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So long Goldie...


Goldie Semple stars as Claire Wedderburn alongside Thom Marriot as Mr. Wadhurst in a production of Noel Coward's "Hands Across the Sea" during the Shaw Festival's 2009 season. Photo courtesy of the Shaw Festival.

A bright light on the Canadian acting scene blinked out yesterday, when Goldie Semple, a veteran of both the Shaw and Stratford festival stages, died after a battle with cancer. She was 56.

An audience favorite and a master of sarcasm and restraint, Semple most recently graced the Shaw Festival stage this season with three whirlwind performances in "Brief Encounters," a trio of plays by Noel Coward. She also appeared in a 2008 production of Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music," "The Cassilis Engagement," "Picnic" and "Easy Virtue," among many others. News Critic Emeritus Richard Huntington wrote glowingly about her Semple's widely admired performance in Shaw's 1999 production of Noel Coward's "Easy Virtue":

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Jorge Guitart: The Linguist as Good-Humor Man

 "This is not about you or me, I say,/ It is about aboutness itself," writes Jorge Guitart in "Part of What Makes No Difference" one of the 100 poems that comprise his new collection The Empress of Frozen Custard and Ninety-Nine Other Poems published by Buffalo-based BlazeVox Books

Writing about "aboutness" is nothing new for Guitart--the Cuban-born refugee from Castro's dictatorship turned Spanish language linguist, phonologist, and longtime professor of Romance Languages and Literatures at the University at Buffalo--who excels in his droll, seriocomic mode:

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'The First Snow'

I'm usually one to greet the first big snow of the season with a "bah, humbug" and daydreams of a tropical beach. But even I admit there's some beauty in it. Video artist Reid Carrescia captured the first flurries of the season drifting past his Philadelphia window:

--Colin Dabkowski

Millie Niss (1973-2009)

We were saddened this past week to learn of the passing of Millie Niss, the Buffalo-area-based poet, writer, digital artist and web-based installation designer, who died Nov. 29 of complications of Bechet's Disease, which she had battled for nearly two decades, and the H1N1 virus, which she had contracted four weeks earlier.
She was just 36 years old. 
There are only a few people one ever meets in life for whom the description "savant" might apply, but Millie was one of them. An award-winning, Columbia University-trained mathematician, she published papers and original proofs in professional journals while still an undergraduate, but saw her very promising academic career foreshortened by the early onset of a rare vascular autoimmune disorder -- later diagnosed as Behcet's Disease -- that would eventually take her life.

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'The Pro-Love Tour'

On Nov. 20, dozens of musicians, poets and dancers from around Western New York gathered in North Tonawanda's Riviera Theatre to perform the first of what organizers hope will be many incarnations of "The Pro-Love Tour," an event conceived to honor and celebrate the memory of Asa Hill. This week, the event's organizers posted an edited glimpse at the performance on YouTube. Check it out:

--Colin Dabkowski

'Pyretown' postponed

'Tis the season for theatrical snafus and postponements, it would seem. A couple weeks ago, Subversive Theatre Collective had to cancel its production of "We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay!" because of a cast member's health issue. Yesterday, I got a call from Mary Kate O'Connell, who said that one of her actresses in O'Connell and Company's production of "The Magic of Christmas" had injured a shoulder (the production will go on as scheduled, however). And let's not even get started on the whole Topol debacle.

Now, word comes from Ujima Theatre's Rahwa Ghirmatzion that the lead actor in its production of "Pyretown" dropped out for personal reasons and the show has been rescheduled for Dec. 11-20, with Hugh Davis taking over the lead role.

--Colin Dabkowski

Burchfield in Los Angeles


"An April Mood," a 1946-55 painting by Charles Burchfield. Collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

"Heat Waves in a Swamp," a major exhibition of work by Buffalo's Charles Burchfield currently on view at the University of California's Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, continues to receive impressive notices. The latest comes from Buffalonian Tom L. Freudenheim (an outspoken critic, you may recall, of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery's 2007 deaccession) in today's Wall Street Journal.

Freudenheim writes:

An extraordinary exhibition at UCLA's Hammer Museum, curated by the noted sculptor Robert Gober, provides an opportunity to encounter Burchfield's watercolors and drawings with fresh eyes. He is revealed to be a deeply sensual romantic realist fully in tune with and reflective of the forces in abstract art so dominant during his productive years.

It's good to see Burchfield's reputation, which seems to rise and fall on 20- to 30-year cycles, on the wax again. His work is phenomenally important, both for the ways he stretched and transformed the possibilities of the watercolor medium and for the dark and mystical psychic content in his painted visions of the natural world. It's a world that's endlessly explorable.

The exhibition will make its way to the Burchfield Penney Art Center on March 6, before jetting off to the Whitney Museum of American Art next summer.

--Colin Dabkowski

On The Media looks at "Books 2.0"

One year after our financial liquidity crisis swept across the publishing  industry forcing layoffs and structural changes that were in many cases long overdue,  this past weekend the National Public Radio show On The Media presented its annual look at book culture and the business underlying it.  If you missed the program on your local NPR affiliate, you can visit the program's website to download it for podcast or streaming.

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German scholar claims Earl of Oxford "invented" Shakespeare

We'll have to wait until next year to read an English-language translation, but the UK's Daily Telegraph reported last week that a new book by German literary scholar Kurt Kreiler claims to advance the most substantial argument yet that the plays attributed to William Shakespeare were actually written by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.   
Krieler's Der Mann, der Shakespeare erfand ["The Man who Invented Shakespeare"], a 22-chapter, 595-page study published by Frankfurt-based Insel Verlag in September has received a number of favorable reviews in mainstream German publications, including "Der Dichter und sein Doppelgänger", a piece by cultural critic Urs Jenny in the leading German weekly magazine Der Spiegel.

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