If I were you I wouldn’t read this.
Really, stop now. If you go on, you’re going to be annoyed, one way or the other. You’re likely going to disagree with my premise, and thus take me to be a spoiler, a blasphemer, and a cynic. You’ll be angry. On the slight chance that you might agree with my take on the new “Ernie” show debuting in town this summer, you’re going to — like me — suffer a profound pain in your rear end. So either way you’ll lose.
If you read the Sunday column of “Ernie” author Mitch Albom about this play — a column in which the writer of the play reviews his own work, and finds it admirable — you were left with two similar options to those I mention above. Either you were moved to near tears, or were at least left eternally grateful to good old Mitch, for his selfless “giving back” to our community by immortalizing the life and career of Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell in this — if we are to take the author’s word on it — wonderful new play.
Or, if you’re negative and sarcastic enough to agree with my reaction to that column — and this piece is a reaction to that column, since –unlike the author, who appears to like his play quite a bit — I have not read the play nor seen it in rehearsals for its June opening … you already have a pain in your posterior.
To further qualify myself as a cynic and negative SOB, I plan not to see the play “Ernie,” based on the Sunday column of its author who praised it to high heaven — did I mention? — in his lugubrious Free Press rave. In plain words, I just refuse to be manipulated any further than I already have. Reading Sunday’s Free Press was enough.
Now make no mistake. I too liked Ernie Harwell. If you’re looking for teary moments and gooey sentiment, I once even spent a day at Ernie’s home with … honest to God … Santa Claus in tow and with … honest again … Ernie’s wonderful wife Lulu baking chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen and then serving them to the guests. I doubt that the scene is featured in the new play “Ernie,” which Mitch Albom reviewed in the Free Press with raves Sunday, but given the elements … Ernie, Santa Claus, the smell of cookies wafting through the house, served by the graceful Miss Lulu … it sure should have been.
Let me quote the author, at the beginning of his four-star socko review of himself: “It was Ernie’s idea. I was visiting with him and his wife Lulu in their home in Novi, in what would be Ernie‘s final autumn on Earth. His friend and attorney Gary Spicer was there and since Ernie was too modest to bring it up, Gary did.
“ ‘We were wondering if you‘d consider writing a play about Ernie‘s life.’ “
“Ernie quickly looked at the floor and shyly mumbled something like ‘Only if you feel it’s worthwhile” — but how could anything about Ernie not be worthwhile?”
Okay, Mitch … I’ll bite. This play about Ernie, your already well-received play about Ernie, might not be worthwhile. There, I’ve said it. And, if it was Ernie’s idea, how come his attorney was pitching it to you? And if Ernie was “much too modest to bring it up” and looking at the floor and shyly mumbling … why the hey did he invite you and his attorney to his home to discuss the play in the first place? Was he some kind of masochist? And what is this “something like” deal? Couldn’t you quote him exactly? You make it sound like he was in absolute agony … contemplating his own idea.
Or were you just there to have cookies? Very strange.
In these days of overwhelming media manipulation of those of us dull and unfortunate enough to be stuck out in the audience, the manipulatees handled by the manipulators, it’s time to say “enough” to those in the media with the power to massage our lowest common instincts via their immense power in the be-all world of modern communications.
I’d like to think that Ernie, real-life humble guy that he was, would hate this kind of media BS and shameless manipulation. Would see this for the sleight of hand that it is.
In the old days, an author may have written a play. An objective critic would review that play. A newspaper columnist, finding the play worthwhile, might encourage you to see the play. In Sunday’s case, we had an author writing a play, we had that writer then function as his own critic in raving about the play. Then he put on his gaudy columnist garb and heartily recommended we storm the box office to take in the master work called … “Ernie.”
“It was Ernie’s idea.” Right. But he was too sincere and humble to even bring it up. Thank God his attorney and good old Mitch were there to employ ESP and pick up on Ernie’s unspoken concept. The keen “idea” of a sick and dying man in his 90s.
Oh, by the way. The author/critic/PR man who wrote “Ernie” was quick to point out Sunday that the play “premieres at the City Theatre in Downtown Detroit. All Michigan actors. Michigan director. Michigan crew.” Well, hell then, it HAS to be good, right? I mean, good old Mitch wouldn’t cynically — there’s an odd word to apply to him — manipulate us into attending this play, into loving this play, because the actors, director, crew, popcorn sellers, and valet parkers are all from our tri-country area. Would he? ‘Cause there’s a message for the rubes — if respect for a dying lovable old man won’t rope ’em in, try some patriotism. These are OUR people putting this charade on. Resist it and plunge us all further into recession. We dare you.
Well, if you don’t see that … the manipulation that is … if that “All Michigan” pitch doesn’t set your truth detectors into high whine … then I’m sure you despise this column. And me. And we … speaking for me and this column … surely deserve it. To question anything about the wonderful Ernie, not to mention all Michigan actors, is surely blasphemy of the worst sort.
Just try to remember, please … as you polish a rock to improve your aim in our direction … it’s not Ernie I’m objecting to here. Nor the idea of a play devoted to him, though that’s another whole — and highly debatable –concept. No, here’s the rub: Having the ear of the public via mass media is a gigantic responsibility. The few fortunate enough to have unfettered power through modern communication, those who can now command our attention and toy with our thoughts, owe their public honest, objective … and selfless … commentary on the issues and people of our times. NOT an overflow of blather and promotion and congratulations and tributes to themselves. The public can decide who is noble, and who is not. What is worthy, and what is not.
“Ernie,“ the play, is bathos. There’s my review, simple and short, without even going to see it. So how would I know? I can tell that by the author’s self critique, and his shameless salesmanship. I won’t see the play, but I can bet there’ll be a scene … as the plot begins to sag … when a grizzled old gent in a Detroit Tigers uniform shuffles onstage and begins to speak in double-talk and double negatives and inane observations. At that point the audience will be expected to rise as one, and the name “Sparky!” will escape their lips, as yet another departed old man, also not around to defend and explain himself, will be tossed into this feel-good circus act. If that ain’t in the show, then I don’t know my man, our author.
As to that author’s, that columnist’s, that salesman’s duty to the public via the gift he’s been given in the form of powerful access to his readers — I say again it is a holy responsibility, a calling and gift of the highest sort. I rarely see that gift being selflessly employed, being used in true service to that public anymore.
I didn’t see it Sunday in the Free Press.