Bitter Fruit

A mother and her genius, but ill-mannered, son relocate to Crested Butte, CO to begin a new life.  Running parallel paths, the mother begins to find happiness once again while the son takes a step towards living life for the very first time.  But an insatiable need to know may tear both of their lives asunder.  This is Wildflower by Lila Rose Kaplan and is currently playing at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

While Ms Kaplan’s script is interesting in some respects, it suffers from the flaw of not being a strong narrative.  By that I mean there really isn’t an arc to this play.  It’s really vignettes of the lives of the characters of this show.

Where the writing excels is in the characters themselves.  Not only are the characters fully formed people, but they have distinctive and well developed arcs with plenty of meat in which actors can sink their teeth.  The powerful characters help to cover the fact that the overall story lacks a unifying core.

Lara Marsh is a bit of auteur with this production as she not only directs, but also designed the set and helped to design the sounds.  Her direction is tight and sure.  Each character gets its fair due and chance to shine and Ms Marsh knows how to maximize each climax and resolution in the interrelationships of these characters.  Her staging is admirable with the entire blackbox being utilized and her mastery in crafting emotional moments cannot be argued.  She also gets thoroughly capable performances out of her cast.

Solid supporting performances are supplied by Francisco Franco and Jarod Cernousek.  As Mitchell, Franco plays a former burlesque performer turned hotel owner/chef who dispenses wise advice and has found peace in his life in the most extraordinary way.  Cernousek’s James is a forest ranger with a power complex and the rod up his back has a rod up its back which I’m pretty certain has a rod up its back.

Aaron Sorilla is exceptional in his performance as Randolph.  Randolph is a high functioning autistic and Sorilla does truly wonderful work in communicating the aspects of autism such as his focus on self, rudeness, fixations, and a bit of a sing-song cadence to his speaking patterns.  His timing is excellent and he knows how to elicit a good laugh from a line.  But he also handles the drama side of the role equally well.  There is a real tragedy to his character as he is unable to understand emotion and his literal nature means everything needs to be spelled out to him in excruciating detail.  And that need to know leads him down a treacherous path.

Jocelyn Reed plays Erica, Randolph’s mother.  Ms Reed does a good job of encasing Erica’s core of sadness in a bubbly personality.  The bubblyness is not a put on.  It’s more like if Erica focuses on being happy, then she’ll forget the sadness which is always threatening to rear its ugly face.  This is a person who has had a rough go of things.  It’s implied she was in an emotionally abusive marriage from which she is trying to recover and while she loves her son, Ms Reed’s body language conveys the sense that she sometimes feels chained to him due to his special needs.  Indeed, as a loving mother, she makes sacrifices to her own happiness for the sake of her son.  But her shining moment is when we get to see her exude utter joy when her son forms a special friendship with a girl.  Not only is she happy for him, but she is happy for herself as she sees the possibilities that each of them can live their own life.

Hannah Davis makes her acting debut as Astor and does quite well in her first outing.  There’s a lot of fun to this character.  One is never certain if she is also a high functioning autistic or just very immature due to a combination of an odd upbringing and her own exceptional intelligence.  She comes off as much younger than 16 especially when she’s bossing Erica around in the visitor’s center and engaging in childish arguments with Randolph.  Yet she has startling moments of pseudo-sophistication and clearly has the longings of a young girl coming of age due to her wanting intimacy so she isn’t inexperienced when she shortly heads off to college.  While Ms Davis’ character foundation is rock solid, I think she has the leeway to amp up what’s she’s doing a notch or two.

Lara Marsh has provided a simple, but effective set for the production with a counter full of brochures, seeds, and flowers for the visitor’s center and a rolling counter for Mitchell’s kitchen.  Kendra Newby’s costumes well suit the personalities of the characters from the perfectly pressed forest ranger’s uniform of James to the too big sports coat (it’s his father’s) of Randolph to the childlike clothing of Astor as well as her beautiful sundress as she comes of age.  Riley Campbell and Craig & Lara Marsh team up for some fantastic sounds such as the hotline’s ringing telephone and the blast of fireworks.  Rebecca Roth’s lights are top of the line especially with the stars of the outdoors and the flash and colors of exploding fireworks.

In spite of a missing centrality to the story, this show is a strong showcase in character work aided by surefire direction.  It’ll make you laugh.  It’ll make you wonder.  It’ll even tug at your heartstrings a little.

Wildflower plays in the Weber Fine Arts Building in Room 006 at the University of Nebraska-Omaha through April 28.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm.  Tickets are free.  Due to adult subject matter and language, this show is recommended for mature audiences.  The University of Nebraska-Omaha is located at 6001 Dodge St in Omaha, NE.

Catch a Whiff of this ‘Wildflower’

The University of Nebraska-Omaha Theatre Department Presents:

Wildflower by Lila Rose Kaplan

Directed by Lara Marsh

Synopsis

A woman and her son look to escape their past in Crested Butte, a small town with its share of secrets. They encounter a curious girl, a forest ranger, and an innkeeper. The five collide in a summer of botany and sexual awakening. Wildflower explores the discovery of desire and its consequences.

Cast

Randolph – Aaron Sorilla
Erica – Jocelyn Reed
Astor – Hannah Davis
James-Jarod Cernousek
Mitchell – Francisco Franco
Performance Dates:  April 24-28 (Wed-Sat at 8pm.  Sun at 2pm.)
Location:  University of Nebraska-Omaha (6001 Dodge St in Omaha, NE) Weber Fine Arts Building, Rom 006
Tickets are free.  Due to explicit language and sexual content, this show is for mature audiences.

Return to the Rising Sun, Day 1: Getting There is Half the Fun

It was a journey 4 years in the making.  After the end of our escapades in Japan (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), my friends, Mat O’Donnell and David Sundberg, and I decided we would one day return to experience it anew.  With Mat’s impending wedding in November, it was decided that the adventure would take place in August 2016.

After months of planning and preparation, the day finally arrived to begin our return to the Land of the Rising Sun.

It takes a lot of time to get to Japan and I mean a LOT of time.  On August 16, Dave and I awoke at 2:30am.  Our first flight of the day would leave at 6:20am.

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Dave is bright eyed and bushy tailed for the day ahead.

My good friend, Jeff Bevirt, picked Dave and I from my home and drove us to Eppley Airfield where we met Dave’s niece, Amy Joy, who would also be joining us on the excursion.

We would be using United Airlines.  This was my first time utilizing their services and it was pretty good all the way around.  When we arrived at the nearly empty airport, a friendly desk agent took our passports and quickly checked us in and checked in Dave’s suitcase.  Using the “gussie” system of packing, I would be checking no luggage so I’d have one less thing to worry about.

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Transportation to Japan provided by United Airlines.

United likes to board early and we started getting on board nearly an hour before our flight started.  I happen to think this is a good business practice as if everyone manages to get onboard early, we can leave a little early which is exactly what happened.

After a brief flight, our little group laid over in Denver for an hour, where we scarfed a quick breakfast from McDonald’s (oh, how I hate to rush a meal) and boarded another plane set to take us to Los Angeles.

At LAX, I made my only miscalculation of the trip.  I decided to change my dollars over to yen while I was there.  I got a pretty good deal, but would learn that I should have waited until I reached Narita International Airport in Japan as they give you a much better deal.  My dough would have netted me an extra 15,000 yen had I waited.  So take my advice, if you go to Japan, always exchange your money at Narita.

We waited through a 2.5 hour layover at LAX before finally beginning the long haul of the trip.  I love to fly, but 12 hours is an awfully long time to be on a plane.  They do their best to distract one with a wide variety of entertainment from movies to music to TV shows.  To pass the time, I read a new Sherlock Holmes pastiche, began a new Nero Wolfe novel, watched a little TV as well as the films Money Monster and Insomnia.

There was something profound about this trip, especially as I was taking it in the daytime and could look out the window.  There’s something deep about looking down on the majesty of the Pacific Ocean and seeing nothing but blue as far as the eye can see.  We also went from day to night to day in a flash as we crossed over to the other side of the planet.  And there was something about flying over the edge of Alaska that put a smile on my face as I looked down upon it.

The food wasn’t too bad on the flight.  United prides itself on its 3 course meals and served us a lunch of teriyaki chicken, rice, vegetable medley, and salad with southwestern rice.  For dessert, they served us a wonderful vanilla bean gelato which was some of best ice cream-type food I have ever eaten.  Before touchdown, they served a breakfast of Udon noodles, though Dave had to be a rebel and order the scrambled eggs.

As I said the journey was long and I only napped for about an hour as excitement fueled my body.  Upon arriving at Narita, we waited for Mat who was delayed as everybody on the planet decided to land at Narita at the same time he did.  This slowed down his going through customs and immigration which my little group blew through in about 15 minutes.

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Japan, I have arrived.

We collected our resident expert, then got our J-Rail passes so we could travel through Japan.  Then we hopped on the Narita Express for a 90 minute journey to Shinjuku to arrive at the first house we would stay at through Air BnB where we met Mat’s friend, Mauricio, and his girlfriend, Allison, who would be joining us on a part of the adventure.

Despite being beyond the point of exhaustion our little group went out to dinner at a place called Pronto’s which is a bar/restaurant.  I normally don’t like to eat late, but one thing I appreciate about Japan is that we share a similar size appetite as all servings in Japan are small.  I had some juicy fried chicken with a splash of lemon.  After dinner we stopped at a mini-mart to get some things for breakfast.  I grabbed an orange juice and some of the famed pancakewiches of Japan.

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Pancakewich

I passed out and I mean passed out on my tatami mat to end this day’s adventures.

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol 3, Day 1: Dope Springs Eternal

It started off as such a lovely day.

The birds were singing.  The sky was sunny.  And there was nary a cloud in the sky.  Yes, it truly was a good day for travel.

Once again I was flying to Arizona.  For my regular readers, you may recall that that the last time I traveled to Arizona, I was working on a deal with the SyFy Network to produce my script, Giraffealanche, as their latest original movie.  Regrettably, I was a bit sidetracked when I was reunited with an unwelcome acquaintance.

In the ensuing months since those escapades, I had ironed out a deal and was now returning to Arizona to watch a rough cut of the film.  This time, I felt certain I would not be bumping into certain individuals who shall remain nameless.

I arrived at the airport and hopped aboard my Southwest Airlines flight.  I found myself seated to a pleasant, elderly gent named John.  He was slightly below average height, had a short crew cut of gray hair, had a stocky build, and dressed very casually.  I found him to be a likable guy and we shot the breeze on many subjects.  I found that also was heading to Arizona to visit family and would be on the same connecting flight as I.

This was one of the smoothest flights I had taken in quite a while.  We left early and made it to Denver, CO in almost precisely an hour.  I had an hour layover between flights so I made a quick visit to Xpress Spa inside the Denver airport for a 20 minute neck and shoulder massage to relieve the tightness in my shoulders and right arm (the unfortunate curse of working at a keyboard all day).

Soon I was flying through the air on another smooth flight and arrived in Phoenix a little early.  As I grabbed my luggage from the carousel, John told me he had a car waiting for him and offered to give me a lift to my hotel.  I readily agreed and we stepped into a waiting limo.

I continued chatting with John as we rode down the interstate.  I happened to glance out the window and I noticed that we were passing Golfland in Mesa, AZ.  I then realized that this route seemed awfully familiar.

“John?” I asked.  “Where are we going?”

Suddenly the driver pressed a button on the dashboard and some distinctive music began to play.  To my mounting horror, John began to sing lyrics with the music.

“He’s Arizona!!  Arizona Mat!!  Arizona!!!  Arizona Mat!!”

The driver removed his hat and shades and turned to look at the both of us, an impish grin playing over his face.  I slowly turned my head to glare at John.  Suppressing my urge to throttle him, I buried my face in my hands and began to weep.  It was Arizona Mat.

For those of you new to this website, I refer you to the archives section for the stories entitled The Arizona Chronicles and The Arizona Chronicles, Vol 2 where I met a supposed explorer named Arizona Mat and his Neanderthal sidekick, Tall Square.  Arizona Mat was so full of himself that I’m surprised he didn’t refer to himself in the third person.  He had a strange love-hate relationship with his lackey, Tall Square.  By that I mean they loved to hate each other.  In fact, the last time I had seen the two of them, Tall Square was chasing Arizona Mat through the Sky Harbor airport.

“There, there,” said Arizona Mat.  “It’s nice to see you again, too.  No need to shed tears of joy.”

Resigning myself to the inevitable, I asked Arizona Mat how he managed to know that I was coming into town.  He explained that Johnny V, indicating John, was an old family friend based out of Omaha, NE.  He had Johnny V keep tabs on me until he knew I would be returning to Arizona.

“Why?” I asked.

“I’m about to make another epic discovery and I need my biographer to document my greatness,” replied Arizona Mat.

I rolled my eyes and asked what had happened to Tall Square.

“As you may recall, that Nordic gorilla was chasing me through the airport.  I tried to duck into a store to escape him, but plowed into some mannequins.  Applying my brilliant brain to the dilemma, I grabbed one of the mannequin arms and persuaded Tall Square to stop.  I told him that I knew he was only upset because he had lost the handshake duel.  I therefore offered him a rematch, but with the caveat that we both have our eyes closed because that allowed one to execute more force.  He agreed and I stuck the mannequin hand into his and made my daring escape.”

“Are you saying. . .” I began.

“Yep,” said Arizona Mat.  “As far as I know, that dummy is still trying to make a dummy submit.”

I rubbed my face and asked why he had “borrowed” me.

“Later, my Boswell.  Later.  Let’s enjoy ourselves for now,” said Arizona Mat.

After settling into his home, Arizona Mat, Johnny V, and myself walked the short distance to the Flaming Kebab for dinner.  I enjoyed a gyro sandwich with a cup of lentil soup and some water.  Arizona Mat feasted on Chicken Kafka, rice, Greek Salad, and iced tea.  Johnny V supped on a gyro platter with rice, Greek Salad, and raspberry tea.  Johnny V, a rather generous sort, paid for our meals.

After the meal we returned to Arizona Mat’s home where we sat around his new fire pit, drinking home brewed root beer, and listening to Arizona Mat regale us with some of his “legendary” adventures.  After finishing up the tale of his rescuing me from a homicidal ex-associate (read The Arizona Chronicles, Vol 2 to find out what really happened), Arizona Mat rubbed his hands with glee and announced it was time to get down to business.

“Have you ever heard of the Voodoo Blue (Woo woo!)?” asked Arizona Mat.

“What on earth is the Voodoo Blue Woo Woo?” I asked.

“I didn’t say the Voodoo Blue (Woo woo!) Woo woo.  I said the Voodoo Blue (Woo woo!)”

“You just did it again.  You keep making this high pitched sound after you say Voodoo Blue.”

“Woo woo!  I’m sorry.  It’s just that I get excited whenever I say or hear the words Voodoo Blue (Woo woo!)  It’s a rare blue diamond that was supposedly forged by a houngan (voodoo priest).  I’ve been researching its history and certain clues have led me to its discovery.  It’s somewhere in Las Vegas, NV.  On Friday, the three of us will drive over there, I’ll discover it, and your masterful writing will make me even more famous than I already am.”

“Have you ever read any of my articles about you?” I asked.

“No.  I’m modest in that way.  But you’re writing about wonderful me, so I’m sure they’re stunning pieces of work.”

“Yes they are,” I said.

So once more I would be joining Arizona Mat on an adventure.  I knew not what the future would bring, but I knew trouble and hilarity probably were not far behind.

The Arizona Chronicles, Day 1–A Journey Begins

The stories you are about to read are true. . .ish.  The events have been embellished where I find humorous.

It’s amazing how a simple event can trigger an adventure.  For instance, it was a wretched day in Omaha.  A horrible cold snap had engulfed the Midwest.  It was Monday morning and the wind chill had made the temperature -25.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t curl up in my nice, warm bed and hit the snooze alarm.

Grumpily, I made my way out to my car.  I stuck the key into the ignition, turned it, and. . .COUGH!!  GURGLE!!  BLURP!! 

Dead battery.

As I prepared to call a tow truck, a voice called out from the darkness.

“Do you need some help?”

I turned around to see a middle aged man, powerfully built, with a mane of red hair, and a Fu Manchu moustache.

“A little,” I admitted.

“I can change this thing in 5 or 10 minutes,” said the stranger.

He had me pop the hood on my car and pulled a set of tools out of his nearby truck.  I’ll be dipped if he didn’t remove my battery in a matter of moments.  We rushed down to the local Wal-Mart to buy a new battery.  That mystical luck that seems to follow me stayed true once more as I got the last battery.  Rushing back to my car, the stranger finished putting in the new battery and my car roared to life after a little coaxing.

As I thanked the stranger, he introduced himself to me as Tall Square.

“Tall Square?  Why do they call you that?”

“I will tell you,” replied Tall Square.  “Because.”

“Because?”

“Because,” he said and nodded solemnly.

I rolled my eyes and invited this peculiar man in for a drink.  He told me that he was the assistant to an explorer known only as Arizona Mat and that he was preparing to meet him in Phoenix for a new exploration.  I told Tall Square that I wrote a blog and asked if Arizona Mat would object to a chronicler.  Tall Square replied that Arizona Mat could use the publicity, so I bought a ticket to Arizona and had Tall Square sack out on my couch that evening.

The next day we headed to the airport to catch a flight on Frontier Airlines.

Yes, I know that I didn’t have too many good things to say about this airline due to their love of fees and not giving any perks unless you purchase directly through them, but they had the best deal and sometimes you’ve got to bite the bullet.  In the short time since I had last flown with them, they had added a new fee.  If you want a seat assigned randomly, it’s free.  But if you want to pick where you sit, it’ll cost you $8.  Yet another reason to try to avoid this airline in the future.

As we finished our security check, a call came over the PA system, asking Tall Square to return to the front counter.  I looked at my companion curiously.  He gave me a shrug and said it probably had something to do with the toy lock he used to keep his suitcase shut.  He went away to the counter and I worked on my laptop.  Nearly thirty minutes had passed until my companion returned.  Tall Square looked a little roughed up.  His right eye was discolored, clothes torn, and he spat out a tooth as he sat down.

“What happened?” I asked.

He muttered something about a badly timed bald joke and proceeded to speak no more.  We boarded the plane for the first leg of our flight to Denver, CO and it was a smooth flight and we got to Denver about 20 minutes early.  I do enjoy flying, but I hate the layovers and we had a nearly three hour layover for this trip.  I do admit there are worse things than being stuck in the Denver airport for three hours.  It is a highly regarded airport with a number of shops and restaurants to keep one occupied.

Tall Square had been sitting a couple rows ahead of me, but when I exited the plane he was nowhere in sight.  As I found the connecting gate for our next flight, I received a text from Tall Square who said he was heading to baggage claim.  Immediately I called my befuddled travel mate and told him to come back here as the airline would move our luggage to the plane for us.  I then got a 20 minute chair massage at A Massage to loosen my cramped shoulders and spent some time doing some research online.

At 4:30, we boarded the plane for our final leg of the flight.  The sun was setting as the plane took off and I realized that I hadn’t flown at night since my escapades to Tokyo, Japan nearly a year and a half ago.  There is something indescribable about seeing a huge metropolis lit up at night that adds a certain enjoyment to flying.   90 minutes later, we landed in Phoenix. 

Tall Square texted Arizona Mat to let him know we had arrived.  He received a text back that said, “Who are you?”  Tall Square replied it was him and that he had brought a writer along who would chronicle his adventures for free.  I was about to vociferously protest working pro bono when Tall Square received a terse, impatient text from Arizona Mat that said, “Well, hurry up.”

Soon afterward, I met Arizona Mat.  He was a stoic man, solidly built, with short, red hair, and about average height.  He thanked me for the free publicity.  Before I could argue about my lack of fee, Arizona Mat offered to buy my dinner, which I grudgingly accepted.  He took Tall Square and myself to Café Rio. 

This Mexican restaurant proudly boasts that it makes everything from scratch and it is the truth as they prepare the food in front of you.  I had a carne beef burrito wrapped in a wheat tortilla while Tall Square and Arizona Mat settled for pork and steak nachos respectively.  It was a tasty meal and I definitely would recommend a visit to it.  Be sure to ask for to go boxes as they don’t skimp on the portions at this place.

Arizona Mat offered to house me for the duration of my visit so I decided to take my fee in trade.  After getting me situated,  he began shooting at me with a Nerf dart gun to “test my reflexes” as he said.  I took 4 darts as I was too tired after my long day to be worth anything.

Arizona Mat clicked his tongue at me and said he hoped I’d do better in the Icy Plunge, whatever that may be.  For now, I’m just ready to hit the hay.

 Join me again tomorrow as I begin documenting the (mis)adventures of this impatient explorer and his unlucky sidekick.