Monday, September 30, 2013

A Spider in the Cup

A Spider in the Cup
Barbara Cleverly
Soho Press
Random House Publishers
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-1-61695-288-4
$ 26.95
346 pages

There may be in the cup
A spider steeped, and one may drink, depart,
And yet partake no venom, for his knowledge
Is not infected; but if one present
The abhorred ingredient to his eye, make known
How he hath drunk, he cracks his gorge, his sides,
With violent hefts. I have drunk, and seen the spider!

Shakespeare had phenomenal insights into people. If there is a poisonous spider in a cup and you drink it, chances are you will be fine if you don't realize what has actually happened. However, if you drink the spider and know it, usually you will become ill.

In the year of 1933 along the Thames River, an eclectic group of adult explorers was scouring the beaches. As a group they frequently search for metal. Leading this hardy band is a woman who is known as a gifted dowser. Rather than searching for water, this group was looking for metals with a dowsing stick made of hickory. The stick seemed to be almost possessed as it was pointing strongly to a particular spot along the beach that would soon be covered with water once the tide came in. Quickly the group stated to dig only to slowly unearth the body of a young woman who is missing her big toe. Intrigued and realizing that this spot would soon be covered with water, they continued to dig out her body while also informing the local law enforcement officers. Then they noticed something unusual. There was something in her mouth. What would an ancient Roman coin being doing in the mouth of a young woman?

Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, Joe Sandilands, expects to be in charge of this investigation. His superiors have other ideas. Joe is expected to protect an American Senator, Cornelius Kingstone, who is visiting Great Britain as a representative of the American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt at the global economic conference at this time during the Great Depression with the impending threat of the new Nazi regime in Germany. Senator Kingstone already has his own security from the FBI which is a former British policeman who left the force in disgrace. To make this situation even more awkward, the Senator has a mistress who is a premiere Russian ballerina who is currently missing.
A SPIDER IN THE CUP is the eleventh novel in the Joe Sandilands' series by Beverly Cleverly. The story is well-organized and planned but lacks a personal connection with the protagonist. The feeling of indifference towards all the characters seems of a distant, cold attitude. In Cleverly's previous novels, the reader likes the protagonist and can identify with him. This causes the novel to plod along. The characters are vividly described and believable, just not likable.

Beverly Cleverly usually is an outstanding author. The basic story line is good. Read any of her previous novels to truly enjoy the gifted writing of this author.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

God of Carnage

Two eleven-year-old boys are in a park, playing. One of them attacks the other. Two teeth are broken with possible nerve damage. So, what happens now?
This is “God of Carnage” with two sets of parents attempting to come to some agreement about this fight. Alan and Veronica, the parents of Henry who was the injured boy, have invited Annette and Michael, the parents of Ben, to their house to resolve the situation. Can these four adults agree on what happened, who is responsible, and how to resolve the problems between the boys?
As Annette, professional actress Jill Anderson truly becomes the uppity mother of the attacking child, Ben. She is wonderful in this role which frequently causes the audience to laugh. From being the stuffy parent to a complete meltdown, Jill reacted as the loyal wife of an irritating husband while still being a protective parent. As her husband, Ablan Roblin was delightful as Alan, the lawyer constantly connected with his phone to his major client which is a pharmaceutical company carrying a drug with negative side effects and literally on the edge of an impending lawsuit. Theresa Sindelar as Veronica completely immersed herself into this artsy character while being very protective of her son, the victim, and her daughter's hamster that was released on the street by her husband. Jerry Longe, as Michael, known as the current Ebenezer Scrooge from the Omaha Playhouse's "A Christmas Carol" delighted the audience with his laid-back parenting style, truly becoming the character while regaling in his own childhood and his slight rodent phobia.
The sets, sound, lighting, special effects, and props were all perfectly matching the needs of this award winning play. This particular show lasts approximately 85 minutes with no intermission.
In "God of Carnage" is currently at the Bluebarn Theater located at 614 South 11th Street in Omaha, in The Old Market district. The show runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and at 6 p.m. on Sundays until October 17th. Ticket costs are $ 25 for adults and $ 20 for students and seniors. Tickets can be purchased through the box office at 402-345-1576.
The Bluebarn Theater is a small theater with an audience of about 100 people per show. What is unusual about theater is the leg room with the seats. There is even enough room for people to walk between the rows without people needing to stand. Also, the Bluebarn Theater reserves seats for their members with season passes, giving them closer seats to the stage.
“God of Carnage” is a realistic play about adults solving children's problems. When will they ever grow up?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Beauty and the Beast

"Beauty and the Beast" is a legendary fairytale that Disney enhanced the story with gorgeous ballgowns, memorable songs, inanimate objects coming to life, humor, a castle, a dangerous forest, and a small French village, and witchcraft creating a musical masterpiece.
At the Chanticleer Theater last weekend, a "Jr." version of this wonderful production came to life with 54 students all aged 18 or younger, a wonderful director, music director, choreographers, lights, sound, sets, props, costumes, and a host of managers and crew to perform this shortened version of the fairy tale to packed audiences.
As Belle, Audrey Schnitker was delightful with Kyle Schnitker as the Beast.  In the role of Gaston, Adam Fulbright as the bully with his sidekick Lafue, portrayed by Wyatt Sargent were both fabulous in making these bad guys come to life.  As Mrs. Potts, Carson Santee sang beautifully the theme song with Chase Sargent being her son, Chip.
Almost stealing the show at times were the three silly girls.  These three were wonderful with the constant fauning over Gaston and excelled at bringing their characters to life. Led by Rolena Hatfield, Natalie Simons and Molly Schnitker were all hilarious with their constant antics.
With Cole Fischer is Lumiere, Emma Chvala is Madame de la Grande Bouche, Jacob Umphreys as Monsier D'Arque, Eric Wells as Cogsworth, Alyscia Parker as Babette, and Conner Mowery as Maurice, Belle's father, were all mature with their parts in leading this large cast.
The dancing and singing with the mugs was outstanding.   The coordination of the clinking with the legs kicking and the sit-ups made for a joyful and well-performed act.
Unquestionably, the audience favored "Be Our Guest" with almost all the characters dancing, singing with all the silverware, cups, saucers, and napkins.  
Part of this production is unquestionably the costumes.  Just coordinating and creating all the costumes had to be an overwhelming task.   Belle's gowns were gorgeous.  These would be admired by any little girl dreaming of someday being a princess.  The Beast's costume was outstanding as were all the numerous silverware, cups, saucers, napkins, and villagers, not to mention a feather duster, teapot, candlestick, grandfather clock, and a wardrobe.
Under the direction of Denise Putman, Disney's Beauty & the Beast Jr. excelled with Jerry Gray as the Music Director, Rachael Schnitker and Miranda Mittan as Choreographers, and the many people of the adult crew who made this children's show wonderful for all ages.
No Frill Supermarket partially funded this production.
Chanticleer Theater is located at 830 Franklin Ave. in Council Bluffs.   This show will continue through September 29th on Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.  Prices for tickets are $ 20 for adults, $ 16 for seniors, and $ 10 for children/students.   For more information and reservations contact the theater box office through e-mail at or call at (712) 323-9955

Les Miserables

Who could ever imagine an opera written from a book about a short conflict in France in 1832 would beome one of the most successful musicals ever? To understand this phenomenon, go to The Omaha Playhouse and watch Les Miserables.
This is one of those truly legendary shows that people will be talking about for years. If you only choose one show to see this year, see this! Yes, this is the same story as last year's film. However on stage, the story takes on a different feeling that is almost magical. The Omaha Playhouse took on a monumental task of performing this wonderful production.To adequately perform these interlocking melodies by Claude-Michel Schonberg, there need to be phenomenal singers who can act. Yes, this is an opera but you really don't notice that all the dialogue is sung because it seems so natural to the characters.
As Jean Valjean, the Broadway actor, Timothy Shew became the former convicted criminal who has turned his life around. His beautiful falsetto voice commands the stage and he passes the test of singing "The Prayer.” This song requires a tenor who can sing in the falsetto range confidently, but also quietly. The final note needs to literally float and Timothy Shew sang this masterfully and lovingly, an unusual combination.
Council Bluffs' resident, Joseph Dignoti, perfected the role as the rigid, judgmental policeman, Javert, who truly believed he was doing the right thing. When showed humanity, Dignoti demonstrated Javert's confusion with the actions of others.
As the young lover Marius, Joseph T. O'Connor II excelled as a handsome, romantic hero that can sing. His suave debonair mannerisms charmed the audience as he sang of his love of Cosette and of his grief of his fallen comrades.
The women's roles of Fantine, Cosette, and Eponine were all phenomenal with Julie Crowell, Jennifer Tritz, and Abigael Stewart all wonderfully exhibiting tremendous ranges with their voices and lending their own strong vocal gifts. The little Cosette, Grace Titus, excelled in her role and actually is the best that I have ever seen in this role. Her clarity and diction proved that although young, she is an experienced actress.
Then, there are the innkeepers, Thenardier and his wife. These two are greedy, selfish, conniving, and absolutely wonderful in this role. They were laughable while committing a variety of crimes, but you could not help but love the immense talents of both Cork Ramer and Megan McGuire with their creations as these two unusual characters.
As Gavroche, Noah Jeffrey unquestionably is outstanding with his youthfulness and wonderful voice. The men, whether Mark Thornburg as the Bishop, or Tyler Buglewicz as Enjolras, were all phenomenal singers who all could sing the lead part in any musical.
Both the women's and men's ensembles sang and danced beautifully in making this play a memorable story.
Les Miserables is an adult show that lasts three hours including an intermission.  
Even on a stage the size of Omaha Community Playhouse, this version of the story perfectly matches the theater.   Realize that each time you see a performance, this is an interpretation of a story.  Personally, I felt that this particular rendition closely matches the original novel except for Valjean's exceptional strength while in prison was not really noticed.
All the supporting crew and staff perfectly blend into making this an outstanding production.   From the hair, wigs, costumes, make-up, the aging of Valjean and Javert, choreography, sound, lighting, orchestrations, props, sets, limited space for an orchestra to the box office, marketing, and even the ushers, this is one show that you don't want to miss.  It is outstanding.  There is not one weak performer or performance.
"Les Miserables" will continue until October 27th with shows at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays.  For tickets, contact the box office at the theater at 6915 Cass in Omaha by calling (402) 553-0800 or online at or   Ticket prices are $ 40 for adults and $ 24 for students.
From the show itself, "Won't you join in our crusade?  Who will be strong and stand with me" , or "I Dreamed a Dream", go see Les Miserables. 



The Twins

The Twins
Saskia Sarginson
Redhook Books
Hachette Book Group
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0316-24620-0
$ 16.00
384 pages

Identical twins have a special bond.  For Issy and Viola, they feel that life with their mother is perfect.   Having attempted communal living, now just a single mom and her twin daughters are establishing a new life in a small Welsh town.  It seems perfect especially when the twins develop a friendship with a set of identical twin boys.  To all of them, it seems like fate has given them the unusual gift of a special relationship with identical twin girls meeting these identical twin boys.
The one constant in the universe is change.   When the girls' mother sees a new life with a local widower who teaches math and his young daughter, the twins are not as excited as everyone else.    Being that they are older, naturally the girls are expected to babysit the younger girl who is thrilled about gaining sisters.  Issy and Viola really have no concept about taking care of anyone else.  They have never seen babysitting in action.  Their plan had been to meet with the boy twins.  So how do they ditch the little girl?   Their plan is to coax the young girl into a tree and to leave her there while they run off.
Frequently though, plans don't quite work out the way we plan.   This one incident changed everything for everyone.
Many years later, Issy is working for an upscale magazine while Viola is still having difficulty with her haunted past and is being treated by mental health professionals.   Unfortunately for Issy, new management at the magazine is not impressed with her artistic layouts and she quickly discovers herself unemployed with a generous severance package.
Issy decides to return to her home and to find the boys.   Just because she is ready to confront the past, does not mean the others are at this same stage in their lives.  Can Issy discover what is needed for Viola to heal?
The Twins is a haunting debut novel about relationships and unresolved childhood issues.   With uneven pacing, the novel reveals the past interwoven with the present.   What really happened?
Excelling in character descriptions makes this novel fascinating with truly visual traits for each person.   The tale is bewitching with a realistic ending with many issues not neatly wrapped up in a package.  
Inspired by her own experiences, Saskia Sarginson based this story on her own daughters, identical twins.   She received an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway after a BA in English Literature from Cambridge University and a BA in Fashion Design & Communications.  She also wrote for women's magazines as a health and beauty editor as well as a ghost writer for BBC and Harper Collins.  She resides in London with her four children.
The Twins is a different novel regarding twins and truly is a haunting tale of sibling love.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


STOMP glided across the stage at the Orpheum last weekend in their three performances with an assortment of sounds, creating a visual delight for an audience of all ages.  The irony of STOMP is that the show has graceful, complicated choreography while making loud noises into a rhythmic sensation.  The performers presented a humorous ninety-minute show with a variety of instruments from brooms, boxes, grocery carts, oil drums, buckets, lighters, match boxes, wooden sticks, kitchen sinks, sand water, newspaper, plastic bags, basketballs garbage cans, and pvc pipe creating musical and rhythmic songs.
STOMP has been around for about thirty years while continuing off-Broadway for the last fifteen.  This group of traveling Broadway performers is constantly evolving their non-verbal arts of creating sounds in unusual ways with non-traditional instruments.  What I find amazing is the visual entrancement while these unique auditory treasures are being created.  Anyone that has the strength to carry a kitchen sink supported around their neck by a chain covered in tubing, complete with pots and water, while creating a musical rhythm, and moving in unison on stage and using items in the sink and the water is amazing and fun to watch.  Also, the utilization of light, or lack of light, is comical as the cast performed their lighter act.  The athleticism is amazing and obvious when some of the percussionists are hanging and swinging, twirling, leaping rhythmically from the scaffolding as they are drumming.  
Just listening to STOMP leaves you in awe at the precision and speed which each of these eight performers possesses whether in clapping, tapping, banging, hitting, swooshing, flicking, bouncing, and juggling while at the same time keeping an audience visually connected with their show.
Even though none of the performers were ever identified by name, each had a particular style in developing their own personal identity.  There was the underachiever who easily identified with audience members with his Charlie Brown attitude always a little behind the other cast members.  The blond mohawked performer was the obvious leader frequently engaging the audience in repetitive clapping.  Two women were also a part of this eight-member ensemble, to be they were messy hair girl and dancer girl.  All were amazing with their own individual contributions to making this a memorable experience for the audience.
Even though STOMP has been performed by the routing cast four times previously in Omaha, this group is constantly evolving and two new acts are now a part of this production.
While hoping that STOMP returns again to continue to fascinate and entertains audiences everywhere, I will become aware as I contemplate about the musical qualities of the expandable pvc pipe.


What is it called when four women meet to discuss the trials and tribulations of motherhood?  "Momologues, " and it was performed three times last weekend at the Chanticleer Theater.
So many topics were discussed, debated, and shared.  All the good, bad, and the ugly about getting pregnant, being pregnant, birth control, fertility, nursing, baby formula and all the wonderful and sometimes painful parts of motherhood until the little offspring have finally departed for their first day of school.
Rachel Lynch Holmes, Mary Trecek, Angel Simons and Terry DeBenedictis were those women who read the scripts of "Momologues" expressing their own personality into each character for eighty minutes.  All dressed in black, the women expressed their viewpoints and experiences surrounding pregnancy, childbirth and the real life events of a newborn growing into a small child.
With our culture today, it appears that many women spend their 20s establishing their career and working diligently to not get pregnant.  Then the pivotal age of 30 hits and each woman feels that her only chance of motherhood is closely evaporating with each year.  Now women want to get pregnant and frequently fertility therapy is the answer.
Pregnancy brings its own set of challenges with even the home pregnancy tests and miscarriages.  All of these become miniscule the second each woman hears that "swish, swish" of the heartbeat during an ultrasound.  However most women remember their labor and those wonderful medical personnel who ask questions during contractions, similar to the waitress that ask a about your meal when your mouth is full at a restaurant.
Why is your weight always checked before your blood pressure?  Wouldn't your blood pressure be better if that was evaluated first?
Many even falsely believe that their lives will be so much easier with a newborn, rather than the discomfort of pregnancy.
With the decisions about nursing and formula and the advantages and disadvantages of both, it seems that what is beneficial for the baby is a constant inconvenience for the mother.  As the child ages, what do you do about the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Santa?  When should you begin to read to your child?
For most women, these questions are common and the answers are freely given by many advisors, but what really works best and what should you do?
"Momologues" was a delightful, fun experiences about being a mother in the early years.  It's too bad that this was only for this one weekend.  This would be great for a girl's night out or even at a baby shower.  Obviously though limited to the adult female audience, will there ever be a "Dadalogues?"

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Dragon Bones

Dragon Bones
Lisa See
Ballantine Books
New York, New York
ISBN: 0-345-44031-5
$ 12.95
350 pages

Building the largest dam in the world was a daunting task even for an immense nation like China. The creation of this humongous structure also involved the massive relocation of entire villages that were in the path as well as the permanent loss of any archeological artifacts that would be forever buried under tons of water. As with many massive dig sites, certain ancient objects mysteriously were not catalogued and disappeared to private vendors usually ending up at auction sites or private sales.
Liu Hulan is an Inspecttor in China's Ministry of Public Security and her former husband, David Stand. Their relationship suffered after the devastating loss of their daughter who died of meningitis. This loss coupled with their own personal guilt and insecurities caused this loving couple to split. However, even after five years, those around these two knew that they continued to have strong loving feelings for each other. Could working together rekindle their relationship?
David continued to live in China as an attorney from the United States solving problems for those who need assistance in the bureaucratic systems within and between the two nations. Liu Hulan and David have both been assigned the task of investigating the death of an American archeologist whose body was found downstream, severely beaten and decayed from a long river journey along one of the many construction sites along the soon to be built dam. Was he beaten before he died or did the river do the brutal damage to his body? Was it suicide, an accident, or murder?
Dragon Bones is an intricately woven tapestry combining mysteries, romance, legend, history, geography, with a riveting action adventure tale telling the inside story of the Three Gorges Dam in China and displaying just a small picture of the enormity of this project. The characters are each realistic revealing their strengths and weaknesses into a memorable story interlocking the history and legends of this area of China.
Lisa See is one of those authors where I read everything that she has ever written. Her stories are intense based on real history, well-researched, where the reader is literally with the main characters and making their personal choices as each page is revealed.
Somehow, I had purchased this book years ago and realized that I had not read it. Dragon Bones is an addictive reading story that constantly changes perspectives so that the reader does not see a linear story but an involved tale with multiple issues surrounding the introductory death. Lisa See beautifully wove a story that is informative, entertaining, and masterful.