Monday, July 11, 2011

Woodstock Revisited

I have mentioned in the past that I am a fan of the theater, and Rapid City, as small as it is, has a fairly active arts community.  In general, I would consider myself a patron of the arts.  The Church has a long and rich history of helping to provide for the needs of artists, particularly inasmuch as she has historically been one of the primary institutions to commissions great works of art.  Significant names such as Michelangelo, Mozart, and Bernini are among the artists whose fame was achieved, in some part, by work they accomplished for the Church.  Thus, I feel largely vindicated in paying an outrageous fee for a ticket to a show.  Likewise, I strive to support the efforts of students involved in the arts at school.

My patronage, however, has its limits.

About a week ago, a friend from high school and I decided that we would go to the Black Hills Playhouse to take in their latest production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  I had seen a Playhouse interpretation of this musical in the past and was very pleased with it.  I expected that, though different in some ways, this production would be similarly satisfying.  I managed to maintain this merry sentiment until we arrived in the driveway of the Playhouse.  We were greeted by a youthful hippie directing us toward our parking place.  Other young hippies were doing similar work.  Exiting the vehicle, we discovered that the entire campus of the theater was infested with hippies.  Beads and leather and fringe abounded.  They were scattered about the lawn playing games with one another, others huddled in small groups chatting and smoking near the restroom door, and still others wandered among the gathering crowd welcoming viewers to the performance.

We acquired our tickets from the box office and were escorted to our seats in the right balcony by a less flamboyant hippie.  To my horror, a whole separate group of hippies had taken control of the stage and were regaling the audience with hippie propaganda in the form of some bizarre Mother-earth story.  When they had finished, we were treated to an a Capella rendition of I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing.  About the time that the singing hippies were pining to buy the world a coke, a wandering minstrel hippie with a guitar arrived to join the fun.  He played along with the singing she-hippies until the end of the song.  So entranced were they by their own music that they took to dancing on the stage.  This was followed by an impromptu acrobatic performance by several other hippies.  I cannot be certain, but I think this was intended to be interpreted as an homage to the sexual revolution (after all, everything a hippie does is at least implicitly meant to celebrate the sexual revolution).  Having cast their spells over the less wary members of the audience, the hippies then convinced people to join them onstage for dirty hippie games until the beginning of the performance.

By this time I had ascertained that these hippies were all to be in the show.  Soon the lights dimmed, the hippies scattered like cockroaches (an apropos metaphor for them, really), the spotlight came up, and one of the she-hippies made her appearance playing the role of the narrator.  Other than the hippie stuff, she was excellent.  Likewise, some of the dancers in the chorus were quite good.  In all, though, the show was mediocre.  The man cast as Joseph was apparently chosen less for his ability to sing and act than for his physical approximation of Donny Osmond.  The character of Pharaoh was a sad imitation of Elvis, more akin to the broken old man who died on his toilet than the virile white southern boy who could sing like a black man.

In one of his less lucid moments, the director decided that the song Any Dream Will Do was to be cut from the beginning of the show (it is hard to reprise a song at the end which was never sung in the beginning).  The Playhouse either cannot afford or cannot find live musicians, leaving them to depend upon a recorded version of the soundtrack for the music accompanying the performance.  Better recorded music can be found in a karaoke bar.  Other than Dan Workman (who, though a seasoned actor and a theater coach at Augustana College, was extremely disappointing) in his role as Jacob, the whole cast was very young, perhaps too young.  This performance was at best, an ok college performance.  

As I have said, I am not indisposed to pay for good art.  I am, however, indisposed to pay rather steep prices for poor seats at a less than stellar performances of well known and much loved musicals.  I appreciate the difficulties the playhouse has encountered in the last several years.  If, however, they desire to succeed and even excel in the theatrical arts as they once did, they are going to have to send their hippies backstage and do the hard work necessary to win patrons as once did the venerable artists upon whose shoulders they would presume to stand.    

Thursday, July 7, 2011


For several weeks now, I have known that I needed to get home.  I hadn't seen my parents in several weeks, we had talked on the telephone only long enough to convey various pieces of vital information, I was getting edgy.  Likewise, I hadn't seen my brothers in any kind of prolonged way for months, and for whatever reason, our phone conversations occurred only in quick snippets as I ran from one thing to the next.  But, I was moving and trying to see everyone before going, and I put off visiting home knowing that it would still be there when I eventually got there.  That, I know, is a dangerous assumption to make.  If one stays away long enough the home one left behind begins to disintegrate.  What was old and familiar disappears.  For me, this has not happened yet, but I know it can happen if I am not careful.

I have reflected on this fact to some degree in the weeks since I last wrote.  To a certain extent, my immediate biological family suffers as a result of my own vocation.  I know that they love me, I assume that they know I love them, but there are moments when I struggle because I am the father of a family here in Rapid City, and that fatherhood has to take precedence over what would otherwise be pressing obligations to my biological family.  They, however, are (usually) very deliberate about keeping themselves connected to me.  This is a fact for which I am very grateful.

In the last several weeks, I have run the emotional gamut.  Near the end of last week, I was exhausted in body and spirit.  Like my phone whose battery constantly seems to be on the verge of dying, I new I needed to be recharged, and I knew that a strategic withdrawal to Red Owl would be the only way to accomplish such a renewal.  So, shortly before the Fourth of July, I called my brothers and more or less begged them to come home, and I arranged to spend two days on the ranch.  They were among the best days of the summer so far.  I played catch with my dad, brother, and nephews.  I threatened to attack my mother with the garden hose.  I went swimming in a small stock dam.  I went fishing for bass.  I shot skeet with my dad and brothers.  I lit fireworks with my whole family.  I surveyed the garden and greenhouse.  I harassed my sisters-in-law, and held my baby nieces.  We played guitars and harmonicas, and ate food prepared over good hardwood embers.  We drank some beer, shot pistols (not necessarily in that order), and generally had a good time of it all.  The next day I helped slaughter a beef, and then I slept and slept and slept.  In the evening I fished again, and finally came back to town.

From all of this I acquired a lovely bronze hue in the face and arms, and a less lovely pink hue across the neck, shoulders, and legs.  More importantly, I got plugged in.  I was reminded of where I came from, who I was, and what I am about.  Most certainly, I rested, but more importantly, I really lived.  A good plunge in a stinking mossy water hole does a great deal to revive the soul.  Thus revived, a great meal in the American tradition gives a soul luster and sheen.  A family, though, is the thing that sustains it.  Early this week, my family did that for me.