Holiday Traditions – Day 1: The Twelve (Nonconsecutive) Days of Christmas

Basil plants under R Dubs 1st Day of Christmas gift from Beth. The plant on the right did get pruned after this shot.

Day #1 of The Twelve Nonconsecutive Days of Christmas was prior to Thanksgiving. Beth was so excited on the day that this Grow Light showed up at the ranch that waiting for December was not an option. She immediately asked if we could celebrate the first day of Christmas and I excitedly said, yes!

These grow lights are adjustable in height and have a built in timer that runs the grow lights for 16 hours per day and allows the plants to rest for 8 hours per day. This is the perfect amount of light and rest for herbs.

The only plants that we are currently growing indoors are herbs and micro-greens. As the picture shows, we have two basil plants under R Dubs gift from the 1st Day of Christmas.

Basil is one of Beth’s favorite herbs. So, like many of the gifts we will be giving each other during our Twelve Nonconsecutive Days of Christmas, this gift is really for both of us!

Stay tuned for Day 2, when R Dub unveils his first gift to Beth.

Holiday Traditions – Our Twelve (Nonconsecutive) Days of Christmas

Our version of the 12 Days of Christmas began on December 8, 2018 with this ‘his and hers’ tree ornament and has continued each Advent. We will share our gifts to each other on the days we are home together leading up to Christmas.

If the lyrics to “The Twelve Days of Christmas” are currently running through your head due to the title of this blog, we apologize.

The next 13 blog posts will feature R Dub and Beth’s 12 Nonconsecutive Days of Christmas!

Many people mistakenly confuse December 14th as the first day of the 12 days of Christmas. Most of us prefer to build up to the holiday with December 25th becoming the climax of the advent season.

Informed Christians know that the 12 days of Christmas actually start with the birth of Jesus and run through the coming of the Magi twelve days later. The twelfth day is known as the Epiphany or the Three Kings’ Day…but we digress.

While many of us are Christian, most of us are not informed Christians and learned everything we need to know about the twelve days of Christmas by the popular song of the same name published in England in the year 1780. The origins are thought to be French as an a Capella chant. The “Twelve Days of Christmas” that we are all familiar with was arranged by English composer Frederic Austin in 1909.

Progressive gifts items include the items pictured above.
It is safe to say that the 5 golden rings, gifted 8 times would be the most welcome on this list…outside of the farming community anyway…

While this list of gifts (except for the 5 golden rings delivered in days 5 through 12) may not be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ outside of the farming community, it certainly is an extravagant list even by today’s standards. The price tag for all of these items is in excess of $40,000 by 2019 prices. Due to today’s runaway inflation and supply chain challenges it would cost even more…and most of the items might not arrive in time…

As empty nest parents and better the second time around partners we struggled for a few years to enjoy the Christmas season. Oh, we both brought traditions and decorations and ornaments to the party. However, they were yours and mine decorations and traditions. We needed something that was ours. Enter the 12 Nonconsecutive Days of Christmas.

Why nonconsecutive? Due to work schedules mostly, we see each other 3 to 4 days per week. So on the days that we do enjoy each other’s company prior to Christmas, we exchange gifts. Usually leading up to Christmas, but sometimes after Christmas if we do not get them all in before December 25.

The rules are simple. The size or cost of the gift is unimportant. We trade off days. A total of 12 gifts, 6 from R Dub to Beth and vice versa.

Not all of the 12 Days of Christmas giving are decorations or ornaments, but many have been and slowly we are decorating the house to look like our very own holiday home.

Day 1 started prior to Thanksgiving, but we are posting them consecutively beginning December 14, 2021. We hope you enjoy us sharing our little tradition.

The tradition has brought joy and anticipation back to the Holiday for us, and we cherish it.

Cooking – Friday Night Fish Fry: Blackened Catfish!

Blackened catfish with corn salad. Simple, light and tasty.

Ah, the Wisconsin tradition of Friday night fish fry.

Fish fry Friday was teased in our February 5th blog post entitled “Libations – The Wisconsin Old Fashioned: A Case For Tasty Mistaken Identity”. We are now getting around to following up on…”If you are not a native of Wisconsin, Friday night fish fry is a topic for another post.”

Why did it take so long to follow up? Mostly because we like to write about deviations on a popular theme or recipe. Last Friday we deviated from our usual Friday night fish fry, including the Old Fashioned cocktail.

For those of you who are not natives of or have never been a resident or frequent visitor of Wisconsin here is a brief history of the traditional Wisconsin Friday night fish fry.

We can thank three factors for this tradition:

  1. Catholicism. Catholic migration to the area who observed the Friday tradition of abstaining from red meat. In the mid 1960s the Catholic church changed the rule from every Friday to only Friday’s during the Lenten season. However, the tradition was so ingrained into the Wisconsin culture that is continues to this day..or Friday nights, if you will. More about the tradition of meatless Lent can be found in our blog post entitled “Traditions – Lenten Meatless Friday’s: There’s Meat and Then There’s Meat”.
  2. Prohibition. Taverns served food to stay afloat during this time. While it was illegal to sell and serve alcoholic beverages during prohibition, it was not illegal to cook with alcohol during prohibition. So…Wisconsin taverns would use a beer batter to cook their fish. The aroma of beer in the batter masked the ‘occasional’ glasses of beer slid under the table to patrons.
  3. Proximity to freshwater fish like perch, walleye, and bluegill.

What does a typical fish fry meal consist of? TravelWisconsin.com states it well.

“The typical anatomy of a fish fry? First, beer-battered and deep-fried perch, walleye, haddock, cod or bluegill — and in some areas, you can also get smelt or catfish. Next, the potatoes — usually French fries or potato pancakes, although some restaurants serve hash browns, fried potatoes or buttery baby reds. Then, the enhancements: crisp coleslaw, a slice of rye bread and an assortment of condiments — lemon wedges, malt vinegar or tartar sauce.”

Our variation on the traditional theme came from necessity, as do most new things. R Dub was looking for some nice Alaskan Cod during his last trip to ALDI, but that shelf was bare. What they did have was catfish fillets, so a package was purchased and placed in the freezer until needed.

Beth worked in Eau Claire last Friday. Home made fish fry was in order. When asked if she liked cat fish, her response was; “Yes, I love it blackened.”

R Dub has never blackened any piece of meat, but he knew who might be able to help. During lunch, Ron ordered some mushroom soup and a sandwich from Earl and Patty at The Natural Way organic diner and health store. Earl is a 4 star chef in the two star town of Mayville, WI. If anyone could tutor Ron, it was Earl…and he did.

What’s the secret? Earl’s first bit of wisdom; blackened does not mean burnt, it means seasoned and cooked on high heat to black. It took Earl years to perfect this skill. A warning that was taken to heart.

Earl’s second bit of wisdom; prepare for the house to fill up with smoke and the smell of blackened fish. We fired up the camp stove and cooked the fish on the deck to avoid this issue.

Ingredients:

4 cat fish fillets

1 cup corn meal

1 cup cream or half and half

The blackening season: 1 ½ tablespoons paprika, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 1 tablespoon ground dried thyme, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon dried basil, 1 teaspoon dried oregano.

Preheat a cast iron skillet on the highest heat for 4 minutes just prior adding oil and cooking the cat fish fillets. (We used avocado oil, it withstands high heat better than olive oil or butter.)

Use cream or half and half as a wash for the outside of the fillets. (We used half and half.)

Combine dry ingredients and mix with a fork or whisk.

Coat the cat fish fillets in a dry batter of blackening seasoning and corn meal. (Do not let the fish sit battered for too long before cooking, if the batter becomes too moist the texture will suffer.)

Immediately put the fillets on the hot oiled skillet, turning one time. Cook them on high heat until the meat flakes. Pull and serve.

The corn salad? Beth came up with that recipe. 2 cups of sweet corn, one small green pepper dices, 1/2 small onion diced and 2 tablespoons butter, 1 cup sliced cherry tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste. Saute the onion in butter on medium heat until translucent, add pepper and saute an additional 2 minutes, add corn, season with salt and pepper to taste, cook an additional 5 minutes add sliced tomatoes, stir and plate.

The wine? This one was Cabernet Sauvignon finished in a bourbon barrel. Beer or a traditional Old Fashioned cocktail would’ve been equally appropriate.

Entertainment – There Are No Small Parts…

Stanley listening intently to Willy Loman whose sense of worth is quickly slipping away during the next to last scene at Frank’s Chop House on 6th Avenue. I felt that Stanley needed to give as much respect to Willy as possible in this scene. The man’s dignity had just been stripped from him by his AWOL sons. It was the least the Stanley could do in the short amount of time that Stanley was with Willy at the end of the restaurant scene.

I’ve been blessed to play several small role but memorable characters over the years. Potiphar in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, Big Jule in “Guys and Doll”, Selsdon Mowbray in “Noises Off”, Teddy Brewster in “Arsenic and Old Lace”, and Carlino in “Wait Until Dark”.

Each character stole the scenes that they were in. There is something very rewarding about hearing an audience roar with laughter, or begin to snicker the moment your character makes an entrance, or better still; getting the audience to react with a tension easing laugh during a drama like “Death of a Salesman” or “Wait Until Dark”.

After a six year absence from the stage, R Dub was back on the boards to play the minor character Stanley in BDACT’s production of Arthur Miller’s classic drama “Death of a Salesman.”

The role came to me the way that many have come in the past, the cast was set and someone dropped out or the right person didn’t show up for auditions. There was however, a slight difference in circumstances this time.

An earlier blog post chronicled the 20 month voyage of the original crew and cast due to the pandemic. The show was postponed one week prior to opening night due to COVID19 indoor restrictions. When the show finally went back into rehearsals 5 of the original cast members bowed out.

The Producer Bobby called Beth and asked if I’d be willing to take on the minor role of Stanley that had perhaps 7 or 8 lines. Beth volunteered me knowing that I wanted to get back onto the stage. A minor role was perfect for getting back into the theater scene.

Seven or eight lines was a bit of an understatement. Stanley was on and off stage frequently during the 20 page restaurant scenes. This scene begins with great expectations that could be a positive turning point for the Loman family fortunes. Instead, it is the beginning of end for our patriarch Willy.

Stanley begins the scene in lighthearted banter with Willy’s youngest son Happy who is looking forward to starting a business with his older brother Biff. Most of my lines took place at the beginning of this scene. Like many of my characters, Stanley steals the first few minutes of this scene.

Unlike most of my characters, Stanley turns out to be an empathetic soul at the end of the scene who offers a hand up, and a sympathetic ear for Willy who is now at the depths of despair.

Twenty pages of 120, but for those 20 pages Stanley is first on and last off. From jovial servant to empathetic caregiver. Stanley was a rewarding minor character and Diane Lutz my director let me make him exactly who I wanted him to be.

Next up? The lead character of Adult George Bailey in the onstage live radio production of “Its A Wonderful Life.” George Bailey will test my acting range and stamina.

As Konstantin Stanislavski is famed for saying: “There are no small parts, only small actors”.

I love small parts that become memorable characters. Here’s Stanley in action and my other favorite small roles.

Hap, not looking left or right, while Stanley dutifully looks for him.
Big Jule from “Guys and Doll” 2016
Potiphar and Narrator with slaves from “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” 2013
Teddy Brewster “Arsenic and Old Lace” 2012
Selsdon Mowbray and the cast of “Noises Off” 2011
Sgt. Carlino interrogating Suzy in “Wait Until Dark” 2010

Gardening – Winding Down Outside: The Few, The Hardy

These beets will be the next crop pulled for the winter. We spent several hours Saturday and Sunday cleaning up the most of the containers and raised garden beds.

Beth and I spent many of the daylight hours Saturday and half the day Sunday taking down most of the backyard garden.

Mostly fruitless bean, pea, tomato and corn plants were pulled from containers and the beds to become compost for the 2022 garden.

There are still a few crops left growing in the each bed and Brussels sprouts are looking good in 5 gallon bucket containers. Bed A has spinach, mesclun greens, carrots, walking onion and rosemary yet.

Bed A has a smattering of spinach and mesclun greens, a few carrots, one walking onion plant and a small rosemary plant. All of them will be overwintered right where they are with some straw to insulate them through the cold Wisconsin winter.

Bed C is the most bare with just Swiss chard. They are smaller than we hoped for. However, they are no longer competing with the tomato plants for sun and soil, so maybe they will have a quick spurt before the first big snow. Chard is supposed to become sweet after the first snow. That’s something to look forward to.

The Swiss Chard must be happy to no longer be competing for sunshine and soil with the tomato plants that we pulled last weekend. Hopefully they grow two times before the first big snow. If not, overwinter for spring.

Bed B is the theme picture for this post and contains our second round of beets. The beets will need to come out this week with snow forecast for Friday and Sunday. Everything else that is still outside can handle temperatures down to 20 degrees F.

The most hearty plant that we still have outside are Brussels Sprouts in 5 gallon containers. They have yet to produce any sprouts, but the plants look very healthy. We fertilize every other weeks and water regularly.

Brussels Sprouts giving their best to produce some sprouts before the brutal cold arrives.

Almost all of the herbs were moved inside last weekend. Beth took care of most of them. We have one little rosemary plant in Bed A that will try to survive the winter under straw. The rest are inside. Basil which we devoted our last blog post to. Mint, rosemary, parsley, oregano and cilantro are all inside.

Unfortunately, the cilantro is showing some serious stress. We are hoping that some fish fertilizer and grow lights bring them back to good health. It’s Beth’s favorite herb.

Operation Green Thumb is still in operational, just scaled back for late fall.

Gardening – Basil: Indoor Strong

The basil in the forefront was started from seed in late June and the basil in the background was started from cuttings that Beth and her daughter Maddy purchased at Trade Joe’s.

Basil. You’ve all seen basil plants at grocery stores and the big box stores who sell groceries. It’s a plant that we have consistently killed off year in and year out. We’d buy a grocery store plant with the high hopes of having a healthy, happy and productive plant to pluck off basil as we needed it.

But alas, every year the plant would stop producing leaves and eventually whither away to a leafless stick.

Every year until this year.

What’s made the difference? YouTube video advice, diligence and since moving our basil plants indoors in early October, grow lights.

The best advice we got from multiple sources on YouTube was regular and proper pruning. The video that really caught my attention was entitled; “How To Prune Basil So It Grows Forever” from the Epic Gardner.

Follow up videos from MIGardner, Next Level Gardening, CaliKim consistently told the same story of success. Prune basil plants just above a Y bifurcation about 1/3 down on each plant. They will grow back wider, effectively expanding the volume of the plant.

Pruning the plant about 1/3 down from the top at a Y intersection of plant stimulates it to produce two more shoots. DO this often enough and the plant will bush out continue to fill out until it runs out of space in the container.
This photo taken on July 5, 2020 shows the same plants shown above in raised garden bed A as seedlings just beginning to form their first real leaves.

In addition to regular pruning, we used an organic fish based fertilizer mixed 1 ounce to a gallon of water about every other week.

Once inside, we alternate putting them under the grow light shown above and a south facing windowsill. Investing in more grow lights will part of our winter budget for the 2022 growing season.

After years of basil murder, we now have 3 containers of basil that should never need to be replaced. Tune in next spring to see if we can keep them healthy, happy, productive and growing.

Travel – SF and the NAPA Valley: Bay Area Adventure

The Golden Gate bridge; perhaps the most identifiable structure associated with San Francisco. Photo taken during our last full day in the Bay Area. There is so much more to the Bay Area to see and do. This was probably 15 to 30 minutes of our trip.

R Dub recently tagged along with Beth on a continuing education trip to the Bay Area of California. Pre-COVID19 travel restrictions we frequently took advantage of these continuing ed opportunities. Austin TX in February 2018, San Diego CA in June 2018, and Orlando FL in February 2019 was the last education trip prior to this one.

Continuing education credits in 2020 and into 2021 were all on-line. Beth and I studied together in our home participating in Zoom type courses during that time frame. This course also had an online option, we’re glad we pulled the trigger on this trip. We vacillated right up until the day before our flight out.

This trip was especially rewarding because we each have daughters who live in the Bay Area. Madison lives in San Francisco proper and Riane in American Canyon. Neither of them get back to Wisconsin very often due to work schedules and the uncertain nature of post COVID air travel.

This was a wonderful opportunity to see them both while fulfilling a business need. Thankfully both girls were able to accommodate our visit. Madison attended classes with Beth during the day, while Riane took time off to be with us most of the days we were there.

Here’s a pictorial of our most recent way out of town adventure.

The Giants hosted a playoff game the day that we arrived. Downtown parking was more limited and more expensive than normal. I had to take an unattractive photo of this Public Parking sign with a temporary cost adjustment of $110 for event parking!

$110 to park for the Giants playoff game versus the LA Dodgers. That’s a little more the Beth and I payed for each of our tickets to see the Brewers versus the Braves just a few days earlier!
The Bay Bridge during rush hour…who are we kidding it’s always rush hour in SF. This bridge is just as impressive and beautiful as the Golden Gate, but the planners chose to cover the orange primer with finishing paint.
The global shortage of ‘stuff’. We drove near this shipyard where massive amounts of overseas containers waited to be unloaded, while massive amounts of ships carrying more overseas containers wait off shore to come in…
R Dub sitting poolside at the VRBO doing some work on his laptop while Beth is taking some medical continuing education classes on day one.
Beth and Maddie clowning around by the pool after classes were over. Charley Berens would be proud of Beth’s attire that day.
Sunset over the Bay as we head toward NAPA Valley for our first evening out with Maddie and Riane.
Riane and R Dub at the Sky and Vine Rooftop Bistro. We had adult beverages and casual dining. Aircraft from the local air force base flew over us on night maneuvers, that was pretty cool.
Day 2, Ri took us to her work at Guide Dogs for the Blind. Due to COVID19 protocols we were not allowed too close to the dogs, but we did get a nice tour of the many buildings on campus.
Ri works in the nursery. Must be rough, playing with (um I mean socializing) puppies all day. Well…that’s a small portion of her work. Caring for the breeding dogs and their pups is paramount.
As depicted on the mural above the puppy center. Labradors and other retrieving breeds make up the bulk of the dogs bred and trained to assist sight challenged clients.
We were surprised to see a giant sequoia tree on campus.
Sonoma county California is known for its wineries, but it is also home to Lagunita’s Brewery. We stopped for samplers before heading up to NAPA valley to wine and dine.
The smiles say it all. A great trip for learning and seeing the girls.
Next stop, Alcatraz Island.
A great view of SF from Alcatraz Island.
Downtown SF from Alcatraz Island.
Masks were required inside of all SF buildings, but the cold wind made them functional to Ri for more than just the virus.
Ri reading a newspaper while posing on the ‘facilities’ in one of the prison cells.
A view of the outdoor commons area where inmates played baseball and other physical activities when allowed out of their cells.
Maddie and Geoff leading the way during the walking tour. We all had communication devices that narrated the history and infamous inmates during the years this prison was in service.
Alcatraz Island in the rear-view mirror of the ferry that took us to and from the island.
After some long walks around Alcatraz we all headed to Emmy’s Pasta Shack on Mission Street in SF. We enjoyed specialty mixed drinks and pasta at one of their outdoor tables.
The Intercontinental Hotel, SF. Our final evening stay.
Psychic Readings by Bartender…you know, for those times when you can’t wait until after your psychic reading to go to the bar…
Got this nice photo of the Trans America building, perhaps the second most recognizable structure in SF on our final full day there. We walked around the neighborhood near our hotel while waiting for our personal tour guide to pick us up in front of the Intercontinental Hotel.
One can’t say that SF sprawls. Perhaps so, but it is a quite compacted sprawl.
The best way to see an adventure locale? With a private tour guide, of course! This Jeep seats 6.
The Painted Ladies, most of us recognize them from the opening credits of Full House. n American architecture, painted ladies are Victorian and Edwardian houses and buildings repainted, starting in the 1960s, in three or more colors that embellish or enhance their architectural details. The term was first used for San Francisco Victorian houses by writers Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen in their 1978 book Painted Ladies: San Francisco’s Resplendent Victorians.[1]
A great view of the bay from a neighborhood known as billionaire row. Most homes are owned by Silicon Valley moguls, some are owned by ‘old money’ and according to our tour guide, the home seen just off Maddie’s right shoulder belongs to Diane Feinstein.
Of course no trip to SF would be complete without crossing the Golden Gate bridge. It’s like going to the Black Hills of SD and not seeing Mt. Rushmore.
…and a quick loop through The Presidio.
While waiting for our reservation in China Town, we stopped at the Vesuvio Cafe for a cocktail. This bar was once a hangout for the Beatnik scene. So who is who in this picture? The bar was founded in 1948 by Henri Lenoir,[2] and was frequented by a number of Beat Generation celebrities including Jack Kerouac,[3] Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Neal Cassady.

Cooking – Lamb Chops: Love Us Some Lollipops!

We opted out of the traditional Wisconsin Friday night fish fry for a small rack of lamb chops, sauteed pea shoots and 3 cheese mac n cheese infused with pulled pork. We didn’t forgo the traditional Friday night Old Fashion drinks, however.

We love cooking a rack of lamb chops from time to time. Whenever ALDI has them in stock, we buy a few racks and put them in the freezer for occasions when we want something a little different, light and tasty.

Friday night was one of those occasions.

We’ve cooked lamb chops a few different ways. Broil the rack intact. Grill them intact. Cut individual lollipops and either broil or grill them. We’ve seasoned them multiple ways too.

This Friday we used a Sam The Cooking guy recipe…almost. Sam alters the recipes he gets to suit his taste and we do the same to his recipes. The only difference this time was the method of cooking. Sam grilled his chops, we broiled ours at 450 degrees F.

The recipe is quite simple and quick. Start by preheating your oven to 450 degrees F and preparing the rack for cooking. Dab as much moisture off the rack as possible with a paper towel.

Our little rack of lamb just out of the package after thawing in the fridge overnight and through the day while at work.
Dab off as much moisture as possible prior to seasoning.

Cut into individual lollipops of lamb. Coat both sides of each chop with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Our lollipops ready for seasoning.
Our seasoned chops transferred from plate to a foil lined baking pan.

Bake the seasoned lollipops at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes and remove from the oven.

While the chops are baking, mix what I call a 7 ingredient slather. Sam calls it a chimichurri. I didn’t know what that meant, so I Goggled it, of course.

Chimichurri (Spanish: [tʃimiˈtʃuri]) is an uncooked sauce used both as an ingredient in cooking and as a table condiment for grilled meat. Found in Argentinian and Uruguayan cuisines,[1] the sauce comes in a green (chimichurri verde) and red (chimichurri rojo) version. It is made of finely chopped parsley, minced garlic, olive oil, oregano and red wine vinegar.

Our chimichurri consisted of about 2 tablespoons of finely chopped parsley and mint from our herb garden, 1 tablespoon hot pepper flakes, plus 2 cloves of pressed organic garlic and 1/2 cup organic extra virgin olive oil.

Our chimichurri ready for the chops.
Baked chops waiting to be slathered with chimichurri.
Chimichurri slathered lamb lollipops! Yum!
The 20 degree overnight temps last week took care of any more pea pods growing, so we cut the shoots and sauteed them!
Our wilted pea shoots seasoned with salt, pepper and ground garlic.

Cool Tools – Gotta Get a Gadget: Smooth Edge Can Opener

This gadget just replaced our well worn manual smooth edge can opener. We should never have to spend too much time looking for it in the utensil drawer!

We love opening cans with the smooth edge can openers for safety reasons. For us and anyone who may come in contact with our recycle items. When our manual opener wore out, I found this battery operated handheld for a less than we paid for our manually operated model. This one was under $30 and our last one was in the $35 neighborhood.

I sent a video to Beth to show her how easy it is to use it. She was so tickled by that video, that I made one for you!

Entertainment – A Very Long Dark Night: “Death of a Salesman”

The first read through (table read) occurred on 2/9/2020 and will open 20 months later on Thursday 10/28/21. Purchase tickets at https://bdact.org/death-of-a-salesman/

In our October 25th post we chronicled the 19 month COVID19 delay of the Eagles Hotel California tour from April of 2020 to October 2021. Today’s post chronicles the 20 month COVID19 delay of “Death of a Salesman” at the Beaver Dam Area Community Theater’s Fine Art Center located at 117 West Maple Ave. in the Kamps Auditorium in Beaver Dam, WI. Tickets available at https://bdact.org/death-of-a-salesman/ and at the door.

For those who are not theater rats, a dark night is the open day between the final dress rehearsal and opening night. The first cast read through, frequently referred to as a table read, took place on February 9, 2020. The play will at long last open on October 28, 2021.

This Arthur Miller written play was first staged in 1949. When asked if the play is still relevant in 2021, Director Diane Lutz said; “Absolutely, one of the main themes is pursuing your American dream. That’s never going to go away. The idea of wanting to be number one is never going to go away.”

For those who are not familiar with Arthur Miller’s classic drama. The story centers around a cognitively failing patriarch named Willy Loman and his dysfunctional, but loving family.

Sixty year old traveling salesman Willy, once a top producer for the Wagner Company, struggles with declining sales success and his failing driving ability. However, Willy (Paul McMillan) and wife Linda (Holly Sina) are ever hopeful for his future success and the success of their sons Biff (Dan Nugent) and Happy (Tim Cwirla) Loman.

Our leading role actors must exhibit a wide range of emotions during from beginning to end of the play. None more extreme than those of the characters Willy and Biff who are struggling to be the best that they are capable of and just can’t seem to find the correct path. Paul McMillan and Dan Nugent are stellar in their ability express heart wrenching emotion in several key moments of the story.

From left to right, the Loman’s, WIlly (Paul McMillan), Linda (Holly Sina) talk about his last business trip to New England, while Happy (Tim Cwirla) and Biff (Dan Nugent) chat about their night on the town and what the future might look like for both of them..

The play takes place while Willy is nearing the end of his career at age 60. Many scenes show Willy reverting back to conversations and interactions with characters from previous times of his life while interacting with characters in real time.

Willy is preoccupied by two events in his life. Both of which could be considered ‘opportunities’ brought to Willy by minor characters in the play. Willy regrets both encounters, but for different reasons.

Opportunity number one is with his older brother Ben played aptly by veteran BDACT actor Rick Ramirez. Ben made his fortune in Africa as a young man, and returns to offer Willy a chance to start a business in Alaska.

Side stage view of Willy pleading his case to big brother Ben who enters the jungles of Africa at age 17 and walks out rich at the age of 21.

Some of my photos were taken at the back of the auditorium during Act 1 while some were taken side stage during Act 2.

Opportunity number two comes at the hands of a character simply named Woman, played by Jena Berg, who offers Willy an equally attractive proposition that can also bring business to Willy.

Woman (Jena Berg) and Willy recounting an opportunity from Willy’s past. Note that real time wife Linda is also in this scene while Willy’s mind wanders back and forth between now and then.
Willy pleading with second generation owner of The Wagner Company Howard Wagner (Dan Landsness) to be reassigned from traveling sales to floor room sales.

There are many significant minor characters who interact with the major Loman family characters. Primarily next door neighbors uncle Charley (Jim McMillan) and cousin Bernard (Kevin Cushing) whose function in the play are to help the Loman’s along their troubled way.

While this is a drama, there are several tension breaking moments of levity and humor.

Jim McMillan is, as always, superb in interjecting humor into the many interactions that he has with Willy concerning the future of eldest son Biff and the Loman’s ongoing financial issues.

Dan Landsness plays second generation owner Howard Wagner of The Wagner Company, the business that Willy sells for. Howard’s only scene happens in Act 2 when Willy shows up hat in hand asking to be transferred from traveling sales to in house floor sales.

The scene begins with Howard playing with a new technology recording machine. Landsness’ complete preoccupation with his new toy while being completely disinterested in Willy’s plight is humorously entertaining. I’m sure it would not be as funny with any other actor playing Howard.

Fortunately the funniest scene is performed by yours truly. Stanley (Ron Wilkie) a waiter at Frank’s Chophouse has a lively and entertaining conversation with Happy while waiting for Biff and Willy to arrive for dinner. Happy, like the old man, is a womanizer and becomes distracted by beautiful young “struedels” Miss Forsythe (Maylee Kok) and Letta (Lauren Kile).

The cast is rounded out with Barb Vockroth playing the dual parts of Jenny, uncle Charley’s secretary and the unseen voice of the hotel operator.

The major characters played by Paul McMillan, Holly Sina, Dan Nugent and Tim Cwirla are daunting assignments. They have all been stellar. Special kudos to Holly Sina who took over the role of Linda due to an illness 2 weeks before opening night. I’m in awe!

With that said, director Diane Lutz, producer Bobby Marck, and Stage Manage Lee McMillan must be given a big ovation for assembling a great cast under a tough time constraint and COVID19 restrictions enacted by the theater management. They had 6 weeks to start five actors from scratch, and a sixth actor only got two weeks from scratch.

For my money, the minor character actors are what really round out a great overall performance. Diane and Bobby hit a home run on this one. Jim McMillan, Kevin Cushing, Rick Ramirez, Jena Berg, Dan Landsness, and yes Ron Wilkie hit their characters and their moments to add depth to the story.

Patrick Lutz and Gary Taurick put up a wonderful two story home set in the same time frame! It looks great. James Steffen and Scott Eberle provide lights and visual effects. Greg Richart and Kaitlin Hollbrook provide sound and sound effects. Costuming by Laural Connolly.

Diane is correct. Pursuit of the American Dream never becomes passe. See you at the Fine Arts Center this weekend.

The Loman family argue about Biff’s business opportunity.