Saturday, January 27, 2007

Busy signal

Brenda said I seemed calm when my father called with bad news from the doctor. She would be a basket case, she said.

Still, the phone probably did not deserve getting sworn at and slammed repeatedly when I couldn't get a dial tone out to him the next day.

This would be the perfect time to organize my brothers and sisters so we all drop in every few weeks for some quiet time with Dad. But I did not, and everyone else decided independently to descend on him for President's Day.

My sister-in-law quizzed me about my jazz interests after borrowing the Ken Burns PBS documentary, and I realized how much I've inherited Dad's jazz interests--Dixieland, Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, Wes Montgomery, even Coltrane. I don't hear my father's voice in my brothers as much as his hesitation, a hint of his wariness at crowds and hubbub. Somehow he has survived despite us.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

'Name me anything you can buy today for 50 cents.'

James O'Shea to Los Angeles Times staff

Sometimes 50 cents won't even buy a newspaper. None was on the front porch at 7 this morning. I called for re-delivery and by 8 I had the Chicago Tribune from Jan. 6. Oh, you want today's paper? It's on the Web.

Ex-Tribune managing editor O'Shea is in Los Angeles now, attempting to raise the sights of the news staff beyond their navels. A reading of the transcript suggests that he believes that his medium needs to be more, uh, mediated.

"The Internet is massive," O'Shea said. "The newspaper is the edited medium. ... Just as a blog is not a God-given right to inflict ignorance on an unsuspecting public, there's no journalistic birthright for print reporters to write an 80 inch story when 30 inches will do."

The proof was at my doorstep. The Jan. 6 Tribune attempted to analyze the prospects of an Iraq troop "surge," still a vital topic. A paper that's three weeks old is no longer immediately obvious in the same way as, say, a broken RSS feed. Who wants yesterday's Web site?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Why we fight: 'Sonia Flew' at Steppenwolf

Sandra MarquezMotivations are complicated in war, not only for those who volunteer to fight but for their families. Melinda Lopez doesn't telegraph them in the Boston playwright's "Sonia Flew."

The Steppenwolf Theatre cast, directed by Steppenwolf's Jessica Thebus with Sandra Marquez of Chicago's Teatro Vista in the title role, does not overplay this efficient drama mining a rich vein of material.

In the first act son Zak (Andrew Perez) disrupts a Hanukkah visit from his grandfather with the news that he would enlist in the Marines. At the start his choice comes across as a search for purpose after the Sept. 11 bombings and a bond with his grandfather, a Polish refugee and World War II veteran (Steppenwolf vet Alan Wilder, light on the schtick). This sets up a fight with her mother Sonia (Marquez), who won't fly since 9/11 yet is protective of her son and hurt by the late revelation.

But this wouldn't be drama if there wasn't additional revelations in store, and they come in the form of Sonia's history in Cuba, and the family decision that 40 years later she still could not reconcile. Steppenwolf loves the second-act flashback that explains everything (hello, Richard Greenberg). Operation Pedro Pan informs how mother and son come by their different ways to fight for a safe family.

My seatmate took the play as a lesson on what is left unsaid in war. But Sonia's embrace of her adoptive surroundings has an underlying anger that politics alone cannot explain, and her tentative grasp on that security goes beyond the question of whether she can forgive her son or forget her parents.

"Sonia Flew" tries to be a convincing family drama as well as a 9/11 play, and that gives its social perspective added bite as the audience learns why the 15-year-old Sonia flew.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Ald. Flores makes small plans

Ald. Manuel FloresAld. Manuel Flores told Tuesday's East Village Association meeting that he was allocating a sizable amount of his $1.3 million discretionary funds for the year toward reconstructing the playlot at Commercial Park, 1845 W. Rice.

This is an unusual and laudable use of ward earmarks — and running unopposed in next month's municipal elections gives him considerable freedom. But at this meeting the alderman held out little hope for more costly park development in his rapidly growing ward.

While he says preliminary discussions are under way with owners of property adjoining Commercial Park, he favors the Chicago Avenue frontage as a potential library site. Across the street, he wants the 13th District police squad (which police have reportedly considered disbanding) to stay in place.

Asked about the Damen Avenue site of Bear Stewart as a potential city purchase, Flores flatly said, "we just don't have the capital for that." Flores said he was interested in retaining Damen Avenue's residential character, but that development was more likely in the 32nd Ward.

A decade of development has brought many new households, yet bid up prices for remaining parcels. Land isn't getting cheaper. Yet Flores did not indicate that any new park development was in discussion, although he suggested nonprofits like suburban wetlands restorer CorLands could be enticed to the table. The Trust for Public Land bought land the park district will repay in the $1 million expansion of Haas Park.

"We have to be smart about what can be done and what can't be done," Flores said, signaling that he'd be looking to neighborhood groups like EVA for cover: "Form a group to work with me and let's get it done."

Flores does see one park opportunity: Reserved parking for the nonprofit I-GO carpools, as part of a plan to consolidate current restricted parking areas under a single zone. He allowed under questioning that many people would be better off hailing cabs.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Gabriella Tucci in low-def; WBEZ not so jazzed

Looking up crossword puzzle answers is just cheating, but asking a multitasking blogger is OK. So it was that a Google query for "Caro nome" from Verdi's Rigoletto led me to a 1961 Japanese kinescope. Sure beats my typical YouTube night at the opera.

YouTube musical fare can range from the ridiculus to the sublime. I prefer jazz on the radio, but that's no longer an option on Chicago's NPR affiliate, which is abandoning overnight jazz for overnight news. Chicago Reader blogger and music critic Peter Margazak calls it a big mistake even as he complains about the current format's lackluster nature.

He has a point, in that old-school DJ Dick Buckley is its most creative jazz programmer of late. Jazz fans are better served by trying locate the weaker signal of WDCB, the Harold Washington Library or Jazz Record Mart.

Any format change takes the current audience out if its comfort zone, whether in a radio schedule, an evening newscast or a redesigned alternative weekly. WBEZ deserves time to work on a better use of its airtime. Starting with a lineup of BBC and Radio Polonia rebroadcasts, there's plenty of room for improvement.