Letters to Holly

Friday, November 14

Rehearsal Seven: Hello Again

I got a call from the current artistic director (and the director of the spring murder play). He's still pursuing me to take over his job, and I'm curious about it. I need to learn just what kind of manpower, equipment, and money we have before I design a set. This new position might not start until next year. I don't know. He's asked me about this for most of the year now. I don't want to bury myself in this company. I want the freedom to run to Asheville if they're doing a great play. had I not been neck-deep in the script committee, I may have tried out for Misery. I didn't get to even see that one.

I have about four pages of ghost mumbling down, and I have about eight more to go. This new deadline to bee off-book has rattled me, and I'm cramming to learn the lines. When we arrive, we meet a new techie: the courtroom director. You might remember that she and the guy who was to play Marley butted heads in ugly fashion last year, and now I have to begrudgingly whisper thanks that he bowed out. Not that I'm in any way happy he's sick, mind you. The courtroom director will be our soundboard operator.

We're informed our playbill bios are due right before Thanksgiving, and I'll probably just recycle my bio from the spring show. I spend more of my commute playing with the accent. I was in an Agatha Christie show a few years back, and we all had British accents, and we all sounded like actors fumbling through British accents. Well, except for the lady who actually was from England. She was fine. The spring show was originally set in England, but I asked to dump the accents out of fear that they plus the script load would be too much to wrestle with. And I'm sure I was right about that. We menfolk are also under direction to grow muttonchops. When the costume director asked me if I was doing that, I said I'm puffing out my cheeks as hard as I can.

We run through Act Two once and then run the second half of it again. That means I did my ghost lines twice, and that will help me learn this stuff. I hope to be in costume before Thanksgiving so I can focus on what's essentially puppetry. I can't make eye contact, and I have to talk with my hands.

Moving Picture of the Day
The new trailer for Watchmen, the end-all and be-all story for comics-as-literature. If they keep the book's ending, I'll be shocked.

Thursday, November 13


I can't figure out the magic potato equation. I always use too many or too few when making mashed potatoes. We must have thrown out a pound of them last night after wolfing down another pound. Your Sis bought 25 pounds of taters from a student as part of a fundraiser. And we'll eat them all. We proved last year that no potato goes ungobbled in this house. I want to fry some for homemade chips.

In the News
AP Wire: Marrow Transplant Cures AIDS in Patient

BERLIN -- An American man who suffered from AIDS appears to have been cured of the disease 20 months after receiving a targeted bone marrow transplant normally used to fight leukemia, his doctors said Wednesday.

While researchers - and the doctors themselves - caution that the case might be no more than a fluke, others say it may inspire a greater interest in gene therapy to fight the disease that claims 2 million lives each year. The virus has infected 33 million people worldwide.

Dr. Gero Huetter said his 42-year-old patient, an American living in Berlin who was not identified, had been infected with the AIDS virus for more than a decade. But 20 months after undergoing a transplant of genetically selected bone marrow, he no longer shows signs of carrying the virus.

"We waited every day for a bad reading," Huetter said.

It has not come. Researchers at Berlin's Charite hospital and medical school say tests on his bone marrow, blood and other organ tissues have all been clean.

However, Dr. Andrew Badley, director of the HIV and immunology research lab at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said those tests have probably not been extensive enough.

"A lot more scrutiny from a lot of different biological samples would be required to say it's not present," Badley said.

This isn't the first time marrow transplants have been attempted for treating AIDS or HIV infection. In 1999, an article in the journal Medical Hypotheses reviewed the results of 32 attempts reported between 1982 and 1996. In two cases, HIV was apparently eradicated, the review reported.

Huetter's patient was under treatment at Charite for both AIDS and leukemia, which developed unrelated to HIV.

As Huetter - who is a hematologist, not an HIV specialist - prepared to treat the patient's leukemia with a bone marrow transplant, he recalled that some people carry a genetic mutation that seems to make them resistant to HIV infection. If the mutation, called Delta 32, is inherited from both parents, it prevents HIV from attaching itself to cells by blocking CCR5, a receptor that acts as a kind of gateway.

"I read it in 1996, coincidentally," Huetter told reporters at the medical school. "I remembered it and thought it might work."

Roughly one in 1,000 Europeans and Americans have inherited the mutation from both parents, and Huetter set out to find one such person among donors that matched the patient's marrow type. Out of a pool of 80 suitable donors, the 61st person tested carried the proper mutation.

Before the transplant, the patient endured powerful drugs and radiation to kill off his own infected bone marrow cells and disable his immune system - a treatment fatal to between 20 and 30 percent of recipients.

He was also taken off the potent drugs used to treat his AIDS. Huetter's team feared that the drugs might interfere with the new marrow cells' survival. They risked lowering his defenses in the hopes that the new, mutated cells would reject the virus on their own.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases in the U.S., said the procedure was too costly and too dangerous to employ as a firstline cure. But he said it could inspire researchers to pursue gene therapy as a means to block or suppress HIV.

"It helps prove the concept that if somehow you can block the expression of CCR5, maybe by gene therapy, you might be able to inhibit the ability of the virus to replicate," Fauci said.

David Roth, a professor of epidemiology and international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said gene therapy as cheap and effective as current drug treatments is in very early stages of development.

"That's a long way down the line because there may be other negative things that go with that mutation that we don't know about."

Even for the patient in Berlin, the lack of a clear understanding of exactly why his AIDS has disappeared means his future is far from certain.

"The virus is wily," Huetter said. "There could always be a resurgence."

Product of the Day

A Darth Vader toaster. You can buy it here.

Wednesday, November 12

Rehearsals Five and Six: Change and Concern

We got an email earlier Monday saying our Marley had to drop out. It's not a shock; I expected to lose him to focus on chemo and recovery from leukemia. He says he'll still direct the next show, and I hope he can, for his sake. But I don't think it's likely. Again, the script calls for the Cratchit actor to double as Marley, but I, as Cratchit, can't take on that role. I don't look like a contemporary of Scrooge.

No fear, as we met the new Marley, the father of the murderer from the spring play. He's a theatre pro, and he'll be a fine addition. We also finally got our Fred/translator as Brick from Cat arrived. He asked if we're doing accents. He didn't look thrilled with that. I get approval on the skeleton gloves I bought Friday, and we're given an updated schedule.

Currently, we meet at 7, run an act once and go home. That's roughly a 90-minute night, and I'm not comfortable with this. It's too casual. Too easy. We open in a month. We need to hammer these details. The director asks us to imagine what our characters want when they're onstage. Again, I think she's overthinking the play. She later suggests Scrooge is too mean, despite the script making it clear that he's playing up his gruff reputation to set up the revelation that he's still reformed and trying to prove a point. She asks that Scrooge and the defense attorney make their movements more distinct. That note is fine, Scrooge isn't a proper lawyer; he shouldn't move like one.

Learning the lines is easy. The accent and ghost pantomime aren't. Dan and I quickly get into our roles and enjoy teh ghost/translator scene. The judge actor and I are carpooling to the rehearsal; he lives one street over from me.

Rehearsal Six
We run Act One, and I meet the actress playing my wife. She's 70. I hope they don't decide to age Cratchit. He needs to be younger than Scrooge. Everyone does. Scrooge should be the closest to the death cursed by his inhumanity. He is rescued from the grave. We need to emphasize that. I have my Act One and Two lines down, except for the ghost yodeling. That will come as I practice with Brick. We're all told to flatten our accents more, and I worry I'll fall into caricature.

Short rehearsal again, and we're supposed to be off book next Thursday. NEXT THURSDAY?! We've had seven rehearsals! Seven 90-minute rehearsals! Thank God I hammered down my Cratchit lines already. I thought I was jumping the gun. I'd hate to be the other actors, those with reams of script pages to learn. Then again, I have to be onstage with them; I may have to cue folks with improvised lines.

Picture of the Day
We'll need all our space-age technology and courage to get this play right.

Monday, November 10

A Speedy Weekend

It just flew by because we stayed busy.

On Friday, we attended a birthday party, and Your Sister belted out karaoke. I stayed on the sidelines and evaded it. But I was reminded that I had done it a few years back ("Time Warp" from Rocky Horror), something I completely forgot. Earlier in the day, I bought skeleton gloves for the play. They're stylish, I want to wear them everywhere.

On Saturday, she did school work, attended a baby shower, and we both went to a teacher party that night. I spent the day with laundry and line memorization.

On Sunday, she did more schoolwork, and I encountered a slew of high-school and college people on Facebook. We ate a homemade beef stew Your Sis made. It was yummers.

Picture of the Day
A few thoughts on taxation.