Debate This: Clinton Exposes Mansplaining, Creates National Dialogue

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“This past Monday night Hillary Clinton delivered a knockout debate performance against her rival and misogynist-in-chief Donald Trump. Clinton’s completely mastery of subject, pacing and gravity were no surprise to anyone who’s ever watched the former New York Senator and Secretary of State tackle issues of substance over a 30-year career. Her preparedness is legendary. Donald Trump’s pettiness, undiagnosed ADD and ignorance are of equal fame. The debate went down exactly as expected, and markets and major media outlets almost uniformly declared Clinton the winner.

An unexpected outcome of Monday evening’s contest, however, were Clinton’s moments of genuine human warmth and adorableness (the Internet is quite taken with “The Hillary Shimmy”). And with a brilliant combination of patient smiles, blank stares and steely calm, she also singlehandedly did more to expose the foolish, insulting harbingers of mansplaining that American women endure every single goddamned day of their lives.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

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101 and Counting

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“101 wins and counting. How good does that odd number sound? How much better does it feel, Wrigleyville Nation?

The last time the Chicago Cubs produced such a spectacular regular season record was 1910. The Cubbies were just two years removed from their final World Series victory of the 20th Century, the beginning of a 100-plus seasons of Chicago heartbreak.

It’s 2016 and the Cubs aren’t just the best current team in Major League Baseball. This is one of the elite clubs in recorded history. And with a few games remaining before the season officially ends this Sunday, our winning ways may yet continue.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

Visiting Edna

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There’s no nice way to say this, so I’ll do it plainly without the contrived effort at sugarcoating. “Visiting Edna,” the world premiere, debut offering of Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s 41st season, is a bloated, confusing mess. It’s a disappointment on many levels.

In the first place, Steppenwolf is world-renowned for its general quality. Any bombs, while occasionally inevitable, are nonetheless a reputational letdown for theatergoers. Further, playwright David Rabe and Tony Award-winning Director Anna D. Shapiro have earned stellar reputations for their career work. It’s, therefore, natural to expect repeat genius. Audience members will not find it here.

Press materials offer the following plot summary:

“Edna has suffered a number of losses as she has aged, and now faces the stealthy advance of cancer embodied by an intimate figure she could do without. Home for a visit, Edna’s son Andrew tries to bridge the gulf between the childhood love they shared and the aggressively polite but baffling relationship they now live with.”

As this public relations excerpt suggests, Cancer (Capital “C”) actually appears onstage as an embodied human presence. Tim Hopper, the talented Steppenwolf Ensemble Member who inhabits the role, does his level best. But as written by Rabe, Cancer is, well…. totally boring. Insecure and semi-hysterical at certain intervals, dry and sleepy at others, the character does not possess the magnetism and sense of danger that ought to be endemic to such a force of human suffering.

Incidentally, Rabe names Cancer “Actor Two” and the choice grows more mystifying with the production’s opening scene. Along with “Actor One,” who’s actually an anthropomorphized TV set played by Sally Murphy, all mystique is immediately shed through confessional monologues from the two characters. If you’re going to devote minutes of dialog to unnecessary explanation (there’s nothing subtle about either of these portraits), why not just call them what they are in print? It’s not enticing. It’s annoying.

So many, many questions. And not the kind that invite exciting, intense debate between theater companions. Why is this production nearly three hours long with four different endings, where smart editing and well-chosen brevity would bring the messages into clearer focus? By contrast, I just saw “Wonderful Town” at the Goodman, a work of near-equal length that feels like moments. The scripts are different animals certainly, but watching someone die in slow motion doesn’t also have to be torture for the audience. Think “Marvin’s Room.”

Why is Andrew (Jeff-nominated Ian Barford) so touchy and insufferable? It’s hard losing a parent, and we’re told he endured some abuse from a long-dead father, but Rabe would have us mistake the character’s taciturn, ungenerous stubbornness for mystique. It doesn’t fly.

Debra Monk as the titular Edna turns in the cast’s best work. By no coincidence, the actress is also given the richest material to mold. Edna — lonely, in pain and one of the last survivors of her small-town Iowa peer group — is feistily determined to find a way to live and connect with those she loves in her remaining time. One aches for her palpable yearning to reach her son, to seize what might be the last I-Thou moment opportunity they have. She wants deep conversation; she wants adventure and truth. Instead, she is treated to deflection and impatience. It’s the script’s real tragedy.

Murphy, as the boob tube, also does some good comedic work. Hearing her breathe life into 1990s era “TV Guide” listings is nostalgic fun. But why is the play set during that period? I don’t know and should you purchase a ticket to this confused jumble, you may also be left with more questions than answers.

“Visiting Edna” is Rabe’s 18th play. I’m not sure how much rush there was, in the end, to bring it to the stage, but a feeling of forced commitment is there. This is definitely one to skip.

“Visiting Edna” runs through Nov. 6 at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N Halsted Street, Chicago, IL. For information or tickets, call 312-335-1650 or visit the Steppenwolf Theatre website

Ignore Chuck Todd’s ‘Help:’ Six Journalists Lester Holt Should Emulate

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“Though the seasoned journalist has long earned the public trust, there are two potential variables that leave me with some concern heading into tonight’s faceoff. The first is the debate prep “help” that Holt is receiving from Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd. Though Meet the Press remains a Sunday morning Washington mainstay with high-profile guests and a rotating pundit panel, few are tuning in for Todd’s adroit interview skills. The guy has kid gloved Donald Trump in particular almost every step of the way. As Wonkette’s C.A. Pinkham wrote in February, “He is spectacularly bad at talking to humans, which is a problem when your entire job is talking to humans.”

Holt isn’t going to master the fine balance between equity and a quest for the truth by studying Todd. And Trump’s team has already taken great umbrage at the suggestion that fact checking should play a role in the debate. There’s a whole year and a half of established precedent – Trump running his mouth unchallenged by the media or moderators. As I’ve written angrily several times already, it’s key to his improbable campaign’s success.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

Missing in Action: The Week’s Overlooked News Stories

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We are doing things differently for this week’s Missing in Action roundup. We must. There’s something nefarious that has been obvious for too long, and our team needs to speak out. What we know is that terror suspects like Dylan Roof and Ahmad Rahami have been taken alive by authorities, even after posing an immediate threat, shooting at police (in Rahami’s case). What’s the disparity? Skin color.

There is a stark difference between being black in America and being anyone else – race, creed or color – when it comes to application of the law. Unarmed African American men (and women like Sandra Bland) have lost their lives under the most specious of circumstances. Why should black Americans’ right to life be devalued? Why should these citizens encounter civil rights violations that place them below terror suspects? It seems unthinkable. But we can’t hide from the truth. The evidence is in Chicago, Charlotte, St. Louis, New York and anywhere else black lives are taken.

In spite of all the tragedy, the feelings of hopelessness and fear and outrage, there are many people and organizations taking positive steps toward change. We want to share some of those with you, and encourage you to share this post. This conversation – and these type of actions – MUST continue.

  • Comedian Daniel Weingarten posted a video on his Facebook page that speaks for many white Americans who feel strongly that #BlackLivesMatter. He covers a lot in the 3 minute and 26 second stream, prompted by the shooting death of Terence Crutcher in Oklahoma earlier this week. He shuts down the weak rhetoric from those who say no one protests so-called “black on black murders.” He explains why Colin Kaepernick is doing important work and why we as a nation must do better. There’s no alternative. This really is must-see TV.
  • The NBA is showing its collective conscience and its desire to be an agent of change. This week the league issued a memo to players saying they plan to expand upon the steps many individual players have already taken to help and support their communities in light of the violence epidemic. They are the only professional sports organization to commit in writing on such a large scale.
  • Seattle Seahawks Cornerback Richard Sherman used a press conference this week to speak out about the shootings in Oklahoma and North Carolina. Without naming names, he expressed frustration with those who are against Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the National Anthem, saying “people are still missing the point.” Indeed, there was far more publicized outrage over Kaepernick’s silent protest than there was for Terence Crutcher, shot by a police officer while unarmed with his hands in the air. Is the media partially to blame for this double standard? Maybe. And we thank Sherman for challenging journalists to tell the whole truth.
  • In the “news we never thought we’d share” bucket, Glenn Beck wrote something decent and human earlier this month. Put his general brand of intolerance and bullshit aside for a minute, click the hyperlink and just read these important observations. It was hard for us too, but we did it. You should too. As Beck observed, “We are a country in trouble, and we have only one way out: reconciliation.” We must work together to resolve this crisis. That’s really the point, isn’t it? People from all sides, all party lines, all races, all genders simply have to come together, listen and save lives.

For the record, this site’s namesake will no longer be standing for the National Anthem until the problem of African American extra-judicial killing is ended. She has purchased a #BlackLivesMatter t-shirt and will wear it to meetings with local legislators. And the BeckySarwate.com Team will continue to write about the variety of issues and voices involved in this rampant social injustice. It’s the very least we can do.

Wonderful Town

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Jordan Brown (Wreck), Kristin Villanueva (Helen), Bri Sudia (Ruth) and Lauren Molina (Eileen)

 

Last year I went with a close friend to see a staging of “Carousel” at the Lyric Opera in Chicago. A rare Broadway turn for the famous venue, I was excited by the certain high-quality production values as well as a first viewing of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.

Oh the misogyny! I should have read the script before purchasing a ticket. I was not on critic duty that evening, just trying to enjoy a civilian evening at the theater. And I understand that the material was adapted in 1945 — certainly a different time for American gender relations. I can appreciate that perspective, but I’m just the wrong cat to indulge the sexist horror that is Billy Bigelow — in life and in death. While my pal wept at the production’s well-acted emotional denouement, I wanted to break the third wall for a serious feminist discussion with Julie Jordan.

So when I accepted an invitation to see and review “Wonderful Town,” the latest Mary Zimmerman-helmed production at the Goodman Theatre, I braced myself. The 1953 Tony Award-winner for Best Book of a Musical features 20 songs created by the legendary Leonard Bernstein. The music almost guaranteed to win, I scoffed at the brief plot synopsis. “Two sisters, one city, unlimited possibilities.”

Let me guess: another dated New York love story. Two female siblings, one beautiful and destined for great love, the other creative and intelligent but certainly a supporting character overlooked by the opposite gender. Each woman bound to be defined by male relationships.

I’m eating my prejudices as I type, washing down the cynicism with a refreshing glass of water. Because “Wonderful Town” was — and remains — a creation ahead of its time. Imagine if Lucy and Ethel were unmarried, career ambitious and in possession of more love and loyalty for one another than any man could equal. Think “Sex and the City,” post-WWII style (without the sex).

This is the story of elder sister Ruth, a budding fiction writer and reporter, and Eileen, an ingénue yearning for her big performance break. Director Zimmerman places the action in 1950s Greenwich Village rather the original Depression-era and it’s a great choice. Distant from post-1929 panic with its physical and cultural hunger, Set Designer Todd Rosenthal gives us a dreamlike, cotton candy land of artistic community. Yet the pieces remain functional and when necessary, convey the grime of a working class Big Apple.

What’s not grimy at all are the gorgeous costumes from Designer Ana Kuzamanic. The flounce and color are a perfect match for the rotating set. Even the frumpiest chorus characters are infused with enchanting whimsy.

It would be misleading however, to interpret all the fun shades and soft lighting as a statement of one-dimensional simplicity. No indeed. Ruth (Bri Sudia) and Eileen (Lauren Molina) are much more than their humble Midwestern roots and wide-eyed city freshness imply. They may wonder in song why oh why-o they ever left “Ohio,” but these gritty girls aren’t afraid of a little rejection, mansplaining or even jail time, in their determination to make it.

With delight it eventually dawned on me that Ruth is the main character of “Wonderful Town.” Infused with the power of the pen and far from man hungry, Ruth routinely sets her pride aside in the quest for a good story or better opportunity. I have already said that this work is ahead of its time. Spoiler alert: though she does end up paired with a partner, it’s one who needs her far more than she depends on him.

The soundtrack is delightful, no surprise given the Bernstein legend. Standouts include “One Hundred Easy Ways,” a humorous look at female empowerment as a detractor for the conventional man, and “Pass the Football,” a prescient treatise on celebrity culture.

At over two and a half hours with one brief intermission, “Wonderful Town” is on the longish side. However time flies with all the visual, audio and performance stimulus keeping the audience moving. It’s not a perfect show and there’s certainly some standard musical comedy deus ex machina to tidy the ending. That’s about the only convention viewers will find. Enjoy the precocious, lovely ride.

“Wonderful Town” runs through Oct. 23 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N Dearborn Street, Chicago, IL. For information or tickets, call 312-443-3800 or visit the Goodman Theatre website.

 

2016’s Biggest Electoral Casualty: The Media’s Integrity

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“Lies, fear mongering and discreditable boasting right out of the gate. And the media let him get away with it, treating Trump as the serious candidate he never was because man, the story was just too good. He’d never actually secure the Republican nomination, right? There would be plenty of time to course correct and cover the campaign with the gravitas that deciding upon the next Leader of the Free World deserves.

Except that never happened. And mainstream “journalism” has showed itself to be more than a recorder of events over the last 14 months. The industry has flat-out enabled, and in many cases, encouraged, a permanent blight on our political history.”

Read the full post for Contemptor.