Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nest-building eagles postpone Shiawassee Wildlife Drive opening

by Janet I. Martineau
Unfortunately, the eagles have landed.
And because of it, the planned April 15 opening of the long-anticipated 7.5-mile Wildlife Drive is postponed until May and possibly June at the Shiawasee National Wildlife Refuge in Saginaw.
Refuge Manager Steven Kahl reports a pair of late-nesting bald eagles are in the process of building a new nest along the new auto tour route.
The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act prohibits  activities which would interfere with normal eagle breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior and contribute to nest abandonment.  The opening the Wildlife Drive will yield a great increase in traffic directly past the nest, which could cause the adults to abandon the site.  Nest abandonment is most likely during the nest building stage. 
Refuge staff began to observe the nest-building behavior on March 14. Kahl says eagles often start small nests without finishing them, but this pair continues to add material.
Should they lay eggs that then hatch, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act also “protects” the babies until they enter the feather stage of their life.
Kahl says the refuge will continue to monitor the site from afar -- including aerial observation from an airplane. But should any babies hatch, the opening of the wildlife drive could be postponed to as late as June 15.
The $3.3 million Wildlife Drive has been 10 years in the making, and will open the core of the 9,501-acre refuge to visitors on a daily basis from mid-April to mid-October. In the past, visitors had to hike two miles to get into that core or show up for one day in the spring and one day in the fall when the route was open to cars.
Located on Curtis Road off M-13, the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge is one of 553 federal wildlife refuges in a system begun in 1903. Shiawassee was established in 1953 and its hallmark is serving as a respite for migrating waterfowl.
It shelters, Kahl says, 280 species of birds, 25 species of mammals, 10 species of reptiles, 10 species of amphibians, 48 species of inserts, snails and mussels, and 300 species of plants.
Once it opens, admission to the Wildlife Drive is free.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Rambling naturalists to relive 1,000-mile walk at Green Point

by Janet I. Martineau
Wil and Sarah Reding at the end of their journey
Wil and Sarah Reding of Kalamazoo call themselves “rambling naturalists.”
And they took that concept to an unusual length back in 2006 when they walked 1,000 miles “In the Steps of John Muir” -- tracing a journey Muir made in 1867, from Indianapolis, Ind., to the Florida Keys.
“We had always wanted to do a long walk,” says Wil, “so we did this one to celebrate  my 60th birthday. We were getting older and thought we we had better do it now. John Muir is our mentor and we thought redoing his 1,000-mile  walk would be fun.”
At 7 p.m. Wednesday April 6, the Redings will show pictures and talk about that “hike” during a “Nurturing Nature” program at the Green Point Environmental Learning Center, 3010 Maple in Saginaw.
The series is sponsored by the the Friends of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, and admission is free to members. Others pay $2 at the door.
Muir (1838-1914) was a Scottish-born American botanist, naturalist, author of 16 books, and early advocate of the preservation of wilderness in the United States. Numerous trails and natural areas are named in his honor, and his activism helped save Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Park.
Reding says Muir remains relevant in today’s world. “He was one of the main leaders, the big tree so to speak, of the environmental movement. He helped (President) Teddy Roosevelt to understand and work for national parks. He helped us realize the importance of getting to know the environment first hand, its connection to us, the importance of living in harmony with the natural world.”
Wife Sarah thought of their company name of Rent A Rambling Naturalist and he says since 1988 they have rambled to present upwards of 50 nature, history and science programs a year -- not only in the United States but also England, Tanzania and New Zealand.
So what surprised them on their 1,000-mile Muir hike? “That we could not walk 20 miles a day, as we had planned, and that nobody was home from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. to ask if we could set up our tent in their yard.”
The couple used Muir’s journals to retrace his steps as well as other research materials. The trek took them  53 days, from May 5 to June 25.
Granted they encountered cars, which Muir did not, and more people than he saw  “but we still found all the plants he cited in his journal and the other physical things.”
From 1989 to 1994 Wil Reding worked for the Kalamazoo Nature Center, in a variety of educational positions,  and he also is a former secondary  school and college educator. He holds a master’s degree in environmental education.
Sarah Reding also has a master’s degree in environmental education and has worked  at the Kalamazoo Nature Center since 1989, primarily in offsite and outreach programs.
What people will take away from the April 6 program, says Reding, is “to get outside and enjoy, no matter your age. They will laugh a lot and learn about people and backpacking supplies. And they will be inspired to love the out of doors and understand the importance of it and fight for it.”

Friday, March 25, 2011

"One Hit Wonders" concert an evening of delights

review by Janet I. Martineau
Imagine, in selecting a theme for a concert, ending up with a possible playlist of 800 songs.
“One Hit Wonders,” which opened a three-night run Thursday, showcased upwards of 30 pieces of music with an unusual legacy -- each was its singer/group’s only recording to appear on the Top 40 record chart, which makes it a hit.
Thankfully the group performing this concert is not a one-hit wonder. Grefe, Gaus, Grefe, Gottlieb, Roberts, Gottlieb, Grefe -- among them a husband and wife,  two father/son combos and a lawyer with a singing voice to die for -- formed three years ago to raise money for the Saginaw Choral Society.
And what their fans have been treated to ever since, and again last night, is rock-solid musicianship -- tight vocal harmonies, soaring guitars, good-natured ribbing, solo riffs that shine, a playlist that is a grabber.
So what was on that “One Hit Wonders” playlist in the performance at Pit and Balcony Community Theatre. Rock, novelty tunes, country. I mean, who can forget such ditties as “The Bird Is the Word,” “Hot Rod Lincoln,” “Werewolves in London.” Or groups named Semisonic, Stampeders, Deep Blue Something and King Harvest.
If there was a complaint about the evening, it is that not every song title/performer/year was announced, and there was no program since the band wanted to  maintain the element of surprise. We have named a few; the years spanned 1962 to 1995. The audience reaction varied as some knew the songs and others didn’t.
But either way, enjoying the aforementioned musicianship was a no brainer. Tim Grefe spoke/sang “Hot Rod Lincoln” as Dennis Gottlieb’s red-hot guitar provided fun sound effects. “Dancing in the Moonlight” featured that dynamite trio of voices belonging to Tim Grefe, Andrew Grefe and Stephan Gaus. “Walkin in Memphis” was a treat with Tim Grefe on vocal and wife Tamara Grefe on keyboards.
Tim Grefe, Andrew Grefe and Gaus teamed up in an eight-minute “Schtick” medley that included the novelty songs which, judging from audience reaction, EVERYBODY knew and loved.
From time to time the ensemble added in some guests -- Mike Brush on keyboards, Honesty Murrell on vocals, Steve Rodriquez on sax -- that enhanced the sound. Murrell’s vocals in particular were noteworthy, when she soloed and when she chimed in with the others (as she did so strongly with Tim Grefe on “Venus”).
The first two concerts from this group featured The Eagles last year and Crosby, Stills, Nash the first year -- meaning there was, in a sense, a unity of sound and style in the first two outings. 
This one, by its nature, ranged all over the musical map in terms to sound and style -- and in the process taxed this band in delivering such goods. It was, sometimes, exhausting in watching the demands made on them vocally and instrumentally. They, sometimes, very briefly, even seemed unsure themselves as they started a number. But zap, they were soon right into it.
Go enjoy...if there are any tickets left for the last two shows. See how many of the songs you do or don’t recognize -- and how little that really matters, we were surprised to learn, in enjoying a concert to the fullest.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Midland's "Full Monty" delivers "the goods" -- and shamrocks too

review by Janet I. Martineau
Who says they don’t have a sense of humor in Midland?
On St. Patrick’s Day?
During a performance of “The Full Monty” at the Midland Center for the Arts?
Yep, there they were in plain view, even from the seventh row.... single green shamrocks painted on the rear ends of the cast members.
The BARE rear ends!
Of the male cast members!
What a great giggle. Has us wondering, is something else painted there every night during the run of the show, and who gets to do the painting?
But I digress.
We were there to review the musical about six laid off Buffalo, N.Y., men who put together a Chippendale-style striptease show to bring home some bacon. It was, on Thursday night, our fifth time to see the show in variations ranging from movie to professional tour to community theater. 
Each time we realize how magically wonderful this show is -- artfully scripted and composed, full deep belly laughs and tugging moments of sentiment, relevant still through the years since layoffs continue.
And what makes it even more fun at the community theater level is that most of us in the audience know at least one or more of the actors who land the parts and have to get  comfortable enough to bump and grind, walk around in their undershorts, and in the end  nearly bare it all.
So it was Thursday night as it was a year or so ago at Pit and Balcony Community Theatre in Saginaw.
Director Susan Hearn and her cast deliver “the goods” from start to finish, with a high level of energy throughout. Yes, a couple of the singing voices are not quite up to the demands of the tricky score. The set is not one of Midland’s best and most effective, and the rolling set pieces become annoying. There are some questionable directing decisions here and there. And putting the orchestra in another room at the center and piping the music in left us cold.
But the acting performances are rock solid across the board with more than a few standouts above and beyond.
Adam Gardner is wonderfully geeky with a rubber-like body movement, and when he sings the sad “You Walk With Me” his voice wavers with emotion as it should and  then builds with confidence when life turns around for him.
Denyse Clayton chews up the script and spits it out as the sarcastic and garish woman the men hire as a piano accompanist. Granted her lines are funny as they are written, but she lathers them with all kinds of relishes.
Paul Viele has a small part as a stripper wanna-be who fails horribly during the audition. It is a performance that is touching, funny, sadsack and done with just the right everything.
Kevin Kendrick moves with the grace of a panther in the dance scenes of “Big Black Man” and “Michael Jordan’s Ball.”
And Kyle Bagnall and David Clayton click as unlikely best friends who are macho one moment and tender the next; cocky and confident one moment and then quavering and insecure the next.
Clayton’s “You Rule My World” number and his battle with Saran wrap in the bathroom are two of the most wonderful moments in the show. And Bagnall’s face is a constant ever-changing map of emotions.
Go, runs this weekend and next. Really good roles for men are few and far between in musical theater, and this one is full of ‘em. With or without the shamrocks.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Midland's "African Sanctus" magnificent

review by Janet I. Martineau
MIDLAND -- Sometimes, in a musical score, there comes a section  that so moves the soul with its elegance and beauty and the mind with its relevance and intelligence that tears well in the eyes and a lump clogs the throat.
How thrilling, then, that in David Fanshawe’s hour-long “African Sanctus” that section occurs not just once but twice.
Titled “Kyrie: Call to Prayer,” on Sunday afternoon at the Midland Center for the Arts it juxtaposed a recording of an Islamic Imam in Cairo, Egypt, reciting a call to prayer with the live voices of the 59-member Music Society Chorale singing a Kyrie from the Christian Latin Mass.
There was the aural  beauty of the two intermixing so well, the emotional thoughts flashing about how these two religions are at war these days, and then the visual addition of slides alternating the artistic beauty of a mosque with a stained glass window in a Christian church.
In a talk-back after the end of the performance, baritone/bass David King said, “To us performing it, it is evidence we live in one world, we are one people, there is one God and we are all in this together.”
And tenor  David Aukerman, who also happens to be a Church of God pastor, admitted that  section of the 13-part work was a challenge for him theologically but that he came to realize it is saying “there does not have to be violence in our disagreements. There can be differences. We just need to do it peacefully.”
Fanshawe, who died in 2010, was a lifelong vagabond who traveled  Africa recording the traditional songs and chants of  upwards of 50 tribes. In Egypt, Uganda, Sudan, Kenya.
He then took those recorded songs and chants, composed his own percussion-flavored Latin mass and created “African Sanctus” as an ode to music as the universal language. Midland, in its performance of the work, added a slide show showing those African nations and their people.
In the course of the hour the audience heard cows mooing and frogs croaking, a crackling thunderstorm, wedding music, chants, a lamentation for a dead fisherman, war drums beating in the distance of a desert, refugees singing a song of flight, tiny bells ringing to announce the birth of a son in a tribe, courtship dances, the Latin mass, the Lord’s Prayer as sung by boy soprano Thomas Bolland, and a “Love Song” piano solo performed by Anna Doering as well as the “Kyrie: Call to Prayer.”
It was almost too much to take in -- which sounds were live and which were recorded, should we watch percussionists Tom Ryden and Zoe Peeler who often played more than one instrument at once, oops can’t miss those slides of the African people and nature  projected at the side, and oh my gosh those notes hit by soprano soloists Hannah Hupfer, Lynne King and Jean Joslyn are IMPOSSIBLE, but they are doing it.
And, man, wish I could see that pianist (Pam Bourscheidt). She is sounding fantastic.
Hope this never ends. It is groovy, magnificent, the work of a genius...would anyone notice if I got up and danced....what do you mean it’s  over.
During the talk back, more than one choral society singer got a little choked up in saying how much the work meant to them, and thanking music director James Hohmeyer “for making us do this.” They admitted they had had reservations, deep ones, and that it was taxing to rehearse.
What made it difficult to perform, and perhaps for some to hear, Hohmeyer said, was Western music, and indeed our lifestyle, is very structured. Every note in its place and held for a set prescribed time on a printed score and performed to the precision of its composer.
African music, by contrast,  Hohmeyer said, “is mouth to ear music, unstructured, no tonality, never owned by a composer but passed down generation to generation.”
Imagine, then, merging the two in one piece and making it work -- and thankfully so exquisitely well in Midland under the capable and steady hand of Hohmeyer and, we suspect,  sound engineer Heath Hetherington.
Two years ago Hohmeyer and his singers gave us “Visions of Light,” a silent film about Joan of Arc set to a choral work performed live as as film played. We thought back then things could never get much better, despite the fact it was a risky bit of programming that did not exactly fill all the seats.
And then came “African Sanctus,” even more risky and again not filling the seats.
But how much poorer would life be without the opportunity for the singers and for those of us who took a chance on both. We can’t wait to see and hear what Hohmeyer comes up with next.
Oh, and those of you regretting not attending “African Sanctus”...the Saginaw Choral Society has it on its May 2012 schedule.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

"Sex Please, We're Sixty" a giggle fest for "people of a certain age"

review by Janet I. Martineau
A little blue pill just for menopausal women ...hmmmm.....and then it gets in the wrong hands.
That, in a nutshell, is the theme of the farcical “Sex Please, We’re Sixty,” which opened its run Friday night at Saginaw’s Pit and Balcony Community Theatre.
And it turned out to be a good giggle fest, especially for, well, “women of a certain age.”
Like all plays in the farcical genre, it seems to take forever to built up to the crazy ending that becomes an absolute riot of laughs. But, thankfully, a couple of the performances and some of the lines by playwrights Susan and Michael Parker make getting there fun.
It also is, frankly, nice to see a play written for “people of a certain age” and thus cast with mostly “people of a certain age” and proving that both of those sets of “people of a certain age” still have the chops to deliver great performances and have the ability to laugh at their own foibles.
Ditto director Linda Bush Rebney who also fits that age profile and delivers a nicely paced and good-looking show.
That said, we hesitate to discuss much further the plot line or the words in the play because that would ruin the sense of discovery that is so much of the fun.
Suffice it to say, the action takes places in a prim and proper bed and breakfast inn, where a southern bell, romance novelist and researcher come to stay one summer day or two. The inn is run by a prim and proper woman given to an obsession with time. She, in turn, has been courted for 20 years by a man who proposes to her every single day. And wandering in and out of the inn every few minutes, to check the registry for chicks, is a neighbor who is a dirty old man.
There are hints of the Bob Newhart inn-set television series as well as a little “Golden Girls” in there, and, of course, the play “No Sex Please, We’re British.”
The two standout performances are by Michael Olk as the dirty old man who courts all of the guests and Mary Arvidson as the tisk-tisk innkeeper trying to keep things under control.
Olk’s performace is a delight, He shuffles across the stage, hesitates and pauses, pops Viagra pills, battles a bad back, slips in and out of bedrooms nonstop, and even from the back row of the theater his eyes seem to twinkle. 
His character may be old but he ain’t dead in bed yet -- or so he seems to think but the women indicate otherwise. At the risk of dragging up an overexposed name these days, his character is what we imagine Charlie Sheen’s “Two and a Half Men” CHARACTER would be like in old age.
Olk NEVER drops that character, and manages to keep him lovable rather than sickening (as some dirty old men can be).
Arvidson is the contrast -- uptight, a prude, unconquerable in the romance department, but that persona slowly unravels when she reads passages of the new romance novel her guest is writing and falls under the spell of that little blue pill. Maybe.
Again, she never leaves character even as that character itself is changing. And her costumes and wig make her Mrs. Stancliff look nothing like Mary Arvidson.
Another performance to watch is that of Howard Deal, the uncertain scientist wooing the innkeeper. His character is kinda bland, and thus played that way, until the romance novelist starts giving him tips on better wooing words ... and especially until the play hits its peak comedy of errors. Then Deal just lights up the stage and generates the lion’s share of knowing laughter from women in the audience. He is wonderful.
Carla Gauthier is the struggling novelist, Tina Gutierrez the researcher and Lucy Oeming Malacos the southern belle. All do well, but their characters are more the straight people to the other three. Malacos nonetheless manages to elevate her character; the other two, perhaps, need just a little more oomph in their delivery.
But the fact the entire cast looks and feels comfortable, and stays true to their characters, is credit to director Rebney.
Bravo also to Susan Reid, Gary Reid and Mary Swift -- the scenic designer, set coordinator and scenic painter respectively. The set in GORGEOUS -- one of the best in recent Pit history. It is colorful, full of nice lines and angles, and looks every bit the part of a stylish inn.
And compliments also to sound engineer/operator Al Linberg whose work with the microphones made every line clear but natural sounding -- and even picked up the sound of water being poured into a glass.
“Sex Please, We’re Sixty” ain’t no classic theater but hey, it’s got some great laughs “for people of a certain age.”

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tough words about American education served up during special luncheon

story and photo by Janet I. Martineau
Geoffrey Canada signs one of his books after his talk
A free lunch for 600 Saginaw citizens was served up with a heaping helping of reality at the Horizons Conference Center on Thursday.
“We (the United States) lock up more people in prisons than any place in the world. The cost for each inmate is $37,000 a year. 20 to 30 percent of every state budget these days is for criminal justice. 

"Yet we are slashing our education dollars all over America because, we say, we can’t afford the money.”
The speaker of those words was an impassioned man by the name of Geoffrey Canada, a 59-year-old social activist/educator -- specifically a black man born and raised in the rough South Bronx -- whose Harlem Children’s Zone is making headline-grabbing headway in the battle against a broken education system and inner city violence.
“It takes $5,000 a year to educate a child in the Harlem Children’s Zone,” Canada said. “You get nothing for that $37,000 a year spent for a person in prison. For $5,000 I get an education leading to graduation from college.”

Canada was brought in to speak by the the Saginaw Community Foundation and United Way in hopes Saginaw can somehow pattern a program after his Harlem Children’s Zone.

The lunch and his visit was paid for by Dow Chemical, Hemlock Semiconductor, Nexteer and Spence Brothers in, apparently, their hopes too.
“If this crisis in education continues, I don’t see us continuing as a great country,” Canada warned. “It will cripple America. And the whole country is in peril, not just the black community.
“It is a question  of how much we care about our kids. China is No. 1 in the world in reading, math and science skills in its students. They reinvest in their kids. They are building smarter kids.”
Spanning 97 blocks in Harlem, the non-profit Harlem Children’s Zone headed by Canada was begun in the 1990s and offers free parenting workshops, a pre-school program,  charter schools, and health programs. Its yearly budget, it reports, is $75 million; serving 10,000 children and 7,400 adults.
“We start with the kids at birth and give them support all the way through college graduation,” he said. “And we don’t tolerate failure in our students or in our teachers, because when you don’t tolerate failure you end up with success.
“Excellence is the expectation of people working in law, in medicine, in business -- why not in education. My teachers will tell you it is stressful working for me, but we have them asking to teach for us. If you get paid to educate kids and are lousy at it, then you should change jobs.”
Canada has taken his message to “60 Minutes,” “Oprah,” “Charlie Rose.” He played a prominent role in last year’s award-winning documentary “Waiting for Superman” -- its title taken from the fact that “if you think anyone is going to come to your town to save you and your kids, well, ain’t nobody coming. There is no plan in the government. In fact, they often ask me. ‘What do you think we should do?’
“You have to save your own kids, city by city. We have to do this ourselves. You have to rebuild  the WHOLE thing. We all have to take personal responsibility -- and raise private dollars from businesses, the wealthy, foundations.”
Getting back to the fact it is not just a problem in the black community, Canada conceded that the statistics indicate the nation has lost more black people to violence since the early 1980s than were hung during slavery and reconstruction; that there are more African-Americas who cannot vote today because they are felons than who could not vote during slavery.
But he also held up in his hand a Ready, Willing and Unable document signed by legions of military leaders saying that 70 percent of ALL young American adults cannot join the military because...
...25 percent are drop outs with no high school diploma, which you need to join.
...“30 percent cannot pass the entrance exam they have to take
...“10 percent are felons.
...“27 percent are too obese thanks to our supersize mentality that saves you money the more food or pop you buy.
“We have allowed all this to happen. This is an adult problem.  I question how much we care about our kids. I used to think think this was just in Harlem, but it is every place I go.
“And even with a college degree our kids will have to compete fiercely for jobs. What it takes to get a job is increasing, but our education is not adapting to that.”

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge seeking volunteers for its new Wildlife Drive

by Janet I.Martineau
April 15 marks a pivotal milestone in the history of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, located south of Saginaw off M-13.
That is the day the 7.5-mile Wildlife Drive opens for business, allowing vehicles to visit the refuge on a daily basis for six months of the year, and with it the book store inside the refuge headquarters.
And to assist with the operation of both, the Friends of the Shiawassee Refuge is seeking people willing to serve as Wildlife and Interpretive Guides-- a contingent of volunteers who love being outside in nature or inside selling books, T-shirts and other wildlife-oriented items.
Wildlife Drive Guides along the Wildlife Drive are needed to:
  • Work at one of the three viewing platforms along the drive, answering visitor  questions about the refuge and its wildlife and helping to identify any wildlife within view.
  • Shifts are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, mid-April to mid-October, with some flexibility of hours.
  • Each volunteer will need to have a personal cell phone and provide his or her own comfort items (chair, water, food, shade, sprays) as well as a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope. The Friends and Refuge will provide field guides, first aid kits, and notebooks containing refuge information.
  • Volunteers can work solo or team up with a friend or family member for their shift.
  • Each volunteer is required to attend a half-day training session (date to be determined).
Interpretive Guides at the Refuge Headquarters are needed to:
  • Sell merchandise and keep sales receipts as well as answer visitor questions about the refuge and its wildlife.
  • Shifts are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, mid-April to mid-October.
  • Volunteers can work solo or team up with a friend or family member for their shift.
  • Each volunteer is required to attend a half-day training session (date to be determined).
If you are interested, send an email to with the following information: name, address, phone number, e-mail address.

Bay City Players production of "Sisters Rosensweig" hit and miss

Review by Janet I. Martineau
Ahhhh, the plight of sisterly trios.
Russia’s Anton Chekhov explored it in “Three Sisters.” And Beth Henley set her “Crimes of the Heart” study of them in the American south.
Two classic theater works.
So it was with great expectation when the Bay City Players mounted  Wendy Wasserstein’s Jewish treatment of the theme in “The Sisters Rosensweig.” The 1991 play had, after all, won a Tony nomination and actresses by the names of Jane Alexander, Madeline Kahn and Frances McDormand had, over the years, been cast in the roles.
But, well, why was it that in the performance we saw Sunday afternoon it was two of the MEN in the cast who caught our attention and that we found the script overly long and flawed.
As performed by Susan Meade, Debbie Lake and Debra Monroe, and directed by Joanne Berry, these three sisters were a bit of a bore. Their acting chemistry didn’t even jell enough to make us believe they were sisters.
Lake at least had her moments as the flamboyant middle sister named Gorgeous -- a New England housewife/radio personality who has kept the Jewish faith. Lake knows how to deliver a line with the right inflections ... but what was with her head always cocked upward. It looked painful, was distracting and did not in any way help define her character.
Meade looked uncomfortable and unsure in her role as the oldest sister, whose 54th birthday they are meeting to celebrate. Her Sara Goode is a cold, distant snob who lives in England, works as a high level banker and has forsaken her granted this is not the most warm character in the world. But Meade does nothing to help us like her anyway.
Monroe is the middle sister, Pfeni Duncan -- a jet-setting journalist always off to cover the next crisis in the world and with no place to really call home. She should be a spitfire, right? Sometimes she is barely in character, or so it seems.
All three improved in the second act, which overall was more lively than the first one which crawled. And when they all plopped on the sofa to just gab and come to grips with their lives, for a brief few minutes there they did seem like real sisters and were inviting.
Good from the get go, however, were John Tanner as a New York furrier who is a guest for dinner and tries to woo Meade’s character ad Paul Oslund as a theater director who has been dating Pfeni but also likes men.
Both Tanner and Oslund display plenty of energy and nuances and focus in their characters, with Tanner comfortable and believable with every movement and line. Tanner’s character is wise and gentle; Osland’s flamboyant and fun-loving. Together they are magic and put a spark in the play.
Another plus is the set design by Leeds Bird and Mike Wisniewski along with its decoration and the attending props -- all lending a sense of reality.

Former White House pastry chef leaves 'em laughing at Horizons Town Talk

story and photos by Janet I. Martineau
White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier
He may have toiled as the White House’s executive pastry chef for 26 years, creating replicas of the White House with 175 pounds of chocolate and gingerbread as well as small portraits of the first ladies in frosting, but here is one of the stories Roland Mesnier told the Horizons Town Talk audience on Tuesday morning.
President George Bush and First Lady Laura were enjoying their first dinner in the executive mansion, with pooches Barney and Spot in the room with them, when suddenly George kicked open the door into the kitchen, with dogs in tow, and  barked to the butler that  “somebody farted in the dining room and it wasn’t me or the first lady, so take these two outside.”
Gales of laughter followed that story....but, then, during his entire hour-long talk, 65-year-old Mesnier was part stand-up comedian along with that pastry chef business. His stories were priceless .... of a playful President Reagan pretending to be drunk and scaring his Secret Service detail, of lonely Bill Clinton during the White House aide scandal blowing a fuse when he could not find the second half of a low calorie strawberry cake, of a stinky Carter “signature” dish that was “so God damn bad nobody ever ate it.”
But the story that perhaps took the cake was the one about perfectionist Nancy Reagan who had booked a September dinner in the White House Rose Garden, only to discover  that not a single rose was in bloom that day.
“So before long two trucks drove up, inside of them were thousands of (cut) roses,” said Mesnier in his charming French accent, “and the White House staff was set to wiring all of them on the bushes. Since the dinner was at night, no one could tell the roses were wired on. No one ever knew the difference.”
Mesnier was the longest running chef at the White House and served five presidents in all, never concocted the same dessert twice, worked 16-hour days, retired three times before it finally took, and has since authored four books.
Signing copies of his books
Not bad for a kid who was born in a small village in eastern France -- population 140, of which his family of nine children and two parents were a good hunk of it. They were, he said, dirt poor -- no electricity, no running water, growing all their food.
The clothes went from “kid to kid, and I was number seven down the line, so with the underwear I was lucky to get the rubber waist band.”
At age 12 he visited an older brother who had become a pastry chef. And on his own 14th birthday he came to supper and found his chair occupied by a suitcase. “Son, it is time for you to go,” his strapped parents said. “There is a job waiting for you in the big city.”
And 15 minutes later he was on his way to working up the pastry chef line -- from France to Germany, England, Switzerland, Bermuda, Mexico and finally the United States.
He was working at a resort in Virginia when the White House became a pest -- repeatedly asking him to come work for them in Washington, D.C. “To shut them up” he made the five-hour drive for an interview, found “the people there were not very nice” and then suddenly was ushered in for a 20-minute interview with Rosalynn Carter “who was the first friendly person I met there.”
His hiring followed, despite the fact he had only a Green Card and was not a U.S. citizen. Mrs. Carter was not fazed, he said. A few days after he began work he was ordered into a black limo, taken to an office where he was questioned about the U.S. Supreme Court and other governmental things....which he knew nothing about and could not answer.
“Finally I was asked do you know who is the president of the United States?” That one he could answer, he was told “you passed the test,” was whisked off to the Alexandria Court House where a woman met him with a Bible, and presto, he was a United States citizen.
“It was Rosalynn Carter who opened all the doors for me” ... despite that stinky cheese ring dish.
Each first family, he said, brought with them a signature family dish which was ALWAYS served “no matter what” when a buffet table was up. The cheese ring consisted of stinky cheeses, onions, anchovies and strawberry jam. As noted before, Mesnier says no one ever ate it and he wonders to this day if the White House freezer still contains some.
Other stories from the Mesnier era:
-- Nancy Reagan told him that “whatever you do, don’t give chocolate to the president.” But, says the chef, “I could see in his eyes, he was in despair.” So whenever she went to visit her sick mother, the president was served “steak, macaroni and cheese, and a big, big serving of chocolate mousse” -- all of which was forbidden by his wife.
Mesnier still dresses the part
-- Barbara Bush ordered that “swordfish a la Bush” be served when England’s Prince Charles came to visit. No one knew what it was, so she was called to the kitchen right after giving a speech -- all dressed up in a nice blue dress and her traditional string of pearls.
“And she proceeded to show us -- she took the swordfish, slathered both sides with mayonnaise, squirted it with lemon, told us to cook it for five minutes on each side “and it will be black as hell, but the prince will love it.”
Barbara Bush, sad Mesnier, “was witty and quick. If you tangled with her, you lost.”
-- Dessert-loving Clinton was a challenge since he was, says Mesnier, allergic to dairy products, flour and chocolate. “There was a time (the scandal) in the White House when he ate alone a lot. And Mrs. Clinton also ate alone a lot then -- she liked mocha cake then to his low-calorie strawberry cake. Things finally got over that bump.”
-- Whenever cookies were served, Mesnier planned on five per guest.....except when the Blue Hair Ladies Club came and he baked maybe double the amount because “they came with huge pocketbooks and, well, the cookies just popped in them by accident.”