Sunday, August 02, 2015

A Bullet Review
August 1, 2015
A play by Annie Baker
Signature Theatre 42d Street NYC
There are people who are very comfortable with interpersonal silence and others like moi who need to keep yapping to fill it in. In Annie Baker’s new play “John” interpersonal stage silence is an important part of her playwright’s tool box in this exploration of the dark psychic baggage of seemingly everyday folks.
The Signature Theatre, where the play is in previews, won’t be putting asses in seats with this one, and there were a lot less asses in those seats at the end of this 3 hour and 15 minute play but its filled with sharp humor, compelling characters , and strong performances.
Ms. Baker, who won a Pulitzer in 2014 for “Flick”, digs into the psychic anguish of every day lives while challenging traditional notions of staging. In Flick she peeled back the layers of desperate underpaid young people working in a small town movie theatre with a stage set consisting of rows of a run down movie seats facing the audience.
In John, a young couple with a relationship, hanging by a thread, spend a weekend in a dowdy tchotchke smothered Gettysburg PA bed and breakfast. In the early minutes, the audience watches the couple climb the stairs to their room. We are left staring at the empty set for a few beats and then become awkward eavesdroppers straining to hear the muffled voices of the couple arguing in their room.
Here comes some good news. Georgia Engel who plays Mertis, the B&B owner combines the same sweetness and deer in headlights, small town dopiness, that cracked up those of old enough to remember her as Ted Baxter’s girlfriend Georgette on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Her impeccable timing and larger than life facial expressiveness squeezes great things out of silent spaces as we get larger and larger glimpses of the haunted dark side of her back story.
Then there is the always wonderful treat of watching veteran stage and screen actor Lois Smith play the role of Mertis's blind best friend Genevieve. Genevieve speaks truth from darkness about life and love. In another unexpected moment which again challenges theatrical staging expectations Ms. Smith . . . . Its not major, but it is unique enough not to spoil. If I were a real critic I would understand this tapping of the blind sage as a classic character of Greek theatre but, Im not and I don't.
Christopher Abbott and Hong Chau give solid but unexciting performances. The plot’s descent into darkness was ultimately engaging but unrelenting while leaving too many dangling unexplained threads of spookiness. It did meet my first criteria of theatre on a weeknight - I stayed awake.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

A Bullet Review / Big Love at The Signature Theatre NYC By Bob Salzman 3/1/15

Big Love, at the Signature Theatre, on 42d Street, by Charles Mee, starts before the actors appear with an eye popping Italian seaside villa stage set including a video of the glistening Mediterranean running across the rear wall of the stage, tropical flowers dangling above the audience’s head and large video projections of seaside birds on each wall.
The play is a modern day take on an ancient Greek play “The Denaids” about 50 women fleeing forced marriages to 50 cousins. In an unwelcome reminder of how much I never learned in college, the Playbill tells us that it’s “one of the oldest plays in the western world”.
The play is engaging fun because of its easy on the eyes, high energy talented cast with great voices and acrobatic floor slamming choreography, inspired by professional wrestling. The wonderful singing includes an unexpected Italian aria and my favorite when the sisters grab cordless mikes and belt out the female breaking free anthem “You Don’t Own Me”.
As the women plot their final exit strategy the play touches on some big ideas about oppression, rebellion and moral choices but ultimately descends into incomprehensible, three ring circus like - shall we just say - “liquified” chaos.
I don’t get opera, but plays like this one shed light on why opera fans buy expensive tickets to experience breathtaking talent even if what’s happening on stage is incomprehensible and dopey .

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Bullet Review : The Audience by Peter Morgan starring Helen Mirren 2 15 15

Last night, at the end of the first act of "The Audience", in previews at the Schoenfeld Theatre on Broadway, Helen Mirren has the crown placed on her head in a re-enactment of Queen Elizabeth’s 1953 coronation and the audience broke into applause. It gave me the creeps.
It was the same strain of the creeps I felt at the start of the currently running delightful production of “On The Town” when they light up a massive flag and the audience stands up for the Star Spangled banner. Something other than theatre was going on.
OK Helen Mirren is one of the world’s greatest actresses and it’s probably worth the overpriced tickets, in an overheated theatre with zero leg room seats to see her on stage but Helen – make this the last one. One more Queen Elizabeth imitation and you risk crossing over into the land of Elvis impersonators.
There are some hardwired problems. Much of the play assumes a knowledge of British politics and history that at least this American does not have. It is, however, an interesting fly on the wall look at the weekly chats in Buckingham Palace between the Queen and British PMs from Churchill to Cameron. You get a snapshot of Elizabeth as a well meaning woman, raised in a pampered form of institutionalized isolation, capable of tart questions but ultimately a vestigial relic.
Its worth mentioning the strikingly skillful creation of iconic historic images like the appearance of Churchill's hulking cigar smoking form (played by Dakin Mathews) which is, I dare say, spot on.
But ultimately it’s as if Disney’s Magic Kingdom hired world class talent to put on a "Rule Britannia" patriotic pageant to compete with “Impressions De France” in the pavilion next door.
I don’t feel ripped off but this production is something other than a play.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

At a Police Funeral, Backs Turned on the Mayor A Letter to the Editor NY Times 1/5/15

To the Editor:

Re “Silent Protest as 2nd Officer Is Laid to Rest” (front page, Jan. 5):

When a group of responding officers can’t subdue an agitated, unarmed man being arrested for a nonviolent offense without killing him, the New York Police Department has a training and supervision problem that needs fixing.

Instead of even a minimal recognition of the problem and the broken relationship between the police and minority communities, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, rank-and-file cops and pandering politicians have opted to lash out at Mayor Bill de Blasio as “anti-cop” because he made balanced statements respectful of both the police and peaceful protesters.

Officers who turned their backs on their civilian commander in chief at the funerals for Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu committed shocking acts of public insubordination — a troubling statement that this local and national problem will get worse long before it gets better.

Brooklyn, Jan. 5, 2015

Friday, November 07, 2014


      I fell asleep watching the KochFoxican take over of the US Senate on election day and I had this dream .  . .

      Obama’s at his desk speaking to the nation the morning after election day.

      My fellow Americans, last night’s election reminded me of the farmer who said the only way he can get his mule’s attention is by hitting it over the head with a 2 by 4.  OK America – you got my attention.

          Republican voters have bought the two big myths about whats wrong with America- that government is picking their pockets and giving their money to deadbeats and that things would be better if only rich people could get their hands on more money.

          Like the slickest trial lawyers that ever bamboozled a jury the Republicans and their 24/7 friends at Fox News have convinced every day people that their interests are the same as the Koch Brothers. That's a pretty good trick. I tip my hat to them. They had some Democrats so terrorized that they wouldn't even admit who they voted for in the last national election.

       Americans who vote Republican are not stupid. They are just so busy trying to get by, pay their bills, hold onto their jobs, raise kids, keep a roof over their heads and food on the table that they are sitting ducks for the Republican smoke machine.

  It's time to take back the narrative. If spoken to directly and honestly American voters will understand that they are being fed complete hokum. Every day for the next two years people will hear from me with a message that is strong, loud and clear;

                - that the Republican goal of bringing back the emergency room as America’s primary care provider is a bad idea

                 -  that the immigration problem cannot be solved by inflicting suffering on people whose only crime was risking everything to give their kids a better life.

                  - that no one is taking away anyone’ s guns any more than requiring drivers licenses and stop lights is a slippery slope to seizing everyone’s cars.

                  - that freedom means government should stay out of people’s bedrooms and politicians should not be telling women what they can or cannot do with their wombs.

                  I will continue to do whatever I think is necessary to protect the country from the real and present danger of lunatic murderers with their sick hate driven belief systems but the world's  Hatfields and McCoys war zones will not be fixed with military solutions.

                   The Republican vision of a society of haves and have nots is not the America that gives us goose bumps when the flag  comes by on July 4.

                  I have tried not to step on toes for the last 6 years and the result has been footprints on my face. So that’s over. 
As FDR said in 1936 – referring to the same sectors of American society -  I welcome their hatred. 

                  Ever have one of those dreams where you don't want to wake up?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The front page story of Harry Reid kvetching about his meeting with Obama and Mitch McConnel has been bugging me all week.

There was a front page NYT story this week (8/19/14) about Harry Reid feeling frustrated with the Pres. It has been bugging me all week because it feels like bullshit and the Times fell for it.

The media concensus is that Obama is coasting into the home stretch and everyone is frustrated.  Once a concensus is formed its much easier for journalists to play "pile on"  - especially during beach vacation season.
Here's a piece of the story;

But Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, wanted to press another point.
With Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, sitting a few feet away, Mr. Reid complained that Senate Republicans were spitefully blocking the confirmation of dozens of Mr. Obama’s nominees to serve as ambassadors. He expected that the president would back him up and urge Mr. McConnell to relent.
Mr. Obama quickly dismissed the matter.
“You and Mitch work it out,” Mr. Obama said coolly, cutting off any discussion.
Mr. Reid seethed quietly for the rest of the meeting, according to four separate accounts provided by people who spoke with him about it. After his return to the Capitol that afternoon, Mr. Reid told other senators and his staff members that he was astonished by how disengaged the president seemed. After all, these were Mr. Obama’s own ambassadors who were being blocked by Mr. McConnell, and Secretary of State John Kerry had been arguing for months that getting them installed was an urgent necessity for the administration.

What did Reid expect! The President of the United States invites the four top Congressional leaders to his office to talk about  the downward spiral of Iraq to get their input about how to avoid another war. Then Harry Reid tries to change the subject and he's upset when it didnt work.

Without any prior heads up or an agreed upon Democratic strategy he tries to pull the rug out from under Obama's meeting agenda and then whines to the NYTimes about it.

What was the sandbagged President supposed to say? - although I called you here to talk about how to avoid being sucked back into Iraq, losing more lives and flushing another couple of billion down the toilet, lets change the subject to Harry's inability to do his job.

The NY Times let itself be bambozzled by a transparently sleazy attempt by Reid to hijack the press coverage of a White House meeting on Iraq in order to get a front page story dumping responsibility on Obama for Reid's failure of leadership.

I have one thing to say to Harry;

Monday, July 21, 2014

JULY 19 2014

The Jewish woman was having a loud cell phone conversation about the Jews charged with the murder of the Palestinian kid in retaliation for the murder of the Israeli kids. The Jew is alleged to have called the Palestinian a "murderer" and the Palestinian is said to have called the Jew a "Zionist pig"
I stopped reading and drifted off into a daydream that went something like this ...
The fight ends and they go back to their seats and a few minutes passes.  Then the gods of motherhood reach down and both of them are surprised to see the other approaching down the aisle.
The Jewish woman says (in your own daydream you can chose who starts the conversation)
"OK I'm a Zionist pig and you're a murderer - Now that we've gotten that out of the way let's talk about our kids and their future. Someone gives up a seat and they sit down next to each other.When they finish showing each other pictures of kids and grandkids one of them says "You and I both know that this is only going to be solved by mothers working it out for the sake of their kids not by men with guns and bombs. The other nods. They  talk for a long time. Someone nearby hears the conversation stop and turns to see them weeping uncontrollably and embracing.

The daydream didn't last long and I went on to finish the paper.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Condoleeza Rice, mushroom clouds and the Rutgers Commencement 2014 - Another unpublished letter to the editor

 To the Editor
Timothy Egan’s column The Commencement of Bigots, NYT  5/15/14,  slams as "bigots" the students who objected to Condoleeza Rice being their commencement speaker at Rutgers.
Condoleeza Rice  played a prominent role in the hoodwinking of the United States into one the most costly military disasters in American history, most notably by using psychic terror to suppress the opposition with her famously dishonest warning that “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.". Considering the human, economic and geopolitical damage she and the Bush administration did to the world that college graduates are inheriting  opposing the decision to award her with an honorary degree at their commencement ceremony is not bigotry. It's called caring and being heard about who this country trusts to be its leaders and not honoring those who cynically and knowingly betray that trust. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Dear Sheriff Nut Job;
[A letter to Orange County California Sheriff Sandra Hutchens who is urging people to apply for gun permits NYT Sun 4/27/14 p.4]

I get it.  You've been drinking the NRA kool-aid and anyone who thinks that the US has a gun violence problem is part of the gov'mint conspiracy to take away all guns.
        Who can argue with your thinking that what the world needs now, aside from love sweet love, is lots of people packing concealed automatic weapons? This way if folks feel threatened they can start shooting before the cops get there. This will certainly be a great contribution to road rage incidents, bar room brawls, or people faced with a dark skinned person knocking on their door for assistance.
This decision is not likely to be changed anytime soon, especially if the Supreme Court gets their paws on it. So to people like you who think that its good public policy to give lots of civilians the ability to open fire in public places here are a few news clips from New York City that show what happens when the people doing the shooting are trained police officers. 

Police wound 2 bystanders in shooting near Times SquareBy AnneClaire Stapleton, CNN
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Mon September 16, 2013
Decision by 2 Officers to Open Fire in Busy Midtown Leaves Bystanders Wounded By  and 
Published: August 24, 2012

  • --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Police Bullets Hit Bystanders, and Questions Rise Yet AgainHiroko Masuike/The New York Times
    The scene at 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue after officers fired at a man who was darting in and out of traffic on Sept. 14.
    By  and Published: September 15, 2012
                                            *    *   *
    Two officers opened fire, discharging a total of three bullets. They missed the man, but struck two women nearby, including one who had been leaning against her walker; the bullet wound to her leg sent her tumbling to the ground. 

    1. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

                      This is unlikely to change your mind, and by "this" I mean reality,  and by "your mind" . .  I'm speaking hypothetically . . . but with people like you in charge of public safety its probably a good idea to increase your county's budget for ambulances,  emergency rooms and surgeons with training in war zones.

    Saturday, March 08, 2014


    I know it’s a little late for post Olympic commentary.  OK maybe an invasion by an under cover plain clothes army that ain't saying who sent them is more important but somebody needs to say something about the Cossacks. So this will be quick and then you can go back to the invasion.

    I’m 62 years old.  Getting together with friends these days often begins with who pulled something while bending down to pick up soap. For me watching the Olympics and all the 20 somethings  flipping, spinning, zooming, flying around upside down was mostly annoying.

    Then there was an unscheduled event – Cossack bull whipping.  

    Out of nowhere, the flipping, spinning and zooming was suddenly interrupted by a video of men in  silly hats whipping a group of 20 something women also wearing interesting head gear because they tried to sing one of their songs   "Putin Will Teach You How to Love. The sports reporters matter of factly explained that the guys with the whips were Cossacks. OK got it. Now back to curling. 

    Whoa! Time out . Hold on. There are still Kossacks in Russia and  they patrol the streets with whips, while dressed up as bell hops?

    I thought the Kossacks were guys on horses who drove my ancestors out of Russia.  This was like watching the local six o’clock news and hearing the news anchor say “This afternoon people eating nachos at the Vince Lombardi rest area on the New Jersey Turnpike were attacked by Hessians. Now lets take a look at the weather."

    OK I got it out of my system. I just needed to scream for a few seconds. Now back to the invasion.

    Monday, January 13, 2014


    I appreciate your thoughts on the inauguration and mostly see things the same way... I don't totally agree with everything. I not convinced that what happens in NYC is as critical factor in the future of liberal policies. I realize now that maybe I'm even more pessimistic, glass-half-empty than you. I think there's very little chance that a NYC mayor can take major strides in ending income inequality without significant help from the state (where we have a governor who Dean Skelos rightly calls a good moderate Republican) and the feds. So I'm cautiously pessimistic about some of his more dramatic proposals. I would also urge you not to be quite so discouraged about first day speeches, which will largely be forgotten in the very near future. What I am really nervous about - something that you allude to - is that conservative, corporate forces will band together to defeat important parts of the Mayor's agenda, and they have extortionate power, the threat to leave, the threat to - thanks to Citizens United - offer a bottomless well of cash to opponents of progressive change. But I'd like to think there's room to hope for incremental, but significant change. The city council looks like it may be a progressive force, the Gov. actually might help (for example, though he clearly won't support a tax increase to fund Universal pre-K, it's certainly no coincidence that UPK featured prominently in his state of the state address).

    Lastly, I had some dealings with Tish James when she was an Assembly staffer. She's really smart and I think her heart's in the right place. The Public Advocate has limited power and almost no staff, but I think/hope she'll be something of a force in the right direction. And about her holding hands with the young homeless girl, what's so terrible about highlighting, though in a somewhat cheesy way, the plight of the homeless.

    There's more talk around the country about poverty right now, owing, I believe, in no small part to DeBlasio. What will come out of it? It would be silly to be too exuberant, but it would be a real shame not to get on board for as far as we can go...

    Saturday, January 11, 2014


    The morning after the inauguration I was sitting on the subway reading the paper.  A middle aged Hispanic woman next to me wordlessly put her finger on the picture of the DiBlasio family in my paper and gave me a smiling nod. I gave her one right back.

    This election meant a lot to a huge chunk of New York’s newly emerging voting demographic - the people who felt that whatever Bloomberg was doing for the last 12 years had nothing to do with them. Bloomberg did some great things but at the end of the day he was a tone deaf snob who saw himself primarily as Concierge in Chief for the haves.

    Bill and Hillary sitting in the front row royalty seats at the inauguration reminded everyone that there was something big going on here. This was more than Bernie Sanders becoming Mayor of Burlington in 1981. There was, and is, nothing less at stake here than the future of liberal policies in America.

    The Republican express has been splintered and momentarily derailed by the Tea Party. The newest Democratic wedge issue is the increasingly toxic gap between rich and poor. Democrats smell blood in the water and they're going after the electoral holy grail - America’s big fat voting middle. 

    You have to imagine that the right wing think tanks are working overtime to develop their own wedge issues to torpedo DiBlasio and sink Hillary. You have to believe we need to be worried about cops driving up crime statistics, developers backing away from big plans and conservative talking heads warning about the end of charter schools.

    I confess that I’m a glass is half empty, chicken little kind of guy. I know that I should have been more excited by the speeches but when it was over I was mostly disappointed and worried.

    The campaign is over. The good guys won. The progressive wing of the Democratic party had the microphone on the national stage in a rare teaching moment. This was the time to reach out to everyday folks who think that economic fairness means the government is going to pick their pockets. Too many of the speakers didn’t seem to get it that economic justice needs to be sold not as a matter of right and wrong, which never goes very far, but as a matter of raw, pocket book, self interest.

    This was an opportunity to speak to the people that didn't vote for DiBlasio and explain why he is on their side. It was a chance to explain that keeping kids in schools is cheaper than locking them up; that when police are seen as hostile occupiers, prosecutors can’t find witnesses and juries reach OJ Simpson style nullification verdicts; that streets and subways are safer without desperate poor people; that having a stable educated work force living in affordable homes is a business magnet; that neighborhoods become and stay vital when homeowners are real people shopping in local stores not Chinese princelings and Russian moguls parking suitcases of cash by buying $70 million condos where noone lives.

    That’s why except, for Bill Clinton’s speech, and that goose bump inducing 18 year old poet Ramya Ramana, the speeches left me alternatively yawning and cringing.  DiBlasio’s speech did the job but comparing it on an inspiration scale to an Obama speech would be like comparing the Manhattan Bridge to the Brooklyn Bridge.

    Too many of the speakers forgot that this wasn’t a stir up the troops campaign rally. Let me be the first and last person in history to call Harry Belafonte tone deaf. Even though he was right, what a waste of a televised teaching moment for one of America's cultural icons to blast New York’s prison population problem as “stemming from issues of race, perpetuated  by human indifference to poverty.” Who was that supposed to persuade?

    How did it help DiBlasio for the Department of Sanitation Chaplain to refer to New York City as a“plantation"? One more question. After the Department of Sanitation chaplain sits down at his desk in the morning and finishes his coffee, what exactly does he do for the rest of the day?

    Then came Latisha James. This was the new Public Advocate’s chance to introduce herself to the city wide electorate and  . . oh I don’t know…. maybe  be an advocate?  Instead she held the hand of a gum chewing 12 year old homeless girl as a prop and gave a “there’s a new sheriff in town” speech.

    While she was speaking, with a snow storm predicted for the next day, you could see the thought bubble above Bloomberg’s head that said, “Please God, if you make it the blizzard of the century I’ll build a new wing in heaven.”

    I turned off the TV and said my own little atheist inaugural prayer: 
      Mr. Mayor, this is the big enchilada. Please don’t blow it .     Good luck to you.  Good luck to us all.

    Wednesday, May 15, 2013


    I got a call last Saturday afternoon from a pollster who wanted to know what issue I care most about in the New York City mayoral election. I hung up on the poor sap because I assumed he was trying to steal my identity. Also I had more important things to do - like cut my toenails.

    It was however a good question and I would now like say a few things about the NYC Mayoral election  . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . …............... . . . . . . . . sorry I must have dozed off. Where was I? Oh yes- the Mayoral election -

    Holy moly!! - what a bunch of lackluster hacks!

    For a long time Bloomberg was a welcome relief from Guliani who gave us 8 years of government by temper tantrum along with his motto  “if it pisses off white people I’ll take care of it”.  Tourists loved Guliani for the same reason they love to pose with the naked cowboy in Times Square. I’ll get back to you as soon as I find out what that reason is.

    Then came Bloomberg.  As a  “let’s just fix it” engineer/CEO he was initially a welcome change. Like when you replace a noisy old broken air conditioner and you think  how nice  not have to live with that  awful noise any more. Bloomberg was refreshingly untethered by his fortune from NYC’s traditional power bases. He does have one dominant quality that he can’t seem to suppress. He is an elitist arrogant asshole  He spent around $70 million dollars  to buy City Hall, three times. Officially he was elected but in reality his three inaugurations were nothing more than closings.  Now the old air conditioner is getting annoyingly noisy again.

    Just when you thought this year’s candidates couldn’t possibly be less interesting they held a forum on animal safety. Christine Quinn boasted that she created a special fund for spaying and neutering. William Thompson mentioned that he once rescued a cat.

    It’s May and apparently we have entered the “I am not just a hack” segment of the beauty pageant. This week we got to hear that DiBlasio’s wife used to be gay. Quinn followed that by announcing that she used to have a drinking and eating disorder.  

    This all brings me back to the polling guy’s question. What issue in this election do I care most about?  I'm pretty sure it's not pet neutering. It's also not Bill DiBlasio's relationship with his wife or Christine Quinn's relationship with her refrigerator. The thing that keeps coming to mind is the mantra of that oddly appealing nut job candidate Jimmy McMillan who has one issue and one slogan-   “The Rent is Too Damn High”

    I keep waiting for one of the candidates to say something  as straight  forward and compelling as that.

    Thursday, January 03, 2013


    OK  - you make a good point - or at least you will in a moment .

    A guy from New York City who spends two weeks on the tourist track in India - traveling from Delhi, to Veranasi, to Agra, Jaipur, Deogarh, Udaipur to Mumbai has no business pontificating about what's wrong with Indian society


    Taj Palace and Tower  and Gateway to India (Mumbai)

    Veranasi (Ganges)

    BUT . . . .
    after a drive from Delhi to Agra that was supposed to take 3 hours turned into a 6 and 1/2 hour ride from hell  thru the darkened roller coaster of horn honking, weaving in and out chaos, with the added feature of facing trucks without lights coming at us, on our side of the divided highway, in the wrong direction

    and absolutely no sign of a cop or any traffic safety rules while occasionally a car belonging to a politician, equipped with a flashing light, demands that everyone else get out of their way - I couldn't help being left with some lasting impressions.

    Life in India seems to be the way the Tea Party thinks things should be - no government, no health, safety or transportation infrastructure and no regulations that anyone appears to pay any attention to, while the status quo is kept in place by an institutionalized elite with a very high tolerance of the cavernous gap between the privileged and the masses of desperate poor people who are at, and frequently, over,  the edge of survival.

    Child without a safety net (Mumbai)