“Once on This Island” at OSF

Once on This Island

Book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens Music by Stephen Flaherty Based Upon the Novel My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy Directed by Lili-Anne Brown

Ashland, OR at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Once on This Island (2022): Chuckie Benson, Camille Robinson, Michael Wordly, and Phyre Hawkins. Photo by Jenny Graham.

Chuckie Benson, Camille Robinson, Michael Wordly, and Phyre Hawkins.
Photo by Jenny Graham, OSF.

It was good to be back in the Bowmer Theater to for a fun evening that is full of energy, good singing, lively movement, and entertaining and meaningful music.

The story is a Caribbean-set retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, and virtually all plot development in Once is delivered in song. The different moods, the different sounds, and the characters all work delightfully. 

J. D. Webster, Sasha Jewel Weymouth, and Patricia Jewel. Photo by Jenny Graham. OSF.

J. D. Webster, Sasha Jewel Weymouth, and Patricia Jewel. Photo by Jenny Graham, OSF

All the cast members were above competent with careful expressive motions and voice. I am seriously impressed by the young actress who played Little Ti Moune (either Sasha Jewel Weymouth or Ayvah Johnson, I didn’t see in the playbill which we were seeing that night). The young actor was a dynamo, controlled, and on pitch.

We also enjoyed seeing a larger group of actors fill up the stage. What fun!

The direction and lighting were flawless. The story’s message of racism was obvious and the director’s notes that she was glad to have been able to produce the show from a Black perspective puzzled me. Do some productions make it okay that Ti Moune gets dumped by her prince because of her skin color?  Ick.

Some technical areas kept me from pure happiness. The major flaw for me was the costumes. They were overdone and cheap looking straight out of a high school production. I don’t know the budget, but it apparently wasn’t enough. 

The sound was also iffy at times. Sometimes the words in songs disappeared in the music. The worst of this was at the end when there’s singing telling the future of Ti Moune and succeeding generations. I missed the future of her as a tree completely.

And, I agree with a friend’s criticism that in a musical there should be some magic that shows up sometime on the set. Once‘s scenic design was unchanging despite the different locations of the scenes. This again was perhaps a budget issue, but the effect was to damp down the specialness of the evening.

Overall the show was a lot of fun with meaning and emotion. I give it:
Play Rating: 4 out of 5 Syntaxes

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“unseen” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival


written by Mona Mansour
directed by Evren Odcikin

Ashland, OR
at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Masthead for :"unseen" at OSF

unseen has given us hours of discussion on how we could fix it to make it a good play. We try so hard because the storyline resonates so loudly in our times of war, horror, loss, and helplessness. And we can spend hours on fixes because there are so many issues.

The title unseen itself illustrates one of the play’s problems. The e. e. cummings capitalization style is obviously supposed to mean something. So much of unseen is supposed to mean something that I didn’t quite grasp. From the title capitalization to parts of the set to passages of dialog to almost everything presented to the audience, the show is endlessly metaphorically symbolic and reminiscent of… things I should understand. 

But, there’s too much I don’t understand without taking the PhD class in symbolism.

Perhaps I would spend more time trying to grok the finer points presented to us, except that the main character, Mia (played by Helen Sadler), is unlikable. Her coldness is another point of endless debate — is the character written poorly or is the problem with the actor and director in this production. Whatever the reason, we don’t wind up caring about what has happened or is happening to her.  

Because we don’t bond with Mia, the string of events in her life feel random. I know what she’s lived through is PTSD provoking. But, she wasn’t warm and friendly in the earlier, pre-passing-out stressed flashback moment. So did we miss some earlier damaging scene? And, speaking of time disorientation, scenes usually started out with their time being displayed in lights on a beam on the stage, e..g, “3 months ago”. But, I think that the scenes were shown in chronological order. Weren’t they? So why display the dates?

unseen (2022): Helen Sadler and Nora el Samahy. Photo by Jenny Graham.

Helen Sadler and Nora el Samahy. Photo by Jenny Graham, OSF

I am fan of the rule that if you show me a gun in Act I you need to shoot it before the play is over. In unseen I never understood why Mia is a lesbian. Was it because her ex girlfriend (Derya, played by Nora el Samahy) was not out and therefore was “unseen” by much of Derya’s birth family? I don’t know. And, there were just too many loose ends for me to care about any of them.

The highlights of the short 100-minute-ish performance was the acting by el Samahy and Carolyn Shaffer who played Jane, Marian, and Nancy. These two women gave nuanced, emotional, and approachable performances. They quality of their acting was one of the reasons there was so much discussion on fixing the play… we wanted it to be worthy of their skill.

However, there’s even more to fix.

The stage design was weird with 1/3 seemingly reserved for a tree branch. There was too much movement from one side to the other making people feel like there were watching a tennis match in the aisle configuration. 

Then there were the words flashed on the set telling us the time period of some of the scenes. That was okay because if you missed the date in its out-of-the-way location you generally got was going on by context. However, at the end of the play there is a prayer/song/something sung in Turkish (Arabic?) and the English translation was apparently splashed on a wall. About one in six people I talked to saw the translation, the rest of us missed the meaning of the closing words. That was a loss.

unseen has too many themes, too many possibilities, and too many symbols to be either fun or worthwhile. It’s a well-meaning piece with two fine actors, and you will discuss your ideas about how to improve it. But, overall, it’s only:

Ozdachs Rating:  2 Syntaxes out of 5

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SeQueL, November 21, 2008 – November 23, 2021

Grand Champion Lilliput’s Royal Munchkin of Wagsmore

From the moment SeQueL arrived at Ozdachs on March 8, 2009 she was the guiding spirit of our second pack. She was the fifth dog Geoffrey and I had, so we thought we knew how we would train the three-month-old girl. Instead, starting on the first day, SeQueL explained to us what she wanted and what we needed to do. On Day One we were puppy whipped.

SeQueL on Day 2Throughout her entire life she did not whine. Instead she communicated with her eyes, with happy enthusiastic barklets, and with terrific gruntled noises when we were doing the appropriate thing. Her enthusiasm and happiness permeated her pack and our lives.

When she arrived three members of our original pack greeted her. Syntax, Vector, and Array were delighted to see an energetic puppy around them, but they were older and happily yielded the center of attention to the newly arrived play machine. From her early days here, SeQueL has set the tone and standards for pack behavior.

SeQueL as Winners Bitch

Best of Winners at a Major

SeQueL trained to become a show girl, and under Geoffrey’s handling became a Champion and then a Grand Campion. She loved the attention she received in the ring and the adoration given her while she was sitting on our laps waiting for her turn to strut her stuff. To the end she jumped into crates whenever we offered because she thought she might be going to another dog show.

SeQueL always treated members of the pack with openness and joy. She seemed delighted to have relocated to our home. She made friends with the older residents. Then when Paris came to live with us, SeQueL welcomed her without jealousy as a full-fledged pack member. That was SeQueL’s imperative: everyone in the pack would love each other.

SeQueL spent a lot of effort finding in-home playmates. Initially, the other Ozdachs were older and wore out easily. One of the reasons we all wanted her to have puppies was so she would have someone to chase around the house. Even that was not enough sometimes!

SeQueL was a spectacular mother to Zenith and Array. She watched over them and clearly enjoyed their company. Syntax, our first mother dog, did a great job of whelping and taking care of the small puppies, but when the nursing was over, she created some distance between her and her children. Not SeQueL. Up to her last month of life, SeQueL would chase, be chased, growl and play with both her children and her grandchild, Auroara.

SeQueL, Apex, Paris, Zenith, and Auroara eagerly perform.All of SeQueL’s pack gets along and cares for each other. In SeQueL’s last days, Zenith and Paris slept close to her wherever she was, cuddling her with their bodies. Apex and Auroara would also check in, lick, sniff, and love.

SeQueL’s spirit has guided the Ozdachs for twelve years and her memory will continue to empower and comfort us.

Please see some of our favorite photos of her at https://bit.ly/SeQueL or visit her gallery at https://ozdachs.smugmug.com/Dachshunds/SeQueL-2008-2021/.

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Taking Care of the Poor, San Francisco Style, 2021

There is something humanly disturbing and wrong about how we Americans have decided to NOT handle poor homeless people in need. In some areas of the country people look down on street people as being lazy addicts who deserve whatever happens to them. In left-wing San Francisco we view our hands-off approach through the lens of individual rights and respecting the choice that people have… we honor the “decision” to do drugs, stay on the street, and survive however they can.

Our determination to let other humans rot on the street is apparently official.

Last Thursday afternoon I was sitting with a friend on a Castro Street parklet enjoying a cocktail.  While sipping our drinks we watched a disoriented man go back and forth on the sidewalk. He looked to be either on drugs or on an internal mental journey. But, he didn’t approach us so we pretty much lost track of him.

Then out of the side of my eye I saw him fall in the middle of the sidewalk.

How San Francisco Handles the Homeless - 1 of 5
Our attention shifted to see if he got up, moved, or otherwise looked okay. He did none of those things. Instead, we watched pedestrians change course to walk around him. No one stopped or took any action.

So, I called the Police Department to report a man down on sidewalk. I explained that he looked like a homeless man in bad health who collapsed. I tried to make the call urgent and wouldn’t speculate that he was drunk or otherwise a low priority.

Within a few minutes — and after a follow-up call or two — officers arrived.

How San Francisco Handles the Homeless - 2 of 5

They were nice officers. At least the one I talked to was friendly and reasonable. They made contact and assured themselves that the man did not need paramedics.

Then they followed apparent policy.

How San Francisco Handles the Homeless - 3 of 5They had the man crawl with his crutch over to the side of the walkway where he would not be in the way. Then they left.

How San Francisco Handles the Homeless - 5 of 5I was — and still am — stunned. Here’s a man who effectively cannot walk, and we respect his “right” to pass out by the side of a building.

When I was a police dispatcher 40+ years ago, I was trained that California’s Health and Welfare code is supposed to protect people who are either a danger to others or to themselves. Officers, doctors, and some other people are empowered to put people in a hospital for 72 hours… even if the person objects. I cannot conceive of a time when I would have sent a unit to a situation like the one I observed and the officers would have left the man still down on the sidewalk.

But in 2021 we do that in San Francisco. I don’t know the official policy wording that has police walk away from someone clearly gravely disabled. But, whether we say it’s”individual freedom” or other lofty reason, we are doing it wrong.

We need to take care of the crazy and the drug addled. I am not advocating making the streets “cleaner” or even safer. We simply owe each other enough care to give safe shelter and food to the desperate among us. Even if they say they don’t want it.

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Mother Nature and the Side Fence

Just a fun observation.

Back in March, 2018 we noticed a small volunteer growing in a small crack in the concrete on our side fence. The plant looked a bit like the potted jade plant we had 25 away, but its structure was different. Sturdier. There was nothing in our backyard or the neighbor’s yard that matched the tenacious fence dweller.

I photographed it for my church’s Climate Justice Month photo essay, but its small size kept it off the list of submitted pictures. Still it was pretty cute.

Backyard Volunteer in 2018

Appreciated March 28, 2018

Today I photographed some winter plants and flowers around town AND in our back yard. The little guy is looking pretty healthy three years later!

Backyard Volunteer in 2021

Appreciated January 16, 2021

As so it grows!

There’s still no dirt for it to get nutrients from nor space for it to anchor itself. So, I don’t know how long this volunteer can keep its act together. But, it’s fun watching and appreciating.

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