Daniel McMullen

Daniel McMullen

Monday, 30 January 2017 06:00

Nursery School and The God of Carnage

Daniel at Nursery SchoolAn important event in my life that I won’t forget. No wait, let me set the scene. Picture the early seventies. I was in Nursery school. It was situated in a large apartment in the shadow of Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, Maryland. I was five. I don’t have many memories of life in Nursery school and the ones I do have are usually triggered when I smell something that has the same scent as that place. The memories come, the visions of what it was like at that time. Playing Duck, Duck, Goose on the lawn outside, craft time, the thin blue mats we would have our naps on - I was awarded “Best Napper” on at least one occasion and I have the award to prove it!

In the midst of those visions, there is one memory that lives with me without any triggers. I can still see the knitted capes: red and yellow. They had velcro fasteners to close around the neck. That special box containing those hallowed capes came out only after nap time. These were much more than any normal capes. They were symbols of status. Not just an ordinary status. No, this was serious. They were SUPERHERO status symbols to all who were in that Nursery school. Prized above even the tasty paste or the “Birthday Spot” next to the piano where you would be serenaded by the entire group and getting to choose the first cupcake from the platter.

I do not know how, when or why it was decided but Red was Batman and Yellow was Robin. The wonderful Adam West “Batman” series was in reruns on TV and each one of us longed to be driving the Batmobile, sliding down the poles into the Batcave and matching wits against and defeating the nefarious villains who appeared daily to threaten Gotham with a “ZOWIE”, “KAPOW!”, “BIFF“, “OOOOF!” and a “KAY-O!”

I had been Robin several times, and yet the Holy Grail of being Batman had always eluded me. It seemed I could never get there in time to get that red cape, to never out smart Johnny, Matt, Susan or the bigger and snot-nosed Andy. No matter how fast I thought I would be or how close I would sneak my mat to the box which contained the capes - I just could not get my hands on the red cape. Even if I got to the box first, I would be out-muscled and cast aside in the competition to be Batman.

On that day, that fateful day I resolved as I lay there on my mat during nap time after having a white bread peanut butter and jelly sandwich to finally be Batman. I knew nothing would stop me. I had waited and waited for my turn which time after time never came. Today was the day. The ever-confident Andy had already been talking about how Batman would be fighting The Joker and how he would use his Bat-a-rang to wrap up the Joker and take him to jail. My heart was racing as I felt the clock nearing “wake up” time, I rolled over and coiled myself like a threatened rattlesnake ready to launch myself towards the box. Andy had no idea what was about to happen. Surprise was on my side.

One of the Nursery school assistants turned on the lights and started to say, “Alright everyone, it’s time to get up and put your mats away.” Just as she said, “Alright ...” I was up and running across the floor, jumping and dodging my sleepy school-mates and throwing my mat to where they were piled. I made it to the box just behind Andy. He opened the box and my hands shot inside the box. My aim was true as I pulled out both my hands and there they clutched the elusive red cape. Andy grabbed and tried to snatch it from my hands as I pulled it close. I told him to let go. He did not. Instead he used his free hand to mush my face up and mash my nose. I screamed, but would not let go. I wanted that cape. Andy then slapped me with his free hand. I would not let go. I could feel the tears welling in my eyes from the blow. He used both hands to try and pry the prized cape from me to no avail. I kept both hands locked onto that cape. He sat on my stomach and tried to pull it free. No way. I had that cape in a vice grip (well, as good of a vice grip as a 5-year-old could do). He started hitting me and saying “Let go! Let go!” my tearful reply was only a repeated and defiant “No!” while rolling over to get on top of the cape and to make it harder to get it away from me.

After what seemed to be an eternity of defending my right (as I saw it) to finally be Batman once and for all, one of the school assistants pulled me and Andy apart. We were separated and sat down in chairs across a table from one another in the kitchen. Both still reeling from the struggle. Tears were pouring from both of us as we were given cool wet washcloths to wash our faces and to help calm us down. We were sternly spoken to about the importance of sharing and not fighting. I sat there, eyes swollen, sniffling, my nose running and stuffy looking across at Andy. He looked back at me through his tears and runny stuffy nose. I do remember that moment wondering what must be going through Andy’s mind as he saw me teary eyed opposite him at the table wearing a justly earned, beautiful red cape. I was Batman.

Now maybe there are some life lessons to learn from this story that I should perhaps pass along to my children: Not to give up, fight for what you want, no matter the odds, no matter the pain, hang on to what you want, believe in yourself and your resolve. Maybe something of that sort.

Yet another lesson from my story is that there does exist a God of Carnage.

Monday, 18 January 2016 14:46

Getting to Know Ingrid

ingrid piaIngrid with her daughter PiaI readily admit I knew very little of Ingrid Berman’s personal life. She was Swedish, was married a few times and four children. Her star persona was all I really knew. Many movies starring Ingrid are classics Casablanca and Notorious to name only two of many. Through Ulf Persson’s play Ingrid I have learned quite a lot about Ingrid Bergman’s background and her successes and failures in her public and private life. In Ingrid the focus is on Berman’s relationship with her first daughter Pia which Ulf explores from Ingrid’s perspective as she revisits many pivotal moments in her life with the men in her life.

In presenting this story and exploring the subject matter of Ingrid’s most important and sometimes turbulent relationships, the focus for me has been more of understanding the moments that Ingrid is going through and what aspect of the relationship (from each character) she is drawing upon to deal with her very real fear presented in the play. It is an easy trap to get caught in trying to do an exact impression of someone from real life and yet missing out on the relationship and the reason for which the person is present. There is our challenge: to bring the heart of the relationships to life in telling this touching story. I have enjoyed this experience of learning more about Ingrid Bergman and exploring how her relationships could have affected her life choices. I also would like to thank Ulf for allowing RStC the chance to work with him on this exciting project.

Sunday, 26 April 2015 12:00

Spoken and Unspoken moments

The cast and directors of 'The Really Small Reminiscences'The cast and directors of 'The Really Small Reminiscences'

A guy who is down on his luck sees a well-dressed gentleman walking down the street.  He stops the well-dressed gentleman and asks, “Hey buddy, can you spare some change?” To which the well-dressed gentleman replies, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be – William Shakespeare.”  The down on his luck guy doesn’t miss a beat by replying, “Up yours a**hole – David Mamet.”

This was my first introduction to David Mamet. 

It’s an old joke and one that quickly and simply portrays Mamet’s style in the use of language. Many of his plays and screenplays use what has been termed “Mametspeak” which is very basically a form of “street language” that uses a mixture of blunt, truthful straight-talk and a sprinkling of profanity. Mamet’s own words regarding his use of colorful dialogue, “The people who speak that way tell the truth. They don’t institutionalize thought.” 

Mamet’s Reunion contains only a few words of profanity and a whole lot of straight-talk between two people who have not seen each other in 20 years. The “Mametspeak” is used to great effect to create an uncomfortable atmosphere between these two characters – delves deeper into their respective experiences displaying a vulnerability and an honesty from this very personal interaction. Each character has overcome obstacles to bring them to this moment - this reunion. 

For all the (positive and negative) attention that Mamet’s use of language receives, he is also equally masterful at creating elements of unspoken moments allowing actors to accentuate mood, relationship and build tension. Reunion allows ample space for these extremely poignant moments. Riikka and I have been working hard together to understand and create these moments and allow them to breathe further life into the play and the two characters. We are excited to present this challenging play in the first two weeks of May.

Sunday, 29 March 2015 13:06

What would you say?

Bernie and Carol, 'Reunion'Bernie and Carol, 'Reunion'

Imagine you haven’t seen someone in 20 years. Your daughter. Your own flesh and blood. In those 20 years you have heard only small tidbits of news about this person.  Your only memories of her are when she was a toddler, little dresses, pink ribbons holding her pigtails, holding your hand for security as you walked together at the zoo.  The absolute trust she had in you at that time.  The way her beautiful eyes looked at you when she was happy.  How she reached for you for comfort when she had skinned her knee and you dried her tears.  Gone.  Those years cannot be gotten back.  You were missing from her life.  She has been brought up by her mother, a woman with whom you want nothing to do and another man has acted as her father through many important years. She has her own life.  A life that you have had absolutely nothing to do with mainly because of the choices you made and your addiction.  Anger.  Remorse. Pain.  The continuously growing guilt and regret of not being there for her.  The baby girl who you remember as a cute 3 year old is now grown into a young woman.

By all accounts you are a complete stranger to her.  

There is a knock on your door.  You are now face to face with her.  Carol. What do you say?  Elated by this opportunity this is Bernie’s time to take a chance.  To try and begin to repair the damage that he has inflicted.  To bridge 20 years of absence.  20 years of regret.  20 years of loneliness.

These are some of the perspectives I am using to portray Bernie.

Monday, 24 November 2014 17:26

Toe tapping with Shaun McMullen

Shaun McMullenShaun McMullen

All of the original music that we are using for our Greater Tuna run (at Tanssiteatteri Hurjaruuth 2 – 7.12.2014) is composed, performed and produced by my brother Shaun a professional musician (guitarist) back in the USA. The idea first hit me back in May of this year that perhaps Shaun could put together one or two tunes for the show. Budgeting concerns aside, I felt it would just add much more of a "down home family feeling" to the show. The entire production team was ecstatic when Shaun agreed! On a Sunday evening in late May Shaun and I spoke together and I gave him some idea of what type and style of music we were looking. I must mention that Shaun loves many styles of music but his real love in music is Jazz first and foremost. In our discussion he really picked up on the vibe of the show and the importance of the music. Within the next couple of days, we had a couple of samples ready to be heard. During one of our catchup calls Shaun confided in me that he believed he had tapped into his "inner Country music" soul. Well that's not hard to believe as our parents did introduce us to some Country (Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Charlie Rich, Dolly Parton among many others) at a very early age in our lives.

Shaun recruited another musician, Skye Sadowski-Malcolm, to provide fiddle on many songs and vocals on the lovely and soothing song Everything. Before we knew it, Shaun had provided eight songs including his own stirring version of the Old Rugged Cross – a soulful hymn written in 1912.

I just wish that there was a good way to package up this lovely music to share beyond our run. The music Shaun created has many dynamics – from heartfelt ballads to humorous jingles to knee slapping, toe tapping guitar picking tunes. Shaun's music contributes so much to the feeling that is at the heart of Greater Tuna. So y'all come on out and clap, knee slap or toe tap along with the music and enjoy the show!