Thursday, August 26, 2010

It Happened In the White House

CD Review

Written and performed by Lynn Ruehlmann. Music by Bob Zentz and Jeanne McDougall. Available for $15.00, plus $3.50 shipping and handling, from May also be ordered from or by calling Lynn at (757) 625-6742. Recommended for 4th grade through adult.

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

Lynn Ruehlmann is a traveling one-woman history show who uses her considerable writing and acting talent to not only bring historical characters to life, but to make them accessible and familiar to her listeners. On this entertaining and informative CD about Virginia presidents and their wives, she wisely chooses to portray characters who “either did know or could have known the president and his wife and all the facts in that tale.” This frees her to bring a bit of herself into the telling, as opposed to assuming the persona of a well-known figure about whom many may have already formed pre-conceived notions.

Dolly Madison’s story, for example, is told by a little girl who loves to watch Mrs. Madison feed her parrot. With the excitement that only a child would feel comfortable exposing, she relates the tale of how Mrs. Madison saved many of America’s valuable artifacts, including Gilbert Stuart’s painting of George Washington, from the rapidly approaching British army during the War of 1812. Mrs. Madison, the child concludes, is a “national heroine who did not care for her own safety.”

George and Martha Washington’s love story is beautifully shared by Mrs. Chamberlayne, one of Martha’s friends from childhood. Mrs. Chamberlayne shares intimate scenes in the life of a couple that is as devoted to the American colonies and their people as it is to each other. When duty calls, the Washingtons answer, though somewhat reluctantly, and trust that their love for one another will see them through the battlefields and the politics.

Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Patsy enlightens us about the details that led her father to write the Declaration of Independence. She also expounds on his role in sending Lewis and Clark on their expedition of the Louisiana Purchase.

John Tyler’s story is narrated by a singer on the Princeton, who fondly relates the courtship of Tyler and his second wife, Julia Gardner, thirty years Tyler’s junior. Tyler was the first president to be married while in office, and, though Julia was accustomed to getting what she wanted, the narrator makes it clear that he believes the marriage was a true love match.

A servant tells the story of Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, wife of President James Monroe. A shy woman who suffers from convulsions, Mrs. Monroe is compared unfavorably to Dolly Madison in local gossip. Indignant, the servant recounts the story of how a brave Mrs. Monroe saved Madame de Lafayette from the French guillotine. “That is the story the gossips should be telling!” the servant declares.

We are given insight into the lives of President and Mrs. Zachary Taylor by a Tourist who is drawn to the stuffed warhorse that the President has mounted on the White House lawn. Mrs. Taylor, the tourist confides, was never seen in public, except for church. She did not want the public chore of being hostess for the Presidency. President Taylor, it is said, did not even vote for himself because of his wife’s reluctance to take on the role of First Lady.

My favorite story on this CD is the story of President Woodrow Wilson, told by a woman who knew his second wife, Edith. Theirs was not the most romantic courtship, but they had great trust in and affection for one another. After reluctantly getting involved in World War I, Wilson went on to help write the Treaty of Versailles and to champion the League of nations. He died heartbroken that the United States rejected the League.

Featured on this recording are several pieces of period music, provided by Bob Zentz and Jeanne McDougall who play various instruments. These lovely musical interludes set the mood for each story.

Ruehlmann thoroughly researched these stories, and it shows. The stories are a wealth of information, and each narrating character is so unique that it is easy to forget that just one woman portrays them all.

Though it cannot be seen on this recording, Ruehlmann is blessed with a face that can create expressions that mirror the inner being of her characters, and the physical changes effected by this are quite remarkable. I can think of no better performer to be brought into a school system. Her shows are both entertaining and educational, and the lucky students who get to see her shows have fun, in addition to learning history.

The CD liner has photos of the Presidents and wives who are featured on this recording. It also contains some enlightening notes about the show. Seldom have I seen a more professionally produced package.

After hearing this CD, I feel proud to be a native of the state of Virginia, the mother of such fascinating presidents.

The 48 Hour Film Project

On August 1st at 4:00 p.m., I attended the final session of Richmond’s 48 Hour Film Project at the Byrd Theatre on Cary Street. I went because my friend Mary Lou Kline’s husband, son, and grandson (otherwise known as Kline Productions) had produced one of the films and I was interested on seeing their work.

The 48 Hour Film project challenges participants to create a seven-minute film from beginning to end in just 48 hours. Participants are given a genre, a character, a prop and a line of dialogue that must be incorporated into the film. Genre varies, but all participants must include in their films the same character, prop, and line of dialogue given. This year, they were as follows:

Character: a party planner named either Dwight or Danette Williams.
Prop: A CD
Line of dialogue: “How do I look?”

My plan was to stay long enough to see Kline Films’ production, an eerie piece entitled The Inheritance, after which I would scoot along and get back to my busy life.
Several shows preceded The Inheritance, however, and, of course, I got hooked and stayed to watch all ten films.

I was amazed at the professionalism of the films I saw. All had complete and well-written, stories, fabulous acting, skilled direction, and intriguing sets. I was expecting amateur hour, but what I saw definitely measured up to anything that I have seen come out of Hollywood lately.

The Inheritance was my favorite film, and not just because it was produced by friends. It had mystery, suspense, and a lot of heart as it followed a family to a lovely old home that was left to them after a loved one’s death. Of course, the home already had inhabitants, but not the kind that could be readily seen. Apparitions appeared only to the young daughter, who was enticed to follow them to their mysterious lair.

I wish I could remember the names of all the other production companies and their films. An Alfred Hitchcockian film about a young couple on their wedding trip intrigued me. A humorous film about a special agent (a Mad Magazine version of Jack Bauer) made me laugh out loud. All of the films not only held my attention, but were quite enjoyable. I was sorry that I had not attended all 4 sessions.

I now have on my favorites list. Once next year’s schedule is announced, I am going to clear my schedule and make sure to attend every session. I am finally starting to love Richmond.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Review Policy

Several storytelling pals of mine have recently called into question my reviews of storytelling CDs and DVDs. Because all my storytelling reviews are complimentary, they doubt my credibility as a reviewer. After all, no one likes every storytelling recording she hears.

I can understand their concern, and I am happy to address this issue.

I do NOT enjoy every storytelling recording that I hear. I usually enjoy about 1 out of every 3. As far as reviews go, however, I will review only those recording that I like. There are three reasons for this:

1. Most storytellers spend thousands of dollars to produce a CD or DVD. That is a lot of money in comparison to our incomes. I have made a personal decision to refrain from writing negative reviews that may affect a storyteller’s livelihood. After all, just because I don’t care for a particular recording does not mean that others will feel the same. What I offer is my own opinion – nothing else. If I cannot find something good to say, I keep quiet.

2. Years ago I belonged to a playwriting group that strongly believed that a finished product should not be critiqued. By the time a play is finished, the playwright has invested so much time that she has a huge emotional stake in the end product. I follow this same policy when I review storytelling recordings. I do not criticize what cannot be changed. No storyteller that I know is able to re-record 5,000 CDs to accommodate a negative review.

3. I find it tedious to review recordings that I do not like. I have very little free time and prefer to spend it doing those things that I enjoy.

After I write a review, I always send it to the storyteller for permission to publish it. If the storyteller agrees to publication, I send it to VASA, Voices in the Glen, and The Connecticut Storytelling Center to be considered for inclusion in their newsletters. I also send it to and post it on my blog, with links to FaceBook and Twitter. Since I now do news and reviews for Here Women Tell (on Here Women Talk radio), I share my reviews with that show’s listeners, as well.

Anyone who would like me to consider reviewing a CD or DVD should send it to:

Linda Goodman
P.O. Box 1351
Chesterfield, VA 23832

If you would like to have the recording returned, please include a stamped, self-addressed envelope.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

That Fading Scent

DVD Review

Written and performed by Judith Black. Available for $15.00 from To book the one-woman show, contact Judith Black at

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

Okay, I admit it. I am a HUGE fan of Judith Black. She is brilliant, funny, energetic, innovative, talented, charismatic and unapologetically bold. As if that were not enough, she is extraordinarily versatile. As many times as I have seen her on stage, she has never been the same person twice. She takes her audiences through of range of emotions that can leave them contemplative, angry, or ready to rock. Sometimes she leaves me exhausted, but still I want more

I saw the maiden voyage of Black’s one-woman show That Fading Scent a few years back at the National Storytelling Conference in Pittsburgh, where it was presented as one of the fringe performances. The performance brought the audience to its feet on several occasions. Those of us who were women of a certain age cheered to at last find a spokesperson who was not afraid to defend our menopausal madness. When the show was over we all danced together. I wanted to shout from the rooftop: We’re Old! We’re Bold! Get used to it!

The show, now available on DVD, consists of three stories, two rants, and a song. In her incredibly funny intro, Black compares seeking advice from mainstream medical practitioners to “putting your money in a Vegas slot machine.” This transitions smoothly into a rant about the absurdity of forcing oneself to be sexy at sixty, when there are so many other things that are more important. Are you listening, AARP? We want real people on your covers, not surgical clones!

The first story on the DVD is Three Mothers (Snow White through the generations), an intense tale of three aging mothers who are watching their own beauty fade, just as their daughters’ beauty is beginning to blossom. Like the evil fairy tale queen, they “cajole, contract, or commission a man to commit homicide.” Beauty triumphs, however, and the cycle begins anew. “Am I still the prettiest?” youth frantically asks the mirror in the heartbreaking finale.

Marjorie’s New Reign/Rain is an original fairy tale about an environmentally conscious dame who is suddenly beset by a cloud that stations itself above her head and will not go away. Luckily, three female cloud busters offer their services and take her to a medieval cottage where they use “magical interventions” to help her find her compass. Baking, gardening, exercise, and social activism make appearances along the way.

A second rant deals with the side effects of hormone replacement therapy and birth control. The audience chants “kill the witch!” as a refrain. I saw this rise to a fever pitch in Pittsburgh. Clearly, Black has touched upon an issue that has some women concerned about more than eternal youth and beauty.

Queen Crone, who wears a pink chemise because “at my age it shouldn’t matter what my body looks like,” brings this DVD to a close. A super hero, she fights super villains Estrogena, Middle-Aged Monster Men (forty-five to sixty-five year old men who dump their wives for younger trophy women), and Pharmaceutical Giants in her quest to make it okay for women to be old. As she flies away from her triumphs, people ask, “Who was that woman?” The answer, of course, is “our future.”

As good as this DVD is, being part of a live audience for this show is an incomparable experience. The good news is that Black is willing to travel. If she is not coming to your neck of the woods, find a group or an organization that is able to book her and convince its program chair to do it. You will not be sorry.

Did I mention that I am a HUGE fan of Judith Black? Somebody get this woman an HBO special!