• Master and Margarita At The UMKC

    After reading an article in the Pitch imploring me to see the Master and Margarita at the UMKC I knew I had to go. The Master and Margarita is one of only a few books that I read more than once and discovered something new every time. It is also one of a few Russian masterpieces  that no matter how well translated could not be fully understood by a foreigner (that would be you); it’s somewhat similar to me trying to decipher Cris Packham’s pop-cultural references (not that I don’t try). The book was written during the times of the strictest censorship when even a hint of anti-Soviet criticism could literally threaten the writer’s life and that’s why Mikhail Bulgakov had to insinuate just as much as he wrote down. The average Soviet reader could easily read “between the lines” and see the satire in the most innocent dialogues and descriptions. Some of the references were to the specific characters in the author’s life and are not easily recognizable but the barbs thrown at the Soviet bureaucrats, censors, informers, dimwits, careerists, sellouts and the regime itself were obvious to the people who still encountered them in their everyday life for another 50 years after the book was written.
    Not too many people risked producing it on the stage or on the screen, it could not be easily condensed and the characters were so well-known and beloved that any such attempt would be criticized by the fans. That’s why I was pretty skeptical going to the UMKC performance. I didn’t expect the cast to have an understanding of the book required to convey it onto the stage and it couldn’t possibly be shortened to fit into the regular length of the theater performance. What I saw was pretty amazing and truly one of the best theatrical performances I’ve seen in my life – honest, funny, enthusiastic, smart, inventive and, although not very close to the book, with plenty of Blugakov’s spirit in it. Once you get past the fact that some male roles are played by girls (i.e. Koroviev and Azazello), the character of the devil – Woland is wearing hooves, and the Cat Behemoth is a black guy with the red Mohawk dressed in some kind of leather corset and a shaggy trench coat, everything else falls in place. The actors were outstanding but Patrick DuLaney who played Woland was on par with the Russian actors who played this role in the movie versions of the Master and Margarita. He was able to convey Woland’s millenniums-old age, his exhaustion with life, his disgust with people which could only be defeated by the true love and selfless sacrifice. Julane Havens as Margarita was also very impressive, as a sensitive, sensual, defenseless but determined woman ready to sacrifice everything just to be with Master. The actress who played Hella gets a special mention, nice job keeping every male eye locked on the stage!
    I also would like to specifically praise the costume and stage design. The Soviet people are all dressed in the same gray uniforms lovingly adorned by red stars; even their underwear is gray (as was revealed later and you missed it). I also liked the use of projection screens.
    During the show I (illegally) made a few videos, sorry, serious-looking-bearded-usher-guy, I didn’t spend years in the KGB school in the USSR to be told what to do by the Man.

    (By the way, in the bottom part of these videos you’ll see a jackass who didn’t feel it was necessary to take his stupid hat off in the theater; maybe the usher should have concerned himself with this view-obstructing clown instead of making sure I can’t record a low-quality video.)

    After the show I overheard  one lady ask her friend if she enjoyed the show, “it was too weird” was the reply. It’s hard to convey the whole complexity of the book on the stage to an unprepared viewer, but to people who understood it was an amazing effort worthy of a professional venue.

    P.S. Alan Scherstuhl is my new Facebook friend on the condition that I will never have to pronounce his last name.

  • KDOT Builds An Unintentional Express Lane

    KDOT’s recently completed construction of the 75th Street collector-distributor exit ramp lane did not alleviate traffic backups that predictably occur in that area during the rush-hour at least twice a day. Anyone who drives on I35 with any regularity would’ve predicted that before any concrete was poured into that project. Traffic jams occur not because people are trying to exit on the 75th st; they are caused by an inflow of morons merging into the traffic and immediately attempting to reach the left lane so they don’t miss their exit to I635 several miles later.

    Luckily there is a silver lining and the said lining can only be found on this blog, well-known for its optimism and positiveness. While the project completely failed in its original intent, KDOT has unintentionally created the first ever express lane in the Kansas City Metro Area.

    On this video (made by an extremely unidentified driver) you can see how the long and winding exit lane with more tunnels than a Hutchinson prairie dog town, conveniently bypasses the entire traffic jam and safely gets back on the highway.

    Now if only someone would get rid of the long stop light at the end of the exit ramp.

    In the meantime, we are looking forward to KDOT’s other poorly engineered projects and their unintentional results.

  • Old Photos: Santa Claus School In Technicolor

    Previously: Old Photos:Santa Claus School


    ©Time Ralph Morse

    ©Time Ralph Morse

    ©Time Ralph Morse

    ©Time Ralph Morse

  • No Smell, No Pity

    I often wondered what causes people to become upset about a closing of a business, but be completely unmoved by other closings or downsizing. Is it the history, nostalgia or tradition? Job losses, growing unemployment, shrinking tax base? The answer most likely is the smell, which probably explains all the commotion around the closing of the Folgers plant downtown. Folgers is not the first Kansas City or Downtown company to close, but other businesses quietly drifted away into oblivion without Facebook support groups and Twitter followers. It must be the smell of coffee…

    One of the downtown businesses that is still around but way past its former glory is the AT&T Long Lines building at 1425 Oak. It still serves as a long-distance hub for the Kansas City area, but there are only few people left working there, down from over 1,700 who were employed in call centers and various business departments, as well as the training facility, cafeteria and whatever else made the biggest phone company in the world ring. Every long-distance phone call made in Kansas City went through this building. Built in several stages and completed in the 70’s it was an example of a secure, earthquake- and explosion-proof architecture of the Cold War years. Inside were the technological marvels still impressive to this day; the phone company led the technological progress from the invention of the transistor, to the TV transmissions, communication satellites, and computing.

    Yet when the calling centers were closing and the people were let go, no one shed a tear. The shareholders probably received a nice payout.

    AT&T stockholder meeting. 1959. © Time. Yale Joel

    Nowadays, not too many people walk on these rugs.

    Granite-lined lobby is empty.

    The bells are still in the floor but not in the company logo any longer.

    Once-thriving market for the microchip-themed wallpaper is long-gone.

    No one is taking a break in the cafeteria.

    No one is enjoying the view.

    Lonely scales remembers the times before the obesity epidemic…

    …and the Oak Street Deli no longer serves thousands of meals a week.

    Built-for-the-ages door springs are not getting a workout…

    …and there is no need for the old light fixture to be on.

    No one is calling “Dottie”…

    …and a mailbox is collecting nothing but dust.

    Retired carrier pigeons who used to deliver messages to the far-flung places like Wellington,MO are still hanging around in the building.

    This building is full of history and pride, and the calls that went trough these switches and cables reunited many people in times of happiness and trouble; it stands as a reminder of the time when a long-distance call was an event, albeit pricey, but still a something to remember.

    The old Long Lines building still had its last laugh, it shows up in many photographs towering over the Sprint Center for a little free publicity.

    Maybe it’s a better legacy than a worthless Facebook group.

  • What I Think About Vegetarians…

    …as expressed in this scene from one of the best movies I’ve ever seen

    Brought to you by a half-a-day off I wasted hunting down free DVD-ripping software that didn’t crash.