Friday, December 6, 2013

Impressionable Young Minds

Who would ever have thought that the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade could launch another battle in America's cultural wars. As most people have learned, the inclusion of a musical performance by the cast of Kinky Boots led many conservative, uptight, and extremely self-righteous parents to tweet that this was the last time, ever, that the Macy's parade would be viewed in their good, Christian homes.

What many of these parents failed to realize was that a bunch of male actors dancing in red, knee-high laced boots is nowhere as threatening to a child as being stuffed into a school locker or bullied by his classmates. Shiny red boots can be immensely appealing to children of all ages and all genders. The old "pink is for girls and blue is for boys" formula is obsolete crap. Consider, if you will, the following segment from Eve Ensler's 2007 interview of Jane Fonda:

The concept of letting little boys get in touch with their emotions through the same kind of role playing that girls do with their dolls forms the basis for Barbie Boy, a new short by Nick Corporon that has been making the rounds of LGBT film festivals.

Bobby (Trent Carlton) is a fair-haired seven-year-old boy who likes to play with dolls. Not only are Barbie and Ken his best friends, he's got a full-size dollhouse in his bedroom and a vivid imagination that brings its occupants to life. His mother (Lauren Dobbins Webb) happily indulges his harmless role-playing fantasies, asking Bobby if she should "fill up the pool" (the kitchen sink) so that Ken can go scuba diving while Barbie floats on her back, basking in the sun.

Poster art for Barbie Boy

While his mother has no qualms about letting Bobby play with dolls, the boy's father (William Kidd), knows what lies ahead and tries to discourage his son, warning Bobby that if he plays with his dolls or talks about them outside of the house, other kids "might not understand."

His message is not at all subtle and, coming from an authority figure like his father, instantly goes to work on Bobby's fervid imagination. While out shopping in a toy store with his mother, Bobby shrinks from his usual area of expertise (the doll section) and reluctantly opts for a robotic male action figure toy. When his friend Trevor (Shawn Kissinger) arrives to play with military toys (acting like a more typical young boy), Bobby is bored to tears.

Although Bobby's mother notices her son's change in behavior, the viewer can see the wheels turning in Bobby's head as he realizes that he must leave behind a world of deeply fulfilling fantasy that gave him so much comfort and joy. Here's the teaser:

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Over at The Marsh, a popular Bay area monologist (Brian Copeland) is charming audiences with his newest one-man show. The Jewelry Box...A Genuine Christmas Story takes audiences back in time to when Brian was six years old, his family was barely scraping by and, after moving from one city to another, his mother no longer had her beloved jewelry box. On a family trip to the White Front department store (to go "looking" as opposed to "shopping"), Brian spotted a beautiful mahogany jewelry box which could be the perfect Christmas gift for his mother.

A six-year-old Brian Copeland sitting on Santa's lap

The challenge for a six-year-old boy was obvious: The jewelry box cost $11.97 (money which he didn't have and which the family could ill afford to spend, especially now that his estranged father, Sylvester, was back in the picture). With his stern grandmother (who drove a Pontiac LeMans) riding herd on Brian and his two little sisters, the only way he was going to be able to purchase the jewelry box was if he could earn $11.97 by Christmas.

Brian Copeland in The Jewelry Box ...A Genuine Christmas Story
(Photo by: Patti Meyer)

Copeland's personal charm as a storyteller allows him to quickly shift gears between a naive six-year-old boy wearing his Sunday suit as he interviews for a job as a used car salesman and two of the neighborhood drunks who send him to the library to confirm which year the Olympics were held in Helsinki. Whether impersonating his sister, Tracy (who wants to know if Santa's black elves are slaves), or the distraught mother of a neighboring family whose landlord removed the front door to their apartment because they were behind on their rent, Copeland has audiences eating from the palm of his hand.

Brian Copeland in The Jewelry Box...A Genuine Christmas Story
(Photo by: Patti Meyer)

The Jewelry Box...A Genuine Christmas Story is the rare holiday attraction that packs an important message for children about the value of honest work, compassion, good deeds, community, a sympathetic teacher's aide, and a money-making trip to the library into a disarmingly tender 70-minute monologue. Performances continue at The Marsh through Saturday, December 28 (click here to order tickets).

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Art Linkletter famously boasted that Kids Say The Darnedest Things! For those of us who followed the misadventures of Dennis the Menace, Calvin and Hobbes, and Stewie Griffin in Family Guy, there's little doubt that, without any reason to filter their thoughts, there's nothing quite like a  precocious little brat to cut to the quick. Unless, of course, you're talking about a family dog with literary aspirations. As Nigel Barber explained on The Huffington Post in a blog entitled Why A Dog Means So Much
"Whatever the evolutionary reasons, humans and dogs are as emotionally close as it is possible for different species to be. That is why the loss of a dog can be so devastating. On the one hand, we have merely lost a pet that is easily replaced. On the other hand, we have lost not just a family member but perhaps the only one who never deceived us, never withheld affection, and never criticized us."
The recent death of the sophisticated, alcoholic Brian Griffin on Family Guy offers an opportunity to examine how anthropomorphism has become a steady factor in our lives. Consider these classic clips from the show:

Long before Brian Griffin attempted to become a writer, one of Charles Schultz's most beloved characters was submitting manuscripts to PlayBeagle, only to receive a never-ending series of condescending rejection letters. After the initial success of 1967's off-Broadway musical, You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown (and numerous television specials), Snoopy! The Musical debuted in San Francisco in December 1975. It quickly became a theatrical treat good enough to eat!

The folks at 42nd Street Moon recently revived the show as a holiday attraction. Their ebullient production (with scenery designed by Hector Zavala) captured all the charm, innocence, and petulant sarcasm of its opinionated cast of characters. With Ian Leonard as Charlie Brown, Janine Burgener as Woodstock, Kyle Stoner as Linus, and Chloe Condon as Sally Brown, this show brought back fond memories of the days when Peanuts was fresh and new every day in American newspapers.

Lovingly directed by Cindy Goldfield (with its book by Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates, Warren Lockhart, Arthur Whitelaw and Michael L. Grace, music by Larry Grossman, and lyrics by Hal Hackady), audiences reveled in the angst of Linus's vigil as he waited for The Great Pumpkin to appear and Peppermint Patty's desperate musical plea, "Hurry Up, Face." Hilarious numbers that capture a child's fantasy ("Edgar Allen Poe," "Clouds," "When Do The Good Things Start?") proved the strength of 42nd Street's ensemble, with special kudos going to Ashley Rae Little (a grand belter with comic flair) as Peppermint Patty and Dyan McBride as Lucy van Pelt.

Charlie Brown (Ian Leonard) gets advice from Lucy Van Pelt
(Dyan McBride) in Snoopy!!! (Photo by: Patrick O'Connor)

With Dave Dobrusky at the piano, the show really belonged to Keith Pinto, making his company debut as everyone's favorite beagle. The role of Snoopy offers an actor more self-indulgent opportunities for shameless mugging than Dame Edna can pack into one evening. Whether singing about "Mother's Day," "Daisy Hill," "The Great Writer" or "The Big Bow-Wow," Mr. Pinto had himself an absolute blast.  It's been a long time since I've seen any one actor enjoy himself so much onstage. Needless to say, the audience responded enthusiastically to Pinto's shenanigans at every opportunity.

Keith Pinto as Snoopy (Photo by: Patrick O'Connor)

1 comment:

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