Dock of the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 19

May 9-15 2002

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From April’s Ill Wind, a Second Chance

The “monster” tornado that devastated LaPlata in Charles County hopped across the Patuxent River to hit the Calvert County property of Eddie and Bridget Bowen about 7:30pm on Sunday, April 28. Neither was home at the time. Bridget was at work, and Eddie was visiting neighbors only two doors down from his home on this rural road just east of Prince Frederick.

“There was no rain. Just wind,” Eddie Bowen said as he worked on a platform to seal up the foundation of the demolished house he and his wife had built themselves 11 years ago at 945 Adelina Road. “When the noise stopped and the monster was gone, I walked back here and this is what I found. The house I was visiting wasn’t touched. It’ll probably take us four to six months to rebuild,” he said.

The only thing left of the Bowens’ barn was a pit made of hay and sand. The tornado had blown away an equipment shed. All that was left of the house was its foundation. Still upright was a stand-alone garage, in which the Bowens are now camping out. Another storage shed and a doghouse remained untouched by the storm.

The April 28 tornado left only a doghouse and a storage shed standing on Eddie and Bridget Bowens’ Calvert County farm.
photos by Russ Barnes

In the distance to the west lies a ridge beyond the depression of a creek valley. The Bowens’ farm stands on the very next ridge to the east. As the tornado moved West across the Patuxent River and then continued east toward the Chesapeake, the storm apparently left ground at the far ridge, skipped the valley, then slammed into the Bowens’ property. To the right was no damage to be seen. To the left, the next house over had roof damage, antennas broken off, large trees down. Across Adelina Road, a house lay in shambles. The path of the tornado was clear.

“It came just down a path, leaving a house on one side messed up and the other untouched. It was selective destruction,” said Del. George Owings.

A week later, the Bowens are rebuilding.

With a pile of lumber and building materials, Eddie Bowen is hard at work on “ground zero,” the platform on which the house will be re-constructed. He consults a set of blueprints lying on the deck he works on. “Yep, these are the original blueprints,” he says.

The scene on Monday: Bridget Bowen sits in her garage. Jack, the family dog, greets strangers. A car out front honks as it slowly cruises by. Neighbors. It is a friendly salute to the Bowens. Eddie waves back from the platform he’s building.

“They’re feeling bad,” he says. “It didn’t hit them. They know it could just as easily have happened to them.”

Do the Bowens feel somehow singled out?

That’s a question Eddie’s gotten used to. Few who look can resist noting the randomness of the destruction. “Very few of these other houses were hit. Look. That tree there is stripped and the one next to it is untouched.”

“You mean singled out by God?” Eddie Bowen asks back, smiling a bit. “Naw, I don’t think so. Something drew that wind this way maybe because of some kinda vacuum out there in the ocean. We just were, you know, in the way.”

Insurance will pay for most of the re-construction of the Bowens’ house. Eddie will provide most of the labor himself. Services are by and large back on line. The phone works in the garage, water is running and emergency electricity is in service.

Gov. Parris Glendening announced May 6 that Maryland has targeted $3.1 million as disaster aid for Charles, Calvert and Dorchester counties. “Half a million is dedicated to help homeowners like the Bowens make repairs where they are not covered by insurance,” said spokeswoman Michelle Byrnie.

“I guess we’ll get a second chance to build this one,” says Bowen, studying his blueprints.

— Russ Barnes

Ned (Bob Proctor) and his mother Gertrude (Joanna Boales) search for his waylaid sister in Scott Joplin’s Rags to Riches.
photo courtesy of Chesapeake Center for the Performing Arts

Scott Joplin Plays Chesapeake Country

A new musical by Scott Joplin? That’s a typo, right?

Nope. Scott Joplin, famed for his ragtime compositions and dead for 85 years, has just collaborated with local playwright Michael Hulett on a “madcap musical melodrama,” Rags to Riches, premiering at Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts in Brooklyn Park this weekend.

“Scott Joplin was America’s greatest black composer, one of our greatest composers, period. I think I’ve captured the essence of what I feel when I listen to his music. I’d like to think he would like what I’ve done with it,” says Hulett, who wrote the book and lyrics for Rags to Riches.

Indeed, the play began with the music. Several years ago, Hulett had been asked to write songs for a musical melodrama. The play’s early-20th-century setting prompted him to delve into Scott Joplin’s work: marches, waltzes and serenades as well as his famed rags.

“The melodies are terrific and the syncopated rhythms fall easily onto natural speech patterns,” says Hulett. “So I thought, Why not write a whole show based on Joplin’s music?”

The task came naturally to Hulett, who began writing plays in grade school while growing up backstage in New York, the son of a Broadway actor and a dancer. Two of his plays have won national playwriting competitions; two of his other musicals have been produced off-Broadway in New York; and three of his works have been optioned for Broadway.

From Joplin’s music, Hulett’s search for a story led him to the archives of turn-of-the-century melodramas. They were the modern equivalent of blockbuster movies, those hair-raising, over-the-top productions that captivated audiences in the 1890s and 1900s with their horse-and-chariot chases on stage. He settled on a then-famous play, From Rags to Riches, by Charles A. Taylor.

From an original four-hour show with 40-plus characters, Hulett winnowed his play down to 90 minutes with only eight characters to animate the new Rags to Riches.

The project offered special challenges. To be true to Joplin’s music, Hulett did not alter a single note of any composition; tempo and orchestrations have been modified in places, but the melodies of each piece remain untouched. That left Hulett with the task of crafting lyrics around inalterable music.

The good news: “I particularly like to write lyrics,” Hulett says. “It’s kind of like doing a crossword puzzle, finding words that fit the musical pattern and rhyme.” So, he says, “a lot of the fun in this show is the wordplay.”

Not that there’s any lack of action. The play features “villains and heroes; orphans and damsels in distress; dastardly plots and mistaken identities; hairbreadth escapes & stunning surprises; suspense, pathos, thrills, laughter & cheers.”

Producing Rags to Riches is Musical Artists Theater, one of Chesapeake Center’s resident theater companies. Musical Artists Theater began two years ago with a core of five collaborators, including Hulett, his wife Ruth (who, as Ruth Vogel, graduated from the same Brooklyn Park High School whose building now houses Chesapeake Center), choreographer Ken Sjrzesz, Doug Yetter (Hulett’s collaborator on the musical A Christmas Carol, an annual favorite at Chesapeake Music Hall) and Hal Gomer (an artistic director and scenic designer who once taught art and drama at Brooklyn Park High.) Their mission: to develop and stage new musical plays.

“It’s rare to see original musicals performed on a community level,” explains Hulett. “Community theaters tend to fear putting on original work, especially musicals.” Chesapeake Center was willing to let Musical Artists Theater take that creative leap.

Hulett hopes that, in time, Musical Artists Theater will attract national attention, soliciting submissions from writers and composers around the country who will want to premiere their new musical works here. In the meantime, Rags to Riches brings Chesapeake Country the debut of the first new Joplin musical in over 85 years.

Playing May 10 through May 26 at 8pm FSa; 3pm Su @ Chesapeake Center for the Performing Arts, Brooklyn Park. $15 w/discounts: 410/636-6597.

— April Falcon Doss

The Mudbusters of Tracey’s Elementary School.
photo by Marnie Hansen

At Tracey’s Elementary, Mudbusters Busted

For years, Edward Ormond watched his fourth-grade students throw away everything in their lunch boxes that looked even vaguely nutritious.

“Half apples, whole oranges,” Ormond said. “Stuff I’d put in my compost, at home. I thought, this is ridiculous.”

So Ormond brought composting to Tracey’s Elementary School. At least, he tried.

He was already teaching an after-school enrichment program called Mudbusters. The program had received a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to buy a trowel and gloves for each Mudbuster and native seedlings for them to plant. The resulting garden would attract good bugs to chase the bad ones away, so no pesticides would be needed. The native plants would also filter pollutants from rainwater.

Ormond knew how well kids respond when they can make changes to the world around them. He thought composting would be the frosting on the cake.

“He really got excited,” said Christine Mitchell, who wrote the original grant proposal.

Ormond convinced his pupils’ parents to donate money for bins and scales, so the kids could weigh their apple cores, banana peels and paper napkins before tossing them in the compost; the first day they saved 10 pounds of refuse from the landfill.

Then he received a letter from his principal, Lisa Leitholf, filtering down word from the school district administrators that his students could only compost paper products and grass clippings. Food refuse, the letter explained, might attract vermin, like mice, raccoons and opossums — vermin that could threaten the children.

Mudbusters ended in April, but Ormond intends to continue the program in fall. He planned the garden in four sections, each representing a different region of Maryland. Most of this season’s plants came from the Eastern Shore, for example, while fall’s will come mostly from the Western Shore, followed by the Piedmont and Appalachia.

The kids will continue composting, but they’ll be lucky if they can save 10 pounds of paper in a month, much less a day.

“It’s not such a bang,” Ormond said.

— Brent Seabrook

Way Downstream …

On our Eastern Shore, the Nature Conservancy has announced that it is purchasing more than 3,000 acres of land along Nassawango Creek, one of the most dense and pristine wildernesses in Maryland. The swampy lands include a forest of huge cypress trees and dozens of rare and threatened plants and animals …

In Virginia, the new crop of politicians isn’t putting their money where their mouths are when it comes to restoring Chesapeake Bay. In the final session of the General Assembly, legislators cut by 40 percent the budget of the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Department, which last year handed out grants to 80 localities …

In New York, gorilla expert Jane Goodall showed up to meet United Nations head Kofi Annan recently with something under her arm: a stuffed chimp, which she asked him to pet for inspiration. He did so, as have notables from other walks of life, among them basketball icon Magic Johnson and opera star Luciano Pavarotti …

In the Philippines, candidates in the Miss Philippines beauty pageant did something more than dance in spangled bathing suits. In the “Beauties for a Cause competition,” they planted trees …

Our Creature Feature comes from Bangladesh, where a snake charmer found something that sent a panicked neighborhood fleeing their homes.

Dudu Miah was looking for a couple snakes that had been spotted near a suburban home, but instead he found more than 3,500 deadly cobras beneath the floors of two houses, Reuters reported. The charmer said he would look beneath other houses when frightened neighbors returned — but hadn’t decided what to do with the cobras he had captured.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly