Friday, November 27, 2009

Godot? God No.

Some years ago, my grandfather and step-grandmother (whom I never address as step-grandmother - preferring to call her Denise which is not her given name) came to visit Long Island and brought us to a painfully expensive restaurant courtesy of Taylor Publishing. Grandpa was a big shot in the said publishing company, and was fond of showing how much he cared for us by buying us expensive meals about twice every decade. Denise (not her real name) upon hearing my analysis of the restaurant's faux pas in overcooking the flounder I had eaten stated how she imagined me one day becoming a critic. What type of critic she never said. It is true that I carry strong opinions about nearly everything. I find it difficult to harbor wishy-washy flip-floppery feelings about things. So being the case, I found no small amount of pleasure when I took a "Modern Drama in New York" class as part of the bullshit required curriculum of Stony Brook University. What this essentially entailed was going to see shows and writing critiques of them. Because I found this process so entertaining and was extremely pleased with the results, I here share them - one by one. I here present the one I most recently re-read - that of Nathan Lane, John Goodman, Bill Irwin, and John Glover in Waiting for Godot. This was my final submission for the class which ultimately resulted in yet another A.

The Roundabout Theater Company’s latest production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, staged in the perverse yet hallowed halls of Manhattan’s erstwhile disco orgy palace, Studio 54, seems more like an overpriced sleep aid than a play. Or, for up to $116, treat yourself to one of the best-orchestrated naps that money can buy. In what can only be described as the Roundabout’s plan to cash in on celebrity names, they have staged their Godot with a look and feel so fresh, you’d swear it was 1953.
It is quite impossible to imagine any self-respecting director sitting back in his chair and believing he has created his magnum opus in this particular production. Instead, it plays out like something of a Godot fanboy’s wet dream with this platitudinous dime-store formula: Well Established Comic Genius + The Set You’ve Seen Countless Times + A Dreary Bridge-and-Tunnel Audience = Success!
Steve Rubell with his usual nightly ration of cocaine would have had difficulty staying awake for the duration of this performance. Even Nathan Lane’s signature grating, Jersey-accented shouting and overly expressive gesticulations weren’t enough to sufficiently energize Beckett’s existentialist lullaby to keep much of the audience around for Act II. Witnesses to this tragedy of a comedy may find it easy to sympathize with John Goodman’s increasingly corpulent rotundity rolling around the stage blindly asking for help, but as the bobbing heads and drooping eyes from the theater’s mezzanine indicate, they won’t necessarily be entertained by it. The audience seemed so unsure of the humor in this clunker that they basically laughed when instructed to by Mr. Lane; that is, when he screeched or grotesquely contorted his face.
Bill Irwin’s Vladimir makes a gallant effort to outshow Lane’s porcine Estragon, but he and his thin frame vanish into the drab background between the two scenery-chewing behemoths, the twin moons of Lane and Goodman. Perhaps Goodman’s most sincere moment of acting was when he “feigned” heart palpitations, an event that left this reviewer wondering if he shouldn’t call the paramedics… just in case.
Godot as read may not be the most exciting play, but just as throwing a couple of hams into a pot does not a Sunday dinner make, tossing two fat funny men on a New York stage and hoping for the best is less a recipe for success and more for disaster. But perhaps disaster is too strong a word - the audience in this production was so mind-numbingly disengaged that had Lane and Goodman spontaneously burst into flame at the end of the play it is doubtful anyone would have been paying enough attention to think to shout “Fire!”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Oscar the Grouch: TIME LORD

Having recently watched the new Doctor Who special The Waters of Mars, I have drifted to sleep these past 2 nights trying to come up with theories as to how the Doctor will regenerate. My nerdiest idea? The Master imbued the Doctor with part of his essence right before he died in the Doctor's arms - leading to the Doctor's dark turn in the most recent episode. Thus, the Master STEALS ONE OF THE DOCTOR'S REGENERATIONS... causing the Doctor grievous bodily harm and forcing him to regenerate. Another theory - he senses that his current regeneration has fallen from grace and willfully goes about the process.
As I've been thinking about Doctor Who and the 40th Anniversary of Sesame Street, it suddenly dawned on me.
Ladies and gentlemen, this seems a stretch, but I do assure you by the end of this transmission, you will be as devout a believer as I was when I saw this stark evidence. LET THE PROOF BEGIN!
The Doctor is well known for traveling around in an obsolete time and spacecraft called a TARDIS, a less-than-clever acronym for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space. Due to a broken Chameleon Circuit (a device which normally disguises the machine to match its surroundings), the TARDIS is stuck in the form of a wooden blue 1950's style British Police Box. Oddly enough, never were police boxes constructed of wood. Apart from being able to travel back and forth through time and through all points of space (not unlike the Infinite Improbability Drive of Douglas Adams' limitless imagination) the craft is well known also for being much larger on the inside than on the outside. See for yourself:
Exhibit A: Exterior with 6'1" 10th Doctor for scale.
Exhibit B: Interior w/ Camera Crew in background for scale

Where have I seen something similar? OH YES! Oscar the Grouch's garbage can in front of 123 Sesame St.! Observe!
Exhibit C: Oscar the Grouch in Garbage Can with 5'9" Tony Danza for Scale

Exhibit D: Interior of Oscar's Garbage Can
Oscar's trash can is obviously much larger on the inside. It is said to contain, apart from the items pictured, an elephant, a swimming pool, a china cabinet, and a portal to Oscar's home planet of Grouchland. I can hear your nerdly grumblings already: "But BillChas, surely you know that Time Lords are from the Planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous at "galactic coordinates ten-zero-eleven-zero-zero by zero-two from galactic zero centre." I say it was a ruse - that Oscar was merely hiding his true home planet to live a low-profile life on a happy block full of happy neighbors singing about the alphabet in Queens, New York.
What may we infer? Oscar's trash can is a TARDIS!

The Doctor's famous ability to cheat death by a process of regeneration, essentially changing of physical appearance and a general trend toward aging backward, has ensured that even 47 years into its broadcast the Time Lord abideth. Behold!
Exhibit F: The Doctor's 11 Regenerations

The Doctor changes appearance and mode of dress over his 903 years (debatable) of life. It is one of the most powerful and recognizable trademarks of any superhero. Indeed, the image of the Doctor suffering and dying only to cheat death is... wonderful to ponder. It is one of my favorite of his traits. WATCH THE DOCTOR REGENERATE AFTER CONTRACTING SPECTROX TOXAEMIA... my favorite regeneration.

And as for Oscar? Ladies and gentlemen, prepare to have your minds blown!
Exhibit G: The FIRST Oscar the Grouch (1969-1970)

Exhibit H: The SECOND Oscar the Grouch (1971-Present)
Ladies and gentlemen: YOUR MINDS ARE BLOWN! Oscar appears to have regenerated some time between 1970 and 1971. What the circumstances leading up to his apparent death are left to the imagination, but just let this shocking, STARK evidence of Oscar's Time Lordship settle in.
Still, a few questions remain. Why is he not sought out by the Doctor or the Master? Why did he leave Gallifrey? How could he have survived the Time War? Does the fact that he lives in a trash can suggest he is part Dalek? Is he still liable to fall in love with hideously bucktoothed British women with badly dyed hair and mannish eyebrows? I suppose that is the mystique of a Time Lord... and a question worth pondering.
I have no idea what I will talk about next.
This blog entry was brought to you today by the letter Q and the number 8.
Cue Doctor Who theme tune.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

MTA: Misguided Transportation Annoyance

You will pardon the interruption. Today's entry will not be about Oscar the Grouch: Time Lord, but instead is inspired by true events. The next entry will be MUCH more entertaining (read: silly). (This was posted to quell any comments Derek may make.)
Times are tough. Even life for we self-proclaimed mayors is not without its inevitable snares. Today, I had to write a pointed letter to the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing regarding a very serious issue that occurred this morning. At around 8:00 am, I arrived at the Franklin Ave. 4, 5 and Shuttle stop. Finding that my 30-Day Unlimited Ride Metrocard had expired, I approached a ticket vending machine, only to find that every single machine was not accepting credit or debit cards. I asked the station agent at the token booth who said there was nothing she could do for me and that I'd have to use cash, an extraordinarily inconvenient bit of news. As such, I had to leave the station and walk to a nearby bank to withdraw $100 in twenty-dollar bills, as I had no cash on my person at the time. When again I approached the machine to purchase an $89 30-Day Unlimited Metrocard, I was informed that it would only dispense a maximum of $6 in change. I again approached the station agent who very kindly made the change for me. Nonetheless, the entire ordeal caused me to be 20 minutes late for work. Given the current times, this is unacceptable. I expect and deserve a sincere written apology (not an automated reply) and a solemn promise that such a fiasco will never be allowed to happen again.

William Olsen-Hoek

I neglected to throw in my multitudinous titles for fear that they would be overwhelmed by my perceived importance. Let us hope that His Excellency Emperor Bloomberg, Defender of the Boroughs sees fit to improve this obviously flawed system. Now... if only we had a mayor with real ideas - say... A MONORAIL.
But for real, next time! OSCAR THE GROUCH: TIME LORD!

Monday, November 2, 2009

How Postseason Baseball Destroyed Baseball: A Nocturne of Too Many Commercials, Too Many Pitching Changes, and the Inane Ramblings of Incompetent Men

...Named Tim McCarver.
(Edit: Since this is a Nocturne, I suggest that all readers listen to Chopin Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2 whilst reading along...)
I'm sorry, but the entirety of my thesis did not fit in the title box on Blogger. BLAST YOU GOOGLE INC.!
Baseball is the most important sport in history. As I allow that hyperbole to settle in, let me prove it. Baseball currently ranks second in the most popular team sports worldwide, topped only by football (the European flavor, that is). Baseball, however, is a much better and more important game, due entirely to the superior uniforms and the fact that it was invented in the United States rather than Great Britain. That its roots trace to bat and ball games played during the American Revolutionary War (wherein the United States annihilated the most powerful Empire on Planet Earth by hiding in trees and wearing subdued colors while their opponents marched in single file as gentlemen wearing lobster-red coats and powdered wigs) bears testament to its superiority to anything produced by a tea-obsessed monarchy.
Baseball traces its roots to the similar, but decidedly more English, sport of cricket - except that cricket is played on an oval rather than a diamond, participants have "tea" rather than a seventh inning stretch, players are given the ridiculously named field positions of "silly mid-off," bowlers (not pitchers) are allowed to bean the batsman to try and injure him, and it is not uncommon for a test cricket match to last three days... although it does seem that the current trend will see baseball games lasting three whole days in just a few years.
Why, you may ask? The answer: MERCHANDISING!
In the 1990s, baseball suffered from one of its worst decades of popularity. I attribute this to three main factors:
1.) Players became exceptionally greedy and demanded more money.
2.) Owners became exceptionally greedy.
3.) Canadian teams dominated the 1992, 1993 and the shortened 1994 season.
This third observation seems an exercise in xenophobia (which I here deny, being that I am a firm supporter of the Sovereign Dominion of Canada), but when you examine the facts (the Toronto Blue Jays winning the World Series in '92 and '93 and the 1994 Montréal Expos proclaiming that they were "Meilleure Équipe du Baseball" due entirely to their having the best record before the cursed strike) maybe we need to (dare I say) BLAME CANADA! Speaking of the Strike: World War II did not stop the World Series from being played, but money sure did in 1994. It would not be until the steroid-soaked home run hitting monsters of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa squared off in a battle royale to challenge Roger Maris's single season home run record that baseball would lick its '90s wounds. The resurgence in popularity also coincided with the steroid-fueled Yankees winning a million World Series and the completely forgotten Atlanta Braves (aptly named the Team of the '90s, though they only won the 1995 World Series) owning the National League (pennants in '91, '92, '95, '96 and '99; division titles in every year of the decade but '90 and '94). But at what price did this popularity come?
Specialization has ruined the pace of baseball. Game 5 of the 1969 World Series ended when Davey Johnson (ironically future skipper of the champion '86 Mets) popped up to Cleon Jones, just 2 hours and 14 minutes after the first pitch. Anyone who's attended a ballgame with me knows how much I LOVE short games. They usually indicate pitching duels and just enough scoring to keep the game flowing. In stark contrast, the most recent (miserable) World Series saw Yankees crowned again after a THREE HOUR AND FIFTY TWO MINUTE struggle. I've walked out of shorter operas (Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa)! Why? Take a good look at the pitching statistics for these games:
Game 5 of the 1969 World Series
Game 6 of the 2009 World Series
The Orioles and Mets combined sent three pitchers to the mound 40 years ago.
The Phillies and Yankees offered TEN.
It has gotten to a point where managers put a single pitcher in to face a single batter based on what hand he throws with. Pitching changes are an opportunity for networks to show MORE COMMERCIALS! Is it any wonder that the baseball postseason now ends in November? The '69 season ended some 2 weeks sooner than did the 2009. A whole extra month of slow-paced games featuring only 8 teams? That's a recipe for disgruntlement. Postseason games are also strategically spaced to air the games at prime time (often meaning games will not end until past 11:00 pm), whereas World Series games were often played in the daytime just a few decades ago. You had the entire rest of the afternoon and evening to celebrate your team's victory - a moment well described in Thomas Oliphant's Praying for Gil Hodges, when an entire borough celebrated together. There's something Amazin' about watching the last out of the '69 Series in the daytime. The sun adds to the joy of the moment.
And finally, one man has single-handedly destroyed postseason baseball.
October 16, 1941. One of the most mediocre baseball personalities was born. James Timothy McCarver was selected as an All-Star twice and twice won the World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals. His boring curriculum vitae and overall baseball ineptitude meant that he could never manage a team... perhaps also due to his disgusting Southern drawl. Listening to Tim McCarver call a baseball game is almost as bad as sitting in a family style restaurant in Lancaster, Pennsylvania having an old man take 8 minutes to spit out the question, "Son, is Long Island part of Fire Island?" His obnoxious burbling only worsens his atrociously nonsensical observations on the game of baseball. A colleague said he is someone who, "when you ask him the time, will tell you how a watch works." His subpar baseball calling and confusion of rules leaves one wondering - why the FUCK do networks insist on having him call postseason baseball games? Perhaps as a Mets fan I am spoiled. My booth is filled with two Ivy League graduates and two former Mets whose combined curricula amount to 6 All-Star selections, 12 Gold Glove Awards, and 2 Silver Slugger Awards. Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling and Gary Cohen amount to the most talented and entertaining team of baseball analysts in baseball today. It makes one wonder how a hack like Tim McCarver gets such a job. Enjoy a wikipedia entry on the various criticisms of McCarver.
So how do we fix the postseason? I offer the following recipe:
  1. Bring back day games. Some of us have to sleep at night and besides, we all have the means to record it and watch it again later.
  2. Adhere to strict time limits in warmups and between innings.
  3. Fewer days between postseason games. At least TRY to confine "October Baseball" to October.
  4. Always provide a playoff berth for the New York Mets.
  5. Fire Tim McCarver... or at least ship him off to call cricket games, as his knowledge of baseball's British counterpart probably isn't too far removed from his baseball knowledge.
  6. Make me, The Rev. Dr. Mayor William C. Olsen-Hoek, Esq. into Commissioner The Rev. Dr. Mayor William C. Olsen-Hoek, Esq.. I imagine my name with full title regalia would look marvelous stamped on all official league baseballs! In fact, let's see what it would look like using sophisticated computer technology!

An enormous thank you to Greg for his outstanding work in imagining what baseballs will look like under my Commissionership.
Next Time! Oscar the Grouch: TIME LORD.