* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where you can't tell the action without a program...or as they say in the theater, a playbill. This week we are proud to introduce Kathryn A. Higgins, whose first piece for us proves she is not an understudy but a lead player.


By: Kathryn Higgins

An off-off Broadway production of:

“A Picnic sur la Grasse”

A Couple Meets Some Friends for the Weekend and Things Go Awry!

Who’s Who in the Cast and Crew
Ashley Mimsey-Whittenton (Anais): I am ecstatic to be playing Anais in this totally excellent production. And working with EboneY — it’s such a dream — except when he smokes those weird cigarettes right before the kissing scene. EboneY! Here’s a shout out to my parents: Hey Dad: Told you so about the acting classes. No more bitching about that, OK? And it’s pronounced “An-a-is,” not “An-anus” or “An-ass” for all your smart alecks out there. Credits: America’s Next Top Model (contestant, season 3), Naughty Bar Girls (girl), Zombies from Hollywood (victim/zombie), Frat Party (girl in pool scene), Deluxe Bathing Suits (catalog model).

EboneY (Blair): I’m like, eXhilarated to be playing Blair, I’m totally dowN with it. Especially when I get to kiss Ashley Mim-Whit. Yo, Ashley! She da bomb! And that long part in the third act when I’m offstage…Well, we’ve got a damn good game of cards happening in the back there. I mean a daMn good game! I had to really work on my pecs to play this role, if you know what I mean. All that nudity! Well, only partial nudity for me but Ashley — I’m like, yO biTch, put it in its place! Credits: American Idol (contestant, season three, if you look close enough you can see me), Street Dancing (high school production), Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (straight guy), America’s Funniest Home Videos (video of the guy with the beer bong). And I’d like to thank that Esquire dude for the really cool article and photo shoot. Look for me there in oCtober.

Cindi King (Sue): I’m elated to be in this production, even though I am playing Sue. I’m used to more of a challenge, you know? So it gets really irritating when Shirley keeps taking away my cell phone during rehearsals. I’m not twelve years old, for chrissakes. Credits: Wicked (regional), High School Musical (high school production), South Pacific (understudy).

Stephen Baldwin (Butch): Yeah, here I am, playing someone sexy in this play. Lucky you! Credits include: The Usual Suspects, Celebrity Big Brother, Big Brother’s Little Brother, SlapShot 2: Breaking the Ice, Zebra Lounge, Oddville: MTV, Bio-Dome. And I’d like to take this opportunity to personally thank the Lord for the humility and success and just general virtuosity that He has bestowed so appropriately upon me.

Ashley Peeks (housemaid): Yeah, I’m the other Ashley. Not that Ashley. Though I can’t say I’m that embarrassed about it. I’m not envious, no. Especially when people ask me to take my clothes off and Ashley (the other one), says, “No, it’s me who takes her clothes off!” Yeah, I’m really glad I went to Julliard and NYU acting school and did all those internships and got all that coffee for all those lech producers, it really paid off, right? So, right, that’s me in the background with the feather duster. Enjoy! Credits: Waiting for Godot, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lysistrata, Oedipus Rex, The Cherry Orchard, bobrauschenbergamerica, My Vagina Has a Conversation with Me, etc., etc., etc.

Andy McDits (Joe): I was euphoric to get the part of Joe in this fine production. You might not know it from the script but once you see me playing Joe you’ll understand that he’s a character with a real history — an alcoholic father, bipolar mother, difficulties with learning disabilities in high school, but, despite it all, a cum laude college graduate. Did you know Joe spends his free time rescuing animals from shelters and collecting stamps? Credits: The Suite Life of Zack and Cody (laugh track), Hannah Montana (laugh track), Cops (perp), Wonder Pets (pet), Alvin and the Chipmunks (crowd extra).

Shirley Barker (Director): I am absolutely exuberant to be directing this wonderful play. A play about love and loss; about people who get hurt and people who forget their pants. And to work with this fine cast of young people! And by “young” I don’t mean vain, shallow, selfish and inexperienced. What I mean is they’re so full of potential. Yes, if you look hard enough you’ll see all sorts of latent possibility. Latent just like a caterpillar before it builds its cocoon, when it’s voraciously eating everything in sight with its insect mandibles, engorging its segmented body and its thousands of larval muscles that it uses to hump from one meal to the next, a meal that might consist of leaves or detritus or other caterpillars or my winter coat. A caterpillar that at times may regurgitate its digestive juices or produce bad smells through its extrudable glands to repel attacking enemies. A caterpillar that might camouflage itself as a bird dropping to escape detection. Not so pretty, right? But then, look, it spins itself a cocoon by excreting some kind of glue and then its tubular body sort of decomposes and recomposes and, if you’re lucky, a beautiful butterfly will emerge. Although sometimes it’s a big ugly hungry moth, like the one that was trying to get into my closet last night. I had to squish it — don’t you hate having to squish one of those really fat juicy moths? Credits: Shakespeare in the Park, Shakespeare on the Sound, Shakespeare on the Pier, Shakespeare at the Mediocre Junior College, Modern-Day Shakespeare Interpretations.

Frank Congeali (Lighting): I was eager to be Head Lighting Guy in this production until I got to know the cast, then I became enervated. Thank god for Bilbo — that’s what we call Shirley’s personal assistant — he’s a little short. I think his real name is Seth or Armando or something like that. Anyway, thank god for him and for Lexapro and for coffee. And, okay, for tequila. Shirley keeps saying, “It’s a romantic comedy, not a zombie movie,” and I keep saying, “I’m a lighting guy, not a fricking magician,” and “Some people just should not be naked in public.” But who listens to the lighting guy? Credits: WKXQ’s Fatslob and Manwhore in the Morning, rogue performance art exhibitions at Ground Zero, Central Park and the east side Benihana’s, Shakespeare with Shirley (Othello and A Midsummer Night’s Dream).

XtC (set design): I was effervescent to be included in A Picnic Sur La Grasse! Honestly, I nearly wet my pants! Not to say that I haven’t been involved in a lot of productions, but I always give it my all, you know? My ALL. Now, if you look closely at this set you will see a rainbow — see if you can find it! Credits: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (queer guy), Cirque de Solstice/Yonkers, La Cage aux Folles, Rampant Nudity II, Halloween Parade float design — Greenwich Village.

Blondelle (costumes, makeup, hair): I’m exotic. And I have to be energetic to do costumes, makeup and hair. Geez, this was a cRAPload of work, as EboneY would say. Credits: Halloween Parade downtown, Mama Mia, Dyspepsia, South Pacific, Colonoscopy (Donald Trump’s), Westminster Dog Show.

Nicky Infantino (security): I was edgy when I heard I’d be doing security on this detail. But I’m always edgy. Except when I’m playing cards and bustin’ heads. I haven’t had to bust any heads. Yet. I have played some cards — a good way to make some extra cheese. Credits: rogue performance art exhibitions at Ground Zero, Central Park and the east side Benihana’s (busted ’em up), Halloween downtown (busted up some queers), Manhattan red velvet rope detail.

Ashton Snitfield (playwright): Oh, do I have to say something here? I was hoping to just collect a paycheck and keep a low profile. Sorry!

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we are big fans of reality -- reality this, reality that, reality everything except reality television. So naturally we were delighted to receive this piece from Jen Spyra, realistically based on a real comment by a real person in the real world (as opposed to MTV's Real World).

I Am One Of You People

By: Jen Spyra

“They are a totally different type of people. (On a standard-class train) there’s lots of children, there’s noise, there’s activity. I like to have peace and quiet when I’m traveling.” — Sir Nicholas Winterton, conservative member of Parliament, on why legislators should be allowed to travel first class to avoid exposure to the common man.

Sir Winterton takes the podium at a press conference. He is wearing oversized Burberry pants and a Looney Toons T-shirt. He places an Orangina on the podium.

SIR WINTERTON: My fellow Englishmen, good afternoon. I’d like to clarify a comment that I made a few days ago. It seems as though I suggested some faint distinction between the common man and myself.

REPORTER: You said, “They are a totally different type of people.”

SIR WINTERTON: Impertinent man! Were you raised in a barroom? I did not solicit your crayon-scrawl of an opinion.

REPORTERS roll their eyes.

REPORTER: You know, we’re recording this.

SIR WINTERTON: Indeed. And here is another thing I know: the conservative party has been maligned as an out-of-touch cadre of elitists for far too long. I’m here today to correct this misconception. (Adjusting monacle and patting his sides, absentmindedly talking to himself.) Now where did I leave my 18th century pocket watch given to my family by the Duke of Modena? Ah — yes. I loaned it to the King on a whim.

SIR WINTERTON remembers press conference.

Er — does anyone like my shirt?

No one responds.

SIR WINTERTON: I rather like it. It’s — comfortable, and allows for easy movement of the limbs while communicating a sense of humor and a lack of impolitic self-aggrandizement. (Pointing to the shirt’s cartoon decal.) Silly Daffy Quail.

REPORTER: You mean duck?

SIR WINTERTON: Uh — yes. Right. I do not profess to be an expert on fowl. Perhaps my father had time for such pleasantries, but a legislator in this day and age cannot bother himself with the titillating pastime of cataloguing bird species. He does not have time to sketch such astonishing specimens as the yellow-throated scrubwren. He certainly does not have time to keep pheasants and name each one after a distinguished member of his genealogical tree, and he most undoubtedly does not have time to take Vicomte Radbury to the best avian veterinarian when his wing coverts seem less shiny than usual.

SIR WINTERTON takes a sip of Orangina, winces.

SIR WINTERTON: What a refreshing beverage. (Under his breath to his aide, not realizing that he’s still speaking into the mic) What is this, sweetened ass piss?


SIR WINTERTON: Why are you laughing? That was a private remark that I made to my assistant. Ah, I see why you chuckle. By “ass” you thought I referred to the posterior of a human, rather than an Equus africanus asinus, or donkey, which is what I meant. Well, I don’t fault you your merriment. I enjoy a ribald turn as much as the rest! In fact, a love of the salacious is one of the many things that we have in common. Here is one naughty bon mot that never fails to tickle me:

What did the under gardener say to the on-site limousine repairman as he remarked on the grace of her ladyship?


Oh, wait — never mind. I did not come here to tell jokes, but to vindicate my fellow conservative legislators and myself. We are a normal, relatable bunch of every-day fellows, I tell you. I follow Beckham gossip, as you do. Their marriage is a sham but Victoria’s clothing line, especially the denim offerings, is excellent. I neglect my dental hygiene despite the vast strides made in this field. I like keeping abreast of sales events, and eating Haribo candies. Am I not one of you?

REPORTERS are silent.

SIR WINTERTON: I have a Dell and used a coupon towards its purchase.


SIR WINTERTON: (Breaking out in a sweat.) I don’t buy groceries at Harrod’s, indeed I think that would be a waste of my hard-earned guineas.


SIR WINTERTON: (Barely able to utter this last attempt.) I…liked Diana, and believe she was a victim…not a flashy little trollop who got what she deserv–

REPORTER: You’re a pretentious blowhard!

SIR WINTERTON: And you, sir, have the brains of an Anseranas semipalmata, or Magpie Goose — the sole surviving member of a Mesozoic lineage and truly one of the most unintelligent waterfowl to roam this planet! Did I not just verbally cane your proverbial schoolboy bottom?


SIR WINTERTON: Oh, how I wish I had not come.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we prefer to avoid direct conflict at any cost. Oddly enough, this is one trait that master chef Elizabeth Bastos shares with us.

The Passive-Aggressive Recipe

By: Elizabeth Bastos


For Meyer Lemon cake:

3 cups cake flour, double sifted through fine mesh (pretend like you even care).
2 cups granulated sugar
The juice and rind of 3 Meyer lemons
Whatever milk you have on hand, in whatever amount

For Lavender cream:

3 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
½ cup crushed organic lavender buds, from the garden
What? Everybody has an organic herb garden. Your neighbors Brad and Nancy have one. And they’re very busy, successful cardiologists.

Equipment: One 8-inch springform pan
But if you have a 7-inch or a 9-inch, things might still be possible.
Sure, if you clap your hands and believe in fairies.

Garnish: confectioner’s sugar, but really, the whole idea of garnishing anything is exhausting.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour the springform pan.

Double sifting is just a suggestion. I’m sorry I asked, actually.

I just wanted your “Light Meyer Lemon Cake” to be the best, and I made the mistake of thinking that you did too.

I guess you’re not really a serious a home baker, though I’ve heard you many times at cocktail parties bragging about your “canapés.”

When you say there were no Meyer lemons at the green market and have substituted regular lemons, I say that your social anxiety got the better of you. Meyer lemons are available to those who have courage.

Eleanor Roosevelt would have come home with the right kind of lemons, I’m just saying. You have several magnets with quotes from her on your fridge; I incorrectly assumed she was some kind of hero to you.

Use the balloon whisk on them. BEAT THEM. What you’re doing looks more like coddling the eggs.

I’m sorry. You’re overworked as it is; with the kids…do what you want with the eggs. Don’t even bother separating them, if it’s too much work: you have congenitally thin, delicate wrists.

Since when were delicate wrists a medical condition? If you don’t separate the eggs, you bring shame to your grandmother’s apron and to Ruth Reichl. You called her “goddess” on your infrequently updated little food blog. It had a really cute little name, Sugar Buns? No. Baby Cakes? That wasn’t it? No?

I specifically called for parchment paper and you don’t have parchment paper, let me ask you something: is everything all right in your marriage?

Oh, my goodness, I’m sorry. I was way too personal. I got worked up about the parchment paper and it was thoughtless of me. You of all people don’t need the stress of specialty baking items: you’ve achieved this much without many of the most important ones.

There, there. Why don’t you just bag cooking from scratch? Go take a nice hot bath.


Idiot! Idiot! Idiot! Like there isn’t much difference between fresh homemade cake and the frozen square of Pepperidge Farm, shipped in from North Jersey, with lots of preservatives that might give your kids tumors. What kind of mother are you? Get yourself together and get in the kitchen.

But when I say scant teaspoon of vanilla, what I mean is we’re friends, right? No hard feelings: you go ahead and decide how much vanilla, sweetie.

Serves: 1-18, depending on how you slice it.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where fun is more than a way of life, it's an unfunded mandate! This week our good friend Trevor Macomber tells a sobering story (we hope he's sober now) about a theme park facing tough times.

Welcome To Grizzly World

By: Trevor Macomber

I’d like to thank the board of directors here at Grizzly World for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today in order to review some key points after our soft opening last weekend. With a few minor tweaks here and there, I have no doubt that we can put many of these incidents — and, in all likelihood, lawsuits — behind us and focus on making Grizzly World the most successful live grizzly-themed amusement park in the entire western United States.

Now, first of all, I know that some of you are wondering how a former Arabian horse breeder — well, okay, assistant breeder — came to be the CEO of a Fortune 500-owned establishment like Grizzly World, but let’s not forget our corporate philosophy: Always Look Forward. On a related note, to whoever added the phrase “(especially if you’re running for your life)” to the company-wide email distributed this morning, let the record show: I am not amused.

Moving on, I know how difficult it is to succeed in the highly competitive field of interactive carnivorous petting zoos. In fact, I was as surprised as anyone when I came up with the idea. I guess there’s just something about a fully shaved silvertip in a flowing pink ball gown that appeals to the little kid in me. I mean, think of the photo opportunities! Unfortunately, as I will readily concede, my penchant for the big picture occasionally causes me to overlook some of the finer details that create the foundation for any successful venture. For example, the fact that “carnivorous” means “meat eating.”

Of course, it’d be easy to stand here and point fingers (sorry Susan, bad choice of words — just try to keep pressure on it) as we attempt to determine who, for example, was responsible for the opening day promotion distributing genuine salmon hats to our first 100 visitors, but at least now we can finally put to rest our previous debate about whether the traditional methods of animal-human segregation like fences, ditches, etc., can ever truly be replaced by more progressive techniques like the honor system. (The answer, by the way, is “No.”) In a similar vein, I’m certain that whoever green-lighted the “Swimming with Grizzlies” wave pool is probably having second thoughts right about now. (Those waves were a little high, Frank.) But surely we can all admit that “Bear Bodies” was a brilliant name for the water park itself? And that “The Right to Bear Arms” souvenir stand probably would have become a real money-maker if only we’d remembered to store the inventory downwind from our free-roaming attractions?

— Yes, Susan, you have a question?

— Right, sorry. No, please keep it elevated. I’ll work around you.

As I was saying, the bottom line is that, no matter how you slice it, we got at least as much right as we got wrong. Of course, with their juvenile “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality, not a single media outlet is bothering to report that particular factoid. Honestly, can you name any other theme park in the world with enough chutzpah to completely reverse the age-old custom of humans dressing up as animal mascots? I don’t know about you, but before yesterday, I’d certainly never seen a bear in overalls driving a threshing machine. Of course, accidentally decimate one Girl Scout troop, and suddenly grizzlies driving diesel-powered farm equipment isn’t so much visionary as — and I’m quoting here — “astonishingly and unequivocally insane.”

Nonetheless, despite these and other setbacks, I’m certain that, had they survived the proof-of-concept phase of our collaboration, my late business partners would echo me in saying that the overall premise behind Grizzly World is still sound. If not for a few unforeseeable missteps, I’m positive that we would be well within our acceptable casualty limit. As it stands, the only thing preventing us from being the best Grizzly World we can be is our own fear of success. And, temporarily, a large number of disgruntled grizzly bears currently surrounding the building. In any case, I’m sure Animal Control will be here shortly with their promised supply of tranquilizer darts, so if anyone has any questions before we can attempt to flee the conference room, I’ll be happy to take them.

— Yes, Susan?

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, which is sort of like an indie rock band, except that none of us sings or plays an instrument. Wait -- that is exactly like an indie rock band! At least according to Samantha O'Brien...

I Want You To Join My Indie Rock Band

By: Samantha O'Brien

Greetings, first chair musicians. I know what you’re thinking: “Why would a Julliard recruiter slip a note in my locker requesting to meet ‘without parents present’ in someone’s basement? Why does it look like said recruiter lives in said basement?” So maybe I’m not a recruiter from Julliard. But before you try the door — which is unlocked — rest assured I’m not after your pure bodies. I’m after your pure talent. I’ve been scouting you for some time. Recitals, halftime shows, marching competitions…I even took a job at Denny’s to watch you more closely and develop accurate character assessments. You should be flattered you’ve made it this far.

As frontman of Rochester’s fastest-rising indie rock band, I’m offering you the opportunity of a lifetime. You see, to have any semblance of street cred, an indie band must have several songs containing epic string or horn sections. Since I can’t afford professional backing musicians, I’ve turned to you, the all-stars of the high school’s orchestra and marching band.

Some of you may know me as the brooding twenty-something who takes your late-night omelet orders and reads tattered copies of Sartre on his smoke breaks, but I’m also an accomplished troubadour in the areas of baroque pop, art punk, and freak folk. No, I did not make those up. There’s a big world out there, a world beyond your Bachs and Sousas. I went to the Wind Ensemble’s Annual Snow Show last week and, frankly, I found it unimaginative and trite. You can do better.

And to show you how, I made everyone a copy of my band’s EP. The only way to truly enjoy it would be on vinyl, but my dad had these CD-R’s lying around the house. I’ll play the first track, an exploration of mortality and the loss of innocence set to the contrapuntal combination of 80s pop drumbeats, mandolin, and my keyboard on its glockenspiel setting.

It appears that several of you are having an immediate — and, in some cases, physical – reaction to my trademark, angst-ridden wail. Good. Like all complex art, my vocals aim not to please but to provoke. If you want to write fun, catchy songs and record them in such pat acoustic milieu as “studios,” then get out of my parents’ house. But if you want to compose 18-minute folk-prog-metal sagas based on ancient Celtic legends and refuse to record them anywhere but barns or defunct churches, we could have a beautiful partnership.

Join me and together we will craft the kind of hyper-literate anthems best delivered with a slew of anachronistic instruments and rousing vocal harmonies. Sure, some folks, like the school security guard or my two bandmates, don’t understand how fruitful our collaboration could be, but we’ll prove them wrong. With your ripe adolescent anguish, startling expertise in history and fantasy, and access to the ethnomusicology class supply closet, you’re exactly what the band needs.

If the experience I’ve described isn’t enticing enough, I can offer some rewards to sweeten the pot. None involve money, so any sellouts can just leave now. Sit down, Teddy, and at least hear what I have to offer.

All musicians have go-to indulgences. I noticed you all enjoy post-recital trips to Friendly’s. I promise to take you out for a sundae of your choice following at least one concert a month. Think about it. Play a few notes at the climax of a song or two and you’ve got yourself a free Conehead! Note: this offer excludes giant varieties like a Jim Dandy, which is way out of my price range.

You guys won’t always play backup. I will occasionally step aside and let YOU SHINE. I’m seeing nodding from the more attention-starved members of the group. That’s good. For instance, Simon and Renu, I would trust your mad cello and oboe skills to lead on “Curs’d Apothecary (The Pangs).” It’s a punchy romp in B minor I wrote for our upcoming theme album about teenage lovers torn apart by the Black Plague. I’d back you with guitar licks that sound like people wailing about their pus-filled buboes — you know, real David Gilmour-type stuff.

Guys, I noticed how you were all competing for the affections of that mezzo-soprano at the cast-and-crew party for Hello, Dolly! That’ll be the last time you fight over a girl! There’s plenty to go around when you have a drunken audience of lonely post-grads, especially the alternative chicks who’ll go after the brass section just to be different. BTW, word at Denny’s is that the mezzo-soprano has mono, so keep your distance.

You didn’t think it would be possible with a French horn, Jenny, but it is! Gone are the days of playing for unappreciative jocks and parents who are just being supportive. Our concerts will become legendary. We will melt hipster faces with our operatic grandeur. We will sweat a lot and not brush our brows because we are too busy being intense. We will move the crowd to pump their fists like so many restless Judd Nelsons. And with that, we will first conquer the lofts, then the warehouses, and finally — the holy grail of indie domination — the festivals.

Yes, this is what cult followings, rave reviews, and iPod commercials — a.k.a. “dreams” — are made of. Mull it over and get back to me after school tomorrow. I’ll be at Denny’s.