Sunday, March 05, 2017

An Honour and a Privilege

Well, Dearly Beloved, the curtain comes down on For the Love of Mahalia tonight.

It has been an honour and a privilege to work on this show.  Cast and crew have been unfailingly helpful and cheerful, and actors have been very patient with costume elements not appearing until the last minute, and with hats and dresses that need adjustment.

We have a couple of nice reviews, which I will post in full, as well as provide links, as links go dead after a while.  The first, from Broadway World, reads as follows:

Fledgling theatre company, RKJB Entertainment's production of an original work by Robert King, Jr, FOR THE LOVE OF MAHALIA, currently playing at the Boyd Vance Theatre, has problems, but ultimately its message is poignant and important.
Mahalia Jackson, born in New Orleans in 1911, rose from poverty to become the voice of American gospel music. She staunchly refused to sing secular music, choosing instead to use her powerful voice in service to her beliefs. FOR THE LOVE OF MAHALIA mixes real events and fictitious characters to tell the story of Jackson's life and her pivotal involvement in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's. Julie Matthews (Marett Hanes) is a young journalist looking for her first big break. While her mother Lily (Linda Myers) wants her daughter to be a housewife, Julie pursues magazine editor, Mr. Banks (Frank Benge) who dismisses her as a bothersome girl. She hits upon the idea of an interview with Mahalia Jackson (Jacqui Cross), who is a friend of her mother's housemaid Ruth (Kendra Franklin). Paying her own way from Montgomery, Alabama to Chicago, Julie meets the legendary singer and they become fast friends. We soon meet Martin Luther King, Jr (Robert King, Jr), Ralph Abernathy (Jeremy Rashad Brown) and Coretta Scott King (Kiarra Hogan) as Julie becomes involved in the struggle to end segregation and achieve equal protection under the law. The play with music is punctuated by Jackson's moving songs and a show stopping number from blues icon Bessie Smith (Sonia Moore).
FOR THE LOVE OF MAHALIA has enormous potential as an important voice in the continuing struggle for civil rights that has given birth to the Black Lives Matter movement. The production has problems but none of them are the fault of the performers. As a child of the 1960's I vividly remember hearing Mahalia's stirring voice on television and I swear that I saw her reborn through Cross' performance. Her portrayal is deeply heartfelt and her unmatched vocals gave me chills. Sonia Moore's rendition of Bessie Smith's Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer is fabulous in every way. As Martin and Corretta King, Robert King and Kiarra Hogan are warm and loving in their depiction of the civil rights leaders. Frank Benge is wonderfully irascible as Julie's boss, Mr. Banks, barking at her and picking his teeth with one of her submitted stories. As the young writer, Marett Hanes is perky and sweet but lacks the depth of the nuanced characters surrounding her. Music director and pianist Mattie Robinson deserves top marks for her performance and getting the absolute best performance from every song. Costumes by Veronica Prior are excellent, especially the beaded flapper dress for flashback with Bessie Smith. In general the script is uneven, sometimes lacking focus on what gives the best moments. A musical style song and dance with Julie and Ruth seems oddly out of place in a show that is obviously not a musical. Direction by Roger Thomas fails in providing a transitional thread between scenes, creating a choppy feel in a show that deserves so much better. Lighting by Ashley Sandal is haphazard, often leaving actors in the dark and the color scheme is questionable at best. The use of projections is powerful throughout the performance, the images are well chosen and evocative. All in all it's easy to overlook faults when Jacqui Cross sings, she truly embodies Mahalia's hope that her music could "break down some of the hate and fear that divide the white and black people in this country".
I recommend FOR THE LOVE OF MAHALIA for the pure joy of seeing Jacqui Cross give an utterly brilliant performance. Robert King's play may need work before it can be the momentous endeavour it has the potential of becoming, but it is certainly powerful in its current incarnation. I for one, will be watching RKJB Entertainment, their future looks very bright indeed.
The reviewer was there at final dress, which was a Murphy's Law of a night if I ever saw one.
Another review, this time from Central Texas Live Theatre:
Several theatrical productions in town now, on stage or just closing, give or claim to give important messages about activism, resistance, gender, and race relations in America in our current time of turmoil. Perhaps the clearest and most moving of these activist guidebooks is about to pass under the radar, but it is not to be missed by anyone. For the Love of Mahalia sings its vibrant song at the Boyd C. Vance Theatre at the Carver Center for one final weekend.The show focuses on the life of gospel/soul singer Mahalia Jackson (played by Jacqui Cross), and of course it is a thrilling musical. The show was written by local playwright Robert King, Jr. and directed by Roger Thomas. Production is by the brand new RKJB Entertainment Company.  

(photos via RKJB Productions)
(photos via RKJB Productions)

 Mahalia Jackson is one of the most intriguing background figures in modern history, particularly of the Civil Rights Era, not so long ago.  She sang gospel songs to huge crowds in Europe and America, all and only to the glory of God.She placed her powerful faith in Him to help her people get over there. Much is meant by the phrase “over there,” as described in the play.Its meanings of equality and civil rights came to the fore in her support for Martin Luther King, Jr. (played by Robert King Jr) and Ralph Abernathy (played by Jeremy Rashad Brown) of the Civil Rights movement. She hosted their kitchen table Bible studies and counseling sessions in her home in Chicago. MLK, especially, relied on her. The story is told of the 1963 March on Washington where he expressed his doubt that he could even speak to such a throng, the image of them around the Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument being so overwhelming. Mahalia Jackson leaned out of the group of dignitaries on the dais with MLK and said (paraphrasing): “Tell them about your dream, Martin. Tell them about the dream.” So inspired, MLK found his voice and gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, one of the greatest speeches of any kind in the twentieth century.  
 For the Love of Mahalia centers on 1965 and Julie Matthews (Marett Hanes), a young college graduate in journalism. She goes on a quest of sorts to interview Mahalia Jackson (Jacqui Cross), about whom little is known in the popular press. Jackson was extremely personable, easy to find if anyone could afford travel tickets to Chicago. Without giving anything away, it can be written that Julie wrote much about Jackson but discovered far more about herself. Julie’s story is an updating of the story of Baby Moses, Miriam, and Pharaoh’s Daughter.  
 The songs of Mahalia Jackson are given equal weight with the narrative story by and about Julie Matthews. They are sung by Jacqui Cross as Mahalia, with one duet with Ms. Cross and Marett Hanes. Bessie Smith (Sonia Moore) sings in flashback one of her powerhouse 1920s torch songs, attired in an authentic 20s flapper costume. Credit goes to Veronica Prior for all the 20s and 60s costumes, and Jennifer Gross deserves much credit for the period-perfect wigs and hairstyles.  
 The well-produced theatrical march across the Edmund Pettis bridge in Selma in March of 1965 highlights the exceptional video design of the play, with gut-wrenching archival photographs of the actual police riot by Alabama state troopers that broke up the march, killing one. The staging of the march in For the Love of Mahalia is superior to that of the same event in a vastly better funded theatre across town.  
 As a musical, For the Love of Mahalia is essentially a star vehicle for singer Jacqui Cross. Ms Cross is a veteran of several Zach Theatre musicals and is a founding member of the relatively new Spectrum Theatre Company. Ms Cross is a worthy bearer of the musical legacy of Mahalia Jackson, and this is not an overstatement.  
 In every good play there exists a corner of the plot inhabited by a character who throws all the other characters into sharp, clear relief. In For the Love of Mahalia, that corner and that character is inhabited by Frank Benge as Mr. Banks, the cigar chomping, whiskey swilling, cursing, slovenly editor of Image Magazine. Julie Matthews seeks him out to pitch her article on Mahalia Jackson. Mr. Banks says nothing but “no” to her, yet somehow he manages to send her out on her quest, thus impelling the story. Benge (Death and the MaidenThe Suicide, countless other stage presentations) embodies with glee the character of Mr. Banks.  
 Stage management was by the very efficient Taylor Moessinger (The Great American Trailer Park Musical), but certain annoying sound and lighting glitches lay beyond her control. Specifically, one of the props was a metallic or glass-bottomed food tray. The tray reflected the scenic lighting as large, wiggly figures onto the scrim upstage. They continued to wiggle and distract throughout the scene in Jackson’s Chicago home. As we are into the last weekend of the run and the error has not been caught, the insufficiency approaches inexcusability.  
Still and all, For the Love of Mahalia is the best recent theatrical call to social activism, keeping its eyes on the prize of racial justice in America. Mahalia Jackson always sang from her deepest heart, and so does For the Love of Mahalia.  The show runs until March 5th, 2017 at the Boyd C. Vance Theatre in the Carver Center in east Austin.  
I have to say that I don't really like the slightly snarky comparison of our show with one produced by another Austin Theater.  This is not a competition.  This is two different playwrights, each with something to say about events from fifty years in the past and how they relate to the present.  We all have different visions, as well as different budgets, and we all do the best we can with what we have to work with.
I can only say, "Thanks, y'all, for letting me play!"

Sunday, February 26, 2017


I grew up in a garlic-free home.  Neither of my parents liked it, so we never had it.  Not in the house, not in the garden, not in the spaghetti, not in the meatloaf, not in the garlic to be found in the Dobell household.  I did hear legends of its overwhelming foul odour, which was said to be at least ten times worse than skunk.

Imagine my surprise when, out on my own and grocery shopping, I found these little things that looked sort of like little tiny onions, only different.  Very cheap, so I decided to try them.  Sliced and sauteed in butter, their pungent aroma pervaded the house and the flavour was startling.

I still didn't realize this was the dread garlic.  I shopped at an Asian market where English signs were infrequent at best.

My housemates were less than impressed, but, without knowing anything of the health benefits, I was probably the healthiest I had ever been.  Pregnant, too.

My delight in garlic survived that pregnancy, where "morning sickness" was something of a conservative estimate of the amount of sickness I was feeling.

I still love it.  Of all the things my parents grew, cooked, and ate, I can think of very few that garlic would not have improved.  Even vegetable marrow, which was one of the vilest things I was ever forced to eat.

I don't think even garlic could have improved my attitude toward rice pudding, though.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Moving Along

I can't actually believe it's February already...and almost Half Price Chocolate Day!  It's nice to have something to look forward to!  My mother's birthday was Feb 13th, and she'd be 112 if she were still alive today.  Damn, I'm getting old.  Addy Mags has a birthday on the 17th...The Big Three!

The Austin Theatre Project project [Title of Show]

I'm working on closes on the 18th and RKJB Entertainment's For the Love of Mahalia

opens on the 23rd, so this is a busy month for me.  The ATP play requires little of me besides my presence, as it has a cast of four, one costume per actor and contemporary, so I'm just there to make sure their buttons get put back if they pull a kamikaze move.  Mahalia, on the other hand, is a 1960s period piece, with an occasional foray into the past from there.  Including one of her iconic (damn, I hate that word, but sometimes it works) concert gowns.  Fun.

Both daughters have moved out, so it's just The Teen and myself, trying to dig out of my Hoarder's Paradise with the help of four cats and the boxer.

Fun times.

Speaking of Fun Times, a man got murdered to death at a local convenience store...something that indicates Round Rock is truly a Big City, and on its way to becoming the Crime Capitol of Texas.  This is in spite of our police cars being repainted from their former white with purple and gold letters

 to fierce black with big white letters.

I'm reassured about public safety now.  Aren't you?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Well, instead of electing a candidate who has experience in international politics and a lifetime record of public service, y'all have elected an asshole who thinks the whole thing is a joke.  He is, at best, a loose cannon and at worst, a full-blown despot.  He thinks the role of President of the USA is a step down from his gilded tower.

Way to go, America.

We have been lagging, compared to the rest of the world, in the way we look after people...minorities, the disabled, women, children.  We have slipped down well below the level of acceptable, let alone exceptional.  We expect people to work for starvation wages.  We have lousy health care.  We don't care a whole lot about the environment.  Our schools are overcrowded and underfunded, with religious idiots in charge of curricula.  All that is about to get worse.

This election has brought home to me that nearly half the country is comprised of people who never look beyond their tiny miserable lives to see that there is a world out there, filled with infinite promise.  Kind of reminds me of a couple of minor characters in the Narnia books who, when Aslan won the battle and there was a feast, lurked within a shack of their own mental creation, eating crusts and scraps.

When asked why they liked Donald J Trump, the catchphrase during the campaign was, "He speaks his mind."  All I could think of was, "Well, if that's the case, I wish he would shut up!"  He didn't "speak his mind," he spoke the words that his ignorant fans wanted to hear.  He gave permission for them to be assholes, just like him (only not rich).  So now, all these people think it's perfectly all right to be racist, misogynistic, xenophobic bigots.  Some of them probably think doing so will make them rich.

Science is the enemy.  Gimme that old time religion.  Of the christian sort, of course.

So far, Trump has taken several shots at the First speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion.  And I suppose you've seen his cabinet choices...none of them are at all competent for the jobs they are being given, and many have histories of fighting the very departments they have been assigned.  Take Rick Perry (please) charge of the Department of Energy...we all remember when he debated four years ago and wanted to abolish three departments...but couldn't remember the third (oops).  Now he's going to be running the department he couldn't remember.  And the rest of them are just as bad.

Then there is this whole Russian hacking debacle.  While there seems to be no doubt that Russian intelligence hacked the DNC, apparently there are some who doubt that installing Trump as a Putin puppet was the objective.  Personally, I can't think of another reason.  "To disrupt the election" seems awfully vague and silly, to me; more along the lines of a fraternity prank.  Installing a puppet leader who will lift the sanctions Obama placed on Russian oil, though...that makes sense.  Not good sense, but sense.

Will the Electoral College step up and do what they were designed to do?  Analysts say not bloody likely.  So it looks like we are stuck with an unpredictable, ineducable asshole at the helm.

I never did like reality TV.

Friday, October 21, 2016

I've been busy, OK?

Here are the show shots from Sweeney Todd.

You can see I've been a little busy...I've made a few tweaks to the costumes since the photos were taken, and will try to get updated pics...of course, they won't be as good as Doc List's, but I'm hoping I can catch the actors backstage in the improvements.

Here's a review:  If you have an ad blocker, just click on the banner and it will go away...

Here's Mrs Lovett with add-on.

I'm not sure what my next project is, but I'll try to be a better blogger.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Wow! It's Nice!

Sam Bass Theatre presented me with this last night.  Very kind of them, I must say!

I guess that hanging around for thirty-odd years will get you noticed.

And my friend Dave Butts took me for a ride in his Tesla

And Laura made me cheesecake!

And they were supposed to roast me, but everything anyone said was nice, so I don't think it qualified!

Thanks to one and all for a memorable evening!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Here We Are Again

Nine years ago yesterday, I went about my business, never knowing that, a couple of hours after midnight, my life would change forever.

When Brendan and I found Jim outside, I couldn't even touch him.  He was breathing, still, but I could see the hole in his head and there was blood everywhere.  I was afraid, I think, of being sucked into the maelstrom with him.  And afraid that he wouldn't feel like my Jim.  There was no comfort I could give him.  Comfort is, after all, for the living.

I've tried to remember him like this wedding picture, rather than that mental image I just described, and I usually succeed.  Like this, or in motion.  Teaching a class.  Directing a show.  Building something.  Painting something.  Writing something, and chuckling at what he had written.
But I am still sometimes overwhelmed with sadness and guilt.  What if there were something I could have done?  Did I not love him enough?  Contribute enough to his life to make it worthwhile?

At such times, I have to get a firm grip and remind myself that his suicide was about him.  How could it be about me?  Still...There are those moments that come unbeknownst and stay forever.  One such is the look in Jim's eyes as I kissed him that last night.  At the time, I couldn't figure out what was going on, and it bothered me while I was trying to go to sleep.  In hindsight, it was anguish.  Would it have helped if I had asked him what was wrong?

He wanted me to get the house back the way his mother had kept it...but I couldn't.  He had hurt his back a few months before, when we moved into the house, and the place was crammed to the max with antiques.  Not to mention that he had given away her contemporary furniture (and mine...and his) to make room for all the things he could not bring himself to sell or donate to a museum.  He felt like a failure for not looking after all the things the way his mother, grandmother, great aunts and every ancestor back to the Civil War had done.  Every single piece held memories for him, and he hoarded the memories the same way he hoarded the furniture.

I have said before that it seemed he cared more for the stuff than he did for me.  His letter instructed me in the disposal of all of it, but the law had other ideas.  I did the best I could.

Yesterday, I was thinking about the way I had gone about on that day, with no inkling it was my last day with him.

I'm glad I told him I loved him before I went to bed.