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In Memoriam – Glenn Walker

Glenn Walker“When you inspire one person you have already changed the world,” Sabina Nore wrote. Through his influence Glenn E. Walker earned the distinction of changing the world many times over. A writer, teacher and pop culture maven, Mr. Walker passed away far too soon on December 6th.

While writing professionally, Glenn still provided his tutelage to local writers through the South Jersey Writers’ Group. While serving as Membership Director he also led the group’s blogfests. In fact, he’s the person who introduced me to the organization.

Had it not been for Mr. Walker’s encouragement and support you wouldn’t be reading this right now. Glenn served as an invaluable inspiration to me when I began pursuing serious writing back in the early 2000s. Even now whenever I write something, I still ask myself, “What would Glenn say about this?” Three drafts later I’m still asking the same question.

Anyone who writes knows that it’s not a field of endeavor for the thin skinned. We can all recall either receiving harsh comments or outright discouraging critiques about our work; but never from Glenn. He always provided constructive feedback. The noblest intentions motivated his observations. Glenn understood that the most important task of a critic is to inspire a writer to write.

I first met Glenn at a critique group. His passion for writing really impressed me. Whether reviewing science fiction, political dramas or treatises on gardening, he showed the same enthusiasm. That love of craft carried over into his support of aspiring writers.

The highlight of my own writing career involved Glenn. He always promoted writers through “Writer Wednesdays”, “Follow Fridays” and by re-tweeting blog posts. When I last saw Glenn during the summer of 2015, I thanked him for his re-tweets. In fact, he’d just re-tweeted a pseudo-obituary I’d written about Pink Floyd’s recent break-up. With his most matter-of-fact tone he replied, “Hey, we’re a writing community. We support each other. It’s what we do.” I’ll never forget what he did next. Glenn shook his head and in his bass baritone said, “Man…that one on Pink Floyd.” I’d used the names of various songs from the band’s catalog to tell the story in that piece. I remember telling a friend at the time: “Something I wrote impressed Glenn Walker! This is my Nobel Prize in Literature!”

Malala Yousafzai once instructed: “Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” Like a great writer, Glenn didn’t tell us: he showed us.

I extend my deepest condolences to Glenn’s family, friends and fans.

 

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Book Review – The Republic for Which It Stands by Richard White

It seemed as though Richard White wrote The Republic for Which It Stands for an unorthodox reason. From my perception, he utilized it to raise awareness regarding the vilest villain in American History. As the book covered the period from the beginning of Reconstruction through the Gilded Age’s conclusion, the choice surprised me. I’d expected a monopolist, a Klansman or even John Wilkes Booth to claim that title. The impact of the malign monster in question impeded our nation’s progress towards a more perfect union and set it back for generations; destroying the “free labor” dream of the post-Civil War generation in the process. And what is the identity of this individual who belongs among the ranks of Judas, Crassus and Brutus in the Ninth Circle of Hell? Stephen J. Field. Now who reading this can honestly say they guessed that?

The volumes comprising the Oxford History of the United States tend to be rather compendious. In this one, Dr. White pushed the envelope. He chose to present an overview of the period from the end of the Civil War through the election of 1896. Many historians have approached Reconstruction and the Gilded Age as two distinct periods in American history. In this sense, Dr. White isn’t the typical historian. He explained it appropriate to group the two together. The latter era served as a logical resolution of the first.

Reconstruction witnessed the beginnings of the “free labor” system in the United States. During the years that bridged the time period, the nation transitioned from an agrarian to an industrial economy. Small producers gave way to monopolies. Labor’s role in this transition became unsettled. Strikes and violence ensued. And here enters the Snidley Whiplash of American history.

Stephen J. Field served as an associate justice of the US Supreme Court. Ironically, the most revered figure of the era, Abraham Lincoln, appointed him. The legal concept of substantive due process served as his major contribution to the annals of American juris prudence. His views inspired other judges to adopt his original application of the due process clause enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment. While not well defined in the book, in essence, substantive due process allows judges to prohibit the government from infringing on rights not mentioned in the Constitution. Gilded Age judges did so in detrimental ways. As the author summarized:

The judicial imposition of liberal free labor and contract freedom in regard to workers and their unions had a large and surprising caveat. The courts continued to appeal to common law doctrines of “masters” and “servants,” which flew in the face of freedom of contract. The contradictions gave judges even greater leeway to pick and choose among doctrines so that workers and their unions often faced “tails I win, heads you lose” situations. On the one hand, the courts granted workers property in their labor, but on the other, they also granted employers a property interest in their employees’ labor. Actions by workers that deprived employers of this labor illegally stripped them of property. The courts assumed that companies were entitled to their “servants” loyalty and obedience; actions by workers that threatened this entitlement could be ruled illegal. The courts sanctioned the employers’ right to petition the courts and unleash state violence against workers’ organizing efforts. (Page 819)

Dr. White added:

The Sherman Antitrust Act became virtually a dead letter against corporations for much of the 1890s, but unions, which were not the original concern of the legislation, became its targets. The courts would empty laws of content and fill them with new meaning. Of the thirteen decisions invoking antitrust law between 1890 and 1897, twelve involved labor unions. (Page 819)

That’s a disturbing ending to an historical epoch that began with the eradication of slavery and the advent of a “free labor” system. While troubling, the professor proved his thesis very well.

The Republic contained A LOT of detail regarding this thirty year period. It covered political events, social history and the increasing conflict between industrialists and labor. That’s a broad array of topics for a single book. At times the abundance of information became overwhelming. Still, it made for a good general overview of the era.

In 1879, reformer Lyman Abbott observed,

“Politically America is a democracy; industrially, America is an aristocracy.” The worker might make political laws, but “he is under industrial laws. At the ballot box he is a king; in the factory he is a servant, sometimes a slave.” (Page 674)

Substantive due process ignited the process through which this enigma occurred.

White, Richard. The Republic for Which It Stands. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. Print.

 

Book Review – The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Without doubt Mr. Ishiguro crafted the most creative work of literature I’ve ever read. The latest Nobel Laureate in Literature fused a fantastic story, superb plot twists along with elements of the Arthurian legend into a memorable tale regarding the power of memory. Ironically, it focused on the lack of ability to remember.

The Buried Giant contained an outstanding setting. The story took place in a medieval society just after the reign of King Arthur. A mysterious mist spread over the land causing denizens to lose their memories. With this backdrop, the author chose to make his novel a quest story. In spite of, or perhaps because of this, two married Britons, Axl and Beatrice, endured a strong marriage. The former, in fact, always addressed his wife as ‘princess.’ While they ostensibly left their village to visit their son, their journey turned into a voyage of discovery. That unearthing included not only the mist’s source, but attributes about themselves. It also made for an entertaining read as the plot developed.

While Axl and Beatrice endeavored on a metaphorical quest, Sir Gawain (of Arthurian legend renown) and Saxon warrior Wistan embarked on a more concrete quest. Both undertook to slay the evil dragon, Quereg. They along with the married couple joined together for a good portion of the journey. I mentioned the author showed extraordinary imagination while writing this, didn’t I?

The novel became philosophical regarding the concept of memory without becoming pedantic. Prior to discovering the mist’s source, Beatrice opined:

Perhaps God’s so deeply ashamed of us, or something we did, that he’s wishing himself to forget. And as the stranger told Ivor, when God won’t remember, it’s no wonder we’re unable to do so. (Page 83)

The monk Father Jonus revealed the source of the mist to Beatrice. (So as not to reveal spoilers, I shall neglect to mention it.) The following dialog ensued.

“Mistress, you seem happy to know the truth about this thing you call the mist.”

“Happy indeed, father, for now there’s a way forward for us.”

“Take care, for it’s a secret jealously guarded by some, though maybe it’s best it remains so no longer.”

“It’s not for me to care if it’s a secret or not, father, but I’m glad Axl and I know it and can act on it.”

“Yet are you so certain, good mistress, you wish to be free of this mist? Is it not better some things remain hidden from our minds?” (Page 171)

Mr. Ishiguro used voice very well in this story. All the characters spoke in ways consistent with their personalities. Sir Gawain addressed others as a noble knight of the Round Table would talk. Even the Saxon, Wistan, also expressed his thoughts like a distinguished warrior. I liked his statement, “You’ve more to fear from your silence than my anger. Speak.” (Page 262)

At times, The Buried Giant read like a work of poetry. The author’s liberal inclusion of alliteration added to this effect. Some examples included:

“pleasant place to pass” (Page 15)

“pollute this precious place” (Page 40)

“soon see his head as smooth” (Page 42)

“tall fence of tethered timber” (Page 51)

“Ivor took a step back and smiled self-consciously.” (Page 77)

“warrior’s way of walking” (Page 104)

“beating back brambles and bushes” (Page 121)

“witness the ways of warriors” (Page 132)

“heads of hideous hags” (Page 190)

“slaughter a sea of Saxons” (Page 233)

“startling them as they sat silently in their semi-circle” (Page 238)

While not alliterative, I thought the expression “pressing in oppressively right” (page 36) exhibited a clever method of expression.

The author melded all these disparate aspects into the narrative brilliantly. While doing so, he thrilled with some well contemplated plot twists. Through all this he kept the story progressing forward. That showed exceptional skill at fiction writing.

At times I did find the dialog a bit repetitive. It made the reading drag at times. All of the exceptional aspects of this book more than compensated for this slight flaw.

I’m jealous of those with the opportunity to read The Buried Giant for the first time. Maybe that mysterious mist will meander into my home and I’ll have the chance to do so again.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York: Vintage International, 2015. EBook.

 

Book Review – New Jersey and the Great War by Richard J. Connors

Connors, Richard J. New Jersey and the Great War: 1914-1919. Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing Co., 2017, Print.

No one questions The Great War’s monumental impact on the world at large. How it affected areas outside the battle zones sometimes gets lost in analyses of the conflict.  Historian Richard J. Connors made a great stride towards rectifying this gap. In New Jersey and the Great War, he showed how the First World War both shaped and became shaped by the Garden State’s contributions. Both an enlightening and engaging read resulted.

The author explained how the expression above the state capital’s railroad bridge, “Trenton makes, the world takes”, applied to the entire state beginning in 1914. (Page 6) New Jersey served as a source of munitions, shipbuilding and aircraft. “Just as the Du Ponts had come to dominate explosives, John D. Rockefeller dominated oil.” (Page 23)

To my surprise, the city of Hoboken played a much unheralded role in the war. (Pages 37 -39) During America’s neutrality it served as a major location for many of the industries that contributed to the Allied war effort. Following the nation’s entry into the conflict its availability as a major port made it a primary center of embarkation for Europe by American “doughboys.”

While all readers know the dangers of combat, Dr. Connors described how civilians faced comparable risks working in war related industries.

In all its phases, munitions was a dangerous business. Manufacturing powder, loading shells, transporting these to the waterfront, placing munitions onto barges for transfer to ocean going vessels: every step was at high risk…Fires, explosions and related disasters became part of the New Jersey story during the Great War. It was not in a corporation’s interest to publicize these, but news of major tragedies did reach the press. Examples from 1914-17 include and explosion at Du Pont’s Carney’s Point plant in January 1916; disaster at Jersey City’s Black Tom complex in July 1916; the destruction of the Canadian Car and Foundry plant in Lyndhurst in January 1917; a major explosion at Du Pont’s Haskell works that same month. (Page 28)

The Du Pont Haskell facility was a particularly treacherous place to work. The plant experienced twenty-five explosions in 1916. (Page 30) Another tragedy occurred when the T. A. Gillespie facility located in the Morgan section of Sayerville exploded in 1918. Historians estimate that it cost one hundred workers their lives. (Page 35)

Dr. Connors balanced his depictions of weaponry and war materiel with the state’s contributions to preserving life.

During the war years, New Jersey did make significant contributions to the survival of military casualties. One was in the field of quality surgical instruments, a Newark specialty. Another was anesthetic ether, where E. R. Squibb of New Brunswick had been active since the late nineteenth century. Arguably the most important was the work of the Johnson brothers, who headed another New Brunswick firm. Johnson and Johnson (J & J) was a nineteenth century pioneer in sterile surgical dressings, absorbent cotton, and bandages. During the Great War the Allies obtained the bulk of these necessities from the firm. (Page 26)

Of interest to both military and local history buffs, the book contained brief but informative histories of both the 29th and 78th infantry divisions. These units included soldiers from New Jersey. As a South Jersey native, I enjoyed reading about the origins of the latter’s home: a facility built during 1917. At the time known as Camp Dix, the facility still operates today.

Dr. Connors concluded his history by discussing Garden Staters who distinguished themselves in combat far above the call of duty. The first appendix detailed service members who received the Medal of Honor for their valor. The next included biographical paragraphs regarding airmen who received the “ace” designation. (James Pearson, the man believed to have been the last surviving American ace of the war, passed away at the age of 97 in Upper Montclair on January 6, 1993.) New Jersey native and World War I casualty Joyce Kilmer’s “Rouge Boquet” rounded out the final one.

A few weeks ago I attended a lecture Dr. Connors presented concerning this subject. His colorful wit and erudition inspired me. At the conclusion of his remarks, I wanted to learn more about New Jersey and the Great War. I found his book of the same title an extraordinary resource to do so.

 

Marble and Mud: Political Commentary

The President’s remarks after Charlottesville engendered more controversy than usual. Some interpreted his measured denunciation along with the tacit support from many in his party as a GOP transitioning from the party of Lincoln into the party of George Lincoln Rockwell. The further irony of a Republican Commander-in-Chief defending monuments dedicated to “losers” from the Confederacy became muddled by the Chief Executive’s continued missteps. The incident and aftermath reignited the debate over the appropriateness of monuments honoring Civil War enemies. It’s confounding that it took an incident of this magnitude to bring the issue to the national forefront.

The United States may hold the distinction as the first nation in history to immortalize figures for taking up arms against it. It baffles the mind that individuals such as Robert E. Lee, Nathan Bedford Forrest and other rebels would become marble effigies displayed on public properties throughout the union. This stretches the boundaries of Lincoln’s assurance: “malice towards none and charity for all.”

It astonishes that some deem such figures worthy of honor. The West Point alumni who abandoned their blue uniforms for gray forsook their oath to defend the nation from “all enemies foreign and domestic.” The Confederate States instigated a war of choice against their fellow Americans. The states that seceded from the Union did so unnecessarily. The Republican Party opposed the extension of slavery; it didn’t contest its existence.

All the legalese regarding “states’ rights” and “secession” only obfuscated the real issue. No state seethed over matters such as the Federal Government building a post office on prime public land. No local government raged over the unfairness of port duties getting sent to Washington. None invoked the “taxation without representation” epigram in response to state funds stuffing the coffers of a bloated national bureaucracy. Slavery served as the catalyst, cause and core of the conflict.

Myriad contributions to the American experience originated in the South. Authors such as William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Truman Capote enhanced our nation’s literary tradition. Statesmen such as George Washington, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson built our political system. It’s difficult to imagine popular music without the influences of Elvis Presley, the Delta Blues and—America’s original art form– Jazz. Without these inspirations, American culture would not exist. The area south of the Mason-Dixon line gestated numerous boons that made the nation a “shining city on a hill.”

The Civil War is not among them. It seems macabre to “honor” those who waged a four year war of attrition against the United States government. Scholars debate the conflict’s human cost. Depending upon which estimates one uses, the hostilities caused casualties somewhere in the range of 600,000 to 900,000. The War Between the States initiating the deaths of more Americans than any other war is not open to conjecture.

Critics complain that removing Confederate monuments “erases” history. The question: just what history do they believe it erases? The very existence of these statues muddies the past. Even without the presence of the rebel effigies, Americans will still study and seek to understand the most violent war in our country’s history. Understanding why society held these figures in high regard for so long will prove more challenging.

It’s always mystified me that Americans adopted the Roman practice of deifying political figures. Imperial officials made (popular) former emperors into gods. They then chose to construct elaborate monuments honoring their memories. It’s bizarre to witness that practice in my own country. After all, the Founding Fathers crafted a constitution predicated upon a deep mistrust of government.

While appropriate to respect public servants, revering them is a dangerous practice; at times, a strange one. It defies all bounds of reason that a marble likeness of Roger Taney occupied the grounds of the Maryland State House until recently. While Chief Justice, he wrote the majority opinion in the Dred Scott v Sandford (1857) case. Legal scholars cite it as the worst decision SCOTUS ever handed down. The reckless application of judicial activism made the Civil War inevitable.

Some have suggested that Taney presided over a successful Court. His conduct in Dred Scott represented one mistake in an otherwise distinguished career. I find that comparable to lauding Neville Chamberlain for his contributions to European politics. It would be unfair to judge the whole of his career by his one failure. So what if that lone irresponsible act almost precipitated the end of liberal democracy?

Monuments to political figures reflect more upon the era of their dedication. Seldom are they timeless. History often mires public officials in mud. They have no place in marble.

 

Natural Phenomenon Review – Solar Eclipse 2017

I once awoke to golden flakes coloring the Atlantic Ocean. As the sun ascended from the horizon, they extended into gilded streaks that rippled along the sea’s surface. I gasped in awe at nature’s majesty.

On August 21, 2017 the sun darkened at midday. That’s it. That’s what happened. Not quite the comparable spectacle for my tastes. The much heralded solar eclipse didn’t even measure up to a solar flare.

Before it even started, I had issues with the set-up. I experienced the Solar Eclipse from Pennsauken, New Jersey. Small puffs of clouds arranged peripatetically throughout the cerulean sky. The temperature reached the mid-80s, but the humidity level remained comfortable. This describes just about any “beautiful summer day” described in poetry, songs and romances. I would’ve preferred a less cliché setting for such a “captivating” celestial display.

Then as “peak eclipse time” approached, the heavens darkened. Not as dark as I’d expected. From the legends I’ve heard about these phenomena, I expected “day to turn into night”, if you will. Not so. The darkness compared to the atmosphere during a rain shower. And we’re told ancient societies quaked in terror during a solar eclipse!? What was wrong with those people!?

Unexpected thunderstorms plague South Jersey during the summer. On one of the few storm free days we’ve experienced recently, the solar eclipse made it appear one was imminent. How awe inspiring.

As poor as the sun performed during this occurrence, the moon disappointed even more. One October I recall looking out my bedroom window during a full moon. The Yardbirds’ psychedelic instrumental “Glimpses” played on the radio. The lunar orb weaved through the apertures in the overcast sky. It created quite a sensory spectacle.

The moon did not bring its “A-game” to this eclipse. Its dark outline became visible during the day. I perused a thesaurus after writing that line. Still, that’s the most elaborate way I can describe it.

On many days I’ve seen the moon CLEARLY during daylight hours; especially in the early morning. (Keep in mind the sun concurrently shares the sky with it at this time, too.) A spectator can view craters along with the rest of the intriguing landscape in the naked eye. During the eclipse it appeared as a dark circle. Based on this performance, I’m starting to understand why man hasn’t visited there in over forty years.

This natural phenomenon quickly turned into a phenomenot. Let’s hope the 2017 Solar Eclipse turns out to be a “rebuilding year” for celestial displays. It sure didn’t inspire me to travel the world and witness other eclipses when they occur. From now on, if I want to see the sky darken in the middle of the day, I’ll just patiently wait until nighttime.

Alan Krier: The Critique Compendium Interview

Alan Krier Head shotAlan has been performing in and around the Philly/South Jersey area for over 25 years. He has been married to his wonderful wife Donna for 30 years as of May of this year and has three talented children, Lindsey, A.J., and Lisa, who also perform. He was last seen on the BCF 2nd stage in the Pulitzer Prize winning play, Clybourne Park. Other BCF appearances include The Fox On The Fairway (Dickie Bell), The Who’s Tommy (Uncle Ernie), How To Succeed…(Twimble/Womper), Glengarry Glen Ross (George Arronow), Little Shop of Horrors (Mushnik), The Foreigner (Charlie Baker), Assassins (Hinckley), and Urinetown (Lockstock). Other area appearances include You Can’t Take It With You (Paul Sycamore), A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (Pseudolus), and The Full Monty (Dave Bukatinsky) at the Ritz Theatre; also Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Pharaoh) and Children of Eden (Father) with McMagical Productions.

Mr. Krier kindly agreed to share thoughts on his craft. We conducted the following interview via email 7/2/17 – 7/3/17.

Critique Compendium: After seeing you wear those sweaters in The Fox on the Fairway, I have to ask the question readers are dying to know: did the title really refer to Bailey Shaw’s character?

Al Krier: Well, I don’t think anyone would ever mistake me for a fox so I would say, “Yes.” The incredibly talented and lovely Bailey Shaw is the fox to whom the title refers.

 

Critique Compendium: You’ve done serious drama (Glengarry, Glen Ross) as well as farces (The Fox on the Fairway). In Clybourne Park you played both a serious role and the comic relief. Are there differences in how you prepare for dramatic versus comedic roles?

Al Krier: In a dramatic role I typically look at the script and the situation and try to determine how I would react if the events of the story were actually happening to me. I try to think of the character’s back story to help give it some depth.

When it comes to comedy I will do just about anything to get a laugh. I also look to some of my comic heroes such as John Belushi and John Candy. I’m not ashamed to say I steal from them whenever I can.

 

Critique Compendium: You’ve also performed in musicals such as Tommy and How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. Those shows were quite a departure from your other work. Why did you decide to perform in them?

Al Krier: I’ve been doing musicals since the mid ‘90s. Tommy is the definitive rock opera and I’ve been listening to it since the early ‘70s and I saw the movie in the theatre when it came out in 1975 so I’ve always been a fan. To get a chance to be a part of it and sing those songs with a live band was just awesome.

How To Succeed… is one of those quintessential musicals that I had on my bucket list. I don’t think there is a better closing number in musical theatre than “Brotherhood of Man.”

 

Critique Compendium: Your son A. J. and your daughter Lindsey also perform. Did they learn the craft from you?

Al Krier: I would love to say that I taught them everything they know but they are both uniquely talented in their own right.

Lindsey has been involved in the performing arts since she was 3-4 years old and while I would say that my involvement in theatre may have influenced her, I think she would have gone that route anyway. She has done some incredible work. My favorites are Natalie in Next to Normal (brought tears to my eyes) and Kate Monster in Avenue Q. She is currently rehearsing for Beauty and the Beast at the Ritz Theatre.

A.J. got involved in theatre on his own when he went away to college. He auditioned for a show on a whim and has been acting since then. He has performed in dramas, comedies, and musicals. His senior capstone project was an amazing one man show called Thom Pain (based on nothing) by Will Eno. It was an incredible performance for which he won an award.

My youngest daughter, Lisa, has also been involved from a very young age – she’ll be a sophomore in high school this fall. She dances with The Next Stage Dance Company but has also been on stage at BCF as the young girl in Dracula. I got to share the stage with her in Scrooge: The Musical at the Ritz several years ago.

 

Critique Compendium: You and Lindsey both performed in Tommy at Burlington County Footlighters. What was it like sharing the stage with your daughter?

Al Krier: I was very proud to share the stage in Tommy, especially since she also choreographed it. We’ve done a few shows together but we really haven’t had any scenes together. It’s always fun to work with family.

 

Critique Compendium: You selected David Lindsey-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Rabbit Hole for your directorial debut. What interested you in that project?

Al Krier: Rabbit Hole was the first show my son did at college. When we drove up to his school to see the show, first we were blown away at his acting. Then I thought that the play itself was outstanding and would be a perfect fit for the BCF stage. I decided right then that would be the first show I direct.

 

Critique Compendium: Do you plan on directing again?

Al Krier: I would like to direct again. There is a one act play I would like to put on The 2nd Stage and I have a few ideas for the main stage but nothing scheduled yet.

 

Critique Compendium: You and Dan Brothers have worked together on several projects. The two of you have fantastic chemistry as both a dramatic and comedy duo. What’s it like working with him?

Al Krier: Dan is the best! I will share a stage with him anytime. He is very generous as an actor and we are always able to bounce ideas off one another. I can’t say why it works but it does and I’m just very happy that it does.

 

Critique Compendium: What first interested you in the performing arts?

Al Krier: One of the first plays I ever saw was when my brother was in a high school performance of Heaven Can Wait. I was just enamored with the entire experience and could not wait for my chance to try it.

My parents always took us to see movie musicals and I distinctly remember seeing Oliver at the movies. My parents bought the soundtrack album and I used to listen to it all the time.

Sometime in the late 70s they took us to see A Chorus Line at the Forrest Theatre in Philly. Just a great experience. I just always loved watching live performances including rock concerts. That’s pretty much all I did in the 80’s – went to concerts and got married. But I digress, movie musicals, my brother’s show, A Chorus Line, rock concerts.

 

Critique Compendium: What types of things make you want to play a role?

Al Krier: There are roles that I want to play because they are a perfect fit for me and then there are roles that are a challenge. I enjoy both because the ones for which I am perfect, I can go on stage and feel very confident. The roles that are a challenge make me feel accomplished if I am successful at performing them.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s been you’re favorite role that you’ve performed?

Al Krier: Dave Bukatinsky in The Full Monty at The Ritz Theatre. Just an incredible experience from the show itself to the cast & crew and the audience reaction. If you know the show it is about a bunch of out-of-work guys trying to make some money by stripping. In real life I had just been laid off from my job that I had for 23 years so that part of it was completely relatable. I love the music in the show and we had just a perfect group of guys.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s the most difficult role you’ve played?

Al Krier: I always wanted to play Pseodolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum. I got my chance to do that at The Ritz and I just don’t think it was my best performance. I was full of nerves every night before the show and that doesn’t happen to me very often. My comedic instincts just didn’t seem to gel with the part. I can’t say why – it was just one of those things.

 

Critique Compendium: Describe your most memorable moment on stage.

Al Krier: Going back to The Full Monty, one particular night let’s just say there was a lighting miscue at a very important part of the show. We performed that show over 20 times with close to sold out shows every time, yet it seems that no matter who I meet that says they saw that show, claims they were there the night of the lighting mishap.

 

Critique Compendium: What actors have influenced you?

Al Krier: There are so many but DeNiro and Pacino are probably the most influential. I’ve just enjoyed watching them in so many films it’s hard not to be influenced. John Candy has also been an inspiration just for his natural comedic delivery – gone way too soon.

 

Critique Compendium: If you had the opportunity to work with any other actor either living or dead, who would it be?

Al Krier: Again, too many. DeNiro would be up there. Also, Spencer Tracy. His delivery of lines was just so natural. Watch him in Inherit the Wind. One of my all-time favorites.

 

Critique Compendium: What do you do when you’re not on stage?

Al Krier: When I’m not on stage I wonder why I’m not on stage. Just kidding. In real life I’m a technical instructor. I teach technicians how to fix copiers. Everything from basic xerography to networking. Pretty boring stuff.

As far as hobbies I just started getting back into one of my childhood hobbies of building and flying model rockets. It’s been and on again off again hobby that I really enjoy. I also enjoy golf but I don’t get to play nearly enough and I really suck at it.

 

Critique Compendium: How do you balance a career, family and other activities with the demands of performing in community theater productions?

Al Krier: Since my entire family is involved in theatre there is an understanding when it comes to the demands. We all know that there will be struggles, time commitments, scheduling conflicts, etc. There are no guidelines for balance, we just do our best. Most of the time it works, when it doesn’t we figure it out.

 

Critique Compendium: What do you bring to your roles that other performers don’t?

Al Krier: I bring Al Krier. Nobody else can say they are Al Krier.

Seriously, I can’t say what others don’t bring. Obviously I won’t name names but I’ve worked with some actors that simply struggled to deliver a line naturally. That may seem like a simple thing but I will practice a single line over and over again until I think it is coming out in a very natural, conversational way. I don’t know if I have always been successful at that, but I know that is always my goal.

 

Critique Compendium: How would you like audiences to remember you?

Al Krier: I would hope they would say, “Remember that guy, in that show that time, yea, he was really good. So what are you ordering?” I would hope audiences remembered that they were entertained anytime they saw me on stage and that if they met me after the show I was gracious and humble. And that they didn’t avoid a show because they saw my name in the cast list.

 

Critique Compendium: If I asked people with whom you’ve performed what it was like working with you, what would they tell me?

Al Krier: Hopefully, they would say that I was someone that they could trust on stage and was completely committed to the role. And funny, heavy on the funny.

 

Critique Compendium: What advice would you give to young people interested in participating in the performing arts?

Al Krier: Do it! Don’t be afraid. There is nothing like being involved in a production and watching it go from the first read through to the final product. I’ve worked with a lot of young people and I’ve always found that the kids that are involved in the performing arts are always the ones that are exceling in school. The two seem to go hand in hand.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s next for you?

Al Krier: I’ll probably have some lunch. Oh you mean in life, theatre etc. Ok, gotcha. I don’t have anything in the pipeline right now. I started a new job in February so I’m still getting my bearings in that respect. I do have a few shows I am looking at for which I may audition but I haven’t decided yet. We’ll see how things go.

 

Drama Review: Oslo by J. T. Rogers

A social scientist and his diplomat wife decided to change the world. While embarking on the quest to do so, they expanded the boundaries of the word quixotic. After witnessing the fear in eyes of two child soldiers firsthand, Terje Rod-Larsen and Mona Juul chose to seek a lasting peace in the Middle East on their own. Now here’s the really bizarre part: their back-channel efforts led to the Oslo Accords of 1993. J. T. Rogers’ Tony Award Winning play delivered a fictitious take on their efforts.

To borrow an expression from the musical Hamilton , Oslo presented readers with a seat in “the room where it happens.” The playwright allowed his audience to witness for themselves the negotiation process that takes place with international agreements. Mr. Rogers selected a very unconventional back-channel, in the forms of an idealistic couple and some unorthodox diplomats. That made the story much more interesting and engaging.

The author described his work as, “a scrupulously researched, meticulously written fiction.” (Page X) I enjoyed the inclusion of such famous historical figures as Ahmed Qurie (the PLO’s Finance Minister) and Shimon Peres (the Israeli Foreign Minister). Although not actually a character in the play itself, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat’s presence injected itself into the narrative.

I enjoyed the way the playwright humanized his figures. Simon Peres liked to begin conversations with a story. Ahmed Qurie expressed his love for his daughter. Terje and Mona’s marriage felt the strain of their seemingly naïve quest to end hostilities between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

I also liked the witty way the author injected humor into the narrative. He included a few jokes that while referencing other cultures, didn’t come across as offensive or objectionable. That’s quite a delicate balance, but he executed it extraordinarily well.

The play’s major strength also became its biggest weakness. At times I found it difficult to read through 115 pages of diplomatic exchanges. Mr. Rogers varied the pace as well as he could by bringing in new characters to serve as negotiators. Through them, he interjected new sources of conflict into the story. Still, a few hours reading about the intricacies of international diplomacy may not appeal to some booklovers.

J. T. Rogers presented a realistic description of history’s perhaps most unconventional diplomatic undertaking. While the Oslo Accords didn’t achieve an enduring peace in the Middle East, the playwright still found a hopeful lesson from the entire process. Perhaps, someday events will provide the author with a more positive ending for a sequel. After all, no one thought an idealistic Norwegian couple could’ve come this close to ending the conflict less than 25 years ago.

perhaps

Valerie Brothers: The Critique Compendium Interview

Image19Valerie Brothers has been active in South Jersey community theaters for the last 18 years both on stage and behind the scenes. Her love of theater was inherited from her mother who instilled in her at a very young age an appreciation of the theatrical arts, especially Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals!

She has been involved in all facets of theater from acting and directing to stage managing, producing, costuming, hair and makeup artist as well as special effects makeup.

Favorite past roles include Lina Lamont in “Singin’ in the Rain”, Truvy Jones in “Steel Magnolias”, Tansy McGinnis in “The Nerd”, Mary in “The Champagne Charlie Stakes” and Lizzie Borden in “Blood Relations”.

Directing credits: “The Foreigner”, “Fidelity Farce”, “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “The Fox on the Fairway”.

Mrs. Brothers graciously agreed to an interview on June 29, 2017. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.

 

 

Critique Compendium: You’ve produced shows in the past. Could you tell me: what percentage of a show’s budget goes to pay for Al Krier’s wardrobe?

Valerie Brothers: I made all the sweaters (for The Fox on the Fairway). Just two days before opening I finished. I have degree in fashion merchandising. It came in handy.

I picked up the materials at Village Thrift.

 

Critique Compendium: You’ve been involved in the just about every facet of theatre as a performer, a director and a producer among other roles. Which is the most challenging for you?

Valerie Brothers: Directing is the most challenging because I am I perfectionist. I want everything exactly right. I try to stay as close to playwright’s vision as I do to my own.

When you’re the director the responsibility falls on you. There’s only one person to blame if something’s not right.

 

Critique Compendium: You credit you mother for instilling your interest in theatre. When did you start performing?

Valerie Brothers: I was incredibly shy in grade school and high school. I auditioned for one show in high school and didn’t get cast.

I was working back stage when a Footlighters director tried to get me over my shyness. She pushed me into playing a hooker. Getting me to walking out on stage while scantily clad did it.

 

Critique Compendium: How do you select the shows you’d like to direct?

Valerie Brothers: I love farces and comedies. I like to make people laugh. The sillier the show the better.

I worked as the assistant director on Rabbit Hole. After spending three months on a show about a four-year-old getting killed after a car hit him I needed to laugh.

 

Critique Compendium: Do you take a different approach when directing a drama versus directing a comedy?

Valerie Brothers: Yes and no.

With comedy everything still has to be true to the script and vice versa. I have more fun with comedy.

Doing drama can be depressing. Especially when rehearsing it three nights a week.

 

Critique Compendium: In The Fox on the Fairway, you directed the comedy team of Dan Brothers and Al Krier. What was it like working with those two performers?

Valerie Brothers: They’re my “go to couple.” They have undeniable chemistry. They’re also good friends off stage. When they’re on stage they raise each other up.

Working with them is a hoot. Any crazy idea I throw at them they’ll do. In Fidelity Farce their characters kissed at the end. They went at it so hard I think Dan chipped a tooth.

 

Critique Compendium: In both The Fox on the Fairway and Glengarry, Glen Ross, you had the opportunity to direct your husband, Dan Brothers. What was it like to find yourself directing your own spouse?

Valerie Brothers: He’s such a diva. (Laughs.)

I treat him like any other actor. Since we live together I have a lot more opportunities to talk to him than I do with the other cast members.

We actually had a long talk about his Fox on the Fairway character. You wouldn’t know it from way he performed in the show, but up until two days before it opened he struggled with the role. We discussed it and worked on it together until he nailed it.

 

Critique Compendium: In The Fox on the Fairway, you found yourself in a very unusual situation as a director. In the show a woman takes a romantic interest in the character your husband plays. Do you feel that situation affected your artistic judgement?

Valerie Brothers: No. I’ve known Liz (Deal – the performer who played her husband’s love interest) for years. She’s a professional. Everyone I’ve worked with in community theatre is professional.

There were no worries. Plus, Dan knows I would just kill him if something happened. (Laughs.)

 

Critique Compendium: There’s a scene in The Fox on the Fairway where the characters get into a circle and toss a vase back-and-forth. What was it like coordinating that incident? Did you have a dozen spare vases handy in case someone dropped it?

Valerie Brothers: No. We just had the one vase.

We started off with a plastic vase. It was larger than the one we used in the show. We did the scene over and over until it was second nature. We must’ve done it ten times during a night’s rehearsal.

The assistant director’s girlfriend brought in the vase we used in the show. It’s Japanese.

I was a little afraid. Theatre people are not sports people. There’s a reason we did drama in high school and not sports.

 

Critique Compendium: Both you and Mr. Brothers performed together in Rumors. What’s it like to share the stage with your spouse?

Valerie Brothers: It’s always great to have your spouse out there. Every night I got to observe the things he would change up.

We played a husband and wife team in Exit Date at Bridge Players.  The characters were totally unlike ourselves, but it was fun to play a married couple together.

 

Critique Compendium: The role of Cookie Cusack in Rumors was physically demanding. Walking on your palms and the balls of your feet couldn’t have been comfortable. What did you do to prepare yourself for that show?

Valerie Brothers: I got a hip replacement. I called it my bionic hip.

The sillier the role the better. If people will laugh at me I’ll do it.

 

Critique Compendium: What types of things interest you in playing a role?

Valerie Brothers: I like stepping into someone else’s shoes. It’s challenging to see if you can pull it off. Playing Lizzie Borden is a good example.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s been your favorite role that you’ve performed so far?

Valerie Brothers: Singing in the Rain was an iconic movie musical. It harkened back to when my mom instilled that appreciation of the theatrical arts. I wanted to be the people on the screen, but I can’t sing.

I’d also say The Nerd. I met Dan there. It was a fun show.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s the most difficult role you’ve played?

Valerie Brothers: Lizzie Borden was a very complex character. I liked trying to understand her side. It was a heavy drama piece. I had fun watching everyone in the audience gasp. It was a very challenging emotional roller coaster. One moment she’s sweet, in another she’s crying and then she’s wielding an axe.

 

Critique Compendium: Describe your most memorable moment on stage so far.

Valerie Brothers: I played the lead hooker part in No Sex Please, We’re British. The director was adamant that I had to carry a guy on my shoulders across the stage in six inch heels: not piggyback. She insisted it had to be on my shoulders. I had to come out a door, too. Like Seabiscut, I carried this man across the stage every night.

It was a challenge doing it so that he didn’t go flying or fall; but it got a laugh every night.

 

Critique Compendium: What actors have influenced you?

Valerie Brothers: For comedy, Goldie Hawn has great comic timing. Melissa McCarthy will do anything for a laugh.

I have to add Meryl Streep, too, because she’s Meryl Streep.

 

Critique Compendium: If you had the opportunity to work with any other actor either living or dead, who would it be?

Valerie Brothers: I’m a very big nostalgia buff. I’d say Cary Grant or Katherine Hepburn. They had class. Actors back then held themselves to a higher standard.

That’s not to say that actors today don’t have high standards. I just don’t think actors should make political statements like Johnny Depp did recently.

 

Critique Compendium: How do you prepare for a role?

Valerie Brothers: When I played Lizzie Borden, I read every book I could find on her. If I’m playing a fictional character I’ll research the situation to make my performance as believable as possible.

 

Critique Compendium: What do you bring to your roles that other performers don’t?

Valerie Brothers: This isn’t to say that other performers aren’t, but I’m a perfectionist. If it ain’t right I won’t do it. I feel it’s important to the author to get the lines right.

 

Critique Compendium: How would you like audiences to remember you?

Valerie Brothers: Just as somebody who entertained them, gave them a good laugh and gave them their 20 bucks worth.

 

Critique Compendium: If I asked people with whom you’ve performed what it was like working with you, what would they tell me?

Valerie Brothers: I think they’ll tell you I’m open to suggestions. They may see something I’m missing. We talk about it. I go into it with a vision, but they see me as being open to possibilities.

 

Critique Compendium: What do you do when you’re not on stage? What are your hobbies?

Valerie Brothers: My cats. I’m a huge animal lover. I’ll do anything for an animal. Both of my cats are rescues. I enjoy trying to find homes for homeless animals and would like to foster shelter animals someday. I’m also quite adept at spoiling my kitties and am well on my way to becoming a crazy cat lady!

I visit my mom in the nursing home. I’ll go over pictures with her.

I also go kickboxing with Liz (Deal).

 

Critique Compendium: How do you balance a career, family and other activities with your involvement in community theater productions?

Valerie Brothers: That’s why I take time off between shows. I love being involved, but it’s nice to sit on the couch and relax. Theatre doesn’t leave much time for other commitments.

 

Critique Compendium: What’s next for you?

Valerie Brothers: I’m going to assistant direct Crossing Delancey at Burlington County Footlighters 2nd Stage in June. Torben Christensen will be directing.  

 

Critique Compendium: What advice would you give to young people interested in participating in the performing arts?

Valerie Brothers: Just have no fear. I always had dreams of performing, but my shyness inhibited me for a long time. Just go for it.

Drama Review: Sweat by Lynn Nottage

Lynn Nottage crafted the most gripping tale of an American tragedy I’ve ever read. Sweat presented a realistic depiction of the disintegration of the middle class’ dreams and aspirations in recent years. A masterpiece of the highest order resulted.

As in Ms. Nottage’s 2008 drama, Ruined, the playwright displayed her extraordinary artistic aptitude. Once again, she paired the perfect characters with the appropriate setting in the proper time frame. Sweat took place in Reading, Pennsylvania. The action occurred in the years 2000 and 2008. The characters reflected the diversity in American society. They included two generations of African Americans, two generations of German Americans, a Columbian American and an Italian American; all born in Berks County, Pennsylvania. NAFTA’s effects coupled with the ensuing economic uncertainty it wrought caused this melting pot to boil over. It did so in the form of resentment, nascent racism and xenophobia.

I applaud Ms. Nottage’s brilliance in using events from the recent past to present a modern story. The show premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival on July 29, 2015. The events it described occurred either seven or fifteen years prior. Still, the narrative’s immediacy impressed me greatly.

Ms. Nottage crafted very believable characters. I could imagine sitting down and sharing a beer with the likes of Tracey, Brucie, Jason and Chris. Their values and respective mentalities captivated me even more.

The playwright did an unparalleled job in creating balance throughout the story. One of the factory workers, Cynthia, received a promotion to supervisor. Making one of the “workers” a member of “management” made it difficult to completely vilify the “white hats.” That made the true “villain” in the story a bit nebulous. The “heroes” also struggled with their own hubris.

The playwright captured society’s carefree attitude at the advent of the twenty first century. While drinking together at a bar the subject of the modern business environment became a topic of discussion. An inebriated forty-five year old Tracey said, “We’ve been having the same conversation for twenty years. So, let’s stop complaining and have some fun.” (Page 27)

Jason, the twenty one year old white American, discussed his plans to retire at 50. He envisioned his “killa” pension would provide him with the means to purchase a condo in Myrtle Beach. Possessing “money to burn” would supply the means to buy into a donut franchise and run his own business. (Page 32)

Not all the characters possessed this boundless optimism, however. After Brucie’s plant locked out its workers, he struggled to cope not just financially, but personally. His very identity evaporated with the loss of his job. Like many in his generation he struggled to understand his plight. When comparing his time as a factory worker to that of his father’s, he asked Stan the bartender: “Where did I go wrong?” (Page 36)

The playwright creatively alluded to the title throughout the text. Evan, the parole officer, commented, “It’s no sweat off my back.” (Page 9) Stan observed that the new managerial generation didn’t enter the shop floor because they didn’t want their diplomas “stained with sweat.” (Page 26) Chris declared that he broke up with his girlfriend due to her “sweating” him. (Page 98)

Many writers become overwhelmed by their own research. Ms. Nottage avoided this mistake. Each scene opened with the date followed by a brief description of news events. They included both national political and financial happenings as well as occurrences specific to the Reading area. It provided for a good contrast. The use of the old beer commercial line “Wazzup” in the dialog provided a true voice from the era.

Stan, the bartender observed, “Nostalgia’s a disease.” (Page 97) The drama illustrated the wisdom in that aphorism. It didn’t offer much of a prescription to ameliorate its impact in the future, either. With the myriad warnings about increasing economic inequality in our society, all of us should sweat about that.