t help but envy the person that got the promotion, has the perfect family, traveled to exotic places far and wide, got their show published/produced, etc. There are two things I can think of to combat this weakness: do more that will help me achieve my personal goals and stay away from social media. Hard to tell which one is the more attainable goal.
  9. Invite my friends into my home more often, for no special reason, and not worry about how clean the house is before I do it. I’ve been better about not caring about the mess so much. Now I just need to de-clutter my calendar so that we can host more gatherings.
  10. Knock the socks off of the people I work with. Impress someone at Gartner and get a long overdue promotion. Well, as we head into the new fiscal year, it is hard to tell whether or not I will actually be promoted. I do know that I have worked harder than ever this year and I know that it has gotten noticed. While my paycheck and title may not reflect that, I am proud of the work that I’ve done this year.
  11. Learn to say “no” more. I have had moments when I’ve said “no” but when I look at my schedule, I see that I still haven’t mastered the “just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should” philosophy. I have a lot of talents and I want to share them but sometimes that one extra thing is what tips me into feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
  12. Learn to sew – even if it’s just basic things like place mats, pillows or the hem on a pair of pants. While I found my sewing machine in 2014, I did not take it out of its box. I didn’t even pick up a needle and thread in 2014. So I’m going to keep this one on the list.
  13. Let go of the need to do more and be more and realize that, for today, I’ve done the best I can, and that’s enough. I am a person that continually strives for perfection, so letting go is not in my DNA. We’ll add this to the “still working on it” column.
  14. Limit alcohol intake to weekends and special occasions. <Insert sounds of maniacal laughter here.>
  15. Lower my A1C. While I have lowered my A1C incrementally from appointment to appointment in 2014, it still needs a vast improvement. This really goes hand in hand with the managing of my diet.
  16. Master my “fancy camera” and learn how to take really good photographs. Well, Santa brought me some new lighting equipment, a new camera bag and some fun circular flashes for my lens, so I am determined now more than ever to take better pictures and take them more often.
  17. Read more books. When I think back to the number of books that I read in 2013, this was the year of getting back to reading. I will admit that I sometimes combine reading with the audio version of the book but all-in-all I have spent less time watching stories and more time reading and listening to them. In 2014, I completed: Gone Girl, Dark Places, Sharp Objects, The Giver, Me Before You, I’ll Give You The Sun, Eleanor & Park, Papa Hemingway and half of Still Alice. Not bad, considering I read nothing except plays in 2013.
  18. Resist the temptation for the following behaviors on Facebook: vaguebooking, passive aggression, attention seeking statuses or self deprecation. Better to say nothing at all. I have found myself thinking a lot more before I share something on social media, be it a status or a comment. There were even times when I would vocalize my thoughts to my husband and tell him that I am walking away from the computer. Still not perfected but getting better.
  19. Save $20 a week and use the money to fund one of the following in 2015: a writer’s retreat to Oregon for myself or a short cruise with Billy. Yeah, saving money was NOT something I did in 2014. Period. The end.
  20. See more movies at the movie theatre with a big bucket of popcorn in my lap and someone I care about by my side. I have seen a few movies this year but in the day and age of Netflix and streaming, the cost is so formidable. I did see Into The Woods, which was beautiful from a cinematography standpoint, even if I have no soul and don’t love the source material.
  21. Send more handwritten correspondence. This is something that I think is important and, in the age of technology, it is truly a lost art. I did not do a lot of handwritten correspondence in 2014, if any. I hope to in the forthcoming year.
  22. Spend no more than a half an hour a day on social media. Oh, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, isn’t it?
  23. Take more chances. Take those chances with the understanding that the answer might be “no” and that being told “no” is okay. I took a couple chances this year and most often was told “no” or “we’ll see.” I’m finding as I grow older that it doesn’t sting as much as it used to. I think I shall take more chances in 2015.
  24. Volunteer somewhere I am truly needed that is a place that will remind me of how blessed I am. I started volunteering with my daughter at Tails of Courage in Danbury this year. It has been a great experience thus far. She loves dogs and Tails of Courage rescues animals and facilitates their adoption. This is a perfect way to spend more time with my daughter and do something that makes a difference in our community and in the lives of innocent animals.
  25. Write every day. My writing, which is an avocation, has taken a curious turn this year. I started a new blog after my dear friend Jude passed away. I have been sporadic at best when it comes to posting to it. I also started reviewing local productions and writing columns for OnStage, a blog dedicated to promoting local theatre. In 2015, I hope to really put the pedal to the metal and complete a few projects.

Most of what I resolved to in 2014 will stay on the list for 2015. Since I am ever-changing and always looking to broaden my horizons, here are five more that I’ve added to the list for this year:

  1. Learn to play an instrument.
  2. Write a novel.
  3. Learn to shuck my own oysters.
  4. Revisit and fine tune my abilities as a performer. Nobody in the area has a real sense of what I can do and my audition skills have gotten so rusty that I’ve not yet been afforded the chance to show them.
  5. Start a vegetable and herb garden in the spring.

Every year is filled with challenges, some expected and most unforeseen. On the eve before my birthday, which also happens to be the start of a new calendar year, I am happy to have made it through the outgoing year without major incident and look forward to a new year with family, friends and experiences that make me the complicated, slightly imperfect but well-worth-knowing person that I am.

Happy 2015!

Tradition!

holiday-traditions
It’s Christmas Eve and, despite my most fervent attempt to be as prepared as possible, I still find myself frantically trying to get everything “just so” in an effort to make Christmas as joyous and memorable as possible. As I was tying the final bows on the packages, I found myself thinking about the traditions that my husband and I have carried down from our families and the ones that we have started on our own.

Christmas Around the House
If you know my husband, he is a BIG fan of Christmas. I mean huge. As in, when we retire, he’ll probably dress up as Santa and be at local firehouse pancake breakfasts. As soon as the last Thanksgiving leftover has been consumed, the house is bedecked in festive decor, the only music that is played in the car is Christmas music and every Christmas movie known to man is watched in heavy rotation. We used to end the film fest on Christmas Evel with It’s A Wonderful Life but we’ve changed it up in the years past, adding The Polar Express and Arthur Christmas into the mix.

Another tradition that we’ve incorporated is the often-loathed Elf on the Shelf. I’ll tell you, Edwin the Elf was the best ally when the kids were little. He was also the guy responsible for delivering the Christmas jammies on Christmas Eve, a longstanding tradition in our house. Now that that kids know the story behind the little guy, they take pleasure in hiding him and setting him up in a “scene” or two.

Elf
Holiday Open House
Years ago we would do a Harvest Festival in the fall, which is our favorite season. However, the number of birthdays, friends in shows and the conflict with Halloween tended to be a scheduling nightmare. Now each year we have a casual holiday open house, starting early in the afternoon and going until the last guest leaves. We try to incorporate some fun events, including a Yankee Swap and, new this year, an Ugly Sweater Contest.

UglySweater
The Joe Iconis Christmas Spectacular

Since its inception, the Dempsters have loved The Joe Iconis Christmas Spectacular, which started at ARS Nova and has since taken up residence at 54 Below. The show features lots of irreverent moments with regular appearances by characters that include the Sweet Naked Baby Jesus, Drunk Mrs. Claus, the evil Ms. Needlebaum and the Christmas Angel. Joining Joe Iconis & Family are a bevy of Broadway stars that sing traditional and contemporary Christmas tunes including my absolute favorite: “Celebrate Christmas With Me.” I promise you, this is a Christmas concert not to be missed.

Iconis
Christmas Eve Dinner
Growing up, given that my father’s second wife was Italian, I spent many a Christmas Eve enjoying the Feast of the Seven Fishes, followed by attending midnight mass and then coming home to a boisterous parade where the youngest in the family had the honor of placing the Baby Jesus in the manger display that had been prepared for his arrival. I miss those days. However, if I were even to suggest a Feast with Just One Fish, given nobody in my family really likes fish, I think there would be a rebellion in our house. Instead, we now honor the tradition that was started by maternal grandmother: we make a big pot of chili. While not as extravagant, I found it to be a great stress reliever, especially in the years when we had hours of toy assembly and gift wrapping that still needed to be done. My grandmother’s philosophy when preparing chili on Christmas Eve was simple. It was something that could be kept warm and eaten at your convenience, whether your were a new mom putting an excited 5-year-old to bed or a weary traveler arriving late in the evening. When you were ready to eat, there was a hot meal on the stove.

Snacks for the Big Guy & His Crew
Not a super-unique tradition, I know, but one we’ve always done. We leave cookies and milk out for Santa and carrots for Rudolph and the eight reindeer. When the kids were younger, we would decorate the cookies, which had a very large amount of frosting and decorations, much to the delight of my husband who would step up every year to eat the sugary treats.

Cookies
The Christmas Pickle
This is a fairly new tradition in our house and one that neither my husband nor I did as a child. A tradition that is thought to have started in Germany, it is one that our decidedly un-German family has adopted. The night before Christmas, the pickle is hidden in the tree and on Christmas morning the kids hunt for it. Instead of bestowing a reward upon or promising good fortune to the person that finds the pickle, the lucky child gets to open the first gift of Christmas morning.

Pickle
Christmas Morning
When I was growing up, nobody was allowed out of bed until my father went downstairs to confirm whether or not Santa had come to visit our house. The reality of it is that he was probably starting a pot of coffee. Once we came downstairs, we were scurried to the dining table to have breakfast. Mind you, we were never breakfast people growing up but on Christmas Day, you were going to eat breakfast by jove. Thankfully, our stockings were doled out and we were given a taste of what was to come. My husband’s family has a tradition of preparing Pillsbury Orange Rolls, which are eaten in the living room amidst the Christmas chaos. He has now added the additional sugary rush of Monkey Bread to the mix, in case the kids are lacking energy. For Mom & Dad, there are mimosas and Bloody Marys. I don’t recall any of the adults of my youth sipping adult beverages on Christmas morning but maybe it was because they were sipping them into the wee hours of the night.

Once the first gift has been opened, the opener then finds a gift under the tree for someone else and the family watches as each person unwraps their gift and selects the next. This is a nice way to spread out the events of the morning and to see what everyone has gotten. It also allows you to prepare the camera for those awesome moments when the recipient is thrilled with what they receive.

OMGAnother tradition that we have incorporated, that has proven to be a savior many times over, is the assembly of the Elf Kit: scissors, box cutter, wire cutters, screwdrivers, pliers and batteries in all sizes. The Elf Kit has saved us from many a meltdown for that impossible packaging that needs to ripped away as quickly as possible so that the kids can begin playing with their gifts right away. While it was more of a godsend during the younger years, I don’t care what Amazon says, there is no such thing as frustration-free packaging, even for adult gifts.

Christmas Dinner
I don’t think there was a really a traditional Christmas dinner that I had growing up. For some reason, I think if we were going to have a fancy Christmas dinner, it was a turkey. As the years wore on, we tended to go with beef of some sort – prime rib or a roast beef. However, my mother-in-law, who preferred to spend the day with her family instead of slaving in the kitchen, fed her family steaks on Christmas Day. Let me tell you something, this is the perfect way to have a nice dinner without hours of prep and frustration. When we are preparing the meal on Christmas Day, this is what you will be served.

It will be interesting to see what traditions continue as the children get old and what traditions they carry on with their families. One of the most important things we share with the generations before us and the ones that follow is tradition, whether keeping old ones alive or creating new ones. In the end, it isn’t the tradition itself, it is the memory of sharing them with those people that mean the most to us, near and far. May you and those people you hold dear make many pleasant memories this holiday season, ones that will sustain you in times of happiness and in sorrow for many years to come.

Happy Hanukkah! Merry Christmas! Happy Kwanzaa! Joyous Solstice! Blessed Yule!

TheatreWorks New Milford Announces 2015 Season

On Saturday, November 23rd, TheatreWorks New Milford provided an invited audience with a sneak peek of their forthcoming production of Ken Ludwig’s The Game’s Afoot. Following the preview, the beautifully appointed holiday-themed set served as a backdrop for various announcements from the Board at TheatreWorks.

President Glenn Couture took the stage, thanking the audience for making TheatreWorks Connecticut Magazine’s 2014 winner for Best Community Theatre. He then acknowledged the passing of some of our community’s most beloved fixtures, including Jude Callirgos Robinson and Nancy Camp, both longtime friends of TheatreWorks. Couture then announced that the passing of one of TheatreWorks founding members, Hope Meinhardt, would be commemorated with the naming of the performance space as The Hope Meinhardt Memorial Auditorium.

Board Member Jill Fay Pace then announced the upcoming children’s programs, including the two TWKids productions for 2015: Dear Edwina Jr. and Shrek Jr. Continuing the tradition of bringing lesser known or more complex pieces to the stage, Secretary Joseph Russo announced the Page2Stage selections for the next season, which include Tom Eyen’s Women Behind Bars, Terrence McNally’s Master Class, Israel Horovitz’s My Old Lady and the return of Jeff Goode’s The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, which was produced on the TheatreWorks stage in 1998. Russo also informed the audience that in the summer, TheatreWorks will be introducing a Workshop Series for Connecticut Playwrights.

TheatreWorks President Glenn Couture announces the 2015 season.

TheatreWorks President Glenn Couture announces the 2015 season.

President Glenn Couture then announced the forthcoming productions that will be mounted by the theatre. Kicking off the season will be Nicky Lyon’s comedy/drama, The Lyons, directed by Matt Austin. The Lyons centers on the passing of patriarch Ben Lyons as his wife and children face the prospect of a future without him. The Lyons will open on February 20th and will run through March 13th.

Priscilla Squiers will reprise the role of Florence Foster Jenkins in Stephen Temperley’s play two-character play Souvenir. Joined by pianist Greg Chrzczon, Squiers will portray the wealthy socialite whose fame was achieved through the performance of notoriously off-key recitals, including a sold-out recital at Carnegie Hall. Souvenir will open on May 1st and will run through May 23rd.

Following Souvenir, Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still will take the stage under the direction of Sonnie Osborne. The play revolves around Sarah, a photojournalist injured in a roadside bombing in Iraq, and her reported boyfriend James as they navigate the emotional aftermath of an event that alters not only their relationship but the way they will live their life going forward. Time Stands Still will open on July 1st and will run through August 1st.

In the fourth slot will be Ken Ludwig’s farce Leading Ladies about two down-on-their-luck Shakespearean actors who are looking to get a piece of an ailing woman multi-million dollar inheritance through whatever means necessary. Mistaken identity and unexpected twists will leave audiences rolling in the aisle. At this time, the director is to be determined. Leading Ladies will open on September 18th and will run through October 10th.

The 2015 season will wrap up with a production of John Van Druten’s classic Bell, Book and Candle under the direction of Joseph Russo. The romantic comedy introduces us to Gillian Holroyd, a witch who casts a love spell on her unsuspecting neighbor, Shep Henderson. Bell, Book and Candle will open on December 4th and will run through January 9th.

For more information about auditions, tickets and other events at TheatreWorks New Milford, visit their web site at www.theatreworks.us.

A Most Passionate Love Affair

Dumpster
On Thursday, I was at the office and some colleagues and I were discussing our weekend plans. One was grateful to be escaping the impending snow to attend a wedding in Florida, another was just looking forward to two days away from the office and I was brimming with the anticipation of filling the 10-yard dumpster that has been deposited in our driveway, hoping that the snow wouldn’t so apocalyptic that it interfered with my dumpster plans.

My colleague looked at me with surprise as I explained that I had even taken Monday off so that I could have three days to fill the dumpster.

“You’re taking time off to clean?” The look of disbelief on her face spoke volumes.

Yes. I take time off to clean. I revel in the delight of the dumpster. It would be a safe assessment to state that I am genetically predisposed to collect things. There are places in my house that if photographed and taken out of context could easily appear on Hoarders. The anxiety that stems from this knowledge is omnipresent. Despite the order and coziness of my living room, knowing what was lurks one floor below is a constant source of unrest for me. So, from time to time, we rent a dumpster and we fill it. Every toss of debris chips away at the hoard but, more importantly, at my accumulated disquiet.

Of course, this process is never a no holds barred purge of the clutter, which is why this is the third dumpster we’ve acquired in less than 18 months. The weekends devoted to the dumpster require thought, careful sorting, physical stamina and, God willing, a label maker.

My husband and children are always willing to help, which can sometimes, unintentionally, be a source of tension. My youngest daughter, bless her heart, actually likes to spend time with me, even if it means cleaning! However, I have a method to my madness and the best thing to do, until I need beasts of burden, is to leave me to my own crazy devices.

The payoff is a great. When the dumpster leaves us on Tuesday it will be filled to the brim and a bit more of our space will be reclaimed. I am sure that we will require at least one, if not two, more dumpster adventures in the spring but the good news is that there will finally be room for the Christmas tree!

My Broken Foot Will Never Heal

WDD
Today is World Diabetes Day. Here are some sobering facts about diabetes:

  • Almost 39 million people in North America have diabetes. If we do not act now, this figure will reach 50 million by 2035.
  • 1 in 9 adults have diabetes in North America – the highest prevalence across regions. 27% of them have not been diagnosed and are at a higher risk of developing harmful and costly complications.
  • In North America, diabetes will cause 297,000 deaths in 2014. 41% of those deaths will be in people under the age of 60.
  • Worldwide, every 7 seconds one person dies from diabetes or complications of diabetes.
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, kidney failure and amputation.
  • Worldwide, $310 billion will be spent on treating diabetes.

In November of 2008, less than two months shy of my 40th birthday, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I have decided to re-share the account of my diagnosis today, as I have another related blog post planned for the 6th anniversary of my diagnosis.

BrokenFoot
Despite the fact I had been around the theatre practically since birth, it wasn’t until 1979 that I first acted before an audience that wasn’t assembled in my living room. It was in a children’s play called Once Upon A Clothesline and I portrayed the pivotal role of Dr. Beetle who aids the unfortunate clothespin Pinette, who has fallen from the clothesline.

We rehearsed at the YMCA in whichever room was available to accommodate our tween-aged thespian troupe. On one particular afternoon we rehearsed in the gym amidst the gymnastics equipment. Like most 10-year-old girls who had been swept up in the whirlwind of Nadia Comaneci’s 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, I took gymnastics. And having taken two years of gymnastics classes at that very same Y, I fancied myself a gymnast. One wintry afternoon, during my offstage time, I found myself wandering over to the balance beam and performing a round-off dismount that ended in a very un-Comanecilike landing.

The next morning my swollen and purple foot prompted a visit to the doctor’s office. Upon further examination, the doctor suspected that the foot might be broken and put my foot in a temporary splint that would stabilize it until we got to the hospital to have it x-rayed. As he was wrapping my foot, I remember crying. Not because my foot hurt, although it did, but because I was going to miss out on my big acting debut.

A broken growth plate, a foot cast and a set of crutches later, the accommodating creative team rallied and I was still able to make my acting debut. In fact, the doctor that made her entrance on crutches was cause for a bit of a chortle. So, despite the drama and the tears, the show still went on and I with it.

Throughout the years, many of my acting experiences have had a “broken foot” that I’ve had to work through alongside the performance: my aunt’s suicide, the death of my grandfather, my sister’s near fatal accident, my father’s cancer diagnosis. In many ways, having a show to focus on has helped me work through those difficult times. It is probably one of the many reasons that I have such a passion for theatre and why I repeatedly refer to it as my one true constant.

Nowadays, after having dallied in many of the theatre’s disciplines – acting, writing, directing, design, stage management, choreography and crew – I find myself opting for directing projects. Don’t get me wrong, I love acting but because I have to be more discretionary with how I select my theatre projects I usually opt for directing projects. In most cases I am more passionate about the shows that I have the opportunity to direct than the ones that I would be interested in auditioning for.

Of course, as fate often dictates, when it rains it pours. 2009 promises to be quite the theatrical year for me. I have received four offers to direct, two of which I have accepted. Furthermore, while official announcements won’t be made until January, there are a few other theatre-related endeavors that I will have a hand in. Naturally, amidst this flurry of theatrical activity, two dream roles that I would give my eye-teeth to audition for have surfaced. Given my love for theatre, all of this opportunity is akin to letting a kid loose in a candy store. And being the realist that I am, I have been waiting for a few months for the other shoe to drop.

And it has.

The shoe first dropped with the reminder that I need to be cognizant of the other responsibilities that I have in my life: my family, my marriage, my job. Regretfully, I never pursued my theatrical ambitions in earnest and, therefore, my love of the stage does not pay the bills. As such, there is no justification for my theatrical adventures outside of the happiness and personal fulfillment it brings me. Given the strain that it puts on the other aspects of my life and recognizing the selfishness of pursuing an unrealized dream is basically a dropping shoe that was both inevitable and justified.

However, unbeknownst to me at the time, that dropping shoe was falling off of a broken foot.

DiabetesCongrats
Last week I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. During tech week for Little Women and the week abroad that followed I was feeling a bit under the weather. I knew something was up and scheduled a doctor’s appointment for the Monday following my return from the UK. At the appointment I listed off my symptoms and the nurse asked me if I had history of diabetes in my family. After a couple of quick tests in the office, it was evident that I did, in fact, have diabetes. My doctor sent me to the pharmacy and I was put on insulin straight away. The next day, I went to the endocrinologist who explained to me that I had such high sugar and ketone levels that I narrowly escaped ketoacidosis and hospitalization. Another blood test later, it was revealed that I did indeed have type 1 diabetes and that I would be on insulin injections for the rest of my life.

Now, like any self-respecting theatre aficionado, I have seen Steel Magnolias and, until now, that play/film had formed the basis for my knowledge of diabetes, specifically type 1 which Julia Roberts’ character Shelby has. When I tell people of my diagnosis, I can see in their faces whether or not they are replaying select scenes Steel Magnolias in their heads. And that’s okay. I have done it countless times, too.

There are times when I’m scared. There are times when I’m pissed off. There are times when I’m sad. There are times when I’m defiant. And those feelings will not go away, much like the disease responsible for generating them. I’m sure these emotions will grow more infrequent as I prepare for a lifetime of “managing” diabetes. It is just a matter of incorporating them, and it, into my now drastically altered life.

It is amazing what a person can learn in two weeks. Naturally, I am reading as much as I can about the disease and am doing my level best to get it under control. My life experiences have provided a pretty solid medical knowledge, so I’m learning the textbook side of things fairly easily and I’ve become a pro at injecting insulin into my now bruise-covered stomach. But in the past two weeks I’ve also learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned that I have a passion for many things: my family, my friends and my art. I’ve also learned how difficult it is to balance so many loves. While it isn’t a skill I’ve yet mastered, it is one I plan to hone. But as Emerson says, art is a jealous mistress. Believe me, I recognize the priorities I’ve got at the moment but I also know that my mistress will wait only so long before she gets restless.

So here I am, left to steady my course and face the road ahead. Yes, I have a broken foot and, while it may slow me down for a bit, it will not stop me. So, despite the drama and the tears, the show will go on and I will go on with it.

Mark my words.

 

‘The Normal Heart’ Beats Strong at The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts

Photo Credit: Stephen Cihanek Photography

Photo Credit: Stephen Cihanek Photography

It is a Tuesday night. You pour yourself a glass of wine, fire up the laptop and log on to your favorite social media site. You scroll through post after post about the Ebola virus. Some people make jokes, some criticize the President’s response, some admonish the management of the first cases in the United States and some decry the mistreatment of the health care workers whose life’s work is to eradicate the world of this disease. Fearmongers and realists abound as we attempt to make sense of an admittedly scary situation.

Now replace the word Ebola in the above paragraph with AIDS.

In the early 80s, New York based writer Larry Kramer watched HIV/AIDS rush relentlessly into the lives of the gay community and take hold, only to let go when its victims exhaled their dying breath. The then mysterious disease received little, if any, attention from the media, City Hall, the federal government or the medical community. Even those that seemed to be in immediate danger from the disease ignored early cautionary guidance urging them to stop having sex as a way to prevent transmission of the disease. With no viral media and the minimal coverage relegated to page six, Kramer was prompted to become the co-founder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis to advocate for the research into the cause of this insidious disease. Hold a mirror up to Kramer’s life, place a pen in his hand and the result is The Normal Heart, the award-winning autobiographical drama now playing at The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts.

Photo Credit: Stephen Cihanek Photograpy

Photo Credit: Stephen Cihanek Photograpy

In recent years, The Normal Heart, which was originally produced at The Public Theater in 1985, has received revitalized critical acclaim with a star-studded turn on Broadway and a film adaptation for HBO. Kramer’s play is a diatribe against the hurdles faced by the gay community in the early 80s and it is infused with anger, frustration and profound sadness. Despite the clear agenda of the script, Kramer crafts intricate and diverse characters, men with subtle differences who paint the common thread of HIV/AIDS with their own personal reactions to the epidemic.

The principal character of Ned Weeks, portrayed with great passion and intricacy by Michael Wright, is the embodiment of Kramer himself. Weeks is deeply committed to his cause and is justifiably angry at the reaction, or lack thereof, to this mysterious “gay cancer” pervading his life and the lives of those around him. He is bombastic to a fault and is never afraid to speak his mind, which sometimes has devastating results. Wright delivers the performance of a lifetime as he navigates the demanding range of emotions penned by Kramer. The rage and pathos demonstrated by Wright are tempered by moments of self-deprecating humor and quiet gentleness, resulting in what can be defined as a tour de force accomplishment.

As Weeks’ lover  and New York Times style reporter Felix, Miles Everett is both gentile and impassioned. In the earlier moments of the play, Everett came off as reserved and uncomfortable, which was perhaps a directorial choice given the awkward first encounters he has with Weeks. As his performance progressed, however, he eased into the role and, once there, delivered some of the production’s most heartbreaking and honest moments.

Vicki Sosbe’s portrayal of the wheelchair-bound Dr. Emma Brookner is terse and ferocious. Based on  real-life physician and early HIV/AIDS researcher Linda Laubenstein, Dr. Brookner is uncompromising in her quest to find the cause of the disease that is ravaging the gay community while issuing warnings to anyone who will listen, be it the government or her patients. Sosbe’s monologue, delivered to a bureaucrat holding the purse strings for grant funds, is blazing and brutally honest, worthy of mid-performance applause.

Photo Credit: Stephen Cihanek Photography

Photo Credit: Stephen Cihanek Photography

Each character in Kramer’s play has a moment where the audience is allowed to peer into the most
harrowing moments of the effect HIV/AIDS had on the gay community. Todd Santa Maria’s poignant depiction of mothers flying into to town to say goodbye to their sons, Kyle Pinto’s off-handed representation of the indifference of Mayor Koch’s administration, Christopher Bird’s self-centered and uneasy approach to sibling acceptance and Michael Reilly’s fearful account of the possibility of government conspiracy, quarantine and loss of insurance are all threads in this most intricate tapestry. Of particular note is J. Scott Williams, as Weeks’ adversarial and closeted friend. His heartrending account of taking his dying lover to see his mother is a devastating recollection of the fear, agony and discrimination experienced by those afflicted with HIV/AIDS.

Andy Okell’s white diorama set-design, reminiscent of the designs used in the Off-Broadway and Broadway productions, served its function as a canvas for the effective projections utilized throughout the production. However, for the majority of the performance, images are not projected, making the flat white walls appear stark. Likewise, Brian Casella’s lighting design lacked color and texture that could have given the set more dimension. Instead, the lighting often left the actors washed out or cast in shadow.

Under David Bass’ detailed and clearly heartfelt direction, The Normal Heart comes off as what it should be: an actor’s play with a glimpse into our recent history when action was necessary. A different course of action may have helped slow the spread of a disease that has resulted in 39 million deaths worldwide since 1981. Larry Kramer was a trailblazer of HIV/AIDS activism, earning his recent inclusion in the Out100 as not only an activist and writer but as a legend.

In our community we often see theatrical pieces referred to as important. While I postulate that all theatre on some level is important, The Normal Heart is, without doubt, one of the most important plays of our time. I urge you to make time in your schedule to see this accomplished interpretation of a rarely produced theatrical gem at The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts.


THE NORMAL HEART runs November 14, 15, 21 and 22 at 8:00pm and November 16 at 2:00pm. Tickets for all shows are $19.99 for General Admission. Students will be admitted for $15. Tickets available at www.brookfieldtheatre.org.