Monday, July 24, 2017

Staunch Women

For all their bullying, bloviating, and bravado, many men are surprisingly weak. In the past, they would boast about their brawn without making much effort to develop their brains. Today we have the "bro" culture, which tends to feed the puffed-up egos of man-boy jocks and nerds whose worldview takes pride in "locker room talk" and often reeks of misogyny.

The pompous and patronizing attitudes that scorned females as hysterical and wives as "the little woman" were memorialized in these songs taken from 1956's My Fair Lady, 1964's Hello, Dolly, 1935's Jumbo, and 1954's Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.








When one examines the constant malfunctioning of the Trump administration (as well as the sheer dickishness of such comic book villains as Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and Steve Bannon), it becomes obvious that powerful men addicted to privilege are often enabled by sycophants desperately trying to protect the fragile egos of vainglorious snowflakes who can easily become rattled in the presence of strong women (Jeff Sessions got all flustered and had a "Mercy me!" meltdown when former prosecutor turned Senator Kamala Harris started to grill him during a Congressional hearing).


Women who are not afraid to speak their minds (Elizabeth Warren, Ana Navarro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Patti LuPone) are not easily subdued. Many in the media took special delight in pointing out that it was three female Republican senators (Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, Maine's Susan Collins, and West Virginia's Shelley Moore Capito) who neatly sabotaged McConnell's recent attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

While many men seem to think that brute strength and the ability to blow things up proves they are stronger than women, the hard truth is that women are often better at thinking on their feet, strategizing for the long term, and making difficult decisions in times of crisis. Don't believe me? Ask any female nurse who has had to rescue a patient from a male physician's poor choices and lack of attention.

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Hailed throughout her life as one of cinema's great beauties, Hedy Lamarr is famous for claiming that “Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.” Her early years on screen were dominated by the controversy over her nude scene in 1933's Ecstasy (filmed when she was only 19 years old).

Hedy Lamarr in a scene from 1939's Lady of the Tropics

Hedy Lamarr in a scene from 1941's Ziegfeld Girl

Whether portraying a tropical temptress in 1942's White Cargo or appearing as an ethereal vision in 1944's The Heavenly Body, Lamarr was often seen as a sex symbol.

Hedy Lamarr in costume for 1942's White Cargo

Hedy Lamarr in a scene from 1944's The Heavenly Body

In 1949, when Lamarr costarred opposite Victor Mature in Samson and Delilah, Edith Head's lavish costumes framed Hedy's body in a way that clearly communicated the seductive powers for which her character had become famous.

Hedy Lamarr co-starred in 1949's Samson and Delilah

Hedy Lamarr co-starred in 1949's Samson and Delilah

In 1957, when the actress appeared as a mystery guest on What's My Line? (a popular panel show), once her identity was revealed, the celebrities on the panel serenaded her with the popular Rodgers & Hart song, "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World." But there was so much more to Hedy Lamarr's life. To be sure, there was plenty of tabloid coverage related to her affairs, marriages, and difficulty on the set. But Lamarr had a secondary career which many people knew nothing about.
In honor of Hedy Lamarr's 101st birthday, Google published a Google Doodle which celebrated her onscreen achievements as well as her work as an inventor.


The 2017 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival features a new documentary written and directed by Alexandra Dean entitled Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story which follows the life of this ravishingly beautiful, formidably intelligent, and highly motivated woman. With Susan Sarandon as its Executive Producer, the film includes interviews with Lamarr's children as well as some fascinating insights from Mel Brooks, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Osborne, and Michael Tilson Thomas. Here's the trailer:


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Benjamin Franklin is famous for claiming that "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Since tax season is over, let's talk about death.
  • For some people death comes early; for others it comes late in life.
  • For some people, death results from a sudden and unexpected event (an automobile accident, heart attack, murder, drug overdose) while, for others, it may mark the sad resolution to a lingering terminal illness.
  • Although some people will do anything to hold on so they can live for "just one more day," others are tired of living and more than willing to quit the planet. They have their reasons.
Religious dogma (wherein suicide is regarded as a sin) often dominates discussions about whether or not people have the right to take their own lives. In most cases, the law is not on their side.
There's just one hitch. In an era when more and more elderly patients struggle with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia in a society that refuses to deal rationally with mental illness, it's much harder for patients who understand that their mental powers are diminishing to take action than it is for people with easily visible physical symptoms.

As part of a National New Play Network rolling world premiere, CentralWorks is presenting the Bay area premiere of Winter, a sobering drama about a family that wants to hold on "just a little bit longer" while they continue to ignore the inconvenient truth about what is happening to the woman who has cared for them throughout much of their lives. Inspired by bioethicist Margaret Pabst Battin’s short story (Robeck) in Ending Life: Ethics & the Way We Die, Julie Jensen's one-act play takes place shortly before Thanksgiving as a family gathers to celebrate and cope with their aging parents.

Annis (Phoebe Moyer) and Robeck (Randall Nakano) are extremely intelligent golden agers who have spent much of their professional lives performing research in academia. Although they long ago agreed on a plan to die together when one of them became unable to lead a fulfilling life, Robeck keeps trivializing his wife's concerns. Annis understands all too well that she is having problems with memory and is terrified by what may lie ahead for her. Unfortunately, her husband is like an absent-minded professor determined to complete his research against all odds.

Randall Nakano (Robeck) and Phoebe Moyer (Annis)
in a scene from Winter (Photo by: Jim Norrena)

Having given the matter plenty of thought, Annis is determined to rise to the occasion while she can. After mapping out a game plan and amassing a reasonable stash of pills, she must recruit someone who will drive her to her final destination so that she can die in peace.
  • Her eldest son, Roddy (John Patrick Moore), has traveled the furthest and, in a rather authoritative way, committed himself to using the Thanksgiving weekend to pack up and ship his parents off to some kind of assisted living facility where they can adjust to a downsized lifestyle.
  • Her youngest son, Evan (Steve Budd), is more concerned with listening to his parents and trying to respect their wishes.
  • Her granddaughter, LD (Julie Kuwabara), may be less mature than Roddy and Evan but is obviously more malleable than the men in the family.
Steve Budd (Evan) and Julie Kuwabara (LD) in
a scene from Winter (Photo by: Jim Norrena)

As the playwright explains:
“When I was ten, my uncle killed himself with a gun. On purpose. He had kids. Dirt poor. I couldn’t help but think his kids were probably better off, because my uncle could not stop drinking. But I had a more complicated response to the whole subject of suicide and a bigger sense of one’s obligation to others. Then I saw Marsha Norman’s play, ‘night, Mother, and thought there had never been a better play about a better subject. I loved Jessie’s matter-of-fact manner. I loved her reasons being her reasons, and there needn’t be more. Personal freedom triumphant, and beautifully written! Now I’ve written Winter and, for me, the two arguments come together. Annis insists on her right to choose and acts on a profound sense of obligation to her family. She wants to leave before she loses her dignity. Wouldn’t we all want that?”
Phoebe Moyer (Annis) and Julie Kurabawa (LD) in a scene from Winter
(Photo by: Jim Norrena)
“Since I first started working on this play, a cousin of mine lived for five years without her memory, her talents, her humor, her words. Her time was as empty as her look. Although her children were caring and diligent, what was left of my cousin’s life defined burden. Can I say she would not have wanted that? Of course I can. She was not allowed to leave before she lost her dignity. This is a very important subject. I wondered about it when my mother was deep into dementia, and I wonder still as I watch the struggles of others. At what point do we lose dignity or become a burden? And most important of all, how do we know when it’s the right time? As Annis says, ‘We must leave before the last possible minute, or else we lose the capacity to make it happen.’”
John Patrick Moore (Roddy) and Steve Budd (Evan)
in a scene from Winter (Photo by: Jim Norrena)

With sound design by Gregory Scharpen, Winter has been directed and lit with loving care by Gary Graves. While Randall Nakano, John Patrick Moore, Steve Budd, and Julie Kuwabara do commendable work in supporting roles, the bulk of the play rests on the shoulders of Phoebe Moyer, a veteran Bay area artist who does an excellent job communicating Annis's vulnerability, practicality, sense of urgency, and determination to take control of her demise. For anyone getting on in years (or who knows someone struggling with a form of mental illness), Jensen's play will trigger plenty of thoughts about the future. Having just turned 70 (and with a history of Alzheimer's in my family), it certainly did for me.

Phoebe Moyer stars as Annis in Winter (Photo by: Jim Norrena)

Performances of Winter continue through August 13 at the Berkeley City Club (click here for tickets).