24 October 2014

Are you looking for a class...

...about a songwriter who’s
“outrageous, alarming, courageous, and charming”?

(Have we got a class for you!)



Eng 213 Studies in American Literature –

Randy Newman’s American Voice(s)

M/W 10:50-12:05

Starting with his first album in 1968 and continuing through his most recent release in 2011
 (as well as many of his very popular film soundtracks), Randy Newman has populated his music with a series of characters that reflect the complexities and contradictions of the late-20th-century and early 21st-century United States.

Often misunderstood because of his preference for dramatic monologues (as opposed to the more personal/confessional approach of the rock/pop/folk singer-songwriter), Newman – steeped in our national, musical and cinematic history – offers his audience unflinching portraits of an array of outcasts, patriots, bigots, dreamers, simpletons, loners, and lovers struggling to understand our world, even as its very foundation seems to be shifting beneath them.

For more info:

 Dr. Gilbert L. Gigliotti
Department of English
Emma Hart Willard Hall 329
Central Connecticut State University
New Britain, CT 06050
860/832-2759     gigliotti@ccsu.edu


05 October 2014

Confessions of a Whitehead Disciple

This is something I wrote several years ago for a salute to Mr. Dennis Whitehead, a former teacher and colleague of mine at The Covington Latin School, who just announced that he is retiring after 43 years of remarkable teaching!

     Covington Latin School alums are, like Latin School itself, a rare breed.  And no one, I repeat NO ONE, more completely manifests that rarity than Denny Whitehead.  For he, more completely than anyone else, embodies that rare combination of the rigors and the joys of learning, upon which the Latin School tradition is based.
     I write this as a former student (1973-1977), a former colleague (1982-1985), and a far-too-distant (and too-long-out-of-touch) friend.  What makes Denny Whitehead who he is, as I reflect upon him now, is his intensity, the feeling those around him get that he takes his job as an educator so personally (and feels it so viscerally) that one cannot ignore him.  Indeed one cannot evade that intensity.  Nor should one want to.
     I now realize that, for me, in 1973, Denny was Montgomery Clift in a VW, James Dean in the Dean’s Office.  Of course, as a short, pudgy, 11-year-old from Mt. Warshington (as Tim Fitzgerald would mockingly say), Montgomery Clift may as well have been Montgomery Ward, and Jimmy Dean made pork sausage.  Nevertheless the intensity that he always has shared with those seminal cinematic figures is undeniable and unavoidable.  For their intensity is not always comfortable, but, despite all the discomfort, Monty, James, and Denny never distance themselves from it.  And that passion pervades both his life and his classes while demanding something more of all of us.
     No one, after all, coasted through freshman bio; no one thought junior drama was a cakewalk; and certainly no one lightly chose his senior elective in modern European history.  Why?  It certainly wasn’t simply because he was a “hard grader.”  Let’s be honest: how many classes at CLS are easy?  What made Denny’s teaching different, was the feeling that it mattered personally to him that we appreciated the Linnaean system of biological classification, that we took seriously the comedy of Harold Pinter’s “brandy balls,” and that we grappled with the complexities of the origins of modern nation states.  Most often imperceptibly (but sometimes quite visibly), he made it clear that this stuff mattered, not simply because it would be on the next test but because knowledge mattered, learning mattered, intelligence mattered. 
     It has always been too easy (and perhaps even too human) to listen to and ignore sermons about the need to use the talents God has granted us, but the Gospel according to Denny demands our full attention.  And, perhaps more than any single alumnus or alumna in the history of Latin School (be they priests, lawyers, entrepreneurs, or teachers), Denny Whitehead has lived the life of the true prophet who takes the talents of all quite seriously and demands that everyone around him do the same.
     Now, lest it seem that I am canonizing St. Dennis of Covington, an idea that I’m sure Denny would object to even more than the Church hierarchy, I do not mean to overlook his keen, and subversive, wit, his iconoclasm, and his impressive use of the pop cultural allusion.  Remember: he was Dennis Miller before Dennis Miller.
     And, in that spirit, let me suggest that, in his honor, everyone netflix Hitchcock’s I Confess.  What could be more apropos?  Monty Clift as a priest.  Feel his intensity, embrace the discomfort, and ask something more of everyone, yourself included.

Denny, congratulations!  

Gil Gigliotti (Class of ’77)

14 August 2014

Give Mr. Banks' Boy a Break!

I just can't figure out what these songwriters have against this kid!

"Beggars' Parade"
Working My Way Back to You (1966)
The Four Seasons,

Hungry for bread, plant a seed
Satisfy your evil greed
No, you'd rather collect that unemployment check
Why should you work, like the rest,
When it's easier to protest?
Oh, you're all the same,
Bowery bum, banker's son
Beat the drum, here they come
Banker's son, bowery bum

"Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters"
Honky Chateau (1972)
Elton John

While Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night
For unless they see the sky
But they can't and that is why
They know not if it's dark outside or light

14 June 2014

That great quote from "The Barefoot Contessa": A Review of "Spelling Bee" at POP

Before the review proper begins, a few disclaimers (and a clarification):

1) My older daughter was five-time, city-wide spelling bee champion (grades 4 through 8) in New Britain;

2) That same daughter, now a rising college sophomore, is a summer administrative intern at Playhouse on Park;

3) A doctor from our family's medical past was an original investor in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee;


4) The "great quote" referred to in the title of this post is delivered by the wife of Humphrey Bogart's character in The Barefoot Contessa and is addressed to a drunken starlet who's just asked, "What's she [Ava Gardner] got that I don't?"  She responds:

What she's got you can't spell, and what you've got you used to have.

Photo: Rich Wagner
I offer that great piece of script writing, first, because it's one of the greatest put-down lines in Hollywood history (and delivered by the most minor of characters, no less), and, secondly, because the first half of it is so apropos here: What makes this show, and this Playhouse on Park (POP) production, so good is hard to put into words (much less spell 'em).
If you don't know the show, it is what the title suggests, following six young spellers (and even four pre-selected audience members) as they try to become the next Putnam County Spelling Champ.
Yes, they're the geeks, misfits, and overachievers with all the quirks one expects from those for whom the correct spelling of  "syzygy" is so central to their young lives (not to mention to the lives of the adults who've helped make them this way).  And, yes, the script takes every opportunity (and there are many, many, many such opportunities) to have us laugh at them.  Thanks to Susan Haefner's very smart direction of a talented cast and Robert Tomasulo's tight pit band, I haven't laughed out loud (would that be guffawed?) so often at a theatre in a while.
The cast (in alphabetical order) of Kevin Barlowski (Leaf), Hillary Ekwall (Logainne), Emily Kron (the M.C. and former winner Rona), Steven Mooney (William), Maya Naff (Marcy), Joel Newsome (the Vice Principal), Norman Payne (the parolee/grief counsellor), Natalie Sannes (Olive), and Scott Scaffidi (Chip) is very fine across the board.  Each character gets her/his moment or two or three in the spotlight, and each makes the most of it, although this reviewer was particularly impressed by Mr. Barlowski and Mr. Mooney (reunited happily, along with Ms. Ekwall, from POP's You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown) and Ms. Sannes, whose big song simply isn't as good a song as many of the others, but she still made it the single most affecting moment of the show).
Which returns us to the Barefoot Contessa line: for all the jokes and goofiness of this show, there's a heart and emotional impact that just shouldn't work...that is, in short, simply hard to spell out.  The show works somehow, and this cast and crew work it very, very well.
My only "complaint" is that sometimes the swinging band could, at times, drown out a line or two of a song, but that could just be my ever-aging hearing.  Trust me, you'll hear enough, and laugh enough (and maybe even cry a little), to make up for those few.
My only caveat (for parents who may want to bring their young spellers to the show) is that there is an entire song -- performed hilariously (with candy!) by Mr. Saffredi -- dedicated to the physical manifestation of a young man's adolescent yearnings.  Just FYI....but, if your youngsters are good spellers, they probably won't be learning anything new here anyway. 
The show runs through July 20th, but I'd suggest getting tickets soon -- before word really gets out and makes getting a ticket harder than spelling "crapaud."

04 June 2014

Some suggested names for Hartford's new baseball team

Given that the brain trust that is the ownership of the New Britain Rockcats has decided to head to Connecticut's capital city in 2016, I figured I'd be helpful with some suggestions for a new team name:

1) "New England's Rising Stars" (since that worked so well for the great city of Hartford the first time around);

2) Either "The Connecticut Opera" or "Hartford Ballet" (since, well, the city isn't using those two names any longer);  [With its recent "administrative restructuring," "The Hartford Symphony" name could be available soon, too.  Watch this space for details.]

3) "The Benedict Arnolds" (to make full use of the state's boffo "Still Revolutionary" ad campaign), or (lest, heaven forbid!, Hartford  seem to be promoting any other part of Connecticut and Arnold was born in Norwich, the home of the CT Tigers, after all), perhaps just "The Turncoats" or "The Traitors";

or finally

4) If the city really wants to embrace both its founding, as well as the apparent ease with which the team's owner will hop into any bed, with the right monetary sum:

"The Hartford Hookers"

19 May 2014

"...hit him like a FREIIIIIIIIIIIGHT train..." (a review of THE TRESTLE AT POPE LICK CREEK)

I must confess something that regular readers of this blog will find surprising not in the least: that my most consistent nightmare is to wake up to find myself in some contemporary dramatic play.  While I may be more pollyanna-with-rose-colored-glasses-ish than most folk, I'm also undeniably glad I don't see my world as dark and alienating as do so many current playwrights.

Naomi Wallace's The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek, which just ended a brief run at Playhouse on Park (as part of its mature-themed On the Edge Series), offers a place in which no one can love wisely nor well and all physical interaction is an unhealthy blend of distance, violence, and destruction.  Indeed, in this world, if, for some reason, your loved one can't hit you, you help them out by doing it to yourself.

It's a land where both the government and private industry have abandoned its people, and, bereft of that support, a similar abdication of responsibility filters down to families: wives and husbands, parents and children, boyfriend and girlfriend (if those are even the right words to describe our teen protagonists, Dalton and Pace, played with clarity and pathos by Wesley Zurick and Leslie Gauthier).

It's a place where, to find life, the young court death by playing chicken with a train that, unlike them, has the luxury of just passing through their sad little town on the way to somewhere -- anywhere! -- else, and where the grown-ups try to make their conversations matter by trying not to break dishes.

The good news is that Dalton's mother, Gin (played beautifully, yet powerfully, by Melody Gray), seems to find the strength to try to change her world -- no matter how few of those around her are willing (or able) to follow.  One cannot, however, even by play's end, be too convinced that her actions will amount to much, if anything, but the fact that she knows she must try is as "happy" as anything in this play gets.

The production was very, very good in every facet -- which is probably why I didn't like it so much.  As directed by Dawn Loveland, the characters' powerlessness was inescapable, and the small cast realized (i.e.,  "made real") that smothering emptiness. Richard Brundage (as Dalton's lost father) and Rick Malone (as another lost dad) were also effective in conveying their fears that they have/had nothing to offer their children. 

In short, the cast and crew are to be applauded for their powerful work, but, when the pain seems that real, it's hard to say, "Man, I really enjoyed that!"

But, then again, I'm Pollyanna.

12 May 2014

My new favorite Frank Sinatra reference; he IS everywhere.

From Phil Ochs' introduction to "Ringing of Revolution" from Phil Ochs in Concert (1966):

This song is so cinematic it's been made into a movie, starring Senator Carl Hayden as Ho Chi Minh.

Frank Sinatra plays Fidel Castro. 

Ronald Reagan plays George Murphy. 

John Wayne plays Lyndon Johnson, and Lyndon Johnson plays God. 

I play Bobby Dylan -- the young Bobby Dylan.