The Blue Raccoon

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Widow's Blind Date
At the Firehouse Theatre -- November 13 - December 6, 2008

I missed the opening night last week -- something I don't often do; in the 16 years of the company I've not made it to the openings of six or so of our more than 60 productions. Anyway, I'm going this weekend. Any members of the billion-eyed audience within the range of my voice should try to make it, too -- be warned. This is an emotionally fraught play that packs a wallop. Not a light night at the theater.

Don't take my word for it. The review from the Times-Dispatch's Susan Haubenstock got saddled with a lackluster head and subhead, but once you get past that, she has some good observations. She writes:

"Horovitz's play is intense, dramatic and violent, and in director Bill Patton's production, the actors embody the shifting levels of threat, humor and sexuality with emotional and physical precision."

Read the whole thing here.

The playwright will be in town Dec. 5 for a talk-back session following the play.

The Widow’s Blind Date

by Israel Horovitz

The Story

(Photo by Jay Paul. Pictured are Ford Flannagan, Landon Nagel, and Jennifer Massey)

The scene is a wastepaper processing plant in a blue-collar Massachusetts town. Two workmen, Archie and George, are drinking beer and swapping stories, mostly about their apparently extensive sexual conquests. Archie mentions that Margy, a friend from high school and now a widow, has invited him to join her for a dinner. When she arrives to pick Archie up, the mood of the play shifts. Suddenly, the play’s original macho bantering takes on new and dangerous meanings. Margy will subtly set the two men against each other while gradually revealing her contempt for her former classmates, whose lives have remained in a rut, she says, while she went on to bigger and better things living in the big city. But this is only the beginning of Margy’s complaint…

“Mystery, menace, confrontation, violence, resolution - these are the phases of Israel Horovitz’s remarkably naturalistic play The Widow’s Blind Date.”
- NY Post

“...the playwright’s toughest, grittiest play.”
- Variety


Individual - $25; Seniors - $22; Student - $10 with valid ID. Tickets may be purchased online at, or by calling (804) 355-2001.


8:00 p.m. Thursdays - Saturdays; Sunday matinees 11/16, 11/23 and 11/30 at 4:00 p.m. Doors open a half-hour before showtime.

Special Events

(There were a bunch and I missed most of them).

Friday, November 21 - Talk Back Night - join Virginia Commonwealth University’s Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates and The Conciliation Project, a social justice theatrical group, after the show for a discussion about the production.

Friday, December 5 - Talk Back Night - join playwright Israel Horovitz after the show for a discussion about the production.

The Playwright

One of America’s most celebrated dramatists, Israel Horovitz has written more than 50 produced plays, many of which have been translated and performed in more than 30 languages worldwide. Among his best-known plays are Line (which is now in its 33rd year of continuous performance at off-Broadway’s 13th Street Repertory Theatre), Park Your Car in Harvard Yard, The Primary English Class, The Widow’s Blind Date, The Indian Wants the Bronx for which he won the Obie Award for Best Play, and My Old Lady which ran on Broadway in 2002.

His 1982 film Author! Author!, starring Al Pacino, is a largely autobiographical account of a playwright dealing with the stress of having his play produced on Broadway while trying to raise a large family. Other Horovitz films include the award-winning Sunshine, co-written with Istvan Szabo (European Academy Award - Best Screenplay), 3 Weeks After Paradise (which he directed and in which he starred), James Dean, an award-winning biography of the actor, and The Strawberry Statement (Prix du Jury, Cannes Film festival, 1970), a movie adapted from a journalistic novel by James Simon Kunen that deals with the student political unrest of the 1960s.

He has won numerous awards for his work, including two Obies, the Drama Desk Award, The Sony Radio Academy Award, an Award in Literature from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, The Governor of Massachusetts’ Leadership Award, and many others.

Horovitz is the former artistic director of the Gloucester Stage Company in Gloucester, Massachusetts, which he founded in 1979. He founded The New York Playwrights Lab in 1975, and still serves as the NYPL’s Artistic Director.

Previously produced plays by Horovitz at Firehouse Theatre Project include: North Shore Fish, Lebensraum, Fast Hands, Compromise, The Secret of Mme Bonnard’s Bath, and Acrobats.

The Cast and Director

Bill Patton (Director)has directed eight shows for the Firehouse Theatre Project: Kingdom of Earth, The Heidi Chronicles, Speed-the-Plow, The Big Slam, Lebensraum, Buried Child, Edmond, Because He Can, and Death of Bessie Smith. The Firehouse was grateful and honored to have him back to perform in last season’s The Late Henry Moss. He also played the lead in Fast Hands. Patton holds an MFA in directing from New York University, an M.Th. in counseling from Duke University, and an M.Div. from Philadelphia Seminary. He served as the Artistic Director of the Force 13 Theater Co. in NYC and the Director-in-Residence at Southampton College in Long Island, New York. In 1976, he directed the acclaimed Off-Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’ Kingdom of Earth at the IRT Theater, and was honored by several visits from Williams, himself. Patton has also served as Executive Director of the Beaufort Marine Institute in South Carolina and has been a commercial fisherman in Alaska. His most recent academic position was as a professor at the College of Charleston, where he taught Acting and Theater History. He currently teaches acting classes at the Firehouse.

Ford Flannagan (George Ferguson) is making his first appearance with the Firehouse. Local credits include Barksdale Theatre’s productions of The Full Monty (Malcolm), Into the Woods (Narrator/Mysterious Man), Scapino (Carlo), and The 1940’s Radio Hour (Neal Tilden); Theatre IV’s productions of Crimes of the Heart (Barnette Lloyd), Of Mice and Men (George), DA (Charlie then), Four Part Harmony (Swen), and Peter Pan (Peter); Swift Creek Mill Playhouse’s productions of Greater Tuna (Arles, etc.) and Little Shop of Horrors (Seymour); and Theatre Virginia’s The Robber Bridegroom (Goat). Ford can also be seen in the Terrence Malick film, The New World and the HBO Mini Series, John Adams.

Jennifer Massey (Margy Burke) previously played all the female roles in Horovitz’s The Secret of Madame Bonnard’s Bath at the Firehouse. Other Firehouse credits include: The Vagina Monologues and Dinner with Friends. Local credits include Barksdale’s Intimate Apparel, The Fifth of July, and Light Up the Sky; and Richmond Ensemble Theatre’s Tally’s Folly. Regional stage
credits include performances with The Alliance Theatre (Atlanta); Flat Rock Playhouse (NC); for the new playwright’s project at Arena Stage (Washington, DC); and with the renowned Women’s Shakespeare Company (LA). In Los Angeles, she also performed with the Deaf, including numerous productions at acclaimed Deaf West Theatre. Television credits include principal roles on One Tree Hill, Surface, Hack, The Practice, 7th Heaven, Charmed, Melrose Place, and Married...with Children among others. Film credits include The Wedding Crashers ("uncorked edition"), End of the Spear, and the recently released Graduation. She appears locally in various commercials and as the host of Richmond’s Comcast Newsmakers program.

Landon Nagel (Archie Crisp) is making his Firehouse debut with this production. Local credits include Barksdale’s Guys and Dolls (Benny SouthStreet); TheatreVCU’s Cabaret (Cliff), When You Comin’ Back Red Ryder (Teddy), Medea (Jason), and A Funny thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Pseudolus). Landon has been acting in the Richmond area for over ten years. He has performed with SPARC, Theatre IV, The Barksdale Theatre, Paramount’s Kings Dominion, and Spirit Cruise Lines on the Annabel Lee. Look for him next in Barksdale’s Children of a Lesser God.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

It's Been A While

Image: "Ballad Plays -- 1951" from an on-line album of images, prose and poetry of individuals affiliated with the Beat era in Wichita, Kansas, compiled and maintained by Thornton Lee Streiff, here.

Billion-eyed audience, we've made our way through several strange few weeks here in Richmond, Va. For the first time in my life, Virginia voted Democratic, and I still don't believe I'm seeing President-Elect Barack Obama. This is truly the Best.West Wing. Ever.

Then, despite the air of celebration, the national cascading economic collapse accelerated here, as Circuit City -- that started here as Ward's TV -- filed for bankruptcy and laid off 800 people in Henrico County alone; Richmond-born LandAmerica was bought by its competitor, Fidelity National Financial; even Luck Stone trimmed off 17 percent of its regional workforce.

The downturn isn't just something getting reported on the news, like a weather event, but a real occurrence now affecting friends and acquaintances.

And though I face now a week of customary stresses at my day job, and more to come, at least I have a place to go in the morning.

Even the weather here has exhibited odd tendencies; season cold and drizzly and gusts of wind sending up tempests of leaves; or downwright balmy and short-sleeve weather, and with cool breeze, with a hint of the winter bite, but a pleasure to inhale deep of.

Among other things affecting peole I know, a recent balcony collapse that injured 21 people on West Cary Street near VCU occurred at the where some friends live, and not well-reported was a melee that erupted almost at the same time with the next door neighbors.

In Other News

I've been busy attending signin' and sellin' events for Richmond In Ragtime: Socialists, Suffragists, Sex and Murder (History Press) and planning or participating in discussions about more. I want to thank all of those who've turned out, the Valentine Richmond History Center for including me in the Holiday Shopper's Fair and the James River Writers for inviting me to attend its Meet The Writer happy hour this past week.

The book's lively cover causes remarks and the silky finish is also quite fine. Plus, it has that wonderful new book smell.

But I was listening to "The Book Guys" on WRIR when they discussed a recent New York Observer feature about how, like every other industry, book publishing is feeling the pinch of the times. And if the situation was already bad for prospective first-time novelists, and difficult for small press authors, then now the matters have worsened.

"Only the most established agents will be able to convince publishers to take a chance on an unknown novelist or a historian whose chosen topic does not have the backing of a news peg. The swollen advances that have come to represent all that is reckless and sinful about the way the business is run will grow, not shrink. Authors without “platforms” will have a more difficult time finding agents willing to represent them. The biggest publishing house in the world, meanwhile, will be overhauled by a 40-year-old man who worked in printing until he was appointed to his post as CEO of Random House Inc. last spring.

“Think of it like a supply chain,” said one publishing executive who would not speak for attribution. “If the newspapers have fewer ads, they’re running fewer book reviews, so therefore, for those books that don’t have a pre-established audience, there are fewer opportunities to appeal to the consumer. Therefore, there are fewer of those consumers going into the bookstore. The bookstore recognizes this, and they tell you your mid-list books aren’t doing shit, so they’re not gonna order them, or they’re just gonna order 100 copies. They can cut off those books, and then the publisher is faced with a tough decision—how am I gonna buy those books that I know I can only ship 100 copies of? What am I gonna do? Am I gonna keep doing it? Or am I gonna spend more [money] chasing established authors?

You can read the whole depressing thing here.

An Evening At Dupont Circle

The Partner In Art For Life this weekend had a piece in the Art for Life auction that benefits the Whitman-Walker Clinic that works in prevention AIDS/HIV among minority populations.

The event was held in the marble halls at the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

We were delayed in getting out of Richmond, then, by chance, having noted our intentions on my Facebook page, our friend Kathryn called offering to ride up together because she was going up to meet a friend at a separate event.

I thought heading into D.C. so close to rush hour on a weekend was probably going to be fraught with some challenges; but if she was willing to take on the challenge, we were willing to travel.

The usual Washington craziness was made even more frustrating due to the convening of the G-20 summit which seems to me a rather hopeless cause, anyway. What are we going to do? Throw around billions and print more money. Which is exactly what's happening. And tying up traffic.

We ended up leaving Kathryn to find a parking place and we ran out and dashed into Metro Center to get a train. As usual, "native intelligence" gave us wrong directions. (As I explained to Amie, from my pizza delivery days when looking for an unfamiliar street, most people don't seem to know anything about directions: they are always here from another part of town for some special reason, or visitors themselves. But, as an inveterate walker, I've given plenty of directions - and also found myself far more ignorant than I would've thought). 

We clambered out of the Farragut North station when we could've gone all the way to Dupont Circle. I was just pleased to ride the train and be around the different languages, the sharp clothes, and excited students. I liked seeing how the women here wrap their scarves. Not New York, to be sure, but a different rhythm which is exactly what I wanted.

The weather was warm, but damp, and we were dressed formal. Walking through Dupont to the Carnegie I was reminded of Washington can resemble Richmond, or the Richmond I have wished for, the Mahone-altered "New Dominion" wherein cities could extend into counties, and be embraced and girded by parks and green spaces, and the far points linked by trams and commuter rail. And that we had to risk life and limb on I-95 at all, and that there isn't a flexible and inexpensive commuter express running evening back and forths between Balto/Wash/Richmond is just bad planning. And damned inconvenient. 

At the Carnegie, we drank very sweet mojitos and grabbed some finger food from passing trays, but there was no central place for eating, which was probably far less expensive, but we got there a little late probably missed much of what was floating around. 

The auction of pieces convened to the auditorium, dedicated to Elihu Root, and his "Vision Wisdom And Devotion To The Advancement Of Knowledge," and the walls resembled the frontispiece pages for a geography or history text of about a century ago, depicting the west and east of the United States in a stylized fashion, and figures of explorers and cartographers. 

Auctioneer B.J. Jennings gave an energetic performance to gin up bids but, as evidence that times are tough, the numbers of people in the auction dwindled from those who'd been wandering around drinking. She would rap, "Doitnow, doitnow, doitnow," and "Feels beter if you do it twice," and urge, "Your turn!" when she'd in rapid fashion get the price up. Amie's was Lot #5, so we didn't have to wait long -- by now we were quite hungry. She was happy with the result, and though we got our coats, Amie intended to return and try to meet the person who bought her work. 

We hiked back to Dupont, seeking a place not over-croweded or overrun with televisions, and found Levante's at 1320 19th St. NW. We didn't even know what it was but the name seemed appropriate as its cuisine comes from the Levant. And we were ready. Our food came quick and was good; the pida, a boat-shaped pizza made in a wood-burning oven, an eggplant salad. 

Amie returned to the Carnegie, and I sat, sipping bourbon and gingers and watching Dupont Circle's Friday  night date night hustle and bustle, and felt wistful and wishing for such a scene in Richmond, and how in my alternative version, there is. Don't get me wrong. We have concentrations of activity: Robinson and Main streets; Cary between Colonial and Dooley; Shockoe Slip; 18th Street in the Bottom, and on a good night, the music room of Capital Ale when the weather allows the front window to be open. But nothing quite like sitting at a big window in the middle of downtown that is a window on the world. There is a Metro stop nearby, too. 

About a half hour later, Kathryn, her friend Terry and Amie arrived and we had wonderful conversation and more nosh. Terry is in television news; he's been to Afghanistan three times and concludes that these days, there's not much left to pull together to form an independent nation. Back in the 1970s, they were building roads, they had a university, there was a sense of progress. Then came the Russians. Then we turned our backs on them. Now they are the major front on the anti-terrorism war, this tribal and clannish culture. 

The ride home was in sometimes heavy rain. I nodded off, and fought to stay awake as I was sitting next to Kathryn and she was giving us the lift, but the auction festivities, food, drink and conversation had left both Amie and me fatigued. 

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Shock of The New
Come what may, we as a nation are in a place we've never been

The other night I was at a social gathering of friends sitting around a backyard fire pit, and amid the ebb and flow of conversation and the sparks carried away into the night, a silence formed. And one of the group sitting there, gazing into the flames, intoned, "Now that George Bush is gone, we don't have much to talk about anymore."

Which made us chuckle, but, in fact, just as the administration of George W. Bush had become wearisome, so has talking about its incompetence, callousness and corruption. What more else could you say after eight years of the variation on a theme?

Witness the jubilation recorded and loaded up to YouTube above. The two young women are pouring into the street to experience an event they'll remember the rest of their lives. (I've experienced difficulty getting it to stick here; so you may or may not see it, if not, you can go here.) 

This is Broad Street, in Richmond, Virginia, between Harrison and Ryland streets, amid the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. About this time, at the other end of town, a group of students and Obama supporters -- perhaps drifting up from the gala at Toad's Place in Shockoe -- formed in Capitol Square and stood before the Virginia State Capitol, designed by Thomas Jefferson, and once the seat of the Confederate legislature, and sang the "Star-Spangled Banner."

Then they, thousands of them, moved up through town, along Broad Street, hooting, cheering, chanting and waving banners and signs. Our city police watched uncomprehending and cautious. Here was not a riot, nothing violent, not even inebriated. Just happy.

"From The Hallelujah To The Hoot Is But A Step."

Amie and I were driving home after watching the results come in and the speeches, among friends, and where people cheered and wept. We had on WRIR and we heard a remote reporter speaking about some kind of spontaneous gathering at Adams and Broad, downtown and she said to me, "Let's go."

So we drove down to Franklin Street, parked there near Henry Street or so, and began walking over to Broad. We didn't see much of anybody at first, but heard the roaring of a crowd, and cheers, and car horns, and even train whistles as they locomotives passed along the northside track.

When we came out onto Broad, around Adams, we saw throngs, and two men walking up the middle of Broad Street holding a U.S. flag, like some 21st century version of Liberty Leading The People.

We followed along, the big majority of the crowd was bubbling toward Laurel and Franklin, at the center of the VCU campus, by dorms and Monroe Park. And we stood upon a wall there and watched the celebration. Drummers drummed, chanters chanted, some more daring clambered upon the new architectural affectation there in front of the dorms, a kind off stick pergola, and others climbed upon street poles and traffic signals. One girl, caught up in the moment, chose to trust fall into the arms of the waiting crowd. Something could have spun out and gone very badly, but, near as I could see and heard later, nothing untoward occurred (save for some isolated reported instances of pepper spraying by the police).

Though approaching a week later, I'm still somewhat in a state of disbelief. Virginia went Democratic, which it hasn't since Lyndon Johnson, almost in my life-time. A candidate for whom, though I was proud of, and though with a great ambivalence about the political system in general, I wanted to see win. And he triumphed. Before midnight. No days-long uncertainty, or tribulation, or Supreme Court intervention. He won it. He won amid the Republicans accusing him of getting money from overseas, and of ACORN stealing votes, and everything else they could latch hold of and throw in his direction.

On the opposite spectrum, the conspicuous lack of support Obama gave to the gay marriage propositions, especially in California, has already annoyed some of his committed supporters from the rainbow side. The financial bailout, the FISA rule that he voted to renew, all these aspects to his record will come into question during the months ahead. We'll see how much like Obama operates like a Chicago-machine apparatchik that the gets accused of.

And I found myself, despite my own tears of thanksgiving, thinking of several things. First, a sentiment expressed by Vladimir Nabokov, "that from the hallelujah to the hoot is but a step."

We learned this week that the vaunted "youth vote," though the highest in decades, was still not overwhelming, and what made the difference was that those who cast their vote didn't split between Democrats and Republicans, most of them sided with Obama. Which is how you win elections.

The next day, I would see reaction from around the world, the tears and cheers, in the streets of Paris, Singapore, and the Obama ancestral village in Kenya. This was a huge sigh of relief; like a war had ended.

But this election ended not a single war. Not yet. 

Later in the week, taking lunch at home, I watched on CSPAN a conference of Conservative women and they did not seem to understand why they had lost; they blamed the media -- despite Fox News and three hours of Rush Limbaugh and all of his ilk saturating the nation every day.

On First Friday, where some of the festive sense of earlier in the week could still be felt, the No BS Brass Band played in front of the former Obama-Biden canvassing offices. Now, the space resembled a hastily-organized musuem, filled with all manner of campaign ephemera, signs, flyers, photographs, even a few for Nader and McCain. I was reminded of all those images that have appeared on walls of the missing and dead following 9-11 and Katrina, and how different this was. The sudden urge to commemorate the just passed moment of triumph reinforces how, yes, the spectacular victory of Nov. 4 is past us. The real nasty business of governing is ahead. 

"The catastrophe that is the administration of George W. Bush is not unprecedented. It was merely inevitable."

And second, a feature in Esquire I noted some months ago, Charles B. Pierce's "The Cynic and Senator Obama."

Pierce, the titular Cynic, is listening to Obama speak over a car radio and through poor reception. Poetry.

"The sound quality is erratic, as though the engineer were putting down the volume at the end of every line. The applause sounds like water rushing through rusty pipes. The rudimentary transmission makes the stump speech sound both fresh and timeless. All of the same laugh lines and punch lines and applause lines are there, but they sound to the cynic like something different, as though he were listening for the first time to something out of the Library of Congress, a recording recently exhumed from an obscure archive. The cynic decides that politics is better on the radio, the same way baseball is, where you have to construct the scene in your own head. Radio is for dreamers. Television is for hucksters, and it has leached from American politics all of its creative imagination."


“I look forward as president to going before the world community and saying, ‘America is back. We’re ready to lead,’ “ Obama says on the radio, the static crackling and popping and the transmission fading, and it takes a moment for the cynic to wonder whether or not the world wants America to lead. Maybe the world wants America to sit down and shut up for a while.

. ...........................................................................................................................................

How we didn't get into this predicament just during the past eight years; oh no, there's plenty of blame to go around, including who you see in the mirror:

"There is no point anymore in blaming George Bush or the men he hired or the party he represented or the conservative movement that energized that party for what has happened to this country in the past seven years. They were all merely the vehicles through whom the fear and the lassitude and the neglect and the dry rot that had been afflicting the democratic structures for decades came to a dramatic and disastrous crescendo. The Bill of Rights had been rendered a nullity by degrees long before a passel of apparatchik hired lawyers found in its text enough gray space to allow a fecklessly incompetent president to command that torture be carried out in the country’s name."

The ownership of the people over their politics -- and, therefore, over their government -- had been placed in quitclaim long before the towers fell, and the president told the people to be just afraid enough to let him take them to war and just afraid enough to reelect him, but not to be so afraid that they stayed out of the malls.

It had been happening, bit by bit, over nearly forty years. Ronald Reagan sold the idea that “government” was something alien. The notion of a political commonwealth fell into a desuetude so profound that even Bill Clinton said, “The era of Big Government is over” and was cheered across the political spectrum, so that when an American city drowned and the president didn’t care enough to leave a birthday party, and the disgraced former luxury-horse executive who’d been placed in charge of disaster relief behaved pretty much the way a disgraced former luxury-horse executive could be expected to behave in that situation, it could not have come as any kind of surprise to anyone honest enough to have watched the country steadily abandon self-government over the previous four decades. The catastrophe that is the administration of George W. Bush is not unprecedented. It was merely inevitable. The people of the United States have been accessorial in the murder of their country."

"The catastrophe that is the administration of George W. Bush is not unprecedented. It was merely inevitable," a-men, brother a-men.


"In 2007, when asked about the possibility -- just the possibility -- of impeaching George W. Bush and/or Dick Cheney, Obama scoffed at the idea, not entirely because it was constitutionally unsound but also because it was impolite and a nuisance and might make many people angry at one another, and he was, after all, running to help save us from ourselves.

“We would, once again, rather than attending to the people’s business, be engaged in a tit-for-tat, back-and-forth, nonstop circus.”

He was offering a guilty country a nolo plea. Himself. Absolution without confession.

The cynic declined the deal. There were not enough people in handcuffs yet."


"The cynic wondered if Obama’s campaign had not found itself in a blind alley of its own devising. By offering his complicit, fearful nation and its complicit, brutish people absolution without confession, without penance, Obama guaranteed that the sins would stay, and they would be committed over and over again, and against him this time. Poor bastard, thought the cynic. When the cynic heard Obama talk about Dr. King’s “fierce urgency of now,” he wondered first and always why Obama spent so much time talking about great men -- Abraham, Martin, John, and Bobby -- who’d all been shot in the head."

And Pierce wrote this before Hillary's Bobby Kennedy-primary ending in June kerfluffle. In the New York Deli a few days ago, I overheard an older gentleman striking up conversation with a college-age kid. The older man was more of a Ron Paul guy, so was the kid, and the Paulite said, he actually said this, "I feel so sorry for Barack. Even if he gets elected, somebody's going to shoot him."

Why do we think these things? Because in our hearts we don't really want any change. Anybody who tries is either marginalized, vilified -- or killed.

Now who sounds cynical?

Change Everywhere -- Except Here

We have elected Barack Hussein Obama President of the United States. He is ours now. And he's got a task ahead of worthy of cleaning the Augean stables. Already, the recriminations and attacks of the embittered have started, preparing to mince every gaffet -- like that remark about Nancy Reagan and séances -- made me chuckle, but wince, because I knew what was coming.

The thousands marched and expressed their exuberant enthusiasm for a paradigm shift in the way the nation is governed. Except for the Richmond city elections -- where everything basically remained the same.

We'll have a new mayor; instead of a Governor-Mayor, a Delegate-Reverend-Mayor and all but one of the sitting City Council returned to their chairs. So we get a big change at the national level, which is good, but more of the same right here on the street where political choices impart an immediate and direct affect. That outcome is a profound disappointment for me.

I listened to the Delegate-Minister-Mayor in a Meet The Candidates forum at the beginning of the season -- this was a strange Richmond day, rain while the sun shined, followed by a rainbow. During this session, the future Mayor grumped that he was tired of having to drive 95 miles to participate in cultural and sports activities. This stunned me. I know the man gets out of his house and visits restaurant row on Main Street from time-to-time, so what was he talking about?

Has he never attended a First Friday? Has he bothered to read the new Master Plan? Does he realize that this city supports a symphony and a ballet? He doesn't seem to know much, in fact, about the city he's now supposed to lead.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

The First First Friday of the New Era
But the same ole picture

Yes, billion-eyed audience, here they are again. Many of you long-time listeners already know the story. But, for those you don't: this image was taken, and not by me, at an exhibition opening several years ago at the vanished Three Miles Gallery and this space, and the adjacent one, is today the bustling Tarrant's Café.

This pair of Richmond lovelies display the classic duality of Greek tragedy/comedy, and the predicament of existence, and how in general conditions are one or the other -- depending who you are and where your viewing booth is.

They also represent for the Blue Raccoon the energy and verve of the First Friday High Art Hike here in Richmond, Va; otherwise known as First Fridays: On and Off Broad, and brought to you by Curated Culture, which is detailed IN COLOR here.

We're going to hit Main Street, first. There are several shows to see opening:

Tanja Softic' and Holly Morrison at the Page Bond Gallery. (Image of Softic' at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, via her site.) Softic's printed and drawn work makes me think of somehow a sensitive instrument could record a sense memory flitting about in the synapses
of the brain not as an electrical charge but as the shape of the thing or the sensation.

I'm not familiar with Morrison's photographic work, but I look forward to experiencing it; the two seem well matched.

Louis Poole at Main Art. Poole's genre is architecture, in particular, houses. But he's not just a painter of houses. The lines and angles, shadows and shapes of the structure become constructs themselves and become abstractions while retaining their integrity as built objects. So you can see them both as metaphor and actual object at the same time.

• Ghostprint Gallery, Chuck Scalin, "Paris: Fragments of Urban Reality." Who doesn't like Paris? Everybody likes Paris. Scalin loves it to pieces; in fact, he's photographed bits and parts, at odd angles and in surprising ways, to recontextualize (yes, I used that word) the cityscape's inherent visual abstraction that our eyes and brains process and make sense of.

Art 6, Myron Helfgott, "What Women Have Told Me." During his long career Helfgott reached into painting and sculpture and busted them up, then re-arranged the shards and rubble like cinematic tableaux, or converted them into chunks of separate experience. His pieces can babble, move, and often amuse.

Art historian Howard Risatti refers to Helfgott's sense of "suspended narration" and that is quite clear in his arrangement of large photographic, almost three dimensional portraits, stapled to the backs of cafe chairs grouped tightly in a small room while their varied voices spout aphorisms and witticisms by other people. It's a bit like attending a party in the small confines of an academic's apartment, and their conversations reduced to the great thoughts of others. The title is appropriate "The Feel of the Thing, Not the Think of It."

When you go, choose a time when the place isn't too crowded so you can listen to the various soundtracks that go with the various assemblages of objects and images. Probably First Friday isn't the best time to hear the work. But if that's your time that you've allocated to go experience art in Richmond, you should at least go see how Helfgott has organized the installations.

And you can smirk at the dervish-twirling smiling Buddha, and, if you can listen, the sexual and social politics getting played out. A cameo role is filled out by playwright Arthur Miller.

ada Gallery: Bruce Wilhelm and Motomichi Nakamura. (Below, Wilhelm's "Tangle," 32"x 39" acrylic on paper). Wilhelm, a former Richmonder, will present works on paper and paintings while Brooklyn-residing Nakamura will have animations and drawings, too. ada is a little schizo right now, being in two places at once, with a new space to open soon, 1829 W. Main St.

If you've not had the opportunity yet to drop into 1708 to get a gander at "Media X" you should as it is about our perilous and precipitous times -- and was installed on the eve of the elections.

The tele-centric Everyone We Know News Network installation, which is updated almost every day, should be even more interesting as the personal reflects the global and political.

So the weather is supposed to be fine, and there will be ample time to socialize (and be socialists, too), so go and engage yourself.

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Ragtime book arrived! The Ragtime book arrived!
Richmond In Ragtime has arrived at the Valentine Richmond History Center, soon in finer book shops everywhere (around here) and Amazon and Barnes &

Yes, billion-eyed audience, this handsome, 221-page, fully-illustrated narrative chronicle of three rambunctious years, 1909-1911, in Richmond has arrived and will various shipments will be appearing at assorted stores and shops as the days go forward.

The first place RIR meets the general public, though, is at the 14th Annual Holiday Shoppers Fair that all the city's regional museums band together to display their offerings for the discerning Richmond gift-giving season buyer. I'm there representing for the Valentine Richmond History Center and The History Press.

I'll be there the second day, at the Library of Virginia, Saturday, Nov. 8 1:00 to 3:30. Not my only appearance, to be certain, and I'll post other places I'll be.

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