great american hero

Ok but like honestly you’ll have to pull American All Might from my cold, dead hands.

- All Might who has always stood out in Japan as being foreign, with his blond hair, blue eyes, tall build that has him towering over most Japanese citizens. Despite living in the country most of his life, he never stops feeling out of place which probably contributes to his isolation as Toshinori.

- He loves living in Japan, he really truly does but you do not mess with his American movies and music. It’s soothing to him to listen to people in his native tongue after hearing nothing but Japanese all day. Big fan of classic country/heartland rock. He will also bring out English movie quotes when he’s in good spirits. Usually they’re out of context and no one gets them but it makes All Might happy so they play along.  

- I put him as being from smack dab in the middle of the US (Kansas specifically) and he has this obvious mid-western accent. That accent still present when he speaks Japanese, though it dulls over the years of constant use. But you bet the moment he switches to English that lazy drawl is there and his students are so confused.

- He sometimes helps teach the kids English class. He tutors some of the kids who struggle with it, he’s not good with the grammar but he’s great at practicing conversation and teaching slang bits.  It always feels weird because he sounds so different in English.

- He almost never curses in Japanese, not when it’s so much easier to curse in English. He’s almost upset that more people in Japan are learning the language because now he’s got to learn to censor himself where before no one batted an eye. He almost had a heart attack when he heard precious, lovable Izuku repeat a string on English words he’d heard his mentor say and was hoping to impress. Izuku was given ice cream if he promised to never, ever repeat those words and for the love of god don’t tell your mother you got it from me.

- Toshinori would also unironically say y'all and y'all’d’ve without a bit of shame. He actually said what in tarnation one time and Izuku almost started crying because he had no idea real people actually said these things what happens in America

- Honestly Toshinori would just troll the hell out of his students who are super intrigued about America. He just makes crazy things up or explains strange behavior as American. “Oh no most Americans are tall, the average is 9 feet, as you can see, I’m unfortunately quite short” “Yes before school starts we must pack our weapons and pay homage to the freedom eagle”

- For many, many years he stuck only to Japanese. He was teased and bullied too much when he was younger and struggling with his Japanese that he basically dropped his English once he got ahold of the language. Only now as a teacher, seeing how interested his students are in where he came from does he speak it more. English words pepper his speech, having whole conversations with the more fluent teachers/students. It makes him happy, he’d forgotten how much he’d enjoyed his native language.

- “Is that an American thing or an All Might thing?” is a legitimate game played by students and teachers alike.

- Except like ??? some of his weird habits are explained by his heritage. Like he can shoot a gun really well. It kind of scares people that the symbol of peace knows his way around weapons so well and he’s just like ‘I grew up in Kansas, I could shoot before I could walk’ also back in the day he could consistently outdrink everyone around him. He’d put away a 6 pack by himself.

- Maintains dual citizenship even though he never went back as Yagi and only visited the US a few times as All Might (and he never went back to Kansas). He always said he’d return home when he retired but now with everything going on he keeps putting it off. He made the mistake of mentioning going home one time and now class 1-A and 1-B are secretly raising money to send him over seas for the upcoming break.

- Still keeps up on the goings on and politics in the US. It’s not much and, especially when he was heroing, he didn’t have much time but he tries. Will frequently rant about how bad things are going in his home and how he's glad he got out when he did. Still, it genuinely upsets him when he sees other Americans in Japan and he realizes how out of touch he is with his country/culture. He’s always been the definitive American in his area and it’s startling to remember that, after nearly 40 years in Japan, in many ways he’s really not American anymore.  

I watched the Mummy, and Holy Mother of All that’s Good and Pure!!!

No Place In Peace

Dudley’s not such a great name, huh? I’ve never thought so and I’m one of the sad sacks saddled with it.

Dudley Stephen Smith.

Technically the second, I think, but I’m not well versed enough on generational naming semantics to know for sure.

What I do know, however, was that the guy I’m named for, my paternal great uncle, was widely considered to be a real mean son of a bitch. So yeah, if being called “Dudley” wasn’t bad enough, I inherited it from someone that nobody actually seemed to liked. As confusing as it is unfortunate, isn’t it.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.

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You may be the most cynical, born and bred, citified lefty like me — instinctively skeptical of big concepts like “patriotism”, relatively foreign to hunting culture, unused to wide open spaces, but spend any length of time traveling around Montana and you will understand what all that “purple mountains majesty” is all about, you’ll soon be wrapping yourself in the flag and yelling, “America, fuck yeah!” with an absolute and non-ironic sincerity that will take you by surprise. You will understand why and what people fought and died for — or at least perceived themselves to be fighting and dying for when, either defending Native American hunting grounds against Custer, or “defending America” against foreign aggressors — and you will be stunned, stunned and silenced by the breathtaking, magnificent beauty of Montana’s wide open spaces.

Even in Butte, a place as scarred, poisoned and denuded by rapacious capitalist excesses as a place could be, you will see things, beautiful, noble even — a testament to generations of hard work, innovation and the aspirations of generations of people from all over the world who traveled to Montana to tunnel deep into the earth in search of gold and then copper, a better life for themselves and their families. Even the hard men, the copper barons who sent them down into the ground, you will find yourself begrudgingly admiring their determination, their outsized dreams, their unwavering belief in themselves and the earths ability to provide limitless wealth.

And when you look up at the night skies over Montana, it’s hard not to think that we can’t be alone on this rock, that there isn’t something else out there or up there, in charge of this whole crazy ass enterprise.

Or at least, that’s what I was thinking, after a long day of pheasant hunting, perhaps a bit too much bourbon, and Joe Rogan demonstrating an Imanari choke from omoplata (he damn near cranked my head off). I flopped onto my back, stared up at the universe and thought, as I always do in Montana, “damn! I had no idea the sky was so big!”

We show you a lot of beautiful spaces and very nice people in this episode, but its beating heart, and the principal reason I’ve always come to Montana is Jim Harrison, the poet, author and great American-a hero of mine — and millions of others around the world.

Shortly after the filming of this episode, Jim passed away, only a few months after the death of his beloved wife of many years, Linda.

It is very likely that this is the last footage taken of him.

To the very end, ate like a champion, smoked like a chimney, lusted (at least in his heart) after nearly every woman he saw, drank wine in quantities that would be considered injudicious in a man half his age, and most importantly, got up and wrote each and every day — brilliant, incisive, thrilling sentences and verses that will live forever. He died, I am told, with pen in hand.

There were none like him while he lived. There will be none like him now that he’s gone. He was a hero to me, an inspiration, a man I was honored and grateful to have known and spent time with. And I am proud that we were able to capture his voice, his words, for you.

I leave you with a poem Jim wrote. We use it in the episode, but I want to reprint it here. It seems kind of perfect now that Jim’s finally slipped his chain.

The moon comes up.
The moon goes down.
This is to inform you
that I didn’t die young.
Age swept past me
but I caught up.
Spring has begun here and each day
brings new birds up from Mexico.
Yesterday I got a call from the outside
world but I said no in thunder.
I was a dog on a short chain
and now there’s no chain.


This month we honor all Great Black American Heroes in celebration of #BlackHistoryMonth. 👦🏿👧🏾💪🏿✌🏾👆🏿

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Theatrical Review: If/Then

It’s a shame that reviewers are going to praise If/Then for being original just because it’s the only show opening on Broadway this season that is not based on a previous property because it’s bold, striking originality is so much deeper and more exciting than this simple fact. Between the show’s brilliant and complicated structure and it’s fresh score (that feels at once immensely familiar and completely new and is full of what will no doubt become Broadway standards), Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s masterpiece deserves much higher praise than simply “original.”

Like Kitt and Yorkey’s previous show Next to Normal, If/Then is simultaneously mundane and lofty; relatable and esoteric; character driven and philosophical. The shows great strength is that it is exceptionally successful at being all of these things at once. Every aspect of the show, from its lighting design and its stage design to the diverse songbook and the incredible performances, is essential to achieving this great strength and it is impossible to find a weak link or a single misstep in any of them.

The performance that has garnered the most attention is, of course, Idina Menzel’s performance as Elizabeth (or Beth or Liz, depending on which of the two timelines the scene is currently set in). The Tony winner’s powerhouse performance is certainly worthy of the attention it has garnered and the praise it will no doubt receive after tonight’s opening performance. Menzel’s signature vocal range is consistently challenged throughout the difficult score and she makes singing through it look simple and natural, adding further believability to the character’s essential everywoman-ness. At its heart, the show is a character driven ensemble piece, so it is essential that Idina’s character is realistic and relatable, and her performance never fails to embody these qualities, even when the audience is marvelling at her vocal acrobatics. If the audience applauds her for her opening line (her “Hey, it’s me.” earned enormous applause from the audience I was sitting with - myself included) based on her reputation alone, she earns the infinitely larger standing ovation she receives by the end of the show.

The show’s other big stars, Anthony Rapp (Lucas) and LaChanze (Kate) are equally worthy of this enormous praise (as is the rest of the cast - but more on that later). Both actors received similarly ecstatic applauses from the audience after they finished their respective introductory numbers (in fact, the only billed actor who didn’t was James Snyder, which I think is a crime because he is equally charming and talented) and both earned their standing ovations by the end of the show.

Rapp’s bisexual Lucas (who has a male romantic interest in one timeline and a female romantic interest in the other) is imbued with Rapp’s signature sweetness regardless of which Lucas is on stage. It is delightful to be equally invested in both of Lucas’ relationships and, with Rapp’s likability behind the character, you can’t help but hope that both relationships end up being ultimately successful. That he is likeable is not Rapp’s only talent, though it certainly helps keep the audience interested in Lucas when he is at his least likeable. As an activist with a penchant for politically correct phrasing, Lucas can be precocious and smarmy and condescending and Rapp also embodies these things with ease. In one sense, Lucas is Rapp’s Rent character Mark all grown up (and from a mature perspective), a “coincidence” that doesn’t go unnoticed or unacknowledged by director Michael Greif (who also directed Rent). The audience can’t help but read Mark into Rapp’s Lucas (nor Maureen into Menzel’s Beth [she’s definitely Beth in this timeline]) when he and Beth talk about their relationship ten years earlier (when Beth was an activist) and when he calls “squatting” an outdated and politically incorrect term. These things are nice little tongue-in-cheek jokes that reward an audience familiar with the two actors and yet they aren’t exclusive to this cast; the squatting joke will still likely garner laughs long after Rapp decides to leave the show. His sweetest moments (the ones which endear the audience most to his character) are definitely the two love songs that he sings. In the first Lucas begs Beth to pursue a casual relationship with him, even if he loves her more than she loves him. Yorkey’s lyrics make this song great, but Rapp’s singing it makes the song phenomenal. It’s easy to imagine the song as a mega-successful pop hit that I know I will play on repeat for months. His other love song, a duet with Jason Tam’s character David, feels much more like a Broadway song. It relies on the (absolutely gorgeous) harmonies between the two actors’ voices (and God what a voice Tam has - his falsetto in this harmony is breathtaking) and the significant texture-layering that their two voices together amount to in order to achieve its excellence. And the song is excellent. Rapp’s playful refusal to say “I’ll love you forever” and his admission of the fact by the end of the song is one of the highlights of the night. Both performances are so earnest that you’re glad that you don’t have to pick just one of these romances to root for, since you just want Lucas to succeed in both of them so badly.

LaChanze’s Kate benefits from LaChanze’s vibrant personality and her incredible, incredible voice. Having never heard her perform before, I was blown away by her continuously from her first appearance on the stage. There was a point in the first act where I remember thinking “We haven’t heard her sing in a while, I hope we get to hear her sing again soon” which was immediately followed by a solo in which she sings about Beth as a great American hero [it might be worth pointing out here how thankful I am for that entire scene that calls out the bullshit patriarchal system that makes most American heroes men] which left me just as blown away as every other moment when she sings. On top of that LaChanze is incredibly funny, and her comedic timing turns a character that could be read as both a “manic pixie dream girl” and a “sassy black friend” into a rich, deep, complex character who just happens to also be funny. One of the first “Suprise” moments that I actually audibly gasped at was the moment she proposes to her girlfriend/fiancée/wife Anne (played by the shockingly talented Jenn Colella) in the song that closes the first act. Like the romances between Rapp’s character and his two loves, the romance between Kate and Anne comes off as authentic and endears you to both characters. Even Beth admits to seeing the two of them as a model for romance (realistic rather than ideal) later in the show.

The show’s resident dreamboat James Snyder plays the folksy romantic lead (at least in one of the timelines) Josh with a level of charm and skill which I don’t think was recognized (or at least was not praised and applauded) as immediately by the audience as the other actors I’ve talked about thus far. As I said earlier, I think it’s a shame that he doesn’t get the same sort of wild applause after his first number because it definitely proves his ability. He certainly earns his standing ovation by the show’s end and leaves no one in doubt that he’s great. His harmonies with Idina’s Liz in the songs throughout their courtship are among the most affecting in the show. His charming and likeable farmer-turned-soldier/doctor-Midwest-gentleman-in-New-York is an excellent example of an engaging romantic hero type. His performance is equally great to his peers, even if his character is not as complex as the others’ characters are.

The cast is rounded out with an exceptional ensemble (stand outs being Tamika Lawrence as Elena, Beth’s ingenue and Ryann Redmond who is particularly memorable as Beth’s secretary that delivers every statement as a question) who play a sort of Greek chorus full of fabulously talented singers and dancers and a host of other background characters.

Kenneth Posner’s lighting design is crucial to understanding the two different story lines, but its aesthetic value is worth more than its functionality. The bold, bright colours he chooses for the stunning, ever changing cyclorama fill in a mostly minimalist set design and can’t go unnoticed. Mark Wendland’s sets, in conjunction, are equally imaginative and visually stunning - especially his use of wooden-framed boxes to suggest the subway and several diverse (yet easily distinguishable) apartments and the intricate set piece used to evoke Central Park. The best of their work exists in the collaborative spaces in which Wendland’s mirror set piece reflects Posner’s lighting designs evoking stars and New York City subway maps. These abstracted details help to ground some of the play’s more philosophical moments by literally placing the characters in these abstract places. Both designs are so gorgeous it’s hard to imagine that these two artists won’t receive Tony nominations for their work, if not win the awards this year.

If it is possible to make it to New York to see this show, your time, money, and effort won’t be wasted. The show is an incredible live experience that I’m so thankful to have experienced. For those of you like me who are from out of town, it’s time to start anxiously awaiting the cast album (which I immediately imagined myself greedily re-listening to from the opening chords of each song). The only problem with the show: it’s so perfect in its current form that I can’t imagine what will happen when the cast starts to be replaced.

If/Then makes it’s Broadway debut tonight at the Richard Rogers Theatre on an open run.

Check out my blog for more reviews!