Month: December 2004



Not only does my friend, Mat, have an encyclopedic knowledge of music, fine art and drama (from consumption, folks, not book learnin’), he’s also an artist himself.

For several years now, he has created tiny puppet people of all types just because. They’re insanely detailed, especially considering how small they are: most fit in my hand, and Mat, a tall, rangy type, has far larger (if more dextrous) fingers.

I’m gonna have to ask Mat’s permission before I devote one of my TypePad photo albums to his work, but since he sent me this latest photo of my little ME, I figure I’m allowed to show it off if I like. Apparently inspired by me on stilts, which I especially love. (I didn’t actually wear my glasses as the Weird Family Mom, but this is exactly how I felt at 7’2″, for sure.)

Thanks, Mat. Now let’s get back to our regularly scheduled lives as art observers.

Next stop, the Chocolate Room.



I’ll admit, I went into Spanglish not wanting to like it. I was one of three people who didn’t like As Good As It Gets but my loathing was deep and pure enough for three million. My particular creative bugaboo has always been Wasted Potential, and believe you me, if you’d read Mark Andrus’s brilliant, dark, tender, touching original screenplay for AGAIG, you’d be pissed off, too.

I’m a lot older and a little bit wiser and I don’t fall into deep, hopeless chasms of righteous indignation like I used to. Spanglish was…well, good. In a way. There are some charming scenes and some terrific laughs and some enchanting performances, Cloris Leachman is her usual crackerjack actor self, Adam Sandler has a few great moments and Paz Vega should be in every movie made until she dies.

Sadly, Spanglish was also very, very bad, in exactly the same way that AGAIG was. I’m beginning to think that the chief trick to good art is, as Albert Einstein said about, well, everything, to “make everything as simple as possible…but no simpler.” Which is why it’s as easy to go from rococco to kitsch as it is to go from Mies Van Der Roh to some tacky steel and glass box.

There’s a real story about real people somewhere in Spanglish that I’d have liked to see. As the daughter of a charming, well-meaning, intelligent but often thoughtless drunk much like the one Leachman portrays, I know all about the damage mothers can inflict upon their children, and, by extension, their children’s loved ones. But I don’t know too many saints of the variety played by Sandler and Vega, who are given exactly one (delightful) flaw each, while poor Téa Leoni gets to play a skinny blonde antichrist. (Oh, and that whole thing about Leachman’s character just giving up drinking after 60 years , and without anyone noticing for three weeks: Not. Gonna. Happen.)

To be fair to Brooks, had he cast a more inherently likeable actress (say, Renée Zellweger) as the unhappy Deborah Clasky, the character might have been a scoche more sympathetic. But it was his part to cast, he wrote and directed, and I’m guessing none of the producers had final creative control over casting, and he clearly opted for the shrillest of brittle harpies he could find. Maybe it’s that i-dotting and t-crossing that’s born of TV writing; after years of cramming problem, complication and resolution, plus a laugh every :30, into 22 minutes of sitcom, it’s probably hard to recalibrate yourself to the delicate rhythms of (good) filmmaking.

But until he does, I’m afraid the James L. Brooks films I do see I’ll see the way I saw Spanglish: free. Or on video.

After all, maybe they’ll look better on the small screen.



Susan Sontag

I have often said that I am just smart enough to realize how smart I’m not. This is never more in evidence than when I sit down to read Susan Sontag, which I have to do slowly, in a good, sturdy chair with plenty of sleep under my belt.

Christopher Hitchens writes a beautiful eulogy for Sontag for Slate magazine, in which he puts into beautiful, succinct words one of the chief reasons I’ve always admired Sontag:

With that signature black-on-white swoosh in her hair, and her
charismatic and hard-traveling style, she achieved something else worthy of note, the status of celebrity without any of the attendant tedium and squalor. She resolutely declined to say anything about her private life or to indulge those who wanted to speculate. The nearest to an indiscretion she ever came was an allusion to Middlemarch in the opening of her 1999 novel In America, where she seems to say that her one and only marriage was a mistake because she swiftly realized “not only that I was Dorothea but that, a few months earlier, I had married Mr. Casaubon.”)

In the age of fame for being famous, quiet, earned celebrity is a rare and beautiful thing.


Citizens of the world, unite

With the latest death count from the earthquake/tsunami passing 52,000, even a normally ethnocentric cocooner like me can’t help but be moved to action.

Maybe it’s the sheer magnitude of the devastation. Maybe it’s my embarrassment by the shamefully inadequate response by both our news sources (the lead story on the radio news just now was of property damage from flooding in, get this, Southern California) and our government (“stingy” doesn’t begin to describe the paltry amount of initial aid we’re sending) that’s getting me off my ass. Or maybe it’s just because this time, I know someone, my friend and fellow blogger, Evelyn Rodriguez, who was caught in the middle of the storm (her leg is broken, but she and her boyfriend are both alright).

Whatever the reason, my usual neat-‘n’-tidy donation to the Red Cross didn’t help and my extra blankets and clothes are apparently too far from the source of need to be of much help just now. So I figured what the hell, I’d do a little praying (I absolutely credit the prayers made by many friends and friends of friends for my pulling through the Crohn’s onset over two years ago).

The answer, or part of it, anyway, came in a flash: get the U.S. to donate the amount we’d be spending on inaugural festivities to the relief effort. Atrios pointed out in a post today that as a country, our initial pledge of $15 million in relief was shameful next to the $30-40 million (plus security) that’s earmarked for the inauguration, so I’m sure that’s where the idea came from, but ordinarily, I’d say “harrumph!” and go back to my coffee.

Instead, I wrote two letters, one to President Bush, one to Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, asking that as a start, we scrap the festivities and donate the money to relief as a pledge of solidarity with our brothers in need. God knows I won’t make much of a difference (and leading a crusade is not in my nature) but perhaps if the few of you that read me do the same with your own elected officials, we can get some action.

I’m posting my letters to cut and paste, if you like, but feel free to write your own.

To President Bush:

I’m sure that you are as saddened as the rest of the world over the devastation that the recent earthquake and subsequent tsunamis have wrought upon our friends in Southeast Asia.

I’ve been following the news with a growing heaviness of heart, not sure what I can do to help beyond the usual donation of money to relief organizations. The magnitude of the tragedy is so huge, I feel like extra attention must be paid.

While I was praying for the victims, an idea came to me: why not donate the money we as a country would be spending on our upcoming inaugural celebration to these people in need? Surely, we can’t feel like celebrating on such a grand scale while there is so much suffering we could ease with a small sacrifice on our part?

I think that both the citizens of our great nation and the citizens of the world would be greatly served–and moved–by this simple act of generosity.

Please consider making this gift to the world in its time of need on behalf of the United States. Not only would it be a fitting and gracious gesture, it would be an extraordinary legacy for an American president to leave.


Colleen Wainwright

And to Senators Boxer & Feinstein:

I’m sure you’ve been following the news of the devastation in Southeast Asia with the same horror and heaviness of heart as the rest of us.

I must add my own voice to that of thousands insisting that additional U.S. aid be sent to the victims.

As many have pointed out, we are sending but a fraction of the amount we will be spending on our upcoming inauguration–festivities that are somewhat inappropriate given the pain and suffering that hundreds of thousands will likely still be reeling from as they attempt to pick up the pieces of their lives.

Why not send the right message to the rest of the world and start by donating the amount we’d spend on the inauguration and having a simple swearing-in ceremony?

I hope you’ll consider this type of measure specifically, and support the donation of greater relief in general. It is high time that Americans start recognizing we cannot be citizens of a truly great nation unless we are citizens of the world as well.

More links I’ve found interesting and/or helpful below. I hope all of you who are reading are well and safe, along with your loved ones.



Up-to-date info and aid resources from
Send an email to the President and your elected representatives here.
The latest NASA photo of Mother Nature’s fury (which is also the JPEG above left).
Evelyn Rodriguez blogs about the devastation from Thailand.

UPDATE: Evelyn Rodriguez has posted a post-tsunami update from Bangkok. She’s on her way home Thursday and her knee was just really cut up (she’s on crutches) but not broken. Hey, I’m a shitty reporter with a flair for the dramatic. Evelyn, I’m just glad you’re okay and coming home soon.

Home, sweet home

Yes, I had a good time in Chicago. Yes, it was great seeing my peeps and scarfing down my chicken Kalamata and seeing the Christmas decorations in the windows of Field’s Macy’s on State Street (brought to you, like everything else, by Target). Despite my fears going into it, I also had a good time at the (god help me) debutante ball that was my nominal reason for flying back to single-digit temperatures during the worst travel time of the year: the girls looked beautiful, the Chicago Hilton and Towers looked beautiful, even the Cardinal looked rather fetching in his lovely ruby robes. (Note: when meeting a cardinal of the Roman Catholic church, do not kiss his ring or bow to the ground, but shake his hand and greet him either as “your Eminence” or “Cardinal So-and-so.” Also, put down your drink before you approach the White Wall of Deb Gowns, or suffer the wrath of a really scary Deb Mom. No, I’m not kidding.)

But I’ve got to face facts: I just don’t like hassle anymore, and traveling by air, especially in the post-9/11 universe to a cold-weather destination during a peak travel time, is a gigantic hassle. Too much unzipping of too much luggage filled with too many coats and sweaters and everything else in your closet because your L.A. tenure has outlasted the life of your Chicago winter wear. Enough, I say! (And I did say, to all my beloveds: see me in L.A. or see me some other time of the year. Buh-bye.)

I also don’t like people encroaching on my space. Maybe it’s a form of mild claustrophobia (I still have nightmares about the time I was carried off in a crush of people waiting for a city bus in, you got it, sub-zero temperatures in Chicago). Maybe it’s the noxious omnipresence of mile-high flatulence, that peculiar cocktail of disinfectant and methane filterered through foam cushions into poorly recirculated air. Maybe it’s the loss of control (I’m always working on the control thing). But about halfway through the FOUR HOUR Chicago/L.A. flight, packed to the gills with people who never see the inside of a plane except on the four highest-volume travel days of the year, I wanted to beat the vodka-swilling, armrest-hogging pituitary case in the seat next to me senseless with his own oversized Dell laptop. The only thing that stopped me was the realization that if I did, he would not suffer the slow torture of hearing loss brought on by listening to Top 40 Pop at full volume on his shitty headphones.

Yes, I know I’m being unreasonable. Yes, I have a sense of my own intolerance and foolishness. (A healthy one, so back off, Jackson.) But last night, I also had the first really good night’s sleep I’ve had in a week. I like my 12.5 cubic feet or whatever it is of personal space and I’m not zen-mistress enough to be a good sport when it’s encroached upon and the reward at the other end is either a week of insomnia and cold extremities or a fruitless half-hour at the baggage carousel (nimrods stuck my bag on an earlier plane without telling me) and an hour in an overcrowded SuperShuttle (“no more than 3 stops,” my Aunt Fanny).

But part of getting where you want to be is accepting where you are right now, and I accept that I am so happy with warm toes in my little apartment in Los Angeles that I could weep for joy. Except that…it’s just that…


I miss Chicago already.


Closer to Python: My Mike Nichols Day, Part II

As I’m currently in the process of converting a play with music into a musical play, I’m newly fascinated by musical theater, especially the newer forms cropping up today: Avenue Q, Caroline or Change, all of Ken Roht‘s work, the Ramayana 2K4, which I guess better start calling itself R2K5 so it doesn’t sign its checks wrong next year.

Normally I have to wait for these things to come to the hinterlands (a.k.a., Los Angeles) or haul my carcass to New York, not an altogether unpleasant proposition, but generally a pricey one. So imagine my delight in learning that Spamalot!, the new Eric Idle musical based on material from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, was having its pre-Broadway run here in Chicago during my stay! For which I had already paid!

It’s selling well, which is a good first sign. The Chicago run opened on Tuesday; I bought my ticket on Wednesday for Thursday, which was mostly sold out. Fortunately, the one good single ticket they had was really good: I was third row center at the Shubert, so I pretty much had Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce and Hank Azaria singing in my lap for 2 1/2 hours (including intermission, so you know, not really).

They were all wonderful, as was much of the show. The supporting cast is staggeringly good; I particularly enjoyed the drag stylings of the very Python-esque Steve Rosen (who has some sort of Crohn’s connection I’m anxious to bond over) and all I can say about Sara Ramirez is “you heard it here first, folks”, that combination of good, gorgeous and funny comes along slightly less often than Halley’s comet.

It’s not an unqualified hit…yet. I’m hoping my issues with the show can be fixed in the Chicago run so it plays a good, long time in New York (and the hinterlands). Right now, it’s a little draggy in parts, (especially Act One), it feels a bit repetitive and, for as clever as it often is, it’s not clever enough. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by local (i.e., hinterland) geniuses like Ken Roht and Robert Prior, but I’m used to an extraordinarily high level of inventiveness; compared to Peace Squad Goes 99 or R2K4, Spamalot! does a lot of coasting on old material and not enough in the way of chewy surprises inside.

It’s not devoid of them; I won’t spoil anyone’s possible future enjoyment by giving away all the treats, but there are some hilarious little fillips in many of the show’s numbers, the kind of unexpected stuff that has you poking the person next to you and saying “look there!” and them poking you back to “no, look there!”, which is pretty damned great. And the show as a whole does a great job of sending up musical theater.

But so did Peace Squad, and on a much tighter budget with far less lead time. Hell, I think we did send-ups on musical genres that hadn’t been invented yet.

I wanted to give Spamalot! my unqualified love and affection, but at the end of the day (or the show), I just didn’t feel like leaping to my feet like everyone else.

Nor did I feel like stopping by to congratulate Mike Nichols, the director of the hullaballoo, who was sitting there unrecognized for most of intermission (god, I love Chicago) along with his gorgeous wife. And I’m a big Mike Nichols fan, overall; I just wasn’t feeling the love enough to blow his cover. (After all, what was I gonna say: congratulations…I didn’t love your movie, either?)

In no way is this a pan of the show; I have no problem telling people to get their butts in the seats for this one. I only hope that by the time it gets to Broadway, it’s as good as it can be…as it should be.

That is, as good as those shows in the hinterlands already are.