Remember Decoration Day

Memorial_Day_no_1
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Bruce caricatureBruce The Blog
By Bruce Apar
When Bruce The Blog Listens, People Talk

You can tell to which generation someone belongs by whether she or he remembers when Memorial Day annually was held on May 30, regardless of what day of the week that date occurred.

In 1862, a Civil War general, John Logan, proposed that May 30 be designated a day of remembrance throughout the land.

It was 45 years ago (1971) that Memorial Day for the first time ceased being observed exclusively on May 30. It instead became part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, to be held on the last Monday of May, as enacted by Congress three years prior (1968).

It just so happens that this year’s Memorial Day 2016—next Monday—lands on the commemorative date of May 30. That calendar coincidence presents an opportunity to recall another bygone characteristic of “Memorial Day”—it used to be called Decoration Day, for reasons worth remembering.

National Cemeteries Created

The unprecedented number of fatalities in the Civil War—the cause of more deaths than any conflict in American annals—necessitated the creation of our first national cemeteries, according to History.com.

By the late 1860s, a ritual evolved in which the graves of the Civil War’s fallen were decorated by locals in towns across the country. The show of respect and gratitude paid homage to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country and fellow citizens.

Therein lies the primal sanctity of a communal remembrance whose profound meaning too easily is buried by the more mundane imperatives of our mechanized society. The singularity of Decoration Day falling on May 30 for the first 100 years has yielded to the cookie-cutter convenience of a generic three-day holiday weekend, which was created as a perk for federal employees.

Waterloo, N.Y. Is Memorial Day Official Birthplace

The upstate New York town of Waterloo first observed Decoration Day in 1866, and 100 years later it was declared by the federal government “the official birthplace of Memorial Day.” The reason it was so honored, as reported by History.com, is because Waterloo was among the first to hold “an annual, community-wide event during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.”

The solemnity of that early American Memorial Day is muted in our day by the sound of retail sales trumpeting “Happy Memorial Day!” As oxymorons go, that one is hard to beat and even harder to justify when reading about the birth of the holiday.

I encourage any business to promote itself with thematic sales events, but perhaps in this case a more fitting declaration of our independence is “Salute Memorial Day!”

Let’s do whatever we can to keep it a secularly holy day; to remember warriors by decorating their burial places; to publicly thank neighbors and strangers who endured the ravages of war; to salute them all, as they parade along your main street and wave the flag of freedom we never for one second should take for granted.

On a personal note: Thank you, Dad (aka “Sarge” in WWII), for all that you gave your family and your country.  

Solders' Memorial Day-May 30

Memorial Day 2016 falls on May 30, just like it did for more than 100 years, until 1971, when a federal law moved it to Monday every year, regardless of the date.

Media and marketing specialist Bruce Apar is Chief Content Officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner Agency, where he is a partner with Pinpoint CEO and Google Adwords Certified Professional Bruce Mishkin. Apar is a weekly columnist for Halston Media newspapers and the PennySaver, and a writer for Westchester Magazine. Under the banner of APAR All-Media, he is a consultant for Hudson Valley events and organizations. Follow him as Bruce The Blog and Hudson Valley WXYZ on social media. Reach him at bapar@me.com or (914) 275-6887.

Lives as Fragile as Origami

Adit Dileep-Jenny Sevens-Animals out of Paper
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Bruce caricatureBruce the Blog Reviews Theater
BY BRUCE APAR
When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act

 

Animals Out of Paper
by Rajiv Joseph
Directed by Stephen Nachamie
Through May 14
Whippoorwill Hall
19 Whippoorwill East, Armonk, N.Y. 10504
Hudson Stage Company
HudsonStage.com

Who would dare to hinge a stage drama on the exotica of origami? (which the dictionary describes as “the Japanese art of folding paper into decorative shapes and figures.”) Only a writer with the confidence, skill and rigor to employ it as a metaphor for the fragility and myriad twists and turns that define every life.

Meet playwright Rajiv Joseph, whose “Animals Out of Paper” holds us in thrall as it unfolds to reveal the inner workings of its three strongly delineated characters. Thanks to first-rate acting and direction, Mr. Joseph’s clever and insightful play is well worth seeing in a splendid production by Hudson Stage Company at North Castle Library’s Whippoorwill Theater in Armonk (HudsonStage.com). It runs through May 14.

As the play begins, we are inside the apartment of origami guru Ilana (Jenny Sheffer Stevens, Actors’ Equity). Brought to life by Broadway-quality set design, it’s a living space that is as much of a mess as the life of its occupant. Ilana’s in divorce mode and her toothless, earless, 12-year-old three-legged dog has run away. Ilana, by her own admission, is not a people person.

Eccentrically engaging Andy (MIchael Guagno) finds that out quickly enough when he comes knocking and Ilana doesn’t bother to disguise her discomfort when this garrulous stranger lumbers clumsily into her reclusive world.

Ilana may be an indifferent host but she’s enough of a renowned origamist that high school calculus teacher Andy beseeches her to tutor one of his students, whose brilliance is blinding.

Michael Guagno-Jenny Stevens-Animals out of Paper

Andy (Michael Guagno) sheds his anxiety to show his feelings for Ilana (Jenny Sheffer Stevens).

THE ‘JIMI HENDRIX OF ORIGAMI’

Like Andy before him, student Suresh (Adit Dileep, Actors’ Equity) barrels his way into Ilana’s apartment, posing with hip-hop swagger, grooving to the music plugged into his ears. He’s a whiz not only at calculus, but, to hear Andy tell it, is also “the Jimi Hendrix of origami.” Flaunting his many-splendored gifts, Suresh milks an opportunity to impress Ilana further by creating freestyle rap lyrics without blinking.

Analogous to Ilana’s escaped canine, this trio resembles a lost, three-legged creature that teeters its way through a progression of naked truths and raw emotions that reveal the vulnerability, confusion and potential for salvation in all of us.

If that sounds oh-so-heavy, leave it to a crafty, cerebral dramatist like Rajiv Joseph to pull it off with the elegance and lightness epitomized by Ilana’s origami, whether it’s an oversize pterodactyl mobile or a heart-shaped mesh that could revolutionize non-invasive cardiac surgery.

Along the way, we witness a clash of attitudes and even cultures (when Ilana comments on how Suresh speaks, he replies, “You think I should sound Indian?”). Each character lives fully within his or her own world, and needs to let others in, but struggles to figure out how.

We also peer in on the various sides of each character, mirroring origami as a geometry of surfaces connected by creases.

Suresh’s outward brio masks his emotional needs and the profound pain he lives with after losing his mother in a fatal hit-and-run accident.

COUNTS HIS BLESSINGS… ALL 8,000 OF THEM

Andy lives in a bubble of blessings, which he literally counts by writing them down in his not-so-secret diary that Ilana ends up reading one night. “When I was 12,” he tells her, “a fortune cookie said ‘Count your blessings,’” and so he does, every day. His obsessive-compulsive tendencies have resulted in almost 8,000 “blessings.”

When Ilana questions how “pain” qualifies as a blessing, as Andy has entered in the diary, he observes, “it’s not pleasant, but it’s real.” That is how Andy, who says he’s never been truly hurt, conditions himself to both feel and to see the bright side of life, even when it’s melancholy. After all, how would we know mirth without knowing melancholy?

Ilana, who hasn’t “folded” since her dog Demba flew the coop, as if in mourning, warms to Andy and to Suresh, almost to her surprise. Sparks start to fly in separate semi-trysts she has with each of the two men, both signs that Ilana finally is returning to the fold. 

Jenny Stevens-Michael Guagno-dinner-Animals out of Paper

Literal-minded Andy (Michael Guagno) gets down on his knee to suddenly propose to Iliana (Jenny Sheffer Stevens) on — what else — Valentine’s Day.

Early on in the proceedings, Andy philosophizes, “Life is short, opportunities are scarce, love is rare.” Suresh tells her, “Meeting you is a blessing.” By the final curtain, all have grown aware of their respective blessings and ready to move on.

“Listen to your heart,” advises Andy. “It’s a reliable narrative.” I felt the same about the enlightening and thoroughly enjoyable “Animals Out of Paper.”

The three actors create palpable stage chemistry throughout, and are well served by the sure-handed direction of Stephen Nachamie. The pacing is as crisp and wise as the dialogue.

As always with Hudson Stage productions, the technical proficiency is first class. Sound design (William Neal) plays a prominent role in this show and it is coolly dynamic, whether hip-hop or Sinatra on the speakers.  Andrew Gmoser’s lighting is as illuminating as ever, maintaining his status as the gold standard.

Special mention also is due the authentically detailed and impactful set designs by Shoko Kambara, and the smooth, efficient set changes governed by stage manager Genevieve Kersh.

Costumes are by Charlotte Palmer-Lane. Executive producers are Denise Bessette, Dan Foster and Olivia Sklar.

Adit Dileep-Jenny Sevens-Animals out of Paper

Adit Dileep (l) as Suresh shows his talent for origami to Jenny Sheffer Stevens as Ilana. All photos by RANA FAURE


 

Media and marketing specialist Bruce Apar, also known as Bruce The Blog, is Chief Content Officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner agency.  He also owns APAR All-Media, a Hudson Valley marketing agency that works with The Winery at St. George, Yorktown Feast of San Gennaro, Jefferson Valley Mall, Yorktown Stage, Axial Theatre, Armonk Players and others. He writes a weekly column for several periodicals and hosts public access TV series Hudson Valley WXYZ with Bruce The Blog. Follow him on Hudson Valley WXYZ on Facebook, Twitter & YouTube. Reach him at bapar@pinpointmarketingdesign.com or (914) 275-6887.