• Don’t Kill the Messenger

    The USS Iowa, ILWU/TraPac Dispute and the Tale of Gary Webb

    James Preston Allen, Publisher

    In the almost 35 years that I have been publishing this newspaper for our community, there’s one question I’ve always had to navigate: How much of what we know do we actually print?

    As you can probably guess, we are told much more than we ever use and we face the consequences of printing the truth as we know it. Our story on the Pacific Battleship Center, the nonprofit organization charged with operating the USS Iowa naval museum, is a case in point.

    Some may take exception to us reporting on the problems of this important naval monument  and the non-profit that manages it. Regardless of the perceived impact of our reporting, the intent is not personal. Our hope is that with our reporting we can get the best out of our cultural assets.

    This newspaper has long defended workers on the waterfront. We believe that the allegations of mistreatment of both volunteers and workers at the Pacific Battleship Center should be treated with no less scrutiny than the workers at the TraPac terminal–workers who despite millions of dollars invested in automation still do not work in a safer workplace. I take quite seriously our role in reporting on what we discover in our harbor area community. As I see it, my staff and I have a duty to deliver to you, our readers, what is not revealed by other less courageous entities. (more…)

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  • San Pedro Sculptors Featured at Local Colleges

    “Doomsday Clock”, 2014 Plywood, neon paint, digital print, plexiglass by Michael Davis

    By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer

    Contrasting styles are celebrating the art of sculpture at two of area colleges this month.

    Eugene Daub, Sculpture/Drawings/Photos is on display at Los Angeles Harbor College Fine Arts Gallery and Michael Davis, No Place to Hide is the exhibition at the El Camino Art Gallery.

    The juxtaposition of these two nationally recognized sculptors, shown in such close proximity, present an exceptional opportunity. Art lovers can view a range of public art created in the United States. Each artist has achieved prominence through works commissioned for national parks, universities, transit stations, courthouses and even the U.S. capitol. Both of these artists reside right in San Pedro.

    The long history of public art has its roots in the cultures of the great empires. Greeks and Romans constructed art that was meant to symbolize the culture and the leaders of great society. In recent times, monuments such as the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty have become icons of nation states.

    In recent years, public art has increasingly expanded in scope and application, both into wider and more challenging areas of the art form. And also, across a much broader range of what might be called our public realm. Such cultural interventions have often been realized in response to creatively engaging a community’s sense of ‘place’ or ‘well-being’ in society.

    Michael Davis and Eugene Daub employ completely contrasting aesthetics, but both create public art that engages their audience through site-specific installations. Daub, through his heroic, humanistic monuments of historical figures, and Davis through a minimalist theory that he equates with political consciousness.

    Michael Davis: No Place to Hide
    This exhibition represents about 34 years of work for artist Michael Davis. Davis titled his art business “M.A.D. Art” (mutually assured destruction) in response to the genuine peril of nuclear annihilation.

    “The body of work goes back to the mid-80s” Davis said. “At that particular time, I was doing some research on nuclear energy. I was interested in the proliferation of it and how it relates to my own life. I picked up the book No Place to Hide by David Bradley. It was a book that influenced me especially when I realized that he had written the book in the year of my birth, 1948.”

    The best-selling book, a memoir of the Bikini Islands atomic bomb tests in the late 40s and early 50s, alerted the world to the dangers of radioactive fallout from nuclear testing.

    The artist found himself struck by pivotal moments in history. Moments that occurred in his own life, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy assassination and the moon landing.

    He realized, as he compiled the exhibition, that he had created a lifelong theme to his work.

    One of the first pieces to greet visitors to the exhibit is Davis’s version of the “Doomsday Clock,” a plywood, neon paint, digital print, on plexiglass. The familiar image is known to warn the world of the dangers of an imminent nuclear war. Davis’ piece is based on a photo of the actual first atomic bomb detonated at Alamogordo, N.M. He updated his piece with fluorescent colors that convey the effect of irradiation. According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, our clock is currently set at 5 minutes to midnight.

    ”The symbology of the 1950s was embedded in my consciousness early on and remains relevant today” Davis said. “Industrial refuse, the excess of Cold War industry, is included in my art materials. But I also look to science and astronomy, the infinitesimally small and infinitely large to seek connections that bind us together in spirit, if not ideology.”

    Davis’ analytic conceptual style, based on moral and social issues, utilizing fabricated materials, may seem diametrically opposed to the warm classical bronze work of Eugene Daub. However, each artist addresses the challenges of mankind in today’s world.

    Eugene Daub, Sculpture / Drawings / Photos
    Eugene Daub’s work documents many of the greatest struggles in American history.
    Among his themes are the crossing of the American west through the Lewis and Clark expedition and the ultimate success of the civil rights movement.

    The artist has completed more than 40 public arts commissions nationwide. He has artwork in three U.S. capitols and collections in the Smithsonian Museum and the British Art Museum.

    His most famous work is his statue of Rosa Parks, installed in the U.S. capitol. The statue of Mrs. Parks captures her waiting to be arrested on Dec. 1, 1955, after she refused to give up her seat for a white passenger on a crowded segregated bus in Montgomery, Ala. She is seated, dressed in a heavy wool coat and clutching her purse as she looks out of an unseen window, waiting for the police.

    Daub’s exhibit embodies the deeply felt humanity in his works.

    “Eugene is uniquely qualified in the world” said curator Ron Linden. “There just aren’t that many people who can do that anymore. His work is about portraiture and it is driven by history. His works are all public works. Once they are commissioned and installed, they are kind of like gone. He doesn’t really have any control over where and how they are installed. The realm of public art is a whole different game.”

    Daub utilizes the lost wax casting method, which is a lost art in itself. The exhibition at Harbor College displays not only finished works, but sketches and molds used to transform clay figures into bronze sculpture.
    Included in this exhibit are full-sized statues and maquettes of the Lewis and Clark monument, the Rosa Parks statue, the “Japanese Internment Monument” and many more.

    Each of these exhibits presents an opportunity for students and the public to study the process and finished works of sculptors working in the elite field of public art.

    Eugene Daub, Sculpture / Drawings / Photos is showing at Harbor College Fine Arts Gallery, 1111 Figueroa Place in Wilmington. The show runs through Dec. 4. Gallery hours are Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. through 4 p.m.

    Michael Davis, No Place to Hide is showing at El Camino College Art Gallery, 16007 Crenshaw Blvd. in Torrance. The show runs through Oct. 30. Gallery hours are Monday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Wednesday through Thursday 12 to 8 p.m. It is closed weekends.

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  • Trouble on the Iowa Part II

    A Story of Betrayal and the Alias of Robert Kent

    By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

    In the previous edition, Random Lengths [Oct. 2, 2014 edition] reported on the contents of an exchange of emails between the Pacific Battleship Center’s former vice president of development, Patrick Salazar and the Port of Los Angeles community affairs director Theresa Adams Lopez.

    The exchange highlighted a number of allegations including environmental abuses, possible lease violations with the port and turmoil within the ranks of the Pacific Battleship Center’s volunteers and hourly workers.  Those emails did not just reflect the experience of a single individual, but multiple individuals who documented their own personal experiences aboard the USS Iowa. (more…)

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  • TTSI Violates LNG Truck Subsidy Agreement

    POLA Uncertain of What To Do
    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor
    Total Transportation Services Inc., or TTSI, one of three companies workers struck in July, touts itself as an environmental leader, but the claim is largely an illusion. TTSI is apparently in violation of the subsidy agreement which underwrote about 90 percent of the cost of one of its initial LNG truck purchases.

    Not only does TTSI owe most of its “green” image to government subsidies, ranging anywhere from $5.8 million to $13.2 million— a different kind of green— but it also may have perpetrated fraud by signing a 2008 subsidy agreement in bad faith. In addition, TTSI also received subsidies for more trucks than its fleet originally had, implying that it relied on truckers not previously driving for it to trade in their rigs for some of the trucks TTSI added to its fleet.

    Random Lengths is still investigating the full extent of the subsidies involved, as well as the wording of related agreements. However, language from the Port of Los Angeles’ first round of funding shows that TTSI has violated at least some of its agreements. POLA’s agreements with TTSI and other nine companies state that companies will not “sell, lease, encumber, or dispose of” the trucks. Yet, this is precisely what TTSI has done, and apparently intended to do all along. The agreements also include a requirement for workers’ compensation or self-insurance, yet failure to provide workers’ compensation has been one of the key issues involved in the truckers’ strike. More broadly, the agreements also require companies to comply with “all applicable laws, statutes, ordinances, rules and regulations, and with the reasonable request and directions of Executive Director,” which certainly includes the state and federal labor laws that TTSI, among other companies, has been violating. (more…)

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  • Bring Musicals Back Into Your Life

    By John Farrell

    If you say “musical” you are probably thinking about, say, Jersey Boys playing up at the Pantages, with cheap seats running $40 or so.

    Or, maybe you are planning to visit Las Vegas, where you will include a stage show on your itinerary — say, oh, Jersey Boys — with tickets even pricier (but maybe, just maybe, you’ll win big on the slots).

    Then there’s Phantom, or Mary Poppins or The Book of Mormon — all spectacular and pricey. Seeing a musical is a once-a-year treat at those prices.

    But, if you are interested in musicals that are as good, or even better, than those big-ticket events, and you are willing to park your own car and forgo cocktails beforehand (hey, you could always visit a local tavern before or afterward) there are musicals around Southern California every week that are attractive, tuneful, professionally performed, don’t cost an arm and a leg, or even just a leg, and are as exciting as anything in more expensive venues.

    Two that are recommended here are at different ends of the musical time-line. Scary Musical the Musical is brand new. It continues through Nov. 9 at the NoHo Arts Center in North Hollywood. Much older but still lovely is You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, originally written in 1967, in a revival at the Attic Theatre through Nov. 2 that is so effective, so well-performed, that you won’t even be aware that it is in a theater that must have once been a garage. (more…)

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  • RL NEWS Update: Oct. 8, 2014

    POLB Team to Facilitate Congestion Relief
    LONG BEACH — On Oct. 8, the Port of Long Beach convened a congestion relief team to meet daily and seek solutions.
    In conjunction with the Congestion Relief Team, port field staff is meeting regularly with customers and stakeholders to listen to their concerns, collaborate on solutions and monitor performance. A surge of larger ships has taxed terminals at ports around the world to move cargo faster. Locally, POLB staff has already identified one of the challenges.
    The port team also is seeking a discussion agreement with the Federal Maritime Commission to have substantive discussions with the Port of Los Angeles on common issues of concern – namely congestion.
    The Board of Harbor Commissioners, the governing body of the port, has also established a subcommittee chaired by Commission Vice President Rich Dines, working with Commissioner Lori Ann Farrell, to focus on port efficiency.

    Garcia Selects 13 New Commissioners for Five Commissions
    LONG BEACH — On Oct. 8, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia announced the appointment of 13 new commissioners to five commissions this month.
    The non-charter appointments will come before the City Council on October 21 for approval, while the 4 appointments to the Planning Commissions will first come before the Civil Service Committee.
    The persons Garcia selected are:
    PLANNING COMMISSION
    Mike Logrande is the director of planning for the Los Angeles Planning Department. He has worked in the department for 15 years. He was a member of the steering committees for the Long Beach General Plan in 2006 and for the Central Redevelopment Project Area. Logrande earned political science and public administration degrees from Cal State Long Beach. He was chairman of the board of directors of the Long Beach Housing Development Co. He is an American Planning Association member.
    Andy Perez is employed in the public affairs bureau of Union Pacific Railroad, as Director of Port Affairs for Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco. A graduate of Cal State Dominguez Hills, Perez has long served on the Boards of Directors for Long Beach Boys and Girls Clubs and the Regional Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and was a member of the mayor’s transition team.
    Jane Templin is vice president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11 and the outreach director at the Electrical Training Institute. A certified general electrician, Templin has served on the executive board of the Pacific Gateway Workforce Investment Network, on the advisory committee of the Long Beach Job Corps, and as a mentor at the ACE Academy of Long Beach.
    Erick Verduzco-Vega is the president and CEO of the South Bay Latino Chamber of Commerce, and the South Bay Latino Community Development Corp. He also manages real estate and restaurant investments, and has served on the Los Angeles County Workforce Investment Board as its vice chairman.
    LONG BEACH TRANSPORTATION COMPANY BOARD OF DIRECTORS
    April Economides is the founder and president of Green Octopus Consulting, which promotes complete streets and green business. She earned a master’s in business administration from Presidio Graduate School and is a board member of the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition. Economides was a member of the task force that created Claremont’s Sustainable City Plan. She also was a member of the Mayor’s Transition Team
    Sumire Gant is a former transportation planner for both Long Beach and Los Angeles County. She earned a master’s in business administration from UCLA. She secured millions of dollars of transportation and planning grants for Long Beach within a 10-year period. She was instrumental in planning and funding many portions of the city’s bicycle infrastructure.
    Nancy Pfeffer is the founder and president of Network Public Affairs, an environmental and transportation consulting firm. She has served for 7 years as director of regional planning for the Gateway Cities Council of Governments. She is a board member of Pacific Gateway Workforce Investment Network and City Fabrick. Pfeffer earned a master’s in public policy from USC. Her appointment would begin Jan. 1, 2015.
    Mary Zendejas is the director and founder of the DisABLED Professionals Association, and is chairwoman of the Citizens Advisory Commission on Disabled, a position she will abdicate. She is the director of community relations for Accessible Connections Exchange. A former Ms. Wheelchair California and long-time outspoken advocate for disability rights, she also served on the mayor’s transition team. She earned a communications degree from Cal State Long Beach. Her appointment would begin Jan. 1, 2015.
    AIRPORT ADVISORY COMMISSION
    Jeff Anderson is CEO of the Anderson Real Estate Group and a former employee of the Long Beach Fire Department. He has served as the Rose Park Neighborhood Association president, and on the board of Pride Real Estate Association of America, Long Beach. Anderson is a graduate of Real Estate Institute and is a Certified Distressed Property Expert. He is deeply involved in national and local LGBT issue advocacy, including work with the Human Rights Campaign, and is a Distinguished Rose Award winner and a recipient of the Steward of 7th Street award.
    MARINE ADVISORY COMMISSION
    Gerald Avila is the elected health benefits officer for the International Longshore Workers’ Union Local 13. A lifetime Long Beach resident with an extensive history of community involvement, Avila is an avid boater and moors his vessel at Shoreline Marina. A Longshore worker since 1997, he previously worked as joint chief dispatcher for ILWU 13.
    Peter Schnack is the director of information technology at Molina Healthcare. He has previously worked for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Cal Tech Pomona. He is an avid boater. Schnack is a volunteer coach and youth leader with the YMCA and AYSO soccer league and has been actively involved in the Naples Improvement Association.
    LONG BEACH COMMUNITY INVESTMENT COMPANY
    Russ Doyle is an associate vice president and investment officer at Wells Fargo Advisers and Morgan Stanley. He previously served as the director of strategic sourcing for Universal Studios and a procurement manager for the Vons Corp. Doyle also is the chairman of fundraising for Stillpoint Family Resources, a nonprofit that serves children with special needs.
    Sabrina Sanders works at California State University Office of the Chancellor supporting student academic programs at 23 campuses. She was selected as a National Association of Student Personnel Administrators Fellow and has served as the president of the African American Faculty & Staff Association at California State University and is an alumnus of Leadership Long Beach. Sanders earned her master’s in business administration at California State University San Marcos and her doctorate in education leadership and management from Alliant International University. Sanders was a member of the mayor’s transition team. (more…)

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  • Pink Milk Looks at Alan Turing in Fantasy, Dance

    By John Farrell

    Alan Turing was, according to Winston Churchill, the man most responsible for the allied victory against the Nazis in World War II.

    He was the man who invented the theories that make the computer this is being written on possible. He was a surpassing genius who created the computer almost single-handedly and devised a way to read Nazi signals undetected.

    He also was a homosexual and in the 1950s’ Britain that was still a criminal offense. No matter what he had accomplished for the British nation, he was convicted as a homosexual and forced to take injections to be chemically castrated. He died two years later, perhaps as a suicide.

    You need to know all that to appreciate Pink Milk, the poetic, even dreamy treatment of Turing’s life, which had its West Coast premier recently at the Garage Theatre in Long Beach.

    Under the direction of Ashley Elizabeth Allen, with a stark white gazebo set designed by Yuri Okahana, the work is a loving look at Turing’s inner life and, finally, a searing indictment of the British government that used Turing and then callously caused his suicide. Turing’s intellectual prowess is barely noted in the play. You are presumed to know beforehand about him, enjoy and explore his inner life, non-scientific life. (more…)

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  • Wilmington YMCA Opens New Pool

    On Oct. 4, the Wilmington YMCA inaugurated its new heated pool.
    Laura Muñoz Humphreys, executive director from San Pedro YMCA oversaw much of the project. Large funding was given from the Port of Los Angeles and others including Philips 66 who reached out to USA Swimming for Olympic medalist and swimmer Jessica Hardy, who attended the ceremony. She hosted youth classes, worked with the YMCA lifeguards and signed autographs. The lap pool will host classes for all members including adult classes including water zumba, and aerobics.
    Photos by David Johnson
     

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  • The Troubling Failure of the Media to Report Accurately on the ISIL Hostage Videos

    When the Associated Press, CNN, the BBC, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Agence France-Presse, MSNBC, Fox News, and the Guardian all concur in their reportage of unambiguous, easily verifiable matters of fact, generally you’re safe in taking it on faith.

    Not always, though, as can be seen from reports on videos released by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). All of these sources—and many more—have stated on numerous occasions that these videos show the beheadings of hostages. But this is simply untrue.

    This is not to say ISIL did not behead these people. The videos do show what appears to be the beheaded bodies of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines, and most recently Alan Henning. But the question here is not what ISIL has done, but whether the media has accurately reported the facts.

    Those facts are clearly on display for anyone to see. In each video, after giving a speech a masked, British-accented spokesperson for ISIL takes a knife and motions as if he is starting to saw away at the necks of his bound, orange-clad captives. But only in the Henning video does the act appear to be genuine, and in all of them the picture fades to black before so much as a drop of blood is visible, fading back in only once the deed has been completed off-camera.

    ISIL’s willingness to take and murder hostages—including via beheadings—is not in dispute. But does that truth justify fabricating details for the stories?

    Only two possibilities exist for how these fabrications came about, especially considering that they have been oft repeated by each of the media outlets involved: either the authors of the reports didn’t see the videos on which they are reporting, or they did and are choosing to report falsely on what the videos show.

    If the reporters didn’t actually see the videos, this is simply (which is not to say excusably) a form of bad journalism that has become ever more common in the age of the World Wide Web and its 24-hour news cycle. With media outlets tripping all over themselves to stay current, there is a temptation to report that which is being reported elsewhere without taking the time to independently verify the purported facts.

    This practice may not be inherently unethical, so long as the writer admits that the information in question is secondhand and cites the source of the information (especially easy to do online, where one can hyperlink directly to any source). However, more often than not journalists like their reportage to appear as if all of it is firsthand—not to mention the fact that presumably many media outlets are loath to direct traffic to a “competing” outlet. As a result, sometimes media outlets don’t reveal the origin of the information they are passing along.

    Fox News, in reporting on the video featuring Alan Henning, provides an example of how major media outlets sometimes simply crib from others. A side-by-side comparison between the Fox News article, and the Associated Press story on the same subject shows Fox News to have lifted almost all of the AP copy verbatim to construct its own article. For example, where the AP story reads, “This is the fourth such video released by the Islamic State group. The full beheadings are not shown in the videos, but the British-accented, English-speaking militant holds a long knife and appears to begin cutting his victims, who include American reporter James Foley, American-Israeli journalist Steven Sotloff, British aid worker David Haines and now Henning,” the Fox News story echoes the confirmation that the ISIL videos do not show beheadings, despite Fox News’ having published claims to the contary (see, for example, here): “This is the fourth such video released by the Islamic State group. The full beheadings are not shown in the videos, but the British-accented, English-speaking militant holds a long knife and appears to begin cutting the three men, American reporters James Foley and Steven Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines.” (Note that in changing end of the AP article’s sentence, Fox News mistakenly implies that there have been only three videos.)

    While some of the outlets reporting on the content of the ISIL videos may be piggybacking on the misinformation of others, presumably at least some of their writers did indeed view the videos and then consciously chose to misreport what they show. While it may be hard to tell which is the case in blatantly false proclamations like CNN’s “ISIS video shows beheading of Steven Sotloff” and the New York Times“ISIS Video Shows Execution of David Cawthorne Haines, British Aid Worker,” slightly more circumspect phrasings seem to indicate that the latter is in play.

    Consider, for example, the Guardian‘s reportage on the third ISIL “beheading” video. “Militants with the Islamic State jihadi group have released a video that appears to show the beheading of a British hostage, David Haines,” says the article. The use of “appears” appears to be a hedge against the obvious fact that the video does not actually show Haines’s beheading. The irony is that it we know the video doesn’t show Haines’s beheading because the only thing it appears to show vis-à-vis his execution (aside from what seems to be the very real result) is the beginning of a beheading (or perhaps a pantomime of such).

    Other more subtle fabrications can be found in the articles themselves. “In the moments before his death, the 44-year-old Mr. Haines is forced to read a script, in which he blames his country’s leaders for his killing,” reports the New York Times, even though a) there is no telling from the video whether Haines was killed moments, hours, or days later; and b) though it is almost certainly the case that Haines was indeed compelled to read from a script, this is not a verifiable (i.e., from the video) matter of fact.

    In some case the vagaries of the misreportage has led to individual media outlets promulgating conflicting information. On September 2, for example, the New York Times published a story claiming ISIL had posted a video “showing the second beheading of an American hostage in two weeks.” But five days later Times columnist David Carr, in reviewing the same video, notes that “only the beginning is shown and then there is a fade to black.”

    Why such apparently conscious deviations from fact? The cynic would guess that it’s all about selling papers (or whatever is the equivalent in this journalistic epoch). Claiming that the videos actually show beheadings is more sensational—and thereby likelier to attract readers—than being confined to the slightly less lurid reality.

    That the videos do not depict the actual murders has been discussed online, though almost never by any mainstream media outlet. One exception is the Times of London. Within a week of the release of the Foley video, the Times published an article claiming that “forensic analysis” indicates that Foley’s murder “was probably staged, with the actual murder taking place off-camera.”

    The Arabic version of Al Jazeera went further, claiming (as reported by Al Arabiya) not only that the supposed executions were staged, but that Foley likely fabricated his video himself. (Al Jazeera later retracted its “inaccurate article.”)

    While baseless speculation that Foley masterminded the video is not only irresponsible but also despicable, Al Jazeera was correct in pointing out that, as with the other videos in question, the video of Foley does not show his murder, only a staging of it. There seems vanishingly little doubt that Foley, Sotloff, Haines, and Henning were beheaded by ISIL. What is beyond all doubt is that, contrary to what has been widely reported, ISIL has not posted videos showing these beheadings.

    In considering the media’s failure to report accurately on the content of the videos, the media apologist might offer a motivation contrary to the cynic’s. The misreporting may not be mercenary at all (says the apologist): it may simply be the case that, like the rest of us, the media in general revile ISIL and their acts of barbarism—and so why should we bother with scrupulous attention to detail? Does ISIL really deserve that level of care in how we report on them? The bottom line is that they’re murdering people, so who cares whether these videos actually show the murders of the hostages?

    We should all care, and so we should all be disturbed by the media’s nearly universal failure to get the details right. The level of accuracy in reportage should not waver according to subject matter. Distorting details and claiming inferences as facts is work for propagandists and unscrupulous advertisers. Journalists should hold themselves to higher standards, even—and perhaps especially—in cases where our fellow journalists are so unanimously failing to do so that we could easily step over the bar without anyone’s noticing how low it’s been set.

    (Note: The New York Times, Fox News, the Guardian, and CNN were all invited to comment for this article, but none responded.)

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  • 39 Steps is Mysterious Hilarity

     

    By John Farrell

    Any way you look at it, The 39 Steps is a big production.

    Alfred Hitchcock made the film — one of his best — in 1936. It involved everything from the Firth of Forth Bridge (a Scottish landmark) to the London Palladium.

    As a play it is still huge: there are only four actors, and one plays only one role, but as for the others … there are more than one hundred lightning quick costumes changes. (The count is 100, or 120, or 139. Nobody seems to agree.)

    At the Long Beach Playhouse’s mainstage, it is even a bit more complicated, since that theater has a stage in which the audience sits on three sides of the action. So, when the Playhouse announced that it was going to present The 39 Steps as the opening performance of their 86thseason in Long Beach, it raised a question: How would the play be adapted to the theater’s thrust stage, with the action and the stage tricks 10 feet away?

    Director Dale Jones had to solve those problems.

    He had to figure out how to get from London to Scotland and back again convincingly, or at least comically, on what could be an awkward space. Rather than limiting his options, he expanded them with chase scenes run through and around the audience, with delightful comic moments played as close to the audience as possible and with the brilliant assistance of his four co-conspirators. These are comprised of Jeremy Bear, as the unflappable Richard Hannay, Madeleine Heil, as Margaret, Pamela and Annabella, and the two clowns (that’s in the program. It is not a disparagement) who do most of the heavy lifting, Mark Davidson and Michael Chiboucas.

    The story begins in London, where Hannay has recently moved from Canada. He is bored. But soon he is running for his life, with a secret from a dying woman named Annabella about something called, “The 39 Steps,” and a murder charge against him. His only clues leading him to Scotland. Bear is the perfect English gentleman, of course, with his pipe and size 36 suit, his blazing blue eyes (a minor plot point) and the British (but French named) sang-froid that lets him keep his cool even when he is shot. (He survives, of course, or there would be no second act.)

    Heil is perfectly alluring as Annabella, the soon-to-be-murdered international agent and remarkably charming as Margaret, the wife of a Scots farmer, but she is best as Pamela, the woman who Hannay has handcuffed to him for a good part of the second act. She plays tough, but she can be friendly, too, and never descends into hysterics (a perfect example of the Hitchcock blond, which he invented in the film of The 39 Steps. And, she interacts with the audience in a way that is never seen on a regular stage, getting help from the audience when she can’t get her stocking down, drying in front of a movie-screen fire.

    The two clowns are delightful. Davidson is the tall one, and his very thick Scots (and at time un-understandable) accent is hilarious. Chiboucas is the short one, and his face has a fright wig. His performance as Mr. Memory is unforgettable. Together, they portray everything from a hotel-keeper and his wife to the mysterious professor and his wife (it helps to be short). They manage all the set changes, from the train car to the attack with an airplane, with speed and comic dexterity.

    Jones uses a movie screen to keep things running smoothly, with film clips and music provided, along with Hitchcock’s distinctive voice, which is provided by Scott Rattner. While you don’t have to be a Hitchcock fan to appreciate the play, if you are a fan, you’ll notice not too subtle references to other films (“Rear Window” is just one) along the way.

    Hitchcock fan or not, you’ll enjoy every minute of “The 39 Steps,” one delightful laugh after another.

    Tickets are $24, $21 for seniors, and $14 for students. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and at 2 p.m. Sundays, through Oct.25.

    Details: (562)494-1014www.lbplayhouse.org
    Venue: Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage Theater
    Location: 5021 E. Anaheim, Long Beach

     

     

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