Sunday, April 24, 2016

Play: Memorial

brownsville song (b-side for tray) by Kimber Lee, Directed by Juliette Carrillo, Seattle Repertory Theatre through April 24 (so, yeah, its already too late).

This is one we pushed back from our original date because of deadlines and other things, which is a pity, because it continues this year's exceptional run at the Rep. Were this play in other years, it would be a highpoint, but here it just continues this year's winning track.

brownsville song is a tragedy with a positive ending. Tray Thompson (Chinaza Uche) is a young man full of promise cut down in a gang shooting. And it is about both the boy and the hole he left behind, the play flips him like Schodinger's Cat, from alive to dead, from real to memory. Tray is an incredibly well-rounded, well-presented, well-acted character that caries the weight of the play. Uche carries him well as a talented young man, messing up, gifted in boxing, and struggling with a college application essay. Extremely human, made more so by playwright Lee's poetic text, which leaves nothing of the street behind but weaves its patterns throughout.

The survivors are his Grandmother Lena (Denise Burse), his sister from another mother Devine (two young actresses play this role - we got Leah DeLynn Dual for this matinee), and Devine's long-absent mom Merrell (Vanessa Kai). The three work through their own grief in different ways, and it is clear how Tray's shooting ripped through them as well and challenged them to go on.  Burse is the strongest as the grandmother who refuses to take any backtalk from her grandson or the rest of the world. Merrell slides back into Tray's life a little too neatly, but Kai carries her forward with both passion and a sense of desperation.

The plot slides back and forth in time like the settings, similar to the flying props and scenery of Luna Gale.  The actors spin and turn just as easily. And there comes a moment (and this is a bit of a spoiler, but show does close tonight) when Tray's message of hope for the future comes through. And he is dressed in his red boxing trunks, and a white t-shirt with stars and stripes.

And he's Captain America. Right at the moment. Everything that is right about a person, distilled down to that moment.

This was the last show, and the three rows ahead of us were pretty sparse, which is a pity. This has been one amazing season at the Rep, and it closes next with a gimme - a Sherlock Holmes play. Pity, because this one deserves a lot more attention.

More later,

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Political Desk: Local Funding

Some very, very few of you who read this in King County received ballots a few weeks back, which, like solicitations for public radio, you promptly put aside to be addressed/considered/recycled. Like the charity solicitations, they are asking for money. Unlike them, they are not offering a stylish tote bag. But dig it out anyway.

In our case, up on Grubbstreet, we have two things on the agenda. Oen is for approving bonds for Kent School District #415. The other is for re-authorizing an existing benefit charge to help pay for fire services for the Kent Fire Department Regional Fire Authority, which covers Kent and Covington.

And here's the regular complaint I have about such measures - we don't get to vote on tax breaks on large aerospace firms or legislator pay, but on things that you or I would consider basic services, the purpose of taxes in the first place, THAT we get to vote on.

But you've heard those complaints before. Let's get to the meat of the situation.

Kent School District No. 415 Proposition No. 1 Capital Improvement and School Construction General Obligations Bonds - $252,000,000 puts about everything in the title. This replaces retiring bond issues, and won't result in an increase in tax rate - you're voting for status quo. Its got a big list of improvements - two new schools, 20 additional rooms, new facilities and parking. A full list can be found here and here.

The problem is that this measure requires not just a majority, but a super-majority to pass. Thanks to the weirdness of our current casters-up tax law, this measure must pass with 60% of the vote. Let the court note that if a CANDIDATE gets 53%, people talk about a landslide victory. I think I can get 40% of the voting population to vote against anything, particularly if it involves taxes.

In any event, I will recommend voting Approved on this sucker, even though it doesn't talk about replacing the temporary school rooms at Glenridge, which have been there since I moved into the neighborhood over 15 years ago.

The other matter is Kent Fire Department Regional Fire Authority Proposition No. 1 Continuation of Benefit Charge, which continues an existing tax (so yes, keeping the status quo). This is not a bond but a benefit charge, supplementing the normal budget (but not exceeding 60% of the total budget (currently it is at 46%, down from the previous year)), and assigned based upon building use, floor space, hazardous materials, and the like (pretty much how much an effort it is going to be to put out a fire at that location).

It is, according to the Kent Reporter, ANOTHER one of those super-majority situations, where it doesn't just have to win, you have to win with 60% of the vote. And yeah, it is to keep doing what it's been doing. So YES on this authorization.

And finally, while I was writing this, the Voter's Pamphlet for the May primary showed up in my mailbox. So even when I get ahead, I get sucked back in.

In meantime, vote by this Tuesday. Here are the details.

More later,

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

DOW breaks 1700, I mean 1800!

Don't you just hate it when someone quits blogging for a month, and then come back with some lame excuse and a promise it won't happen again, and you're thinking "Yeah, right" and it will be another month before we hear from them again.

Well, in my case it is simply a matter of a new job (going very well, thank you) and a horrible commute (and no, I won't subject you to the details- bad enough my friends have to hear about it) and a couple outside projects that I was wrapping up, but the simple fact is I haven't had time or inclination to write. Which is a bit of a prob, since there are things I ALWAYS write about, like politics, and plays and collectible quarters. And the economy, as measured by the completely inaccurate Dow Jones industrials. (Yes, they're an inaccurate representation of the health of the economy in general, or even in your personal well-being, but still, they are reported daily on the news, so go figure). 

But even given my sabbatical, this was a fast turnaround. Only a few months back we were in the grip of the Dire Tremblies (which are like the regular tremblies, but a size class larger and equipped with horns that inflict double fire damage). Since then things have apparently righted themselves and everything is back to moving in a positive direction, which is weird. I mean, The Chinese economy is still a overheated as it was before. Greece is still broken. The oil market is flooded and may become worse. Heck, add to that the fact that the Panama Papers went live, telling everyone how the rich are hiding their money from the rest of us, and that Brazil is mired in economic hardships so bad that they are impeaching their president. Yet, the Stock Market prevails. Howcum?

Well, one theory, and this is a theory, is that the US Market is a safe haven for foreign funds. Relatively stable government, notwithstanding some of the actions of the GOP. Corporate-friendly leaders. Infrastructure hasn't quite fallen in on itself yet. All of that indicates a place where people want to put the cash. And the fact that it is separated from Main Street, which DOES have crummy infrastructure and old pipes, makes it even more accomodating. 

Just a thought.

More later

Sunday, March 20, 2016


11th Annual Science Fiction & Fantasy Short Film Festival, Cinerama Theatre, Seattle.

So yesterday Stan and I went down to the Cinerama in Seattle (not too far from where I work) to spend about five hours watching short science fiction films. This would be the Science Fiction & Fantasy Short Film Festival, presented by the EMP and SIFF (Seattle International Film Festival).So yeah, it is the SFF SFF presented by SIFF.

The reason for us going was that a friend from WOTC, Cindi Rice, was a producer on one of these pieces. She wasn't go to make the showing, but knew that the director, Reed Shusterman, was going to make it, and had some extra tickets. Hence, Cinerama theatre, Saturday afternoon for about five hours, encompassing 19 films.

Their film is Goblin Queen, and (spoilers) was my fave of the group. The setup is pure Disney Channel - teenage girl finds magic amulet that transports her to a fantasy universe. What makes it cool is that it does not follow the girl, but rather her mother - a bit of a control freak, who is dealing with her daughter disappearing at a moment's notice. And then when things from the OTHER universe comes spilling into ours, things get wild. Goblin Queen is well-written and well-acted, but what really makes it a fave is that it works without a huge amount of special effects. Tightly-packed and concise, kept to the small house in the real world, it worked its magic without a lot of post-production (Indeed, in the after-movie interviews, the directors who made it to the festival complained that their films were two days to shoot, two years to get the post-production right).

One thing I also liked about Goblin Queen was the sense of resolution to the film. A lot of the short films shown are demos, teasers, trailers, or proof-of-concepts for potential larger films. The problem is that if they don't resolve the story, they leave the viewer hanging. There was a lot of that in the festival - Aden (winner of the Judges Prize and the Douglas Trumbull Award for Visual Effects) was an extremely well-done, well-conceived, well-executed chase sequence between an agent of unknown origins and child's mechanized imaginary friend, but it was the first ten minutes of an unfinished movie. The Garden, a tale of humanity integrated into AIs is excellent but also felt like it strained to be a full feature. Mis-Drop, a take on a green soldier going into battle, would be a great first five minutes of a video game. The Red Thunder WOULD be the first five minutes of a Disney Channel show where a teenage girl borrows her mom's car and discovers her mom's secret.

All this is well and good (and make no mistake, these are short films that if they grow up to long films, I would watch), but all left me with more questions than answers.

Then there are the WTFs - In Bionic Girl a scientist creates an big-headed android duplicate who replaces her and sends her to hell (There's a lot of singing. In french). Disco Inferno starts with Hammer-Film virgin sacrifice and ends with an office party and has a lot of weirdness in between. Tristes Deserts (A Robot's Tale) was described on Twitter as a Daft Punk video, and involves a white robot with an Elizabethan neck ruff fighting an ebony octopus. And poodles. There are poodles involved.

OK, but what else did I LIKE? Frost, a tale of arctic hunter scavenging in a sleeping city was extremely evocative. The No Look Dunk was cute and short and played with time travel just as long as it had to. Juliet links sex doll robots with iPhones in news clips and commercials.

And The Brain Hack. Serious seizure warning on this one. No, not kidding. This one took the Audience Award, was an excellent, subversive, knowing film that built suspense mercilessly in a film about a refining images to stimulating the "god" center of the brain. Its very good, and got me seriously creeped out, and would not be out of place at the HPLovecraft film festival.

All in all? Good. If you get a chance to see these films (and some are on YouTube or Vimeo from the links above, while others get attached to other films in showing), hunt them down.

More later

Friday, March 18, 2016

Play: Social Studies

Luna Gale by Rebecca Gilman, Directed by Braden Abraham, Seattle Rep through March 26

The Rep continues a very, very strong season with a play about social work. And this is one of the benefits of season tickets: I honestly can imagine a world where I would wake up one Sunday morning and say, "You know, I'm in the mood for a play about social workers, meth addicts, and religious fundies all using a baby as a football", but that's only because I have a very good imagination. Most of the time it would (at best) a "heh, that sounds interesting" and never follow up on it. Season tickets, prepaid, gets me to the theater for gems such as this.

That previous described scenario, by the way, is the plot. We meet the meth addict parents of Luna Gale first in the emergency room. The infant child of the title has been brought in with extreme dehydration. Both parents are strung out at different stages - Karlie (Hannah Mootz) hyper and Peter (Drew Highlands) crashing. They are confronted by child protective services worker Caroline (Pamela Reed), who challenges the parents to clean up their acts and in the meantime must find a safe home for the child. Fortunately, Karlie's mom Cindy (Anne Allgood) is a enthusiastic and willing candidate, and is a nurse's assistant with a clean home and a sunny attitude. But Caroline finds out that that grandma is a holy roller of the end-of-days variety, and when the grandmother wants full custody Caroline drags her heels. Pastor Jay (Adrian LaTourelle) from Cindy's church tries to moderate the situation, while Caroline's boss (Alex Matthews) pushes hard for a speedy resolution, plus Caroline is dealing with a horrible case load and the former client (Pilar O'Connell) who has now aged out of the system.

There's more going on, but Caroline is at the center of it all, a straight-forward professional woman with an eye for what goes by the book and how the rules can be bent in order to get the best resolution for the children entrusted to her. She works from the gut and is by turns measured and threatening, knowing the power she wields while being frustrated by the limitations of that power. She is resolute and defiant and heartbroken all at the same time, and Ms. Reed does a fine job assaying her.

Indeed, all the cast does well, and in part it because the playwright's deft hand with characters and situations. Gilman does her original work with the Goodman in Chicago, but a lot of her plays have made it west to Seattle. Bad Dates (which I missed), Spinning into Butter, and the haunting Boy Gets Girl all have shown up at the Rep, so she is as much a regular as the actors.

And through her plays, Gilman examines and power and powerlessness of institution, of the precarious balance of playing by the rules and playing with the rules. Caroline is a master of the subtlety of working within the system, and while not given to quixotic tilts at windmills, is used to folding the system back on itself to attempt some measure of a happy ending. And Gilman promises no happy endings in her works, so you have to satisfied with what you get, just as in real life.

Gilman also masterfully shies away from making characters black and white, instead looking at them as shades of grey, with their own traumas and triumphs. The meth addict parents have their redemptive moments, and the Christian characters are presented in a positive, extremely balanced fashion And this is red meat for actors. Anne Allgood is fantastic as Grandmother Cindy, mixing vulnerability and desire to make good in such a convincing fashion that you wonder if Caroline is wrong to deny her the child. Similarly, Pastor Jay is not some Simpson's-level preacher, but comes across as a real individual maintaining his faith in an often-hostile work. Similarly, Drew Highlands' drugged out Peter rises to the challenge of making his surfer-dude father more than a caricature.

But at the center of it, is social worker Caroline, beset from all sides, trying to figure out what is best for the child while dealing with her own failures. Pamela Reed, who was excellent in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf as the lush, brazen Martha, is equally amazing as a tired, worn Caroline summoning up the courage to believe in her own gut instincts, and navigating the channels of bureaucratic organization with the goal of saving Luna Gale.

The stagework itself bears mentioning - it is sliding box of Tertris pieces, with scenery gliding onto and off stage in both directions in a neat and concise manner, selling the various scenes without requiring a great deal of setup or letting the action lag. It is minor point in face of both excellent writing and fine acting, but delivers a call-out.

If Ms. Gilman's work is representative of modern theatre at the turn of this present century, then we can say that the medium is still moving forward and evolving using the most basic of components, creating engaging drama with believable characters and strong underlying morals. A very well-done play.

More later,

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Game: Glory Days

Sails of Glory, Designed by Andrea Angiolino and Andrea Mainini, Published by Ares Games

The sailing ship was the single most complex machine of the early 1800s. It is constructed as a study in off-set stresses, sailed under the tension of its lines and sails, expected to function is the most extreme conditions (storms, battles), and dependent entirely on a human-driven switch system to control all its mechanisms. It is a complex, precise, overwhelming machine. On the other hand, it is also a very personalized experience - one feels one with a single ship
as its captain, determining the fate of it and all others aboard. Great grist for a game, but balancing those two opposing forces is more difficult than simply luffing the sails when beating to windward.

Sails of Glory pulls it off admirably. The game is a descendant of their air game Wings of Glory (which feature another set of technologically advanced but individually romanticized machines) and uses the same base mechanics as the earlier game. Each ship is represented by a single model, and cards lay out how the ships can move. You set the card at the front of the ship, it moves to the set location on the card (depending on the wind), then, remove the card from under it. The movement system is an improvement over the Wings of Glory in that you don't have to effectively pick up the craft it order to retrieve the card. In a miniatures game, the exact placement of a unit is critically important as far a being able to hit, so moving it around during game play is a challenge.

Combat is determined by range (short or long, as measured by a custom ruler) and by the type of fire (chain, shot). Each type of fire has its own basket of randomized chips to represent damage (long range has less-damage-inflicting chips, close range does more damage). In addition, there is small arms fire, which affects the crew. Damage to a ship can be against the ship itself, or the crew, and each ship has its own.

The rules themselves are broken up into nice bite-sized levels. The basic rules lay out card use and basic firing. With the standard rules you start laying out movements in advance and options for types of shot. More advanced levels add specific damage as well as assigned crew to particular stations. This was a little too granular for my group, but it does get into deep into the weeds of running a fighting ship.

Our Monday night group has played this a number of times, progressing through the rules, and found a learning curve as well in mastering the game. First major task was to stop sailing off the top of the table. Second was to accurately figure out how to bring the ship into the wind in order to turn. We actually have gotten quite good at it. There is a dual challenge to mastering the game -  both knowing the rules, and utilizing those rules on the tabletop. Doing both required a number of play sessions.

The core game has two British and two French ship models, of a light and heavy version for each. The heavier ships inflict more damage, while the lighter ships are faster and more maneuverable. In the last play sessions we would say that the heavies have the advantage, but the game itself was extremely enjoyable. Additional ships are available separately (with their own cards handling manuver), though the game could use a rating system for balancing battles between different ships.

Sails of Glory fits that nice category of games that are easy to learn at first, then ramp up the difficultly as they become more accurate simulations. The basic is game is fun to master, and brings you along to more difficult attempts. I've been a fan of various sailing games over the years, and this one combines ease of play, use of miniatures, variety of ships, and expandability. If you can find it, check it out.

More later,

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Gaming News: Departures and Arrivals

Just one item, but it is a doozy.

February 12th will be my last day at ArenaNet. I have been here nearly a decade, and am extremely proud of what I and my co-workers have achieved in creating a deep, engaging MMO with broad appeal. I know that both Tyria and Guild Wars are in good hands with my departure. Over the years, ArenaNet has put together an amazing team of talented individuals and empowered them to create cool things.
And so it begins ...

February 15th will be my first day at Amazon Game Studios. I have accepted a position as senior narrative designer. I can't say much at this point, but readers of this blog know that I rarely share information until it is time to do so (So yeah, you'll find out what I'm working on when it ships). I'm really looking forward to the new opportunities (though not, of course, the commute).

It is a start of a new chapter in my life. I am both thrilled and terrified by the possibilities.

More later,