When a major production opened on Broadway, I couldn't wait to read Ben Brantley's review in The New York Times. I almost felt like I was a character in "All About Eve," devouring the newspaper in Sardi's. Brantley connected me to the excitement of New ...
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New York Times drama critic Ben Brantley says goodbye and more...

New York Times drama critic Ben Brantley says goodbye

When a major production opened on Broadway, I couldn't wait to read Ben Brantley's review in The New York Times.

I almost felt like I was a character in "All About Eve," devouring the newspaper in Sardi's.

Brantley connected me to the excitement of New York City's theater world. Along with rendering his judgment on well-publicized plays and musicals, Brantley gave attention to emerging playwrights and off-Broadway productions.

With New York's theaters darkened by Covid-19, Brantley left the Times last week after 24 years as its chief drama critic. Co-chief critic Jesse Green remains to write about whatever theater news comes along with the theaters shuttered.

In a farewell interview with Green in Sunday's New York Times, Brantley looked back on his career and his immense power over a production's success and failure. He recalled memorable performances, feuds with famous actors and the magic of the theater.

Despite the rise in touristy jukebox musicals and Hollywood-star vehicles, Brantley noted an increase in artistically ambitious Broadway productions before the pandemic. Brantley's work played a significant role in raising the level of quality.

Brantley in departing expressed hope that a vibrant New York theater will return. His career is a testament to what we've lost.




Barrett hearing reflects degradation of political language

The Amy Coney Barrett hearings showed that political speech no longer bears any relation to the truth.

That a law professor from the leading Catholic university could spread such a web of evasions and falsehoods before a U.S. Senate committee is sickening.

With the GOP railroading Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, the degradation of the U.S. Senate and the judiciary is complete. The Democratic members of the committee shamefully capitulated to Lindsay Graham and the other Republican apparatchiks.

"Here is the shadow of truth, for only the shadow is true," Robert Penn Warren said in the opening line of his poem "A Way to Love God."

In the Barrett hearing, the shadow spread further across the American republic.




Covid-19 making gains on SEC football season

SEC football is increasingly a Covid-19 super-spreader.

The players already risk serious injury from playing the game. Now, their health is more and more threatened by the coronavirus.

When news broke Wednesday afternoon that Alabama coach Nick Saban and athletic director Greg Byrne had tested positive for covid-19, the conference had already canceled two games because of the disease.

For now, the Saturday night showdown between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia remains on, although Saban will be absent.

No Alabama players or other coaches have tested positive for the disease, so far.

Although Saban's been conducting practices and meeting with coaches, perhaps the Crimson Tide will escape further cases of the virus.

But No. 10 Florida had to postpone its game with LSU when 21 Gators players tested positive for the disease. The game is expected to be played on Dec. 12.

Before scrubbing the game, Gators coach Dan Mullen had called for the lifting of social distancing regulations so that fans could pack Florida's stadium, known as the Swamp.

The SEC has allowed a limited number of fans to attend games this season. The spectators are often shown on TV clustered together without masks, raising the possibility of widespread outbreaks.

Earlier in the season, LSU coach Ed Orgeron reported that every member of his team had been infected with the disease.

The coach of the defending national champions shrugged off any worries about long-term health threats to his players.

So far during the Tigers' disappointing season, no more Covid-19 cases have been reported.

LSU's last two opponents, Vanderbilt and Missouri, had to postpone their game this weekend,because a Covid-19 outbreak left Vanderbilt with too few scholarship players to field a team. Several Missouri players missed last week's LSU game because of the virus.

Saban's positive test drew increased attention to Covid-19's dangers to players and coaches.

In a press conference from his home, the quarantined coach said he has no symptoms of the disease, and endorsed social distancing, washing hands and wearing masks. During the Ole Miss-Alabama game last Saturday night, Saban never removed his mask. How he might have been exposed to the disease was not reported.

Even if no Alabama players test positive for the disease before Saturday night's game, they could still be infected and at risk of infecting others. The Crimson Tide players will crash against Georgia's team, and interact with referees.

But the game will go on, broadcast to the nation by CBS.





Reading Louise Gluck in a time of troubles

A few years ago I downloaded on my old Nook e-reader Louise Gluck's "Poems 1962-2012."  But I never progressed far into the collection.

Since Gluck won the Nobel Prize for Literature last week, I've been reading a few of her poems everyday.

When she won the award, she made a comment that she didn't want to be a popular poet like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

At least Longfellow wrote a few lines readers remember. While I like some of Gluck's poems, many of them, called "austere" by the Nobel committee, are too solipsistic. If anything, she's anti-poetic with her trite language and ordinary insights.

Poets like Shakespeare, Frost, Stevens, Keats, Eliot and so on are known for memorable speech. I don't find much of that in Gluck's poems.

I grew tired of her Pulitzer Prize-winning collection "Wild Iris," although the title poem was fine. Poem after poem was written from the point of view of flowers, although they all sounded like Louise Gluck. After a while, I had enough of the garden.

Now I've progressed into poems I like better, based on the Odyssey. Still, the poems don't excite my imagination as my favorite ones do.

I'll keep reading through. It's better than watching Amy Coney Barrett, with those weird Republican witch eyes.


Ella Fitzgerald's "The Lost Berlin Tapes" brings echoes of history

Images-2Ella Fitzgerald's "The Lost Berlin Tapes" restores a vanished slice of time.

Fitzgerald on March 25, 1962, performed at West Berlin's ancient Sportpalast as part of her producer Norman Ganz's Jazz at the Philharmonic tour of Europe.

Ganz recorded the concert on reel-to-reel tapes, but they were lost for years until recently rediscovered in the archives of Verve Records, which Ganz founded to produce albums by Fitzgerald.

The recently released "Lost Berlin Tapes" album comes from Ganz's recordings, digitally remastered with high-tech software.

The recording captures one performance in an exhaustive European tour that also featured trumpeter Roy Eldridge and legendary saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, according to Stuart Nicholson's liner notes. Fitzgerald's trio, pianist and leader Paul Smith, bass player Wildred Middlebrooks and drummer Stan Levey, would play before Fitzgerald came out for an hour-long grand finale.

Under Ganz's punishing schedule, the musicians often gave a performance at one city beginning at 6 p.m., then traveled hundreds of miles to another city for a midnight show.

As the "Lost Tapes" reflects, Fitzgerald generated energy from the relentless pace. She's ebullient, witty and effervescent in interacting with the Berlin audience, which responds with thunderous applause after each number.

Built in 1907 as a hockey arena, and the site of speeches by Hitler and Goebbels, the 14,000-seat arena had been retrofitted for musical concerts. In a place where rock groups would later blast the walls with electric instruments, Fitzgerald captured her fans with an acoustic trio, a microphone and her fabulous voice. The arena was demolished in 1973, nearly 20 years before the end of the Cold War.

As Nicholson notes, Fitzgerald's performance includes songs not in the American Songbook mainstream.

While she delivers dynamic interpretations of classics like Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek," which she recorded with Louis Armstrong, the Gershwins' "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "Summertime," and Jerome Kern's "I Won't Dance, Don't Ask Me," she displays her virtuoso stylings on obscure numbers like "Jersey Bounce," "Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie," and her signature novelty "Mr. Paganini."

She turns the unorthodox songs into stirring vehicles for her famous "scat" singing. Her voice swoops and soars with a range of innovative sounds, as if she's invented a new instrument.

In more straight-forward performances, she gives resonance to the haunting "Angel Eyes," the vibrant "C'est Magnifique" and the jaunty"Mack the Knife," a reprise of her hit record from a 1960 Berlin performance. In a nod to the rock generation, she swings on Ray Charles' "Hallelujah, I Love Him So."

The recording brings haunting historical echoes. The audience's rapturous applause made me wonder about their lives in the shadow of the recently built Berlin Wall.

Fitzgerald's voice is that of freedom.