Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Full Spectrum by Adam Rogers

Source of book: Borrowed from the library


Yet another book that was just sitting there on the new books display that I couldn’t resist picking up. 


Full Spectrum is a book that combines multiple areas of study, from history and anthropology to physics and anatomy. Color, after all, isn’t a “real” thing as such, but the creation of our own brains. It is our interpretation of our sensing of electromagnetic radiation of a narrow range of wavelengths. Furthermore, our sensors do not even pick up all the colors we see, but combine the three main (“primary”) wavelength ranges we detect into an extrapolation of the other colors that exist, but are not directly sensed. 


Which is why humans can mix red and green light, and see yellow. 


In this book, Adam Rogers looks at our understanding of color as it relates to the human technologies of reproducing it. Thus, the paleolithic cave paintings are the start. We know for sure that the basic earth tones - ochres - as well as black and white were well known to the ancients. 


Admittedly, it is possible that they used other paint colors too, but these would have faded with time. Or, maybe they didn’t know how to make the other colors in paint. Either way, the ability to create permanent greens and blues in particular came later in human history. 


Thus, the book looks at how these additional color technologies went hand in hand with our scientific understanding of what color was, how we sense it, and how we could better utilize it. 


As this basic summary indicates, this is a bit of an offbeat book, one that wanders down some fascinating alleyways, and one that ends up in some unexpected places. After all, everything tends to connect to everything else at some point, and following the connections is part of the fun. 


Thus, the book moves from the ancient artwork to the ceramics trade - and competition between China and Abbasids. It contains a chapter on Lead White - for centuries the gold, er, maybe the lead standard for white pigments, despite its toxicity. There is a chapter on the Chicago World’s Fair and the relationship of white as a color to racial “whiteness,” among other things. There is a detailed history of the discovery of Titanium and its eventual ubiquity as the far safer replacement of lead in making everything white. Eventually, it gets to the way that screens and color technology can make us “see” colors that do not actually exist, allowing for new artistic techniques. And, of course, there is a chapter on “The Dress,” that internet phenomenon that ended up sparking a whole area of scientific inquiry into color perception. In fact, the article that went viral about the dress was written by none other than Adam Rogers.  


As one might expect from an author who writes for Wired, the book has a modern feel to it, with a bit of snark, and a casual feel to the writing that belies the extensive research that went into the book - including the 32 pages of citations, long bibliography, and index. Make no mistake, this book has very high informational content, but it also has a lot of Rogers’ personality in it as well. 


Here are some highlights. 


Between the world of everything outside your skull and the thoughtful aspic inside it are sensors, biological marvels studding the outside of your body that, in ways both understood and not so much, take input from that outside world of subatomic particles and turn it into impulses that your think-meat can use to create a sensible impression of the world. 


That term, “thoughtful aspic” is brilliant, in my opinion. 


Rogers does have a bit of a bone to pick with the education he received, particularly the “Western-centric” paradigm which glorified Western thinkers, while mostly ignoring every other civilization. This was apparent in how most of us learn about the history of science and math. So, the book talks about Aristotle and his mostly wrong conception of color - although he did get close to the truth about how rainbows formed - and his belief that colors couldn’t mix. 


Yet Aristotle’s vision of the world stuck. Writing four hundred years later, Pliny argued that it was somehow indecent to introduce new colors and pigments. Plutarch was explicit in his derision for color mixing, suggesting that the Homeric world for dyeing actually meant “tainting” and that mixed pigments were not pure and virginal. 


I could write at length about how this basic concept is bound up with the way of thinking that resists all change, and brutally punishes anyone who disproves the rigid categories proclaimed by the priests. Just as Aristotle couldn’t imagine colors mixing, his heirs decided that the fact that the do in fact mix was somehow immoral. There is definitely a similarity in the historical Western approach to gender, to name just one area. But knowledge didn’t stop with the ancients. 


History used to take a little break right here. The next beat in the eternally swelling rhythm of white-man progress usually falls on Isaac Newton, who blows a rainbow out of a prism, figures out how colored light works, and invents physics. But that isn’t the way it happened. Over the next few hundred years, someone had to sort out the mess Aristotle had made of light, pigment, and rainbows. That dawning awareness refracts through Cairo and Baghdad.


This is exactly how science is taught, isn’t it? Likewise, we tend to hear about the ancient Greeks and their math - Archimedes and Pythagorus, and so on. And then we get Newton and Leibniz and calculus. But what happened in the middle? Well, a hell of a lot - literally most of what you learn in pre-college math, that’s what. From the development of zero as a placeholder, probably in India, to the crowning achievement of the Islamic world, Algebra. 


Less snarky but a lot of fun was Rogers’ description of spending time at the Louvre looking extremely closely at paintings, and the ways of suggesting three dimensions. He eventually stopped being able to see the shapes at all, and decided to clear his head by looking at a three dimensional object without much color - “I settled on early-twentieth-century cocktail glasses.” 


When Rogers gets to Newton, he notes that we may have the Bubonic Plague to thank for his breakthroughs in color physics. After all, Cambridge canceled all classes in 1665 due to the plague, so he had nothing better to do than conduct experiments by himself. 


Rogers also takes aim at sexism throughout the book, in particular the idea that “form” is superior to “color” - a bit of a truism in art for many centuries, and the way that color has been associated with femininity. From the early church father Jerome, who whined about makeup - “They serve only to inflame young men’s passions, to stimulate lust, and to indicate an unchaste mind” - to the renaissance artists who ignored and indeed buried the fact that all of those Greek statues were once brilliantly painted in full color. Not that one is needed, but this is a reminder that the old men who wrote most of western christian theology had a huge misogyny problem


Speaking of issues of political import, in giving the history of lead paint, Rogers describes the Victorian Era fight to regulate toxic industries. The lead mills were targeted by Dickens, and Dr. Thomas Oliver served on the commission that eventually started regulating workplace hazards in England. 


Not that he was exactly a paragon of virtue, though. His first goal was to outlaw women working in the lead mills, on the grounds that lead poisoning hurt fertility. (It does, but for men too…) 


Oliver eventually lobbied successfully for laws that banned women from the work, which both helped fix the problem and is exactly the kind of sexism that keeps women from being as well employed and well compensated as men - the invention of occupational health as a practice was aimed more at the health of women’s potential babies than the women themselves. 


Needless to say, then as now, the people who profited from pollution fought every single regulation, blaming supposedly careless workers rather than their own dangerous workplaces. Also, the United States was far behind the rest of the first world in banning lead paint. Europe mostly did before World War One, while we waited until the 1970s. 


Rogers later turns to the history of color printing, which is quite fascinating. One name that stands out is Jacob Le Blon, who developed the first practical three-color printing process. Few of his illustrations - mostly for science books - exist, but Rogers does mention one on displayed, of a dissected penis, done for a textbook written by William Cockburn. 


“In case you were worried that the history of color would fail to involve a dick pic and immature jokes, I have you covered.” 


In the middle of the discussion of the World Fair, and the contemporary association of whiteness with purity and goodness, Rogers notes the involvement of renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. (I highly recommend A Clearing in the Distance by Witold Rybczynski for more about Olmsted.) The designer of Central Park did not like the plan for those all-white buildings, and said so. And took some action of his own. 


He quietly urged his gardener to add more trees and foliage - the classic move of the passive-aggressive landscape architect who doesn’t like a building. 


There are plenty of rabbit holes like this that the book follows. Another is the question of the extent to which language dictates thought. This truism isn’t as true as its proponents claim, particularly since the question of which came first, the language or the idea, is a sticky wicket anyway. Because color is fairly objective at one level (frequencies of light are measurable), it has been used to test this idea. And, as the book shows, it has mostly created more questions than answers. It seems that trying to test this is devilishly difficult, and the elimination of bias pretty much impossible. But it makes for an interesting thought experiment. One thing that does seem to hold true is that men and women - on average - do experience color slightly differently, particularly when it comes to greens and blues. 


Men and women almost certainly perceive the colors in the grue region the same, but they describe them differently. This is the region of colorspace that launched a million arguments over whether this shirt goes with these pants.


I can attest to that. 


I also enjoyed a bit from the conclusion of the book, wherein the author describes a woo device he saw in Paris called the Bioptron - a thing that claims to cure medical issues with polarized light. 


The Bioptron has no side effects, the website claims, which doesn’t surprise me, because it seems unlikely that it has any effect effects, either. 


I will end with the ending sentence. Rogers writes mostly stuff for magazines, not books, so he has mastered the art of the pithy sentence.


Light bounces off a surface and into electrified meat and jelly mounted in the bony skull of our great-to-the-nth-grandparents, and they see what we would’ve seen: glorious color that lets the human mind observe and become a part of the universe at play. 

Thursday, February 17, 2022

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Source of book: I own this.


This book is one of my official choices for Black History Month this year. (You can see the entire list on this page.) I have been meaning to read Toni Morrison for years, but never remembered to request a book from the library. Finally, we found a used hardback to add to our own collection, and I decided to give it priority for Black History Month this year. 

Having read it, I have somewhat mixed feelings about The Bluest Eye. On the positive side, Morrison’s writing is wonderfully evocative and beautiful and heartbreaking. On the other, I felt the weird structure of the book made it a bit hard to follow, and left the ending feeling disconnected from everything else. I don’t necessarily mind non-linear narratives, but when used, I think they should add something to the story arc, not diminish it, which is what I felt happened here. (For what it is worth, Morrison herself later felt the experimental structure was a mistake.) Still, the book is good and compelling and hard to put down. 


The other narrative quirk which works somewhat better is the use of the old Dick and Jane primers both as an opening “chapter” and as the title to various chapters. The words are all run together, but any of us who grew up with those in the house recognize the text and can conjure the illustrations. The books are ultra-white and suburban and of a particular era. They are also boring as hell, and vapid in their lack of anything interesting ever really happening. No wonder Dr. Seuss was able to upend the whole system with stories that kids actually wanted to read. Morrison’s contrast of the sanitized white family with the black families of her story is palpable. But also, the one white family - the one that Pauline cleans house for - is clearly not the family of Dick and Jane once you go even a millimeter below the surface. 


The Bluest Eye follows a family with generational trauma to its eventual disintegration after the father (Cholly) rapes his young daughter, impregnating her. Surrounding all this is the poverty and social stigma associated not merely with being black in a white supremacist society, but the effects of being disabled, or physically unattractive, or impoverished generally. It is a whole constellation of negative and traumatic effects that plague the entire society, black, white, and everyone else. 


One can see this first in Pauline Breedlove, who injures her foot as an infant, and thereafter walks with a limp. She is disabled, but also not particularly pretty, so she assumes nobody will love her - until Cholly comes along. Cholly has his own trauma - abandoned by his parents and raised by his great aunt until she dies when he is still young. He also has a traumatic sexual experience when he and his partner are surprised and mocked by a group of white men. 


This then trickles down to the next generation. Pauline plays the martyr to her drunken husband, while emotionally withdrawing from her children. Cholly drowns his trauma in alcohol and violence toward his family. And Pecola, the young daughter, decides that everything would be better for her if she just had blue eyes. Then, she would be pretty, and loved, and admired. 


That’s the main plot, but there are several subplots that come up, but often seem to fade away as soon as they start. The narrator is (mostly) Claudia MacTeer, a young friend and foster sister of Pecola. As a stable, middle class Black family, they have their own issues in society, from the bullying by the Italian immigrant family next door, to the mocking by the “yellow” - and thus more acceptable - light skinned blacks who also happen to have more money. 


There is also a subplot involving the local brothel and the prostitutes who are both stigmatized and in a way admired for their independence. There is a dirty old man who has buried his homosexuality by preying on young girls, while running a fortune-telling and spiritualist scam. 


Combine these with the flashbacks to the childhoods of Pauline and Cholly, and there is a lot going on in a book of a mere 200 pages. That’s why I felt that things were a bit messy and incoherent in layout, and I think that it would have worked better with a bit more linearity and probably a bit longer length so that the subplots could breathe a bit. 


As I noted above, the writing is beautiful: Morrison is skilled and talented, and compelling. There were many moments when I went back just to re-read a particular gem of a sentence or turn of phrase. I definitely want to read her other books. 


Here are a few highlights from the book:


The tiny, undistinguished days that Mrs. Breedlove lived were identified, grouped, and classed by these quarrels. They gave substance to the minutes and hours otherwise dim and unrecalled. They relieved the tiresomeness of poverty, gave grandeur to the dead rooms. In these violent breaks in routine that were themselves routine, she could display the style and imagination of what she believed to be her true self. To deprive her of these fights was to deprive her of all the zest and reasonableness of life. Cholly, by his habitual drunkenness and orneriness, provided them both with the material they needed to make their lives tolerable. 


That is just part of an amazing and perceptive passage on the dynamics of an abusive relationship. I have done a lot of domestic violence cases, and, while this is not the only kind of dynamic I have seen, it is definitely one of them. For Pauline, her very identity is tied up in being a martyr to Cholly. 


If Cholly had stopped drinking, she would never have forgiven Jesus. She needed Cholly’s sins desperately. The lower he sank, the wilder and more irresponsible he became, the more splendid she and her task became. In the name of Jesus.


There is a bit of that dynamic in my own family, I’m afraid. The need to pray for a “wayward” child gives meaning to life, and one’s own undistinguished days can feel better when you can look down on someone else for making different choices. Of course, for Cholly too, there is a reward in the dynamic. He never has processed his trauma, particularly that sexual trauma, and Pauline is a convenient way to numb that pain. 


No less did Cholly need her. She was one of the few things abhorrent to him that he could touch and therefore hurt. He poured out on her the sum of all his inarticulate fury and aborted desires. Hating her, he could leave himself intact.


Again, that is a dynamic I have seen a lot in violent intimate relationships. Morrison points out here and elsewhere that shame is a difficult emotion to handle, so we often turn it into anger. (Oh man, do I know what this feels like. Way too much.) Pecola herself does this when the store owner refuses to touch her hand, even to take her money.


Anger stirs and wakes in her; it opens its mouth, and like a hot-mouthed puppy, laps up the dredges of her shame. Anger is better. There is a sense of being in anger. A reality and presence. An awareness of worth. It is a lovely surging. 


This, unfortunately, raises some difficult - perhaps impossible - issues in our society. I think that one significant source of the Trumpist anger and rage on the part of many white people in our society is a sense of shame. This is a reason why there is the push to keep all honest teaching about history out of schools - white Americans have a lot to be ashamed of, and not just the past. But trying to avoid the shame isn’t helping, and it won’t just go away, because there are genuine reasons that the shame exists. Merely telling people that they shouldn’t feel ashamed won’t fix the problem - it will ultimately require them to stop doing the shameful things that bring the shame in the first place. 


It also contrasts with the shame that Pecola feels, because her shame is at being black in a society that considers her literally untouchable. Cholly has both kinds of shame, of course. His inappropriate shame and the shameful way those white men treated him feeds his doing shameful things - beating his wife, raping his daughter - that he should be ashamed of. It’s a tough nut, to be sure. 


Morrison also takes an unflattering look at light-skinned black girls from the city, who look down on Southern rural (and darker skinned) blacks like Pauline. 


They go to land-grant colleges, normal schools, and learn how to do the white man’s work with refinement: home economics to prepare his food; teacher education to instruct black children in obedience; music to soothe the weary master and entertain his blunted soul. Here they learn the rest of the lesson begun in those soft houses with porch swings and pots of bleeding heart: how to behave. The careful development of thrift, patience, high morals, and good manners. In short, how to get rid of the funkiness. The dreadful funkiness of passion, the funkiness of nature, the funkiness of the wide range of human emotions.


While this is specifically about a certain kind of refined black woman, the project of a lot of white religion and white culture is quite similar. The elimination of passion, nature, and the full range of human emotions. In fact, that was literally a key part of Bill Gothard’s cult: the suppression of all “negative” emotions, particularly in children and women. It was the inculcation of a certain kind of “manners” that was every bit as subservient as what Morrison describes for refined black domestics. I am currently reading Walden Two by B. F. Skinner (stay tuned), and it takes a similar utopian approach to the messiness of human emotion to that of Gothard, although Skinner sought to eliminate the underlying causes of negative emotions, while Gothard just told you that negative emotions were evil, and had to be brutally suppressed, even at the cost of one’s psychological health. (The damage is real and widespread among ex-Gothard kids.) Morrison really nails how this plays out in her characters, with an inability to make emotional or sexual connection with a spouse or raise emotionally healthy children - after all, babies have messy emotions. Much easier to get a cat. 


Morrison points out that neither money nor whiteness protects against this dysfunction. In a way, the white family is the most dysfunctional, despite having plenty of money to paper over that fact. Once incident is fascinating. The woman rants at Pauline about the fact that her brother - who she put through dentistry school - hasn’t invited her to a party. 


All the while I was thinking how dumb she was. Whoever told her that her brother was her friend? Folks can’t like folks just ‘cause they has the same mama.


Oh yes. This question of the meaning of “family” can be a tough one. In some circumstances, economic or safety concerns require sticking together no matter what - a clan matters in time of war. But there is no automatic reason why sharing a mother (or father) guarantees friendship. In fact, in dysfunctional families like mine, what it leads to instead is flagrant favoritism and bullying behavior, all while expecting a loyalty that goes only one way. In families, as anywhere else, relationships must be earned and maintained, not taken for granted. 


The Bluest Eye was an interesting read. I think what surprised me the most was Morrison’s depth of understanding of human psychology and interpersonal dynamics. While the book is about the black experience and takes a hard look at the way whiteness is seen as beauty and virtue, most of what Morrison describes is universally human, between the unhealthy coping mechanisms, the emotional stunting, and the way we cage our own souls as we seek to cage the souls of others. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Four February Performances

One of the things I have learned in my 20 years as a solo practice lawyer is that things are “feast or famine.” You have to just roll with the slow times (say, most of 2020…sigh) and hang in there when things get crazy. Sometimes, things are like that when it comes to music - every December during normal years, for example. And that’s the way it goes with lots of things in life. 


And that is how I ended up seeing four plays at four different local theaters within nine days. 


I am thrilled that our local theaters made it through the covid shutdowns intact, and with plenty of pent-up enthusiasm and great ideas. Since it was so many in a short time, I decided to combine all the reviews in one post, and present them in the order I saw the plays. 



The Wizard of Oz

(Stars Theatre)


There were two main reasons I went (with two of the kids) to see this one. First, one of my teens’ classmates was in it, and we love watching her. Second, Kevin McDonald was the Wizard of Oz, and he is worth seeing in any role. And, as is the case generally with Stars, I know some members of the live band. 


The musical is based on the movie, which is based on the book. I first discovered the book, back in my childhood, before eventually seeing the movie - it was a yearly event on broadcast TV, but my parents preferred the other yearly event, Ben Hur, so I had to make more of an effort to see The Wizard of Oz. The movie is dang long, so the play shortens it just a bit. And naturally, the special effects are a bit less in play, particularly for a theater which doesn’t have a multi-million dollar budget. 


It has been a while since I saw the movie, so I am guessing a bit as to what was cut, but it seems that it was mostly special effects scenes and dance sequences. Probably some dialogue too, but all of the most memorable lines seem to be there. It does retain the whole framing story of “the characters in Oz are all real people in Dorothy’s life and she is just dreaming” rather than the going with the plot of the book, which is clear that Oz is a real place…somewhere. (I read several of the books, but nowhere near all 14 of the original series by Baum or any of the later books by other authors.) 


Just to mention a few highlights of this production. First, local actor Bella Stine (age 15, but already with an impressive list of voice credits and an IMDB listing), was outstanding as Dorothy. Singing, dancing, acting - she is the whole package, and owned every scene she was in. She also refused to be rattled by the sound issues that plagued the first half, not missing a beat. She is already a total professional. 

 Matthew Barge, Joshua Hefner, Bella Stine, Mark Price

Matthew Barge (the Tin Man/Hickory) also carried his vocal parts well, and was perfect with the physical acting for the part. Laurie Howlett (The Wicked Witch) and Mark Price (The Cowardly Lion) are married in real life, which led to some fun in-jokes in the program and on Facebook throughout the run. Mark is a local magician, but found himself with a singing part, which meant pulling a Rex Harrison, but with more growling. This was actually really fun, and kept the audience laughing. Laurie has been in productions around town for years, and was deliciously loathsome. The Munchkins were surprisingly young, and well coached. Their singing was spot on, which is not always the case for small kids. And, of course Kevin was fun to watch do the curmudgeon thing once again. 




(The Ovation Theatre


Since it took over the old Spotlight Theater location, Ovation has found its niche with its live music and offbeat musicals. After having a smash hit with Million Dollar Quartet - on the strength of its talented and tight band, they have tried to have at least one event with musicians on stage doing their thing each year. In this case, that play was Once


As it turns out, I know a bunch of the musicians, so I was glad that I managed to see a show. They had to cancel part of the run due to Omicron, but sold out the last weekend, which has to make everyone happy. 


Like The Wizard of Oz, Once is also based on a movie. Set in Dublin, it is an almost love story about a musician who has lost his way and his belief in himself. Filled with eccentric characters, both native Dubliners and Czech immigrants, it bounces between humor and pathos. The key thing for it all to work is that the cast has to sell the story, implausible as it is. That, and since all the instruments are played live on stage, the music had better be good. And it was. 


The band was seriously tight and balanced and full of exuberance. Even without the need of a plot, they would be worth watching in concert, but they also seamlessly worked the music into the story, making it feel natural. 

 Dominic Demay, emoting...

Dominic Demay had the lead part this time, after several great turns as humorous supporting characters, and was perfect for the part. He can sell over-the-top emoting like few others, and his singing has really blossomed the last couple of years. Jacqueline Salazar played opposite Demay as “Girl” - the lead is “Guy” - and filled the role of “manic pixie dream girl” so to speak. Not an easy role to play, but she did it admirably. Beyond that, the other characters were fun, and many of the roles were filled by friends - Bakersfield has a great music community, and some wonderfully skilled musicians. 

 Dominic Demay and Jacqueline Salazar

I’ll also mention the amazing set, where they pretty much rebuilt the theater bar onstage, and sold drinks before and after the show, and during intermission. So much love and effort went into this production, and it came off really well. 

 Matthew Thompson, Rob Lang, Ken Burdick (back), Jeff Ingle, Braxton Porter, Jeff Ardray, Jess Ardray (hiding in back), Marissa Farooq (back), unknown, Jacqueline Salazar


The Light in the Piazza

(The Empty Space


I was really looking forward to this one, in large part because it is based on an Elizabeth Spencer novella, and I love her writing. I wasn’t as familiar with the music, although my wife, ever the Broadway nerd, knew all about it. The music is by Adam Guettel, who is the grandson of composer (and Broadway legend) Richard Rodgers, and combines the lush orchestration of classic musicals with a rather modern idiom. Which means: damn hard to sing


This musical had the most nuanced plot of any of the ones we saw, unsurprising since it came from a Spencer story. As I would have expected, it is centered on ambiguous moral and ethical questions, and ambivalence in relationships. 


An American mother and daughter (Margaret and Clara) are touring Florence while their husband/father remains back doing big business things at home (and possibly sleeping around.) Clara had a traumatic brain injury at age 12, and has some developmental issues at age 26. Due to a meet-cute, she falls in love with a younger Italian man, Fabrizio, and her feelings are reciprocated. His family is initially in favor of the match, but Margaret is super protective of her daughter, is determined to “save” her from a relationship. 


The ambiguity comes into the story here. Is Clara capable of consent or not? She obviously has some issues reading social cues, but she also quickly picks up a passable amount of Italian. She gets overwhelmed by situations and panics - such as in the case when she tries to sneak out of the hotel for a tryst with Fabrizio. But she also charms his family and earns their respect. 


This is actually something that comes into my law practice from time to time. As many elderly people slowly lose parts of their memories or other mental capacities, the question arises as to consent to sexual activity and relationships. I’m not talking about the obviously inappropriate relationship between caretaking staff and patients in a facility, but that between peers. What level of capacity is necessary for consent? It isn’t a bright line, particularly when both parties are at about the same functional level. 


There are multiple layers here too. Fabrizio, since he is six years younger (to the horror of his family when they find out Clara’s age), doesn’t seem to be in a position to truly take advantage of Clara, and he seems perfectly sincere. Also, Clara knows her own mind a lot more than her mother realizes, which leads to the question of how much of Clara’s disability is more a matter of sheltering than cognitive ability. Which in turn leads to the issue of how our society tends to condescend to disabled people, often treating them like children. Oh, and because Clara stands to inherit a fortune, is it gold digging, at least on the part of Fabrizio’s family? 


And everything is made even murkier because of language barriers, cultural and religious differences, and conflicting family expectations. It’s a mess. 


And then there is the subplot, which is the sort of thing that finds itself in so many Elizabeth Spencer stories. Margaret realizes that her feelings toward her husband Roy are a lot more ambiguous than she wants to admit. Her desire to “protect” Clara from heartbreak isn’t just about Clara - maybe not even that much about Clara at all. In a song near the end of the first act, “Dividing Day,” she wonders if the feelings her husband had for her died the day they married. 


Dashing as the day we met,

Only there is something I don't recognize.

Though I cannot name it yet, I know it.

Beautiful is what you are,

Only somehow wearing a frightening disguise.

I can see the winter in your eyes, love, telling me:

"Thank you, We're done here, Not much to say.

We are together but I have had Dividing Day."

So when, when was this day?

Was it on the church step?

Suddenly you're out of love.

Does it go creeping slowly?

When was your Dividing Day?

I can see the winter in your eyes, love, telling me:

"Margaret, we did it, You curtseyed, I bowed.

We are together, but no more love, no more love allowed."

When was dividing day?

Was it on the church step?

Did it happen right away?

Were you lying next to me,

Hiding what you couldn't say?

How could I have guessed?

Was my cheek upon your chest?

An ocean away...

When was, when was, when was Dividing Day?


Combined with the gorgeous and haunting music, this was a heart-rending moment, and a turning point for Margaret. 

Bethany Lahammer

Along with Margaret’s internal drama - and she is really the main character, not Clara or Fabrizio - there are other things going on in the Italian side of the story. Signor and Signora Naccarelli are married, but not exactly happy. Signor is quite the player, with a seemingly endless series of affairs of various levels. Signora “suspects,” as she puts it, and he “suspects she suspects.” But they don’t say anything. Fabrizio’s brother Guiseppe is even more open about his philandering, bringing girls within sight of his furiously jealous wife, Franca. So, you have multiple unhappy people, already cynical about love, making decisions for two young people who seem to still be in the throes of optimism and infatuation. 


And that is where Spencer decides to take it. Sometimes you have to risk. You may lose. Or you may win. And the most healthy response isn’t necessarily to treat a disabled child as, well, a child. 


The level of musicianship on display in this performance was top notch. As soon as I heard the first notes, I was worried that at some point, someone was going to miss a beat and get hopelessly off of the ever-shifting meter of the backing track, or be unable to place a long note without help from the instrumentation. This was tough music. But, the singing was solid the whole way through. Volume balance - without mics, by the way - was exactly where it should be. Even when the actors moved around the stage, or faced away from us (the theater has seats on three sides of the stage), the lyrics could be clearly heard. According to Michael Crider, the vocal director for this show, they started rehearsing back in October. And the hard work really showed. The whole cast should be proud of themselves for one of the best vocal performances I have heard. 

 Tessa Ogles and Nick Ono

I want to say a bit about the cast. In the lead role of Margaret, Bethany Lahammer was amazing.  I don’t think I have seen her in anything local since If/Then back in 2017, so it is nice to see her on stage again. Tessa Ogles and Nick Ono have been regulars in local theater for a number of years, and have tended to play opposites as romantic leads. And no wonder, because they have good chemistry. It has been fun to watch both of them grow in skill over the last several years. I suspect this tough of a show would have been a bit much for them five years ago, but they have put in the many hours of practice to attain this level of ability. Some of the usual suspects took the supporting parts, both singing and non-singing. Steve Evans, David Lollar, Eric Leminen, Arian Garcia, and Fred Cremer have all been around local theater for a while, and were reliably good. I was intrigued by Sherna Armstrong, new to The Empty Space, but a professional-level singer. I could see her killing it in a lead role sometime. I hope to see more of her. 

 David Lollar (Signor Naccarelli), Sherna Armstrong (Signora Naccarelli), Bethany Lahammer (Margaret Johnson)

Finally, kudos to TES for requiring vaccination or test, and masking. I know this is a tough town, so I appreciate you staying strong. (Ditto for BCT below…)



The Importance of Being Earnest

(Bakersfield Community Theatre)


This was not my first experience with Earnest, to say the least. I discovered it in high school, read it again a decade ago, and saw a gender-swapped version at CSUB several years back. 


For this one, a few friends were either in it, or directing, so it was an easy choice to go check it out. Also, Lillian didn’t remember the last one she saw, and seemed the perfect age to get the jokes. 


Earnest never gets old. Every time new witty lines stand out, and it is laugh-out-loud funny. I think it is arguably the best comedy ever written. 


I won’t rehash the plot in this post, although I do want to mention a line. It is thoroughly silly, which is the point. It also tends to flip gender expectations, particularly for its era. And it is still a great sendup of societal foibles and prejudices. 


“The home seems to me to be the proper sphere for the man. And certainly once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties he becomes painfully effeminate, does he not?”


Fortunately, I am not in much danger of that. 


Earnest has a small cast, and really only a handful of major characters. Thus, each of them must be able to sustain the drama - and perform their lines without busting up, which must be harder than it looks. 


The two frivolous young males, Jack and Algernon, were played by Perrin Swanson (no relation) and Josh Carruthers, respectively. Josh’s delightful flippancy was perfectly matched by Perrin’s dour annoyance. Lindsay Pearson gave Gwendolen a tightly wound, almost mercenary feel, while Jerusha Crystian played Cecily as naive on the surface but razor sharp underneath. 

Jerusha Crystian (Cecily), Josh Carruthers (Algernon)

Perrin Swanson (Jack), Lindsay Pearson (Gwendolen) 

And then, there is Ronnie Warren, proprietor of our local yarn shop, and a fixture of local theater arts for decades. My wife and I first saw him in stuff at the local community college when she was in school there, and have seen him here there and everywhere since. I’ll give a particular mention of his work in directing and playing the part of Colonel Pickering in My Fair Lady at The Empty Space back in 2018. In this production, he was the unforgettable Lady Bracknell. In fact, I might say that he was the platonic form of Lady Bracknell, the sort of Lady Bracknell that you imagine when you read the play first (as I did.) Ron is a big guy, and towered over the other, normal sized actors. And, as Lady Bracknell is wont to do, got in the personal space of those she wished to intimidate, which was mostly everyone. Furthermore, she made the presence of dead birds on her absurdly large and elaborate hats seem appropriate to the situation. 

 Ron Warren, aka Lady Bracknell

I hardly need to add that we all - kids included - laughed our way through the play. It was hilarious, well performed, and a great way to cap off a run of local theater.