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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Psychic Says (re Hillary Clinton)

   Psychic says Philly DNC
        Won’t trump Chicago’s historic 1968 convention when
   Jean Genet hung out with Norman Mailer
   When Huey Newton looked “sexy” in a big wicker chair
   When Angela Davis spoke French, & Susan Sontag & Jane Fonda hightailed it to Hanoi.
      Psychic says 2016 DNC
                     Will not be a convention but a coronation
          Hillary in a chariot roaring into Wells Fargo 
         To thunderous applause, clamor & cowbells.
          The placards will read:
      No human is illegal;
     Islamic fanaticism does not exist
    You want to enforce immigration laws, you’re a racist
    I hate Fox News
   You’re a racist, I’m a racist, we are all racists & we should all die  

   Psychic sees Hillary in Goldman Sachs makeup & a blue pants suit when she mounts          the podium, blowing kisses
  As Bill does the retiree shuffle an all too common sight at the casino luncheon buffet
       Beware, however, of some unrest from assorted protest groups
    FDR Park social justice warriors with blue hair & bandit Lone Ranger masks will remind us that Hillary’s election was always in the cards
     (Yes but even Trump said the system was rigged against Bernie…) 
 Psychic says Hillary will be inaugurated &
   The Sanderites will retreat to form another political base that in four years will also fail to send one of their own to the White House.
  Psychic sees a honeymoon phase where Hillary can do no wrong
  Psychic sees the honeymoon luster morphing into a grey patina 
  Psychic says Bill will restart love affairs with interns & female bicycle messengers as Hillary agonizes over whether to triple power punch upstart internationals like Vladimir Putin. 
   Psychic says there will be a war with Russia & we know what that means: the end of career options for everywhere.
  Psychic apologies for being so negative
   Psychic says in Hillary’s second year there will calls for her impeachment from the Wallmart mainstream, even as

     Attorney General Loretta Lynch jump starts her campaign to get Americans to show ISIS the love
      In Lynch meditation rooms Americans will slip into Yoga pants, sit cross legged on rubber mats, and send love vibrations to foreign and domestic terrorists.
      Stop all beheadings with hugs! 
    “Slowly breathe in and out. Picture a bearded ISIS terrorist then release the love energy.  Imagine them dropping all thoughts of bombs then watch as they place their hands in yours…..Show them the love!”
 Psychic says new world order will be up and running.
 Psychic says that after Donald Trump’s November loss, he will retire like Howard Hughes to a penthouse suite atop a large Las Vegas casino. There never will be a wall.  Prophet says the feeling of relief after Trump’s defeat will last five minuses because   Hillary’s dragons will surface.
 Psychic says very few will be counting their political blessings. 
  Psychic  says the system is rigged.  @copyright TFN 2016

Monday, July 25, 2016

                                             ICON Magazine Theater July 2016

    The Secret Garden (by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon and directed by Matt Pfeiffer) packed them at the Arden, proof of the popularity of fantasy escapism, But does this musical really work? The story of ten year old Mary Lennox (Bailey Ryon), a cantankerous girl who is sent to live with her wealthy Uncle Archibald (Jeffrey Coon) after cholera claims her parents, Rose (Sarah Gliko) and Albert (James Stabp), has the perfect Disney ingredients: a haunted mansion, a secret garden, and a spoiled prince type, the shut-in son of Uncle Archibald, little Colin (Hudson Orfe), who thinks he’s growing a hunchback.  Mary’s life in the mansion is monitored by the strict house mistress, Mrs. Medlock, played to the dour hilt by Sally Mercer. Life changes for Mary when she discovers the key to the garden and Colin’s “off limits” bedchamber, where Archibald has him locked up because of his eerie resemblance to his deceased wife. While Ryon is believable as the contrarian Mary, her saucy attitude is so coquettish and unchildlike that even her technical polish— every line is delivered with robotic perfection—comes across as creepy. The story ends on a happy note when Mary manages to bring Colin back to health, proving that when misery meets misery, good things sometimes happen.   

   Playwright Lucas Hnath’s marvelous Hillary and Clinton at the Suzanne Roberts Theater closed out PTC’s 2015-16 season. While this satiric look at gender and power within the Clinton marriage is supposed to take place in an alternate universe, most everything that happens onstage would seem real to Clinton watchers. The washed out ex-prez (John Procaccino) is presented as a tired, bored-to-death retiree offering to help his wife (Alice M. Gatling) win the 2008 New Hampshire primary. Tension builds as the complex intricacies of their marriage surface. Hillary refuses Bill’s help campaigning but she’s conflicted, deferring to her mega-mouth, Bill-hating campaign manager Mark, adequately played by Todd Cerveris.  Gatling as Hillary is completely believable: she shows the right amount of stubbornness and independence while segueing into more vulnerable emotions, such as when she collapses on the hotel room bed after hearing that she won New Hampshire because Bill secretly campaigned for her.  Procassino’s Clinton captures the spirit of a man who has climbed life’s highest peak but who is now aimlessly wandering around the mountain’s base. The play is a potpourri of Hillary witticisms and Bill philosophizing,  the best being the latter’s admonition that Hillary needs to appear less cold and show the public just how warm and fuzzy she is on the inside.   

What was playwright Young Jean Lee thinking when she wrote Straight White Men (Interact Theatre Company)? The play’s title indicates she was thinking about race but only in a labeling sense, since the four men, Ed (Dan Kern) and his three sons, Jake (Tim Dugan), Drew (Kevin Meehan) and Matt (Steven Rishard) who celebrate Christmas together, are all white. The play’s straight label is also a misnomer because for race or sexuality to be framed this way there should be thematic follow up. The family banter that Lee creates might as well have been lifted from the movie, Animal House. All these immature sons do is slap one another around and dive into the furniture while laughing at their own jokes. The highpoint occurs when Matt bursts into tears, causing Drew to exclaim, “Is Matt gay?”  Of course he’s not gay; he’s just a depressed white straight guy, nothing that more diving into furniture and a dose of psychotropic drugs won’t cure. Inappropriate audience laughter throughout the performance got me thinking that it wasn’t Matt who needed psychotherapy, but the audience.   


  Sister Act at The Walnut Street Theatre might seem like a tired has been, but not this Riverside Theatre production, directed by Bernard Havard.  Here’s Broadway at its finest, an intense over the top razzle dazzle cacophony of song and dance that’s much funnier and better than the Whoopi Goldberg original. Havard gives it a Philadelphia setting, so we hear names Like Cardinal Krol and the Philadelphia Police Department. Dan’yelle Williamson as Deloris Van Cartier, the racy girl who goes undercover at Holy Angels Convent, has the talent of a Diana Ross, and the numerous singing and dancing nuns are as polished as The Rockettes at Rockefeller Center.              

Friday, July 8, 2016

When Howard Hughes Met My Grandfather

    I’m standing on Aramingo Avenue waiting for a bus when a guy passing on a bicycle skids to a stop in front of me. The stranger takes off his helmet and introduces himself: Anthony Campuzano, a Pew Fellow artist with work in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and PAFA. He also tells me that he grew up in my grandfather’s house at 40 W. Albemarle Street in Lansdowne.  
  I do a double take and check to see if I’ve been struck by lightning.
   My grandfather, Frank V. Nickels was a Philadelphia architect of some note (his papers are archived at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia). He designed the house at 40 W.  Albermarle Street sometime in the early 1920s and sold the mansion to the Campuzano family shortly before his death in 1985. The mansion was a place I visited many times as a child. I can still recall its Old World charm: the museum style oil paintings, wall tapestries, hand carved Chinese furniture, a Steinway piano, shelves of books and an immense bust of Dante Alighieri on the high living room fireplace.      
   Anthony tells me he’s been trying to track me down for a while because he wants me to contribute to an exhibit, Beyond Cold Polished Stones, by artists with ties to Lansdowne, currently at the 20/20 House. I agree to send him photos of my grandmother in the living room of 40 West as well an original poem and some items related to my grandfather’s architectural practice.
     At the exhibit’s opening reception, I learn that one of the legends of 20th Century America visited my grandfather sometime in 1936 or ’37. The occasion was the negotiation of land rights for the proposed building of Nazareth Hospital in Northeast Philadelphia.
  Because my grandfather was hired by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to design Nazareth, he was asked to try to get an agreement of sale from the owner of the land. Without land rights, the hospital could not be built. 
   The owner of the land was the 6’4” tall Hollywood playboy and movie producer, Howard Hughes, who had made a name for himself in 1928 when his comedy, “Two Arabian Knights,” won an Oscar.  Hughes had also co-directed the 1930 film, “Hell’s Angels,” a film about WWI combat pilots starring Jean Harlow. Hughes’ inherited family wealth enabled him to buy all the combat planes used in the film. A natural daredevil and pilot himself, Hughes took part in the filmed combat dog fights in which 3 pilots died.  

    As Hollywood’s most eligible bachelor, the handsome Hughes had had affairs with Katherine Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth and many others. In later years he had the habit of collecting beautiful women with movie star aspirations. It was his habit to put them up in apartments or small houses while paying their rent and daily expenses. Initially Hughes may have shown a romantic interest in these women but over time this interest would wane. Hughes was content to call them once a month as he continued to send them checks, sometimes for years. He was also attracted to male stars like Cary Grant and Randolph Scott but this part of his life was kept secret, given the tenor of the times.  In 1939, two years after his meeting with my grandfather, he flew around the world and was honored with a ticker tape parade in New York City.
   Let’s go back to 1937 when Hughes piloted his own plane to New York and then to Philadelphia’s Northeast Airport where my grandparents stood waiting for him on the tarmac. My grandmother, Pauline Clavey Nickels, a former opera singer from Wilmington, was probably wearing one of her big hats, and no doubt Frank was dressed in his herringbone best.

      When Hughes arrived, pleasantries were exchanged, and then the group went off to a meeting near the grounds of the proposed hospital. What was said then can only be imagined. No doubt Frank and Pauline were a little star struck, especially when Hughes accepted Frank’s offer to go back to 40 West so that he could have a look at his proposed hospital design.  
   I wonder if the group had lunch on the way to the mansion. Did Pauline ask about Rita Hayworth, or did Hughes inquire about the stern bust of Dante on Frank’s mantelpiece? Did Hughes let it slip that in two years he planned an around the world solo flight? What I do know is that both Howard Hughes and Frank Nickels were eccentrics (although grandfather was not mad), so I’m sure there was an instant bond.
   Frank, one of four brothers and a sister, was born in 1891 to William Bartholomew and Dorothy G. Nickels of Roxborough. As a young man he was already setting his own style: he had a penchant for getting his shirts dry cleaned and then carrying them on hangers on various local trolleys. In 1914, he graduated from Drexel with a diploma in architecture and after that he established architectural offices in Center City at 15 S. 21st Street, 225 S. Sydenham Street and later in the Land Title Building.  His concentration was industrial and commercial projects, as well as schools and churches for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and in the Reading area.

     Several years ago I had an opportunity to tour two of his buildings, 1521 Spruce Street and the Frances Plaza Apartments at 19th and Lombard Streets.  For many years Frank partnered with architect C.J. Mitchell, whose papers are also archived at the Athenaeum. Frank split with Mitchell when the latter challenged him in a bid to design a school for Saint Philomena School in Lansdowne. Somebody who knew grandfather told me that he never spoke to CJ again. 
     Frank and Pauline Nickels raised three children, Frank, Thomas C (my father), and Joan in the Albemarle mansion. Frank’s bonsai garden behind the mansion was so famous that local Cub Scout Packs would organize tours of the space.
   Both Hughes and Nickels were basically shy men with loner tendencies. My grandfather was not a joiner. As far as I know he never was a member of the Philadelphia AIA or the “must do” T Square Club, unlike CJ Mitchell who was a member of both. Both men had a difficult time controlling their tempers.
       At eight years of age while staying overnight at the mansion I was kissing my grandparents goodnight when grandfather suddenly pulled me close because he smelled something on my neck. That ‘something’ was grandmother’s talcum powder that I’d dusted myself with after my evening bath. Grandfather sat me down in a high backed medieval looking chair and proceeded to scold me for being “a sissy.” I didn’t know what a sissy was; I just knew that I liked talcum powder. I had never seen grandfather angry before. The event was so traumatic I was never able to rekindle an interest in talcum powder after that.
   When grandfather and Hughes met at 40 West, it’s possible that they reviewed the Nazareth plans in the dining room at the long table for 16 situated under a chandelier.  Grandfather’s drafting room was on the second floor overlooking the bonsai garden and carriage house, so perhaps he and Hughes retired there as Pauline played a few bars of Chopin on the Steinway downstairs.
   “Frank, I like your plans for Nazareth, I really do,” I can imagine Hughes saying. “The design is modern with a touch of art deco and I like the way the building meets the sky. There’s something about your design that reminds me of aviation. I’ll tell you what, Frank. I’m going to give the Archdiocese of Philadelphia this land for free. You can tell them that down at the Chancery…Now I’m going to fly off to one of my kept women on the west coast.”
     The truth is, Hughes admired the hospital plans so much he gifted the land to the Archdiocese at zero cost. Perhaps they sealed the deal with a drink, a toast of port or a round of straight up Manhattans whipped up by Pauline at the cocktail bar.
    Grandfather must have told this story at Sunday dinner parties or at Thanksgiving and Christmas years after Hughes had become a recluse, living as a hermit on top of the Desert Inn Hotel Casino in Las Vegas or jetting around the world to hole up in other darkened hotel rooms with his ten inch long fingernails, and long gray hair and beard resembling the monks on Mt. Athos.  
   What is amazing to me, however, is that not long after Hughes’ visit to 40 West he opened the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. But before that, in 1935, he designed the H1 Silver Bullet, the world’s fastest racing airplane noted for its sleek modern look. As I checked out images of the H1, I couldn’t help but think how the plane eerily reminded me of Nazareth Hospital. How can a plane remind anyone of a hospital? Well, I can only conclude by saying that the plane had a sleek modern look that conjured up the “feeling” of art deco.