Monthly Archives: April 2010

Crystal Skillman on The Vigil or the Guided Cradle, Her Earlier Plays

The Vigil or The Cradle
The Vigil or The Guided Cradle

Whenever I get a chance to cover live theater, I don’t waste the opportunity. When I heard about the rave reviews that playwright Crystal Skillman was receiving for her latest play, The Vigil or the Guided Cradle, I decided to contact her for an email interview. (Here’s a sampling of the raves “It’s shocking in a way that such a primitive idea as torture remains so much a part of public discourse in 2010, but The Vigil perversely helps us understand why it has such a hold on us, repelling and fascinating us at the same time. Skillman and Hurley’s collaboration here proves timely and incisive.” [ – Martin Denton]; and “Just when you thought archaic forms of torture had lost their sex appeal, playwright Crystal Skillman unearths a particularly brutal form of coercion in “The Vigil or the Guided Cradle.” [ – Reviewed by Mitch Montgomery]). The play, presented by Impetuous Theater Group and The Brick Theater, Inc., is described as “A Medieval man tortures a terrorist in 15th Century Prague while a young tourist in the 21st Century befriends a stranger. A play about the danger of crossing over, between now and then, THE VIGIL or THE GUIDED CRADLE is a chilling portrait of the art of torture and those desperate enough to use their ability to create . . . no matter the cost.” The play runs through May 8 at the Brick Theater (575 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn, New York City) Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.– or Skillman and I also got a chance to discuss some of her previous plays.

Tim O’Shea: How did you come to combine these two particular periods in history with this play (given that it addresses “A Medieval mercenary tortures a terrorist in 15th Century Prague while a young tourist in the 21st Century befriends a mysterious translator.”)

Crystal Skillman: Four years ago, I was being produced at a festival in Prague, and just by chance, we had arrived there the day after the Abu Ghraib photos had just been published. Those images were fresh on my mind, when we our group naively decided to visit The Torture Museum. As the museum went on and on, we came to realize these were all the actual instruments of torture used. It was intense. The museum really hits home that there is great thought and experimentation put into the creation of these torture devices. Half way through I turned a corner where I saw a full display of how The Vigil (or the Guided Cradle) torture device was the origin of Sleep Deprivation torture, and those Abu Ghraib photos, popped into my mind. This was the same thing, and I knew immediately I wanted to write a play about that. Right away, I realized to really capture this connection between this device and what is done today the play’s story would need to cut between now and then, weaving what is learned in the story as a whole. It was a huge task, but I kinda just knew that was the right approach. I’m lucky that Impetuous Theater Group and the Brick Theater both loved this approach as well and this play – they jumped on the opportunity to produce it together, at the Brick Theater where the play is running through May 8th.

Continue reading Crystal Skillman on The Vigil or the Guided Cradle, Her Earlier Plays

Monologue: Elvis Costello from March 2003

Last night I enjoyed seeing Elvis Costello play at Atlanta’s Tabernacle. As much as I love his music, I appreciate Costello’s wit almost more.

Rather than trying to describe his wit, I offer a March 2003 example from when he substitute hosted for David Letterman.

The line-up for that night was amazing, it included Eddie Izzard and the late Mitch Hedberg. I wonder if Costello got the itch to do his recent series, Spectacle, from this 2003 experience.

Music: Robert Fripp and Peter Gabriel

The other day when I interviewed Johnny Bacardi, one of the things we discussed was his affinity for posting music videos on Facebook. Tonight he made me aware of a version of a Peter Gabriel song, Here Comes The Flood, that I had never heard before. There’s a layered beauty and simplicity, while at the same time intense complexity, to this song. This is one of my favorite Peter Gabriel tunes, not for Gabriel’s lyrics really, but oddly enough–because of the keyboard work that I feel is the heart of the song. Give it a play and see what the song does for you.

Listening to the latter half of this version, I am reminded of how Gabriel opened his later song, Mercy Street.

Sarah Sample: Raising Funds for Next Album, Has New Video Post

Regular readers may remember that I interviewed Sarah Sample several weeks ago. More recently she started a new blog and announced that she needs to raise funds for her next album. Now tonight she released her first video post, discussing her fund-raising efforts, as well as featuring an adorable guest appearance at the end of the four-minute video. Enjoy–and if so moved, please support Sample’s music–she’s a great person and an even better songwriter.

Library of Congress: Bob Hope

Apparently late last year and earlier this year, the Library of Congress devoted an exhibit to the work of Bob Hope.

The Library has cataloged Hope’s Joke Files. I am not kidding. Consider this statistic:

“The complete Bob Hope Joke File — more than 85,000 pages — has been digitally scanned and indexed according to the categories used by Bob Hope for presentation in the Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment.”

85,000 pages. I love how my tax dollars are spent in situations like this one. I’m serious: this is great.

Johnny Bacardi on His Pop Culture Perspective

A sample from one of Johnny Bacardi's many pop culture outlets

In terms of pop culture insight, I wish I was as informed and diverse in my knowledge as Johnny Bacardi. Bacardi and I have similar tastes on several fronts, but his knowledge is amazing. How amazing? I had to interview him in hopes of learning a fraction of what he knows. You’ll note I did not link to his website in this introduction, but only because I could not pick one distinct site. We discuss many of his sites in the course of this email interview, so please follow the links there. And thanks to Bacardi for his time. Did I mention I’m amazed there was any such thing as cable in the 1960s (as he briefly mentions)?

Tim O’Shea: You have a diverse appreciation covering almost every aspect of pop culture, can you recall what your first form of media (TV, film, music, comics or what) that first caught your attention as a kid?

Johnny Bacardi: Hm. Probably a children’s book of some sort, most likely a Little Golden. I remember having an illustrated version of The Night Before Christmas, and another about Beany and Cecil, who were on TV when I was small. My folks subscribed to several magazines, as well as Reader’s Digest. Of course, not long after came comics and music and TV (our small town had cable very early on, in the early-mid 60s- 12 channels, but still!), all at sort of the same time, around 1963 or 64. You see, I could read before I started preschool, as early as age 3. Don’t ask me how, I have no recollection of actually “learning”. I blame comics, with the picture/word association thing going on. This led to a lot of heightened expectations for me, which, sorry to say, I spent most of my formative years failing to live up to.

Continue reading Johnny Bacardi on His Pop Culture Perspective

TV: Parenthood Gets Picked Up For Second Season

So news broke on Tuesday that NBC’s Parenthood has been picked up for a second season. I love this ensemble cast series and particularly the work of Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia. So far in this season, the show has not given Bedelia many scenes, but I am happy to say last night’s episode shone more of a spotlight on her.

Here’s a snippet of the show, just to hopefully spark your interest.

Added bonus, every week the show’s producers offer best of quotes from the episode. Here’s this week’s batch.

Sherry Kelly on The Big Life of a Little Man, Michael Dunn Remembered

Michael Dunn

I love it when an interview opportunity lands in my lap.  I first found out about Sherry Kelly’s book about her cousin (The Big Life of a Little Man, Michael Dunn Remembered) from friend of the blog, Amy H. Sturgis. Kelly was willing to be email interviewed about the book. Here is the official description of the book: “”With the help of a treasure trove of letters, magazine articles, newspaper clippings, and personal journal entries from his mother, author Sherry Kelly has compiled a touching and comprehensive account of the life of Michael Dunn, the famous little person actor of the sixties and seventies. Michael was well known as Dr. Loveless in The Wild Wild West TV series and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the movie Ship of Fools. Dunn lived an amazing life from childhood until his mysterious death in London while filming a movie.” My thanks to Kelly for her time and to Sturgis for making me aware of this fascinating book.

Tim O’Shea: I take it that given the fact you had access to “letters, magazine articles, newspaper clippings, and personal journal entries from his mother” in preparing the book, you were fairly close to your aunt? Given that she died in 1990, I was wondering–did she hope someone might try to write a book about her son some day?

Sherry Kelly: (Note: I will be referring to my cousin both as “Gary” and “Michael”.)  My mother and Gary’s mother were sisters and our families were very close. Both families lived on the same block in Detroit during Gary’s early childhood and then when Gary was 12-13 years old, my parents along with my older sister, LaRee, and older brother, Tim, and I, moved back to Oklahoma to be near our grandparents who were in declining health. Even with all the distance between us the families remained close and mother and my aunt kept up with all their respective news through letter writing. Telephone calls were expensive back then, considered a luxury, and made only occasionally – on birthdays or to report emergencies. Gary was especially close to my sister and brother who were nearer to him in age. Gary’s parents, Fred and Jewell Miller, moved back to Oklahoma to be near us in their later years. They had no other children and our family looked after Aunt Jewell during the last 15 years or so of her life.

Continue reading Sherry Kelly on The Big Life of a Little Man, Michael Dunn Remembered

Memoir: Norris Church Mailer’s A Ticket to the Circus

I have yet to get a hold of  the memoir to verify, but one has to imagine that the memoir of Norman Mailer’s final wife, Norris Church Mailer, makes for one heck of a read. Anyone that could stay married to a character like Mailer for more than 30 years clearly has a strength that must be read about.  Here’s a link to the book, A Ticket to the Circus. For those looking for more immediate insight into Church Mailer, here is a recent New York Times Magazine profile where she discusses the memoir.

Cable & Coco: Well Played, George Lopez & TBS

You’re TBS–a cable channel not exactly known for late night talk shows. You entered the fray last year, giving TV actor/stand-up comic George Lopez (Lopez Tonight).  Fox goes after Conan O’Brien (aka Team Coco) only to find it challenging from an affiliates standpoint (they were locked into myriad syndicated deals for years, making 11 PM unavailable). TBS steps into the void and with Lopez’s help (as detailed in this Bill Carter [the late night expert at the New York Times] piece) gets O’Brien to commit to a show starting in November 2010.

If you’re TBS, you want to get O’Brien marketing his brand on TBS ASAP. But NBC has a clause preventing him from appearing on TV until June. What do you in the interim? This.

Well played, TBS. And I can’t wait for November.

And in the meantime, I will check out Lopez Tonight, because of the classy way Lopez viewed gaining O’Brien as an opportunity and happily offered his 11 PM time slot (committing to midnight).

Speaking of Lopez, he did a great bit last night acknowledging O’Brien and even “interviewing” Coco. Good stuff.