Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Girl Power: 'Matilda' an Imaginative and Inspiring Ode to Wonderfully "Revolting Children" -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Matilda: The Musical
Oriental Theatre, Chicago
Thru April 10

"To teach the child we must first break the child."
-- stated by Matilda's school principal Miss Trunchbull

"If you always take it on the chin and wear it
You might as well be saying you think that it's OK
And that's not right
And if it's not right, you have to put it right"
-- sung by Matilda in the song "Naughty"

Like previous great musicals about children--Oliver, Annie, Billy Elliot--Matilda, which belongs in the same sentence, features kids who are spunky, idealistic, precocious, British (excepting Annie) and resolved to battle belittling, authoritarian and/or otherwise oppressive forces.

So while it should--and on Tuesday night in Chicago, did--bring a sizable showing of youngsters to the theater, the inherent allegory about standing up against those who would hold you down should resonate with children of every age. Like 47 or 76 or 29 or 88.

The three touring Matildas. Sarah McKinley Austin (center)
starred in the performance I attended; pictured with
Savannah Grace Elmer David and Lily Brooks O'Briant.
Though I wasn't previously familiar with Roald Dahl's beloved 1988 novel on which the musical is based, I loved Matilda: The Musical when I saw it in London in 2013--after passing it up in its nascent West End days in 2011 for, of all things, the truly dreadful Ghost: The Musical--and found it just as good on a National Tour that is playing Chicago's Oriental Theatre for 3 weeks. (Matilda continues to run in London, as well as on Broadway where it opened in 2013.)

With the character of Matilda--a brilliant young girl whose moronic parents call her a boy and far worse--onstage for most of the musical's 2-1/2 hours, three "Tour-tildas" (see the nearby photo and Tribune's Chris Jones' delightful video interview) play the part on a rotating basis.

On the Tuesday beginning the second week of the Chicago run, with a largely full balcony suggesting that the family-friendly show likely should've been booked here longer, Sarah McKinley Austin and her striking blue eyes handled the title role.


Several other children in the cast were also terrific, as were the adults, including Quinn Mattfeld as Matilda Wormwood's conniving father, Cassie Silva as her banal, ballroom dance contest obsessed mother, Jennifer Blood as Matilda's teacher Miss Honey, Chicago stage vet Ora Jones as a kindly librarian and David Abeles as Matilda's cruel principal, Miss Trunchbull.

As illustrated by the quotes at top, the manly, malevolent Miss Trunchbull and Matilda's own parents rain down all sorts of nastiness, but she and her schoolmates fight back with aplomb and resiliency through songs like "Naughty," "Bruce," "When I Grow Up" and "Revolting Children."

Those tunes highlight the rock-infused score by composer/lyricist Tim Minchin, which I find reminiscent of Spring Awakening, another modern musical about youthful repression and rebellion, albeit focusing on teenagers.

Though the other numbers move the story along nicely, and "This Little Girl" sung by Jennifer Blood as Miss Honey is rather touching, the relatively few demonstrably terrific tunes serve to keep Matilda from quite the musical heights of Oliver or Annie.

But as with Billy Elliot, there is much truly inspired staging, including the use of playground swings on the fabulous "When I Grow Up," which has young kids being switched out mid-song for older kids, and even an adult or two.

It's always understandable to wonder if the production values of short-run tour stops are watered down from what audiences see in London and New York; I only saw Matilda in the former and don't have the memory to vouch for any exactitude, but with the show's original director Matthew Warchus at the helm, I noticed nothing notably deficient.

Kids speaking, and singing in unison, with British accents make catching all of Minchin's witty lyrics and book writer Dennis Kelly's frequently acidic dialogue a bit tough, particularly up in the balcony--even for those of us who prepped by listening to the cast album on Spotify.

If time allows, I would strongly recommend doing just that, especially to familiarize young attendees with the music, just as many seemed to be with Dahl's story.

To their credit, the show's producers included a crib sheet into the Playbill that defines terms like "chokey," which is a particularly heinous means of punishment used by Principal Trunchbull.

Just another aspect of how Matilda: The Musical goes a bit beyond the norm, not only in the entertainment it provides, but the lessons it tries to teach.

As the program also reveals, the song "Revolting Children" comes late in the show, even more brilliant for following the menacing Trunchbull calling the schoolkids maggots and exhorting that they are revolting.

To which, the children--led by the vociferously reading, clairvoyantly storytelling Matilda--lyrically agree, in a show that should inspire anyone, from 5 to 105, to fight the powers that be.

Or at least aspire to.

"We are revolting children
Living in revolting times
We sing revolting songs
Using revolting rhymes
We'll be revolting children
'Til our revolting's done
And we'll have the Trunchbull

We're revolting!"

-- "Revolting Children"

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Hard to Figure: Despite Punchy Numbers, New 'Adding Machine' Production Doesn't Equal Fond Memories of the Original -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Adding Machine: A Musical
The Hypocrites
at Den Theatre, Chicago
Thru May 15

I really can't explain it, even to myself.

In the 2007, at the now defunct but long estimable Next Theater in Evanston, I saw a world premiere "chamber musical" called Adding Machine that the company's artistic director, Jason Loewith, had written with composer Joshua Schmidt based on a 1923 play by Elmer Rice.

Although I wasn't regularly writing reviews back then, I know that I loved it. I remember discussing it effusively with relatives who had also seen it, and in my "Shows Seen" database, I gave it a 10/10 rating, for both content and performance.

I felt delighted when the Next production, directed by David Cromer, ran Off-Broadway with considerable acclaim the following year, and likely would have seen it if it hadn't closed weeks before a trip to New York.

So I was rather excited in noting that, after having subsequent productions nationwide but none that I noted in the Chicago area, Adding Machine would be presented by the Hypocrites at the Den Theatre.

And so, it is with a fair amount of chagrin, and puzzlement, that I must share that my affinity was much more middling this time around.

I was certainly glad to see the production, found parts of it fantastic--and never formulaic--and in sum would describe it as good.

But having gone into this rendition remembering the original--admittedly without much specificity in terms of songs or plot--as likely the best homegrown work of musical theater I'd ever seen, I ruefully can't rave about Adding Machine as I expected to.

There isn't much obviously subtracting from the Hypocrites' presentation of the material, which depicts a dystopian society in which many people are numbered rather than named, focusing most promising on Mr. Zero, a calculating--in vocation only--worker-bee who is replaced by an adding machine rather than receiving an anticipated promotion after 25 years on the job.

Accompanying the dark themes, this is about as far from a traditional song-and-dance musical as you can get, with one song simply being a recitation of tabulated numbers, whose inventiveness makes it far more stirring than it sounds.

Patrick Du Laney does a fine job as the morose Mr. Zero, Kelli Harrington is well-sung as his wife, Neela Barron is nicely empathetic as an admiring friend--and shines on a torch song called "I'd Rather Watch You"--and Bear Bellinger is great fun as Shrdlu, something of a spiritual adviser after Mr. Zero is punished for a crime of frustration.

Amid a rather dissonant score, Shrdlu's more upbeat songs come across as highlights.

So with a good bit to admire in this Adding Machine, and never a sense that anyone is pushing the wrong buttons, I'm left to wonder if I may have overly liked the Next version or whether something has substantively changed in this one. (Unfortunately, I can't check the tape;)

Without reason to specifically criticize anything I saw on Monday night, I can't help but recall that the Hypocrites take on Into the Woods in 2014 rendered a musical I had loved before and since somewhat well short of wonderful.

And with appreciation for the troupe's use of the Den's intimate space under the direction of Geoff Burton, as well as the talents of the actors/singers and three-piece band, I felt the sound was far too loud--and my hearing is far from pristine--with the overamplification making the discordant music and atypcial lyrics that much harder to ingest.

My disappointment is far less than total, and Adding Machine's innovation + empathetic themes + unique score + fine performances still may equal something well worth your time.

I am not sorry I saw it again, merely wishing I had loved it like I did before and wondering why I didn't--or whether I ever really should have. (Reviews at the time suggest the 2007 show was great; hopefully others like it just as much now).

Hence, while I was hoping to insist musical theater lovers--especially those open to unique variations on the form--roll onto Milwaukee Ave. just north of, appropriately, Division to see Adding Machine, as imperfectly enumerated above the pluses and minuses only tally a less emphatic suggestion. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Celluloid Heroes: Steppenwolf's 'The Flick' Offers Warmly 'Reel'istic Portrayal of Cinema Workers -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

The Flick
a recent play by Annie Baker
directed by Dexter Bullard
Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago
Thru May 8

My regard for any play often pertains to what I take away from it: new perspectives, insights, things to consider and discuss, admiration for the script, actors, staging, scenery, director, etc.

But one's perception of a theatrical work, or any artistic endeavor for that matter, can be intrinsically altered by what we take into it.

Written by Annie Baker, The Flick--winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama--revolves almost entirely around three employees of a single-screen movie theater that shares the play's name.

Set in Worcester, Massachusetts, the past-its-prime Flick is one of relatively few cinemas nationwide continuing to use a 35mm film projector rather than digital projection.

Although I am a film buff with a deep-seated appreciation for bygone remnants of a more analog age--print newspapers & magazines, record albums with artful cover designs, spoken-word conversations, etc., etc.--the affinity I share with the play's Avery character (terrifically embodied here by Travis Turner) and his love of celluloid is admittedly more reflected on a macro level than a micro one. (i.e. I love old theaters, and the traditions and values they represent, but don't avoid or mentally admonish new ones.)

But certainly, I brought identification with, and empathy for, Avery, Sam (an excellent Danny McCarthy) and Rose (the always great Caroline Neff), as they find friendship and burdensome self-worth while sweeping up popcorn and cleaning up shit--sometimes literally--theater patrons mindlessly leave behind for the marginalized and overlooked to devotedly disinfect for a whopping $8.25/hr.

I've never specifically worked at a movie house, but like many with or without college degrees, spent time in sandwich shops, bank teller cages, Kinko's and the like, while currently remaining mired in un- or under-employment.

My attendance at Steppenwolf's upstairs space, where rows of theater seats face rows of theater seats onstage, was in large part motivated by the Chicago Tribune's Chris Jones' rave, 4-star (out of 4) review of The Flick, and greatly facilitated by being able to acquire--especially easily on Easter Sunday--one of the $20 day-of-show discount tickets Steppenwolf generously allots for each performance. (I wound up in the 3rd row, center, undoubtedly amid many who had paid the $78 full price.)

Knowing that the play runs a full three hours--which extends past my comfort zone for non-musicals, and admittedly did here--I made a point of reading an interview with playwright Baker addressing The Flick's length and abundant use of silence as the cinema's employees go about their work without always chattering.

All of the above played into my exploration, understanding and appreciation of The Flick, which I enjoyed and admired, even if seemingly not to the level of Chris Jones and the Pulitzer Prize committee. Although I did seem to like it more than some in the post-show discussion who found it far too long and laborious; the Steppenwolf's supporting literature even noted that during the play's recent Off-Broadway runs, some patrons walked out and even wrote angry letters.

Yet even more acutely in terms of what I "took into" The Flick is coincidentally having just seen Mary-Arrchie's production of David Mamet's American Buffalo, a 1975 single-setting, entirely dialogue-driven play that also chronicles the lives and angst of three articulate yet undervalued and oft-overlooked individuals toiling away in nondescript environs.

Many of the aspects I noted about Donny, Teach and Bobby in my review of American Buffalo just prior to this one--friendship, loyalty, dignity despite their disillusionment, but also obvious imperfections--I also couldn't help noticing in Avery, Sam and Rose, who rebel against their unkindly boss and/or societal injustices in a dishonest way, and two of whom later take a wrongful, yet realistic-feeling, stance regarding the third.

But while The Flick is a slice-of-life play about people on the fringes, conveying to the stereotypically better-heeled Steppenwolf audiences that basic human emotions, longings, insecurities, etc., aren't so different across the socio-economic spectrum, it is also a love letter to film, specifically in terms of both medium and material, but also symbolically regarding the way art, culture, entertainment, hobbies, passions, etc., can be an antidote to the alienation many may feel.

Which essentially echoes my raison d'être.

In the characters of Sam, a 30-something who lives in his parents' basement and longs for love while finding resiliency in the routine and movies offered by the Flick; Rose a college graduate besieged by student debt and a bit beaten down by life but comfortable enough in her own skin to wildly show off hip-hop dance moves to her co-workers; and especially Avery, an introverted 20-year-old African-American (he is written into the script as such) who has presumably had more nourishing relationships with movies than with people and can instantly respond to Sam's 6-degrees-of-separation actor pairings, I involuntarily recalled something else I had just seen in previous days.

Not another play and not a movie--while pausing to suggest my film buff friends see The Flick, if simply for its references to Pulp Fiction, The Wild Bunch, the Coen Brothers, film formats and the merits (or lack thereof) of American Cinema over the past two decades--but a short clip from Freaks and Geeks, a TV show produced by Judd Apatow, which I never watched when it was briefly on from 1999-2000.

After the death of comedian Garry Shandling last Thursday, I learned of his close friendship with Apatow, a now highly successful writer/director/producer to whom he provided guidance and an early show-biz job as a writer on The Larry Sanders Show. The tribute Apatow slyly paid in the Freaks and Geeks scene shown below obviously came long before his mentor's passing, but was shared on social media in recent days.

I find it both extremely beautiful and poignant, and in seeing how The Flick--while also addressing numerous topics and themes--reverently reflects the life-affirming, even life-changing, aspects of art, especially for those of us unsure of ourselves (and really, who isn't?), I couldn't help thinking about it.

And still can't.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Up and Out: 'American Buffalo' Proves Apt Way to Say Hello, Goodbye to Chicago's Second-Storied Mary-Arrchie Theatre -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

American Buffalo
by David Mamet
directed by Carlo Lorenzo Garcia
Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co., Chicago
Thru April 17

Profiles, TimeLine, Redtwist, A Red Orchid, Signal, Steep, Strawdog, Jackalope, Gift, Porchlight, Shattered Globe, Raven, AstonRep, NightBlue, Artistic Home, Eclipse, Pegasus Players, Next, About Face, House, Bailiwick.

These are just some of the storied "storefront" theater companies, present and past, that I've patronized, which--along with somewhat larger local troupes/theaters like Goodman, Steppenwolf, Court, Victory Gardens, Lookingglass, Northlight, etc., regional musical theater houses such as Marriott Theater Lincolnshire, Drury Lane Oakbrook, Paramount Theater Aurora, Theater at the Center in Munster and Mercury Theater, and abundant Broadway (and Pre-Broadway) tours stopping in the Loop--make Chicago perhaps the best, or at least deepest, theater town in the world. (And believe me, I love New York and London, but don't know if their magnificence equally expands far beyond Broadway and the West End.)

But though I have been going to theaters such as those above since the beginning of the 21st century, until Thursday night I had never ascended the steps leading to the Mary-Arrchie Theatre, a quintessential Chicago storefront theater even though it actually resides on the second floor, above a convenience store in Lakeview.

Mary-Arrchie is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary season, but also, regrettably, its last.

The well-worn building in which it resides--and the entire block, which also houses the Strawdog Theatre--is slated to be redeveloped, and M-A founder/artistic director Richard Cotovsky announced last fall that losing their lease will bring his company to an end.

Cotovsky was quoted by the Tribune's Chris Jones as saying:
"It’s not a bad thing,” he said. “It will take the weight off my back. We struggled and we fought to do what we thought was best. And now I can look back and say, ‘Wow, we did all that.’"
Nonetheless, even if not symbolically or ruefully, Mary-Arrchie is going out by spewing a whole lot of profanity.

Of the David Mamet variety, within American Buffalo, a still quite resonant allegory on working class discontent, set--rather appropriately--in a Chicago storefront.

I have seen the 3-man play three previous times, including with Cotovsky playing the role of Donny Dubrow, as he does here, at the Raven Theatre in 2006. That same year, I had seen the originator of the Donny role--J.J. Johnston--in a staged reading at the Goodman alongside the remarkable Mike Nussbaum, and also caught a 2010 Steppenwolf production with Tracy Letts, Francis Guinan and Patrick Andrews.

This somewhat explains, or at least rationalizes, why even in feeling that I should get to Mary-Arrchie before it becomes extinct, I hadn't until the run of American Buffalo was extended, as it's now been twice. A discount ticket via Goldstar also helped prompt action.

I very much enjoyed my pilgrimage, which involved eating at the somewhat similarly named El Mariachi nearby, seeing the honorary Richard Cotovsky Way street sign, climbing the stairs filled with posters of past productions--including the perennial Abbie Hoffman Died for Our Sins--and noting the Howlin' Wolf LPs for sale in the lobby, presumably representing the recorded blues music enveloping the current play.

I believe Mark Vallarta (Teach) and Spenser Davis (Bobby) were just joining Cotovsky in the performance I saw, following Stephen Walker and Rudy Galvan playing the roles for most of the run; last minute rehearsals could be heard before the house was opened. (And with Mamet's incendiary language, it sounded like an argument one wouldn't dare interrupt.)

With as much to appreciate in subtext as at the surface level, American Buffalo can be challenging to optimize, and all three actors merit considerable credit for fine work, which in the case of Vallarta and Davis should only get stronger with a bit more acclimation.

Donny is the proprietor of a resale shop, and set designer John Holt has ensured that the stage is abundantly stuffed with interesting junk.

The entire two-act, two-hour play takes place in the same setting with Donny speaking with his young gofer Bobby and/or cantankerous poker pal Teach throughout, with frequent references to the unseen Ruthie, Grace, Fletcher and a store customer who becomes the planned prey in a low-grade robbery scheme, sparked by his purchase of an American Buffalo nickel.

You can undoubtedly find more astute takes on Mamet's underlying themes, but I see American Buffalo as a snapshot of the hardscrabble underbelly of America--and yes, Chicago--in which friendship and duplicity, distrust and loyalty, desperation and perseverance, day-to-day dignity and criminality, small talk and scheming, etc., etc., all go hand-in-hand.

The beautifully disheveled Cotovsky makes it seem as though the role of Donny was written for him, and Davis handles the Bobby role with aplomb, making him feel unsophisticated but not slow, as often can unnecessarily be the case.

I like what Vallarta does with Teach, infusing more of a sense of low-key desperation than full-tilt combustibility, although this may also lend itself to the action onstage never quite bristling, and then exploding, with quite the force it probably should (though the stagehands who must clean up and reset the scenery every night may strongly disagree).

Photo credit: Michael Brosilow.
Actors pictured C and R were not in the performance I attended.
But even though they may have been a bit more finely calibrated over time by the previous actors, and conceivably soon will be by Vallarta and Davis alongside Cotovsky, never did the portrayals feel less than real.

And seeing American Buffalo in the setting I did made if feel even more appropriate as a requiem for the type of Chicago theater company that I wholeheartedly embrace.

I'm sorry I never got to Angel Island, as the theater is named, previously--and won't again. 

But as Richard Cotovsky--who Chris Jones notes is a pharmacist by day--goes on his self-named way with numerous estimable colleagues, I'm glad I got the chance to say both hello and goodbye, and now also thanks, to Mary-Arrchie.

Still, it's always sad to see one of Chicago's most uncompromising cultural institutions go the way of the buffalo.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Though Not Without Its Merits, 'The Matchmaker' Fails to Make an Emotional Connection -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

The Matchmaker
by Thornton Wilder
Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Thru April 10

In books, theater, film and television, the same basic story can be told in multiple versions and variations, with one's abiding affinity often connected to the incarnation first encountered.

Commonly, if a book I like gets turned into a movie, I can't help but rue how much is missing. Beloved films adapted into musicals can be excellent in their own right, but rarely supplant my preference for the celluloid version, except if I saw the musical first, as in the case of The Producers and Hairspray.

To which you may well shout something like, "But The Producers was a movie 30+ years before it was a musical, and Hairspray almost 15, how could you have not seen--and loved--them first? They're both wonderful films!"

And even if it wasn't an imagined rejoinder in my own mind, I wouldn't debate that. Because I'm not insisting one's preferred iteration is necessarily superior, just that it feels that way.

Which is a somewhat convoluted way of getting to my point that as I watched The Matchmaker at Chicago's Goodman Theatre Sunday night, I acutely missed the music of Hello, Dolly!, its famed and fantastic musical adaptation.

Having been heavily indoctrinated to the Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau movie version of Hello, Dolly! when I was a wee child, I couldn't help but want the characters of Dolly Levi and Horace Vandergelder to break out in song on the Goodman stage.

In fact, I couldn't help sing "Put on Your Sunday Clothes," "Hello, Dolly!" and other chestnuts in my head. And while my regard for this selection in my Goodman subscription series is more middling than for most of their presentations, the theater should nonetheless be rather appreciative that I resisted the urge to belt out tunes from the balcony. (Particularly as I have a singing voice reminiscent of a tortured frog.)

Watching the Goodman's Matchmaker, with a fine, diverse cast under the direction of Henry Wishcamper, I could certainly envision mid-1950s audiences getting a kick out of Thornton Wilder's farce about a curmudgeonly Yonkers merchant enlisting the aid of a matchmaker to pursue a romantic interest in Manhattan, with considerable hijinks involving his two clerks, niece, her suitor, a pair of women working at a millinery shop and others.

Clearly, Wilder--who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for both Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth--was a gifted scribe and the scenarios he creates are fun even sans music, although even he was approaching the material for a second time after his The Merchant of Yonkers had flopped on Broadway in 1938. (The show's basic premise seems to have originated in the first half of the 19th century.)

But not only did The Matchmaker feel, detractingly to me, like Hello, Dolly! minus the buoyant music, little about it felt contemporary, relevant or vital.

Plus, I thought it could well have ended about a half-hour before it did; at 2 hours and 40 minutes it became a bit of a drag.

Recent Tony Award nominee Kristine Nielsen is good as Dolly, Allen Gilmore makes for a not-so-nice and cantankerous Horace, Postell Pringle is swell as Cornelius Hackl--the chief clerk Vandergelder promotes to chief clerk--and others in the cast do nice work. 

Certainly, for a 1955 play taking place in 1896, it is great that the Goodman cast so colorblindly--with differently-abled and transgender performers in addition to those of various races and ethnicities--but this shouldn't be noteworthy in 2016.

All the roles are well-played and while I didn't wholeheartedly embrace The Matchmaker--especially as it would seem far more topical selections could have enhanced Goodman's slate in an election year with considerable inherent drama--I feel I got the full force of the farce via this production, with nice costuming by Jenny Mannis and a fine range of sets by Neil Patel.

For the roughly 800 works of theater I've seen since 1999, I don't recall ever before even noticing The Matchmaker being staged. (A bit oddly, Hello, Dolly! long-stood as the most famous musical I'd never seen onstage, and I've still only seen it once, though remain well-acquainted with the movie.)

So there's nothing wrong with having been introduced to a classic play; it's just that I was long attuned to its narrative, much more tunefully.  

And, per my purview, considerably more delectably.

I'm willing to accept culpability for my own predilections--and I'd be curious how patrons oblivious to the musical adaptation may have embraced what they saw--but suffice it to say, despite some nice moments and hearty laughs, The Matchmaker didn't make me fall in love.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

'Room'inations on a Theme: Art Institute's Van Gogh Exhibition Excels Well Beyond the Confines of His Bedrooms -- Art Exhibition Review

Click here for above image in magnifiable form;
click on any other image to enlarge.
Art Exhibit Review

Van Gogh's Bedrooms
The Art Institute of Chicago
Thru May 10

Along with being one of the greatest artists of all time--and my personal favorite--Vincent van Gogh is probably the most prominent archetype of the fine line said to exist between genius and insanity.

While precise diagnosis of the mental illnesses that plagued the Dutch painter will forever be debated, whether as a consequence or contributing cause of his anguish, Van Gogh spent his shortened adult life shuffling between residences (in various locales), short-lived jobs and mostly unrequited romantic pursuits.

In late December 1888, he famously cut off his ear--Wikipedia says it was his left ear, but Van Gogh's portraits with a bandaged head would suggest it was his right ear--after a rift with fellow artist Paul Gauguin, who had come to live with him in Arles, France.

Van Gogh's anticipation of Gauguin's visit is what prompted him to paint The Bedroom--the first of three similar paintings that form the core of the Art Institute of Chicago's excellent new exhibition, Van Gogh's Bedrooms--as well as several other masterpieces simply meant to decorate the walls of the now-famed Yellow House. 

It's easy to perceive that Vincent never regained stability after the ear-slicing episode and departure of Gauguin, especially as following medical treatment he voluntarily entered an asylum in Saint-Rémy, where he would stay for a year.

After a move to Auvers-sur-Oise in northern France for supervised care by a specific doctor, Vincent van Gogh would shoot himself in the chest on July 27, 1890 and die the next day.

Yet while his state of mind was clearly, and probably pretty consistently, tortured, particularly near the end of his life, it was during the last couple years that Van Gogh painted many of his most famed and brilliant masterpieces, including The Starry Night (June 1889) and Irises (after May 1889).

I haven't done much in-depth study on Van Gogh, but it certainly seems plausible that painting--an avocation he only avidly pursued in the last decade of his life--provided a respite from his demons. And while I think it would be fair to describe him as oft-troubled, I don't know how addled he may have (or may not have) been from day-to-day or hour-to-hour. Clearly, based on his output until nearly the end, his emotional turmoil didn't render him physically nor artistically debilitated.

Vincent van Gogh, Landscape at Arles, 1888.
The Art Institute of Chicago.
From the trademark thickness of his staccato brushstrokes, which render his paintings more viscerally exciting to see up close in person than those of any other great artist, I have always imagined that Van Gogh's anxiety, agitation, etc., fueled the intensity that made his creations so unique--and masterful, even if only acclaimed as such long after his lifetime.

In this regard, I often think of Vincent van Gogh as analogous to Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, whose own turbulence made for songs that feel gut-wrenchingly filled with real pain, which given that Cobain took his own life with a bullet at age 27 can't be taken as mere artistic affectation.

But much as Cobain--who for all the addictions and afflictions presumably fueling the primal screams of "Lithium," the "there's gotta be a better way" howls of "Territorial Pissings," the "I'm anemic royalty" despair of "Pennyroyal Tea" and more--was inarguably bright, perceptive, literate and skilled enough at his craft to not only write some of the best rock songs ever, but to perform them blisteringly until his final days, the insights provided in the Art Institute's exclusive exhibition helped me see with greater acuity that Van Gogh wasn't merely some kind of madman savant.

Hence, while the three similar-but-different Bedroom paintings--one of which the Art Institute owns hung alongside two on loan from renowned European museums--form the exhibit's ostensible reason, rarity, marketing angle and gasp-inducing central gallery, well-abetted by contextual information, painting comparison/technique/analysis videos, some of the actual portraits (by Van Gogh) immortalized on the bedroom walls and a full-size reconstruction of Vincent's bedroom, I actually found other aspects and artwork of the exhibit even more fascinating and illuminating.

Which isn't to say The Bedrooms aren't wonderful; although I've seen each separately there is something extraordinary about seeing them juxtaposed, as they've never before been hung collectively in North America.

And much of what I relished learning, or having reiterated about Van Gogh, does angle toward the titular gist of the exhibition; this isn't an extensive greatest hits retrospective.

Vincent van Gogh, Birds' Nest, 1885.
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.
But several of the best factoids, insights and even paintings included in exhibition aren't acutely tied to The Bedroom triad, and visitors--and out-of-towners wondering if the exhibit merits a Windy City trip by May 10--may be quite surprised that the show's marketing belies the more comprehensive magnificence on display.

Early in the exhibit comes a timeline of Vincent van Gogh's life, showing that in his 37 years, he lived in 37 residences across 24 cities in the Netherlands, England, Belgium and France.

Notwithstanding how excruciatingly long it took for patrons to advance along the timeline--especially as it can be viewed online at was revelatory for me to see a reproduction of Van Gogh's earliest known drawing, a remarkably detailed and accomplished sketch done when he was just 10 (see above).

This shed insight that although Van Gogh didn't decide to "become a painter" until the age of 27 in 1880--following a succession of jobs including working for an art dealer, being an assistant teacher at a boarding school, preaching, serving as a general assistant in a bookstore and training to be an evangelist--the core talent that led to several artworks now auctioned or valued at $100+ million was at least somewhat evident as a child.

Vincent van Gogh, Parisian Novels, 1887. Private collection.
The exhibition's first gallery of paintings begins with influential works by Millet and Daubigny, while including pieces by Van Gogh reflecting the dark hues and somber tones he favored early in his oeuvre. One of these (as shown in a photo I've included) depicts birds' nests, with some actual 19th century nests displayed nearby.

While the vibrancy of Van Gogh's work shown in the subsequent gallery, representing the colorful palette he acquired among the Impressionists and Neo-Impressionist in Paris, is demonstrably more exciting, before getting there the well-curated exhibit shares that the prior predominance of black and brown paints was due to Vincent's belief that pictures of peasants (a common subject matter) must appear to be painted with soil from the fields.

Copy of Red Lacquered Box containing balls of wool,
owned by Vincent van Gogh
There are some wonderful Van Gogh works in the Paris gallery--most delectably Parisian Novels, a large canvas on loan from a private collection that I've never seen even in books, and serving to enlighten about Vincent's love of literature--with additional revelations about influences upon him.

Gathered are several Japanese prints such as the ones Van Gogh collected by the hundreds--which he credited for helping to brighten his palette--a copy of a box containing balls of yarn that the artist used to experiment with color combinations, prints of caricatures by Honoré Daumier that Vincent admired for their expressiveness, a long display case containing novels he loved and illustrated journals that inspired him, including one with an engraving depicting the desk and chair of Charles Dickens, which may have correlated directly to Van Gogh's decision to capture his bedroom on canvas.

After Samuel Luke Fildes, The Room in Which
Charles Dickens Wrote
, from Harper's Weekly, 1871
By and large, I have found biographical information about visionary artists--in various idioms--to reveal a common bond concerning early, deep-seated and fairly widespread embrace of other works of art, music, theater, literature, fashion, etc.

Genius rarely manifests itself in a vacuum, and nuggets about Van Gogh being a voracious reader, fluent in Dutch, French & English, smitten with Japanese art, influenced by predecessors and contemporaries, befriended by other artists, highly verbose in letters to his beloved brother Theo, etc., serve not only to add considerable depth to Van Gogh's Bedrooms as an exhibition, but to document that--despite the demons that beset him--Vincent van Gogh was a rather shrewd, studied, substantive fellow, not just a nutjob with a gift.

Even if all of this didn't lead into galleries concerning Van Gogh's moving to Arles, renting a home dubbed the Yellow House, inviting Gauguin to join him there, painting fervently to decorate the home--including the first bedroom painting, held at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam--and the during his ill-fated time living with the French post-Impressionist, I still would have found it of great value and enrichment.

That said, it certainly was a thrill seeing the three iterations of The Bedroom next to each other--the second and third having been painted essentially as reproductions in September 1889, long after Van Gogh moved from the Yellow House; these are held by the Art Institute and the Musee d'Orsay, respectively--but nearly as much so two of the portraits (of Belgian painter Eugene Bock and a soldier named Paul-Eugene Milliet, both friends in Arles) that Van Gogh painted, hung in his bedroom and portrayed in the first version.

Vincent van Gogh. Eugene Boch, 1888, Musee d'Orsay. The Lover (Portrait
of Lieutenant Milliet)
, 1888, Kroller-Mueller Museum, Otterlo.
Self-Portrait, 1889, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
In re-creating The Bedroom painting twice after the fact--and a great big video wall points up the similarities and differences--Van Gogh swapped out the portraits on the wall, with a masterful self-portrait worked into the Art Institute's version being on-loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

The Art Institute's own pointillist-styled Van Gogh self-portrait is also on view in the exhibition.

Vincent van Gogh. Van Gogh's Chair, 1888, The National Gallery, London.
Gauguin's Chair, 1888, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.
Providing goosebumps almost as much as the paintings, including those of Van Gogh's Chair and Gauguin's Chair, both painted by Vincent--no paintings by Gauguin are included in this exhibition--is one of Van Gogh's actual palettes, tubes of paint and (presumably) originals of letters he wrote to Theo that included sketches of paintings he was envisioning.

And while one might guess the gallery with the three bedroom pictures displayed together for the first time in U.S. history would be the grand finale leading into the exhibition gift shop, the paintings in the next gallery were actually better.

Vincent van Gogh letter to Theo van Gogh.
Vincent's palette and paints.
Actually, first there was a "reading gallery" with copies of the exhibition catalog to peruse, a full-wall reproduction of Van Gogh's rather astonishing The Night Cafe and video clips from Vincente Minelli's 1956 biopic on the artist, Lust for Life. (I haven't yet seen the movie but enjoyed and recommend my friend Susan Doll's recent blog essay about it.)

Chronicling, though not in great depth, Vincent's mental breakdown in which he cut off part of his ear--I still think the paintings show it was his right ear, not his left as the exhibition text states in accordance with Wikipedia, unless the bandaged self-portraits are mirrored images--the last gallery denotes his year in the asylum in Saint-Rémy (in Provence, like Arles) and then under the care of Dr. Paul Gachet in Auvers-sur-Oise in the north of France, which put him closer to his brother Theo, a noted art dealer in Paris.

Vincent van Gogh, Corridor in the Asylum, 1889.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
While one might surmise his work would have suffered after such duress, Van Gogh remained extremely prolific in the last 14 months of his life, and the last room of Van Gogh's Bedrooms contains at least five stone cold masterpieces from 1889-90, most that I've never seen before even in printed form.

I love the way Van Gogh made his canvases dance with color, enhanced by spirited brushstrokes no one has since duplicated, and A Corner of the Asylum and the Garden with a Heavy, Sawed-Off Tree and especially Hospital at Saint-Remy rank with the greatest paintings I've ever seen, by anyone. (See below.)

And particularly in being a work on paper, Corridor in the Asylum is beguilingly fascinating.

All told, Van Gogh's Bedrooms has about 20 Grade "A" paintings by Vincent van Gogh, with a good handful being holdings of the Art Institute of Chicago. In my mind, simply one great Van Gogh is worth anyone's time and attention, but this isn't the most exhaustive of exhibitions.

And while I was ecstatic to spend a couple hours exploring it, as promoted around The Bedroom trilogy I'm not sure I'd recommend specific trips from New York, London, New Zealand or even Naperville, especially if one has seen any of the versions previously. (They're all brilliant, and wondrous to see together, but not all that different from one another.)

But it is all that is shown--in multiple contexts--beyond The Bedroom that makes this exhibition a dream come true, and a compelling testament to one of the most singular artists ever to have lived.

Vincent van Gogh, A Corner of the Asylum and the Garden with a Heavy, Sawed-Off Tree, 1889.
Museum Folkwang, Essen
Vincent van Gogh, Hospital at Saint-Remy, 1889. Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.
Vincent van Gogh, View of the Asylum with a Pine Tree, 1889. Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
Vincent van Gogh, Houses at Auvers, 1890. Toledo Museum of Art.
Vincent van Gogh, Entrance to the Public Gardens in Arles, 1888. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Short But Not So Slight, 'Mary-Kate Olsen Is In Love' Should Bring a Youth-Full House to The Comrades -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Mary-Kate Olsen Is In Love
a recent play by Mallery Avidon
directed by Derek Bertelsen
The Comrades at
Apollo Studio Theatre
Thru March 29

If 10 people individually asked me "Where should I eat?" or even "Should I go to (so & so) restaurant?" my answer would undoubtedly not be the same to all of them.

Through a combination of observation and inquiry, I would try to gain an understanding of the age, appetite, food preferences & aversions, price level comfortability, companions, occasion (casual meal, date night, business dinner, etc.), point of origin, means of transportation, other factors and proclivities, etc., of each person asking, and then aim to gear my recommendation appropriately.

But when I review, and rate, a work of theater--and provide ostensible recommendations to anyone who may land on this blog to see what I saith--it's pretty much one-size-fits-all.

Photo credit on all: Cody Jolly
Especially as I don't consider myself a theater expert with the training to truly judge technical merit, but merely an avid fan and patron who likes to share my opinions, my reviews are just a candid though unavoidably self-centered appraisal based on the level of my own particular enjoyment and/or enrichment.

As portrayed by my @@@1/2 (out of 5) rating at top, which rewards the impressive delivery of the material a bit more than it does the play itself, I enjoyed Mary-Kate Olsen Is In Love, but only moderately.

Yet while I wouldn't insist that this is a work my mom, aunt or others of an older demographic must rush out to see--not that it wouldn't offer them some merits--I can readily imagine that, especially for just $10-$15 per ticket (and even less if discounted on HotTix), plenty of younger, perhaps newbie, theatergoers could really enjoy this show while gaining appreciation for the joys of live theater.

As the Apollo Studio Theater is in the DePaul University neighborhood, and an easy "L" ride from Loyola, Northwestern, Roosevelt, Columbia College, etc., students may do particularly well to patronize this cheeky, but never cheap, ode to celebrity culture (with depth beyond it).

Admittedly, I wouldn't have been enticed by the title of Mallery Avidon's comedy that had an Off-Off Broadway run starting in late 2013, as there are few celebs I could care about less than the Olsen sisters (Ashley is a character within, along with her twin Mary-Kate).

But I was happy to be invited by the show's director Derek Bertelsen, who has helmed several shows I've greatly liked in recent years--including The Children's Hour, Wit and The Lieutenant of Inishmore--and is the founding Artistic Director of The Comrades, a new troupe making their debut with Mary-Kate Olsen Is In Love.

And it's to the credit of everyone involved, including Bertelsen, playwright Avidon and a fine young cast, that MKOIIL was considerably better, and more substantive, than I may have perceived going in. Though rather brief at only an hour, it definitely didn't waste my time, and offered some interesting dialogue and observations.

The conceit and narrative are somewhat surrealistic--something I appreciate far more on canvas than on-stage--but though I was often puzzled by play's blurry lines between fantasy and reality, including from scene to scene, it was pleasant to watch throughout.

Carolyn Sinon finds a nice tonality in playing Grace, a young, well-employed, ostensibly rather fortunate New Yorker who is bogged down emotionally by her unemployed, unmotivated husband Tyler (David Coupe), who is entirely consumed by playing Call of Duty (a war-enacting video game), eating pizza and smoking pot.

In some hazy dreamlike way--at least initially--Grace is visited by the Olsen sisters, with Mary-Kate (Angela Horn) being empathetic, even affectionate, and Ashley (Cydney Moody) delightfully acerbic.

There is also a GI Joe-ish soldier (Mike Newquist) who serves as a commanding voice inside/outside Tyler's head, and four cheerleader-clad "Amazing Girls" (Laura Jewell, Jenna Liddle, Naomi Lindh and Taylor Wisham), who appear to voice both poignant sentiments about young womanhood and such presumably satirical pearls like "It's more important to be hot than smart."

The crux of the play seems to address the angst and anxiety Grace faces in her increasingly tiresome marriage and a life she fears will become tedious.

"I have to be busy, or at least have kids," she posits at one point.

So though Mary-Kate Olsen Is In Love does tap into its title character--and her sister--in ways relating to their childhood stardom, rich rarefied existence and own surmised longings, if this play was called Charlotte Brontë Is In Love and looped in Emily to appeal to a more overtly literate crowd, the gist of the human emotions and situations surveyed onstage likely wouldn't be all that different.

I had the chance to speak with Bertelsen briefly before the play started, and he shared that while he loves the classics of the theatrical canon, not only does he see something smart beneath the surface of this young-skewing title and concept, he wanted to kick off his theater company with something fun and easily-digestible to new--in multiple contexts--audiences.

Probably due to the whims of theater space available and affordable to an upstart company, Mary-Kate Olsen Is In Love plays somewhat atypically only on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights.

I can't say it changed my life, but neither did it detract from it, and even if I found some of the play's messaging muddled, I genuinely enjoyed this production enough to merit attendance.

Particularly, perhaps, if you are a woman under 30 or anyone who wholly embraces youthful and/or celeb culture and sensibilities, you well may even more so.

See for more information.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Berning For You: Why I'm Supporting and Endorsing Bernie Sanders For President

On December 10, 2010, Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont who caucused with the Democrats, disagreed with a bill President Obama had brokered with Republicans that would cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans.

This was, in part, a Democratic concession so that the GOP would allow for the extension of  unemployment benefits during the recession. Sanders greatly favored the UI extension, but in noting that such provisions had routinely been adopted during periods of high unemployment, he felt that the deal on the table was unjustly weighted to benefit the wealthy. 

So, at the age of 69, Bernie stood and spoke.

For 8-1/2 hours.

Essentially, if not officially, a filibuster.

The next time insomnia strikes, you can read the entirety of his speech here, or watch it in full here, but despite knowing he did not have the political capital for his one-man protest to effect any actual impact, Bernie Sanders stood in place for nearly 9 hours and said things like:
"I have four kids and I have six grandchildren. None of them has a whole lot of money. I think it is grossly unfair to ask my kids and grandchildren and the children all over this country to be paying higher taxes in order to provide tax breaks for billionaires because we have driven up the national debt. That is plain wrong."

"It is important to point out that extending income tax breaks to the top 2 percent is not the only unfair tax proposal in this agreement. This agreement between the President and the Republican leadership also calls for a continuation of the Bush era 15-percent tax rate on capital gains and dividends, meaning that those people who make their living off their investments will continue to pay a substantially lower tax rate than firemen, teachers, nurses, carpenters, and virtually all the other working people of this country. I do not think that is fair." 
As you might imagine, during his lengthy oration, Sen. Sanders railed against many of the economic inequities he is assailing in his presidential campaign, including decrying that the proposed bill to extend the Bush tax cuts for 2 more years--which did subsequently pass--would provide JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon an additional $1.1 million in tax breaks on his $89 million yearly earnings, yet not one Senate Republican supported Sanders' bill to provide a $250 one-time check to seniors and disabled veterans who had gone over two years without a cost-of-living-adjustment on their annual social security income of approx. $15,000-$16,000.

I can't recall if some progressive friends had mentioned Bernie Sanders to me before the "filibuster" speech, but that is when I first came to hold him in high regard.

Regardless of how closely my, or anyone's, beliefs were aligned, there was something refreshing about seeing a U.S. Senator, especially an older and rather disheveled-looking one, standing up--literally, and quite lengthily--for his principles, and those of ordinary, oft-disenfranchised Americans, in the face of Republicans, Democrats and even a President I wound up voting for twice.

Given the huge corporate money and proliferation of lobbyists that greatly influence American politics, and my perception that despite all the polarization between the parties in Congress, Republicans and Democrats essentially drink from the same trough, it was gratifying to see a senator--already iconoclastic and independent--go to bat for, essentially, us.

If nothing else, Bernie has balls few others in our electorate have ever so resolutely and autonomously demonstrated on C-SPAN.

And more than any other presidential candidate I've ever supported, including Presidents Clinton and Obama, I believe what I believe Bernie Sanders believes.

Partial list of issues addressed on
I really do not like labels. I think they oversimplify our multifaceted individuality and can serve to curb discussion, contemplation and compromise beyond our polarized classifications.

But based on my voting record, in every election and primary since I turned 18 in 1986, I would be described as a staunch Democrat.

And while I think each of these terms is loaded with unnecessary, imprecise and even inaccurate connotations, my beliefs would definitely get me called a lefty, liberal and progressive, and even a radical with traces of revolutionary.

Think derisively of any or all of these terms, or Democratic Socialist as Bernie Sanders labels himself, and feel free to imagine that we hate the rich, want you to downsize your home, deprive you of your luxury SUV, take away your guns, fire every police officer and kill babies.

But I don't want, or believe, any of these things.

However it gets me labeled, I simply believe we are all equally entitled to a good, comfortable, safe and productive life.

I am no better, more important or more entitled than anyone else, anywhere, but particularly--for purposes here--among those currently residing in the United States of America.

I don't care where you were born, what you look like, how or when you came to the U.S., who you sleep with, what gender you are or identify with, who you pray to (or don't), how much money you have or make, how much education you received, where you work (or don't) or what you believe. In no way are you less worthy of all the opportunities--and basic rights and respect--afforded anyone else, or deserving of denigration.

Yes, sadly, I know that some people aren't good, and a few desiring of doing evil, but nothing has shown me that this is particular to any group, nor that we should castigate anyone who isn't engaging in deplorable actions.

These feelings, of equality and not superiority, have generally seemed more in line with Democrats than Republicans, and thus I have consistently voted that way.

To be fair, though, among personal acquaintances and interactions--i.e. not politicians--I have known Republicans, conservatives, right-wingers, etc., who are wonderful people, and Democrats, liberals, leftists, etc., who are terrible people.

Nothing is cut and dried, including labels. Or political party affiliation.

But without wanting to get into specifics about Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich or any other GOP candidates for President, I hope the last few paragraphs suggest why I am odds with what they--variably, to be fair--espouse.

It's not that I cannot support a Republican, rather that I never have and don't now.

Yet part of why I support Bernie Sanders, for President, but even more so just in general, has to do with dissension derived from the Democrats, including President Obama.

I voted quite enthusiastically for Barack Obama in 2008, and was deliriously happy--in person, at Grant Park--when he became our first African-American president, with messages of "Change We Can Believe In" and "Yes We Can."

I think President Obama has achieved much, especially in the face of considerable Republican opposition, obstinance and vitriol, and I voted for him again in 2012.

But with full regard for the fact that what Obama "got done" in the White House doesn't represent everything he would have liked, let alone me, personal experiences make me perceive many of his most seemingly impressive accomplishments--Obamacare, the considerable improvement of the economy and lowering of the unemployment rate, the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act--as only somewhat effective, or inaccurately portraying the ongoing reality.

I do not blame President Obama for my being downsized out of a good job in 2009 and never since acquiring one of comparable "permanence," responsibility, duration or compensation.

If I can fairly believe that a successful career creating compelling recruitment advertising went to shit at the same time the economy and job market did, then the subprime mortgage crisis and malfeasance of Wall Street, AIG, etc. in either duplicitously hawking or stupidly betting on collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) made up of crap, certain-to-fail mortgages but which Moody's and S&P colluded to rate AAA or otherwise low-risk, the shenanigans that was allowed to go on during the George W. Bush administration--abetted by the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act under Bill Clinton's presidency which deregulated Wall Street and allowed banks to ply in securities--is far more to blame for my own economic downturn than anything President Obama did or didn't do.

Especially if you liked the movie, read the book.
You'll better understand what Bernie is decrying.
To better understand the causes of the financial crash of 2008, I read numerous books--The Big Short by Michael Lewis, Griftopia by Matt Taibbi, The Price of Inequality by Joseph Stiglitz, Predator Nation by Charles Ferguson, Stop This Depression Now by Paul Krugman and others--several articles (mostly by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone) and watched documentaries such as Inside Job, Capitalism: A Love Story and Casino Jack and the United States of Money.

All these sources and more pretty well corroborated the culprits, egregious corruption and wide-reaching consequences of the meltdown, for which--as Bernie recently noted regarding Goldman Sachs--huge, though relatively small, fines have been paid, but no criminal prosecutions of those who perpetuated the malfeasance have been undertaken.

In some ways that have yet to recover, the world economy was decimated, but when the banks got bailed out in part to re-open credit to small business entrepreneurs and stimulate the economy, they kept the money, paid themselves ostentatious bonuses and continued to trade in the type of risky derivatives that caused the bust.

Putting us at risk of an even greater financial calamity.

I don't think President Obama has done nearly enough to curb Wall Street excesses, penalize the criminal perpetrators of the crash, break up or reign in the "Too Big to Fail" banks, take steps to even out the playing field between Wall Street and Main Street, nor help average citizens recoup the jobs, income and/or savings that were lost...while the rich keep getting richer.

Chart from On Inequality and the Shift of Wealth in America
by Michael Collins,
While understanding that there were many systematic and legislative injustices beyond his control, including the Citizens United case in which the Supreme Court held that corporations could make vast, largely unrestricted campaign contributions--i.e. buy control of the political process--I took President Obama to task for not being tougher on Wall Street and income inequality in a Sept. 2012 article in which I considered abstaining from voting that November.

As noted above, I wound up voting for Mr. Obama's re-election, but have remained nearly as disillusioned by the Democrats inability to enact real change as I am by the contrarian beliefs of the Republicans.

Even in areas where I applauded newfound progress--such as marriage equality--it felt like matters of basic human decency were too latently adopted into law, and to whatever extent "the state" can be conjunctively condemned, too little has been done to address the racial divide, discrimination, vitriol and epidemic of murder of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement officers.

More than any presidential candidate I've come across before, I believe Bernie Sanders wants to correct all of the above, without the obstacle of being beholden to corporate donors or moneyed interests.

Some, including those whose opinions I greatly respect, may believe Hillary Clinton has similar aims, and as she's still the Democratic frontrunner as of this writing, I sure hope so.

One of those--admittedly dubious--online tests that assess who you support based on your beliefs on various issues and topics showed that I was 99% aligned with Bernie, but also 94% aligned with Hillary.

I believe Hillary Clinton is a incredibly smart, accomplished and driven woman who has served this country well. I don't hate her.

And I cringe when thinking about all the vitriol she has faced from the right, as First Lady, U.S Senator from New York, Secretary of State and Presidential candidate.

All the years she supported her husband while patiently waiting in his shadow, her crushing defeat to Obama in seeking the 2008 Democratic nomination and the excessive hatred that has always been thrown her way make it hard not to admire her steadfast ambition to become President of the United States of America.

Whatever one thinks of her, and I don't particularly like her simply as a matter of perception--arbitrary and perhaps immaterial, but maybe not--she is definitely not choosing the easiest, nor most prosperous route, for the next 5-9 years of her life.

Her resumé, particularly when it comes to foreign affairs, is impressive, more so than Bernie's. I accept as valid the argument that she may be better prepared to assume the presidency, and I can more readily see her standing up to Putin, Kim Jong-il and others on the world stage.

That she seems more realistic about what can actually get done in the highest office of the land, with a still highly split, contested, contemptuous, likely GOP-controlled and wealth influenced Congress, is also a sound opinion.

And I think it would be wonderful for the United States to finally elect a woman president, though Elizabeth Warren is politically more to my liking. (I also like Condoleeza Rice more than any of the crop of GOP candidates in this election cycle.)

But even in her borrowing parts of her platform from Bernie, and airing some more progressive stances, I don't trust Hillary Clinton to even try to do what I believe needs to be done.

Negative connotations of the term "establishment candidate" perhaps too brazenly dismiss the popularity, persistence and temerity necessary to win elections and facilitate legislation within the existing parameters of the American political arena, but with a good bit of Howard Beale in me, I don't want the same old song and dance.

And, meaning this more in a philosophical sense than specifically about Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and most of the preceding presidents, I don't want "meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

I, and seemingly large portions the the U.S. populace, particularly among younger demographics, want to believe that we can return a truer sense of fairness, decency and dignity to America, in terms of jobs, wages, taxes, racial & religious tolerance and who & what controls Congressional decisions.

Roll your eyes at terms progressives throw around such as "corporatocracy," "oligarchy" or simply "income inequality," but they represent realities that have--directly or indirectly--had crippling effects, not only in terms of the ridiculousness of people forced to sleep on streets while others have multiple mansions, but from the poisoning of water to the price of groceries to the erosion of arts education in schools.

So when Bernie speaks of his campaign representing a "political revolution," damn right that's what I want.

This doesn't mean that I hate anyone who has a good job, or even owns a sports franchise.

If you make under $250,000, nothing that Bernie is proposing should negatively affect you, and if you earn a little bit to bazillions more--especially as it means you're likelier to derive substantive income from investment gains, which are taxed much lower than employment income--I think you should pay more in taxes.

Not to the point of having to sacrifice your Lear Jet, but simply so that 1 in 6 Americans no longer have to go hungry. 

Same goes for corporations who use all sorts of loopholes, overseas headquarters, third world factories and other devices to make people at the top wealthier at the expense of the working class.

I'm not going to run through Bernie Sanders' entire platform; he does a good job of it himself and, unlike Hillary, he seems to be incredibly consistent in what he believes and supports, even going back decades.

Many of the things Hillary now says with which I'm in concert seem to have initially and more emphatically--and yes, believably--been espoused by Bernie, who's been steadfast in raising concerns about climate change, supporting gay rights, decrying racial injustice and opposing the influx of money into politics.

Hillary has, in fact, taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees, and campaign contributions, from Wall Street and other moneyed interests, including notably Goldman Sachs, a.k.a. the Vampire Squid. Perhaps this wouldn't taint her policy making, but it does give me pause. I genuine doubt she would advocate overhauling a corrupt system the way Bernie wants to.

And as exacerbated in the past few days between her initial--and subsequently withdrawn in the name of truth--praise of the Reagans for their fictitious advocacy during the AIDS crisis, to her saying "I don't know where he was when I was trying to get health care in '93 and '94" only to have photos and video released showing Bernie Sanders standing literally right behind her as she gave a speech on health care reform, Hillary has repeatedly shown herself to be a misinformed at best, dishonest at worse, candidate.

To which many might say, "sure Hillary has her flaws, but she's well-intentioned and practical, while Bernie--though wonderfully idealistic--is floating completely unrealistic ideas."

My rebuttal is to suggest that we--even those living pretty decent and contented lives--consider the inequities apparent in the current reality...and start believing a demonstrably better one is possible.

For everyone.

Sure, the likelihood of tuition-free college, a single-payer healthcare system, expanded social security, raising of the minimum wage to $15, the creation of myriad new jobs via massive infrastructure investment, significantly combating climate change and immediate implementation of other Sanders desires seems far-fetched.

But why? Because they're bad ideas or because they would cost a ton of money and don't seem pragmatic in the current system?

Public high schools are tuition-free, why not college? Several other countries offer free healthcare to their citizens, why can't we? And as for the seeming preposterousness of funding all these "freebies," consider that:
Add caption
- The Wall Street bailout cost $29 trillion (source:
- A single model of fighter jet as shown above has been in development since 2001 and still hasn't been deemed operational for battle, yet has cost over $1 trillion
- The annual U.S. Military budget of approx. $600 billion is more than the next 7 highest spending countries, combined, and by almost double
- As of 2013, the cost of wars in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan stood at nearly $4 trillion and rising 
- The fortunate individuals on the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans are worth an aggregate $2.34 trillion and average $3.86 billion. Think they could get by on just a bit less?
- Even Warren Buffett believes the super wealthy are woefully undertaxed
- Fortune 500 companies combine for $12.5 trillion in revenues and over $1 trillion in profits, yet many pay a relative pittance in U.S. taxes. (From 2008 to 2012, 26 profitable Fortune 500 companies paid $0 in federal income taxes)
- The financial transaction tax of 50 cents per $100 in securities trades--as advocated by National Nurses United--could raise over $350 billion annually with almost no impingement on anyone's way of life.
- Tuition-free public colleges might seem like an outrageous concept, but there are approximately 50 million U.S. children receiving tuition-free public K-12 education. There are currently about 20 million students enrolled in colleges and universities, both public and private. I don't have children, yet gladly pay taxes that support public education.
So sure, some of Bernie's ideas sound radical, but if you ask me, that the Walton family--owners of Walmart but simply the inheritors of what their dad accomplished--has more wealth than 42% of American families combined is what's truly crazy. And there is a plethora of similarly incomprehensible factoids.

I could go on and on, about military spending and foreign trade agreements and injustices of the legal system and the proliferation of guns--yes, I know Hillary has advocated stauncher gun control measures, but Bernie is just as obsessed with public safety, and his representing the views of his Vermont constituency is what a senator is supposed to do--but I think you get the point.

We certainly can't have Trump, or even Cruz or Rubio, who would have angry white people believe--even more so--that their problems are caused by immigrants, refugees, Muslims and people of color.

I voted for Bernie Sanders in the Illinois Democratic Primary
through Early Voting on 3/12/16, and have contribute more to
his campaign--in dollars and frequency--than any candidate ever.

And while I would completely concur that simply in terms of tolerance and other key principles, Hillary Clinton is inordinately favorable to the leading Republican candidates, I think we need to aim higher.

Even if it's impossible for Bernie Sanders to radically change things overnight, his surging popularity--especially among the young--suggests that anything is possible if enough people join together to make it happen.

It's easy to be skeptical given the current political realities, especially when there will be far from universal public buy-in at the outset, but look at how far Bernie has come in less than a year; imagine if the groundswell effect--and insistence on true change--continues to grow exponentially, with his presidency as the catalyst.

As my hero Bruce Springsteen--who, even as an exorbitantly rich man, has openly condemned the "banksters" and campaigned for Democrats John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008 & 2012, though has yet to declare his preference this time around--has often exhorted from the stage:

"The country we carry in our hearts is waiting."

I firmly believe voting for Bernie Sanders is the first step.