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‘Becky’s New Car’ fun but predictable at North Coast Rep

September 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Carla Hartig and Mark Pinter in "Becky's New Car by Steven Dietz. (Photo: Adam Rumley)

    

By Carol Davis    

Carol Davis

SOLANA BEACH, California —Becky’s New Car, the play by Steven Dietz, is probably newer than the car our heroine Becky Foster (Carla Harting makes the tale convincing) gets from her boss as a perk for selling more cars in one night than the other salesperson at her dealership, Steve (Mueen Jahan), has sold in probably one month.

Well, maybe not. The play first went into rehearsals in 2009 but the idea was inspired when theatre enthusiast Charles Staadecker, as a birthday present for his wife Benita’s 60th birthday, wanted to commission a play as a birthday surprise. Staadecker, whose wife was a former Seattle ACT board member, approached the board to measure their interest in a new play. Fast forward, Dietz was approached and the rest, they say is history.

Becky’s New Car now being mounted on the North Coast Repertory stage has been produced only eleven times according to artistic director and director of this production David Ellenstein. It’s a quirky piece that weaves in and out of situations that at times get sidetracked and oft derailed because too much is going on for this little piece. It could substitute as a sit COM with at least five or so episodes in this two act play alone.

Our heroine if you will, 40 something year old Becky, and her husband Joe (Nicolas Glaeser is appealing and easy) and their son Chris (Kevin Koppman-Gue) appear to be a pleasant enough family unit. As mentioned earlier Becky sells cars as well as manages the office at the dealership, Joe is a roofing contractor and 26-year-old Chris (still living at home) is a psych major.

Funny thing happens one night when Becky is working late at the dealership; business tycoon and widower Walter Flood (Mark Pinter) appears out of nowhere (I must add a grey Fox worthy of a second look) wanting to buy a bunch of new cars as gifts for his employees. After she completes the sale, she gets a new car as a bonus from her boss and Walter is smitten.

One thing leads to another. Walter thinks Becky is either divorced or widowed just because the conversation veers that way. He then proceeds to woo her and she buys right into it by allowing him his assumptions. I can’t say that I blame her.

Walter is verrrry good looking, rich, suave and quite charming. And…she needs a little away time from good ol’ Joe, just because it’s a chance for something different, new car, etc, etc.  No harm intended, just a change of pace from her sameness and hey, it’s a free ride for the time being. Who can it hurt if no one finds out?

Earth to Becky watch out for mine fields!!!!!!!!!

The whole first act builds as the two become telephone friends, Steve kvetches on Becky’s shoulder about the loss of his wife, Joe is off and busy with his roofing business and Chris psychobabbles throughout. Becky goes back and forth from home to the dealership as she chats with the audience and the lighting crew (Matt Novotny) telling them/us where she is headed. Breaking that fourth wall interrupts and prolongs the momentum of a play that really doesn’t need any more distractions.

The desk of the dealership and that of the Foster living room (Marty Burnett) are steps away from each other and when she’s not busy working at the dealership and trying to balance both her worlds, like her making excuses to both her husband and her co worker for her absences, she’s getting deeper and deeper involved with the infatuated Walter who thinks he has a chance with her.

Things get more complicated before they get ironed out in act two. Suddenly Chris has a mysterious girlfriend, Kensington (Stacey Hardke is sharp as a tack) who paces him in her car while he runs for exercise and Walter’s bitter friend and ex wealthy socialite, Ginger (Glynn Bedington is at her wittiest best here) shows up competing for his attention. 

Bedington’s character Ginger adds some much needed down to earth cynicism, a little funny edge and comic relief to otherwise predictable situations and she does it like an expert.
 
Both muddle the picture and maybe add a few question marks, but it’s all done according to formula.  As complicated as the situations these characters create, they are kind of red herrings in the scheme of things that follow. It’s no secret that all will end well.  What surprises is Joe’s attitude. For that little nugget, Dietz takes the road less traveled.

Considering the convincing acting of the cast, some funny situations here and there and Ellenstein’s gentle direction, Becky’s New Car, is just another mid life crisis, funny but OK play that would do best on TV.  
 
See you at the theatre.
Dates: September 4th- 26th
Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre
Phone: 858-481-1055
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive. Ste d, Solana Beach, Ca
Ticket Prices: $30.  -$47.00
Web: northcoastrep.org

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Theatre critic Davis is based in San Diego

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Civility, a Word No Longer Used

September 10, 2010 Leave a comment

By Natasha Josefowitz, Ph.D. 

Natasha Josefowitz

LA JOLLA, California–So much anger in Washington, such acrimony and hatred out of control! What is happening to normally rational people to push them over the edge and make them act out? We read about fanatics and zealots in Africa and in the Middle East, who are extreme in their views, bent on killing, whose passions for a cause or a territory or a religion send them into a frenzy of irrational behaviors.

As a child, I remember feeling murderous against Hitler, but I have not had the wish to kill since then. Perhaps, if my home were threatened, or my family, I would defend them to the best of my ability, but I would always opt first for a peaceful meeting to discuss differences. I believe in civility—a word which, like the civil behavior it describes, has fallen into disuse.

The lack of civility in America today, is one of the factors of the breakdown of family life, unethical practices in business, and dishonesty in politics.

Civility is civilization at its best. It is control over one’s negative impulses, delay over the desire for instant gratification. It is the antithesis of “letting it all hang out,” it is the quest for calm, for rationality as opposed to shouting incendiary remarks.

Civility is the opposite of unbridled passions, the opposite of rhetoric or lies. It is more than mere politeness, it is the knowledge that personal well-being and the pursuit of personal goals cannot be separated from the well-being and goals of others, whether members of our family, our friends, our organizations, or our country.

Civility requires listening to others with an open mind and responding with an open heart. It requires knowing ourselves: our tendency to manipulate others, to serve our own interests first. Civility is learned at home by example. Children observe their parents in interaction with themselves and others and they imitate.

We are not born civil. We are born to grab from others, to hit the child whose toy we want, to have tantrums when we are denied a wish. Parents are the first teachers of civility, then schools continue when they do “time out” for unruly behavior in the classroom or the playground and never allow bullying.

Civility should continue in the place of work where people are respected whether the relationships are among peers or up and down the hierarchy.

Next time you feel anger and wish to strike out either physically, verbally, or emotionally, ask yourself whether you can predict the outcome of the lashing out as something positive. In other words, will that other person see the light, be convinced, and change the behavior to suit you? Perhaps all you want to achieve is to make the other person feel bad, guilty, hurt, punished. Will vengefulness make you feel better in the long run, or will a postponement of your reaction to a calmer time when discussion can ensue be a wiser choice?

Civility is a sign of true maturity, so let us resolve to remain civil no matter what the circumstances, to be aware of what triggers us to spin out of control and help others do the same by projecting calm, attentiveness, and thoughtfulness, understanding others’ points of view even when disagreeing with them. Allowing them to think differently from us is the road to world peace.

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A Different Lens

by Natasha Josefowitz, Ph.D.

One of my hands
is being held
by someone
who agrees with me
and I smile
and feel comfortable

My other hand
is being held
by someone
who disagrees with me
and I sigh
and feel challenged

because I have an opportunity
to see the world
through a different lens
I am given the chance
to learn

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Preceding column and poem appeared previously in La Jolla Village Voice

Merel’s on-line ‘Avinu Malkenu’ pleases reader

September 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Editor, San Diego Jewish World:

Hello,

Cantor Sheldon Merel

I wanted to hear the music of the High Holidays and found a site by the current Cantor of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, Canada. It took me back to when Cantor {Sheldon} Merel was the Cantor there, and did a search for anything relating to his music.

I’m listening to the online version of ‘Avinu Malkenu’ at your site, and it takes me back over 30 years! There is no better version than his. (And that includes Barbra Streisand’s version)

When I think of the Holidays, I  always think of Cantor Merel’s rendition of ‘Avinu Malkenu’ and all his other music song during his years at Temple. While I’m no longer a member there, I fondly remember him.

Rhonda B Cohen
Toronto

Editor’s Note: After serving Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, Cantor Merel became the cantor at Congregation Beth Israel in San Diego.  He is now retired and living in San Diego.

Clinton sends Eid-ul-fitr greetings to world’s Muslims

September 10, 2010 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Press Release)–U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued the following message on Friday, Sept. 10, in observance of the Muslim holiday of Eid-ul-fitr, the day on which the annual fast of Ramadan comes to an end.

“Eid Mubarak! Since my husband, Bill Clinton, and I held the first Eid celebration at the White House in 1996, I have enjoyed marking Eid every year. I look forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones.

“And yet, in the 14 years since that first White House celebration, our world has seen unexpected changes and unprecedented challenges. Under President Obama’s leadership, the United States is working to create new partnerships with Muslim communities. We want to build bridges, not only bridges toward peace in the Middle East, but bridges of understanding. We believe we all can work toward a more peaceful and prosperous future, one based on mutual respect and cooperation.

“I hosted an Iftar at the State Department, and I invited many young American leaders – young American Muslims. They’re bringing their energy and spirit to solving problems and overcoming traditional boundaries. They are engaging with change-makers around the world. Their energy and enthusiasm gives me great hope for a future filled with greater understanding.

“At this time of peace and celebration, I wish you and your family a joyful Eid, and a very happy year ahead.

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Preceding provided by the U.S. State Department

A smattering of ignorance

September 10, 2010 Leave a comment
 

By David Amos 

David Amos

SAN DIEGO–As a writer of this column, I get to go to concerts, hear new recordings, read new books, and share with you insights and personal observations which may shed light on musical subjects. But this time, it is different. For some unexplained brainstorm, I felt the urge to go to my library and pick up an old book that I have owned for decades, but for whatever reason, never got around to reading.

The result was the delightfully witty A Smattering of Ignorance by Oscar Levant. In case you are not familiar with this name, here is a brief summary as to who he was. 

Oscar Levant was born in Pittsburgh in 1906 to Orthodox Jewish Russian immigrants, and became a respected and popular Jazz pianist, composer, arranger, and a relentless promoter of his idol, George Gershwin. What made him such an entertaining personality and a favorite of the press was his outrageous behavior, colorful, witty vocabulary, and hilarious quotes which are in still use today. Levant acted in several films, most notably in An American in Paris, and is recognized as one of the greatest Gershwin interpreters. In the 1950’s he hosted a television talk show from a Los Angeles station (which I remember seeing as a teenager), but his program was discontinued after he made off-color, but clever remarks about other famous stars. He was a frequent guest in NBC’s Tonight Show, which at the time was hosted by Jack Paar.

I have his memorable long-play recording of the Rhapsody in Blue, and the Concerto in F. He was seen in thirteen films, playing the piano and acting, and recorded over 100 albums.

Levant’s first book, A Smattering of Ignorance, was published by Doubleday in 1939, quickly became a national best seller, and was called “brilliant” by Clifton Fadiman of the New York Times. It is a series of essays on Levant’s various life experiences, his early days, his studies (which included years of lessons with none other than Arnold Schoenberg), his encounters with famous musicians and show business personalities, such as Harpo Marx, and above all, his relationship with Gershwin and his family.  

There are a few aspects of this book which I found fascinating. First, were Levant’s explanations on how music was scored for films. He details the relationships between the producers, directors, composers of  film scores, and the roles of the arrangers. In the 1930’s and still today, not all film composers write all the music, all the tunes, and choose which instruments of the orchestra will play the arrangement.  Many times, the latter is the job of the orchestrator, or arranger, who may actually be the person to bring out the greatness of a particular film score. For example, in many of the Rodgers and Hammerstein hit Broadway musicals, the orchestrations were done by a composer who may be remembered as the best ever at what he did, Robert Russell Bennett. Just look at your R&H musicals in albums which you may have at home, and you’ll see Bennett’s name there.

Also Levant details how film composers relied on familiar sounds already created by famous classical composers. You want a “French” sound? Imitate Debussy. You want the open prairie for a Western? What could be better than the familiar sound of Copland? Many other examples are given, together with entertaining and at times amazing anecdotes.  He called these musical scores “generic” or “derivative”, probably differentiating between imitation of other styles, and open-faced stealth of musical material. He also credits truly original material.  

He spoke of the famous producer, Daryll Zanuck, whom he described as “a man who knows, unfortunately, what he wants”. He wrote about the Russian born composer Sam Pokrass who struggled to be understood: “His mother tongue was broken English!”  His detailed descriptions of being a guest  many, many evenings at the home of Harpo Marx are also revealing. During the 1930’s Hollywood and Los Angeles became the home of many great creative minds, in music and other disciplines. This was in part driven by the many refugees from Nazi Germany who sought refuge and work in the U.S., the emergence of Hollywood as the film capital, and the changing opportunities in the New York area. The nicer weather helped too.

Just imagine the cccollection of great musicians which sought refuge and work opportunities in the West Coast: Arnold Schoenberg, Miklós Rósza, Erich W. Korngold, Otto Klemperer, Jascha Heifetz, Gregor Piatigorsky, Artur Rubinstein, Gershwin, Bronislaw Kaper, Max Steiner, and many, many others, to say nothing of other artists, authors, scientists, entrepreneurs, and actors. The list is endless. All of the above met socially, played tennis and ping-pong, exchanged ideas and opinions, artistic and political, worked with each other, and enjoyed each others’ company. They also received frequent visits from Easterners, Copland, Morton Gould, publishers, and impresarios. All of this is vividly explained in the book.  

It’s hard for me to visualize an encounter between Fanny Bryce and Schoenberg, possibly the most austere and misunderstood of the great composers. But, at the death of Gershwin, Schoenberg delivered this eulogy in a broadcast: “George Gershwin was one of this rare kind of musicians to whom music is not a matter of more or less ability. Music to him was the air he breathed, the food which nourished him, the drink that refreshed him. Music was what made him feel, and music was the feeling he expressed. Directness of this kind is given only to great men, and there is no doubt that he was a great composer. What he achieved was not only to the benefit of a national American music, but also a contribution to the music of the whole world.” These words ring true even more today.  

Oscar Levant was married twice, first in the 1930’s, a marriage that as expected, lasted less than seven months, and then to June Gale, with whom, in spite of their highly publicized spats, he remained married until his death in 1972, . He was notorious for speaking about his prescription drug addictions, neuroses, mental hospital treatments, and hypochondria. They had three daughters.  Levant is credited with so many quotes and quips that are worth recalling. I will share some of them with you in the next issue of San Diego Jewish World. Meanwhile, all the best for the New Year, Shana Tova, and Tizku L’Shanim Rabot. 

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Amos is conductor of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra in San Diego and has guest conducted numerous professional orchestras around the world.