Making it Work on the Shore: Reinventing Downtown Easton with Ross Benincasa

In years past, the role of a director of a downtown association would consist of managing and promoting a series of special events created to encourage retail shopping. Special days like “First Friday” and free concert programs have become the standard practice to bring residents and their families to their downtown districts, but is that enough in a country that soon can expect same day delivery from internet sellers?

The answer coming from Ross Benincasa, the Easton Business Alliance’s director, is a definite “no.” While special events remain important strategies, the work of promoting downtown shopping has become increasingly more sophisticated as Ross notes in his first Spy interview.

Specifically, Benincasa, the EBA Board, and Easton’s Town Council are now looking such things as downtown “walkability” improvements and studying pedestrian navigation patterns to significantly improve the experience of shopping. In fact, through Ross’ initiation, the town was the recent recipient of a $145,000 grant from Google to implement its new store view program, allowing app users to peek inside stores, restaurants, and public institutions like libraries and museums, before actually stepping into those venues. The grant also provides Easton a generous advertising budget to go into Washington and Baltimore media markets with its message.

The Spy caught up with Ross at the Bullitt House, where the Easton Business Alliance has their offices, to talk about the future of downtown Easton, its current challenges, and a very encouraging forecast that Easton is well positioned to adjust to this changing climate and maintain its position as one of the Eastern Shore’s most popular shopping hubs.

This video is approximately eight minutes in length. For more information about the Easton Business Alliance please go here.

 

Shouting Across the Atlantic: Is There a Leader Out There? By Al Sikes

Politicians on the winning side of elections inevitably quip: “elections matter.” And so they do, but let me be more pointed.

The most important elections in the last twelve months, with apologies to the British, occurred in America and France.

Americans, intensely frustrated, elected an entirely unconventional candidate. The opposition Party has chosen a path of nullification—Democrats want to void the election any way they can. Poor strategy for their Country and Party.

In our Revolutionary War, America’s most important ally was France. Today the French, who recently elected a new president, are shouting at us across the Atlantic. In France, the most significant conventional Parties (Socialists, Republicans) and the populist one, The National Front, lost. The winner, En Marche!.

Jean-Michel Frederic Macron’s Party, En Marche!, didn’t exist until April of 2016, yet, he was elected President. Macron’s newly emerged Party has just won an overwhelming majority in parliamentary elections. Macron left the Socialist party, and it barely retains a presence in the French parliament.

Macron defeated the right and left and the populist, Marine Le Pen. He called for a “democratic revolution” and has advocated “a collective solidarity.” Macron led a citizen movement.

Is a citizen movement possible in United States politics? Can enough talent and energy be organized to overcome the structural obstacles that protect the Republican and Democrat parties? They certainly no longer merit protection.

If a true citizen movement is possible, the central political question must be re-framed. If the core inquiry is which ideological script should prevail, the energy is with the ideologues. But, as poll after poll confirms, a majority of voters are eager for leaders who are willing to lead from the center.

Leading from the center requires thinking. It requires leaders who look for government intervention or restraint informed by realities. If you listen to left and right politicians today, you quickly realize they are mostly unmoored from thinking as they recite their talking points.

I am not talking about a centrism that splits the difference. What we need are centrist leaders who are acutely aware of what has worked or failed in our federal system. We need leaders who can utilize the extraordinary power of 21st Century technology to achieve efficiencies and successes. We need leaders who can capitalize on America’s diversity rather than using it to divide and conquer.

The latest Gallup political survey summary shows that 42% of voters identify as Independents. In 2014 and 2015 polling, Gallup noted that the most frequent cited reason for being an independent was “frustration with party gridlock in the federal government.”

The election of President Trump was telling. He was certainly not the choice of the right. And it is increasingly clear that the Republican Party is struggling to become a governing party as the hard right pursues its view of “perfection” at the expense of leadership.

On the left, the offer is a new list of free services all to be paid for by a “tax on the wealthy” and debt. At present, the United States is only able to finance existing private and public credit appetites because of our international monetary strength. This strength is not ordained in the natural order of things, and if we do not pivot, the central government balance sheet will look like Illinois.

Vladimir Putin, whose nationalistic appeal protects him from a poor Russian economy, doesn’t need to intervene in our elections. We are in the midst of self-destruction.

There is literally a wall of laws that protect the major parties and incumbents will not, as President Reagan once demanded in Berlin, “tear down that wall.” If a centrist coalition is to succeed, work needs to begin immediately, and the movement should organize for the 2020 presidential election. The critical mass of support needed will come from Independents and success in the 2020 election should quickly be followed by organizing at the State and Local levels.

What is needed now is a farsighted leader who will devote himself or herself to a historic cause. It will be hard work, but saving the Republic will never be easy.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Out and About (Sort of): A Community with History Driven by Tumult by Howard Freedlander

For nearly 41 years I have driven across the Miles River Bridge through the small African-American community of Unionville and never understood until recently its significance not only in Talbot County and the Eastern Shore but also in our nation.

I just didn’t “get it.”

Surrounded by waterfront estates and expensive homes, Unionville seemed oddly placed. The modest homes and well-kept church gained scant attention through my car window. I have since learned that I should have delved more deeply; I should have opened my eyes and mind to a community tied not only to the Civil War but to a Quaker landowner who despised slavery.

Thanks to an exhibit at the Talbot Historical Society and specifically Larry Denton, its dynamic executive director, I learned that the 150-year-old Unionville exists only through the generosity of Ezekiel Cowgill, a Quaker abolitionist who leased lots to 18 soldiers–former slaves and free blacks who fought for the Union in the Civil War Many of their descendants, including Harriette Lowery, still live in Unionville. Her ancestor was Benjamin Demby.

A Delaware native, Ezekiel Cowgill bought Lombardy, a dilapidated Miles River Neck farm, in 1856. He employed only free blacks. Most of the land on Miles River Neck belonged to the Lloyd family; the owner of the Wye House plantation at the time was Colonel Edwin Lloyd VI, whose bustling enterprise included hundreds of slaves. According to the Maryland State Archives, “Ezekiel Cowgill was affected by his slaveholding neighbors and expressed surprise to find himself living as a neighbor to slaveholders.”

It’s not surprising that Cowgill was one of two votes in Talbot County for Abraham Lincoln during the 1860 presidential election. I wonder how this principled man coped with being a lonely voice in Talbot County politics.

His Quaker roots go back to Delaware, where he served as State Treasurer and the trustee of a fund used to establish a school for free blacks under the auspices of the Preparative Quaker Meeting of Little Creek. After moving to Maryland, he became a “well-respected and influential member of the Quaker community in Talbot County” as a member of the Third Haven Meeting in Easton, according to the Maryland State Archives.

I have spent four paragraphs writing about Ezekiel Cowgill because I suspect that his story as a Quaker abolitionist who treated blacks fairly and humanely is one duplicated elsewhere in the United States. His leasing of land, however, for $1 a month to Civil War veterans who served with colored regiments—11 of the returning soldiers had previously been slaves on the Lloyd plantation—was an incredible and notable act embodying generosity both of spirit and material support. Though the leases generally extended 30 years, one granted to Isaac Copper spanned 99 years.

When I think about the 150th anniversary of Unionville exhibit at the Talbot Historical Society and the recent event sponsored by the Frederick Douglass Honor Society at Wye House on May 21, 2017, I feel pleased that blacks and whites are acknowledging together the county’s history—good, bad and ugly. I hope that other communities above and below the Mason-Dixon Line are facing the past equally as honestly and forthrightly.

As I’ve written before, grace comes in different forms.

Ezekiel Cowgill’s move to Talbot County changed the social order of the Miles River Neck. The establishment of Unionville paid visible tribute to Civil War veterans who escaped slavery and degradation to fight in a conflict that changed our country. The current actions by the Frederick Douglass Honor Society and the Talbot Historical Society represent a form of grace in the united efforts of well-intended individuals to give visibility (“transparency” in current vernacular) to periods of history that often displayed despicable human behavior.

Now, as I drive through Unionville, my eyes are wide open.
I see a community founded on the goodness of Ezekiel Cowgill and populated initially by resilient former slaves who fought in a horribly divisive and destructive Civil War. I see descendants of the Lloyd family, such as Richard Tilghman and his wife Beverly, and a descendant of an original Unionville resident, Harriette Lowery, working in unison to build ties that will last another 150 years.

Our county and the Eastern Shore are rife with history. We all benefit from examining it.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Spy Profile: Telling the Story of Veterans with Word and Music

The powerful synergy between the spoken word and music has been the source of some truly extraordinary moments in the history of storytelling. From symphony orchestras playing as the backdrop to poetry to prose interjected into rap songs, the human need to combine these powerful forms of communication into one is a time-honored tradition.

This form of fusion seems to have unlimited applications, but nowhere does it triumph more than when pairing the flexible range of jazz to a human being’s very special, and sometimes horrific journey after being at war.

A recent example of this merger can be found in Modern Warrior, a musical drama of a soldier’s journey towards post-traumatic growth. In this case, Dominick Farinacci, the gifted jazz trumpeter, composer and favorite performer at Chesapeake Music’s annual Monty Alexander Jazz Festival, connects through mutual friends with Jaymes Poling, a returning vet, to explore how Farinacci’s music may work collaboratively with the narrative of Poling’s moving war and postwar experience.

The early results of this teamwork appear to be a stunning success. Through the support of benefactors, many of whom make the Mid-Shore their home, Dominick and Jaymes have already created a “pilot” for the musical with a premier expected in New York City, and later Easton, at the end of the year.

The Spy caught up with the co-creators of Modern Warrior at Bullitt House last week to talk about the project.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the Modern Warrior project please go here.

A Glimmer of Hope by George Merrill

In a book I’ve been reading about Christianity and its “struggle for new beginnings,” I saw a passing reference to God as the creator of humanity. It quoted a fourteenth century English mystic, Julian of Norwich, who stated that we are made, not “by God,” but “of God.” I found the switching of the usual preposition “by” with “of,” striking. That God might have made us – the typical religious teaching – suggests an important connection but a discrete difference like the sculptor who fashions his sculpture from marble while he remains a creature of flesh and blood.

Being made of God offers a different thought; that we are fashioned from the same substance as the creator, one manifestation of the very stuff from which God is composed. To be human then, and being made of God – and not to be impious – I’d say is simply affirming that we’re all chips off the old block.

The way things are going today you’d hardly ever guess it. But then there are those transformational moments that offer us glimmers of hope…

Religion today, like politics, gets the public interest not when it acts sublimely, but when it behaves badly. Ears go right to the ground when the muck is being raked. But every so often something of essential goodness transpires and I, for one, find myself moved to tears. In those moments, circumstances conspire such that I become more conscious of my “of-ness,” and our “of-ness.”

One such moment occurred recently on June 14th following the shooting at the congressional baseball practice in D.C. At this writing, Republican Congressman Steve Scalise is in critical condition. Four others were wounded. The shooter was killed. His motives were vague political discontents.

Given the kind of political posturing that usually follows these tragic moments, things took a very different turn and in my judgment, a hopeful one. The spirit of the moment became one of claiming our national as well as our human solidarity rather than vilifying the perpetrator and swearing he will be caught and punished. In one sense our “of-ness” was the issue not someone’s “other-ness,”

Paul Ryan addressed the House shortly following the incident. He said: “An attack on one of us, is an attack on all of us.” He went further to state passionately that, “…there is one image that this house should keep. And it is a photo (as shown above) I saw of our Democratic colleagues gathered in prayer this morning after the news.”

He added that “We are a family…these are our brothers and sisters.” Finally he pleaded with the House: “I ask each of you to join me in resolving to come together…to lift each other up…and show the country – show the world – that we are one House.”

I felt moved. I didn’t see this kind of response coming.

The next evening on PBS, Judy Woodruff interviewed House Representatives Joe Barton, R-Texas and Mike Doyle, D-Pa. The interview took a remarkable turn. They had been long-term friends in the Congress. During the incident Doyle was at the field with his Republican colleagues while Barton practiced with the Democrats. In reiterating the frightening experience of the shooting and also speaking of his friendship with Barton, Doyle was clearly on the verge of tears. At that point, Barton placed his hand on Doyle’s arm in a spontaneous gesture of affection. There was no mistaking its authenticity. The gesture was the kind of human softness that exhibits our greatest strengths, that is, our capacity to care for others.

As I watched the interview, Isaiah’s visionary statement of a world reconciled to God came to mind: “The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw with the ox – they will do no evil or harm in all My Holy Mountain.”

Imagine, if one day the elephant and the donkey might have drinks and dinner together after work, and would dwell and graze together and do no evil in “all My Holy Mountain.” If that isn’t the slam dunk formula for making America Great, and I don’t mean great again, but greater than ever, then I can’t imagine what is.

In the interview on PBS, Doyle made what I would call a visionary statement – not a policy statement, but a visionary one, the kind that we rarely see or hear today.

Speaking of Congress he says, ”We may have differences politically, but they’re our friends, and we care about them very much. And I think all of us are reflecting on how each one of us individually can set an example for the country, too, because when people see their leaders being uncivil towards one another then you start to see the public being uncivil towards one another and towards their leaders.”

He also speaks to that prurient part of all of us that delights in hearing sleaze and scandal. In referring to congressional mud slinging he notes, “Oftentimes the media’s interested in interviewing the two that are throwing the swords at each other…the news media, too, can reflect a little bit on that and show some of the positive things that take place down there.”

Religion struggles today, as politics does, for “new beginnings,” relevance, and integrity in a world in which we see little of either over the din of the sectarian and party claims. In power struggles, the common denominator of our “of-ness,” our mutual humanity gets easily excised, in the way soldiers trained for combat learn to dehumanize their adversaries in order to destroy them.

A columnist for CNN seemed to see in the recent event, glimmers of hope. He put it this way in his column, “There’s a lot of awfulness in Washington today…but out of the awfulness (almost) always comes some good.”

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Why? By David Montgomery

Are the Left’s persistent and vituperative attacks on Donald Trump and his supporters based on misunderstanding, emotion, or strategy? I have been convinced at various times that one or another of the three motivations was behind some particular attack, and my responses have been intended to deal with the specific motivation I inferred.

Now that the Left’s violent and unrestrained rhetoric has achieved its predictable outcome of homicidal attacks on Republican Members of Congress, it is even more important to find an effective way to neutralize that rhetoric. And the first step, for me, is to reflect longer on what motivates the Left in this campaign.

Leading up to the shooting of Representative Scalise and his colleagues, the incitement of violence from the Left became more and more explicit. As soon as Inauguration Day, we had Madonna saying “I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House.”

Then we have the constant dehumanizing of President Trump and his family by the talk-show hosts and comedians showcased by the media opposed to him. It is impossible to watch the most popular late night talk show without seeing and hearing caricatures of the President and tasteless jokes about every aspect of his appearance, family and character.

This shades over into the substitution of speculation about Trump’s motives and prejudices for substantive debates about the merits of his actions and policy proposals. Thus his eminently sensible efforts to screen out potential terrorists from entry into the USA are evaluated by the media and activist judges based on campaign statements and attributions of religious bias rather than on their merits. His efforts to reform ObamaCare are described as willingness to let people die without healthcare rather than debated as approaches to saving an obviously failed system. His well-reasoned efforts to extricate us from an overly-burdensome agreement on climate change illegally ratified by his predecessor are attacked by claiming that the President does not believe in climate change, as if it were the secular version of the Immaculate Conception, rather than debating the legality of bypassing Senatorial ratification of treaties. He is accused of obstruction of justice by the same Democrats who demanded the FBI Director be fired for the very reasons given by President Trump.

Democrats in Congress, failed candidates whose message on public policy has narrowed down to a single word “Resist,” and an activist Attorney General contribute to the demeaning of the President and his advisors with accusations of personal malfeasance based on sheer speculation and frivolous lawsuits.

The personal attacks escalated recently with Kathy Griffin’s foul display of the severed and bloody head of the President, and even worse with the performance of Julius Caesar portraying the Roman Emperor as Donald Trump and celebrating his assassination. Though some sponsors acted properly to drop the offenders, they were endorsed by fellow-celebrities for their courageous efforts to influence public perceptions. I didn’t realize it took courage to attack Donald Trump in Manhattan and Hollywood.

The rhetoric spilled over into overt physical violence against anyone who would defend the President or express conservative views in public. Demonstrators from “Resist” and other Leftist organizations rioted to prevent their appearance at Berkeley and other universities that once defended free speech, and assaulted students who indicated their support for the speakers or the President.

And then this verbal and sometimes physical violence culminated in the attempted assassination of Republican members of Congress by a gunman radicalized by the Left.

How can this be dealt with? If the hostility toward all things Republican were based simply on misunderstanding of the actual content and consequences of our policy proposals, the response would be easy. Many of us are decent writers and have the requisite expertise in climate and environmental science, environmental economics, regulatory economics, tax policy, financial regulation, labor issues, healthcare, international relations, national security and other disciplines to explain the problems that our policies address and their likely consequences. To the extent that we think the slogans and arguments of the Left are based on misrepresentations and falsehoods, the challenge of correcting those errors should be our first priority. Then, we could hope, with better understanding the fear and anger could abate.

But the way in which blatant and easily refuted misrepresentations are continually resurrected and repeated, and the unwillingness of those shouting them to listen to contrary points of view, suggest that correctable ignorance is not the primary reason for attacks on the President and his policies. The nation seems to be too committed to choosing sides on policies based on the perceived character, appearance, mental state or biases of political players ever to pay attention to the real good or bad consequences of policy proposals.

That suggests that emotion or strategy or both, not simple misunderstanding of his policies, are the drivers of current agitation against the President.

It is easy to make the case that emotion is the driver. Generations younger than mine have been taught from childhood that their feelings are all that matters. When your parents, teachers and college professors encourage you to believe that how you feel is more important than what is true or right, that everyone is entitled to his or her own facts, and that there is no such thing as objective truth or moral absolutes, then nothing does matter except the emotions that a politician or policy evokes. When you are as stupid, self-centered, and publicity-seeking as most entertainers and celebrities, the notion that some people actually think about things probably never entered your atrophied brain. And President Trump can present himself in a manner that is repulsive even to those who, like me, are convinced that by and large his policies are the right ones for our country.

If some or all of these reasons for unrestrained emotional responses were the primary drivers of the current malaise, we would be right to reiterate the need for civility in politics as our primary response. We could hope that the shooting of Representative Scalise and his slow and painful recovery would be a corrective shock bringing a majority back to their right minds.

So that leaves us with the likelihood that there is a strategy behind the incitement of hatred and violence that we have seen. According to Rusty Reno, editor of the journal First Things, there is such a strategy, designed and directed by the wealthy, largely white elite that runs the Democratic Party. Disconnected from the middle and working class voters necessary for the party to win, those elites can only hold onto voters by inventing new forms of discrimination for them to fear. Until the election of Donald Trump, they generated that fear by pushing an agenda so radical that it was guaranteed to generate resistance, and then labeling anyone who objected to that agenda as a bigot, a homophobe, a misogynist or a white supremacist.

How else, Reno asks, can we explain a President facing ISIS, Russian aggression, North Korean nuclear weapons, an expansionist China and the slowest recovery from recession on record making transgender bathrooms his highest priority? Most of us probably thought that election of the first black President would be the end of race-baiting, yet during his term we experienced repeated assassinations of police officers in the name of “Black Lives Matter” and banners proclaiming that “Republican Hate Kills.”

According to Reno, the Democratic Party came back from its defeats as the party of segregation during the civil rights era by promising to “promote and protect those who feel ‘excluded’ or ‘marginalized.’” But those promises to African-Americans, women and other minorities have been fulfilled. We have made immense progress over the past 50 years in eliminating discrimination based on race, sex, religion and other differences.

Once real discrimination ended, Democrat leaders and their sycophants in movies and the news media had to invent claims of discrimination to keep their coalition together. They found a new group they could label as marginalized in lesbian and gay activists. Then after winning on issues like gay marriage, they needed to invent discrimination against even more obscure sexual orientations. In the process, Democrats wrapped an activist agenda centered on LGBTQ privileges that have no direct appeal to most voters in a narrative of discrimination that they expect African-American and Hispanic voters – not to mention wealthy whites — to accept automatically.

To make that narrative work politically, there has to be a villain. To create a villain, the demands have to be so extreme that they will provoke opposition. Since political correctness has by now intimidated most of those outraged by this social agenda into silence, it becomes easy to claim that all those willing to take a public stand are bigots. Transgender bathrooms were a perfect ploy. The demand is so contrary to any sensible view of human nature that it generates widespread outrage, and all those who express that view can be labeled “haters.” Then the mostly rich, white liberals who run the party can sustain their power by promising even more protections from these symbols of oppression.

Now there is someone else to hate – Donald Trump. Someone the same elites can label racist and sexist based on his own statements. The vehemence of the blogosphere and the unanimity of sicko comedians makes it clear that many of them can’t imagine any reason to stop, not even boredom at repeating themselves and certainly not escalating violence. That their strategy and that of the liberal elites is to create a new symbol of oppression in order to maintain their hold on power is a very compelling explanation.

It is also a strategy to continue the intimidation of voters who voted for Trump in order to express how fed up they are with the radical program and condescending attitudes of the liberal elites. What better way to demonize the deplorable racists, sexists and homophobes who voted for Trump than by harping continuously on his gaffes and impetuous actions? We Trump voters might eventually get fed up with being accused of being white supremacists or worse and vote out those who condemn us unjustly, but we can be put down over and over again by making our choice for President out to be a boob or a monster.

I don’t disagree that Donald Trump has shown a talent for turning victory into defeat nearly as great as his talent for turning defeat into victory in the election. Just as he shows his chops as a negotiator by getting health care reform through the House of Representatives, he surrounds himself with a firestorm of criticism for firing the FBI Director. It would be a great help to take away his tablet and restrain his willingness to validate every criticism by responding to it. But if it were not for Trump, the strategy behind the rising storm of hatred would be diverted to creating some other symbols of oppression against which the elites running the Democratic Party can pretend to stand.

In response, those of us who are appalled by these developments must continue trying to explain clearly and objectively the basis for the policies we favor. We must also practice and encourage civility rather than emotional rants about policies and politicians (though I think celebrities, entertainers and opponents of free speech are still fair game).

That will not be enough. Continued engagement in electoral politics to keep the coalition of hard-working, faithful, family-oriented, financially stressed and totally ignored voters who elected President Trump together is the only antidote to the strategy of demonization pursued by the elites who think they own the Democratic Party.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

Avalon’s Weekend Marquee Update

The Talbot Spy sharing with our readers each week the MCTV produced Weekend Marquee with Tim Weigand as host. We hope you enjoy this short two minute preview of what’s coming up over the next few days

Church Hill Theatre: “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”

 

Charlie Brown (Matt Folker) consults “Doctor” Lucy (Becca Van Aken)

Church Hill Theatre’s summer musical this year is “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” directed by Sylvia Maloney. “Charlie Brown” is, of course, based on the popular comic strip, “Peanuts,” by Charles M. Shultz, which in its heyday may have been the most widely read newspaper strip of all time. (One of its rivals for that distinction, “Li’l Abner,” was also the inspiration for a Broadway musical.)

The show was created by song writer Clark Gesner in 1966, near the height of the strip’s popularity. Gesner originally wrote a series of songs based on the “Peanuts” strip, but after Shultz gave his permission, he released a concept album with Orson Bean singing the title role. Eventually, “Charlie Brown” was developed into a full-fledged musical that appeared off-Broadway in 1967 and ran for 1,597 performances. It opened on Broadway in 1971, and had a short run, but the off-Broadway performances had already established it as a hit, A 1998 revival added new dialogue and songs, but the CHT production uses the original script.

The cast of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” performs a musical number

“Charlie Brown” has been one of the most popular shows for school and community theater – I know of at least two previous productions in the local area, one at Kent County High School (also directed by Maloney) and one at Centreville High School (directed by Shelagh Grasso). The premise of the comic strip – children performing their normal activities while expressing deeper, more adult thoughts – nicely translates to the stage, with adults cast in the role of the Peanuts characters. This is part of the fun – that traditionally all the roles are played by actors “remembering” what it was like to act and think like an elementary school or pre-school child. The youngest actor here is in junior high, while the oldest ones are over 50.

Like the newspaper strip, the play is largely episodic – there is no long-range plot, and the characters remained essentially unchanged over the course of the comic strip. It is, in effect, a series of brief gags strung together – some developed at a bit more length, and of course there are repeated themes, but if you go to the theater expecting a “story,” you won’t get one. Instead, it depicts typical activities of a child’s day.

That said, almost all the famous bits “Peanuts” readers would expect are here. Snoopy takes on the Red Baron in a World War I dogfight; Schroeder plays Beethoven on his toy piano; Lucy steals Linus’s security blanket; Charlie Brown pines for the little red-haired girl but never gets up the courage to go talk to her; and the gang manages to extend what must be the longest losing streak in baseball history. About the only iconic gag that doesn’t get portrayed onstage is Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown to kick – and that really depended on its repetition over several years, which Charlie Brown falling for the same trick again and again.

Despite having been originally conceived as a song cycle, “Charlie Brown” does not have a particularly memorable musical score. The lyrics to the songs are undeniably witty – given the source, how could they be anything else? — and the CHT cast performs them with plenty of spirit. The ensemble numbers, including “Beethoven Day,” “The Book Report,” “The Baseball Game” and “The Glee Club Rehearsal” are probably the strongest. In the performance I saw, there were a few spots where the lyrics of solo songs got covered up by the orchestra – that’s too bad, because they really are the whole point of the songs, which are basically sung dialogue.

Schroder (David Ryan) plays Beethoven for Lucy (Becca Van Aken)

Matt Folker takes the role of Charlie Brown, and he does a great job with the character, making very effective use of facial expressions and body language. It’s a tribute to his acting that, in spite of being the tallest person on stage, he clearly projects Charlie’s vulnerability and insecurity. Another strong performance by one of Church Hill’s most reliable leading men.

Becca Van Aken plays Charlie’s nemesis, Lucy. She is superb in conveying the character’s bossy and crabby nature – an almost perfect bit of casting. And then, after the other kids responses to a survey convince her they think she really is crabby, Van Aken nicely conveys her crushed ego and sense of remorse – a surprising switch that many actors would have trouble portraying.

The role of Linus, Lucy’s younger brother, is taken by Elliott Morotti, a freshman in Archbishop Spalding High School in Severn. Despite his youth, he is already a veteran of musical theater, with appearances in several CHT performances and the Chesapeake Children’s Theater. His does a good job capturing the character’s combination of immaturity and philosophical depth.

David Ryan, who is pastor of First and Christ Methodist Churches in Chestertown, is making his CHT debut as Schroder after several roles at the Garfield. He portrays the character enthusiastically, really getting into playing Beethoven on the toy piano.

Sally, Charlie Brown’s younger sister, is played by Maya McGrory, a CHT veteran despite her young age. She gives a charming performance as the young girl who’s still struggling with challenges from jumping rope to school assignments.

Julie Lawrence takes the role of Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s super-talented beagle, and she turns in one of the best performances in the show. It’s a great comic role, with lots of physical schtick and mugging, and Lawrence takes it all easily in stride. As a bonus, she  has one of the best singing voices in the cast. I especially enjoyed her dance routine, Snoopy’s version of the old soft shoe, complete with top hat and a bone for a cane.

Snoopy (Julie Lawrence) does the old soft shoe

Another half dozen characters make up an ensemble, though they each get a few scenes where they can establish themselves. In the CHT production, Morgan Armstrong plays Frieda, Jarrett Plante plays Pig Pen, Samantha Smith is Peppermint Patty, Amy Gillilland is Violet, Faith McCarthy is Marcie and Katie Sardo is Woodstock, Snoopy’s birdie friend. They did a good job of portraying the moods and activities of young school children — skipping, agonizing over homework, licking lollipops, and playing games.

The orchestra for this performance includes Ellen Barry Grunden as pianist and conductor; Tom Anthony on bass; Ron Demby on clarinet and flute; Frank Gerber on percussion; and Jane Godfrey on violin. There were a few tuning problems early at the performance I saw, but the group came together and delivered a good performance overall.

Michael Whitehill and Brian Draper designed and built the set for the show, and it captures the spirit of childhood. Oversize items – a bench, Snoopy’s doghouse, building blocks – emphasize the fact that the characters are all supposed to be small children. So when Folker has to pull himself up on the bench, it makes it easier to forget that he’s six-foot-something instead of a typical first-grader.

The audience had a good time at the production I saw – Saturday night of opening week. A lot of them were clearly long-time “Peanuts” fans, and they empathized with poor Charlie and laughed at the antics of Snoopy and Woodstock. This is really a show that delivers a lot of laughs and sends the audience home with a warm feeling – just what the doctor ordered as an antidote to the evening news. It’s a good show for children, too.

“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” continues through June 25, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for CHT members and $10 for students. For reservations or more information, call the theater office at 410-556-9003 or visit the theater website.

Photos by Steve Atkinson

Spy Minute: Juneteenth and Beyond with AAM’s Damika Baker & Ben Simons

While Juneteenth, which marks the abolition of slavery at the end of the Civil War, has been celebrated at the Academy Art Museum for the last six years, this will be the first time that AAM’s director Ben Simons and his colleague Damika Baker have worked together in planning the all day celebration next Saturday.

In their interview with the Spy, Ben and Damika talk about how the art museum began its own tradition of hosting this special event and how the AAM is building stronger ties with their community with year long programming that celebrates African-American Art and Artists.

Free activities include the screening of the highly regarded film, 13th, a NETFLIX original documentary by Ava DuVernay, Director of Selma; a Community BBQ in the Museum’s Courtyard; and the opportunity for individuals and families to create their own quilt patch, using slave codes. Participants will also be able to view and learn more about the Sesquicentennial 1864 Maryland Slave Emancipation Quilt. For the 150th anniversary of emancipation in Maryland, the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture (MCAAHC) commissioned a quilt to visualize the stories of people, places, and events in every Maryland county and Baltimore City before, at the time of, or after the ratification of Article 24. In addition, there will be entertainment by local artists and keynote address by Dr. Joan M.E. Gaither, designer of the Emancipation Quilt. Local vendors include Talbot Rising, Talbot Mentors, Neighborhood Service Center, Imagination Library and LivAgain/ArtBar.

This video is approximately one minute in length. For information, visit academyartmuseum.org/juneteeth or contact Damika Baker, Director of Development (410) 822-2787 or dbaker@academyartmuseum.org.

 

Real Men and Father’s Day by Al Sikes

“You feel like superman”, the young addict says. The Economist
“Does God exist?” “Not yet,” Question and answer in panel discussion on transhumanism.
“For the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread.” Proverbs 6:26

Let me briefly serve as a bridge, an intergenerational one.

My Dad, in acute recognition of my needs, was unhesitating. He insisted that nothing good in the life of a teenager happened after midnight—thus a curfew. It made no difference that other parents did not impose one—he seemed unbothered by peer pressure. Much to my discomfort.

Dad insisted that I needed to understand the options of life—my summers were spent working in a grain elevator. When just out of college, I announced an intent to get married; he was apoplectic, and said: “you can’t afford a wife.” Fortunately for me, my wife, Marty, worked while I went to law school.

There was nobody around to write down Dad’s insistent insights. Had he been a direct descendent of King Solomon, the world would have received a 20th Century update of Proverbs.

My Dad would have told the young addict that Superman is a fantasy, that if you are searching for transcendence go to church.

And to the transhumanist searching for perpetual life, he would have suggested spiritual counsel, not chemicals.

To finish the bridge, let me retreat to King Solomon’s version of Proverbs, the one that is blessed by the Bible. The King didn’t lack a keen insight or a sense of humor.

Culturally, our time is devoted to ascendance. Or, as the dictionaries report: “a position of dominance.” My Dad, not inclined to deal in the abstract, would have paired the word with fool. He knew, and probably most humans know, that dominance is fleeting. When we feel dominant, something else is likely to be dominating us.

My faith is inspired by a horrific death on a crucifixion cross—its form–simple and wooden. The narrative surrounding this piece of wood promises transcendence through love and humility.

Regardless of which faith story we find compelling, none of them suggest material wealth or dominance as the pathways to transcendence.

Reflecting on America, it needs a culture that pushes us beyond self. The vulnerable need more than jails and yet another educational initiative that explains for the millionth time what every sentient human knows: drugs are harmful. Millions of people seem to have yielded to nihilism, believing that existence is pointless or alternatively, too heavy a burden to carry. Pharmacological escape and its risks do not weigh heavily on their minds.

America needs insistence voices informed by an overarching morality. My Dad’s rules carried the bite of right or wrong. Simply stated, we (all of us) need to look beyond ourselves. Not to the pop psychology of victimhood. Nor to the ceaseless marketing messages that compare our lives with some glorious alternative.

Today volumes are written about sources of moral principles and their legitimacy. Likewise, volumes are written about how our weaknesses often eclipse our internal powers of discipline. At some point in this narrative stream, right or wrong became a depreciating asset.

Parents, schools, churches, and Synagogues need to start young. They need to recapture the insistence I experienced as a teenager. And while the message needs to be motivated by love, the words need authority, a 21st Century Solomon who understands the earlier one.

Retreating to the last century, I recall a movie with an intergenerational story.

A 1963 movie, Hud, starring Paul Newman, Patricia O’Neal, and Melvyn Douglas, was set on a cattle ranch in Texas that was just hanging on when it was hit by an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease.

The movie pitted a hard drinking, unprincipled son, Hud, (played by Paul Newman) against his father, Homer (played by Melvyn Douglas), who was the patriarch owner of the ranch. The two men often argued in front of an impressionable and idealistic young man, Lon (played by Brandon de Wilde), who was grandson to Homer and nephew to Hud.

In one memorable scene, Homer said to Lon after a furious argument with Hud: “Little by little the look of the country changes because of the men we admire….You’re just going to have to make up your own mind one day about what’s right and wrong.”

Today the word “men” tends to be loaded; but as Fathers Day is only days away, I recall my father as a real man.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.