Saturday, June 03, 2017

Play: Serious Wimsey

Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers (and M. St. Claire Byrne, whom the program neglects to credit), Taproot Theatre Company, through June 24th.

The Lovely B and I recently removed ourselves from the safe bounds of Seattle Rep season tickets with an excursion to a new venue - the Taproot Theatre, north of the city on 85th Street in Greenwood. Situated at a confluence of major roads, it is one of those neighborhoods with a variety of restaurants and somewhat challenging parking (the e-tickets specifically state that, though it may look tempting, do NOT park in the Fred Meyers).

The Taproot is a 200-seat venue built around a thrust stage (that is, audience on three sides). This particular performance of Dorothy Sayers' mystery is very popular, such that we got tickets on the right-hand balcony, along a single row fronted by a low, extremely clear glass. Nice seats, good view of the action but I have a bit of crick in my neck from two and half hours of looking slightly to the right to follow the action.

Busman's Honeymoon was originally a play (one of Sayers' first) and later a novel (one of Sayers' last). It is set in Hertfordshire, where the newly-married detectives Lord Peter and Lady Harriet Vane have decamped for a honeymoon away from the bright lights of the press, with their loyal butler Bunter. They arrive at their newly-purchased cottage to find nothing prepared for them and the previous owner dead in the basement. The house is soon awash with typically British characters; the previous owner's mousy niece, the pottering vicar, the angry handyman, and the local constable (who actually says "What's all this, then" upon his entrance).

And Sayers/Byrne do an excellent job of the challenge of bringing the mystery genre to the stage. Sayers tends to play fair with her readers, and it shows here. The scene of the crime shows up early, and all the clues are in place to be discovered, including bits of business that seem innocent but later become revealing. If you've read the book, you'll know from the outset, but for those who have not, and those who have forgotten, I will leave it there.

But where the play succeeds is in the relationship of the newlyweds Peter and Harriet. Peter at his core is delighted to be married, but saddened by his very serious detective work, which will ultimately result in the destruction of the life of the guilty. Terry Edward Moore is a weary Wimsey, and you can see when he is positively delighted and when he is putting on the good show for others. With Harriet (a sparkling Alyson Scadron Branner) he has his strength, urging him onward, matching him pace for pace, but she comes from writing mysteries as opposed to solving them, and now she is yoked to that same sense of duty that drives Peter forward.

The rest of the cast is very good. Nolan Palmer is an arch-eyebrowed Bunter, settling into having a mistress as well as a master to tend to. The setting is Hertfordshire, but the accents of the locals span the the British Isles, and fortunately are carried forward with the vim and vigor of an island fragmented by a common language. Reginald Andre Jackson as Mr. Puffett the sweep digs in deep every time he has to talk about the "carroopted sut" clogging the chimney, while Brad Walker as Constable Sellon is a bit too young and slender to pull off the officer.

It is a good performance with good performers, and actually does a bit more digging into the characters than the 1940 movie (based on this play) which has the American Robert Montgomery as a very Mid-Atlantic Wimsey. In fact, I like the play more than the book that evolved out of it - the play is tighter, stronger, and uses the space to front the relationship of Harriet and Peter and to demonstrate that they are a match made for the courts.

One minor niggle, from the program book - Sayers is identified as a member of the Inklings, an Oxford group of writers that included Tolkien and Lewis. Yes, she was Oxfordian, and her letters are included with some of the Inklings at Wheaton College in Illinois but she was never a member. That's sort of like calling Ed Greenwood an Alliterate - while a fine writer with a shared heritage, he never officially part of the group.

As for the play - worth seeing, better than the movie and the book.

More later,

Monday, May 08, 2017

The Return of No Quarter (Pieces of VIII Edition)

It has been a while, but let us engage in the yearly ritual of the America the Beautiful series (AKA the National Parks Quarters, though most of them are not about National Parks). We are now in the eighth edition of this venerable review (which is the sequel to an earlier series). But let me address a matter from last time we talked on the subject.

I asked last time if quarters are getting lighter. The metal FEELS lighter, and seems less substantial than old quarters. But I was not sure, since I did not have a scale suitable to weigh them. Spurred in the spirit of scientific inquiry a friend produced a scale that would measure small amounts, and two piles of quarters, old and new. Weighing a similar number of each type would magnify any discrepancy.

And the results were ... surprising. The two stacks came up pretty even, but the NEW quarters were just a little heavier than the OLD. So my initial assumption (which I now blame of being an old fogey) was wrong.

And that is why we science.

Anyway, here's this year's bunch of quarters. For those new to this (and shame on you, it starts way back here and here ), here's the rating system:

Way Cool =A
Not Bad = B
Kinda Lame (also known as Meh) = C
Very Lame = D
The tooth fairy will not even leave these = E

Let us begin:

Effigy Mounds National Monument.- Iowa

When the Europeans pushed west across the North American continent, they were wandering into an apocalyptic wasteland. Disease brought by earlier arrivals decimated the local populations, and the remnants were pushed out or swallowed up by the new culture. However, the newcomers found mounds throughout the northern woodlands, large earthen structures built by human hands in isometric designs or animal shapes. When they weren't looting them for valuables or tearing them down for fill, the newcomers posited who could have built these structures - ancient civilizations, lost religious tribes, even space aliens. Anyone except the ancestors of the people they whose lands they were now claiming.

So. Effigy Mounds. These are in the northeast corner of the state (have you noticed that a lot of these places are far away from the center of their states?), hard on the border of Wisconsin, across the Mississippi from Prairie du Chien. It is a collection of 200-some mounds, including many in the rarer animal shapes, including birds and a procession of "marching bears". Yet it is interesting to note, per the wiki article, that even under Federal protection we're still dealing with looting and unauthorized construction.

The coin itself? Peeps in the grass. Sorry. Maybe it's the season, but I'm looking at this and it looks like marshmallow peeps, cast-offs from an Easter Egg hunt. It is a good and accurate representation of the shapes, or even the arrangement (I'm looking at maps here, and there are three mounds in tclose proximity that look just like that), but the end result looks a bit blobby.

Good choice for the subject matter. OK execution.

Rating:  C (Just ... meh)

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site - Washington DC

So in writing this one up, I went back to the last time Frederick Douglass was in the news - When the President, in a ham-handed recognition of Black History Month, referred to Fred as if he was still next door in a briefing room waiting for Lincoln to show up. Looking at the quote, it seems to be the traditional word salad that most people have come to expect from our gonna-get-better-any-moment- chief executive, but at least Mr. D got a shout-out.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about. Instead, there is something else going on here. I mean, Frederick Douglass was a major statesman, writer, and linchpin of abolition (we noted last year that he gave John Brown some very, very good advise about attacking the government (that it was a very, very bad idea)). But Washington DC is chock full to the rafters with monuments run by the National Park Service. How does Fred Douglass (regardless of his achievements) get the nod here?
Image from, June 20, 2008

Then I found this: A Frederick Douglass quarter, with a flipped image to the current version, was one of the nominees for the STATE quarter series, only to be beaten out by Duke Ellington (whom I always connected with New York City and the Harlem Renaissance). So the Freddie-D quarter was already a backup, and got the slot as a consolation prize.

Still, it is nice quarter, a mirror of Mr. Ellington's, Mr. Douglass at his writing desk, the Haney Place in the background, which was finally finished by Alf and Ralph. A perfectly nice coin, but I have to call shenanigans on the selection process. Alternately, I could credit them with saving money on not commissioning a new piece but instead using pick-up art. Nah, I will go with shenanigans.

Rating:  B  (Not Bad)

Ozark Scenic National Riverway - Missouri

There seems to be a definite anti-urban pitch to these coins. I mean, I get it - it is the America the Beautiful series, and it has done a pretty good job at pointing out national forests mountains, and other natural sites that normally get overlooked, but would it kill them to point out a few more locations that people may have actually seen? Missouri did put the Gateway arch on the state quarter, but turned St.Louis into a fungal forest in order to do so.

Anyway, the the Ozark Scenic National Riverway is a tetris-block assembly of territory along the Current River and the Jacks Fork. It apparently has great canoeing and tubing, along with a number of natural springs. The coin shows Alley Mill, which used steel rollers to grind grain and is still mostly intact. And it is really not that bad, what with the tree framing the mill and the water (which doesn't look wide enough to qualify as a canoeable river, so let's call it a tributary), dominating the center.

Its a challenge, when the feature you are supposed to be centering on is a river, and supposedly flat river at that. It does the job.

Rating:  B  (Not Bad)

Ellis Island  National Monument (Statue of Liberty) - New Jersey

Here we see a similar-but-different problem to the South Carolina Fort-Moutraine-but-not-Fort-Sumpter quarter of last year. We have Ellis Island which is (mostly) part of Jersey (and has been since a 1998 court case), but what attracts everyone's attention is Liberty Island and the large green lady there (No, I am not talking about She-Hulk). On one hand, the entire complex is Federal property (so it really doesn't matter WHO owns WHAT on the island), but on the other, New Jersey DID claim this for their quarter.

Ellis, of course, was where a good chunk of immigrants debarked back in the day. That day would be about 3 decades surrounding the turn the last century. Millions of immigrants passed through its gates during that period, though it was not the only immigrant port in the US (other ports conducted their processing on the boats that brought individuals in), it has the rep for the biggest and most permanent. The cool looking building on the coin is the second Immigrant Station. The first was made of wood and burned to the ground in 1897. Crackdown on immigration laws starting in 1924 dwindled the use of the island fast, and eventually it became a detention and deportation headquarters, sending people the other direction.

The happy people shown on this coin most likely showed up before we shut the gates (again) in 1924. Given the number worn on their shirts, they come from the Village, a small state that remains part of the United Kingdom but is run by a secret government agency. These new arrivals are clearly happy to be in a new land with welcoming peoples and lack of giant white beach balls that haul them back to the Village if they try to escape. The woman, pensive, is wondering if she left the iron on.

The coin design itself is pretty good - It captures both the site and its purpose, working together to make it a better coin. And of course, New York claims to be 5 cents worth of the coin itself.

Rating:  B  (Not Bad). In fact, make it B+, the best coin of the season.

George Rogers Clark National Historic Park - Indiana

This coin commemorates the first official "fun run" in Vicennes in 1777. OK, actually, it represents George Rogers Clark (he's the one in the hat) leading his forces to take Fort Sackville. Or rather, to retake Fort Sackville, since they had lost it to the British), actually, I guess it is to re-retake since it was originally a British fort that the rebels took, then lost, then took again. I mean, this can only be expected with a fort called SACK-ville. I mean, why not just call it Fort "The Key is Under the Mat"?

OK, fine, George Rogers Clark was dispatched early in the revolution to the part of the world that the Americans would call "The Old Northwest", the British called "This is part of Quebec, now", and the natives called "What are all these Europeans doing in our living room?". The Brits had put up forts through this area, but had problems funding them, until the Quebec Act put the cost on the colonials (which did not end well). Clark bounced all over the region, capturing British outposts and founding Louisville in the process. This scene shows him and his men moving through the swamps to take the fort (we don't know exactly where it is (no really), but is somewhere off to the right of the coin).

It's not a horrible coin. It is well-crafted, but I did have to go through a long song and dance just to explain what the heck you were looking at. Which is a pity, since the site of the Park itself has a really cool, distinctive memorial building on the site, with statues and murals (it would be, dare I say, both beautiful and in America). Using the memorial itself would have been a cool coin (though I would have pointed out similarity to the Jefferson Memorial - same architect), and is a missed opportunity.

And that may be ultimately what has started to bother me about the coins in these series - they are so innocuous. Mountains. Streams. Questionable actions. The carving itself has gotten better over the years, but the subject matter has become more bland in the process,

Rating:  (Just ... meh)

Next Year: We head for the beach with a lot of National Seashores - three islands, a set of rocks, and some Canadians. I'm holding out hope that the Canadians are the most interesting.

More later,

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Play: Thriller in Manilla

Here Lies Love: Concept and lyrics by David Byrne, Music by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim,
Additional music by Tom Gandey and J Pardo, Choreographed by Annie-B Parson, Directed by Alex Timbers. Seattle Rep through May 28th.

So let me right off the bat salute the Rep for the ballisest production of recent years. I have in the past tweaked them for relatively safe performances that fit within the bounds of traditional theatre. Small companies of actors, one-person shows, self-contained productions that fly in and out without seemingly touching the ground upon which the stage rests.

Yeah. All of that goes out the window for Here Lies Love, in which the theater itself, seats and all, is transformed into a disco, where the audience can be on the disco floor among moveable stages, where the actors come down and press the flesh with the masses in front of live TV cameras, where there is a continual disco backbeat and an excellent cast powers through a tight ninety minutes that tells the tale of Imelda Marcos. This is one of those performances that poses and tremendous risk for the theater, and it pays off creatively (and should pay off financially, because - spoilers - you really should go see it).

The theater space is tranformed into a massive disco cathedral. The seats on the main floor are gone, and what once the right and left banks of seats are replaced with huge stacked levels for those who chose sitting over standing. Most of us are on the floor, which it tighter and brighter and noisier. The disco beat plays, and yes, there is a DJ. The action takes place on moving platforms that slide and rotate during the performance. Unsung heroes (in the fact that they don't sing) are the jump-suited attendants with glowing sticks (called aircraft marshalling wands, I have just discovered) that keep the groundlings from being crushed by the action.

Here's the not-quick summary: Imelda is poor, romances and is rejected by Ninoy Aquino, rising young senator. She goes to the big city, has a whirlwind romance with Marcos (who in the real world is 40 years her senior, but here is just a bit older), marries him. She is Jackie to Marcos' JFK, and tries to do good, but is swept up in the heady drug-fueled seventies and betrayed by her cheating husband. She returns to pick up the gauntlet when Marcos gets ill (lupus) and effectively runs the country with an iron hand, claiming to know what's best. Her old boyfriend Ninoy returns in her life as a leader of the opposition - she has him imprisoned, exiled and is assassinated upon his reveiw, but his shooting kicks off the revolution that causes her to flee the country.

It is a potted history of the Phillipines, shrunk to 90 minutes and shown through Imelda's eyes. She is is betrayed time upon time, and feels that the wounds she has suffered justifies her actions. Her costume over time becomes more armored and military as she becomes the Steel Butterfly. Even at the end, she feels betrayed by the people she felt she served in the name of love. 

That sense of betrayal spreads to the audience as well, as the the rousing back-beat and line-dancing becomes a demand to party as the military rolls in, the cities burn, and martial law descends. The feel-good optimism of the early play becomes dark as the audience is forced to uncomfortably condone the heroine. There's a moment when it dawns on each individual (a different moment for each audience member) that this is going down the wrong path, and their encouragement is demanded.

All that said, it is a powerful performance. All the singers are fantastic and the ensemble is frenetic as they change supporting roles at an instant. Jaygee Macapugay is a beautiful, fragile, convincing Imedla. Mark Bautista is Marcos with a seducer's smile. Byrne's style of lyrics comes out fully with Conrad Ricamora, as the white-suited (no subtlety here) Aquino. Melogy Butiu is Estrella, the childhood friend left behind and the reminder of the world Imelda no longer is part of. They are fantastic, throwing everything they have into the performance.

The musical ends (spoilers) with Imelda fleeing the People Power Revolution, but in the real world, its not that easy. Marcos is dead, but Imelda has returned to the Philipines and is a senator for her home district. Two of her four children (shown in pictures but not referenced in the performance) are heavy hitters in politics, and the family fortune, built up from all the corruption, is involved in the recent Panama Papers scandal. Yet that is not the happiest of endings for the people of the Philipines, and the play ends with the positive sense of finality of the revolution and a reprise of its main song.

This is spectacle. This is an event. This is one of those plays that long-term theater goers and those who avoid such traditional forms of entertainment should see. Well worth it.

A final review of this season: Here Lies Love wraps up the Seattle Rep's season (which is just as well, because they have to put all the seats back, now). And the season has felt like a time machine this years. We started in the late 50s with Raisin in the Sun, jumped to the AIDs crisis in the 80s with Roz and Ray, jumped a few years more years to the Post-Queen Elizabeth era of King Charles III, back to the 70s with Vietgone, rolled through the Great Depression with Woody Sez, jumped into a weird interior mindspace of the 60s with Well, went contemporary with Dry Powder (the only one I really didn't care for) and then wrapped up with the 60s-80s in the Phillipines. This was a very political, wide-ranging season, and the Rep did a damned fine job. Theater as Tardis. Looking forward to what happens next year.

More later. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Small talk with David Byrne

The Lovely Bride and I (along with 47 others) had dinner with David Byrne at Canlis. Let me explain what that means and how that happened. Yes, there will be copious links to help out.

As the kids today say: Pics or it did not happen.
David Byrne was the lead singer/songwriter for Talking Heads, a new wave band of the late seventies and eighties. And while I was a fan of the Talking Heads, I really particularly loved his music from Knee Plays, of which the Lovely Bride had a copy. We are not sure where the cassette came from, but we think it came from a mutual friend who was into such things as Brian Eno, Jon Anderson, and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. Suffice to say, we had the album on an old tape cassette and I knew most of the lines by heart; the music was New Orleans brass band backing up the simple and quirky wordplay of the lyrics.

OK. So. Big fan of David Byrne's work (more recently, he's been recording with St. Vincent). And one of his latest projects, Here Lies Love, will be wrapping up the season at the Seattle Repertory. We won't see it until next week, but (spoilers from the meal), the early previews are doing well. Here Lies Love is the story of Imelda Marcos, First Lady of the Philippines, set to a disco beat. In fact, they have converted the venerable Bagley Wright auditorium into a discotheque for the performance. More on that, again, when we see the performance next week.

Anyway, the Rep had sent out a fundraising flier for a dinner with David Byrne. As long-time subscribers, we got the postcard, which we normally pass on. But this time, the Lovely B, having missed a number of things because it is tax season, decided we should take them up on it. So, we made an (embarrassing large) donation for dinner at Canlis with David Byrne.

The private upstairs room at Canlis.
Ah, Canlis. People in Seattle know about Canlis. It is our legendary top restaurant, the place for big anniversaries and important celebrations, the one restaurant in Seattle where one is expected to wear a suit and tie (I discovered later that evening that the Columbia Club used to have this restriction until recently as well, but has slacked off at the tie thing). Nestled at the southern end of the Aurora Bridge which crosses the canal to Lake Union, Canlis commands a view of the Lake, the ship canal to Lake Washington to the East, Fremont and Wallingford, and the U-District in the distance. The view is wonderful, and the food, which has gone through a couple incarnations in the time we've been there, is legendary.

And, there is a main dining room, and a private room with an even better view directly above. This smaller space has large wooden shutters that can be opened to the dining area below, or closed for more private functions. I had never climbed the stairs to this area, though the Lovely Bride had snuck off during one dinner to explore (the staff caught her, and since there was no function upstairs at the time, gave her the full tour). So, a private function at the priciest joint in town. We arrived slightly early and we were ushered up the stairs.

These excellent photos courtesy of Seattle Rep, by the way.
And I met David Byrne. Lean, grey-haired, bright-eyed, dressed in a powder blue suit with an American flag on the lapel. He was standing next to Braden Abraham, the art director. At the time, I thought he was art director for the production, but eventually, the penny dropped for me  and I realized he was the Art Director for the entire Seattle Rep. So that was a bit stunning. I introduced Kate first, then myself. Handshakes were made. Kate moved on towards the bar for a mojito, Braden faded back into another discussion, and David Byrne and made small talk.

And here's the thing. In my very small modicum of fame (blessedly limited to gaming conventions for the most part), I have met fans who have squeed over my very presence, been dumbfounded at my words, or sought to argue some point of a project I worked on several decades previously. And I want everyone to know, that I completely understand those attitudes. Because as we made small talk, cocktail talk,, the back of lizard brain was shouting My God, I'm Talking to David Byrne! 

We talked about the process that brought Here Lies Love to Seattle, I told him I was a great admirer of his work. We talked about the weather (after constant rain since October, we were blessed with a beautiful beautiful day). We talked about seaplanes. He admired my trilobite pin.We spoke briefly of on-line comics. Others came up the stairs, and, my moment passed, I thanked him again and made way for the newcomers (it always being bad form to bogart the Guest of Honor).

Just a wonderful photo of the Lovely
Bride and I.
And, delighted (that was David Byrne!), I moved off and talked with other guests. By the time Kate returned I was chatting with Darragh Kennan, an actor I had seen at the Rep who was serving as a rep for the Rep that evening. Darragh had been Sherlock Holmes in two productions at the Rep, and we chatter about our long-standing season tickets at the Rep, favorite plays, theater in Milwaukee and elsewhere. Servers circulated with wine, and later hors d'oeuvres. When Kate could not have the steak tartar because of her allergies (a mayonnaise aoli), they retreated and reappeared a few minutes later with a sample that was egg-free. They're good that way.

We mingled. I declare that I am not a social animal, but I do like to listen, and ended up spending time with an expediting engineer who handled programming problem children, a retired couple whose apartment we could see from the horizon, and a UW geologist who had written a book on roadside geology (he, too, was curious about why I would wear a trilobite on my lapel). The Rep had a photographer present, so we did get pictures.

David Byrne takes questions from the floor.
Dinner was a limited menu but completely up to Canlis's standards. Five tables of ten. Ours had Darragh, Braden (alas, I missed my chance to recommend that, since they were ripping out seats at the venerable B-W, they could replace them with recliners), the retired couple, a psychologist working on his dissertation, married to author who writes books on investing. And a couple, the husband of which I had little chance to talk to, but whose spouse worked for Wells Fargo and was part of the Arts Fund, and who worked for one of the OTHER Jeff Grubbs in the universe. Dinner was a perfect filet mignon for me and a flaky halibut for the LB, but out attention was on the discussion, not the food. 

David and Braden gave a brief talk on Here Lies Love, answered a few questions, and had to leave for a preview of the production that evening. We chatted among ourselves -art and politics (Imelda Marcos is still with us - no, she has not seen the musical), and adjourned some time afterward. Kate and I had booked a room in Seattle, overlooking the new site of the Museum of History and Industry, and the next morning brunched at Salty's on Alki and wrapped up a wonderful 24 hours in Seattle, a vacation without a plane trip.

And yeah, people are going to catch me smiling at work for the next week  for no obvious reason.

More later,

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Play: Wet Squib

Dry Powder by Sarah Burgess, Directed by Marya Sea Kaminski, Seattle Rep through April 15th, 2017

So. Yeah. I'm going to hit a bump in our plays every so often. You sign up for a season ticket with the acknowledgement that not every play is going to be to your particular taste. And sometimes (hell, often), you come out feeling that, even if the subject didn't appeal to you or the acting was weak or the plot needed some punching up, you've gotten something out of it.

Not this time. Not only do I resent the hour and half in the theater. I resent the time it took to commute there up and back in deary Seattle weather. I resent the price of my parking spot. Heck, I'd even resent the gas money if my car didn't run on house current.

Dry Powder is about high finance, a great subject, particularly in these days of Occupy America. Rick (Shawn Belyea) runs a private equity firm with the cold, calculating Jenny (Hana Lass) and the glad-handing, deal-making Seth (MJ Seiber) as the angels/devils/employees on his shoulders. The company has taken on some serious bad PR and protests from the fact that they bought out a supermarket chain and gutted it. Now they have the chance to redeem themselves with the purchase of an American-made suitcase firm in Sacramento. The founder of said luggage firm  is looking to sell out, and its CEO Jeff (Richard Nguyen Sloniker) is looking to revitalize the company with fresh cash flow and an eventual IPO.  Seth has put together a deal which risks an on-line presence but keeps the company intact. Jenny advocates a massive work-force cut and offshoring production.

And from that description you'd think the Rick was the central character, but he quickly fades as he slips from one side of the argument, then the other. Actually, it is Seth's story, as he tries to preserve the deal he made against his own supposed allies. And it is not much of a story, really, and despite its relatively tight running time, it feels like it goes on too long to get the simple conclusion: Rich People suck.

And wealth carves the deep chasm between the principles and the little people who suffer for their actions, as well as a gulf between the actors and the audience. Rick is primarily concerned that the continual protests make him look bad on the eve of his wedding in Bali (his engagement party got bad press by springing for an elephant while they were cashiering cashiers). Seth has yacht. Jenny refuses to take cabs. Jeff has the corporate jet and the struggling personal winery. There's not of lot of empathy between the characters and us, even though Rick is getting married and Seth has a kid on the way. These are the wealthy, and they are not very interesting. They are cartoons in a cartoon graveyard.

I want to like Seth or Rick, but they are both blatantly sexist and uncaring. Seth get the most potential depth where his loyalty is tested, but there is no real risk for him. Rick is the kind of boss who is firm in his beliefs until he changes his mind and then expects all to follow.  Jenny is an office Randite, quite frankly, without a single redeemable feature as she drives one of her analysts into rehab without even remembering his name. Jenny in particularly offends me deeply, since she is a character bled of anything resembling humanity. The rivals/frenemy relationship between her and Seth falls flat, and I can't ever see the two working at the same office for longer than two months. And CEO Jeff? He's a speed bump, needed for the plot and resolution.

Here's where I normally pump up the actors who are laboring with a bad script, but I can't do it. Lass delivers a Jenny that feels like Sheldon from the Big Bang, but with less self-reflection - and when she allows some passion, she scrunches her nose like a bunny. Belyea has to change his mind as Rick continually and still sound like a leader - in fact, he's often verbally abusive to both. His thought process and emotions are lost to us as he pivots. Sloniker as Seth doesn't seem to extend the warmth he feels with Jeff to either his boss or co-worker. I don't even see the actors struggling with this - they know where they are going, and deliver it with the passion of an accounting review. These aren't characters so much as talking points, and I think the actors have tweaked to that. I'm not believing that these guys, despite the jargon, actually know anything about business.

OK, we're down to praising the set, which has the Seattle Rep standard of desks and bars and chairs flying in from the sides to show progress. The cool thing is that everything is askew, presented in trapezoids, which creates a feeling of uncertainty and being off-balance. Qualities that the play itself did not have.

I will pause from all this foaming at the mouth to say the Lovely Bride actually liked it - or at least was not as deeply offended by the facile nature of the characters and the tediousness of the plot. We talked about plays about business that feature terrible people (I like Glengarry Glen Ross, for example, she does not, and I felt The Comparables from last season was better than this, while she disagrees). She is a bit more accepting of the cynical nature of people, and points out that play has some value if it provoked such a strong negative reaction from me. So there's that.

The robotic Jenny' gets the last line of the play - "That's all I have". That  pretty much sums up the play, and this review. Rich People suck. That's all I have.

More later.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Gaming News

One thing leads to another in the Gaming News this week:

First off, I got my Kickstarter Special Edition version of the new Blue Rose RPG from Green Ronin using their AGE engine. It is a beautiful looking hardback with embossed leatherette cover, gold foil edged pages, the whole schmear. Sat down and prompty began to consume it.
Last year's logo. They always look cool.

But I had to stop almost immediately because the very NEXT day I got a package from North Texas RPG Con. NTRPG con is a venerable haven of Old School roleplaying, and while I cannot make it down to Texas this year, I had volunteered to be a judge for their Three Castles Awards. So a package with the four finalists showed up on my doorstep and demands attention. I know what I'm doing in the evenings for the next few weeks.

And speaking of the older schools of gaming, Troll Lords has put together a Kickstarter for the 7th Printing of their successful Castle & Crusades Player's Handbook. The game is old school, Their Siege Engine mechanics uniting the simplicity of earlier versions of D&D with the unified mechanics and skills of later editions.

And speaking of Kickstarters (see how I'm seguing here?), there is a brief Kickstarter up from Oscar Rios' Golden Goblin Press for Cold Warning, a semi-lost Call of Cthulhu adventure by Scott David Aniolowski. The Kickstarter is running only for one week, so check it out sooner as opposed to later.

And further speaking of Kickstarters, the Lovely Bride dropped into the home office to say that she wanted me to fund the Dry Erase Game Tiles from Gaming Paper. She said she saw it on a Facebook post by the ever-talented Stan! So, social media does work!

I always wanted to write something for Empire of the Petal
Throne. Now I have.
And finally, I earlier in this blog praised The Excellent Traveling Volume, a Tekumel fanzine by James Maliszewski, I liked it so much, I wrote a up a brief adventure for it, and submitting it to him. He's publishing it in Issue #7. I'm looking forward to it! (and you can find back issues of TETV here).

More later,

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Short Story: That Fitzgerald is a Funny Guy

The I.O.U. by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The New Yorker , March 20, 2017 Issue

The magazine in question.
Provenance: I've subscribed The New Yorker recently. I read the magazine sporadically in the late 70's when it was laying out on the lobby tables in my dorm at Purdue, but it never really caught.It felt at the time to be dry and bloodless and unconnected with my Midwest Engineering Life, even down to the cartoons (and I was a big fan of Chas Addams work growing up). In my most recent stab at East Coast culture, I now find the magazine deep, engaging, and with a lot going on. Cartoons have improved a bit as well. There is usually some huge article (Anthony Bourdain, the Mosul Dam, Russian cyber-policy) which I find worth plowing throw in detail.

In any event, the most recent issue found its way to my mailbox, with a lovely cover by Tomer Hanuka I found nice, but that my friend Stan! asked to have after I was done with the magazine, and my Lovely Bride declared "That would be worth the subscription". The magazine contains a "lost work" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Written for Harper's Bazaar but never published, The I.O.U. is a short piece about, well, let's leave the summary  for the review section. In any event, there is a book of unpublished stories from Fitzgerald coming out in a single volume, which includes this one, and so the promotional nature of publishing lays it at our doorstep. Which is amusing, since the story is about publishing.

Review: This is a humorous story about publishing, ts characters larger than life, its resolution as straightforward as a punchline. Our narrator is a publisher who has unleashed his most recent bestseller - a book of spiritualism in which a noted psychologist and psychic researcher communicates with the spirit of his nephew who died in the Great War. The publisher goes into great detail about the process of preparing the book for launch, and upon a successful release, sets out by train, a case of books under his arm, to meet with the author in Ohio. And on the train he meets someone who will completely blow the gaff and doom his publication. To say more is to reveal too much. Our publisher is set up for the fall from the onset, and we get to see him scrambling faster and faster to keep all the balls in the air.

Illustration from the story.
Heck, just go read the thing.
The story was written and published in 1920, around the time Fitzgerald's first novel  This Side of Paradise, showed up up to great acclaim and suitable sales. Yet this period was also one where Fitzgerald was getting published mightily for his short works - magazine pieces that paid surprisingly well, yet today live in the shadow of The Great Gatsby. And Fitzgerald's language is firing on all cylinders, particularly when he it is laying out litanies, be it towns in which the books with be distributed or reporters calling out their representational papers.It is, at heart, a good read.

This could be Wodehouse with only a few more malaproped allusions. Bertie could be saddled with this mess with some ally in the Drone's club in the publisher's role, Jeeves directing the final shatterer of their plans in the proper direction. Psmith could serve equally well with just a bit more trimmings. The female lead, Thalia (Goddess (well, Muse) of Comedy - shall F. Scott put a lampshade on all this for us?) is one of those drippy dedicated young maidens that populate Wodehouse's work. Happenstance weighs heavy in the plotting and the resolution.

Fitzgerald can be a funny writer, and Gatsby itself is filled with comic bits that get glanced over in the seriousness of being a "great novel". The Owl that Nick encounters in the library is one such moment, as is the comparison of the names of East Egg and West Egg cognoscenti. Yet we breeze past these, and I wonder if we think of Gatsby as a comic novel with a bleak ending, it holds together better. I'm sure there is some doctoral dissertation out there on "Uses of Humor is F. Scott Fitzgerald's Canon", and if there isn', there should be. Perhaps Fitzgerald, like God,  is ultimately a comedian playing before an audience that is afraid to laugh.

More later,

Thursday, March 02, 2017

DOW Breaks 2100!

Hey, it's something. Powered by the revalation that the President of the United States can actually read off a teleprompter (remember when that was considered a BAD thing?), the DOW took a nice healthy boost to loft itself to another milestone.

OK, it's more than that. Part of it is that the administration is now filled with people FROM Wall Street who promise to not investigate Wall Street EVEN HARDER than previously. Add to that others running the government who seek to reduce the influence of consumers, minorities, safety, and/or the environment. Plus, we have a president who likes to sign bills, get applause, and be photographed with important business leaders (the actual job of being president - not so much). So Wall Street is getting the go-ahead to engage in the very behavior that almost laid us low more than eight years ago, though I'm SURE they will have learned their lessons from that previous debacle well.

I will admit, not all is rosy. Flights are seeing more empty seats as people are less likely to travel if they are being hassled at the US airports. Agriculture that relies on migrant workers is discovering their workforce is staying away from the fields (perhaps they can ask those nice people from ICE to lend a hand). And in the tech industry, the status of foreign workers is screwing up day-to-day operations (Amazon called back everyone from overseas that might have trouble returning in a more hostile environment).

And of course, at any time, a mean tweet from the White House can send stock prices spiraling. But he can't get EVERYONE all the time, so those who are willing to send their CEOs to smile and make nice will likely avoid the stinging lash of retribution. You aren't a CEO? Well, that's not Wall Street's problem, is it?

More later,

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Play: Not Bad. You?

Well by Lisa Kron, Directed by Braden Abraham, Seattle Rep, Through March 5.

Well. That was a bit of a mess. But I think that's the whole point.

Well is a monologue (with other people) that goes horribly and amusingly awry. It is not about the monologist and her mother, when it is, of course, totally about the monologist and her mother. It is also about racial matters, illness, being an outsider and few other things I haven't mentioned. But ultimately, it about mother and daughter.

The talented Sara Rudinoff plays Lisa Kron, who is both IRL playwrite and character in her play about putting together the play. Yeah, its very meta, and that's one of the challenges. Rudinoff/Kron sets herself up as a target at the outset, effervescing early about how this would be an "theatrical space showing the status of illness and wellness on the community and the individual" (I may be paraphrasing here). Then she starts undercutting herself by interacting with her mother.

Her mother (a fantastic Barbara Dirickson) occupies one half of the stage, her domain being a comfortable clutter of binned items for various projects, bound magazines, her favorite lazy-boy, and nostalgic age. She has been in pain most of her life, which she blames on allergies, but she is sweet, interrupting, and continually countering her daughter, whether as to her intent, the veracity of her stories, or whether the audience would want something to drink.

The other half of the stage is bare, where Kron is putting together her work, with the help of four supporting actors who are sometimes various roles, and sometimes actors. These merry elves are supposed to carry out her scenes, but they start having their own suggestions and comments. Various sets wheel and lower onto the stage, with the fussiness that becomes obvious when things start to go wrong.

And things go wrong. Kron is trying to address why some people stay sick and others get well, and cast it against her integrated community where her mom was an activist in the 60s and 70s. However, she is ultimately trying to understand why she and her mother, so similar in many ways, went different ways, where she recovered from her illnesses and her mother merely continued with them.

Kron as character loses control of the proceedings quickly, as her mother expands her own reality into the play, sweetly and relentlessly. The merry elves rebel as well, brought over to mom's side. And an childhood bully, a creature of id, appears in the midst of all this from the audience to terrify Kron further. She is creator left at the mercy of her creation, because she is not dealing honestly with them.

I think. To be fair, I don't know. The play doesn't go for easy answers or explanations (and subverts a potential happy hug moment at the end). It sort of ends where it ends, and could have gone on longer or ended a few lines back. I'm really not sure, and I'm not the only one: for this review, I cheated and looked up other comments on the play - all seemed positive, many just embraced the facile facts at the surface of the place, and a few deliver that mantra of the midwest indeterminalism - "Well, it's different".

And I came away with this: Did I have problems embracing a memoirish play where I knew that the individual portraying the monologist was not the original creator? Does monologue (even as burlesqued here) demand the authenticity of original voice? I accept actors portraying all manner of characters on the play, but strain at them portraying the author of the work? And why this work, when I had little problem with a similar conceit in the earlier "Viet Gone" (where the playwrite shows up to say that it is not about his parents (It is totally about his parents)? In short, would a Mike Daisey monologue be a Daisey monologue if I delivered it?

So put me down as puzzled on this one. Well reminds me of a performance of  Six Characters in Search of an Author that I saw many, many years ago in Milwaukee.  I feel I have experienced theatre, but I'm not quite sure I know what it all means.

More later,

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Adventure: Not-So-Pulp Tentacles, Part II

Darkness, Descending by Mike Mason, an adventure from Cthulhu Britannica, from Cubicle 7 Games

Goodness, it has been more than two years since the last time I checked in with my plucky crew of Lovecraftian malcontents? Seems as if. My Call of Cthulhu group is still playing semi-regularly, but for the past few years, we have been working our way through the upgraded Horror on the Orient Express, run by one of my fellow group members. I tend not to review RPGs I am playing a character in, as such a review is a reflection on the limited information my players has, the group the GM/Keeper's style as it is of the product itself. And while I read a lot of Call of Cthulhu gaming material, I don't tend to review THAT publicly without actually taking it out and running it.

Anyway, this is the second of the adventures from the Cthulhu Britannica booklet from Cubicle 7 Games. The first was Bad Company, which I talked about here. The book consists of four adventures for different eras, set (mostly) in Britain. I won't be running the last two for this group, since they have modern and futuristic flourishes which would be difficult to fit into my campaign, in which it is eternally 1928 and consists of a company of random individuals who have come together to fight the Mythos.

The group consists of Smokes, our exiled Chicago gangster; Horace, our spy/newspaper photographer; Cliffy, our aspiring archeologist; JB,our wealthy dilettante, Hyacinth, our author' and her bombastic boyfriend/hero of her novels, Goodwin McNash. My style with them is very pulp/adventure, and I tend to run with more of an eye towards survivability than TPKs. They have been world-travelers, but are based out of London, and I've been eying this adventure as a means of doing something local. Spoilers, of course, follow.

Cliffy's player could not make it, so I used him to bring the others. The young archeologist was assigned to a dig sponsored by Cambridge in the county of Norfolk. A small team working in a small forest found a site of an old Roman settlement. Among the potsherds, tools, and weapon fragments the group found a particularly ugly bat-statue, and Cliffy called in the rest of the team as volunteers.

The bat-statue is one of five vaeyans, used to imprison an Elder God, Cyeagha. Cyeagha can only break free (apparently) on the fall equinox, which is three days away. Removing the vaeyans will allow him to return. Cyeagha has already possessed a local poacher, and is working on one of the archaeological team as well. should Cyeagha escape, bad things happen. Challenge to the players is to figure out what is up, and either keep the Elder God trapped or banish him entirely.

The adventure is based on a Eddy C Bertin's "Darkness, My Name Is", from The Discples of Cthulhu short story collection, moved from Germany to England as its location. It is designed as a one-shot  as opposed to part of a larger ongoing campaign, and shows it, from pre-generated charters with more archaeological backgrounds to a lack of SAN rewards and the general "everyone dies horribly" ending if things go terribly wrong. So some work is needed to make it part of a campaign.

There are some additional challenges for the adventure. A good chunk of the space is made up of describing the inhabitants of Middle Harling, a community to the dig site, but there is nothing within the presented flow of the game to get the players to TO Middle Harling.over the course of the game. This is particularly nasty since some of the clues to explain what is going on are located in Middle Harling, and straightforward playthrough could miss them entirely.

For my session, I dropped them off in Middle Harling at the outset and let them interact with the locals a bit before Cliffy (being run as an NPC) picks them up to take them to the dig site. They are made aware of the local constable and the church and in particular the local pub. While it felt like the first ten minutes of an episode of the old British Avengers TV show - before the small quirky town reveals its dark secret, it actually gave me a good collection of NPCs to do horrible things to later on.

Worse from a playing perspective was that I had no note how far it was from the small town to the dig site. It had to be short enough that that they could come back and interact easily, but far enough away that whatever happened at the site would not immediately become known. I settled for a 45 minute walk (or a half-hour run), but it is something that is pretty basic for the game. In this case, unlike the usual curse of Cthulhu, the maps were pretty good, and had player versions that I could share with relative clarity.

Organization was a pain. Useful information was sometimes lost in body copy or in numerous sidebars, such that despite it being a short adventure, I kept flipping back and forth trying to find some scrap of data that I swore I knew was in there. Plus, the entire section on Middle Harling itself was banished to the back, after the adventure itself, making it unclear when or where the players would encounter it.

And the handouts were a bit odd, with Library Use getting standard information on "What is an Equinox?" while the translation of an old Latin tablet gets a summary as opposed to a full translation. This is worse because it has an incantation to trap Cyeagha, without any clue to what it says (there is a second spell to defeat Cyeagha utterly which is presented in such an off-handed way I'd be surprised to see anyone understanding and using it).

Art was a bit off as well, as the description of Cyeagha's minions (vomitting forth black tendrils) did not quite match up with the art of half-melted, tentacle-armed individuals, but that part is minor.

In play, however, the townsfolk were surprisingly useful, and I could show the madness that the players take for granted slowly dawning on them. The vicar who translated the tablet for them went more than a little mad, the constable was overwhelmed by sudden deaths, and one of the farmers met a messy end at the hands/tentacles of the possessed poacher. The investigators did have enough action and mystery, and headed down a few wrong paths before they understood that they needed to re-bury the statues (and re-chant the locking spell for the good measure). The poacher (unkillable, slimier each time he returned, and the possessed archeologist made a last-minute assault to break the magical seal on the their god, but ultimately, the player characters survived. And, being an ongoing campaign, they had to figure out how they would seal off the area to prevent anyone else from trying to break the thing open again (like - what about NEXT equinox?)

In general it was OK, but it required a bit more work than I had put in with the Goodman Games versions. Still, it provided a nice base that one can spin an adventure out of, and merits a revision to strengthen the parts that could be part of a long-standing campaign.

More later,

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Gaming News

There are a lot of Kickstarters going on right now, and I missed the closing of a couple of them, but want to mention the others in this space as "offered for your consideration" before they all shut down.

Many years ago, I did a small chunk of the Midgard Campaign Setting for Wolfgang Baur at Kobold Press. Now, the setting is making an expanded return (and other talented hands are picking up the parts I worked on) as the Midgard Campaign Setting: Dark Roads and Deep Magic. There are three main books now, the first of which, on the world itself, clocks in at 300+ pages, with volumes of rules for both 5th Edition D&D and for Pathfinder. Plus a lot of adventures. This one in huge, and is already funded and moving to stretch goals.

Wolfgang Baur is a member of my regular gaming group. So is Bill Webb, whose company, Frog God Games, is putting together a contemporary card game ripped from the headlines. Conspiracy theories, faux news, and click-bait reign in Alternative Facts. Hasn't funded, yet, but has about two weeks to go.

Also in the department of projects with long names, Goodman Games is putting together a series of essays on How to Write Adventure Modules That Don't Suck. The venerable and wise Jim Ward has invited in an all-star squadron of veteran designers and editors to give you the inside track on building cool adventures. Also funded, and wraps in three days.

I usually talk about Goodman Games in connection with their Cthulhu adventures, and that makes as good a segue as any for moving into Lovecraftian territory. Stygian Fox got good marks for their previous foray into Cthulhu Modern with. The Things We Left Behind and is plunging into one-night short adventures with Fear's Sharp Little Needles. The talent behind this one is solid as well, with Brian Courtemarche and Oscar Rios among the names contributing. Bonus: they are making The Things We Left Behind available at an upper supporter level, in case you missed it the first time around.

Oscar Rios is the man behind a LOT of good Call of Cthulhu scenarios from Golden Goblin Press. He was the writer of Miskatonic Press The Legacy of Arrius Lurco, which is on my list to run (on top of everything else currently in the queue). Making that running even MORE imperative is that he just launched a Kickstarter for a new version of Cthulhu Invictus, Cosmic Horror Roleplaying in Ancient Rome. This sourcebook got its start as fan-made tome, and the officially published version from Chaosium could have been improved. I have no doubts that the new edition will give a firm foundation for the Ancient Roman time period (and, at a high level of support, you can get De Horror Cosmico, a collection of Roman adventures which confirms for me the fact that this will be a good project). It just launched, and is well on its way to funding.

I'm not certain about the last one, but I want to bring it to everyone's attention. WotC-vet Rodney Thompson, who was behind the excellent Lords of Waterdeep game a few year back, is launching a caper-style fantasy RPG - Dusk City Outlaws. Apparently one is running heists in a large fantasy city, which is intriguing, but what makes it interesting is that the games sessions themselves are set up to be easy to run and get into as a player. That's a bit of a grail quest for RPGs, so I am interested in seeing him pull it off.

And that's more than enough Kickstarters for the moment. More later,

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Book: After Midnight

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - John Berendt, Random House Publishing, 1994.

Provenance: This is one of the older volumes on my "Shelf of Abandoned Books". I picked it up in the nineties, and it has been sitting there, waiting for me to get back to it, for over twenty years. The book has a good rep - finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, long-term status on the NYTime's best-seller list. And it is a physically odd book physically, tall and narrow, more like a door than a text. Maybe that is why it stayed on the shelf when other Abandoned Books were started, ignored, and quietly sent away.

Review: The book is (much to my surprise once I engaged fully with it) a true-crime story of a murder in Savannah, Georgia in the early 80s. The author tells you that there will be a crime at the beginning, but he takes a meandering route to the murder itself, and then feels distanced from it afterward. Really the book is about Savannah itself, or at least the more elite chunks of it.

The author arrives in Savannah as a result of airline deregulation, which makes it cheap to set up a second apartment outside of New York City. He is enchanted by the heart of the Savannah, in particular the antebellum historical district, where the original streets were laid out around park-like squares. He settles in and starts meeting the locals, who are as quirky as anything that would come out of Lake Wobegon. In fact, it does feel like we're dealing with a Southern fantasy version of that Minnesota town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve  - where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and there is a murder just hanging on the horizon. In fact, every time the characters seem to get up a good head of steam, we're reminded that a murder is about to occur and that this is what the book is supposed to be about.

The unamed narrator (though the tale is first-person, so he'd be John) takes a glancing blow across Savannah Society. We meet Jim Williams ,the eloquent antique dealer with his hot-headed poor white trash assistant/lover. We meet the African-American drag queen The Lady Chablis. We meet Joe Odom, the questionable lawyer who squats in fine houses that are not his own and turns them into 24 hour party venues. There are others - the man with non-existent dog, the pianist who criss-crosses Georgia to play any song for anyone, the fellow with enough poison to kill all of Savannah, but Williams, Odom, and Chablis are carry most of the plot, though they rarely encounter each other. The author encounters folk in cafes and drives people around a lot, such that at one point I wondered if he were the only one with a car in 1980s Savannah.

The murder itself takes place at the midpoint of the book, and I shan't spoil a twenty year old text on a true-life event by telling you who was involved (that would be what Wikipedia was all about). But the murder passes through with just the same level of attention as one of Williams' parties or a bar-crawl involving glowing fish. Having occurred, the murder (and the resultant trial) is just one more thing in the Savannah social life. It takes more than a dead body to overturn that.

After the fact, the accused seems to engage in magical thinking on two levels. One is a faith that system will not convict a highly respected member of its own community. The other is a reliance on the old magic, and a literal conjurer name Minerva who uses the garden of the title to put the hex on folk. And both approaches work and neither work and we are left with double-handful of stories and not a lot tying them together.

Our narrator is practically passive throughout - he is transportation and confessor. He drives and he listens. The exception to this passivity is late in the book when The Lady Chablis crashes a black debutante ball he is covering, and he tries to extricate himself before the inevitable meltdown, showing some true emotion and engagement with his surroundings. But that's the exception that tests the rule - he is otherwise incredibly neutral, non-judgmental, and empty throughout. Savannah is the show and he is just the announcer.

So did it age well? Pretty well. It reminded of parts of Reagan's America, and perhaps what is scandalous about it is how much of it isn't scandalous at all in those days, or at least is politely ignored. The tale is all strained through a venue that is as much of a hot-house environment as anything Tennessee Williams ever envisioned. This is a closed eco-system, kept afloat by its own form of magical thinking.

And while there are more than enough working-class types drifting through this environment, they seem to be swept up in the magic of the Squares of Savannah as well, in a weird little ecology of social gatherings and parties at all levels. I suppose that's what holds it all together, ultimately - the parties, whether it is The Lady Chablis performing in drag, Odom's continual bacchanalia, or William's legendary Christmas party (and his OTHER legendary party). It about the social engagements.

Maybe that's what makes the book worth reading after all these years.

More later,

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Electric Car Blues

Literally a Museum Piece
So, back in August, the Lovely Bride and I purchased an electric car. No, I haven't mentioned it before in this space. What, do you think I tell you EVERYTHING that's going on in my life?

The big reason for the purchase that the my 2001 Hybrid Insight, DOCBUNNY, was after 15 years of service, was on its last legs. The seats had been worn threadbare long ago, the radio was down to one speaker, the HVAC was spotty, there were some oil leaks with lash-up solutions, the transmission was getting mushy, and the hybrid battery was showing a sudden and shocking discharge rate, such that going up small hills could drain it completely. so the time had come to replace it.

After checking out a lot of vehicles online, we went for the sit test. We went to dealerships and sat in their cars. Test-drives were the second step of this but the big initial thing was whether I would be able to fit in the vehicle in the first place. While I am a bit wide, I can fit behind the wheel of most cars (Chevies in particular are a tight squeeze and off the table immediately), but I also have a long torso, so that for many cars, I cannot see out the front windscreen - the roof line drops down into my field of vision. Toyotas are like that, and so are the older Teslas (and I was not going to wait to see what was the case for new Teslas). We decided on a Kia Soul
Electric, blue with a white roof.

I'm a Soul Man.
And car purchasing is just as painful as it was fifteen years previous.Despite excellent credit, knowing exactly the car we wanted to purchase, and informing the dealership with 24 hours notice and filling out forms online, it was four hours of filling out forms, waiting for them to be processed, giving more information, waiting for THAT to be processed, checking options, agreeing to options that we didn't necessarily want but were on the car anyway (to be fair, the puddle lights have been rather nice), and then learning that the car that we had TOLD them the day before we wanted to purchase wasn't even at the lot (this was cheerfully reported as "We're preparing the car for you - it will be just a little while").

So, then, how is it? Well, it depends on what you're after. I am looking for a vehicle that will get me the 20-some miles up the Amazon and back to Panther Lake once a day, with the occasional side trip. It does that nicely But it does affect my ability to go to various locations in a single trip, so I'm finding myself planning more.

It is all about Ranger and Recharge: Range is how far you can go on a charge. The listed average range for the Soul is 90 miles. Tesla is talking about 300 miles with its new batteries, but they're still building them. Ninety miles is about 3 gallons of gas in a traditional car. So if you're not comfortable driving around with three gallons of gas, then you may want to wait for the future models,

Recharge is finding out where you need to go to get the charge back. The Soul came with a "trickle charger" which ran off house current but does so VERY SLOWLY. Such that you might not drain the battery to half and then not be able to regain the lost energy overnight, creating a deficit situation (plus by "overnight" I mean 12 hours, which means you bring the car home and let it sit.

This car magnet works on so
many different levels.
The Lovely Bride and I went the extra distance and installed a Stage II recharger, with the help of a state rebate plan. This brings me up to full charge in a couple hours, but it is STILL a couple hours. If you are on the road, you again have to plan for some downtime to recharge. Fortunately, my garage downtown has charging stations. Unfortunately, they just started charging for them. There is also a Stage III charger, which I have yet to use (the only one I know about is at the dealership), but then you are still at the mercy of the time it takes to recharge.

Let me add to that another challenge - cold is an enemy. The battery holds less of its charge during the cold weather. We have a spate of freezing weather in Seattle and the range plunged precipitously. Not that the weather has returned to typical Seattle winter (rainy and grey), the numbers have recovered, but it was a concern. This ALSO may mean you won't see as much of electrics in, say Chicago, for a while.

How does it perform. Nicely. There's not transmission, so it accelerates extremely quickly and smoothly. It is a bit boxy, but navigates and turns well. Downsides? Minor things like no CD player, so I had to download my books on tape and put it onto a USB drive. Oh, and the GPS is absolutely horrible. If you want to know at the traffic conditions an hour ago, it is more than suitable, but I found no traffic on roads that it claims are clogged and have been held stock still on patches of highway that are supposed to have clear traffic. But that's kinda minor.

Ah, yes, and the tire sensors are, in the terms of my mechanic, "sensitive", such that if they get even a little out of balance, a sigil lights up on your dash that is supposed to be a cross-section of a tire with an exclamation point but really looks like the Eye of Sauron atop Barad-Dur. I've had it go off three times so far, but to be fair, one of them was the result of picking up a nail and really needing a patch..

The thing I tell people is that having an electric car is like owning a horse. You can't ride it too long without giving it a rest. You have to water (well, recharge) it when get there. And you're always checking out other horses to see if their owners are having the same challenges.

More later,