Friday, January 30, 2009

O'Neill maven on Robert Falls's Desire Under the Elms

Posted By on 01.30.09 at 11:29 AM

We read the comments so you don't have to. In the mass/morass of back-and-forth at the Tribune theater blog, over Chris Jones's review of the Goodman Theatre's Desire Under the Elms, there was one contribution from someone who actually studies Eugene O'Neill. Harley Hammerman, proprietor of, had this to say:

I thought that Robert Falls production was a failure on so many fronts, I don't know where to begin.

Falls replaced O'Neill's hanging elms with hanging boulders. The elms represented the femininity that was Eben's mother - they were her hanging breasts. They were a part of the beauty of the landscape that was the farm that Eben's mother had owned and that Eben coveted. Falls did away with all of this beauty, and replaced it with a hard, ugly (boulder) landscape. His landscape was the hard landscape of Ephraim Cabot, not the beautiful landscape of Eben's mother, and it was impossible to understand why Eben would desire it. O'Neill's farm drew his characters to it - they all wanted to possess it. It was difficult to understand why anyone would want the rocky landscape that Falls presented us with.

The other major failing was the compression of the action - and the dialogue - from three acts to one. O'Neill hated when anyone cut things from his plays, and Falls showed us why. Falls presented us with such an abridged version, that his characters became caricatures. Instead of developing the relationship between Eben and Abbie, Falls hit us over the head with it. None of the characters felt real, including Dennehy's portrayal of Ephraim. There wasn't enough time to develop them into real characters, and still move the plot along at the pace that Falls had chosen. And because Abbie's love for Eben wasn't allowed to develop, when she killed her baby, it became more an act of a deranged woman than an act of love. It didn't work.

What else? The long interlude of Bob Dylan music was incongruous and distracting. Falls had little enough time for dialogue. He could have better used this time to develop his characters, as opposed to having us watch Gugino hang laundry and Schreiber show us his derriere.

Falls gave us more, when he should have given us less, and he gave us less, when he should have given us more. This production does NOT deserve to go to Broadway.

Harley Hammerman

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What's Old: Frank Tashlin at Northbrook Public Library

Posted By on 01.30.09 at 04:51 AM

Most area libraries have abandoned celluloid projection in favor of DVD, so readers should know that Northbrook Public Library (1201 Cedar Lane in Northbrook, 847-272-6224) still projects its Wednesday revival series from 16- even 35-millimeter prints. February brings an especially tempting reason to trek out there: four 35-millimeter screenings of movies by the great comic director Frank Tashlin.

Tashlin got his start as an animator at Warners and Disney, then became a live-action director on such gems as Son of Paleface (1952) with Bob Hope and Artists and Models (1955) and Hollywood or Bust (1956) with Martin and Lewis. With The Girl Can't Help It, he celebrated and satirized the selling of rock 'n' roll, and the next year he took on Madison Avenue with Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Check out Jonathan Rosenbaum's piece on the latter film.

The NPL series opens with Jerry Lewis—who, to the consternation of some, will accept the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at this year's Oscar ceremony—in It'$ Only Money, screening Wed 2/4 at 1 and 7:30 PM. The series continues with Hollywood or Bust (Wed 2/11); The Girl Can't Help It (Wed 2/18), from a CinemaScope print, and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (Wed 2/25).

Check out Jayne Mansfield's grand entrance, to Little Richard's raunchy title song, about 7:15 minutes into this clip from The Girl Can't Help It:

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Voice from the past

Posted By on 01.30.09 at 04:35 AM


An old showbiz controversy will be resolved tonight when Mary Hicks appears on The Late Show With David Letterman to watch a routine her son Bill taped for the show on October 1, 1993. Back then Bill Hicks was America's most incendiary political comic and the routine was cut from the broadcast, even though the producers had cleared the material in advance. One joke that got Hicks bounced: "If you're so pro-life, do me a favor. Don't lock arms and block medical clinics. Lock arms and block cemeteries. Let's see how committed you are to this premise." Five months later Hicks himself was dead, of pancreatic cancer at age 32.

The Letterman incident has been a cornerstone of the Hicks myth, yet ironically it gave his career a big shot in the arm, prompting John Lahr to write a long and admiring profile of him in the New Yorker. He certainly got more mileage out of the controversy than he would have from another Letterman spot. All the same, I'm eager to see this long-shelved video footage.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

What constitutes five dollars worth of Sting?

Posted By on 01.29.09 at 07:28 PM

Remember a minute ago when Apple announced its latest update to Garageband, which adds the option to download music lessons from artists like Patrick Stump, John Fogerty, and one of the guys from OneRepublic? Well they finally dropped, and Gizmodo has a hands-on review of Sting's guitar lesson. For the money it looks like it could actually be a cool product if you're new to guitar and could use a walk through "Roxanne" or if you are an extreme Police maniac who needs to make sure you're playing "Roxanne" exactly how Sting meant it to be played.

There is also a "Story" feature where Sting tells you how "Roxanne" came together. Because there wasn't enough footage of Sting talking about himself in the world already.

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Over to you, Tribune Company

Posted By on 01.29.09 at 07:13 PM

"Let's talk about the Tribune Company," said David Ellis, delivering his closing argument to the Illinois Senate Thursday in the impeachment trial of Rod Blagojevich.

"The evidence clearly showed that the governor attempted to put a price tag on the provision of financial assistance to the Tribune Company. And what was that price tag? He wanted some editorial board members at the Chicago Tribune fired. Fifteen conversations with [chief of staff] John Harris over a one-month period. Fifteen conversations in which the governor repeatedly directs Harris to talk to high-ranking members of the Tribune Company. Fifteen conversations in which the governor makes it clear the message he wants delivered – 'No money from the state unless those editorial board members are fired.'

"The governor was secretly recorded directing John Harris to tell a Tribune official, 'Everything is lined up. But before we go to the next level we need to have a discussion about what you guys are going to do about that newspaper.' Harris replies back, 'I wont be so direct.' And the governor says, 'Yeah, you know what you got to say.'

"Repeatedly, the governor follows up with John Harris. Repeatedly, Harris reports back that he delivered the directive. More than once we read the exchange between the  governor and Harris -- 'He got the message, right?’ 'Right. He got it loud and clear.’

"And ladies and gentlemen, make no mistake -- the governor knew what he was doing was wrongful. He agreed that Harris should not be so direct. He agreed that Harris should deliver the message in person, not on the phone. When Harris described his conversations with the Tribune Company as delicate, very delicate, the governor said, 'I know, I know. Don’t push too hard. But you know what what you gotta do, right?'"

If you're like me and find the Tribune Company count of the article of impeachment particularly mysterious and fascinating, it's here that Ellis got really interesting. He said, "Now, the governor will say that there are people around the Chicago Tribune, or the Tribune Company, who would say that they did not have improper conversations. We don’t know who those people are or if they’re telling the truth. What we do know, from intercepted wire taps, intercepted oral communications, and friends of Blagojevich, is that the governor repeatedly directed John Harris to reach out to the Tribune. And whether it was true or not, Harris was telling him back, 'I've been talking to him. I've delivered the message.'" 

One day I suppose the Tribune will give us the story of how this shakedown looked from their end. If Tribune Company bosses like Sam Zell who might have had those conversations with Harris deny they happened, it didn't matter to Ellis whether they're telling the truth or lying. It matters to everyone else with any regard for the Tribune, and most of all to the paper itself. Will we have to wait for Blagojevich's criminal trial to find out more?

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Punishing Blago

Posted By on 01.29.09 at 06:06 PM

So he's gone. 59-0. No tears here. 

But the senate went too far. Rod Blagojevich's defense of himself boiled down to this: Most of the counts against him, and certainly the most sensational ones, were based on the federal criminal complaint. There's been no indictment yet, let alone a trial and conviction, and he was as entitled to a presumption of innocence as any other accused man.

As for the other counts... Most of them -- like the flu vaccine fiasco, for example -- dated back to his first term, and Blagojevich argued that if his conduct was impeachable he should have been impeached then. But his intentions were moral and public-spirited, he said, and the public knew what he'd done when it reelected him.

"Now, I'm asking you to ask yourself," Blagojevich said in conclusion, "is it the right precedent to set to throw a governor twice elected by the people out of office without proving any wrongdoing?" 

Prosecutor David Ellis responded, "He has a constitutional right not to be thrown in jail....He does not have a constitutional right to be governor. That's what the governor does not understand. Being governor is not a right, it's a privilege. And he has forfeited that privilege."

True that. As the public was frequently reminded, impeachment is a political process, not a judicial process, and if the senate merely concluded that Blagojevich was too discredited to be tolerated as governor any longer, it had the right to throw him out. But after removing him, the senate then drove a stake through his heart. The second question called for by the senate's impeachment rules was this: "Shall Rod R. Blagojevich be disqualified from holding any future public office of this State?" The vote: again 59-0. There was no debate. The senate acted without thinking.

It's not a privilege to be able to run for office -- it's a right basic to democracy. Any "political process" that removes that right inflicts a criminal punishment, whether we want to call it one or not.

Rod Blagojevich should be free to run for any state office he has the effrontery to seek. The senate insulted the voters.

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Throwing a Rod pt. 2 - The final chapter

Posted By on 01.29.09 at 04:45 PM

Just got through listening to the Illinois Senate impeachment vote. All yeses save for two nonvotes: as John Kass calls him, Jimmy DeLeo (D-How You Dooin')  and I believe Terry Link. Will check back.

Update: Just a minute ago the vote was 58-0-1 on the screen, so one of the nonvotes got flipped to a yes.

Update II: They're redoing the roll call.

Update III: Now it's 59-0-0. It's official.

Update IV: 59-0-0 voting that Blago cannot hold state office in the future. Technically Rev. Meeks voted "absolutely."

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February -- Free spay and neuter packages

Posted By on 01.29.09 at 04:31 PM


Tree House Humane Society will spay or neuter 100 cats, up to two per household, for free from February 1-28. An appointment is required; call 773-784-5488, ext. 229, and leave a detailed message with your name and phone number. The program is in conjunction with National Spay/Neuter Month and Tree House's annual "Sex and the Kitty" campaign.

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Heads Up

Posted By on 01.29.09 at 01:30 PM


The stills and tanks of Metropolitan Brewing function as the set for Beer, a musical from the Neo-Futurists. After getting drunk, a ten-year-old boy passes out and ends up in a dreamland he can’t escape until he learns how to brew beer. He’s helped by his buddy Puke and life-size marionettes Water, Grain, Yeast, and Hops, who “must defend the principles of microbrewing from Bud Miller and the people of Milweiser.” Today’s performance ($20) includes beer from Metropolitan and pizza from Apart. Through 3/7: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Metropolitan Brewing, 5121 N. Ravenswood, $15, $10 students and seniors.

Pastry chef Toni Roberts kicks off "A Sweeter Point of View," a new weekly candy buffet at the Affinia Chicago hotel’s rooftop C-View lounge, with sweets like pistachio brittle, scotch-maple caramel, and salted fudge brownies. To wash it down, there’s coffee, tea, and cocoa, which can be spiked with liqueurs for $5. Thursdays, 6-10 PM, C-View, Affinia Hotel, 166 E. Superior, 312-523-0923, $19.


Keli Fayard of Vanille Patisserie gives a lecture, titled The Sweet History of the French Pastry, with samples of her own pastries. Presented by the Culinary Historians of Chicago. Sat 1/31, 10 AM-noon, Kendall College, 900 N. North Branch, 708-788-0338, $5, $3 members.

Fancy hats and gloves are welcome at a Fair Trade High Tea Party featuring several varieties of fair-trade tea served with scones and finger sandwiches. Sat 1/31, 3-4:30 PM, Greenheart Shop, 746 N. LaSalle, $10 suggested donation.

Knob Creek “whiskey professor” Steve Cole leads a Whiskey University class on the history and production of bourbon with tastings of Knob Creek and the other Beam Global small-batch brands: Basil Hayden’s, Knob Creek, Baker’s, and Booker’s. Sat 1/31, 4-6 PM, Five Star Bar, 1424 W. Chicago, 312-850-2555, $10.


Chef-owner Jonathan Fox will explain how he makes the dishes featured at La Madia’s monthly chef’s table this month as attendees watch from the pizza bar. On the menu: panzanella, spinach and speck pizza, and steak Florentine, with wine pairings. a 7 PM, 59 W. Grand, 312-329-0400, $35.

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Rod Blagojevich, star in the making

Posted By on 01.29.09 at 12:49 PM

I was a little disappointed with Blago's speech. I liked the parts where he went after his tormentors -- he's always best when he counterattacks. But he went on too long. Too many tangents and distractions. I think he works better with an inquistor -- Larry King, Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer. Someone who keeps him on point.

That said, it's been a great week for him. No, he didn't establish his innocence.  I doubt he'll stave off impeachment. And he'll probably get indicted, maybe even convicted. It could be he's facing serious time in the joint.

But if I know the governor -- and I've been watching him for years -- I think he's really enjoying his moment. This guy loves the limelight, and he's been basking in it for days. He's been on the national talk shows. He's an internationally known celebrity. I'd say he's almost as big as OJ -- not bad for a kid out of Foreman High. 

His greatest challenge will be to keep the momentum going after he's been ousted from office. If he plays it right, he can write a book and get a talk show. He has the potential to be the next Jerry Springer. Then, watch, a lot of  his biggest critics will be angling to get on his show.  

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January 19
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