Thursday, January 30, 2003

Proof exalts faith: Without each other, we are nothing

Published in the Portland Phoenix

The line between genius and madness is a fine one, explored thoroughly in the fascinating and insightful book Touched with Fire, by Johns Hopkins psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison, illustrating parallels between intellectual brilliance and abject insanity. Lord Byron, for example, worried that giving up the manic highs of his bipolar illness would destroy his ability to write beautiful poems. More people should read Jamison’s work, or, instead, head to Lewiston to see Proof.

When a play that won a Pulitzer Prize as recently as 2001, and won a “best play” Tony the same year, comes to Lewiston, Maine, theatergoers should sit up and take notice. And when that play comes to Lewiston’s Public Theatre, a gem of a theater, with a growing following that, after a dozen years, is slowly getting the attention of southward-looking Portlanders, all Mainers should sit down in the theater’s cozy darkness and watch.

The play has been advertised as based on the story of the brilliant and crazy mathematician John Nash, played by Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind. That’s not entirely true, but the concept is similar, and there is a twist. Rather than being about the smart-and-crazy Nash type, Proof is about a 25-year-old woman, daughter of the Nash type, worrying about whether she has inherited her father’s gift for math, his insanity, or both.

She is living in her father’s house, caring for him after his madness has made him unable to function independently. In the opening scene, her father tells her she might be fine. After all, he says, “Crazy people don’t sit around wondering if they’re nuts. They’ve got better things to do.”

But, when it becomes clear that her father’s presence is but a vision of a man who’s been dead for a week, whose funeral is scheduled for that very morning, he tells her it “could be a bad sign.”

Proof follows the daughter, Catherine (played by Shannon Emerick), wrestling with memories of her father, Robert (Stephen Bradbury), as she and her sister Claire (Kathleen Ferman) settle their father’s affairs. Into the mix is also folded a wild card in Hal (Jon Egging).

A former student of Robert’s, now established in his own mathematical career, Hal vows to examine all of the notebooks Robert filled during his insanity, looking for small sparks of genius that may have remained in the darkness of Robert’s madness. He also becomes a love interest for Catherine, even as Claire plans for the possible future madness of her sister, who is also a mathematical genius.

In the phrasing of logical mathematics, all are searching for elegance and straightforward life, amid the inelegant lumps of reality. But unlike rational math, Proof plumbs the depths and climbs the heights of human emotion. Powerful rages and the highest elation share stage time with melancholy, inertia, frustration, and loss of hope, all powerfully portrayed by a strong cast.

As should be expected of an award-winning play, the writing is incredible, with nary a wasted word and strong emotional control over the audience at all times.

The blocking makes use of the entire set, an elaborately detailed back-porch environment, solidly built and unchanged for the duration of the show. Body language and facial expression are right on and demonstrative enough that even the people in the rear of the theater can understand.

Emerick plays a passionate, worried Catherine who is in the very early stages of possible mental illness. Her numerous monologues, usually in the form of emotional tirades, are closely controlled to ensure she comes off as the strong-but-bitter, scared-but-cynical young woman the character is. Her interactions with Bradbury are wonderful to enjoy, and her sense of moment and timing are exquisite.

Against Ferman, Emerick moves skillfully through family dynamics and a younger sister’s fight for independence, even as she is unsure of her ability to carry it off. And with Egging, she ranges effortlessly through wariness, puppy love, and affection into outrage at his betrayal, the most egregious thing one intellectual could do to another: expressing disbelief at demonstrated ability. It is a crucial moment, and one she carries powerfully.

At its core, Proof is about faith and trust as much as it is about logic. While scholars can work on the basis of proof alone, and have their minds and careers truly changed by logic, human beings need to be believed in, and to believe in others.

The play explores the relationships between people whose intellectual foundations rest on logic, but whose emotional bases are closer to the heart. It even explains the separation with the concept of “machinery” — Robert’s word for his mathematical mind, distinct from his brain and his body.

And rather than depersonalizing emotion and human interaction at the expense of mathematics, Proof humanizes math and logic, showing how important brilliant, crazy people are to our world.


Written by David Auburn, directed by Janet Mitchko. With Stephen Bradbury, Shannon Emerick, Jon Egging and Kathleen Ferman. The Public Theatre, Lewiston, through Feb. 2. Call (207) 782-3200.

Scarborough man makes terrorism his business

Published in the Current

David Hunt of Scarborough has taken over an airplane, invaded a day care center, poisoned a town’s water supply and even staged a riot. But rather than staking out his house, law enforcement officials around the country and across the world are willing to pay him for his services.

He also offers his advice on fighting terrorism, though he knows his views are likely to be controversial.

Not only does he advocate going after terrorists around the world and killing them, rather than arresting them, but Hunt also says the federal government isn’t doing enough to actually fight terrorism, preferring to posture and reorganize instead of tackling the problems.

Hunt is a former Army colonel who served for nearly 30 years, much of it in the Special Forces. He served in “everything from Vietnam to Bosnia,” including covert operations in several Middle Eastern countries, according to a recent GQ article.

“I hate when he writes that,” Hunt said, looking at an article by reporter Bob Drury in which a detailed account of Hunt’s dangerous service record is given, including stints in Iran and Iraq. He didn’t serve during the Gulf War, though, as he was stationed in Korea at the time.

Now retired and in security consulting, governments and companies ask Hunt to bring his security know-how to work for them, helping them figure
out how to avoid terrorism, industrial espionage and regular criminals.

“It’s private industry and governments,” who need help with “everything from their intelligence services, training, security,” Hunt said. His company,
D.A.R. Inc., from his first initial and those of his wife and son, has offices in Scarborough and Montreal.

He also trains the Scarborough Police Department’s Special Response Team, as well as other police SWAT teams around the country from time to time.

“I train police for free,” Hunt said. That’s because most police SWAT team members aren’t paid much extra for their service, and “most of the time
they have to buy their own gear,” Hunt said. He doesn’t feel right charging them for training, when they’re already risking their lives for free.

He helped protect the Salt Lake City Olympic Games in 2002, by running a series of drills to test local response.

Hunt and a team of former military special-operations soldiers “took over” a day-care center and “poisoned” a local water supply to show local officials how those types of events would happen, and to demonstrate federal responses.

Immediately after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Hunt was hired by companies that insured airlines and were trying to evaluate security before the hijackings. A study group he assembled included former members of Delta Force and the Navy SEALs, as well as a pilot and police officers. They even had plans to take over a plane – which he did in a drill at Logan Airport several years ago – but those were scrapped, he said.

Bureaucracy in the way
Hunt has his own views on national security against terrorism, and they don’t agree with those of the Bush administration.

The Department of Homeland Security is too big for its own good, but still too small, he said. It includes only 22 of the 44 federal agencies involved in
fighting terrorism, and has no budget. It also is subject to between 50 and 90 congressional oversight committees, and does not include any intelligence-gathering agencies.

“If you’re going to fight terrorism, you have to have intelligence,” Hunt said. Also required is a streamlined government bureaucracy.

“The bureaucracy is still there,” Hunt said. Many government agencies have very old computer systems without even e-mail capabilities, making
inter-agency communication difficult, if not impossible.

Also important is including local law enforcement agencies.

There are over 600,000 police officers in the U.S., and none of them are able to communicate effectively with the federal agencies. “The local guys aren’t in this yet. They feel left out,” Hunt said.

And the U.S. is not actively seeking out terrorists. Hunt said he knows of 14 al Qaeda terror cells in the U.S., six groups in Canada and training camps in
South America. Even in Afghanistan, when U.S. troops had the terrorist organization’s leaders on the run, there were no U.S. soldiers guarding mountain passes over which the leaders escaped to Pakistan, Hunt said. “We let them go,” he said.

The reason, he said, is bureaucratic. There is no one agency and no single person responsible for fighting terror.

The FBI is not the agency to do the job, Hunt said: Terrorism and criminal activity are different.

“Terrorism has to be treated as war,” Hunt said. He advocates killing terrorists, wherever they may be found.

He would have teams stationed all over the world hunting down and killing terrorists. “We need a good terrorist,” Hunt said, to properly fight terrorism.

He worried, though, that the American public may not have the stomach for that kind of effort.

Another possible avenue of attack against terrorism would be the Russian mafia, and the Western companies that support it, he said. The Russians are funneling money and weapons to al Qaeda. They get their money from Western companies willing to pay to get access to the Russian market. Hunt said those companies know where their money goes, but are greedy enough not to worry.

“Bureaucracy is still fighting us,” Hunt said.

CEHS renovation put off a year

Published in the Current

Cape Elizabeth school Board members will put off the renovation of Cape Elizabeth High School for a year if they can strike a deal with the Town Council to approve an expansion to the Pond Cove School.

As part of the deal, the board would like authorization to spend $200,000 for immediate repair work at the high school, including putting a new roof over the gymnasium.

The decision to delay the high school project was in response to pressure from the Town Council to keep costs down and the immediate need for additional space at Pond Cove for the kindergarten.

The high school renovation is estimated to cost $7.5 million.

The Pond Cove expansion, to provide room for the kindergarten and move it out of the high school, is expected to cost $1.5 million. Not doing the work at Pond Cove, however, could end up costing more than doing it because the schools would have to rent portables, board members said at a workshop meeting Tuesday.

“We’d like something approved this spring,” Superintendent Tom Forcella said.

Taking out a bond for the Pond Cove expansion this spring would not cause any real difference in debt service for the schools in the first year, according to Business Manager Pauline Aportria. The school is retiring nearly $116,000 in debt in 2003-2004 and would need to add $117,000 to cover the first payment for the Pond Cove work.

In 2004-2005, the schools will retire $27,500 in debt. Adding the Pond Cove work would cost $143,000 that year. In 2005-2006, the schools will retire $10,000 in debt, but a Pond Cove bond would cost $140,000 that year.

If actual construction did not begin by October of this year, the School Board would need portable classrooms at Pond Cove to handle the kindergartners. Those would cost $85,000 for the first year, including site preparation, and $35,000 each year they were used.

Because the board wants to move the kindergarten out of the high school, they are willing to negotiate with the Town Council about timing of the high school work.

“We’re giving up the rush on that,” Forcella said. “We understand it can’t be done” in the current economic conditions, said School Board Chairman Marie Prager.

Board member George Entwistle said the board should recommend that high school work begin immediately after the Pond Cove work finishes, because some of it deals with safety issues and making the school accessible to the handicapped.

Board member Kevin Sweeney was concerned about putting off the high school renovation for too long, but was willing to wait a year as long as no major problems occurred at the high school.

Prager said the board wants a decision “no later than May,” whether the council votes to approve the project on its own or sends it to town-wide referendum.

“We want them to approve the kindergarten project as immediately as they possibly can,” she said.

Portland cop, Cape resident, faces OUI charge

Published in the Current

A Cape Elizabeth resident who works for the Portland Police Department is facing OUI charges in connection with an accident after a holiday party in December.

Lt. Ted Ross, 42, a resident of Meadow Way, is expected to be charged early next week with operating under the influence after records were obtained by investigators showing he had a blood alcohol level of 0.253 percent, more than three times the legal limit.

Cape Police Chief Neil Williams said he knows Ross professionally, as the head of the local training district for police, and he has been helpful to police in town.

In addition to “heads-up” information about issues of interest, Ross has “assisted us on at least one occasion,” helping police with a resident who was having mental health problems, Williams told the Current.

“Ted was able to come over and talk to him and help us secure some weapons” from the home, Williams said.

Williams would not comment on Ross’ current situation, except to say, “I feel bad for him. He’s a good officer.”

On Dec. 17, Ross attended an open-bar holiday party hosted by Portland Police Chief Michael Chitwood and then went with a Portland police captain and a deputy chief in the department to a bar on Fore Street, according to court documents.

When Ross left the bar, he walked to the police station to pick up the unmarked car assigned to him. As he left, Ross told Capt. Joseph Loughlin he was “OK to drive,” according to court documents.

Loughlin told investigators he always asks people with whom he has been drinking if they are sober before driving, but had no reason to think Ross was drunk.

Ross told investigators he was driving home when his car collided with a pickup truck waiting for a parallel parking space to open on York Street, near the Casco Bay Bridge. The pickup truck hit a Land Rover pulling out of the parking space.

Ross was not wearing a seatbelt and he injured his head and required medical treatment. The other drivers declined medical treatment at the scene, but later sought medical attention.

One of the drivers told his boss immediately after the accident that he thought Ross had been drinking.

Police officers who responded to the collision did not test Ross for intoxication. Jo Morrissey, the public information officer for the district attorney’s office, said there was “no probable cause” to conduct field sobriety tests, and added that officers were concerned about Ross’s medical condition.

He was “bleeding profusely from the forehead,” Morrissey said.

The Portland police internal affairs department executed a search warrant at Maine Medical Center Jan. 27, which obtained documents showing that Ross’s blood alcohol level was 0.253 percent, more than three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Court documents show the investigating officer, Sgt. Jonathan Goodman, had reason to believe Ross had had “at least five drinks” in four and a half hours, and possibly more.

The accident was originally explained as a result of Ross reaching for a cellular phone. Portland municipal employees, including police officers, are prohibited from using cellular phones while driving.

In December, Chitwood made a public statement that there was no indication that alcohol had played a role in the accident.

Morrissey said no other people are being investigated in connection with the incident, either drivers or people who provided alcohol to Ross. “It’s not illegal for a licensed establishment to serve alcohol,” she said. It is illegal to serve visibly intoxicated people, but she said Ross displayed no evidence of intoxication.

Bartenders and wait staff who served Ross alcohol that night told police they did not think he was intoxicated. Court documents show that other police officers, who were not called to the accident, suspected Ross might have been drunk and said so to the officers who did respond to the crash scene.

Morrissey said Ross will be charged “early next week” and is now on paid administrative leave. Ross’ attorney, Michael Cunniff, could not be reached for comment. Cunniff is a former Drug Enforcement Agency officer, who has represented a number of Portland police officers in legal proceedings, including recent allegations of official misconduct.

Schools fear many won’t graduate

Published in the Current

School officials expect that between 10 and 15 percent of the present eighth-grade class, as many as 22 students, will not graduate from high school
without additional help to get them over the bar of stricter requirements set by the state and federal governments.

In a School Board workshop Tuesday, Superintendent Tom Forcella told the board that the Maine Learning Results and the federal No Child Left Behind
Act will prevent students from graduating if they do not meet local assessment standards now under development.

The numbers are estimates, and are based on present Maine Educational Assessment tests, which are one indication of how well a student meets the
Maine Learning Results. Several eighth-graders do not meet standards in math or language arts.

“We have some kids – especially this group in mathematics and language arts – who are not going to make it,” Forcella said.

The School Board expects to request between $35,000 and $40,000 to fund additional help, including computer software and a staff position, for kids
falling behind. There may be additional help during the school year or perhaps summer school classes for those students.

But it is only the beginning.

“We are going to end up spending a lot of money on this,” board member Kevin Sweeney said. The additional help is necessary so the kids are “able to have a shot,” high school Principal Jeff Shedd told the board.

The subject has come up before. Shedd and others have expressed concern about the effects of the legislation on graduation rates, and have talked about ways to bring students up to the level they need to get a diploma.

“We see this as a district-wide issue, not a high school issue,” Forcella said. “Down the road, our hope is to catch kids earlier.”

Some but not all of the students in question are in special education programs, Director of Special Education Claire LaBrie told the board. Special needs kids are not exempt from meeting the standards in order to graduate.

Middle School Principal Nancy Hutton told the board she expects the group at risk will include some students in special education; others who were formerly in special education programs but are no longer; some who are on the “borderline” between needing and not needing special education; and, others who just have a hard time learning certain subjects.

For some it is a matter of what level of achievement they have attained before they enter the high school. In math, for example, anyone starting high school in a math class below Algebra I will “by definition” not have learned enough by the end of high school to meet the Maine Learning Results standards, Shedd said.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Viking and Crescent nursing homes ‘given away’

Published in the Current and the American Journal

Facing low patient numbers, delays in state reimbursement and heavy competition from nearby nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, the Viking and the Crescent House in Cape Elizabeth have been given to Haven Healthcare Management of Cromwell, Conn.

In late November 2002, Viking and Crescent House co-owner and Administrator Duane Rancourt recognized he needed some help. Rancourt had suffered a heart attack in August, and shortly after a resident of the Viking’s Alzheimer’s unit, Shirley Sayre, wandered off the grounds and died.

At that time, state reimbursements for Medicare were several weeks behind schedule for most healthcare providers, he said. The company went into debt and faced the tough choice of paying creditors or meeting payroll.

The market was also very competitive, Rancourt said. Piper Shores and Chancellor Gardens were attracting more residents, and the Viking and Crescent House were hurt by the publicity about Sayre’s death.

Rancourt went looking for someone to come in as a consultant to improve programs and patient numbers, and eventually take over both operations. “It was a business decision,” Rancourt said.

Rancourt approached Ray Termini, president and CEO of Haven Healthcare, who visited Cape Elizabeth Dec. 26. Rancourt visited several of Haven’s locations in Connecticut New Year’s Eve, and liked what he saw: a “resident-centered operator.”

Termini was interested in acquiring the facility, and the two signed a consulting agreement Jan. 15, which took effect immediately.

Pending state approval of a certificate of need application, Rancourt will stay on as administrator and run things, with Termini acting as a consultant.

Based on electronic records from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Haven facilities in Connecticut and Vermont since 2000 have been repeatedly cited for causing “actual harm” or “immediate jeopardy” to residents, the same category of problems the Viking was cited for in August 2002, after Sayre’s death. Rancourt said he asked about those issues before making the deal. “They may have been attributed to Haven Healthcare, but they didn’t happen under Haven Healthcare’s watch,” he said, explaining that the ones he knew about occurred before Haven took over the facilities.

Changes begin
The name change has already happened in Cape, with a new sign installed in front of the facility last week. Operational changes will happen over the next weeks and months, Rancourt said.

When Termini and Haven Healthcare complete the certificate of need process in three to six months, “we will allow him to acquire us,” Rancourt said.

Haven will assume all debts and liabilities of the Viking and Crescent House.

The transfer is not a purchase, Rancourt said. “Nobody is going to buy it. There’s nobody out there buying nursing homes today.”

Rancourt said he hopes to leave his job in November and will be available as a consultant. “I hope to be able to retire,” he said.

He said he has not yet been served with a lawsuit resulting from Sayre’s death, but is aware that both his insurance company and lawyers for Sayre’s family are investigating the incident.

The Viking was not permitted any new Medicare admissions for three weeks following the incident, but is no longer under any government sanctions and has not been since September.

“All of that negative stuff is behind us,” Rancourt said.

Haven spokesperson, Marissa Hamzy, said the company has nearly 30 facilities throughout New England. Haven Health Center of Cape Elizabeth (the former Viking) and Haven Manor Assisted Living (the former Crescent House) will be the first in Maine.

She said Haven expects to renovate both buildings. The company will add rehabilitation services and a full-service dining room to the nursing home, which may require an addition.

Hamzy said the company does well in the tough nursing-home sector because it is large enough that economies of scale apply.

“We have the ability to have a larger volume,” Hamzy said.

She described Termini as a strong leader and a “visionary” who is “always thinking one step ahead” of developments in the industry.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Retired teacher writes book on true stories at CEHS

Published in the Current

As Cape Elizabeth High School deals with the issues of student drinking and discipline, a new book by a retired CEHS English teacher offers a look inside the drama of everyday high school life.

Sally Martin retired “a few years ago” from CEHS, after 20 years, and still lives off Old Ocean House Road, near the cove that figures prominently in her work of fiction, “The Shape of Dark.”

Based on her experiences in the classroom, and including characters based on real Cape Elizabeth figures and events, the book addresses complex issues of child abuse, infidelity, teen loyalty and underage drinking. The book is self published.

“If only people knew the drama that goes on every day in a high school classroom, they’d be astounded,” Martin said.

She kept personal journals, just as she asked her students to do, and in them recorded not only details of her personal and family life, but also noteworthy incidents from work.

“My journals have really been the foundation,” Martin said.

Much of the conflict in the book is between kids and their parents, and between parents from different families.

It may touch a raw nerve in Cape Elizabeth, where school officials, parents and students have been dealing for months with the issues related to teen alcohol use. It’s not a typical book about high school.

“Most high school dramas are about schools that have clear reasons for turmoil,” Martin said. The town in her book, Cape Mariana, is based on Cape Elizabeth, which appears outwardly to be a pleasant, tranquil place for families to live. The image, she said, is that Cape is immune from problems plaguing larger towns and cities, but that’s not true.

“Kids who are privileged in a community like this,” can carry huge weights of worry and stress, Martin said. “(Feelings) can be much more dangerous because the kids squash them down, or they anesthetize themselves, which they do here,” Martin said.

Part of it is parents, she said. “In an upper-middle-class community, the parents don’t even have time to eat meals with their kids,” Martin said.

This has its cost, and leads to kid-on-kid cruelty, which Martin said is “abetted” by parents’ lack of attention to their children. “The cushion of self-esteem that these kids can fall back on is not there,” she said.

She said she has seen Cape kids change. A few years back, she said, the kids were all friends in school. Even now, when her children, all grown, get together with high school friends, the group is large and inclusive.

“There was never any sort of backstabbing,” Martin said, except for some girls’ “shenanigans,” which were part of the normal growing-up processes.

Now, however, she sees the kids “retreating into themselves.”

“The Shape of Dark,” the first of a planned trilogy, opens the door to a wide range of small-town social dynamics, including teens exploring sexuality, students who resent teachers for having romantic interests in their parents, a doctor who turns a blind eye to child abuse because the abuser is a friend, and parents who bluster and bully to cover up their children’s wrongdoing.

“I’ve been fascinated with the phenomenon of this kind of school system,” Martin said. “This raises a lot of themes I want to explore further.”

She said the book is appropriate for high school students as well as their parents. “One of my goals has always been to make reading accessible,” Martin said. “I think high school kids could really relate to this.”

Her former students certainly do. “The kids have been coming to get the book in droves,” Martin said. “They want to see themselves.”

They may also want to relive – or perhaps not – important moments in their high school careers. “Many things really happened in Cape Elizabeth High School,” Martin said.

That includes students streaking through the cafeteria, and what Martin called “the geeky freshman who got dumped in the trash can” and was rescued by one of the most popular kids in school.

“Essentially, I’ve been working on this for 35 years,” Martin said.

Her feedback so far from readers has indicated that they enjoy the detailed pictures of classroom and school scenes. They also enjoy the pacing. “This is a heavily plotted beach book,” Martin said.

She is already at work on the second book in the trilogy, tentatively titled “A Gathering of Shadow,” which looks at kids’ cruelty to kids and how parents are involved in that dynamic.

“Parents abet cruelty to kids,” Martin said. The subject matter will be more serious and, she said, “darker” than the first book.

The second and third books, she said, will also be set in Cape Mariana, but will have totally different characters and plots. Some characters, like the school principal, may reappear in small roles, she said.

The book is available at Nonesuch Books and Borders in South Portland, and at Longfellow Books in Portland.

She looks forward to the community’s reaction.

“I think people will read this book and say, ‘No town is like this,’” Martin said. “Well, yes it is. This town.”

Nothing new: Portland cabbie’s world more disturbing than expected in Cult

Published in the Portland Phoenix

If you’ve ever wondered what makes Portland’s cabbies drive the way they do — especially the ones in the beat-up orange ABC Taxi cars — look no further than the Stone Pinhead Ensemble’s musical Cult, written and directed by ABC cabbie J.T. Nichols.

Even judged by its own standards, it is a disaster. The program clearly states, “if nobody walks out during the production, we have failed.” While a few people got up from their chairs during the January 17 show, everyone who departed returned.

They weren’t scared off by songs mocking government agencies, call-in shows joking about domestic violence, lyrical exaltations of barefoot wives, or the intellectual discourse of conspiracy-theorizing Internet Web sites.

There are two reasons for the play’s failure. First, Cult is the third in a trilogy started in 1993. The only people remaining in the audience for the final installment appeared to be personal friends of the actors, who would not be put off in their enthusiasm for the play’s disjointed and profane commentary on hicks, militia extremism, sadomasochism, and government anti-terrorism.

Some may even have been like-minded cab drivers, aware of no social convention (read: traffic lights or brake pedals) intended to curtail their individual freedom of spectation (read: driving).

Anybody else who might have left this show would have been already put off by the previous efforts. This is for the diehards, and feels more like a celebration of finishing a long project than the beginning of something really subversive. A taxi ride home from an Old Port bar is more likely to prompt a rethink of values and sensitivities than this confused play by this confused man.

Even the sympathetic audience was baffled. After one non-sequitur scene, clearly referring to the fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty” (complete with sleeping man and the word “beauty” spelled out on the rear ends of six dancers), the man next to me — who spent much of the show tapping his feet to the music and even singing along at times — laughed aloud, turned to me and said, “That’s got to be a take-off on something, isn’t it?”

The second reason for the failure is deeper: The entire show is a re-assembly of clichés that have circulated — even in the mainstream of culture — as jokes or anecdotes for years. His mind numbed by empty time and vapid driver-passenger dialogue, Nichols has lost track of what is truly offensive and revolutionary.

In a world in which an artist can get a government grant to throw feces at famous works of art, a few cheap pokes at women who “deserved” their husbands’ beatings seems weak and tired. The real potential to disturb the status quo lies in the possibility of a sharp-minded, lucid cab driver with a rational worldview. Instead, we find the same old thing we expected: A disgruntled cabbie railing against the maelstrom of confused conspiracy storming around him.

The singing, on the other hand, is stellar, and that weakens the show even more. The silky voice of Keith Shortall (playing Reverend Jerusalem Portnoy “Skidder” Ount), normally gracing the airwaves of Maine Public Radio, lends conventional credence to a show trying to be an outcast.

Most members of the cast, in fact, have lovely voices, whether trained or untrained, and are able to sing like hicks, even if they aren’t actually of that persuasion in real life. Hardly Headwood (Bob Way), in particular, is strong and entertaining in both song and speech.

The music is excellent as well, borrowing from big-show styles as diverse as Les Miserables and Oklahoma! and well suited for the oddness of the context, in which Ount opines, “if a man’s got something to say, he should sing it.” Again, the show raises questions about life in a Portland taxi.

Natalie Johnson, playing Pucker Headwood, is adorable and exactly as children are: realistic and stubborn in the face of adult disorientation and lunacy. Charlie Gould’s character Walter, a Lorax with a gift for words, is intelligent and witty, and therefore entirely out of place in this show.

But some of the characters are borrowed from elsewhere, most notably Patricia Kowal’s portrayal of Emily Riding Hood Headwood — a near-perfect imitation of Joan Cusack.

Even the lesbian terrorist group is unoriginal. Besides the storied crusades of “ACT Up!” in the real world, there is a terrorist group made up of another group of social minorities — men in wheelchairs — in David Foster Wallace’s eminently unreadable Infinite Jest.

Nichols’s basic ideas for the show have also clearly come from somewhere else — from other people, other performances, and crazy Web sites the rest of us studiously avoid. Nichols seeks out the lunatic element and portrays it the way it always has been shown: stupid, backwards, uncomprehending, and unworldly. Cult is a tired rehash of stereotypes generated not by Nichols but by something else. If only we knew what . . .

Here’s a clue: On our way home from the show, we actually saw an ABC taxi double-parked outside Video Expo, with its flashers on and no driver inside. Yes, the driver could have been in Joe’s Smoke Shop, it’s true.


Written and directed by J.T. Nichols. Composed by Charles Brown. With Keith Shortall, Mike Dow, Bob Colby, Bob Way, Patricia Kowal, and Natalie Johnson. Stone Pinhead Ensemble at the St. Lawrence Arts and Community Center, through Feb. 2. Call (207) 775-5568 x1.

Parents split on CEHS alcohol policy

Published in the Current

Some Cape parents are worried that a strict school alcohol policy may be doing more harm than good, while others are supportive of the school’s efforts to battle teen drinking. A recent Cape Elizabeth High School Parents Association meeting became a forum for discussion of the issue.

HSPA Vice President Beth Currier opened the debate by referring to a New Year’s Eve party at Sugarloaf, following which two students were kicked off sports teams for violating their athletic contracts.

Under a contract that athletes must sign, students who report their own violations of the policy are, on the first offense, suspended from a team for two competitions, while those who do not self-report a first offense are off the team for the rest of the season. Second-time offenders are off all teams for the rest of the school year.

Currier questioned the intent and actual effects of the policy on students’ behavior. “Is this policy exactly what we want in place? Is it doing what we want it to do?”

Several parents suggested that kids who made bad choices could use the support of a team environment to improve themselves, rather than being excluded from the team.

One parent said a school-based sports suspension could have large repercussions for a student, if a college scholarship depended on athletics.

“It could ruin their life,” she said. “In children, can’t we give them one or two more chances?”

Joan Moriarty, who works in the high school office and has a son in the sophomore class, agreed. “There are some kids where athletics – that’s it, that’s all they have,” she said. She suggested requiring policy violators to do community service before allowing them back on teams. “I’m not for kicking them off the team entirely,” she said.

Assistant Principal Mark Tinkham, who was at the meeting, said the contract was drawn up by the School Board. “They devised a policy that they felt set the clearest boundary for students,” Tinkham said.

It sends a clear message, he said, that “substance abuse isn’t acceptable.”

Other schools are stricter than Cape, suspending students from teams entirely after a first offense.

One parent said the policy isn’t new, and therefore shouldn’t be as big a concern as it seems to be now. “This is not a surprise to the athletes or the athletes’ families,” she said.

When Currier’s son, who is on the hockey team, re-read the policy recently, “he was shocked at the real details of what it said,” Currier told parents.

Another parent agreed, saying, “I don’t think that many kids really and truly get it,” though a third parent said, “it’s our job to make sure they get it.”

Another parent suggested that kids who are kicked off teams shouldn’t just be let alone. “I think that child needs more than just being taken off a team,” she said.

HSPA president Debbie Croft said playing athletics is a privilege. “You make sacrifices to do that,” she said.

Parents said some kids are making those sacrifices and are following the rules to be allowed to play. Letting rule-breakers play cheapens the commitments of the others, they said.

Tinkham said there has to be a final line that, when crossed, results in strong action. “At what point do you say, ‘enough’s enough?’” he asked.

Currier said parents who support the policy “better be ready to live with your kid losing sports for the whole year.”

But another parent said Cape kids have it easy. “You should (feel) lucky you’re living in Cape Elizabeth,” she said. She has friends in northern Maine whose son was sent to juvenile hall for underage drinking.

“It’s like jail,” she said. “In Cape, the kids skate.”

Tom Meyers, HSPA treasurer, said the policy is a learning opportunity. “Where are they going to learn consequences for their behaviors if we’re going to make excuses for them?” he asked.

Parents were also blamed for their role in the Sugarloaf incident. “Where were the parents?” asked one parent. “They rented the hotel rooms,” another responded.

Councilors review building project

Published in the Current

In their first full look at a $9 million school building project proposal, Cape town councilors were concerned about enrollment projections and parking at the high school.

They did not address possible project delays due to budget constraints. That subject is expected to come up at a Jan. 30 budget workshop between the School Board and the Town Council.

The project is in two parts. The first is a $1.5 million addition to Pond Cove School, to add space to accommodate the kindergarten, now housed at the high school. The one-story addition would include five classrooms, group workrooms, occupational therapy space and a teacher’s room. It would be able to support a future second story.

The second part is a $7.5 million renovation to the high school, including expanding the entrance to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and making the cafeteria larger to seat all students in each of two lunch periods. The renovation would upgrade the building’s electrical, air handling and telecommunications facilities, upgrade the science labs to modern standards, install a new gym floor, replace the locker rooms and reconfigure some teaching and administrative rooms to make more efficient use of space.

School Board Chairman Marie Prager said the high school will need the space now occupied by the kindergarten starting in the fall of 2004.

If the Pond Cove addition is approved this spring, construction will be complete in time for the kindergarten to be at Pond Cove in September 2004.

If not, Prager said, the School Board will need to rent portable classrooms. If the Pond Cove work is approved later than this spring, the portables will be at the high school and will be occupied by high school students until construction is complete.

If the Pond Cove work is not approved at all, Prager said, more expensive kindergarten-ready portables will be installed at Pond Cove for the foreseeable future.

Councilors did not comment on the proposed Pond Cove addition. Councilor Anne Swift-Kayatta asked about enrollment projection models for the high school.

Councilor Mary Ann Lynch, who served on the building committee that came up with the proposals, replied that the enrollment models made a few years ago are still being used for planning purposes, but said enrollment changes are not driving the need for the high school renovation.

Councilor Carol Fritz asked about the need for additional parking spaces at the high school. There are just under 560 existing parking spaces near the school complex and the community center, but the high school project will add about 100 more.

Town Manager Mike McGovern said that is because there is such heavy daytime use as well as after-hours activities in the building. When there is more than one evening event at the high school or community center, he said, “the parking is woefully inadequate.”

The School Board will next meet in a planning workshop, Jan. 28, at 7 p.m,. at the high school library. The Town Council and School Board will meet together in a budget workshop Jan. 30, at 6 p.m., at the community center.

Living a Rich life

Published in the Current

John Rich of Cape Elizabeth now makes his home in a combination of a summer cottage and former South Portland store building near Two Lights, next door to the sea captain’s house where he spent summers growing up.

“They say you can’t go home again, but I did,” said Rich, who returned to Cape after a successful career as an international newsman and war correspondent.

Before he managed to make it back to Maine, he spent a lifetime exploring the world. It began after he graduated from Bowdoin College in 1939. He had majored in French and had wanted to become a French teacher. His work on the college newspaper, though, led him to take a job with the Kennebec Journal newspaper, moving on a year later to the Portland Press Herald.

When World War II began, Rich was in Maine, not knowing much about the enemy. “I’d never seen a Japanese at the beginning of World War II,” Rich remembered.

The U.S. Navy was no different. They discovered they had very few people who spoke Japanese, “so they started these language schools,” Rich said. He
joined up, training as a future translator and interrogator, learning the basics of Japanese reading, writing and conversation.

He transferred to the Marines and was soon involved in several invasions of Japanese-held Pacific islands, setting the stage for the atomic-bomb attacks on Japan itself.

After the war, Rich landed a job with International News Service, a wire news service owned by the Hearst Corporation. In February 1946, he went back to Japan.

It was a very competitive environment, with three big wire services each working hard to beat the others. After a couple of years, though, it was time for a change. When the Korean War started, he went to work for NBC radio and headed to the war-torn peninsula.

Combat reporting
The medium of radio was new, and he had unfamiliar equipment.

“I carried the first tape recorder in combat,” he said.

Others had carried recording devices, but none of those recordings could be cut and edited into a news broadcast. “They sent me one out from Hollywood,” he said.

Not only rare, the tape equipment was delicate, too. “It was always breaking down,” he said.

When the U.S. Army blew the pontoon bridge across the Han River in Seoul to prevent the Chinese from taking the city, he looked down and found the tape recorder wasn’t running.

“It had 24 tiny batteries that had to be fitted in,” Rich said. He kept the spares warm by holding them under his coat in an inside pocket. As the blast went off, he was still putting in fresh batteries.

“A story I missed,” he said with a wry grin.

As television began, NBC also began broadcasting video, but it took three days for the film to get from Korea to New York, on a propeller plane.

When the film arrived, video editors would cut it and call Rich. His job was to write the most up-to-date news possible, organized as “something that would kind of fit what they had to show,” he said.

In 1962 the Telstar satellite allowed people to see live television from continent to continent.

“I remember the incredible possibility,” Rich said.

TV went color, too. “The technology just took off,” he said. But journalism’s principles remained the same. “You still need reporters, you still need to get the story,” he said.

Looking back
He loved his job. “It was always exciting,” he said. Korea was his first taste of what would become a long career as a war correspondent.

“Everywhere I went, there seemed to be a war,” he said. He was in Asia for the Chinese Civil War and the Korean War, in Berlin during the Congo uprising, in Paris during the Algerian War, and back in Asia for the Vietnam War.

From 1964 to 1974 he was in Vietnam almost all the time.

“Every morning was a new challenge,” he said. “It was kind of overwhelming.”

He loved it, though, and said if he had his life to do over, “I think I’d do it again.”

It is sinking in now, though, that there is a lot of detail he can’t always remember. “It’s amazing how much you forget,” he said.

But in a storage area near his house is a treasure trove of most of the news briefs he wrote for radio, and a large number of photos too.

In his retirement, though, he didn’t forget how much he liked covering war.

“After I retired, the Gulf war came up,” Rich said. He asked his friend Harry Foote, then the owner of the American Journal, for press credentials to go cover the war.

He then headed to Saudi Arabia. He filed a few stories and got to look around the battlefield of a modern war.

“I saw those fires, my God. And that mile of death” – his voice stopped, as he remembered the oil fields aflame and a road destroyed at both ends to stop
Iraqi forces retreating from Kuwait. The trapped tanks and vehicles were then destroyed by U.S. warplanes.

It seemed like a quick fight to a man who had reported on years-long conflicts in Asia.

“I remember feeling, ‘100 hours and we’re not in Baghdad yet,’” Rich said. “I think that we should probably go and finish up in Baghdad.”

Saddam, he said, did a lot of things he should not have done, including inflicting huge atrocities on his own people. But Rich does not lay that entirely at Saddam’s door. “We let him get away with it,” he said.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Laughs and lattes: Triple Espresso entertains and energizes

Published in the Portland Phoenix

When Carole Harris, Portland Stage Company’s marketing person, spoke to her counterpart in Albany, NY, after Triple Espresso ran there, Harris was surprised to learn that the Albany theater had to tighten the bolts on the theater’s seats after each night’s performance: Audiences really did laugh that much, Harris was told. And now the wrenches are at work in PSC’s theater, because people in Portland are literally laughing the bolts right out of their chairs.

It’s fitting, because, in many ways, the three-man comedy/variety show, now playing in cities around the US, got some of its earliest beginnings not far from Portland’s stages.

In mid-January, 1975, a young performer arrived at Tony Montanaro’s mime school in South Paris, to spend three weeks learning the basics of mime. While there, Bob Stromberg met Michael Cooper, now a world-traveling mime and maskmaker based in Farmington, and the pair started an act that swept New England schools in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Stromberg considers that success as the seeds — the coffee beans, if you will — that were ground, blended, heated, and stirred into Triple Espresso. But where he is today, Stromberg said, was “an inconceivable dream” back then.

When, in 1995, Stromberg met again with some old showbiz friends and decided to write a show combining Stromberg’s own physical-comedy skills with the musical and magical talents of his friends, Michael Pearce Donley and Bill Arnold, a show was born. It was a mix of all their skills and showcased each in the narrative structure of three men reminiscing about the shows they did, together and individually, years in the past. It also raised the issues of their own dreams and youthful antics, seen through the wiser eyes of middle age.

The show opened in Minneapolis in 1996 for a six-week run and then went to San Diego, where a blazing run commenced, including an early stretch where every seat sold out for 11 weeks straight. It’s still playing there. Faced with a scheduled run in Florida, the original three, now known among the cast as “the guys,” held a set of hurried auditions for three men to play characters “the guys” had originally based on themselves.

The auditions were tough. To get selected, actors had to induce laughter in the audience least likely to be amused: the men who wrote the show. “If you’re not laughing, it’s not working,” Stromberg said. Actors also had to follow direction well, to get more nuance into the performance and pack the show with intense comic energy.

Now there are about 20 actors trained to play the three roles in Triple Espresso, and Stromberg, who thought he would have tired of the show long ago, continues to discover new material. “We’re not even close to getting bored with it,” he said.

The actors playing the roles at PSC certainly keep things fresh. Peter Breitmayer, Patrick Albanese, and Rob Elk are enjoying playing the roles originally created by Donley, Arnold, and Stromberg, respectively. “Everybody’s consistently wanting the show to be better,” said Breitmayer before an evening performance. Accidents happen during the performances, leading actors to discover new comic moments. “There’s a piece of all of us in the show,” said Albanese.

Their pieces, and those of their colleagues not on Portland’ stage, are amusing audiences here. The performance skills of all three actors are strong. While they perform what may be considered old standards (a magician moving a knot from one rope to another, a lounge singer playing Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” or a folk-singer’s ill-fated sing-along with students), the energy and self-awareness are what brings this show its spark.

There are specific highlights, including what must be the most unusual interpretive dance ever performed to classical-style music, a slow-motion slapstick routine to “Chariots of Fire,” and an elaborate shadow-puppet drama. But the audience brings a variable to this show unlike any other. Aside from a couple of members of the audience brought on stage, unsuspecting people are selected each show to play a role in the storyline. The depth of their involvement depends largely on their personalities, and can liven up a variety of scenes.

Elk is wary, though he might not need to be. “I have a thing,” he said. “I never bring a guy up on stage who’s wearing a Hawaiian shirt.” So be warned.

One last thing — the promotional material asks one question over and over: “What did three guys do in four minutes that got them barred from showbiz for life?” I won’t tell you, but it has to do with six pieces of orange paper. You figure it out.

If you don’t catch it this time, or want to see it again, be aware that PSC is talking about bringing the show back — with Bob Stromberg himself as Bobby Bean — in the summer, when the theater is usually dark. Watch this space for updates.

Triple Espresso: a highly caffeinated comedy

Written by Bill Arnold, Michael Pearce Donley, and Bob Stromberg. Directed by William Partlan. With Patrick Albanese, Peter Breitmayer, and Rob Elk. Portland Stage Company, through Jan. 26. Call (207) 774-0465.

Sugarloaf chief slams Cape parents for party

Published in the Current

Two Cape Elizabeth seniors have been suspended from their athletic teams in the wake of New Year’s Eve parties at the Sugarloaf ski area. The night’s events were called “a nightmare” by the local police chief, who criticized Cape Elizabeth parents for their lack of responsibility and concern for their kids.

Colin Malone, 18, a senior and one of two top scorers on the boys basketball team, and a 17-year-old senior on the boys ice hockey team, have been
kicked off their respective squads for violations of school policy and team rules.

A third Cape teen, a 17-year-old male, was the driver of a car involved in an accident near Sugarloaf in the early hours of Jan. 1, in which alcohol was a factor, according to Carrabassett Valley Police Chief Ron Moody. Four Cape teens were passengers in the car. The driver may face unspecified juvenile charges, Moody said.

Jim Ray, Malone’s coach, said Malone was “dismissed from the team” for “training rules violations.” High school Principal Jeff Shedd declined to comment, citing federal laws on student privacy.

Steve Ouellette, the hockey coach, refused to comment on his player’s situation and referred questions to Athletic Administrator Keith Weatherbie. Weatherbie did not return phone calls from the Current.

Malone’s parents declined to comment. The hockey player confirmed that he was off the team for the season, but declined further comment.

Big night for partying
The parties that caused all the trouble took place New Year’s Eve near the Sugarloaf/USA ski area.

Sugarloaf hosts a large New Year’s party each year, including a fireworks display. A Cape teenager who was at Sugarloaf that evening told the Current many of the kids started there, but when the weather turned bad – it was cold with freezing rain – they went back to hotel rooms and condos kids had rented.

“We had a number of Cape Elizabeth students up here,” Moody said.

Between 75 and 100 kids, all between the ages of 14 and 18, he said, “were up here partying and drinking.”

Around 9 p.m., Moody’s department received several noise complaints from occupants of hotel rooms and condos near the parties, which were in a hotel near Sugarloaf’s base and a condominium complex adjoining the ski area.

One Cape teen told the Current the hotel manager wanted to kick some kids out of a room they had rented, but ended up not doing it. When police
responded, they found a big party in progress. “We found a lot of people in the area with liquor and no adult supervision,” Moody said.

Police recovered between 150 and 200 cans and bottles of beer and liquor. Most of the containers were full, Moody said.

As officers rounded up and identified partiers, “parents were attempted to be called,” Moody said. Many parents refused to come up and pick up their children, he said, citing distance and weather. There was freezing rain that night in the Greater Portland area.

“We became the babysitting service for Cape Elizabeth, basically,” Moody said.

Officers focused on breaking up the party, but were able to identify 30 kids, all from Cape Elizabeth. Many of them had nowhere to stay. “They were staying in cars, in stairwells. It was somewhat of a nightmare,” Moody said.

The Cape teen said that many kids did not have their own places to stay, but were expecting to “crash” with friends in their lodgings.

Parents uninformed, irresponsible
When Moody spoke to parents, most of them thought their children did have a place to stay, despite Moody’s insistence that this was untrue.

“I didn’t get a very good response,” he said.

He also was not impressed by the way the party seemed to have been organized. His investigation indicated that 18-year-olds had reserved condos and hotel rooms, and invited as many people as they could up to the mountain. “Everybody was coming up here to party,” Moody said.

He did not find evidence that parents checked out their kids’ plans for the holiday.

“I didn’t think it was very responsible of the parents to let their kids come here without adult supervision,” Moody said.

And despite the bad weather, Moody, himself a parent, expected more concern from Cape parents. “I would hope that their parents would all come up to pick them up,” he said, but his first preference would have been that the parties never happened.

“My hope is that they would have controlled their children,” Moody said. “I don’t think the parents did a very good job” of finding out where their kids were actually staying, or ensuring that there would be supervision.

“They need to research where their children are going.”

Moody said his community, which has only 325 year-round residents, does not usually have this sort of problem. When large groups visit, which is common, “they come with adults or chaperones,” Moody said.

In this case, because parents were not present, the parties were out of control. So was at least one car. A car one Cape teen was driving, with four passengers inside, “went out of the road, hit a snowbank and tore off the front tire,” Moody said.

“We don’t want to end up with a Tukey’s Bridge situation,” Moody said, referring to a Jan. 13, 2002, accident in which three teenagers died as a result of a drunk teen driver.

“I just think (Cape parents) need to be a little bit more parental.”

Publicity a problem
The school department was unhappy about the press the incident received, particularly the naming of Malone. Superintendent Tom Forcella said the publication of Malone’s name in both the Current and the Portland Press Herald was “unprofessional.”

Both newspapers reported statements from coach Ray, who told reporters and his team that Malone, the team’s second-leading scorer, was off the team because he violated the school’s alcohol policy at Sugarlof over New Year’s.

Ray himself may be regretting speaking publicly. “We were really not looking for the publicity,” he told the Current. “(Malone) has been terribly hurt by this. It’s hurt the fans, the team.”

The Cape School Board met in an hour-long executive session Tuesday with Malone’s parents. The Malones declined to comment after the executive session ended.

A Cape parent who was in the room but was asked to leave when the executive session began expressed frustration that the board had the power to exclude the public from its discussions. He was concerned that the athletes had been kicked off their teams, and had expected “a community meeting” with a lot of adults present to discuss the issue. He was the only member of the public to attend the meeting.

Cape could delay school project

Published in the Current; co-written with Kate Irish Collins

The Cape Town Council is questioning whether a $9.2 million renovation of the high school and Pond Cove School should be delayed until the economy improves.

With the economy tight, and deficits mounting at the state level, schools are expecting a reduction in aid to education.

“This could not come at a worse time financially when we are expecting further reductions in state aid,” Council Finance Chairman Mary Ann Lynch told the Current in an interview.

But Lynch, who is also the council liaison to the school building committee, said there is no question in her mind that the kindergarten should be moved to Pond Cove School.

“We do need to do that at some point,” Lynch said.

“In the end the School Board may be faced with the question of what is more important – the buildings or programs,” Lynch said. “While there is no question of need, the council has to ask: Would it be more responsible to wait awhile?”

The Town Council and School Board are scheduled to hold a joint workshop on Tuesday, Jan. 21, at 7:30 p.m., in the new Community Center to discuss the renovation project.

Of the $9.2 million, the School Board proposes to spend $1.1 million for a one-story, five-classroom expansion at Pond Cove and $7.7 million renovating the aging high school. The idea is to move the kindergarten out of the high school and into Pond Cove and renovate the high school, including new science labs, an expanded cafeteria, a new gym floor, new roofing and upgrades to the mechanical and electrical systems.

Next Tuesday’s meeting is the first formal report to the council on the scope and goals of the school building projects.

“The focus of the meeting is going to be on the whys,” said Marie Prager, who is both chairman of the School Board and chairman of the building committee.

The goal of the meeting, Prager said, is to “get the town councilors on board” and to show them that “these projects need to be done.”

Lynch said there is still some time between when the council has to decide whether to fund one or both school projects or whether to send the issue out to referendum.

“We do have some time to try to make the most responsible decision for the town and for the kids,” she said. “It will be interesting to see how the other councilors react and a lot of what may happen will depend on what the School Board asks of us.”

At a School Board meeting held Jan. 14, Prager said she would not address specifics of a timetable with the council next week. “We don’t want to push
them,” she said. However, she added, “in the fall of 2004, we need the kindergartners out of the high school, one way or another. If a building isn’t complete by then, it could mean portable classrooms.”

“We need their support before we take it to the community,” Prager said of the council.

Council Chairman Jack Roberts said in an interview that there is a lot of concern on the part of councilors about just how badly the town is going to be hit with reductions in state aid.

“It would be difficult to take on new debt, but it would be premature to say the project is dead in the water. I think it’s more an issue of timing,” Roberts said.

“The meeting with the School Board is obviously an opportunity for them to present the project to the council. An actual decision is still ahead of us, but
it will be based on the overall need and the consequences if we don’t take action,” Roberts added.

Town Manager Mike McGovern said, “I think there are two questions from the council’s point of view.” One is whether the projects need to be done and the other, he said, is when.

At the council’s regular monthly meeting on Monday, McGovern presented a financial benchmark study of where the town stands in overall spending against 50 other towns that responded to a survey conducted by the Maine Municipal Association.

The study showed that Cape is number one in educational spending and in spending on parks and recreation.

“One of the council’s goals was to benchmark our costs with other communities around the state. The study was an attempt to evaluate areas for possible spending reductions,” McGovern said after the meeting. The study also showed that Cape has among the highest property tax burden on individuals in the state partly because the town has virtually no commercial base.

Thursday, January 9, 2003

Diversity university - Idea: Alliance for Cultural Theater

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Maine’s thriving theater community lacks one element: ethnic diversity. In addition to Native Americans, Maine has a growing community of non-whites, including Somalis, Sudanese, Cambodians and other Africans and Asians, as well as a fair few Hispanics.

The problem: There is no forum to learn more. I go to Center for Cultural Exchange events and feel like a spectator: Amazingly talented artists and community members show up, do their thing and then — we all go home. Unless you’re a student in the city’s schools, there is no opportunity to really understand the context in which our immigrant neighbors view performance, and the role it plays in their lives.

And while performing arts are different things to different cultures, I still think there is a way to provide context and storytelling around the traditional performing arts of a culture.

An ongoing, working theater company could explore the experience of being a member of a minority group in Maine and in the US, and handle challenging topics of life, work, and politics, much in the way Mbongeni Ngema’s South African story Sarafina! did (and does).

Name: Alliance for Cultural Theater. (Not only concise, it makes a good acronym.)

Funding: ACT would have to be a registered nonprofit organization to take maximum advantage of funding options. A quick Internet search using the terms “Maine theater arts funding” turns up a large number of potential funding sources.

Taking only donors targeting both arts and ethnic diversity, and with recent donations to ethnic and theater projects in Maine, results in a short list of likely candidates: Maine Arts Commission, Libra Foundation, Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation, LL Bean’s charitable foundation (limited to projects in Portland, Freeport, Brunswick, and Lewiston), and FleetBoston Financial Foundation. Other possible donors could be the Maine Community Foundation and the Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust.

Location: There are two professional-grade stages ripe for this exact type of project: the St. Lawrence Arts and Community Center on Munjoy Hill and the Portland Performing Arts Center on Forest Avenue, owned and managed by the Portland Stage Company.

“It would be totally possible, not even in a hypothetical sense,” says Deirdre Nice of the St. Lawrence. “It would be nice if something like that did happen. Certainly the St. Lawrence would be very welcoming to this sort of group.”

PSC Artistic Director Anita Stewart is welcoming, but concerned about the authenticity of the project. “I’d be very leery of getting involved . . . if I felt we were colonizing,” Stewart says. She suggests assembling a group of artists of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds, and seeing what sprung from that gathering.

Building connections between people and between communities, she said, would be very valuable. “There are not relationships” right now, Stewart says. Maine’s professional theater community has a lot to learn as well. “I should know who the Somali artists in our community are, and I don’t,” she says.

Leadership: Finding a project organizer was the big challenge identified by most people interviewed about the idea of ACT. Several names came up as possible leads, but none of the people could be contacted by deadline time. Portland High School’s theater program was mentioned specifically as a possible location to begin looking for potential leaders.

“I think whoever it is wouldn’t necessarily need to have a lot of experience in diversity issues to begin with, because there are a lot of resources they could tap into,” says Stacy Begin, managing director of the Children’s Theatre of Maine, which has launched a well-received Diversity Series exploring issues of race and ethnicity in Maine.

Value: This part was the easiest to come by. Not only is multiculturalism something of a buzzword these days, but everyone I spoke to shared some measure of desire to learn more about the immigrant experience in Maine.

Attendance: Most attendees at the CTM Diversity Series are white, Begin says, but others are, she said, “coming to see if we got it right.” The series also puts on matinees for local schools. Students from Reiche came and watched The Diary of Anne Frank not long ago, with results that surprised and pleased Begin: “The kids who are immigrants could really, really relate.” It is that sort of cross-cultural dynamic that ACT could build on.

Overall possibility: “It can be done. You just have to be — as we found out — willing to go the extra mile,” Begin says. Promotional materials and casting-call notices must be translated into different languages and posted in gathering spots for different ethnic communities.

Credibility is also an issue. “It’s going to take a while, because you’re going to have to win the trust of the immigrant community,” Begin says. The Center for Cultural Exchange has a lot of connections and resources that could be very useful in that effort, she says.

If such a theater company did grow from within the immigrant communities in Maine, Begin says, she would be especially fascinated to see what they made of their group. “What an education for all of us.”

Grants bring digital cameras into Cape classrooms

Published in the Current

Second-graders in Cape Elizabeth are getting photographed far more often now. Teacher Sarah Lewis got a grant from the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation to buy a Nikon digital camera, and it’s getting a lot of use.

So far, the project is a “work in progress,” Lewis said, with various teachers trying out ways they can use the camera in their classes.

Lewis has used a camera before, documenting a project she did while on sabbatical last year taking graduate classes.

She needs a refresher on how to put text together with photos for a words-and-pictures slide show, but so far has put together several slide shows displaying students in various stages of classroom activities.

The second-grade teachers will have a training session with district Technology Coordinator Gary Lanoie in the next week, to learn more about what the camera can do, as well as ways to work with the images once they are downloaded to teachers’ computers.

Once Lewis re-learns how to put text with photos, she wants to pass that knowledge on to her students. “I ideally would like to be able to show the kids how to do that, so we could make slide shows together,” Lewis said.

Other second-grade teachers are using the camera as well. Teacher Rindi Martin has pictures of her students doing a “Readers’ Theater,” in which kids
learn to read expressively. She can show the students what others were doing, and offer feedback on where to hold the script, posture, gestures and other aspects of their performance. “I thought that it brought another whole level to what they were doing,” Martin said.

Later in the year, Martin will also photograph a process of making paper that her students do each year. In future years, using the photos, she will be better able to prepare students for the project.

“They could view it before we actually sit down and did the paper-making,” Martin said. “I think visually kids are much more apt to remember things,” she said.

Using the camera also can help keep kids motivated, Lewis said. She has her students do a book project each year and will use the camera to take author photos for their “about the author” pages, as well as using photos to illustrate parts of some books.

That may get some students more interested in the project than they might otherwise have been, which she said would be a big payoff for a small investment.

The next step, Lewis and Martin agreed, is an overhead projector. Now, students can only view the photos on a computer screen, making it hard to do group projects or show a large group a set of photos.

The camera is also making itself useful for teachers’ professional development. Teachers at Pond Cove School are reviewing each other’s teaching methods using a Japanese-style lesson study method, in which a group of teachers construct a lesson and then watch it being taught by one of the group.

When Lewis recently demonstrated a lesson, in front of eight adults and a class of second-graders, Martin was there taking pictures.

Immediately after the lesson was concluded, Lewis was able to see how it worked and watch her own gestures, which she said was valuable feedback to get immediately.

“The more we use it, the more it’ll happen,” Martin said.

Other uses are appearing all the time. Lewis put a photo in her most recent weekly newsletter home to parents and plans to do more of that, allowing parents to get a glimpse of life in the classroom.

Lewis is grateful for the support of the education foundation and expects more teachers will take advantage of the resources as they become familiar with the benefits other teachers are finding from grant money. The foundation, formed last year, raises private funds to support innovative projects in Cape schools.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing that they’re doing,” Lewis said.

She said she would next think about applying for a grant to take a field trip. Excursion money was cut from the tight school budget last year and is unlikely to be reinstated in this year’s budget process, expected to be at least as difficult.

Field trips, she said, are “a real void taken out of our curriculum and practices of the past,” and could be available again through CEEF money.

Fourth-grade teacher Ogden Williams did just that, recently taking a number of students to Norlands Living History Center in Livermore using foundation money, which paid not only for the trip but also other resources to support the lessons learned at Norlands.

Cape studies high school traffic jam

Published in the Current

Cape officials and residents are again addressing the issue of traffic at the high school entrance, but this time are assembling a team of people to study the problem and recommend a solution.

In some ways, it’s the same old story. Each morning for years, from 7:25 to 7:40 a.m., and each afternoon, from 1:55 to 2:10 p.m., traffic backs up around the intersection leading to Cape Elizabeth High School.

“It’s an old problem,” said Beth Currier, vice president of the High School Parents Association. The group is drafting a letter to Police Chief Neil Williams asking for his department’s help with the problem.

But Williams, Town Manager Mike McGovern and school Superintendent Tom Forcella are already on the case.

A “steering committee” is being formed, Williams said, “to look at the problem and come up with any suggestions.” A final recommendation, he said, could be anything from doing nothing to a big change. “Everything’s on the table,” Williams said.

Among the possibilities is the oft-floated idea of having a police officer at the intersection during those two short peak-traffic times.

It has come up before, and Williams has said he doesn’t have the staff to handle that on top of regular duties. Currier recognizes that, but wants to open the dialogue all the same.

“It would help the kids slow down,” she said.

Sometimes there is an officer parked in the Community Services parking lot when school lets out. “When that guy is sitting there, boy do those kids slow down. They stop at the stop sign,” Currier said.

Some parents, she said, have suggested having a parent stand at the intersection, to provide some level of adult supervision. A traffic light also has been mentioned, but was dismissed without much discussion by the parents group, Currier said.

The intersection itself contributes to the problem. Turning to head north on Route 77 is “a tough left anyway,” even when there’s not much traffic, Currier said.

High school principal Jeff Shedd said more direction or a traffic light might help. A big part of the problem for him is “there’s only one way in and one way out,” he said.

More students do have cars than in the past, Shedd said, which increases traffic volume from year to year. It also puts pressure on the school’s parking, but 100 additional spaces in the proposed high school renovation project should alleviate that problem, Shedd said.

Forcella said the traffic problem worsens as the school year progresses and more students get their driver’s licenses.

Parents’ wishes also play into it. “The high school buses in the morning are quite early,” Currier said. Many parents prefer to drop their kids off at school, rather than having them get out the door earlier to make the bus.

Forcella said the group would be made up of two members of the Town Council, two School Board members, a parent, a community member, Williams and Forcella himself.

They will discuss what the problem is in terms of safety at the intersection, traffic tie-ups and the process of entering and leaving the school. “There are a lot of different pieces to this,” Forcella said. And the group will recommend a solution to the Town Council.

From Williams’s perspective, one part of the problem is the confluence of schedules. “Nobody wants to come early,” Williams said. Students who drive want to get to school as close to starting time as possible, while parents
drop off their kids just in the nick of time too.

“Everybody wants to get there at 7:30,” Williams said.

Chase over for animal control officer

Published in the Current

Cape Elizabeth Animal Control Officer Bob Leeman, a resident of Windham, will hang up his leash Jan. 10.

It will be his second retirement. The first was in 1988, after 27 years with the Portland Fire Department. Leeman was born in Portland and grew up in South Portland, the son of a town firefighter. He left high school to join the Marine Corps but was discharged shortly after entering boot camp, for medical reasons. “I fought it all the way,” Leeman said.

He headed for another public-service job: firefighting in the state’s largest city.

When he retired from Portland, Leeman worked briefly as a newspaper distributer before getting laid off. He entered a government unemployment program and learned a lot of new skills – everything from computers to business management.

“I was taking all kinds of classes,” Leeman said. In 1994, he was about to finish the program when the Cape job came up. He landed the job and then took his exams. What he most remembered, though, was the luncheon at the Black Point Inn, recognizing him as the student of the year.

“It was quite an honor,” Leeman said. He keeps the certificate framed on his wall at home.

In August 1994, he started at Cape Elizabeth. The job is both animal control and “utility officer,” which means custodial work, errands, making coffee and a variety of other duties.

“Anything needed doing, I did it,” Leeman said.

He did such a good job cleaning the old police station – now torn down and replaced with the new one – that he earned an award, the pin which he still wears proudly above his name tag.

He went to state classes on being an animal control officer, and specialized classes on rabies.

“It’s paid off out there,” Leeman said. “We’ve still got it in full force.”

Other towns, he said, don’t have a rabies problem as bad as Cape’s. In this town, “everybody’s backyard is woods,” Leeman said. There are a lot of wild animals, and they live near where humans live.

In the past couple of years, the raccoon and skunk populations have dropped, but the winter of 2001-2002 was a mild one, leading to large litters statewide. Cape’s populations doubled.

Unwanted domestic animals add to his troubles. “Everybody seems to think the Cape’s a good place to dump their cats or kittens,” Leeman said.

This year, he found two moms and six kittens dumped by the Rod and Gun Club, living on the back deck of a nearby house. He was able to capture them all alive and found homes for the kittens, but not the cats. “Cats are hard to place. Kittens are easy,” Leeman said.

With all his time handling a wide range of animals, Leeman is lucky. “I’ve never been bit,” he said. There’s no magic to it, he said, or perhaps there is. “They all like me, that’s all.”

His days have started early, with a 3 a.m. alarm. He had to be at work at 4:30 a.m., or rather, he chose to be.

“They let me pick my hours,” Leeman said. He cleans the fire station, which is easier done when nobody is around, and then heads over to the police station, where he puts on coffee for the oncoming shift and cleans the interior of the patrol cars during shift change.

It’s time for his shift to change now. He and his wife live with one of their sons in Windham, but are heading to Florida to see two of their other sons for a while.

They’ll take their fifth-wheel trailer and set it up on family land down there. There’s good fishing nearby, and work, too. His oldest son does swimming pool work and now keeps the business records by hand on paper. Leeman will computerize the record-keeping system and also integrate maps, so workers can easily find their way between pool locations.

He will miss his work in Cape, though. “I’ve enjoyed it,” Leeman said. “I’m one that loves animals.”

Leeman’s replacement, 19-year-old Kristopher Kennedy of Cape, a Cheverus graduate now studying business at USM, will take over Leeman’s duties Jan. 13, Police Chief Neil Williams said. Kennedy is a member of the fire department and also drives an ambulance.

Williams said the department is looking forward to having Kennedy come aboard, and wished Leeman well. “He deserves a retirement,” Williams said. “It’s always nice to see somebody enjoy their retirement.”

Leeman has advice for Kennedy: “If you treat people with respect you’ll get the results that you’re looking for.” Leeman said he has gotten a lot of satisfaction out of the job, from thank-you notes to waves on the street as he drives by.

“I’m going to miss it,” Leeman said.

Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Audit shows problems with public access

Published in the Current and the American Journal

As the result of a statewide freedom of information audit spearheaded by the state’s press association, two bills designed to ensure that public records and documents are actually available to members of the public have been introduced in the Legislature.

Staff members of the Current and American Journal newspapers participated in the Nov. 19 survey, along with over 100 other volunteers from newspapers, universities and citizens’ groups.

The outcome is that the Maine Press Association and the Maine Daily Newspaper Publishers Association have filed a request for legislators, media representatives and local and state government representatives to study compliance with the state’s Freedom of Access Act and report back to the Legislature at the end of the year. It also calls for a review of the law itself and recommendations on ways to improve it.

The second bill would require police departments to adopt written policies on compliance with the state’s right-to-know laws. The Maine Criminal Justice Academy would have to establish minimum standards for public
information policies. The bill would require police officials to train personnel about right-to-know laws and assess fines for those officials who failed to comply with them.

In the Nov. 19 statewide survey, the volunteer auditors visited 156 municipal offices, 75 police stations and 79 school administrative offices to request specific documents that are public under state statute.

Also, requests by mail for copies of the minutes of the most recent town council meetings were made for each of the 489 villages, towns and cities in the state. A one-dollar bill was included in the request, to defray copying and mailing costs.

According to a statement by the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition, which coordinated the effort, “the response of public officials was mixed.” Many auditors were asked to produce identification, identify their employers or provide reasons for their requests. Maine law does not require people to identify themselves, their employers or explain why they want to view public documents.

Auditors asked to view police logs, the superintendent’s contract and expense reports for the town’s highest elected official.

Police results
Police departments in Cape Elizabeth, Gorham, Scarborough, South Portland, Westbrook and Windham were all audited.

South Portland did not allow the auditor to view the log, and said in her comments, “(they) said they don’t give it out, that some of the info is not public knowledge. I asked for a blacked-out version, couldn’t get it.” She was also asked for a reason for her request.

The auditor of Scarborough’s police department was unable to view the log because a computer malfunction meant the system was inaccessible. He was asked for identification, the name of his employer and a reason for his request.

Cape Elizabeth allowed an auditor to view the report, after asking for identification and a reason, and asking her to fill out paperwork. The person who made the request said on her comment form, “waited about 45 minutes for chief to redact the log. He said he removed names so people would not be discouraged from calling police.”

Westbrook allowed an auditor to view the log, but asked for the auditor’s employer and a reason for her request.

Windham allowed viewing of the log, but asked for identification, the name of the auditor’s employer and a reason for her request.

Gorham allowed viewing of the log, which did not include summonses or arrests, and asked for a reason but did not require one.

Of 75 police departments visited statewide, 33 percent denied access to police logs outright. Of the 67 percent that complied, 45 percent required auditors to identify themselves, 39 percent required auditors to name their employers and 48 percent required justification for access. In a small number of cases, members of the public were denied access to police records because they were not members of the media.

The question also arose of what a police log is.

Gorham’s records were a list of complaints and calls handled by officers, but did not include information on whether arrests or summonses were made, or the names of people arrested or summonsed.

The auditor in Cape Elizabeth was given access to the department’s call record, a document not normally made available in the department’s public log.

School and town results
School offices in Cape Elizabeth, Gorham, Scarborough, South Portland, Westbrook and Windham were asked for copies of the superintendent’s contract.

Cape Elizabeth allowed an auditor to view the document, but the person handling the request asked for a reason and had to ask a coworker to make sure the document was public. When told that it was, the person “gave it to me with no trouble,” the auditor reported.

Gorham allowed access without any questions. Scarborough, South Portland and Windham did allow access, but asked for identification, a reason, an employer’s name or all three.

Westbrook did not allow an auditor to view the document, asked for identification and suggested the auditor return to see if it would be available later.

Town offices in Cape Elizabeth, Gorham, Scarborough, South Portland, Standish, Westbrook and Windham were also asked for access to expense reports for the towns’ highest elected official.

Scarborough, Gorham and Standish would have allowed access but no such information exists. Standish offers councilors $10 per meeting, to cover travel and expenses, but as of Oct. 31, 2002, no members of the present council had even filed to request that stipend.

Westbrook asked for an ID and a reason, and did not have any applicable documents ready to hand. “Michelle (mayor’s secretary) said she’d pull something together,” the auditor wrote. Michelle “didn’t have anything easily accessible, and promised to call tomorrow.”

Windham denied access because the form was “waiting to be approved,” the auditor was told. The auditor was also asked for ID, an employer and a reason for wanting to see the document.

Cape Elizabeth allowed access, with a “very cooperative” person helping the auditor.

South Portland also allowed access, after an office worker asked a co-worker for the proper procedure.

All of the towns, Cape Elizabeth, Gorham, Scarborough, South Portland, Standish, Westbrook and Windham, sent the most recent council meeting minutes, as requested by mail. Some also returned the $1 and several post minutes on their town web sites.

Statewide results
The Maine School Management Association learned of the audit before Nov. 19 and sent an e-mail to superintendents advising them to comply with auditors’ requests.

But of 79 school departments visited, only 67 percent permitted access to the superintendent’s contract.

Of those, 50 percent asked auditors for ID, 13 percent asked for the auditor’s employer’s name and 37 percent asked auditors for a reason they wanted to view the document. In about 10 percent of offices, workers had to ask a supervisor if the contract was a public document, and in a few cases the document was locked away and not accessible to office staff.

Of 156 visited municipal offices, only 18 percent of them had the expense report on file. Nearly half of the towns, 47 percent, do not reimburse elected officials for expenses.

As for the mailed requests for minutes to 489 towns, 77.7 percent sent the documents as requested; 16.8 percent “ignored the request,” the MFOIC report said. Some towns sent the documents but they arrived after a deadline requested in the letter.

Thursday, January 2, 2003

No help for Cape in state’s school budget plan

Published in the Current

Despite the efforts of state Education Commissioner Duke Albanese to ease the budget crunch on local school districts, Cape Elizabeth Superintendent Tom Forcella expects this year’s financial planning to be “as tight if not tighter” than last year.

In a Dec. 18 report to the state Board of Education, Albanese proposed a 2.7 percent increase in state education spending for 2003-2004, and also proposed some changes to the school funding formula for possible discussion by the Legislature.

Among them are recommendations for averaging property values and pupil counts and expanding the “circuit-breaker” program to provide relief to property taxpayers. All of them, Albanese told the board, are “to temper the effects of changes in school funding” on districts around the state.

Districts will still feel a crunch. Department of Education spokesman Yellow Light Breen said the proposed 2.7 percent increase is “not the ideal level of funding,” and he expects it to result in “some corresponding pressure on property tax.”

This budget is “a balance, to some extent, a compromise,” he said. “It’s not going to do everything that you would have wanted.”

Even then, the small increase may not get past a Legislature armed with sharpened pencils. Breen said, “we do have tremendous support for education in Maine,” but even so, “it’s going to be a stretch for the Legislature to find the 2.7 percent.”

No more dough
If they do, it still won’t be enough. “I don’t think any of the recommendations are going to help,” Forcella said.

And the increased money in the state pool will not give any more to Cape’s budget.

“Without bringing additional funds in, I don’t think there will be much help for towns like Cape Elizabeth,” Forcella said.

Albanese presented two budget models to the state board, each with the same bottom line but different splits between what the state pays and the cities and towns pick up.

The difference is in how the state decides what it will fund. The traditional method provides a flat percentage of a district’s past expenditure, according to Breen. There is no evaluation, Breen said, of what the money was spent on, or if it was too much or too little money for the district’s needs.

The Legislature required Albanese to explore the second model, called “essential programs and services,” to see how that would improve the educational system in the state. Some schools, it was thought, would benefit from support for basic services they now have trouble providing.

It will also provide a forum for evaluating what schools spend, in terms of salaries and services provided. Schools with very high teacher-to-student ratios, for example, would come under scrutiny in such a review.

Breen said the state currently is meeting “43 percent or so” of the grand total of education costs, but without any idea what that money is being used for, or if it could be put to better use.

Cape, though, won’t see any additional money under an essential programs review. “We already provide those services,” Forcella said.

Breen said the new funding proposal will help all districts “eventually. ”

Upping the stakes
“Essential programs will do a lot to revamp the formula,” Breen said. But districts, like Cape’s, with flat or decreasing student populations, will still get less funding each year. “A lot of those elements are still driven on a per-pupil basis,” he said.

Cape also has increasing property values, and the role of those numbers in the formula are unlikely to change.

“We will still be applying some measure of local ability to pay – local wealth,” Breen said. The way the state calculates “ability to pay” is mostly – about 85 percent – based on townwide property valuation, while the remaining 15 percent is based on household income.

Statewide, many towns will feel a pinch. The state’s overall property assessment is up 9.8 percent this year, leading to what Breen called a “significant redistribution of school subsidy. ”

Albanese’s proposals, Breen said, are attempts to “temper” those changes by averaging over three years. He also said Southern Maine is not alone in facing school funding pressure.

“Whatever the trends are in Southern Maine tend to work their way up the interstate over time,” Breen said.

The school funding formula, he said, is not the place to fix property-tax problems. “The funding formula is basically designed – and I think has to be designed – to measure the wealth of an entire community,” Breen said.

Relieving pressure on individual property taxpayers, he said, should come from elsewhere – a circuit-breaker program, for example.

With the schools, “it’s the community that is being subsidized,” Breen said, meaning that the community as a whole should be assessed.

Pressure on Cape schools is only increasing. The district is looking at continuing demand for special education services and higher standards for high school graduation coming down the pike.

“The expectations have become greater and the money has become less,” Forcella said.

Another example of spending pressure on local districts without corresponding funds from the state, he said, is the laptop program.

“It’s a great idea without any funding,” Forcella said.

Breen defended the program, saying the total package the state gave the schools, including equipment and support services, “is pretty rich.” The state is also providing free training for teachers. “The local impact has tended to be a very small fraction of what the free stuff is,” Breen said.

Because of the cost, though, Breen said, the laptop program was not mandatory. Schools could opt in or out.

He urged local superintendents and tech coordinators to contact the Department of Education tech staff as they develop cost estimates. State staff may be able to help share information between districts to keep costs low.