About admin

Dan Smith is an award-winning journalist in Roanoke, Va., and a member of the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame. He is an author, photographer, essayist, father and grandfather. Co-founder of Valley Business FRONT magazine and founder of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference.

Showtimers’ Newest Is a ‘Wowser of a Play’

The string of eyebrow-raising theatrical productions in the Roanoke Valley of late continued last night with the opening of Showtimers “August: Osage County,” a play that introduced us to Roanoke newcomer Heidi Lane.

Ms. Lane, a North Carolina theater veteran, plays Violet, the cruel, angry, self-absorbed, drug-addicted, meaner than a wounded boar matriarch of the Weston family. The tribe has gathered to morn the death of Violet’s husband, Beverly (played convincingly by Patrick Kennerly in an all-too-brief appearance). Violet insults, bullies and degrades the members of her family one-by-one throughout the three-hour performance, during which she is rarely sober or lucid, but always targeting somebody.

This is an exercise in family dysfunction with a capital “D.” The three daughters are alternately cowed, challenged and horrified by Violet the bully, who, as played by Ms. Lane is memorable. Ms. Lane says she has lived in Roanoke for five years, but this is her stage debut because, she says, there are so few good female roles she wants to play. Violet is a good one, made famous on the screen by Meryl Streep, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, in a movie I hated.

The Showtimers production of Tracy Letts’ play was far more enjoyable to me (if “enjoyable” is the proper word for a production that leaves you limp), I think, because it was directed–unlike the movie, which was notable for the lack of direction. That credit belongs to Katerina Yancey (wife of the journalist and playwright Dwayne Yancey) who has molded a group of talented actors into a wowser of a play.

She has a lot to work with beyond a script that will often leave you angry and breathless. Two of Violet’s daughters are played by Kris Sorensen and Stevie Holcomb, both of whom are also directors. I haven’t seen either better on stage than they were last night. Christa Woomer plays the third daughter and her performance with Miss Sorensen setting the dinner table and chattering at one point is worth the price of admission.

The performances are good, top to bottom with support from Brian Lee, James Wise, Carolyn Zeigler, high schooler Savannah Amos, Joel Gruver, Chelsea DeTorres, Steven Baltz and Keith Chumbley.

The set–a group construction effort headed by Ms. Yancey  and Cliff Grumsley–works quite well for this production and the lighting (Sean Neff and Alisha Mitchell) is solid.

This is a big cast and crew and a large production for a small theater. “Ambition” is the key word here and Showtimers delivers in a near-spectacular manner, in large measure thanks to two women: Ms. Yancey and Ms. Lane.

The production runs through April 30 and is well worth three of your valuable hours. It is memorable. (Note: The language in “Osage” is harsh, vulgar and quite strong. If your sensibilities run toward the delicate, you might want to opt for “Little Miss Sunshine.”)

Showtimers’ phone: (540) 774-2660; email: boxoffice@showtimers.org; website: http://www.showtimers.org

Hanged Vs. Hung: An Accounting

Hanged.

The death of former pro football player Aaron Hernandez has brought out a lot of ugly talk, a lot of inappropriate humor and a hot argument about the difference between “hung” and “hanged.”

I went to Merriam-Webster and discovered this (after telling Margie there’s no difference):

The standard rule for the past tense of hang is this: in almost all situations, you should use the word hung. (I hung a picture of [Margie] on the wall.)

Hung.

Use hanged when referring to a person being suspended by a rope around the neck until dead. (The Salem “witches” were not burned; they were hanged.)

Now, you can be both inappropriate and correct. (‘Course there’s the “hung” that refers to certain men, but we’ll leave that for another time.)

(Graphics: Hanged, http://combiboilersleeds.com/; hung, mypredilections.com)

A Lunch Break for Different Tastes

Margie and I relaxing at the Roanoke City Market building, lunch time.

Margie’s burger and fries, my tabbouleh.

Margie and I don’t often get to simply take off in the middle of the day and do what we want (I’m flexible, she’s usually not so much), but today was an exception. I had to run around Roanoke to shoot several photos for a magazine piece I’m working on and she joined  me.

We wound up at the Roanoke City Market where our diverse tastes–she eats hamburgers; I eat other stuff–can be accommodated. She wound up with a burger that made me envious as I looked at my tabbouleh. the tabbouleh was good, but oh, that burger and ah, those fries. As it turns out, Margie’s eyes were a little larger than her tum-tum, so I would up with a bite of burger and a few fries to go with my health food.

Great Moments in Being a Parent

My son, Evan, and I built this utility building in my back yard in about 2001.

Yesterday, I asked my Facebook friends to relate their best moments as  parents and I got some fun, some touching, some instructional comments that I’d like to share with you.

I would relate my own, but I wasn’t much of a dad for the most part (alcoholism will do that to you), though I have become a pretty good granddad. Thank god for second chances. I have a lot of photos of my kids and me that seem to tell a different story, but still photos are great liars.

I taught Evan to dive when he was about 10.

Here is what the FB friends told me:

Lisa Garst Changing the WiFi password to “Haveyoufinishedyourworkyet?” Every time my daughter asked for the password, I answered that and she stormed off. After a week of chores and homework, she asked politely “May I please have the WiFi password?” I said “Yes, haveyoufinishedyourworkyet?” She said, “You know I have.” I said, “No, haveyoufinishedyourworkyet? is the wifi password.” You should have heard the groans.

Catherine Doss When I brought my son for his first visit home from college. He said, “How are YOU doing, Mom?” At that moment, I realized he was not a boy anymore.

Leslie Golis Truex I was complaining about my weight and my daughter said, “You know you’re raising a teenage daughter, right?” It was a reminder that I model everything–including thoughts–around body image and self-esteem.

My mom and daughter on Mill Mountain in about 1972.

Rebecca Frederickson My son, five, sitting on the bow of our canoe, his legs locked tight around the gunwales, paddle in hand as we hit the class 1.5 rapids on the James River … His joy in his being alive, and in that moment was a thing of beauty!

Dreama K Lay …My son, Benjamin had moved to another state to attend college. That evening, I drove up the driveway to our home and his Jeep gone. I sat in my vehicle, and cried like a baby … to the heaving gaps of getting it all out. I knew some of my parenting was over … then, the horrific letting-go realization. But, here’s the rub: never does the worry stop, he’s now 34 years old!!!

River Laker Seeing Willow at Angels of Assisi and deciding there and then to become his parent. [Note: Willow is a cat.]

Fred Sachs I committed an act of vandalism in high school. My father found out. He didn’t punish me. He simply asked, “What do you think you should do about it?” He let me figure out the only adequate answer, which was to go

That’s Jennie, her step-mom Chris, and me in the leaves, about 1970.

confess what I did to the injured property owner. After I did that and faced the natural consequences, he had done his job. It’s been a lesson for my life as a parent.

Brenda Anderson Isaacs My youngest son came home from college and bent down to give me a big hug, buried his nose in my shoulder, sighed, and said, “Mmm. You smell like mommy.” (I’ve worn the same perfume for years.)

Shelley Luke My 23-year-old son with Asperger’s told me he didn’t want to get paid to work at the camp I run for kids with high functioning autism. [He said it was] because it was paid forward to him when he was young, and he wants to pay it forward to the next group of kids. So, he’ll continue to take time off his paid job in order to volunteer. I got pretty choked up.

Jessica Costen There have been a lot but my best parent moment was deciding to be a parent.

Jennie and Evan about 1974, just after he got here.

Trish Melton Frazier This is a story about my late son, that I still enjoy sharing:
I used to make what I thought was a healthy meal with vegetables and fresh ingredients. I rarely served ‘fast’ food, frozen dinners, or canned stuff like Spaghetti-Os. I did this mainly because those type foods were more expensive. To me it was a win/win, healthier and cheaper food.
One evening Tracy was complaining about dinner and telling me all the cool things his friends ate. I said, “Tracy, there are kids that live just up the street that would love to have a meal like this.” He looked at me with his big innocent eyes wide and said, “Mom, if you’ll tell me where they live, I’ll take it to them.”

Becky Hepler Best small moment: making a jellyfish Halloween costume from a golf umbrella and yards of pastel netting. It rained that night but she stayed dry. Best large moment: when I was able to tell my mom, “Justice has been done, karma has been exacted. I know what you went through and I truly understand.”

Three generations: Ev, Maddie, Jennie, moi.

Kathy Guy The moment I said something to the boys that I swore I would never ever say to my kids when I was old enough to have them. I have to spin away so they could not see the expression of amazement and understanding on my face.

Pat Pfister In 1953 or ’54 I was 6 or 7 years old and I remember asking Mom if she used metal or wooden needles to sew when she was growing up. It came full circle when my daughter was 6 or 7 years old, she asked me what I did for fun growing up, since there were no television sets then.

Leslie Turner-Babcock The split second I held each in my arms and now seeing two incredible, kind and giving adults, especially raising them as a widow from the time they were 7 and 10.
Jana Joyce Every moment raising a special needs child. I wish I could see the world through [that child’s] eyes!!

Maddie and Oz Celebrate Easter

My son, Maddie and Oz at the Memphis Aquarium.

The weekend was a big one for the kids, visiting the Memphis Aquarium, the zoo, an Easter Egg Roll and playing in a big park. My daughter-in-law saved the memory  and shared it with me. Here they are.

Here’s the whole gang.

Madeline and Kara feeding a giraffe at the zoo.

Evan shows he’s still the King of Swing.

Maddie likes pickles and cheese.

Oz prefers to wear his food.

If it can be climbed, Oz will climb it.

Maddie strikes a pre-teen, baseball cap on backwards pose.

Oz is still climbing.

Celebrating a Holy Day in a Holy Place

Happy Easter from nature to us and back.

One of a series of waterfalls at Crabtree Falls.

Religious holidays tend to make those of us of the un-religious persuasion top feel left out. If we let them. I don’t.

I like to celebrate holidays like yesterday’s Easter by visiting the intensely spiritual forests of our Western Virginia.That’s where I feel close to god (or whatever you choose to call a power greater than yourself). In nature, there is an unrelenting lightness in my core that reassures me of the importance of living life with integrity and grace.

Those are not easy to achieve, but they are far, far more important than the materialism we so often find ourselves involved in.

I love fiddle ferns.

Yesterday was an especially lovely spring day, one made for celebration. My friend Susan and I trekked up to Nelson County and Crabtree Falls, a tall series of waterfalls that go straight up a mountainside. (My Margie was working, trying to make a group of fragile old people whom she adores have a better Easter than they would without her.)

Crabtree is often called “the tallest waterfall in Virginia,” but it isn’t. It certainly is the tallest series of waterfalls and one of the most beautiful.

A young couple literally hung out over the falls.

Lilies are required on Easter, I think.

This may have been the prettiest of all the flowers we saw.

Here is some of the beauty we found yesterday, beauty that tells me there is a caring god out there who will lead us if we are willing.

Susan and I are photography addicts and so this 3.4-mile, two-hour hike turned into a four-hour hike-stop-photograph-discuss walk up the mountain. She and I are alike in that we don’t tend to hike at a fast pace and miss the beauty that is at hand.

Susan loved the detail in these leaves.

That’s me zooming in on a shot.

Sometimes the falls are smallish, but never less than beautiful.

Susan’s watercolor vision of the forest.

Stacking rocks is almost an obsession along the trail.

My favorite flower is the bleeding heart (liberal plant) and this is the wild version.

Green in April is defined by this lovely back-lit branch.

I think these stacks are called “carins.” They’re everywhere.

Interesting root structure.

This is the final waterfall, pouring from the top.

Susan shooting with her small, but good little camera.

Susan loves shooting shadows.

Susan gets animated when she shoots her shadow.

When we reached the top, I celebrated with a kiss (of the milepost).

Here’s how we celebrated the top of the mountain. Don’t know where the mysterious hand on my head came from.

The top meant soaking–in 54 degree water–sore feet.

This is the end. My end, actually.

Mulch Down, Hail Bullet Dodged

Mulch boy at work.

This is my $27 load of mulch.

Embarked on the annual mulch quest this morning and it was a smidge more difficult than usual. I was bound and determined to get an affordable load from a pile and not a dozen bags this time.;

The white specks here are hail.

So I went looking and wound up–on the advice of a FB friend–at One Earth Landscapes, where I scored a scoop for about $27. That worked out to the equivalent of $2 a bag (13.5 40-pound  bags in one scoop), which served  my needs perfectly. In fact, I had a little leftover, which I gave my neighbor.

In the process, I discovered that the price of a scoop is wildly variable: $26 plus tax for hardwood where I got it to $38 and $48 at Mulch ‘n’ More (one of whose stores has closed).

Shortly after I had placed the mulch, the sky opened and out came a whole bunch of hail, for heaven’s sake. Soaked the mulch left in the truck, which promises to be a mess when I get ready to unload.

Another Post-Roanoke Paper Pulitzer

Pulitzer winner Mike Hudson.*

Yet another former employee of Roanoke’s daily paper, Mike Hudson, who was there 20 years, has won a Pulitzer Prize. He was part of a team that won this year for Explanatory Reporting, working for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Here‘s Dan Casey’s story on it in today’s paper.

Mike, a 52-year-old guy with Hollywood good looks and an easy-going manner, has always been a detail guy who understands the complex, especially in the financial world. He was on the Pulitzer Prize Jury for investigative reporting in 2015. His books, Merchants of Misery: How Corporate America Profits from Poverty and The Monster: How a Gang of Predatory Lenders and Wall Street Bankers Fleeced America—and Spawned a Global Crisis have been roundly appreciated.

The consortium is one of two that won Pulitzers this year and these groups are becoming more evident in the intensely expensive, but vital, area of investigative reporting. Their work is most often shared by publications, who also split the cost among themselves.

Mike is a senior editor at ICIJ where his biography (here) says: “His two decades of reporting on mortgage and banking fraud has prompted media observers to call him the reporter “who beat the world on subprime abuses,” the ‘guru of all things predatory lending’ and the ‘Woodward/Bernstein of the mortgage crisis.’ Columbia Journalism Review said: ‘You have to marvel at how a reporter can put this stuff together but the SEC/Department of Justice/FTC/FHA etc. can’t.'”

In this Columbia Journalism Review piece, Mike credits the Roanoke paper with helping build his background of understanding of financial shenanigans.

In 2010, John Hudson (he and Mike are not related) of the Bristol Herald Courier, and a former features department copy editor at the Roanoke paper, shared in a Pulitzer. Mary Bishop, who worked at the Roanoke paper for many years, retiring there, shared one in Philadelphia before joining the Times. Rex Bowman was a finalist twice while he was at the Richmond Times-Dispatch (where he was “downsized” and hired by the Roanoke paper).

There could be others I’m not aware of. John Pancake, for example, left to become an editor at the Miami Herald and it is a consistent Pulitzer competitor. Former Times publisher Walter Rugaber was on the Pulitzer Committee before he retired.

Over the years, The Roanoke Times has lost a lot of excellent journalists by firing, downsizing or failing to meet needs in one way or another. A friend told me the other day that “morale at this place has to be at historic levels and I’m not talking historically high.” There are some good reasons for that, and primary among them is that employees don’t get raises unless they get promotions to another classification (Berkshire/Hathaway policy, I’m told). It’s been nine years since a raise for a number of them. How they hang on, I  don’t know, but I do know there’s still a lot of talent there.

In any case, we’ve been fortunate in this region to have this level of journalist and journalism, even if only for a while.

(* This overused picture is the only one I could find of Mike, which is pretty typical of a reporter of his quality: it’s all about the story, not the reporter.)

Married Couple Tackles “Moonlight and Magnolias”

Director Jay Briggs and actor Amanda Sox with the Mill Mountain Theatre stage under construction for “Moonlight and Magnolias.”

For a while at least, Amanda Sox can’t say to her husband, Jay Briggs, “You’re not the boss of me,” because he is.That will be the case from now until the end of the run of “Moonlight and Magnolias” at Mill Mountain Theatre.

Jay is the director of the play and Amanda is the only woman actor in the cast of four, playing Miss Poppenghul. She is also the only character not based on a real person, portraying the aid to legendary Hollywood producer David O. Selznick.

The play, in a nutshell, has Selznick (played by Sid Solomon), locked in a room with director Victor Fleming (J. Richey Nash) and script doctor Ben Hecht (Patrick Halley) trying to create a script for “Gone With the Wind,” a hot mess of a screenplay on a production that doesn’t want to proceed.

This, of course is a comedy, and it is not the first time Amanda (31) and Jay (32) have worked together as director and actor. But it is the first time they’ve played those parts in quite a while and certainly their maiden voyage at Mill Mountain Theatre where he has worked since January of last year  (she joined him later). “It works well in this context,” says Jay, “because it is a playful show with fun rehearsals. Amanda is a brilliant comedic actor and, of course, we bounce ideas off each other.”

Amanda admits that “if I weren’t in it, I’d probably have a lot more opinions about it when he gets home in the evening,” but the relationship here is professional.

Jay and Amanda met at Elon University about 10 years ago, both in the acting program. “We didn’t date,” says Amanda. That came later. He is from Hendersonville, N.C., and knew MMT creative director Ginger Poole there, and Amanda is from Greenville, S.C.

She joined Jay as a part-time costume designer and actor at MMT and her work so far has primarily been costume design.

Jay says that as director, “My job is not necessarily to have the best idea, but to recognize the best idea in the room” in putting together a play.  Amanda adds that “we trust each other to do our best jobs.”

Because her character is not based on a real person, Amanda finds a lot of latitude in how she is formed and that changes as she rehearses, she says.  “It’s wide open,” she says. “There is little dialogue for her and little else to go on. I did some research on Selznick” trying to learn his character and the way he functioned in business to help determine Miss Poppenghul’s character. She has “struggled with it … trying to see what works.”

The play features “actors with good comedic chops,” says Jay, and should be a delight for Roanoke audiences. It has been for the married couple helping stage it.

(The play runs April 26 through May 7; Wednesday-Saturday 7:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 2 p.m. tickets are $20 to $40 and can be purchased here.)

The Pulitzers: Reporters Reporting (and Annoying Trump)

“Nasty guy” David Farenthold

The Pulitzer Prizes announced today (here) were highlighted by a reporter who, in essence, pissed off Donald Trump with coverage and led Trump to call him a “nasty guy.”

The Washington Post’s David Farenthold didn’t do anything unusual for an investigative reporter in working to reveal Trump to the public, though many of his methods were 21st Century. He is a good reporter, doing what he’s paid to do. Good reporters have poked their finger in the eye of power for a long, long time.

What I find encouraging is the changing face of investigative reporting, the kind of reporting that is terribly expensive, sometimes dangerous and becoming more difficult to do–especially when the president of the United States declares that the nation’s news media is an “enemy of the people.”

Investigative reporting consortia again won a couple of important Pulitzers and an editorial writer at a small publication in Iowa (Art Cullen of The Storm Lake Times) won one for editorial writing–proving again that good reporting is not the sole purview of the wealthy and the large. The East Bay (California) Times and the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette-Mail also scored big.

I think the reporting groups are where the future of this important form of journalism lies. Newspapers simply can’t afford this time-intensive form of news gathering, so news organizations are combining resources and hiring top reporters, sharing the expense. It’s a great–and resourceful–idea.

You will also note that freelance photography continues its importance, especially with the reduction–and even elimination in some places–of photo departments in newspapers. Daniel Berehulak’s work for the New York Times won breaking news photography.

(Photo: Washington Post)