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LaShawn Banks and Chilke Johnson star in "The Island" at APT in Spring Green
LaShawn Banks and Chilke Johnson star in "The Island" at APT in Spring Green (Photo: Clarissa Dixon)

APT's "The Island" is a harrowing tale of bitter discrimination against black me

Rarely has there been a more dramatic or poignant presidential moment than Friday when Barack Obama spoke at the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the black preacher killed a week ago in the massacre at at Charleston, S.C., church.

Obama was strong and unequivocal when he talked about race. Toward the end of the eulogy he paused.

And with a plaintive and halting voice, he began to sing "Amazing Grace." All alone. Just a president and song and his belief. And before too long, the congregation joined in and the organist found the key the president was singing in and added that sound to the song.

At the end, he read the name of each victim followed by the phrase "found that grace."

He might well have added the names of John and Winston, the two characters in the Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona play "The Island" that opened last week at American Players Theatre in Spring Green.

The play takes place on an island, clearly Robben Island, the South African prison where Nelson Mandela was held along with many other black leaders who had fallen under the brutal thumb of apartheid.

For three years John and Winston have been cellmates. And like brave men everywhere, they have created a mix of fun and games to help them retain their sanity that is threatened every moment by the  callous and inhumane treatment by the guards.

They make up telephone calls to their homes. They toy with each other. And they plan on performing "Antigone" at the prison talent show. Chike Johnson plays Winston and La Shawn Banks plays John and we are greeted to them even before the play starts.

Johnson and Banks give powerful performances of almost incredible physicality combined with nuanced intellect.

 The two prisoners, under the watchful and threatening eyes of guards, each has a wheelbarrow and five heavy bags of sand. They load the sand and then simultaneously walk around to the other side of the circle and unload it. Over and over and over. It is mind numbing work as wel…

Eric Parks is a threatening Stanley Kowalski in APT's "A Streetcar Named Desire."
Eric Parks is a threatening Stanley Kowalski in APT's "A Streetcar Named Desire." (Photo: Carissa Dixon)

APT'S "Streetcar" delivers everything a theater lover could ever desire

Everybody goes through difficulties and stresses, and there are two responses that each of us have: the reasonable response and the unreasonable one.

Or, you can look at it as the easy response or the difficult one.

The response to life’s stresses is at the heart of "A Streetcar Named Desire," the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tennessee Williams which received a stunning production over the weekend at American Players Theatre in Spring Green.

This is a troubled and troubling play, rife with symbolism and with a certain brutality that centers on three characters: Stanley and Stella Kowalski and her sister, Blanche DuBois.

Stella and Stanley are newlyweds, living in a poor but mildly charming apartment in New Orleans. One day Blanche arrives, lost apparently from her ancestral plantation home in Laurel, Mississippi.

These are three of the most ambiguous characters in all of Williams’ work, and the path each takes is how the story is best told.

Stanley is a Pole who is all about manliness and fire and fury. When he puts on his tie as a traveling salesman he has an inflated sense. Blanche calls him "common," virtually the most critical insult. Stanley is a hero with a serious case of physicality in all that he does. He is very loyal to his wife and his friends, with he shares his two passions, poker and bowling.

Eric Parks gives us a mercurial Stanley, beset by demons fueled by beer and the fear of being labeled  an outright alcoholic. His passion for his wife runs deep and easily bubbles to the surface. He hides all of his stresses behind the thick veneer of the macho boss of all that he surveys.

Stella is in the middle and she brings the warring lives of Blanche and Stanley into the same arena. Each of them wants to convince Stella to be on their side-  have her as an ally in the continuing struggle between Blanche and Stanley.  Stella is both resentful and suspicious of the serious criticism her sister levels at her husband. She refuses to be drawn i…

(Photo: J. Sherman )

This is the absolute worst McDonald's, anywhere

Charlie Sykes, the right wing radio host on WTMJ is a friend of mine and has been for years.

We disagree on almost everything except one - what he calls "the worst McDonald’s in the World."

I couldn’t agree more about the restaurant on the corner of Capitol Drive and Holton. It’s the closest McDonald’s to my house and I’ve been going there for years, despite what can only be described as the worst customer service ever.

Once again the message was brought home with force on Friday morning.

I went through the drive through and got a small Coke for my wife and a large black coffee for me. We got the Coke but then were asked to park in a waiting spot and they would bring the coffee "right out."

I pulled into the spot, about 15 feet from the door and began to time my wait. Nine minutes later someone came out with two coffees in hand and I was aggravated. She proceed to give both coffees to the person parked next to me, who had been there about three minutes.

"Excuse me," I said. "I’ve been here nine minutes."

"I'm sorry sir," she said. "I’ll be right back."

Three minutes later I got my coffee with another "I"m sorry."

Several months ago I got into the drive through line and spent 21 minutes until I got to the window. "What happened," I asked. "We were busy, and the guy at the window wouldn’t move until we had his order right."

The phone number is 414-964-7485. I’ve called it and it hasn’t done me any good.

It makes me wonder how many other fast food places have service as bad as "the Worst McDonald’s in the World."

Hey Mommy! Look at me. The same thing as today's selfie millennials.
Hey Mommy! Look at me. The same thing as today's selfie millennials. (Photo:

The selfie: the adult version of "Hey mommy, look at me"

OK, the curmudgeon staggers out of the dugout and steps up to the plate as he calls his shot.

Think back to the time when you were just a baby, those special moments. 

When you played with your wooden blocks and for the first time, you built a tower of three blocks.

When you took a crayon and drew a shaky circle on a piece of paper and then colored it in with another crayon, almost staying inside the lines.

When stood at the top of the slide in the playground, holding on for dear life as you prepared to slide down for the first time.

The common phrase for all of these infant moments?

"Hey, mama. Look at me."

Infantile behavior for infants.

Well, to all those millennials and people on both sides of that age group, that "Look at me, mama," is the kind of thing you should be shouting each time you take or post a selfie.

I’ve thought about this a lot, and for the life of me, I can’t imagine why anyone would shoot a picture of themselves and post it on some social media website.

If you want to take a picture of your kids or your house or an animal at a zoo or a tree or a bunch of people at a beach or a musician you are listening to or a great burger you have or a golf course or a city worker sleeping on the job, fine.

But yourself?

Tell me what it is that makes you do this. Tell me what other people are supposed to get out of it and what you are supposed to get out of it.

Most of us who are your Facebook friends already know what you look like. If you are in a bar with a martini glass in your hand, why do you have to take a picture of it and send it to us?

Think of all the selfies you’ve seen. People who are being sexy, funny, crazy, drunk, sad, happy, engaged, disengaged. People who are dancing, sitting, eating, drinking, doing karaoke, smiling, crying, petting a pet, cooking, setting the table or, the most frequent of all, just looking at a camera believing that other people really want to see a picture of you looking at a camera.

I find it ha…