Friday, September 14, 2018

Autumn harvest delights San Diego play goers with theatrical gems

From left, Teagan Rose, J. Todd Adams and Joanna Strapp in "Blithe Spirit."



ALONG WITH pumpkins, zucchini and a berry bounty, San Diegans are harvesting a bumper crop of plays.
Here are highlights, upcoming dates to save and some stellar "don't miss" productions.
  Isabella Pruter sings "Ring of Keys"  
"Blithe Spirit." Noel Coward's wise, witty, well constructed story of a flamboyant medium, a sassy wife who returns from the dead and a sparring couple. Like all Coward's wonderfully droll plays, the real star is the language.  Sharp, elegant direction by Rosina Reynolds and a fine cast deliver this long but satisfying production with panache. Through Sept. 30.

"Fun Home."  San Diego Repertory Theatre presents an energetic, full throttle production directed by Sam Woodhouse of the Tony winning story of a daughter's search to understand her father and his complicated identity.  Set in a funeral home (fun home), several actors play the young woman as she matures and searches for meaning. Beautiful, moving, imaginative. Through Sept. 30.

Jesse Perez gives an electrifying performance as Richard III
in Will Power's reimaging of the Shakespeare classic.
"Seize the King."  La Jolla Playhouse. An absolutely masterful tour de force by actor Will Power, an inventive reimagining of "Richard III."  Intense, wonderfully acted. You'll be thinking about it for days, the true mark of fine art. Through Sept. 16 only.

"Real Women Have Curves." The Roustabouts Theatre Company. A one-night-only collaboration between this cutting edge company and Amigos del Rep, at the Lyceum Sept. 17.  The "funny story of five full-figured Mexican-American women" tells of their race to meet nearly impossible production deadlines in order to keep their tiny factory from going under.

Actor Ro Boddie  -- brilliant at Cygnet.
"Every Brilliant Thing." Cygnet Theatre.  If you haven't seen this captivating performance piece, you have only through Sept. 16. A wonderful one-man show about a son who wants his depressed mother to cheer up. Funny, touching. All the right stuff. Then  leave it to inventive Cygnet to jazz up dull Mondays with a series of Cabaret shows, each with a different theme and Cygnet's top singers, known around town. Oct. 22. "HIR" is next up for the season. Sounds intriguing.

Michael Louis Cusimano and Caitie Grady charm in "Once."
"Once." Lamb's Players Theatre." It opened to raves in early summer and has done gang-buster's business, but if you have yet to see "Once" you have only through Sept. 16. Beautifully sung and cleverly directed, the feel good, rousing production features a blossoming romance in an Irish pub. Energetically performed, it  has been extended for the last time. Inventive staging, terrific score and a great excuse to visit Coronado. 

"Legacy Lab." Diversionary Theatre. New for 2018, from this cutting edge theater company, Diversionary launches an intriguing new concept, the Lecacy Lab," to feature staged readings of classic LGBT text with a presentation of the goundbreaking 1934 play by Lillian Hellman, "The Children's Hour,"  It is a drama set in an all-girls boarding school run by two women, Karen Wright and Martha Dobie. The reading is Oct 5 and 6 at 7 p.m. It's free, with a suggested $15 donation. Check out the wonderful 1961 Audrey Hepburn-Shirley MacLaine film.
  "Guadalupe in the Guest Room." New Village Arts, Carlsbad. The always inventive play docket just closed a hit "Legally Blonde." Next up: "Guadalupe....," a story of two people, in the bond of shared grief, with an unexpected friendship and healing. Written by the rising playwright Tony Meneses, on the boards Oct. 6-28.
"Mama Mia." Welk Resorts Theatre. Classic ABBA score as a teen searches for her birth father on a gorgeous Greek isle. The theater has undergone a spruce-up and the museum is redone. The musical's long run, likely a sell-out, is through Feb. 24.

Fort Lauderdale's Water Taxi service is fun, economical
 and a fine way to see the city's sights.
UP NEXT: Come with us to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where we visit a favorite American port city by Water Taxi. The city's splendidly designed canal enterprise is our favorite way to see the sights. We meander via Water Taxi to enjoy the city's history and play tourist as we glide quietly past homes of the rich and famous, sports and acting figures, wealthy investors and "old money" Florida families. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a novel look at art, travel, nature, music and travel.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Ka-ching! Hooray for Harvey's Lake Tahoe, treasured through the years

The view from a high room at Harvey's Lake Tahoe is stunning.  Snow remains on the mountain tops most of the year,
and that will increase with ski season around the corner. Across the street is Harrah's, for variety in your gambling fix.

While Harvey's and Harrah's offer delightful entertainment, gambling and 
dining, it's fun to take a breather from the casinos and enjoy the scenery.

The calming waters nearby offer pleasant recreational time
and soothing sounds and sights when you need a break.



PICTURE YOURSELF enjoying a morning cuppa or evening cocktail with Lake Tahoe glistening before you.  You won't find a better view than from a high room at Harvey's.
So let the revels begin.
We booked a room last visit for a three-day adventure, knowing that Harvey's and Harrah's are "Tahoe sisters." It's easy to hop from one to the other for an appealing variety of restaurants and to vary your gambling.  We like the Harvey's rooms because they are quiet and welcoming.
WE ALSO LIKE HARVEY'S for its beautiful views, particularly on the higher floors.  And because it has a unique history.
The Wagon Wheel Saloon grew from modest
beginnings to Harvey's Lake Tahoe.
Harvey's goes back to World War II days when an ambitious Sacramento meat wholesaler and his wife opened a six-slot machine club and bar, the Wagon Wheel Saloon.  In 1944, it offered people weary of war a place to unwind. Harvey Gross and his wife Llewellyn loved to get away from the city and relax in the woodsy Tahoe environs, just as folks do today.
The couple developed the hotel to attract visitors from across the country, toughing out the winters, shoveling the roads themselves to clear them after storms.
Snow adds to the luster at Tahoe.
And it doesn't impede travel.
THEIR GUTS, PLUCK and success allowed them to expand so they opened the area's first high rise tower in 1963, an 11-story, 197-room hotel in Nevada just across the state line from Lake Tahoe, California. The hotels and casinos 
If you venture outside the hotels and restaurants, you'll
enjoy some lovely hiking 
The M.S. Dixie II is a pleasant diversion and another
entertainment option if you're based at Harvey's or Harrah's.
(technically in Stateline, Nevada) offer live entertainment and a mix of dining options. Heavenly Ski Resort is a close 10-minute drive away. With winter approaching, people are planning ski-casino get-aways. It's always pretty at Tahoe.  We've hiked the area as late as March. Snow doesn't slow the action or stop the fun.
HARVEY'S LAKE TAHOE features a 51,700 foot casino with non-stop gaming.  Families like it because the outdoor pool is perfect for kids and adults can enjoy gorgeous views of the Sierra Mountains from the hot tub.
Guests can sample entertainment in the Cabo Wabo Cantina and The Improv at Harvey's Cabaret. For dining, we tried the steakhouse one evening -- terrific ribeye -- and tasty Mexican fare another day.
With ski season around the corner, it's time to book
a ski-casino vacation.  South Lake Tahoe beckons.

If you fancy a dinner cruise, the M.S. Dixie II offers visual and culinary pleasures. It's a pleasant drive Harvey's, winding through the town, then over to the lake to Zephyr Cover and the boat. The food and atmosphere are casual and we danced to a fun three-piece band. The award-winning Lake Tahoe cruiser is the largest cruising vessel in South Lake Tahoe and a local favorite. All her cruises depart from Zephyr Cove Resort and Marina, including daytime cruises and charters for up to 300. It's fun to traverse the lake on a paddlewheel and the ambiance is friendly.

A gifted ensemble of actors breathes fresh, fun air into
 Noel Coward's classic "Blilthe Spirit" at Northcoast Rep.
UP NEXT: The present bounty of theatrical gems in southern California brings us to our annual "fall harvest" theater piece.  Here we preview and give mini-reviews of highlights of the enticing autumn theater season in the San Diego area. The region's temperate climate and rich artistic reserves bring talent from across the country. We'll share the bounty -- from cutting edge drama in a brilliantly conceived contemporary take on "Richard III" at La Jolla Playhouse, to a polished production of Noel Coward's witty "Blithe Spirit" at Northcoast Repertory Theater, and a touchingTony winning musical, "Fun Home" downtown at San Diego Rep. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a novel look at art, travel, nature, music and travel.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Tippet Rise 'piano man' keeps wealth of instruments in tune

  Michael Toia is the full time piano tuner at Montana's acclaimed Tippet Rise Art Center.
He keeps the priceless piano collection in top form. Here he tunes the writer's upright
on a rare day off. Veteran fly fisherman Toia combined tuning with a fishing trip!


Eyes and ears alert, Toia prepares a piano for a concert.

EACH MORNING, when Michael Toia wakes up, he pinches himself.
"I feel so fortunate to be in this beautiful place, doing something I love," says the gentle spoken piano tuner, fly fisherman and nature lover.
Toia is in Montana this summer, as he has been for all three season at Tippet Rise Art Center near Fishtail.  He is charged with keeping the Center's priceless collection of Steinways in tune to be played to a privileged small audience each weekend by world class musicians.
Master tuner, Michael Toia, is at work in the Tiara Acoustic Shell,
an outdoor concert venue at Tippet Rise. Each concert signals a tuning.
For Toia, it's a dream come true. His two passions -- pianos and fishing -- are fulfilled each summer. Based at the acoustically praised art center --  acclaimed for its setting, repertoire and large sculpture -- Toia fell into "the perfect gig," as he calls it, by the proverbial "right place at the right time."  And location.
Toia at work in the Olivier Music Barn at Tippet Rise.
"I was asked by the Halsteads (center founders Peter and Cathy) to tune one of their pianos in Hawaii, where I live" says Toia.  "They asked if I'd be interested in coming to Montana. It worked out."
THE BIG ISLAND of Hawaii is Toia's home for nine months of the year, as he tunes pianos for a living, flying from one island to the other for jobs.  His largest client is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- the Mormon Church -- whose history in the islands dates back to 1850.  Their Polynesian Cultural Center is one of many Mormon owned and operated venues. Toia tunes all their pianos and takes on the occasional additional client.
Michael Toia casts off on the West Fork of the Stillwater River.
His wife Anne Toia, is a successful massage therapist and their son, Mika'ele, is a proud second-generation piano tuner based in Minneapolis.  Occasionally, father and son collaborate on a tuning project, as recently when the elder Toia and Anne flew to Minneapolis where the Minnesota Orchestra is one of Mika'ele's clients.
The couple raised their son and daughter on the big island, where Mount Kilauea's damage is testing their fortitude.  Smoke and fall-out from the volcano, and nearby destruction of homes and hotels, has the couple re-evaluating their future -in their beloved Hawaii.
For now, they're waiting Kilauea out.

With the deftness of a surgeon, Toia repairs
and replaces the felt on a pad.

ONE THING is sure, though.  As long as Toia is asked back to Montana, he will continue tuning the Tippet Rise pianos. Whenever he has a free day -- which is rare -- he is off fishing south-central Montana's prime rivers and streams. Fish, tour or tune, pianos are part of his world all 12 months of the year.
When he returns each season to Tippet Rise, he has the world's finest pianos literally at his practiced fingertips.
"Because Steinway grand pianos are crafted by hand, it can take a year -- hours and hours of fine-tuned labor -- to make one," he says. "Tuning an instrument of that precision and quality is equally demanding."  That painstaking, several-hour process pays homage to the craftspeople who came before.
Toia says Tippet Rise is a treasure trove of Steinways: a dozen of them, each extraordinary, "each with its own nuances and attributes." (For more information on the stable of Tippet Rise pianos, check out the essays written by TR co-founder, Peter Halstead.)
WE HAD THE good fortune to spend a half-day at our home with Toia, who offered to tune our vintage Boston-made McPhail.  Watching him is to watch a master at work.  With the skill of a surgeon, he tunes, listens, repairs.  He apprenticed this column's photographer, contracting engineer Bruce Keller, to assist -- providing additional tools from his elaborate workshop.
Piano tuner Michael Toia in inspiring to watch at work.
Our McPhail may not have as many parts as the 12,000 Steinway has.  But Toia pronounced it "a jewel" and urged us to hang on to it. (It is one of seven pianos in my collection, modest compared to the grand assemblage at Tippet Rise, which includes an instrument once owned by acclaimed classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz.
Toia, who plays piano himself, but rarely for an audience, says he is inspired by the unique blending of nature, music and art at Tippet Rise. Waking up in a cabin designed for him by the Halsteads, surrounded by the world's finest pianos -- and abundant trout streams --  is, Toia says, "about the best gig a guy could have."
Pianos, he added, are something like people in their complexity -- "each one is different.  Peter says each piano has its own DNA. He's right."
Toia doesn't usually tune pianos outside Tippet Rise in Montana, but should you need a tune-up in Hawaii, look for Michael Toia Piano Service. More on the Tippet Rise pianos at:

Harvey's in Lake Tahoe offers elegant furnishings, proximity to gambling
and fine dining, and spectacular scenery out the window. More next week.
UP NEXT: Take a scenic weekend ride with us to Harvey's, a lovely property on beautiful Lake Tahoe, where the scenery is exquisite all year -- summer to autumn, winter to spring.  Now's the transition time from warm-weather sports to skiing and snowboarding, with the first snows possible in September -- any time after Labor Day, the old timers say.  Remember to explore, learn and live, and wake up with a view out the window and a song in your heart.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Art in the yard: metaphor for loss, love, landscape, family, continuum

High Chaparral in Montana is a family sanctuary, for it is filled with memories of happy times.  It also honors the memory
of family members who have "gone to the next camp." Above, a granite memorial with  names of  the deceased. At right,
 a bronze of Bruce Meyers. Left of that, a U.S. Army memorial for William Jones, Cookie's first and second husbands. 

Let us go then you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky
--From "The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Elliot

Flowers, rocks placed by family members and a piece sign placed by
youngsters -- and left as they placed it, upside down. Part of the yard art. 


THE GARDEN and yard at High Chaparral, a mile above sea level in the Northern Rockies, embody our clan's love of nature, the arts and family. The setting represents my belief that love transcends death. When we love people, they remain with us -- in vivid memory and stories, photos, music, deeds.
"Saturn Doll" comes alive each summer at High Chaparral.  She is "dressed" by my 
clever niece,Midori Otokawa, whose  brother and sister are memorialized 
on the nearby granite wall. She is one of the angels in the garden.
We come here -- from thousands of miles away and many states -- to commune with one another, and feel close to our ancestors' spirits, to enjoy bountiful bird life, to revel in family, to soak up Montana's summer splendor.  I'm a devoted fourth generation Montanan.  The next two generations are fifth and sixth-generation Big Sky Country connections. Some were born here, most are Montanans by heart.
IN 1993 when I bought and expanded this 15 acres, I designed and commissioned a memorial for loved ones.  The year before, I'd commissioned a memorial on the campus of Montana State University-Billings, where my first husband, Bruce Kemp Meyers, taught creative writing and English for 25 years.
Befitting the birthday of a Leo (Cookie), this lion batik
stands sentinel in the High Chaparral garden.
I'd toyed with the notion of another memorial, one which would honor my beloved "Irish twin" sister Peny.  I chose her as the "dividing line" -- she passed away in 1986.  Her death would be the first memorialized.  To go back further would have meant many more names, then were to begin?
BECAUSE MY adored sister Peny was the first of our family to choose cremation, her passing seemed a good place to begin the homage. Her ashes rest here, along with the other seven.  Our grandparents, great grandparents and those who passed in centuries before, were buried -- in the tradition of  those times in western culture.
Antlers found on the grounds during walks up the mountain and along the
river make an artful welcome at the  back door.
The memorial also honors my parents, my two late husbands, my  youngest sister Robbie, whom I helped raise, and my tiny niece, Brooke, who died after only a day, borne into the next life in her Atlanta mother's arms. Her beautiful brother, Eric, is also honored. (He helped me set the memorial stones.) Eric was brutally murdered by a drug-crazy person who broke into his home on a sunny weekend morning. There is room for more brass plaques, although I hope not too soon.
THE MEMORIAL took shape quickly.  My dear friend, Corby Skinner, helped me choose the granite -- a hauntingly beautiful, calming grey-green-amber slab.  It came from the hills of South Africa, where I've visited. The artist who helped me build the memorial and plant the surrounding gardens is South African. So San Van Eeden's presence adds another dimension to this sacred spot in the Beartooths.
It is a sanctuary for me and many.
Cookie's music echoes through the canyon during memorials
and celebrations, held in the garden near the spirits.

A quote from T.S. Elliot's "The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock" is engraved on the granite top.
It captures the spirit this peaceful spot conveys.  Bruce Meyers taught the poem for a quarter-century. He loved "Prufrock" for its rich language, its revealing nature of the narrator's emotional state.  I like it because it sings.
Petunias, a family favorite, grace the
memorial and grounds.
It embodies a sense of mystery, it invites us to "come along" with Prufrock.  It ponders the inexorable nature of time, the brevity of life.
I SIT OFTEN on the bench by the memorial, pondering that elusive meaning of life, listening to the birds, watching the occasional bull snake slither peacefully through the perennials in search of a snack.
Rustic touches, such as a milk can from
the family's Beartooth Ranch of long
ago blend with contemporary art. 
Patrick Cosgriffe, a gifted potter as is his brother Rick Cosgriffe, made
this whimsical self-portrait pottery piece, celebrating Christmas, his
daughter Christena and the rivers he loves to fish.
The memorial and its art -- all contributed by family and friends -- makes me happy, slows me down, helps me focus. I love it.
High Chap's beauty is enhanced by
construction engineer Bruce Keller. 

Cookie's recent birthday served as a good reason for the family reunion.
Above, part of the group gathered around the memorial for entertainment.

Expert piano tuner Michael Toia took a look at the writer's vintage upright.
He is an acclaimed piano tuner, and does that full-time at Tippet Rise.

UP NEXT:  The magic behind the perfectly tuned pianos at Montana's internationally acclaimed Tippet Rise Art Center is a soft spoken talent from Hawaii.  Michael Toia is a gifted tuner, known for his precision and capabilities.  He keeps the complement of Tippet Rise pianos in perfect harmony for each of the season's varied concerts.  How did he land this gig?  And what does he do in his rare spare time?  We'll share with you.  Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a novel look at art, travel, nature, music and travel.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Family reunion features music, laughter, food, tears, 88-year age span

Family reunion and birthday weekend for Cookie Meyers, center, featured 45 family and close friends for meals and music, and 20-plus popping in and out to share the celebration.  Here, the clan gathers from seven states and beyond.
The oldest member of the family-friend clan was 92 and the youngest four, for a span of 88 years -- like the piano's keys! 
 Cookie surrenders to the "getting ready" crew as nieces Amarylla and
Kira, right, fuss with make-up and a new hair do. Gifts were forbidden, so
people offered services, set-up, music, culinary talent, errands, expertise. 
Nephew Kenji as emcee helped engineer an afternoon of music,
stories, jokes on Cookie and a talent show including charades.


I'm thinking of "a picture is worth a thousand words."
Keller's photographs of my recent birthday weekend bash and family reunion are, as the Master Card commercial says, "priceless." So this column is long on photos. Permit me, please, a bit of prose.
In memory of two departed family, hats were worn to honor clan mother,
Ellen. A sculpture of Don Quixote stood sentinel, made by the late Bill Jones
From left, Christena Cosgriffe, Cookie, the sculpture and  Olivia Cosgriffe.
because we remember those who are absent. It is my belief that their spirits stay close.

MY PARTY was held near a memorial for family who have, as my Crow friends say, "gone to the other camp."
Brother Rick, sister-in-law Jane,nephew Steve singing. Rick
also wrote haiku, Jane sang and Steve, a chef, was invaluable.
This reunion was joyful because of recent family challenges:  illness, accidents, separations,  surgeries, the woes all families experience.  Because we are a large clan, we have more than most. On a happy note, we've also had a pair of weddings, college and high school graduations,  anniversaries and 
good medical reports. We focused on the "glass half full."
Two splendid cakes were made by my niece Aurora,
presented by nephew Orion and great-nephew Connor.
I wore one of my grandmother Olive's hats at the tribute.

THIS REUNION celebrated the goodness of our far-flung clan, our love for one another, the joy in renewing connections, reviving memories.  We've helped one another through the years -- and now we connected with music, poems, hair, make-up, clothes, toys, food, silliness and shared memories of joy and sorrow.

"You Are Our Cookie, Our Only Cookie,"
sing sisters Olivia and Misha, to the
tune of "You Are My Sunshine."

Virginia and Amarylla, from Arkansas and the Bay Area
have fun and joke a bit after the talent show.
Friend Corby Skinner presented a series of entertainment
based charades with Cookie's favorite theater themes.
The hammock Keller put up was a hit 
with the young great nieces, nephews.

Niece Amarylla, with kids Peny and
James, enjoy the weekend. Ama's
chef husband helped with the meals. 

IT WAS a weekend of smiles and sports, talking, singing, eating, reminiscing, playing games, catching up. My Atlanta niece and her New York chef boyfriend donned their aprons to create a dozen delicious side dishes, using Montana's summer bounty.  Two nieces -- from California and Oregon -- pampered me with a make-up and hair treatment. 
Tippet Rise capped the weekend.
Here, Cookie and Keller in "The Barn."
Food glorious food -- cakes by Aurora, artfully served by
friend Cristina and sister Olivia. Many hands made it work.

My Georgia nephew emceed the traditional family talent show party with wit and sweetness. My Mendocino nephew played an electric guitar borrowed from our musical veterinarian. My Montana niece made two stunning cakes. My two brothers penned tributes -- one a heartfelt essay, the other beautiful haiku. Dear Georgia relatives crafted a poem about my interviews and  travels. My late sister Peny's widower surprised me with vintage slides. Friend Corby devised clever charades. Our Arkansas "adopted kids" (cruise friends) sang and played. I wish I could list every name, but I love and appreciate every one of the 60-plus who contributed stories, photos, food, entertainment and tributes.  I love, love, love you all.

UP NEXT:  Art in the yard. Most of us have objects that mean something to us outdoors.  Our yard captures the interests, talents, losses and memories of the generations.  We take you inside and close-up to the pottery, flowers and memorabilia that dressed up the celebration -- and keep watch over the Montana place.  Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday when we post a novel look at travel, the arts, nature, family and adventure.