Friday, November 21, 2008

And Still We Sleep

We are dreaming of tomorrow, and tomorrow isn't coming;

We are fighting for a glory that we don't really want.

We're imagining a new day when the new day's here already.

We are running from the battle when it's one that must be fought.

And still we sleep.

We are crying in the darkness for a light to shine upon us,

Looking for a lamp when it's one we ourselves must light,

We are wishing on a falling star for miracles to happen,

We're preparing for a famine, but can't make it through one night.

And still we sleep.

We are listening for the calling but never really heeding,

Hoping for the future when the future's only plans.

Striving for the wisdom that we don't put into action,

Praying for a Savior when salvation's in our hands.

And still we sleep.

And still we pray.

And still we fear.

And still we sleep.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Reminder

It is the soldier, not the reporter, Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the soldier, not the poet, Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the soldier, not the organizer, Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.

It is the soldier, Who salutes the flag, Who serves beneath the flag,

And whose coffin is draped by the flag, Who allows the protestor to burn the flag.

- Father Dennis Edward O'Brian, USMC

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Aida Review


By Hedge T Hog

There is a saying that “Loving someone, is giving that someone the power to hurt you.” Meher Baba said, “Love cannot be forced on anyone, it can only be awakened through love itself.” Referring to love triangles Carol Burnett once said, “The only good love triangle is when you’re schizophrenic.” Truly when it comes to power, and especially the power of love, we often have only minimal control over whom we love, and even less on their capacity or willingness to reciprocate.

This power of love to hurt, to not be controlled, and to exist in triangles is especially evident in the award-winning musical “Aida,” written by Tim Rice and Elton John, currently being performed at the SCERA in Orem (You gotta love Broadway quality theater that allows you to eat Juju’s, and popcorn).

The setting for this triangle and history lesson is the land of Egypt (otherwise known as ‘the country inspired by the Luxor’). It opens at a BYU art exhibit (don’t worry, the inappropriate statues are covered) where many artifacts are on display (I even saw the 1st edition of Hooked on Hieroglyphics). We begin this E True Hollywood story about the Narrator from “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” by seeing her true identity; the Princess Amneris. She explains that “every story is a love story” (especially that old romance “The Shining”) and thrusts the audience back to the land of Egypt.

Enter the Ancient Egyptian Boy Band known as “The Soldiers.” These guys are the precursor to the Back-Nile Boys, Nile Sync, and that dance phenomena, “NileDance, (If you look closely you can even spot Aladdin). They explain that, “fortune favors the brave,” and introduce their brave captain, Radames (apparently named when his father swore at his birth). Radames takes charge of some captured slave girls and makes the ultimate indecent proposal to one; a sponge-bath. The slave girl, Aida (last name Turner) asks “what’s love got to do with it,” and gives the shirtless captain the cold shoulder.

Meanwhile back on the bridge Captain Kirk, also known as “Zoser” consults with his staff, and walks about with his magic “all seeing eye” wand (If planted at the right time of day, his staff will point Indiana Jones to the Ark of the Covenant). Zoser wants his son to be Pharaoh. He has seen “Arsenic and Old Lace” too many names and uses the poison to keep the current Pharaoh weak, and is the plot’s token “bad guy.” (So corrupt, deceitful, and murderous he’s destined for public office). Among the slaves a different drama enfolds. One slave, Mereb (who formerly hosted Reading Rainbow), recognizes the slave / princess Aida (Don’t worry folks; he doesn’t know her in the biblical sense).

The story then re-introduces the singing history exhibit Amneris in the sauna. She is first in beauty, first in wisdom, first in accessories, and certainly first in humility (Her real last name is Trump). She has the Pointer Sisters singing back-up and shows uses for old Rainbow Brite costumes on her followers as she prepares for her father’s banquet. During the banquet it is revealed that Radames and Amneris have been engaged for nine whole years (Yup, they’re definitely NOT Utahns). However his highness Arch-Angel Pharaoh (carrying his official Chicago Bulls Staff), pushes the wedding deadline to 7 days (now THAT is more Utahn).

However, “happily ever after” is not to be in the land of Egypt, and a love triangle begins when Radames encounters Aida post-banquet, and their own mutual attraction blossoms (meanwhile Radames shows off more cleavage than Dolly Parton). They wonder “how can I say these things to you,” not realizing it was probably the wine (just avoid the glass with Arsenic). Radames tries to counterbalance his feelings for Aida by rushing to Amneris’s bedchamber (yup, NOT Utahn) and instead has a pointed conversation with Aida after which he is chastised for needing a “map” of the female anatomy (maybe a little Utahn after all).

The story then shifts to the Nubian camp where the slave princess is welcomed to her people (all those white Nubians must be related to Michael Jackson). They laud her, dance and sing with her, and present her with a robe made in homemaking class. After the “Mysterious Dance of the Washer Women,” there is an “oops” moment as Mereb catches Aida and Radames having a “lip-to-lip” conversation (Don’t you just hate it when your slave interrupts you cheating on your princess fiancée with your Nubian slave girl?) Captain Radames must, as it seems, choose between the two women he loves (Too bad he’s not “Southern Utahn,” and he’d have a solution).
We then have a small seen from “Roots,” when Aida meets with her father. Meanwhile another “fatherly” meeting takes place between Radames and Zoser. Zoser reminds his son that “like father, like son,” a fact I’m sure the Presidents Bush would agree with. The soldier boy-band dances around with sticks sporting red moons (where are the blue diamonds or purple horseshoes?), and Radames responds by sending Aida a letter (Not a “Dear Jane” one). They meet, sing a different “Almost Paradise,” and are happy. However, each knows their place, and their love is not to be. Aida must make plans for her father to escape and must return to her own country, and Radames must marry Amneris (she’s rich, powerful, and hot…poor guy indeed).
As the wedding proceeds, however, the slave king’s escape is discovered, Radames is confronted by his father, everyone’s secrets are revealed, and things become more dramatic than an episode of E.R. Aida and Radames are arrested as traitors and the Princess Amneris (revealed as the Flying Nun) must defend them. In the end it is decreed that Radames and Aida will die as traitors, but they will be allowed to die together (I would have asked for the consolation prize). As we return to the BYU art exhibit however, we see the lovers in modern times “re-discovering” each other (“I’ve seen that smile…somewhere before).

The true story of Aida is one of love. The power that love can have, and the power it holds over those smitten with it. It also illustrates what powers love does not possess. The love Amneris has for Aida and Radames isn’t enough to save them. Their love for each other isn’t enough to create a life together. Zoser’s love of power isn’t enough to grant him his desire, and the Pharaoh’s love of wine can’t counter-act that arsenic. Still, however, love is powerful enough to shape their destinies. It is also the powerful force felt and wielded by kings, pharaohs, and captains, as well as slaves and peasants. It is the common denominator (like death and taxes) that makes humans what they are. Though we may not be able to control who it comes to or from, we can control our capacity to embrace it, to show it, and to share it. It is, ironically, the force that makes slaves and masters of us all. And I, for one, will bow down before it…as long as there are Jujus involved.

Friday, November 14, 2008


It's Something in the Way I Smell October
By Josh Curtis

It's something in the way I smell the dying leaves of fall...
the leaves of fall... falling... that left the trees all bare.
It's something in the way I smell old wheat and stacks of grass
piled golden, less green... and leaves fill the ground.

Waking in dew filtered October mornings fills me with senses
that remind me of sad days when I'd lost all I wanted.
But when I smell the air of the season change to autumn,
I know one day, on some day, it all grows back green.

Burnt cedar smoldering above the tree line now lowers to where I sit.
Sitting on rod iron chairs rocking, watching the blue sky fade
Orange and red now found where once was blue and green
Dusk and moonlight stream through stripped tree-arms and I rock.

It's something in the way I smell October that tells me I know I'll survive.
Whatever may leave me alone, will only give way to new growth.
I have seen the last leaf fall to the ground. I have felt that final wind blow...
I have felt the stillness that fills the air when the leaves all lie on the ground.

Yet though alone here with me I feel October and the wind blows,
I know there is still life, and good, new wheat, closed buds, and April dawns,
The trees are not dead, the sky will brighten once more, and I know I will too.
The wood-stove smoke reminds me, it’s something in the way I smell October.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Twice On This Island

Paul Simon, the great musician and lyricist (you know, the member of Simon and Garfunkel that, well, isn’t Garfunkel) wrote, “I’ve built walls, a fortress mighty, that none may penetrate… I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain, it’s laughter and it’s love that I disdain.” Simon went on to echo in the chorus, “I am a rock. I am an island.” According to Webster’s online dictionary (don’t you just love the World Wide Web?) an “island” is, “Something isolated, having little or no direct contact or communication with others.” Islands, it seems, appear in our stories full of treasure, shipwrecks, strange creatures, animated cartoons, and even several plane-crashed strangers that can’t escape (even after 3 seasons). The fascination with islands may be, after all, that we, like Paul Simon, often feel “isolated” ourselves, and wonder if we are an island too.

On the topic of islands, as well as creating social commentary on love, forgiveness, apartheid, polytheism, and strange head-gear, is “Once On This Island,” a musical by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, currently being performed by the SCERA Youth Theater’s advanced group “Acting Up!” at the SCERA theater in Orem (Utah County resembling more a “bubble” than an “island). The musical journey begins on the magical, bright and colorful Island of Dr. Seuss, where piñatas go to die. Beginning with a rousing drum number (though I kept waiting for someone to yell “wipeout,) we realize that this musical is actually a “story within a story,” (Hmm… rather like an island? Maybe not).

The inner story, which could easily be an adaptation of both “The Little Mermaid,” and “Romeo and Juliet,” (with some elements of “Cool Runnings”), is actually told by Storytellers to a young and frightened girl during a storm (Now where were those storytellers during Hurricane Katrina?). They tell the young girl of an island, ruled over by four gods (Kinda sounds like Great Britain). These Gods respectively being The Queen of Hearts Erzulie (who really likes the color red), Asaka, the Mother of the Earth and Queen of Narnia, Papa Ge, the God of Death, and Papa Smurf, the God of Water (Who now calls himself Agwe). On this island, too, is a storm, and in the storm the Gods choose to save a young girl in a tree. The islanders and creatures all sing about this being “just one small girl” (but that’s what they said about Elizabeth Smart).

And so the small girl is found in her magical multi-handed tree by two poor peasant islanders, Mama Euralie and Tonton Julian. Apparently Mama and Tonton have watched too much “Lion King” and name the girl Timoune. This island, it seems, is home to two very different worlds – one rich, one poor, one upper-class, one peasant, one British, one Scottish (oh wait, that’s Britain again) one dressed mostly in white, and one in muted browns (Don’t be fooled by those in mostly white clothes, they’re still half “colored”). The worlds, then, are the worlds of the poor peasants and the Grande Hommes. Timoune, then, is born or “found” into this lower class, and she dreams about the other, wishing she could be “Part of your world.”

Timoune grows up, as girls generally do, and during her prayer “Waiting for Life,” the Gods return. They debate on different forms of entertainment with the girl (most of which involve a mango, which could be considered a weapon of mass consumption). The Queen of Hearts, however, desires to give Timoune love, wagering it to be stronger than any other element. This offends Papa Ge (who shall henceforth be referred to as “Evil Aladdin”), who wagers that death is stronger, more powerful, and more lasting (The Island of Death being nearby, apparently … and called Cuba). And so, the Gods’ plan is put into effect. Agwe brings about another storm (and “moons” everyone… get it? Never mind). Within this storm Agwe uses his most powerful weapon – giant blue streamers. These streamers of death manage to wreck the car of a young Grand Hommes, Daniel, who is found near-death by the young Timoune. An argument ensues among the peasants about Daniel’s fate (just your typical “right to die,” “pro-life,” and “equal opportunity” debate). Timoune convinces her father to let her care for the man, during which time he will journey to the Grande Hommes to take them word of Daniel. During his journey Timoune nurses Daniel back to health, and the two hold hands and sing “Almost Paradise.” Evil Aladdin, however, complicates things by coming to collect Daniel’s soul. Timoune bargains with him to “take her instead.” The deal is made, and Papa Ge ensures her that he will come to collect at some point (Papa Ge being the only member of the IRS on the island).

Meanwhile Tonton journeys to the other side of the island and learns the tale of the Grande Hommes, which is the “Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes” (apparently to speak French you need only add some random, silent, and pointless letters to any word. Or is it “wordé?”). This sad tale began with Daniel’s ancestor, Willy Wonka (I mean Armand). Armand, who was French, falls for a young native girl on the island, and has an illegitimate child (Thus beginning the first Jerry Springer episode of “Who’s Your Baby’s Daddy?”). Armand’s son then fights with him and drives him from the island. He does, however, leave a curse upon his son (Yeah, he is French after all).
Back in the Harlem side of the island, Tonton returns from the Grand Hommes’ hotel to return Daniel to his proper place (After all, they beat him up and bleached the front of his shirt!). Timoune proceeds to argue with her parents (Yeah, she must now be a teenager) and they reluctantly allow her to journey to Daniel’s side of the island to follow her heart and her “love.” The first half of the show ends with a rousing number, courtesy of Asaka the Queen of Narnia (who is channeling the spirit and voice of Queen Latifah). Asaka animates frogs, birds, and trees to assure Timoune that “Mama will provide” (One of those trees dances just like Michael Jackson, but has the face of Macaulay Culkin).

The second half of the show begins on the “rich” side of the island. This is especially apparent, as gossip and rumors are under full sway. Apparently “some say,” all sorts of things about how Timoune arrived on the Grande Hommes’s side of the island. Some say she was transported magically. Some say it had something to do with a car. Some say they saw Charlie Sheen in camouflage dancing in the background. Some say a lot of things. Timoune, however the means, does reunite with Daniel, and struggles to heal his bum leg.

Meanwhile the villagers continue to gossip about Daniel and “some girls.” Some girls you learn from, some you teach. Some you marry, some you love. And some go to Young Womens. Meanwhile the Grande Hommes prepare for a Grand Dance (you might even call it a Ball, but that would be too much fairy-tale crossover). Attending the ball are all of Daniel’s rich associates, his father, and I think I saw the King of Siam. Also in attendance, however, is Andrea Deveraux, who, Timoune learns, is Daniel’s fiancée. She learns this after dancing for the gathered crowd and proving that she does, indeed, love Daniel. However, Daniel knows his own place, and leaves Timoune for Andrea (but maybe Timoune could be his intern?).

With the perfect timing that only the God of Death can master, Papa Ge re-enters. He reminds Timoune of their deal, but offers to spare her in exchange for the original prize – Daniel’s life. Timoune, then, must choose between her own life and that of her love, even after he has rejected and scorned her. Entering Daniels’ “den” J Timoune, in the end, can not betray her heart, and she chooses not to kill Daniel, though wakes him to find her standing nearby with a knife (Some girls, after all, aren’t very sneaky when committing homicide). Timoune is banished from the Grande Hommes estate, and her final encounter with Daniel outside his gate is days later, following his marriage to Andrea, when he places a coin in her hand and she dies.
However, moved by her sacrifice and story, Timoune is welcomed by the Gods. Erzulie takes her by the hand, Agwe circles her with a giant streamer, and Pape Ge struggles to carry her across the Bridge of Death, where she is welcomed by Asaka and turned into a tree (Should someone tell her that her “roots” are showing?). The tree that they transform her into manages to break the gates of the hotel, allowing a future young peasant girl and Tiny Tim Beauxhomme to play together and fall in love. Timoune, then, though not in life, manages in death to bridge the two worlds and connect the two halves of her “island.” The tale of Timoune, then, having been fully told by the storytellers to the young frightened girl, is retold by her, adding, “God bless us everyone.”

However, unlike islands, the story of Timoune, is not isolated or disconnected. It is a story that is found in many climes and countries. It is the story of Romeo and Juliet, the story of the Little Mermaid, and the story of an American Idol (would that make Simon “Papa Ge?”). It is the story even stronger than earth, water, love, or death. It is the human tale that allows us to dream of greater things, to make journeys without knowing their end, and to give love unconditionally. For it may be that in loving without receiving it in return, and with her forgiveness, that Timoune gives us that most powerful lesson of all. We are not in competition with each other, and nobody has to be voted off the island. We do need each other to survive. And we must do good for others without expecting anything in return. Despite Paul Simon’s words, no man is an island. Said the poet, “No man is an island, no man stands alone. Each man’s joy is joy to me, each man’s grief my own. We need one another, this I will defend. Each man is my brother, each man is my friend.” We truly are connected, and whether it be by love, ancestry, death, storms, bright-colored clothing, or distaste of the French, the theme that we are not islands is why we tell this story. Well, that, and for the mangos. Because no man dislikes mango.