Saturday, December 19, 2015

Review: Steve Ausherman, Marking the Bend.

Review: Steve Ausherman, Marking the Bend.  2015, Encircle Publications, LLC. Farmington, Maine. 55 pages.

Review written by Zach Loudin

In the grand scheme of being a published author, the bio at the end of a book is often an afterthought. I picked up a copy of Steve Ausherman's Marking the Bend recently, and flipped to the back to get an idea of where he's coming from. Sure, he gets the expected data in his bio, but he throws a few juicy lines in there, too. He's interested in "the grounding transformational experiences that are found in connecting deeply to place"a profound, poetic statement that sets the reader's expectations high. And, well, with the chapbook's very first poem, he delivers:

            Fry bread, cooked corn, and pink cotton candy.
            The desert belly bursting open into blossoming, feathered dancers.
            Stars cry wind and icy darkness.
            Sticks against skin-covered drums like heartbeats eating memory.
                                                                                                -"Sticks Against Drums"

Indeed, the full-stop of each of these palpable, scene-painting lines lends pause to the cadence that grounds us in the moment. But that pause seems just as much a pinch in the arm of the author (crackle of bread on the skillet, an infinite backdrop of stars over my head... could this be real!?) than a ploy to impart the imagery's gravity onto the reader.

Marking the Bend Ausherman's secondtakes the reader on a journey through 45 poems written in (or about) half as many locations. The reader gets intimate with New Mexico (each poem is geo-tagged, about half are places in New Mexico) but a turn of the page brings stanzas inscribed with Colorado, Costa Rica, Norway, England, etc. The construction of poems is just as varied, giving the impression that the poet sits down just where he is and lets the breath of the land guide his hand, lets his pen capture the essence of the moment. In "Lone Baptism":

            I immerse myself in your brain freezing cold
            You desert of liquid gas, cuffing my imagination in hydrous wonder.
            I swim in you, childlike, open, fresh, and emerge trembling and renewed.

The wonder of the moment comes through clean, not mulled-over and processed. There is, true to the title, a baptismal quality to the meeting of man and the unfathomable gargantuan water (especially beautiful Lake Michigan) and Ausherman captures that moment. He captures it with the voice of clear imagery he uses throughout, one that refrains from abstractions-for-abstraction's-sake, and focuses more on the simplicity of the moment.

Peppered with road trip buddies, coffee in diners, and beers in bars, Marking the Bend nonetheless sings a lonely tune. Ausherman seems more at home describing the flotsam of man: "An outcast, 1970's Camaro lies bent and broken in the belly of an arroyo" ("Driving Rt. 666 (US 491) North to Tohatchi") as the fauna who give humans no mind:

            A dingo hunts down upon the shoreline
               For carcass or running beast.
            There are Soldier crabs running in herds
               That measure hundreds. Their claw-clicking,
            Stony-backed, bulging-eyed bodies ramble like searchers.
                                                                                    -"Beasts to Beat Tribal Drums"

From campsites in New Mexico to street scenes in Copenhagen, the chapbook is a joy to flip through. While it leaves this reader hankering for a stronger sense of agency at points, the wonder of travel, of observation of the external comes through clear. True to the title, Ausherman is marking each bend in the road of his journeyand sharing the moments with us. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Give Him Away: A Review of Best Man by Owen Lewis

Give Him Away: A Review of Best Man by Owen Lewis

 Review by Emily Pineau

Owen Lewis’s haunting and eye-opening collection of poems, “Best Man,” reveals a story between brothers and family, and the pain that comes with loving someone with an addiction or a mental illness. Lewis’s honesty and rawness in his first poem “So,” starts with the line, “I am still mad at you,” (p.5). This immediately draws the reader in, and makes us feel the urgency and pain that Lewis’s brother Jason made him feel. Instead of being nostalgic, Lewis’s feelings are in the present, and have not been buried with Jason—Lewis feels Jason in the present tense.  Lewis’s poems make me think of addiction as a living thing that leaves a mark on those who have seen it, like seeing spots after looking into a camera’s flash.

Lewis’s poems, “En Route” and “Lingering Here,” take place in the Beth Isreal Cemetery and both illustrate integral parts of Lewis’s grieving process. Jason’s grave allows Lewis to face Jason, in a sense. In his poem, “En Route,” Lewis writes:

It doesn’t seem to matter, visiting
or not. Who the hell’s here?
So many people left pebbles near
to say hello. Not one for you. (p.7).

This poem reveals Lewis’s mixed feelings for Jason. Rather than “visiting” the grave, Lewis is trying to figure out how he feels about Jason when he is at the cemetery; he is reliving Jason’s death and the pain that was inflicted on his family. This poem contains Lewis’s anger and grief much like the cemetery does. In “Lingering Here,” Lewis is coming to understand Jason’s pain, rather than reliving his own. Lewis says:

    His soul was already flying off,
    off to his Italian birth mother, the one
he breach-busted out of, who gave him away. (p.11).

It seems like Jason’s soul was slowly leaving his body as his life became derailed. The poem references Jason’s birth mother rejecting him—this was another struggle that sent him over the edge. Lewis mentions that pebbles on a grave are visitors’ way of saying “hello,” in his poem, “En Route.” In the last poem of Lewis’s collection, Lewis places a pebble on Jason’s grave. By placing the pebble on his grave, Lewis is saying, “Hello,” “Goodbye,” and “I forgive you.”

    Lewis has come full circle with how he processes his grief, and how he feels about Jason. By producing this collection of poetry Lewis can fully heal and provide others with the same peace. His powerful words and imagery make us understand how one can both love and hate someone who is plagued with an addiction. Lewis is giving us permission to be confused about our feelings towards people who disappoint us, but who are also a huge part of our lives and who we are. This permission is invaluable, and his poems will always stick with me as I experience my own struggles.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


Review by Debra Wiess  

Robert Brustein's latest play EXPOSED is presented in a co-production by the Boston Playwrights' Theatre (BPT) and Boston Center for American Performance (BCAP) for a limited engagement December 10-18, 2015 at the Wimberly Theater of the Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont Street, Boston. The play is a re-imagining of Moliere's Tartuffe and is a political satire set in present day America. This is the second time these two organizations have teamed up; last season they put on Uncle Jack, another re-imagining of a theatre classic. That project was written by veteran actor Michael Hammond who plays the role of the Christian Televangelist who gets "over-exposed" in EXPOSED.

Loosely based on Moliere's Tartuffe, the play satirizes financial corruption and religious extremism taking aim at an apparently broken US political system. In it, a Jewish Texas Billionaire tries to avoid prosecution for prostitution occurring in his hotels and money laundering of profits from his gambling casinos by helping to elect a Christian Televangelist to Congress and then the White House who he thinks will protect him due to his sympathetic views. This idea is not too much of a stretch given our current political scene and the pool of candidates now running for office. Plans go terribly awry when the Televangelist comes to stay with the Billionaire in his Texas mansion. Though supported by his like-minded mother, the Billionaire's efforts are countered by his younger former chorus girl Jewish wife, and his two adult children (one a very Gay boy) who share very liberal ie. reasonable/sane views. They are the voices of reason, and the moral center of the play. One wonders how they are members of a family with father and grandmother having such opposing views.

Mr. Hammond plays the Televangelist most expertly and he comes off as appropriately smarmy while holier than thou even as he gets caught with his britches down. Jeremiah Kissel plays the Texas Billionaire to the hilt. Abby Goldfarb does a fine turn as the Billionaire's "trophy" wife. It was a nice surprise to have Remo Airaldi pop in on the scene towards the end of the play as G-D in the midst of some interesting special effects on stage. It is just too bad he did not have more of interest to do, though he does sing a song accompanied by Annabelle Cousins; his time on stage was all too brief. With this one song we can see the promise of the musical that this was originally intended to be, and maybe a composer can be found to take on the task of creating the rest of the music. Rounding out the cast are Annette Miller, Scott Barrow and Tess Wenger, who try to do what they can with their roles. Directing is a very busy Stephen Bogart, who had one of his own plays going up the same night.

The decor of this all student-made production is impressive and wonderfully creates the environment in which the play is set: the Billionaire's over the top home with multitude of animal heads on the walls from his various hunting excursions. Among the mounted heads, on loan and displayed with ghoulish pride, is that of Cecil the Lion famously and outrageously killed by a wealthy US dentist earlier this year. The Billionaire is of course an avid hunter and staunch member of the NRA, and there are a number of guns displayed with pride on the walls as well.

The BPT and BCAP are two fabulous BU organizations that nurture and support new work by local theatre artists. And the BU New Play Initiative is a program that provides opportunities for the development of new work. It is through this initiative that this new play, which is a self-declared work-in-process, is getting this workshop production opportunity that will aid in its further honing and shaping. So audience members should realize that though this is a great opportunity to see new theatre in an early stage, that also means that there are still some things to be worked out, quite a few in fact.

Mirroring Moliere's Tartuffe, the play incorporates dialogue that rhymes, but this is only periodic, signaled by a bell and shift of lights. The rhyming dialogue was very clever and added to the play's humor, but the constant back and forth between rhyming and natural language for no apparent rhyme or reason (pun intended) becomes a great distraction. In the talk back after the show with the actors and author all became more clear when we learned that the play was to have been a musical and the rhyming dialogue were the lyrics of the songs! Mr. Brustein was never able to engage a composer as all who were being considered or started to take on the task very strangely took ill suddenly with all sorts of health issues befalling them. Mr. Brustein ended up scrapping the idea of the musical while still keeping the lyrics. Unfortunately a very odd and confusing shifting back and forth from naturalistic language to the rhyming lines is the result. This short run is intended to help Mr. Brustein identify issues and see how he may sort them out. This may be one of the things he will want to sort out.

The play has quite a bit of humor, mostly of the dark variety, as it makes fun of and jabs at the political right, Christian Televangelists, etc. There is much to amuse and campy laughs abound. But many jokes were a bit one-note and obvious, and some were constantly repeated such as the mispronunciation of the Televangelist's name. Also the play seemed to remain on a soap box as it put forth its political views on the current ills of our society. Another bit intended to get laughs is the Texas Billionaire's deafness which causes him to misinterpret what is said to him. He mentions as explanation that like his father he has a hearing problem, but he does not appear to be that old. And his deafness, like the rhyming, is only periodic seeming to occur whenever convenient, coming and going with a randomness that is unexplained.

Just prior to the start of the show some music was played and the voice of the Televangelist was heard on a loud speaker; this, one figures out later is part of the Televangelist's TV show that goes on the air earlier in the day and is referred to several times. It was a great idea to have this lead in to set the stage for what is to come, but there were no signals to the audience to clue them in and many continued to chat through it not realizing. Much like the Billionaire who sleeps through the Televangelist's show, most of the audience, too, misses the show, which is a shame. Some means of communicating this pre-show bit would be very helpful and enhance audience enjoyment of it.

The play has some intriguing ideas, but the story which can be overly preachy, as well as characters which are a bit too much like cardboard cuts outs of types, could use more crafting. The play will surely get much after this run.