The Adventure of the Nameless Corpse

Lovely little nutcracker, isn’t it?  Well, this nutcracker has a very interesting story behind it.  This nutcracker is both a trophy and a reminder of the time I assisted Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson in solving a murder at the Victorian Villa in Union City, MI.

I had alluded to this story when I wrote my remembrance of the inn back in 2014, but enough time has passed that it is now safe to share the tale.  Some elements must still remain hidden, so some names may be changed and some details removed and altered, but those that know the truth will understand.

Many believe Holmes and Watson to be fictional characters, but that is a myth perpetuated by Dr. Watson’s literary agent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who published Dr. Watson’s stories under his name.  In truth, they are real and much older than one would believe. 

In his retirement, Holmes had cultivated a royal jelly elixir and ingestion of it had greatly extended his life span and that of Dr. Watson.  Over the years Holmes and Watson had regularly visited the Victorian Villa as its owner, Ron Gibson, is the great-grandson of Senator Neil Gibson referenced in the case known as “The Problem of Thor Bridge”.  Aside from their friendship, Holmes also enjoyed visiting Union City as, in his own words, “it is a hellhole of crime of great depth and brilliance”.

When I learned that Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson would be visiting, I immediately booked a weekend stay to meet the famed detective and his trusted associate.

It was September of 2005 and I was making my second foray out to the Villa.  I was a bit weary as I had mistakenly forgotten to schedule myself as unavailable for Hamlet rehearsals the night before so I had put in a long night of rehearsing before setting off on my drive at 10pm.  By midnight, I was exhausted and collapsed at a Motel 6 in Des Moines, IA before driving another 8 hours to Union City the next morning.  The welcome sight of the gorgeous Victorian mansion served as a salve to my spirits and boosted my energy level as I pulled into the tiny parking lot.

The Victorian Villa

Once more, I was greeted by Ron and his two sons, Zach and Josh, before being led to my room for the weekend:  the Victorian Country Bedchamber.  As I got myself situated, I found a note under my pillow.  It was rather snarky and, I noted, written in a feminine hand.  I put it away before freshening up and reacquainting myself with the Villa.

Around 6pm, Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson arrived at the inn.  I introduced myself to Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson who politely shook my hand.  Holmes was just as Watson had described him with his aloofness and unmistakable air of authority.  Watson was friendly and every bit the gentleman.

I retired to the parlor with Holmes and Watson and the other guests who had come to meet the legendary duo.  Among them were Ted and Rhonda Cowell and their Holmesian scion society, The Stormy Petrels of Maumee Bay; the Mallon family; George Ault; and Mr. and Mrs. Glenn Harbaugh.

We opened up the night with a round of Sherlockian Trivial Pursuit.  We formed into two teams and Mr. Holmes asked diabolically difficult questions relating to the many cases he had investigated.  As the two teams battled back and forth, Mr. Holmes would vacillate between contentedly smoking his pipe and brooding about some vexing problem.  On several occasions he alluded to a case he was working on before returning to the game.

Sherlock Holmes relaxes

By the end of the game, the two teams were locked into a tie, though I ended up stealing a symbolic victory for my side when I answered the question “Who killed Victor Savage?”  After the hard-fought game, we entered the dining room where Mr. Holmes gave us a demonstration on the art of observation and deduction while we dined on one of Ron’s fine meals which consisted of English Cheshire Cheese Soup and roasted loin of boar among other delicacies.  I did note that Ron had brought on some help for the event as a placard on the table said the meal had been partially catered by Maxine Simons.

Upon finishing our meal, we returned to the parlor where Mr. Holmes told us he was investigating a murder that had taken place at the Villa a few days prior.  A man had shown up at the Villa around 11am on the fateful day and asked Ron if he could have a room.  As Ron had no reservations, he rented a room to the man who gave no name, but simply went upstairs to his bedroom with his dressing bag.  A short while later, Ron saw him descend the stairs sans bag and enter the parlor.  Ron left him to his own devices as he had to leave the Villa to run some errands.  When he returned later, he found the man collapsed on the floor, arm outstretched in front of him, and clearly dead.  Ron contacted the police who found no identification on the man nor in his room.  The labels on his clothes had been cut off and the only items found on him were a handkerchief, some cigarettes, and a pen.  Ron had told Mr. Holmes of the baffling death and he agreed to look into it.

Mr. Holmes wanted us to be his eyes and ears and help him investigate.  He asked us to discover the following:

  1. Who was the victim?
  2. How was he killed?
  3. Who killed him?
  4. Find a way to link the killer to the crime and unmask him or her.

Certain rules were set in place for us.  As Mr. Holmes had already investigated the private areas of the mansion, we were not to enter them.  He also told us not to snoop into Ron’s desk as only he would be allowed to investigate it.  Short of that we were free to investigate as we chose. If we managed to discover any evidence, we were only to hold onto it for 10 minutes before returning it exactly where it was found.  Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson bade us good evening and left the Villa promising to return after breakfast in the morning.

Exhaustion had found me again so I retired to my bedroom, vowing to rise early and begin looking into the case.

I arose the next morning feeling refreshed.  After heading to the dining room and enjoying some of Ron’s special scrambled eggs and sausage patties, I began to look into the case. 

From re-reading Ron’s statement, I realized that the victim had not carried his dressing bag back down with him so I immediately went to the second floor and began searching for it, but was unable to find it.  I searched the mansion from top to bottom and then made my way over to the Carriage House.  Up in the Sherlock Holmes Bedchamber, I discovered George Ault and Glenn Harbaugh discussing something and they froze when they saw me.  I asked if I could enter and Glenn said I could.  I quietly closed the door and noted they had the dressing bag.

“So you found it,” I said.

Realizing I had already deduced the clue, George and Glenn opened the bag and we all looked into it.  Among the toiletries, we found a letter addressed to James Fitzsimmons requesting a meeting in the parlor of the Villa to discuss the matter of a deadly toxin that had been developed by the writer of the letter.  Apparently Fitzsimmons had been the letter writer’s boss and had aspirations of selling the toxin to the highest bidder who would likely weaponize it.  The toxin caused almost instantaneous paralysis before shutting down the body’s vital organs.  Death would occur in a matter of minutes.  The writer wanted Fitzsimmons to destroy the toxin and begged for a meeting to convince him of this.  It was simply signed Max, though I recognized the handwriting as being the same as that on the note in my bedroom.

After examining the evidence, I asked the two men if they had found notes as well.  They admitted they had and let me read them.  Red herrings and smart alecky comments.  After reading this, we looked at each other and I suggested pooling our resources to which George and Glenn readily agreed.

“All right, we’re now a team,” I said.

Upon forming our alliance we headed down to the parlor to meet Mr. Holmes who asked if anybody had anything to share.  I casually blurted the bag clue to which Mr. Holmes looked at me and said, “You’re a rather blithe young man, aren’t you?”

After unintentionally giving out the clue, the race was on.  Though we were investigating a crime, it was treated more like a competition and ended up as a three way battle between The Stormy Petrels, the Mallons, and my little triumvirate.  The Petrels played for keeps and were not above providing a few red herrings.  The Mallons were smart and crafty, though I engaged in a little quid pro quo with Mrs. Mallon which I’ll get to in a bit.

Mr. Holmes was always available for private consultation where we could bring our discoveries and theories and he would make comments and subtle suggestions to help light our path.  When we first informed Holmes about the letter we found, Glenn kept referring to the writer as a he, to which Mr. Holmes asked, “Why do you keep saying ‘he?’”.

“What do mean?” asked Glenn.

“He means how do we know it’s a man,” I replied.

“Precisely,” said Holmes as he clasped my shoulder.

A vital clue, indeed.  While not a guarantee, we did have to open our minds to the possibility that Max, if that was the real name, was a woman.

We continued to investigate.  I realized that no matches or lighter were found on the corpse, though cigarettes had been discovered.  No smoker would ever lack those items and there was no reason for the killer to take them.  Remembering the outstretched arm, I assumed the position of the corpse and found a book of matches under the coal scuttle.

Taking them, I opened up the packet and found a scrawled message which said “Beware TR-70”.  The name of the toxin had been found!!

Outside the parlor, I found a business card book on a stand and began thumbing through it and saw Mrs. Mallon watching me.  When I leafed to the third page, she suddenly coughed.  I looked up and saw her smiling at me, I took a hard look and found the business card for Maxine Simons—Caterer.  However, “caterer” had been written in pen over a blacked out word.  Reversing the card and holding it up to the light, I saw “chemist” written under it.  I had the name of the killer!!  I then shared with Mrs. Mallon the name of the poison out of gratitude.

My team had another consultation with Holmes where Glenn spun an amusing, but outlandish, theory that Ron Gibson was the killer or, at least involved with her.  Mr. Holmes and I shared some glances and after Glenn finished his theory, Holmes simply stated, “I sense you have some misgivings about his theory.”

“One or two,” I replied.

I then finally had a chance to fill in Glenn and George on my discoveries and had a private conversation with Mr. Holmes and Mrs. Mallon while I made my deductions.  When I finished, Mr. Holmes looked to Mrs. Mallon and said, “You know, I have great faith in this young man.  He’s quiet, thoughtful, and observant and everything he says is based soundly on logic.”

Then we took a break and had a reading of one of Watson’s stories followed by a pop quiz.  I ended up winning the quiz contest and surprised Mr. Holmes with one of my answers.

“This number is the square root of the number alluded to by Watson,” said Holmes.

“Sixteen,” I readily answered.

“Sixteen is correct!!” said Holmes with some wonderment.  “Tell me, young man, how did you come up with that answer?”

“Watson mentioned the wait was like the night the two of you faced the Andaman Islander which was a reference to the case known as The Sign of Four,” I said.

Holmes smiled and nodded approvingly.

After the quiz we had afternoon tea where Ron had prepared a whole turkey and we helped ourselves to little sandwiches with a bit of homemade mustard and fixings.

The case was solved, but there was still one last item:  how to unmask Maxine.  There was no real proof tying her to the death and all my deductions wouldn’t hold water in court.  I had a final consultation with Holmes where I told him everything I had learned, but felt I was just one step away from the total truth. 

“Think of the problem of the three Moriartys.  All of them were named James and were identical.  How would one tell them apart?” said Mr. Holmes.

I began to see the light when he gave me one final nudge.

“You have two pieces of vital evidence.  What you need is a third.”

The truth hit me like a thunderbolt.  The letter on my pillow plus the letter in the bag were my pieces of evidence.  What I needed was a way to get a third example of Maxine’s handwriting to connect her with the other two.  Handwriting was how you’d distinguish the Moriarty boys from each other.

Piecing the puzzle together

I expressed this problem to Glenn and George and we threw around ideas until I said, “Maybe we could get a card of some sort.”

“My son is serving over in Iraq.  We could get him a Wish You Were Here card,” said George.

“Yes, and we’ll have everybody in the inn sign it!!” I exclaimed.

The three of us dashed to Mr. Holmes where I laid out the scheme.

“An excellent plan,” said Holmes. 

I shook hands with Holmes and Watson and dashed to the bar area where I found Ron.

“Is there a drug store nearby?” I asked.

“Yes, just a few blocks up on Main Street,” said Ron.

“Thank you,” I said.

Then I speed walked through the front door and vaulted over the steps to the sidewalk.  I then sprinted and I do mean SPRINTED to the drug store where I bought the card and repeated the process back to the Villa where I hurdled the steps once more.  George later said it was the funniest thing he ever saw.

As I walked back in, I heard Mrs. Mallon’s daughter ask if there were a drug store nearby.  I then politely coughed and gently waved the card.  Knowing that the game was up, the Mallons signed the card and Mrs. Mallon’s daughter assisted me with finishing the job by asking Ron if there were any other people in the kitchen as Maxine was also helping to cater tonight’s dinner.  Ron stepped into the kitchen and asked Maxine to step out.  I told her about the card while George showed a picture of his son and Maxine signed the card.

I then led my team back to the parlor where the other guests had gathered. 

“Do you have something to show me, young man?” asked Mr. Holmes.

I presented the card to him and he looked at it.

“Were there any witnesses?” he asked.

“Yes, sir.   Myself, (Mrs. Mallon’s daughter), George, Ron, Zach, and Josh all witnessed this.”

“Very good,” said Mr. Holmes.  “This case has been solved.”

Then we proceeded to have a debate about what to do with the killer.  Her motivations were understandable.  Fitzsimmons would have unleashed a plague of death on the world.  He had committed no crime, but would have had the blood of countless people had he sold the toxin.  Maxine shouldn’t have killed him, but her act had thwarted a much greater evil so I pled for leniency.  Holmes said he would consider the situation.

Glenn gave me a hug and then bought George and myself a drink at the bar.  Mr. Holmes approached me privately and asked me to present the denouement after dinner.

A splendid dinner was served and after we were all satiated, Mr. Holmes signaled for silence, indicated my two partners and then clasped my shoulder acknowledging our victory.  He then presented me with the nutcracker as a trophy for the case.  Then he brought Ron, his two sons, and Maxine into the dining room where I presented my findings.

I walked the group through the maze of the case, casually keeping an eye on Maxine who whitened with every revelation.  When I explained about the card we had purchased and how the killer had sealed her fate by signing it, I calmly looked at Maxine and said, “Isn’t that right, Maxine?”

At that point, Maxine begged for mercy and Holmes gently led her out of the dining room while discussion resumed.  Shortly afterwards, he returned and he and Watson made their final farewells and exited.

And that was how I helped Mr. Holmes solve The Adventure of the Nameless Corpse.  I would later learn that Holmes did show mercy to Maxine, letting her leave the country.  George did send the card to his son with an incredible story.  I had made new friends and had a reminder of the case forever gracing my mantle.  And the next morning, I enjoyed some of Ron’s incredible cream cheese stuffed French Toast.

Little did I know that I would return to the Villa a few years later with my trusted friend, Mat O’Donnell, to engage in a peculiar investigation centering around a crying woman.

But that is a story for another time.

The Price of Courage

I imagine that every child has fantasized about being a superhero at some time or another.  To fly like Superman or run like the Flash or have the cool car and gadgets of Batman sounds like a great deal of fun. 

But there’s another side to being a superhero and that is the secret identity.  Some heroes have gone to great lengths to make certain they will not even remotely be suspected of being their alter-ego in their civilian guises.  Sometimes their efforts to protect their identity cause them to pay a high price in terms of their happiness.

Several years ago I wrote an article on the use of mature themes in theatrical versions of 80s cartoon series.  In that article, I specifically referenced the lengths Prince Adam would go in order to preserve his secret that he was actually Eternia’s greatest hero:  He-Man.  This article will feature an analysis of the price Adam paid to protect his secret identity.

Adam is very fruitful ground for analysis as he is the only hero that I’m aware of who has actually had stories dedicated to the crushing burden of protecting his secret.  Also, unlike most other heroes, the danger consistently comes to Adam as he is part of the royal family so he is usually placed in a position of peril instead of seeking out wrongs to be righted.  Since he is pulled into conflicts on a regular basis, Adam often has to extricate himself briefly in order to switch identities which leads to the risk of his being perceived as a coward by family and allies.

Since he was part of the group often under siege, many have wondered why Adam bothered keeping it a secret that he was actually He-Man.  But there is an excellent reason for keeping his identity under wraps.  If his enemies knew his secret, all they would have to do is hold one of his friends or family members (or really anybody) hostage and threaten to kill them if He-Man ever appeared again.  Or they would simply find a way to get to and eliminate Adam before he could change.

Adam’s longing to share his secret so he could always be his true self was such an interesting study that it actually became a plot point on two separate occasions.  Once in the original 80s series and again in the reboot in the early 2000s.

In the 80s series, the topic was visited in the story “Prince Adam No More” which was written by Paul Dini who would go on to greater fame as the creative force behind Batman:  The Animated Series and he knew how to write a compelling story that would engage both children and adults and was unafraid to throw in an emotional gut punch along the way.

The thrust of the story was that Adam’s father, King Randor, was set to begin the annual tour of Eternia and he always chooses someone to be his royal guard.  Adam hopes, and is fairly confident, that he will be chosen.  While he’s discussing the topic with Man-At-Arms, the court jester, Orko, accidentally gets trapped in an Attak Trak and sets it going.  To save Orko and keep the palace from being destroyed by the rampaging machine, Adam transforms into He-Man to stop the tank.  After saving the day, King Randor comes out and expresses his gratitude that He-Man is always there for Eternia.

Later Adam and Man-At-Arms resume their discussion and Adam, again, expresses his certainty that his father will choose him to be the guard.  Man-At-Arms makes the comment that Randor hasn’t always been pleased with Adam and then Adam said something very telling.  He said, “You know, as Adam, I may act like a goof now and then, but, well, that’s only to keep my secret.  Besides, I’d never really do anything to make my father ashamed of me.”

Think about that.  Sometimes Adam would act a little lazy, be a little clumsy or seem to be a bit unreliable, but his statement makes clear that it is just that. . .an act.  Not only that, but he’s tried to be very careful to show these negative attributes in a way and at points where his father wouldn’t be embarrassed by them.

Eventually Adam and Man-At-Arms are called to the throne room where King Randor announces he has chosen He-Man to be his bodyguard for the royal tour and Adam is stunned.  Immediately, he says, “But, Father, well, I thought that you and I might make this trip together.”

His father responds, “Really, Adam?  But you’ve never shown any interest state affairs.  Sorry, Son.  I’m afraid on this trip I’ll need someone a bit more experienced. . .and reliable.”  To which Adam sadly responds, “I see.”

One can truly sympathize with Adam’s heartbreak.  Not only does it seem like Randor lacks faith in his son, but Adam has also been passed over for himself.  It isn’t He-Man who makes Adam worthwhile.  It’s the other way around.  It’s Adam’s courage. . .Adam’s nobility. . .Adam’s goodness. . .and Adam’s perseverance that makes He-Man a hero. 

It’s also important to remember that despite looking like a man in his early twenties (since Lou Scheimer, the series’ creator worked on the cheap and used the same cels for Adam and He-Man with subtle changes), Adam is only about 16 years old and of an age where he’d want his father to be proud of him.

Later that night, he voices these same thoughts to the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull as he tells her, “For a long time, I’ve had the power of He-Man.  But to keep that power a secret, I’ve had to pretend, you know, to be careless and irresponsible.  More than anything, I want to give up that disguise and make my father proud of me” before the most agonizing look of sadness comes over his face.  The Sorceress reminds him of the very real danger of revealing his secret and Adam realizes that he can’t endanger friends and family, but believes he can earn his father’s respect without revealing the truth.

Adam is able to reluctantly convince his father to let him be the guard as he needs to learn how to properly rule the kingdom one day.  Randor admonishes Adam that the trip is too important for Adam’s usual antics and Adam promises him that he can be relied upon.

While on the tour, Randor, Adam and Man-At-Arms are ambushed by Beast Man.  Adam bravely tries to stop him, but is overpowered by the far stronger villain and left stunned.  When he recovers, Man-At-Arms asks him why he didn’t transform and Adam admits he wanted to prove that he could be a hero.  Man-At-Arms reminds him that he was give his powers to help others, but that nobody ever said he could use them to make himself happy. 

Realizing his true responsibility, Adam changes into He-Man and rescues his father who actually joins him in the battle and admits he was a bit of a rowdy in his youth, essentially admitting he was a little irresponsible in his younger days.  He also admits he loves his son and, even though he’s a little hard on him, he is proud of him.  Learning this brings a great deal of peace to Adam.

It’s a truly great story that reveals the burden of Adam’s secret.  He has to pretend to be something he’s not to hide the hero that he is and he does it so convincingly that he’s afraid he had truly caused his father to be ashamed of him.  What a burden for a young man. 

I always appreciated the fact that, ultimately, Adam would be able to show himself to be more of a hero to his father in the series’ last hurrah, The Secret of the Sword when he brings his sister, Adora, back to Eternia.  Randor tells him, “Son, today you’ve made me the happiest man in all Eternia” before warmly embracing his son and you know that Adam has finally achieved his goal.

About twenty years later the idea was revisited again in the rebooted He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series in the aptly titled “The Courage of Adam”.

In this conception of the mythos, Adam was a little more deserving of his reputation of not being as princely as he ought.  Not that he was lazy or cowardly, but all he had ever known was peace so he wasn’t in a rush to learn the nuts and bolts of being a good ruler.  However, once Skeletor waged war upon Eternia, Adam unhesitatingly shows his bravery by accepting the mantle of He-Man to defend his planet.

This episode picks off immediately after the pilot. In that story, Adam did appear to run away from battle. But he ran to Castle Grayskull to accept the mantle of He-Man in order to be able to stop Skeletor’s onslaught. This illusion of cowardice causes the character of Teela, the captain of the guards and Man-At-Arms’ adopted daughter, to tease Adam and even his father believes that Adam, in his own words, “chickened out”.

Adam expresses his frustrations to Man-At-Arms who tells Adam he cannot reveal his secret.  As in the previous series, Adam realizes this truth and says, “Yeah, no kidding.  But that’s no reason that I, me, Prince Adam, can’t show that I’ve got what it takes also.  And who knows?  If I step up in battle, I mean REALLY step up. . .I’m no He-Man, but maybe he won’t be needed.”  And this is important because this statement shows that this isn’t about Adam earning his father’s respect as in the previous story.  This time, it’s about proving himself worthy to his family, friends and allies.

Man-At-Arms is quick to point out that as long as evil exists, He-Man will be needed.  However, Adam simply shrugs and walks away with a smile.  In his youthfulness, he’s clearly convinced that he can prove Man-At-Arms wrong.  But it also shows another facet of his bravery, albeit flawed by the impetuousness of youth.  So determined is he to prove himself an asset in his true form that he’s willing to sacrifice his awesome gift to do it which also puts his life infinitely more at risk.

Eventually he gets his chance when a character named Stratos seeks leave from King Randor to help his people negotiate with a difficult group of rivals.  Randor offers the services of one of the Masters to accompany Stratos and Adam immediately seizes the opportunity to volunteer.  Randor is quite pleased by this as he tells Adam, “It heartens me to see you showing some initiative, Son.  You have my permission to accompany Stratos.”  And the smile on Adam’s face tells you the satisfaction he gets from making his father proud.

Eventually Skeletor and his goons get involved and Adam fights against them as himself and acquits himself admirably until Skeletor conjures up an enemy so powerful that Adam must become He-Man to stop it.

The ending of this story is rather bittersweet as Adam looks sadly on the vista as Man-At-Arms seems to voice his thoughts, telling him, “You fought well, Adam.  But I think you now see that He-Man will always be needed.”

The episode ends with Adam continuing to look on the vista with a haunted look and one knows that he does understand, but the reality of having to hide his true self saddens him.

Being a superhero could be a great deal of fun.  But as we’ve seen, a lot of sacrifice goes into the decision to be a hero, especially when one’s identity must remain a secret.  Truly, there is a price for courage.

Full Circle: A Tribute to Doug Marr

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Last night, Omaha lost a talented playwright, a genuine wit, and an all around great human being.

I lost a good friend.

When I think of Doug I think of a genuinely good man with a phenomenal sense of humor and a truly giving and supportive heart.  Doug was responsible for giving my theatre career one of its biggest boosts and for keeping it alive when it was on life support.

I first met Doug back in 2003 when I auditioned for the Circle Theatre’s production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  I had high hopes that I would be able to net the role of Billy Bibbit, but received a surprise when I got a letter notifying me that the whole production was being postponed due to the theatre being unable to fill the key role of Chief Bromden, but Doug hoped to mount the show later that summer.

As summer closed in I asked him if Cuckoo was going to be mounted and he wrote back and said Circle would be doing Our Town and immediately offered me the role of Doc Gibbs.

I was stunned by his generosity as I was relatively an untested talent as I only had 4 small roles under my belt and this would be the first time I had something with a bit of meat.  Though he didn’t direct the production, he was present every day at his trusted post at the light and sound board.  He often regaled the cast with his off the cuff jokes and we would spend quite a bit of time talking about our mutual love for classic rock, Sherlock Holmes, and he would share with me ideas he had for future plays and stories.

I experienced a bit more of his generosity when he handed me a small check at the end of the run.  Doug always believed in paying a tiny stipend to the performers and I’m proud to have had my first paying gig under his watchful eye.

It would be nearly a decade before I crossed paths with Doug again.  At that point, I had been going through a dry spell and then he announced auditions for An Inspector Calls.  After my audition, Doug offered me the choice of either of the two young men.  Now one was a decent, level headed sort close to my real personality and the other was a drunken lout.  I opted for the lout.  Doug agreed to that as he thought that was the better of the two reads.

Doug often said that he wasn’t a director, but I think he underestimated his talents in that realm..  For starters, he was a gifted writer with an instinct for beats so he knew what points in a story needed to be hit to get maximum effect.  More importantly, he had an incredible eye for talent.  Doug intuitively understood a performer’s strengths and weaknesses and not only knew where to slot them, but also trusted their instincts so he’d only have to give slight notes to smooth out the rough edges.

I was always grateful that he let me test my range with Eric Birling and it still ranks as one of my favorite roles.

Shortly after that show, my dry spell became an arid desert.  I had grown so disheartened with the constant rejections that I made the decision to step away from theatre for a while.

Trust Doug to get me back into the swing of things.

Six months into my hiatus, Doug sent word through a mutual friend of ours asking if I would consider doing the Circle’s annual Christmas show.  I was a little hesitant because my confidence had been so battered, but he was a really hard guy to say no to so I agreed.

With his trust and support, I began to remember the things I loved so much about theatre and managed to breathe life into his creation of Gunar, the hippie elf which would become another of my favorite roles.  His kindness gave me the shot in the arm I needed and I would bag my biggest role later that season thanks to him restoring my heart.

Many in our community have shared their stories about Doug.  He was a treasure and he will be missed.  I’ll always remember him for his warmth, his good humor, his gift for wordplay, and his goodness.  Most of all, I’ll remember him for being my friend.

Rest in peace, my friend.

 

Macca’s Genius Keeps on Rollin’ in Eclectic “Egypt Station”

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Back in 1989, Paul McCartney’s then manager suggested that he consider calling it a career after the release of Flowers in the Dirt as McCartney had just turned 50, supposedly ancient for a rocker.  Well, it’s 2018.  Sir Paul is 76.  And he’s still just as vital and talented as he was back in 1989.  No, no.  Wait a minute.  As he was back in the heyday of the Beatles.  And that gift for melody and unbridled, indefatigable energy is on proud display in Egypt Station, his 18th solo album (25th post-Beatles album).

Let’s be honest.  McCartney really doesn’t need to do it anymore.  His reputation and legacy are set in diamond.  He certainly doesn’t need the money.  But, like all artists, he still needs to create and he’s as dedicated to his craft now as he was at the beginning.  The result is an album which I personally consider to be one of his absolute best as it combines the intelligence, weightiness, and depth of Chaos and Creation in the Backyard and merges it with the classic Macca formula.

Egypt Station is really a musical travelogue as McCartney has written a set of songs that takes us on a trip through his entire career.  You’ll get Beatleslike rockers such as the nice little foot-stomper, “Come On to You” and the frothy, but fun, “Ceasar Rock”.  You’ll even get a throwback to Abbey Road with the suite number of “Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link”.  Journey through the era of Wings with the 70s style “Who Cares” and “Despite Repeated Warnings” which is a Band on the Run for today’s political climate.

Paul even takes a jaunt through some of his less than successful records best exemplified with “Back in Brazil” and “Nothing for Free” where he again dabbles in electronica.  While the former is a meh song, the latter is an excellent electronica rocker to close the album.

However, the best songs are the ones where Paul displays raw vulnerability and intelligence.  “I Don’t Know” is an instant classic and shows McCartney at his rawest and most honest.  “Happy With You” is a sweet love song to his wife, Nancy Shevell and “People Want Peace” is a brilliantly constructed anthem.

True, age shows a bit more in his voice as it cracks and creaks, but I think it actually adds potent character to his songs, especially to the softer, more powerful numbers.  But that unmatchable gift of melody is still untouched and functioning at peak capacity.

Take a ride on Egypt Station.  It’s one of the best works from an artist who’s still churning out pleasurable and exciting music after 55 years and shows no signs of slowing down.

Farewell, My Friend

This is the hardest post I have ever written.  It’s been almost a day since I heard the news and still I struggle with the reality and with the words.

Nearly a year and a half ago, I asked my readers for help with a GoFundMe campaign for my friend, Kay McGuigan, who was beginning a battle with cancer.  The campaign was an enormous success and I thank you for your generosity.

Yesterday the friends of Kay got an update on her health and the news wasn’t good.

The fight is over and Kay is entering her final days.

It’s really hard to sum up the friendship of 19 years in just a few words.  Kay is truly one of a kind.  She lives life to the fullest and has the heart of a big kid.  I met her when I did my very first show back in 1999 and we were friends from the start.  She believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself and always supported me in my acting endeavors.

Kay was there for me when I was preparing for The Elephant Man back in 2002.  She helped me rewrite and refine my audition to be the best it could possibly be.  As my coach, she thrilled with me when I told her how well the read had gone.  And she consoled me when I got the devastating news of my rejection.

Kay’s favorite holiday was Halloween and she and her husband, Ryan, used to throw a big party each Halloween.  Through these parties I got to know Ryan quite a bit better and through him I met his brother, Matthew, and the three of us bonded over a mutual love of the Beatles and Jesus Christ Superstar.  Today I’m proud to call these guys my brothers.

Back in 2005, I got to share in one of the great joys in the lives of Ryan and Kay.  It was their annual Halloween party and I said I’d stop by after I was through with a performance of Hamlet.  I was struck by the fact that the crowd was a bit smaller than normal when I arrived.  Kay and Ryan greeted me at the door and then Kay slyly told Ryan, “Tell him,” as she tapped her ring finger and I saw a new ring adorning it.

“I think I’ve got it,” I said.  “You got engaged.”

“Nope,” said Ryan, with a big grin.  “We got married.”

Ryan and Matthew helped me sit down from the shock of the news.  Yes, they had invited their closest friends to a surprise wedding that had taken place in their living room shortly before I arrived.

Since then, I’ve been a guest in the home of Ryan and Kay on many occasions.  And we’d talk about music, life, theatre, and just the daily goings-on.  She trusted me enough to housesit her beloved dogs, Moses and Charlie.  We often had FB conversations about any ol’ thing under the sun.

Since her battle began, our conversations were limited to texting, but I’ll always remember that she seemed quite a bit like her old, buoyant self during our last little chat.

This world is a better place for having you in it, Kay.  And I’m a better person for having known you.

And now I’d like to ask for your help once more.  Kay’s husband, Ryan, and their three children need another helping hand as they transition into a new chapter.  The GoFundMe campaign is still active and I would ask you to once again please make a donation at the below link.

https://www.gofundme.com/support-for-ryan-and-kay-mcguigan

Once again, I thank you for your time and generosity.

To Kay, farewell, my friend.

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Adulting Cartoons

I think my generation was the greatest time to be a kid.  We had skating parties, malls were still solvent, arcades were plentiful, toys were cool, we ran around like loons, and we had the best cartoons.

I loved my cartoons as a kid.  And if you were an 80s kid like me, you know that we had our own special genre of cartoons.  We had G.I. Joe, Transformers, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Thundercats and many other toy inspired series.  A lot of experts called these shows glorified 30 minute commercials, but I never saw it that way.  I actually enjoyed the stories and the wall to wall action of the shows.  I still have a lot of fond memories of hanging out with friends after school and during the summer where we would watch our afternoon fix of cartoons before going back outside to run amok as only children can.

With the extreme popularity of these series, some of the companies took things one step farther and made animated feature films out of their hit TV shows.  And that’s when things got interesting.  The TV series were clearly geared more towards the kids.  Some cynics may argue that this was done so we kids could pester our parents for the toys once they hit the market.  But the movies were a completely different story.  I think a combination of having a bit more leeway through the medium of film and having to maintain the interest of the adults bringing their children to see said films inspired or compelled the companies to insert a bit more seriousness, emotion, and even more mature themes into the theatrical films.

This article is going to focus on the adult/mature themes added to what I consider to be the three biggest animated films of this genre:  He-Man and She-Ra:  The Secret of the Sword, G.I. Joe:  The Movie, and Transformers: The Movie.

He-Man and She-Ra:  The Secret of the Sword

“Fabulous secret powers were revealed to me the day I held aloft my magic sword and said, ‘By the power of Grayskull!’”—Prince Adam

If you’re of my generation, the preceding quotation is probably pretty familiar to you.  For those of you not in the know, the premise of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was, as all of these series were, a tale of the battle between good and evil.  Evil, in this case, was represented by the wicked sorcerer, Skeletor, a blue skinned being whose face was literally a skull, as he plotted to conquer the planet of Eternia under the rule of King Randor.  Fighting him all the way was He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe, and the alter-ego of Prince Adam.

The movie and associated TV series were created by Filmation under the auspices of Lou Scheimer who made several successful animated shows during the 1980s.  Scheimer was also known for working on a shoestring budget.  To save costs, he often used the same cels repeatedly and used a tiny cast of voice actors.  He knew how to stretch a dollar because a little went a mighty long way in his shows.

The Secret of the Sword served two purposes.  The first was to say good-bye to He-Man as this movie essentially brought an end to his TV series, though it would continue to air for another six months on TV.  The second was to introduce the character of She-Ra:  Princess of Power.  As toy powerhouse, Mattel, was now going to focus on this toyline, Scheimer had to follow suit and focus on a new TV series.

Thanks to the power of YouTube, I was able to rewatch this film for this article and was surprised at the maturity (some realized and some unrealized) and darkness that was put into this script.

The movie holds up fairly well, though the final half hour feels like padding.  The plot is that the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull has a dream about a child being kidnapped and then a sword that looks remarkably like Adam’s except for a jewel in its center begins to hover and glow before opening a portal doorway.  The Sorceress sends Adam through the portal to find the person destined to hold the sword.

Adam and his cowardly talking tiger, Cringer (who becomes the courageous Battle Cat when zapped by the magic of the Sword of Power) go through the doorway and find themselves in Etheria, a planet ruled by the despot Hordak, a shapeshifting warrior, and his Evil Horde.  Immediately, Adam/He-Man finds himself aiding the Great Rebellion to overthrow Hordak and comes face to face with Hordak’s Force Captain, Adora, who just happens to be the person destined to hold the Sword of Protection.

He-Man learns that Adora genuinely believes the Horde to be the rightful, benevolent rulers of Etheria due to a combination of seclusion inside the Fright Zone and the spells of Hordak’s witch, Shadow Weaver, which make her compliant to Hordak.  However, the presence of the Sword of Protection and her seeing the cruelty of the Horde with her own eyes begin to weaken Hordak’s hold over her.

Ultimately, the Sorceress, through the Sword of Protection, tells Adora that He-Man is her brother and that she has a special destiny “for the honor of Grayskull”.  Once Adora holds up her sword and utters that phrase, she becomes She-Ra, forever breaking Hordak’s grip on her.

From there, the movie follows the standard formula.  The two heroes learn that they are twin siblings.  When they were babies, Hordak attempted to conquer Eternia, but was driven away by King Randor and his troops.  To harm the royal family, Hordak attempted to kidnap the children of Randor and his queen, Marlena, though he only escaped with Adora.  The Sorceress blocked the memory of that event from the minds of everyone except herself, Randor, Marlena, and Man-At-Arms (Randor’s chief scientist and head of the guards).  From there, it’s the tearful reunion with the parents, She-Ra learning about her powers, and, finally, a bittersweet ending where She-Ra opts to stay in Etheria to overthrow Hordak instead of living in Eternia.

Unlike the next 2 films, there is not a lot of mature subject matter in this film, but it is there.  Most importantly is the role of good and evil.  On Eternia, good is the dominant force as the heroes manage to keep Skeletor and his goons in check and the world is ruled by a goodly king.  But on Etheria, evil is the dominant force as the Horde rules the planet.

Because evil rules the land you have a much more compelling villain in Hordak.  Skeletor was depicted as powerful and cunning, but usually incompetent as his plans never succeeded.  Hordak is clearly far more capable as he rules Etheria with an iron fist.

Another mature theme and one I think the movie could have developed to much greater detail is the relationship between the hero and the villain.  On Eternia, He-Man is Skeletor’s greatest nemesis.  But on Etheria, while Hordak clearly hates She-Ra, his personal war is with Adora.

Hordak considers Adora a traitor and for a reason far more powerful than her turning on him and joining the Rebellion.  Early in the movie, when Hordak’s control over Adora weakens, Shadow Weaver attempts to strengthen the spell and is threatened by Adora.  Weaver calmly tells Adora, “Surely you would not harm me, Adora.  Am I not like a mother to you?”  And that is a telling moment.

Shadow Weaver and Hordak raised Adora.  A great deal of who she is is the result of their upbringing.  Hordak doesn’t consider Adora a traitorous soldier. He considers her a traitorous daughter which is a very compelling motive for hatred and one which deserved much deeper exploration.

The next mature theme is the depiction of the real identities of the two heroes.  In order to preserve his secret, Adam often pretends to be lazy and a goof (a burden which I may write about another day).  Adora has the advantage of not having to play a role to protect her secret.  Yes, she keeps her identity under wraps so it cannot be used against her or her friends, but Adora has instant credibility as Hordak’s former Force Captain, so she is immediately accepted as a capable and courageous soldier.

The last adult theme is the ending.  This film has a very sad ending.  After finding his sister, He-Man essentially loses her again as she decides she must remain on Etheria until the Horde has been defeated.  After they bid their farewells, He-Man turns to face the viewer and a single tear rolls down his cheek.  That is the moment I always remembered and it is still pretty powerful.

I actually enjoyed watching this movie a lot more than I thought I would.  It awoke a bit of the kid in me and the adult in me really appreciated the little things the film tried to do to be palatable to the grown-ups.  I must also admit that the movie’s theme is still pretty catchy.

G.I. Joe:  The Movie

“Yo, Joe!!”

That simple battle cry opened up every single episode of the TV series, G.I. Joe and the movie’s plot followed that of the series.  G.I. Joe is a covert military organization dedicated to stopping the terrorist group, COBRA, from conquering the world.

I was never a huge fan of the series, though I did watch a fair number of episodes and I also thoroughly enjoyed the movie as a lad.  The film not only has its own great theme, but it was considerably darker than anything ever tackled in the TV series.  Originally, this film was set to be a theatrical release, but delays in production plus the subsequent financial failure of Transformers:  The Movie caused Sunbow and Hasbro to release this film direct to video.  The film was also bolstered by some star power of its day as Don Johnson voiced Lt. Falcon and the legendary Burgess Meredith voiced Golobulus, the founder of COBRA and ruler of Cobra-La.

The dominant theme of the film was broken families and the dysfunction and healing thereof.  This theme was actually mirrored on both sides of the conflict.  On the side of G.I. Joe, the broken family theme was reflected in Lt. Falcon and Duke, G.I. Joe’s second in command and field leader.  The two were half-brothers, but had an icy relationship.  Duke promised their mother he would watch out for Falcon, but Falcon was hard-headed and a loner and didn’t care much for Duke’s dedication to duty.

On COBRA’s side, the broken family motif was exemplified by Cobra Commander, the one time leader and current second in command of COBRA, and Golobulus.  Cobra Commander had been a favored son of Cobra-La and a top scientist.  After an experiment with mutating spores disfigured him (thus explaining why he always wore a hood or faceplate), he was sent into the outside world to lead COBRA to world domination.  His numerous failures caused him to lose favor with Golobulus and his punishment was to be fully mutated by the spores.

In Falcon’s case, he committed dereliction of duty and Duke pleaded for leniency.  Falcon’s punishment was to be sent to the Slaughterhouse (headed and voiced by Sgt Slaughter) to be re-educated.

As Cobra Commander slowly devolved, he would end up turning on COBRA and helping G.I. Joe in the final assault on Cobra-La.  Falcon would learn what it meant to be part of a team, though it would come at a high cost.

The plot that bound all of this together was G.I. Joe attempting to stop Golobulus from devolving the planet with his mutating spores.

As I previously stated, this film was considerably darker than any episode of the TV series, not only because of the broken families theme, but because of the fate of some of the characters.

Really, the most tragic fate befell Cobra Commander.  As he loses his humanity to the spores, he finally begins to show a spark of it.  We finally get to see his true face in both a flashback, as it shows him before the accident which gave him multiple eyes, and after his faceplate falls off after his punishment as he slowly devolves into a cobra.  There is something truly sad about watching his humanity slip away with his final words being, “Was a man.  Was a man.”  And, yet, he even gets a bit of redemption when, as a full cobra, he finally gets one up on Serpentor, COBRA’s leader, when he prevents him from killing a Joe member.

The other tragedy befell Duke.  During a fight, Falcon is at the mercy of Serpentor before Duke leaps into the fray and engages in a brief, but furious struggle with the Cobra emperor.  In the melee, Serpentor tries to launch a snake spear into Falcon, but Duke dives in the way and takes the spear.  Duke slips into a coma and the team mourns him.  Later it ends happily as we’re told he’s come out of the coma, but it was not originally meant to be this way.

As I earlier stated, this was originally set to be a theatrical release, but delays caused it to be beaten to the punch by Transformers: The Movie.  In the original script, Duke was actually supposed to die.  Woah!!  Now that was serious subject matter for a kid’s flick.  However, when a pivotal character in the Transformers film died, the resulting backlash caused Hasbro to pull the plug on Duke’s death.  They did not reanimate the scenes.  In fact, if you watch the scene where we’re told Duke wakes up from the coma, the reactions of the characters and the music don’t seem to sync up with the good news.  They were actually told he had just died.  A funeral scene was set to take place before the final battle, but it was edited out.  Though I must admit the idea of Falcon and Duke bonding at his death would have packed a better emotional punch.

Aside from the dark fates of the two characters and the broken family motif, this movie was also a bit rougher than the series.  The fights were a little more brutal.  Blood was drawn.  There is even a scene where Falcon pokes out one of Golobulus’ eyes with a wand.  Granted, you don’t see the poke, just its aftermath.  Still this movie did show, that a film could be made that appealed to the kids and could keep the interest of adults.

Transformers:  The Movie

“It’s over, Prime.”—Megatron

This was probably the most ominous sentence ever heard by a kid from my era as it signaled the death of one of the greatest heroes of 80s cartoons.

I was quite surprised to learn that this movie was a box office failure because it has emerged as a cult classic.  This film got everything right from its awesome theme to its almost dystopian flavor to the bud of hope at the end.

The premise of Transformers was simple:  a race of sentient, alien robots are engaged in a civil war and both sides have the ability to transform into vehicles or weapons.  The plot of the film is that the universe is endangered by Unicron, a planet sized Transformer who eats planets.  Desperately the Autobots search for a way to stop this ultimate foe while still fending off the attacks of the evil Decepticons.

The filmmakers didn’t pull any punches with this film.  It took a budget of $6 million (almost six times the cost of a single 30 minute episode) and a period of two years to create this classic.  This film also packed a powerhouse cast including Robert Stack, Eric Idle, Casey Kasem, Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Lionel Stander, and the final performances of Scatman Crothers and Orson Welles who voiced Unicron.  Despite having his voice electronically altered and boosted due to his failing health, Welles still had that incredible presence which was essential for a living planet.

The movie wastes no time establishing its maturity as one of the first scenes shows the Decepticons slaughtering a group of Autobots.  And slaughtering is indeed the proper word.  As you can see from this clip, the deaths were quite violent.

The movie was notable for two things:  the dropping of the S word by Spike Witwicky after he and Bumblebee failed to destroy Unicron (another mature item) and the death of Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots.

I cannot stress just how big of an event Prime’s death was.   I remember trailers of the film asking, “Does Optimus Prime die?”  Nobody thought he would die.  Optimus Prime was the man.  He was one of the coolest characters on TV, a true and noble leader, and the Autobots’ best warrior.  One of the best moments of the film is when he single-handedly and systematically dismantles the Decepticons to stop their invasion of Autobot City.  Then he finally has the full blown battle with Megatron which leads to them killing each other.

When Prime actually died on the operating table, you could hear a pin drop in the movie theater.  That’s how serious we kids took it.

Hasbro was unprepared for the backlash resulting from Prime’s death.  The reason all of these Transformers were killed was that Hasbro was planning on releasing a new line of them and they were making room for them which would include a new Autobot leader.  They severely underestimated the love kids had for Optimus Prime.  They were flooded with angry calls and letters from parents and fans.  So severe was the backlash that Hasbro was forced to eventually resurrect Prime in the TV series.

After Prime’s death, the movie focuses on a combo coming of age/redemption story.  The character of Hot Rod felt incredibly guilty for being indirectly responsible for Prime’s death and sought to expiate that guilt.  He redeems himself by stepping up in the war and in battling Unicron and completes his story arc by being selected by the Matrix of Leadership and with the blessing of Optimus to become the Autobots’ new leader:  Rodimus Prime.

I actually own this movie and it is still as good now as it was back then and is a shining example that animation can be used to not only tell a powerful story, but one that can be enjoyed by kids and adults.

In the end I think the adulting of these cartoons actually serve as a metaphor for life.  When we were children, we enjoyed the things of children.  As we grew up, our tastes evolved and changed as did our experiences of the world and these movies represent that evolution with the heavier thematic material.  And ultimately we say good-bye (well, mostly) to the things of our youth just like the good-byes made in these films.  Still it is nice that with these movies, we can go back in time, reclaim a bit of our childhood, and see it with a new understanding granted by life and experience.

My Enemy, My Friend

One of my favorite TV shows is a science fiction series called Doctor Who.  For those of you unfamiliar with the show, the series shares the adventures of a mysterious time traveler known only as the Doctor.  He is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey who travels through time and space in his time machine, the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space), fighting evil.

The show is wildly popular in England where it enjoyed a 27 year run from 1963 to 1989 and a revived run that began in 2005.  The secret of the show’s success is due in no small part to the Doctor’s ability of regeneration.  When his body gets too old or suffers a fatal injury, he can repair all of his cells which cause him to assume a new form complete with a new personality, though his genius intellect and core values always remain intact.

While the Doctor has many iconic enemies I’ve always had a particular affinity to his greatest foe, the Master.  The Master is a fellow Time Lord whose intelligence surpasses that of the Doctor.  The two were best friends in their childhood, though the Master’s insanity and his desire to dominate sent their friendship off the rails at some unknown point.  The two have shared a very complex relationship that has altered dramatically over the years and I’d like to spend this article analyzing that relationship.

When the Master was first introduced in Terror of the Autons, it was clear that he and the Doctor had crossed swords before.  The Third Doctor (played by Jon Pertwee) summed up the Master (played by Roger Delgado) well when he said, “All he ever does is cause trouble”.  The episode did a brilliant job rapidly building up the relationship between the Doctor and the Master.

The two are definitely foes and rivals, but I wouldn’t exactly call them enemies.  Remnants of their past friendship still exist as the Doctor clearly respects the Master’s intelligence and the Master respects the Doctor’s tenacity and resourcefulness best demonstrated when he said, “He (the Doctor) is truly a worthy opponent.  I admire him in many ways.”  The two easily engage in civil conversation and smoothly join forces to stop the much greater threat of the Nestene consciousness.

While I wouldn’t call them enemies, per se, rest assured that this version of the Master was certainly a dangerous man.  He killed without hesitation and had no issue with killing the Doctor, though “not without considerable regret” which clearly indicates a remembrance of friendship past and the fact that he does enjoy the intellectual challenge presented by the Doctor.

Arguably this first version of the long war between the Doctor and the Master was the best and due largely to the amazing chemistry between Delgado and Pertwee who happened to be real life best friends.  Indeed their real life friendship adds dimension to the dynamic between the Doctor and Master, especially their past friendship.

So popular was Delgado as the Master that he appeared in every episode of his first season on Doctor Who and would return to plague the Doctor repeatedly over future seasons.  This Master’s greatest weaknesses were his arrogance and his inability to think outside the box.  His plans were incredibly brilliant, but if you found that one lynchpin and tugged, they all fell apart.  And the Doctor, whose thinking always skipped the box, was always able to find the one hole in the Master’s machinations.

The creators of the series definitely had an end game in mind for the Master.  Originally, Delgado was to have appeared in Pertwee’s final season in a story entitled The Final Game in which the Master would have died saving the Doctor and it would have been revealed that the two were actually brothers.  Sadly, Delgado perished in a car accident prior to the final season.  So hard did Pertwee take Delgado’s death that he nearly didn’t return for his last season and only did so after intense persuasion.

In one of those unusual twists of fate, Delgado’s death actually saved the life of the Master who would vanish for a few years before returning to engage the Doctor in battle once more.

It would be 4 years before the Master and the Doctor fought once more and things had really changed between them.  For starters, the Doctor was now in his fourth incarnation (played by Tom Baker) and the Master was now hideously disfigured, looking like a withered skeleton.  For another thing, there was no longer any semblance of friendship between the Doctor and the Master when they met again in The Deadly Assassin and they were definitely mortal enemies.

Delgado’s death forced the writers to create new motivations for the Master.  The disfigurement was used to explain why the Master no longer looked like Delgado (it was the Delgado body, but his face had been shot by the Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan, which added a further dimension to their eternal war).  It was also decided that the Master was now in his thirteenth life which is the last in the life cycle of a Time Lord.  Instead of seeking domination, the Master was now desperately searching for a way to survive.  But if he were going to die, he was going to make sure that the Doctor joined him and that he was thoroughly humbled before doing so.

Limited by a mask, the BBC needed an actor with a powerful presence and awesome speaking voice for the role and they did well when they chose Peter Pratt for the part.

The Pratt/Baker dynamic was decidedly different from the Delgado/Pertwee version.  While there was still an undercurrent of friendship between Delgado and Pertwee, there was none but the tiniest kernel between Pratt and Baker.  Baker’s Doctor expressed admiration for the Master’s brilliance while Pratt’s Master acknowledged that “the Doctor is never more dangerous than when the odds are against him”.

Their conversations have a hard and bitter edge and Pratt’s Master would kill the Doctor with the greatest pleasure while Delgado’s Master would have done so reluctantly.  I also appreciated that they decided to drop the idea about their being brothers (though the idea would be teased again before being buried once and for all in the revived series) as that is too common of a trope.

The Master would temporarily extend his life through his machinations in this episode and would return to haunt Baker’s Doctor in his last season in the role, though this time he would be played by Geoffrey Beevers in Baker’s penultimate episode The Keeper of Traken.

This episode would introduce Delgado’s permanent replacement, Anthony Ainley who bore more than a passing resemblance to the late actor.  Ainley’s appearance would also alter the dynamic between the Doctor and the Master once again as the evil Time Lord finally achieved survival by using the powers of Traken’s keepership to steal the body of Tremas, an ally of the Doctor’s, to cheat his imminent death.

Ainley’s Master didn’t hide in the shadows as he returned in the very next episode, Logopolis, which was Baker’s final appearance as the Fourth Doctor.  Now assured of his survival, Ainley’s Master brought back the desire to dominate exhibited by Delgado’s Master, but still retained his need to humiliate and kill the Doctor introduced by Pratt’s Master.  Indeed, this need to embarrass the Doctor before eradicating him would often prove his undoing as it bought the Doctor enough time to wreck the Master’s plans.

However, Ainley’s first appearance as the Master was impressive as he finally obtained a victory over the Doctor, albeit a pyrrhic one.  The Doctor managed to foil the Master’s primary plan of conquering Earth through the threat of its destruction by entropy, but the Master finally “killed” the Doctor when he sent him careening off of a scaffold which triggered his regeneration into his fifth life (played by Peter Davison).

Anthony Ainley would continue to challenge the Doctor throughout the remainder of the original series retaining nearly the same dynamic as that introduced in Logopolis.  The only changes were in the actor playing the Doctor and the fact that the Master had now developed an ability to cheat death not unlike the Joker of the Batman comics, though, in the Master’s case, it was never explained how he escaped certain death every time he came back.

Ainley was often accused of overacting, though I think the worst he could be accused of was being a little broad.  I personally don’t share that sentiment as most of his “overacting” was actually at the behest of the directors.  Even then, Ainley would be able to muster an exceptional performance given the right script.

Some of Ainley’s best Master performances include his appearance in The Five Doctors where he shows signs of the friendship he once shared with the Doctor when he agrees to rescue the Doctor’s incarnations in exchange for a full pardon of his crimes and a new life cycle (the latter being of more interest than the former).  His exchanges with the First, Third, and Fifth Doctors are well worth the watch especially with the slight changes in attitude he adopts with each Doctor.  Another good performance is in Peter Davison’s penultimate episode, Planet of Fire, noted for teasing the idea that the Doctor and the Master were brothers.  His two appearances with the Sixth Doctor (played by Colin Baker)in The Mark of the Rani and the final two episodes of the season long The Trial of a Time Lord are also noteworthy due to the fact that his villainy was well matched by Baker’s blustering arrogant blowhard of a Doctor.

But without question, his best episode was in the original series’ final episode, Survivial, where he faced off against the Seventh Doctor (played by Sylvester McCoy).  Once more the Master had returned to simply trying to survive as he was losing his sense of self as he slowly changed into a Cheetah person due to being trapped on their planet.

What made this conflict so good was that he was facing a darker version of the Doctor who could scheme and manipulate as well or better than he could, but it was also the only time he got to play the Master the way he wanted to do it.  Ainley played the Master with a subtle, understated menace that he had often attempted in other episodes before being directed to be broader with his performance.  The restraint of his performance made his Master the deadliest he had ever been.

Alas, this episode marked the end of a series for a long while.  An attempt was made by the United States to revive the series in 1996 when a telemovie was made by Fox and starred Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor and Eric Roberts in the role of the Master.

Though the movie failed to restart the series, it did give us another chapter in the neverending conflict between the two Time Lords.  The only real change in their dynamic was that this Master decided to forego the humiliation of the Doctor, instead embarking on a plan to steal the Doctor’s remaining lives which included the ingestion of a super deathworm (read The Eight Doctors to fill in the gaps left open by the film), then allowing himself to be captured and executed by the Daleks (arguably the Doctor’s other great nemeses), which would pass his life essence on to the deathworm which would then possess the Doctor.  Things went awry causing the Master worm to usurp the body of a EMT and then attempt to steal the Doctor’s lives using the TARDIS’ power source, the Eye of Harmony.  What was particularly notable about this battle was that the Master finally died when he was sucked into the Eye of Harmony.

But something as ordinary as death could never stop the Master.

Twelve years later the Master would finally return to war with the Doctor once more in the third season of the revived TV series.  In the revived series it was revealed that the Doctor was now the last of his people as the Time Lords waged a war with the Daleks that was so devastating in nature that the Doctor was forced to destroy both sides as the Last Great Time War threatened to annihilate the universe.

The Tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant, still carried the weight of the war on his shoulders.  While he was mostly a happy go lucky adventurer who would dive into the fray with an “Allonsy!!”, he also carried a dark edge and granted no second chances to his enemies.  In his second season, a friend known as the Face of Boe told the Doctor, “You are not alone.”

This cryptic message would be explained when the Doctor met Professor Yana (played by Derek Jacobi) in Utopia.  Yana was a brilliant, kindly, somewhat doddering old man who complained of a constant drumbeat in his head.  Eventually, it was revealed that Yana was actually the Master (who had been resuscitated by the Time Lords with a new life cycle to fight in the Time War) who had made himself a human to hide from the Time War.  The Face of Boe’s message referred to Yana’s name (You Are Not Alone).

When Yana finally regained his Time Lord nature, it made for one of the most brilliant moments of the series as Jacobi changed on the turn of a dime from the friendly professor to the epitome of evil.  I truly wish Jacobi had a few more turns as the Master because he was brilliant.  So cold blooded and murderous.  Regrettably, he only got to be the Master for a few minutes as he was shot and killed by his assistant whom he had just electrocuted.  However, the Master regenerated into a younger body (played by John Simm) and really changed the dynamic of their war.

Tennant’s Doctor wanted nothing more than to end their war since they were now the only two Time Lords left, but Simm’s Master was a more maniacal version of Delgado’s take.  Once more, he wanted to dominate and best the Doctor, but he also served as a twisted mirror image to the Doctor as he mimicked his foe’s sense of humor and even began using a laser screwdriver, aping the Doctor’s reliance on his sonic screwdriver.

Of course, this Master still wanted to humiliate the Doctor and nearly defeated him as he suspended the Doctor’s ability to regenerate causing him to age into his true years rapidly and began treating him like the family dog.

Ultimately, the Doctor would turn the tables on the Master and he would be fatally shot by his wife.  This Master actually got an emotional victory over the Doctor by refusing to regenerate so he wouldn’t be the Doctor’s prisoner.  Knowing that his death would wound the Doctor, he smugly remarked, “What do you know?  I win.”

Simm’s Master would return to battle Tennant’s Doctor in the latter’s final two episodes as the Doctor which altered the dynamic even further.  In the two part, The End of Time, the Master was resurrected by a coven, but was sabotaged by his wife, resulting in a failing body with electropowers like Emperor Palpatine and an extreme hunger for flesh.  It also gave a reason for the Master’s insanity as the neverending drumbeat in his head which drove him crazy was actually an implant from the Time Lords in an attempt to pull Gallifrey (and the Time War) into the present day.

It seemed as though the Master and the Doctor had finally reached the end of their personal conflict as the Doctor spared the Master’s life (killing him would have returned Gallifrey to its proper place) and the Master repaid the favor by protecting the Doctor from Gallifrey’s president, Rassillon, and finally exacting his revenge for the lifelong torment he had undergone due to his machinations and getting sucked back into the Time War.

But it wasn’t over yet.

The Master would return nearly 4 years later and things really got turned on their head.

The Master had escaped from Gallifrey and had regenerated into the body of a woman now calling herself the Mistress or Missy.  Remarkably essayed by Michelle Gomez, Missy has the insane, murderous nature of her predecessor, but has an attitude towards the Doctor similar to Delgado’s Master.  She’d kill him if she had to, but now she’s more bent on showing the Doctor that the two of them aren’t so different because as she states, “I want my friend back.”  Like Pertwee & Delgado, Gomez and Peter Capaldi (the Twelfth and current Doctor) have an amazing chemistry.  I also like the role reversal as Missy is the lighthearted character while Capaldi’s Doctor is more of an irritable crab.  Also, like Delgado’s Master, Missy has plagued the Doctor in each of Capaldi’s seasons.

And this brings us up to the present day.  Sadly both Capaldi and Gomez have announced their departure from the series at the end of this season, but it promises to go out with a bang as this season will feature the first multi-Master storyline with John Simm returning to the role to team up with Missy.  I will be interested in seeing if the Master gets along any better with himself/herself than the Doctor does with his other selves.

The Master and the Doctor have had a most unique relationship over the nearly 40 year run of the series.  They’ve been friends, foes, blood enemies, allies, and frenemies.  It will be interesting to see what the series has up its sleeve when the Doctor (perhaps even the Thirteenth Doctor) meets the next version of the Master in the next chapter of their war.

Give Kay & Ryan a Helping Hand

Kay & Ryan McGuigan are two of my closest friends.  I met Kay when I did my very first show in theatre and she has been a bedrock of support as I struggled through this business.  Through her I met Ryan whom I bonded with over a love of the Beatles.

This past weekend, Kay was diagnosed with colon and liver cancer and she, Ryan, and their lovely family really need your help.  Both are self-employed and have needed to put work on hold to focus on Kay’s health.  To help with day to day expenses a GoFundMe page has been set up and the link is below.

https://www.gofundme.com/support-for-ryan-and-kay-mcguigan

Please make a donation and then share the post on social media to help these truly wonderful people.

I thank you for your charity.

 

 

Doug Needs You

Local Omaha playwright (and a friend of mine), Doug Marr, needs a helping hand.

Over the past year, Doug has had some health issues which have resulted in 5 surgeries and a sinful amount of out of pocket expenses.  His daughter, Emma, has set up a YouCaring drive to collect money for these expenses.  If you can give Doug a helping hand, please click on the below link to make a donation.

https://www.youcaring.com/douglasmarr-756430

I thank you for your time and generosity.

The New Year Starts with ‘The Sound of Music’

Omaha, Neb. (December 14, 2016)  The lavish new production of The Sound of Music, directed by three-time Tony Award winner Jack O’Brien will make its Omaha premiere January 24-29 at the Orpheum Theater as part of Omaha Performing Arts’ Broadway Series.  Tickets, starting at $25, are now available at the Ticket Omaha box office located inside the Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas Street, by calling 402-345-0606 or online at TicketOmaha.com

The Sound of Music features music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, suggested by The Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp.  This new production is directed by Jack O’Brien (credits include Hairspray, The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Coast of Utopia), choreographed by Danny Mefford (Fun Home, The Bridges of Madison County and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) and music supervision by Andy Einhorn (Bullets Over Broadway, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Brief Encounter, The Light in the Piazza).  The design and production team is comprised of Douglas W. Schmidt, set design (Tony Award nominee, 42nd Street, Into the Woods); Jane Greenwood, costume design (2014 recipient of the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre), Natasha Katz, lighting design (Five-time Tony Award Winner:  An American in Paris, Once, Aida, The Coast of Utopia, The Glass Menagerie) and Ken Travis, sound design (Aladdin, Newsies, Memphis).  Casting by Telsey + Company/Rachel Hoffman, CSA.

According to director Jack O’Brien, “The Sound of Music has been in our ears for decades, as it deserves to be.  But it might be time to look once more, and more closely, at this remarkable work which, I feel, begins to reveal itself as deeper, richer, and more powerful than ever.  It’s no longer ‘your mother’s’ familiar Sound of Music.  We are tearing off the varnish of the past from one of the great glories of our theatergoing experience and making it fresh!  This is an opportunity to create!”

Producer Beth Williams (Grove Entertainment) said, “It’s a great privilege to bring this beloved Rodgers & Hammerstein musical to theaters across North America.  We hope that people of all ages will continue to fall in love with it for the first time, or all over again, and that it will truly become on e of their ‘favorite things.’  From our distinguished team led by the creative master Jack O’Brien, audiences can expect a truly magnificent production of The Sound of Music.”

In the words of Ted Chapin, President of Rodgers & Hammerstein, “The Sound of Music continues to be the world’s most beloved musical.  When a major national tour was suggested, I not only agreed, but was willing to roll up my sleeves and do whatever i could to fashion a new stage production that would re-engage today’s theatergoing public.  The show was originally created for Broadway, and seeing it on stage only reinforces the power of the story and the score.  And with Jack O’Brien at the directorial helm–well, we simply couldn’t do better.  Landing somewhere between The Coast of Utopia and Hairspray (shows for which Jack won the Tony), his production is smart, focused, and surprising.”

The Sound of Music enjoyed extraordinary success as the first live television production of a musical in over 50 years when The Sound of Music Live! aired on NBC in December 2013; 2015 marked the 50th anniversary of the film version, which continues to be the most successful movie musical in history.  The sprited, romantic and beloved musical story of Maria and the Von Trapp Family will once again thrill audiences with such songs as My Favorite Things, Do-Re-Mi, Climb Ev’ry Mountain, Edelweiss, and the title song.

The Sound of Music will play Omaha’s Orpheum Theater at 7:30pm on Jan 24-26, 8pm on Jan 27-28, 2pm on Jan 28, 1:30pm on Jan 29, and 7pm on Jan 29.

For more information, please visit www.ticketomaha.com or www.TheSoundOfMusicOnTour.com, www.facebook.com/TheSoundOfMusic, www.twitter.com/SoundOfMusic, www.instagram.com/SoundOfMusicOnTour