Friday, January 17, 2020

Theater's balm, calm, fun helps in best, worst times of our life

During a period of challenge, loss and tragedy,a fine production of "A Chorus Line" at Welk Theatre, buoys the spirits.
This week's column bids farewell to a longtime treader of the boards and theatrical talent while saluting new productions. Our late friend, Karen Jackson, could have played several roles and sung "Tits and Ass" or "What I Did for Love." 
The fine production runs through March 22.  -- photo by Ken Jacques

Although she never smoked and seldom 
drank, Karen Jackson could vamp it up.
Her memorial is in Billings this Saturday. 

and theater marketing departments

Everything was beautiful at the ballet
Graceful men lift lovely girls in white
Yes, everything was beautiful at ballet

Hey! I was happy... at the ballet -- from "A Chorus Line"

Karen Jackson, second from left,
would second the motion that theater
can heal, comfort, elevate, stretch us. 

THIS WEEK's column is part eulogy, part testimonial. It weaves a tribute to my friend, Karen Jackson, with our mutual love of theater and kudos for a quartet of fine productions we've seen this week in San Diego.
Karen Jackson's life will be celebrated in Billings Montana, Saturday.
She died before the holidays after a brief, ferocious battle with cancer. Critical care for my beloved Yorkie, Nora, and my partner Bruce Keller's Scripps post-transplant tests prevent my being in Montana for the tribute, championed by Karen's longtime collaborator Julie Omvig. Another actor-mime friend of theater, Bonnie Banks, will read my piece.
Bruce Keller and Cookie
in Coronado for
"Babette's Feast."
I KNOW Karen would want us to "go on with the show, so celebrating her love of theater, we're seeing seven plays in two weeks here in San Diego.  With each one, I toast Karen's memory and think how much fun we'd have sitting side by side as the house lights dim.
A beautiful, melancholy story of love, loss, longing and life's
paths not taken, "Bloomsday" runs at North Coast Repertory
Theatre through Feb. 2. --photo by Aaron Rumley
The lovely line from "Everything Was Beautiful at the Ballet" epitomizes what theater does for us, for our souls, our peace of mind, our place in the world. Theater transports us, opens larger worlds. Karen did that.
Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado mounted
a lovely production of "Babette's Feast."
The west coast premier runs through Feb. 16. 
When I think of Karen, I laugh.  She was one of the funniest people I worked with. In our many musical collaborations, we sometimes shared the ladies' dressing room.  At Gramma’s Drammas in the late 1970s, Karen was brilliant as the formidable Carrie Nation in Barry Manilow’s “The Drunkard.” I was music director. One night, the house manager called "five-minutes" as we crammed Karen into her corset. We giggled as we reached the top snap, about to fasten it when it blew! The girdle whipped off Karen and hit the wall.  We collapsed in laughter. As we wrestled it a second time into submission, I quipped, “Well, I guess that rules out breathing.” Karen deadpanned: “Who’s breathing?”    
Karen Jackson, right, with her longtime collaborator
in dozens of productions, Julie Omvig, who organized
Saturday's 3 p.m. celebration of life for Karen.
Karen cultivated her gift for making us laugh to an art form, at Gramma’s Drammas, at Billings Studio Theatre and for many years at Calamity Jane’s.  Like many comics, mimes, funny folk, her sense of humor and sense of the ironic were her salvation.  She suffered sorrow, disappointment, deep personal losses, including that of a beloved brother and many adored pets. Like all of us in theater, she picked herself up, started over again. The show must go on.  Karen’s caustic look and withering eye masked a heart the size of Texas.  The humor coped with the hurt and in so doing, buoyed us up, helped us cope.  What a wonderful gift she gave us:  making us laugh – at the world, our town, our foibles. 
 "The Humans" at San Diego Repertory Theatre is on stage
through Feb. 2. Funny, troubling, textured, Karen Jackson
would have loved it and probably played the mother. --Photo by Jim Carmody
And that voice. Expressive, perfect timing.  Karen was versatile.  A comedienne extraordinaire, she could also melt hearts with her ballads. I loved being in her company off stage, and accompanying her on stage.  We shared a lifelong love of musical theater and she was one of the few people who knew every tune I played from The Great American Songbook.  Our tastes were similarly eclectic. We adored Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jerome Kern, Kander and Ebb, Harold Arlen, the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim.  When “Company” debuted in the early 1970s, I suggested we sing “Y
Karen Jackson, third from left, was a
gifted clown with a fabulous voice, here
in one of her many Calamity Jane's roles.
"You Could Drive a Person Crazy.” How I wish that had happened.  We did collaborate though, on several Sondheim pieces when Bruce and I,
Todd and
Karen Jackson, upper left, as Carrie Nation
in Barry Manilow's "The Drunkard" at
Gramma's Drammas in Billings.
Karen and a half-dozen other talents sold out the house in  Skip Lundby’s Billings Studio Theatre “off-night” production. Karen sang two Sondheim ballads and Todd and I sang “Class,” that irreverent “Chicago” lament.
Besides timing, humor, stage presence, Karen exhibited grace at auditions. She usually aced the lead, but one time, not. She tried out for Sally Bowles in our 1977 BST production of “Cabaret.” As head of the bawdy Kit-Kat Band, I listened to her deliver the title song perfectly. However, the lead went to Kathy McCarty. Karen graciously agreed to play Fraulein Kost, who lives down the hall in the boarding house. It's not a huge role but she stole the show with her haunting “Tomorrow Belongs To Me,” creating a memorable cameo. What a pro. Bruce Meyers was a splendid emcee and Todd Yeager, her life partner, was Cliff Bradshaw, the writer who travels to Berlin and falls for Sally. The four of us formed a fast bond during that long-ago show.
Karen Jackson, seated with cane and dog, had hundreds of
roles, dozens of faces. A natural clown who could sing! 
Ever since 1979, when Bruce and I saw Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury in “Sweeney Todd” on Broadway, I dreamed of Bruce and Karen collaborating again. Todd Yeager would play Judge Turpin. Julie would be Lucy Barker. Vint Lavinder would be Pirelli or the Beadle.  There would be cameos for all and a huge chorus of our friends. I would be music director. Skip Lundby would direct. It would be magnificent.  But that was not to be, so we save it for an encore.
Everyone on both sides of the footlights loved Karen.  Humor, grace, compassion, that enormous talent, her ability to make us laugh, shed a therapeutic tear.
Heaven sent us a gifted clown and now has called her back. “Isn’t it rich?” Yes, she was.  Rich, rare, one of a kind.  How we miss, cherish and honor her.  
Karen's life will be celebrated Jan. 18 from 3-5 p.m. at the Columbia Club (former Knights of Columbus) 2216 Grand Ave., Billings, Montana)

Bohemian Bus Beautiful will take you happily down the
rabbit hole to an art-filled get-away in northern California.

UP NEXT: It's a bus like no other you've seen, a lodging unlike any you've enjoyed.  Bohemian Bus Beautiful in the lovely coastal woods of northern California is artist Blake More's inspired air bnb.  Her fanciful artwork includes collage,  sculpture, painting, mosaic, fiber work, a garden with lights and many magical touches. Even the bathroom and outdoor shower are treasure troves of unique artwork accented by nature.  Each space has something to admire, ponder and appreciate. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at travel, nature, family, love, loss and the arts:

Friday, January 10, 2020

Love affair with dogs has long, proud history of travel, unabashed love

Nick, left, and Nora, dry off after a swim in their "Auntie Robbie's" pool, in spring of 2006. They were born in fall, 2005.

Nora, left, and Nick, spent their first few years in Arizona.



IT'S TIME TO admit I've led a doggedly delightful life.
I came home as a newborn to a cocker spaniel and a pomeranian.
My late sister Robbie brought the Yorkies to me
so they are a link with a beloved sibling.
I've had bassetts and bouviers, retrievers and labs, airedales, beagles, Saint Bernards, loveable rescue mutts and many kinds of terriers. In all my decades on the planet, I've  never been dogless.
My parents and grandparents were dog lovers and that is a genetic trait. Bo-Peep, a spirited cocker, was abandoned at a Kalispell tavern and rescued by a cousin.  Blondie was a smart, sweet circus dog who jumped through hoops of fire.  When the traveling circus disbanded, we took her in.
Dogs introduce new worlds
Dad's favorite was a golden lab, named, not very creatively, Goldie, the pick of a litter from a rancher friend.  My grandmother's chubby rescue mutt, Tiny, was anything but.  He was a black lab mix with a heart-melting countenance and prodigious appetite. He was never Tiny in my memory....
BRUCE THE FIRST aka, Bruce Kemp Meyers, and I acquired our first joint custody dog in 1968.  Bruce and our dear friend Paul, both college professors at then Eastern Montana College, went fishing one day and came home with two Saint Bernards. I'm foggy about how Henry and Fred replaced rainbow trout but they were immediately adopted and loved. We  took them on camping jaunts and road trips for several summers.
Nick and Nora as puppies in Davis,
California, where they were born.
On a trip to Missoula in 1970 for the wedding of two friends, we took Henry and another friend, Roger, along in Bruce's new 8-cylinder Road Runner.
Dog's life, a good gig
My mother, Ellen Cosgriffe, with young Nora.
The fellas sat in front in the bucket seats.  Henry and I took the back seat.  In Missoula, an adorable airedale met our car in the drive.  No one knew where he belonged. He'd been hanging around for a week, our friends feeding him. But they planned to leave that Monday on honeymoon. "We'll drop him off at the shelter," said Lynn, delivering the sucker punch.  We introduced him to Henry, named him Gandalf, tucked him in with Henry and me in the back seat and had him until 1986.  He died peacefully while we were in Paris for a Jessye Norman concert on Bastille Day. Our neighbors, the Larsen family, conspired happily with my mother NOT to call us (we'd been gone only 2 days and he'd run two miles with me the morning we flew out of Billings. I got the news in New York the night before we flew to Billings in August of 1986.)
Tips for dog traveling
Nick and Nora in Los Angeles at the Omni.

Montana meander: Max, Smedley,
Ruth and Eddie at High Chaparral.
Cookie with Nick and Nora in San Francisco's
Union Square. The pups have visited most
major U.S. cities with their owners.
Nora, left, and Nick, travel with Cookie all over the U.S.,
here on a driving trip near Idyllwild, California.
ON THE WAY home from the Billings airport, Bruce and I detoured to the animal shelter on Moore Lane. We couldn't be dogless, not even for a day.  He chose Smedley, an endearing bouvier-sheepdog mix.  I fell for Maxwell (who knows what mix he was).  He was my friend for nearly two decades.  Both these sweet dogs outlived Bruce, who passed in 1992.  They became part of a four-dog "yours/mine/now ours" menagerie when William Jones and I began courting in 1994. His dogs, Ruth and Eddie, joined Max and Smedley and we six spent 10 happy summers in Montana, wintering in Bill's native Arizona. We bought twin Ford Explorers and Billy fashioned ramps for the old-timers' access.
I HAVE LOVED each of my dogs, but none more than Nick and Nora. Why?
Because they saved my life, gave me purpose, direction, affection.
Cookie and Keller, Nick and Nora in their beloved Montana.
After Billy died in November of 2005, my sister Robbie flew in to Phoenix and spirited me away to Davis, Calif., where she was head of childcare services for Yolo County. While we were waiting for Billy's ashes, she received an in-house email.  Two Yorkies were available. Ironic, because Bill's last living act during our Arizona hospice time was to wheel his IV into the office and print out the profile for Yorkshire terrier.  We had lost all four of our dogs in the last four months.  Smedley the bouvier-sheepdog, lived to be 16. Eddie, the basset hound, made 17. Ruthie, the retriever, made 18 and that was after surviving a rattlesnake bite which blinded her in one eye. Maxwell, a rescue mutt, lived to be 19.

Karen Jackson's roles were always memorable.
She spent more than 40 years in show business, making
us laugh and delivering ballads that touched the soul.
UP NEXT:  We celebrate the life of a fabulous singer, actor, comic and dear friend, Karen Jackson, of Billings, Montana. In a nostalgic tribute, whereiscookie looks at her 40 years in show business and considers the gifts she shared with legions of fans and fellow actors and singers.  We pay homage to her gifts and honor the Jan. 18 celebration of her life, while previewing the new theater season in San Diego. It's one which Karen would have enjoyed and applauded -- and likely scored a few leading roles. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday for a fresh take on travel, family, nature, the arts and more:

Friday, January 3, 2020

Naples, Amalfi: noisy, elegant, brash, dignified, enduring -- plus pizza

If the Amalfi Coast calls you, Naples is where you'll likely land first, via airplane or ship. Then on to Positano, or
perhaps charming Sorrento. Don't miss the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, victims of still steaming Vesuvius.  


Cigarettes and cell phones on a colorful Naples street.
This lively, ancient city is a gateway to Pompeii, Amalfi and more.

OLD MEETS NEW, noise collides with calm, clutter meets elegance in one of southern Europe's great, enduring cities.
In Naples and this diverse corner of Italy are courtyards and grand staircases, elegant halls and busy streets, buses, scooters, smokers,  tourists, busts, dust, great museums, majestic cathedrals and irreverent youth.
Bruce Keller waits in Naples at the Napoli Garibaldi
train station.  He is framed by a billboard for Strega,
 an orange flavored Italian liquer popular in Naples.  
The city is one of contrasts and extremes, sandwiched between the Campi Flegrei, or "burning fields" and a sleeping volcano.
Just steps from the  sea, Naples
rises up, with antiquity and grace.
THE VOLCANO, Vesuvius, is one of the major attractions for visitors to Naples, who usually plan a few sidetrips -- to Positano and the Amalfi Coast, lovely Sorrento and two famous ruined cities.
Both Pompeii and Herculaneum have interesting museums
with sculptures, displays and interesting background.
In AD79, Vesuvius destroyed Pompeii, south of Rome, in about 25 hours. A full day is about what you should plan to see the fascinating city.   The preserved site features excavated ruins of streets and houses that one can freely explore. Because the city was buried so quickly by volcanic ash, it is an eerily, well-preserved snapshot of life in a Roman city -- people crafting pottery, shopping, even giving birth.
Equally fascinating is nearby Herculaneum, also destroyed by the vengeful Vesuvius. Unlike Pompeii, though, the smaller, wealthier city was encased in a pyroclastic material that covered and carbonized the town.  This preserved wood in objects -- roofs, beds and doors -- and organic-based materials such as food for us to study.
Most but not all of the residents evacuated the city in advance, the first well-preserved skeletons of 400 people who perished near the seawall were discovered in 1980.
Italy's train stations will get you from Naples to the
historic cities destroyed by Vesuvius. (Plus shopping, ask Cookie!)
The easiest way to get from Naples to Pompeii or by Herculaneum is by train.
Each takes about 30-40 minutes and there are many of these friendly "regional" trains.
WE LIKE the trains but if you prefer a shuttle, that's a possibility, too. We recommend CBS Tours (Can't Be Missed) for a personalized day tour up the Amalfi Coast to Positano. Terrific commentary, small vehicle.
Back in Naples, a pizza maker sings Verdi while he works his dough. You're in the birthplace of pizza, so enjoy.  Young boys approach the tourist with smiles and Neapolitan gestures.  Couples lounge in wicker seats drinking champagne at outdoor cafe tables -- as early as 10:30 a.m.
Life is lived large in the streets. Strollers enter a mix of students, housewives, children with music everywhere: a mix of opera, hard-rock and Italian folk songs. Music is in the Neapolitan soul.

Keller and Cookie admire the view of Amalfi.
 IF HOMER is to be believed, Ulysses was the first mariner to escape temptation in the Bay of Naples. According to "The Odyssey," Ulysses knew of the bay’s infamous sirens — part women, part bird or nymph — who lured sailors to their death by singing so beautifully that no one could sail on without succumbing. So when returning from the Trojan War, he plugged the ears of his crew with beeswax and bound himself to the mast until they were safely past the sirens. Angry over their failure to seduce the sailors, one of the sirens, Parthenope, drowned herself. The original Naples supposedly began on the spot where she washed ashore.
Naples rises up from the bay, separating the Gulf of Naples from the Gulf of
Salerno, which includes the stunning Amalfi Coast...
Communities around Naples date to the second millennium before Christ. Europeans visit Naples for its mild, sunny Mediterranean climate, safe harbor, turquoise sky, and indigo sea. Its lush green look is enhanced by rich volcanic soil and an easy growing season.
THE RAVAGES of World War II are mostly repaired, as are the results of centuries of earthquakes and volcanic activity. The traditional Christmas trees are up for a few more days!
Celebrated for its paintings, mosaics and music, Naples is breathtakingly beautiful approached from the sea. But don't miss a few days "up the road" to Sorrento, those two ruined cities and Amalfi's enchanting coastline. Can't Be Missed Tours is our favorite:;  And for general information on the area:

Nick, left, and Nora, were four months old in this photo, taken early in 2006.
UP NEXT:  Why the fuss about dogs from yours truly this week?  One doggie, in particular, our Yorkshire terrier, Nora, came close to the Rainbow Bridge but has made a remarkable comeback thanks to a fine veterinarian, a doggie ICU and plenty of TLC from the human species.  Doggone it, we love our pets and make no apology. Discover how Yorkie Nora and her brother, Nick came to Cookie as puppies and helped save this reporter's life. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at travel, theater, art, nature, family and more.