Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hello Goodbye Hello

I am also an actress in addition to being a writer. This Holiday Season I have had the pleasure of appearing as Mrs. Cratchit in A Christmas Carol at The Goodman Theatre. 

On several occasions I’ve thought how much my mother would have loved to see me in it. Before I met my husband, my mother was my biggest fan. 

When I refer to the mother who would've loved to see the show, I mean the mother who raised me and was always there for me in my young adult life. The mother I knew up until 2008.

That mother saw me every night when I had the lead in my high school production of Mame. The box office people knew her by name and when they were sold out let her stand in the back and watch. 

Mom always said, "Tania, you have such presence on stage.” Whether performing on Broadway or a storefront theater mother was in attendance and always sang my praises. 

Sadly, I am describing my mother before Alzheimer's. 

In 2008 she started slipping away, calling me less and less, repeating herself more and more, forgetting birthdays and asking strange questions like, "What day is Thanksgiving, Tania?" From then on a different mother emerged. 

She was still loving but unable to be there for me because her memory was fading. For instance, she couldn't remember that I was pregnant with my second child and wasn't at the delivery like she was with my oldest. She saw no reason to visit my new baby girl since she scarcely remembered she existed.

She had no idea what was happening in the world. She never asked about my children or husband.  She didn't know where I lived. She had no idea I was a professional actress. 

But the essence of my mother; sweet, good, funny, kind and loving, remained. There was no pretense. 

Mom was a doctor who never left the house without looking her best. She always wore dresses, went to the hairdresser every week for a “wash and set” and was private to a fault. 

In the nursing home she wore pants, let the caregivers braid her hair in cornrows and shared a room with two other patients. 

I suspect that she’d be mortified by the woman she had become. I had to make peace with that. It was difficult especially because I didn’t love her any less when she lived in the nursing home. She was her purest self.

It stings that she isn’t here to see me play Mrs. Cratchit and it pains me that even if she were here she couldn’t have attended because she wouldn’t have been comfortable leaving the nursing home, getting in a car or sitting in a dark theatre surrounded by people. I don't think she would have even understood it was me on the stage. 

Alzheimer’s splits a person in two; their life divides into who they were before and who they are afterwards.   

I grieve my Mom twice, mourning two spirits but feel lucky for having known both.

Me and my mother at the nursing home wearing the same dress.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Seasons Greetings!

So thrilled to be playing Mrs. Cratchit in A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre.

I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by 
Rick Kogan
WBEZ's Afternoon Shift

Have Happy Holidays
A Happy New Year!

Tania Richard

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Keeping Up With The Cratchits

So you may or may not have noticed that I haven't posted anything lately. I'd like to take a moment and pretend it's because you wait with bated breath for every one of my posts. A girl can dream, right?

Anyway, I haven't posted because I have been hella busy rehearsing A Christmas Carol at The Goodman Theatre. I am playing Mrs. Cratchit and I'm loving every minute of playing a character who represents goodness and light.

Photo by Liz Lauren 

I have seen countless actors in interviews talk about how much more fun it is to play the villain than the good guy. I understand the appeal in trying to justify evil motives or bringing humor to not so funny behavior a la the wonderful actor Larry Yando who plays our Scrooge. Actors of his caliber certainly make memorable meanies.

Yet in playing Mrs. Cratchit I revel in the joy of playing a character who serves as a beacon of goodness, love, kindness and hope.

The Cratchits are poor but they are rich in spirit. Their son is crippled but they are inclusive. Their house is small but their hearts are huge.

On stage as Mrs. Cratchit I feel the audience's affection for this iconic family. I sense that the Cratchits inspire people to be as loving and as content with the gifts in their own lives. They remind people that there is a difference between wants and needs.

Mrs. Cratchit reminds me that when in peril I must choose love, joy, humility, thanks. For me, She has illuminated the meaning of abundance.

As a kid, I wanted my family to be like the Brady Bunch because they seemed so perfect and very little ever went wrong.

Now, the Cratchits have set the bar.

God bless us everyone.

And Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

And the Debate Goes To...Big Bird

I looked forward to the debate like it was the show after a cliffhanger or the last episode of a beloved show. 

I actually appreciated the countdown clock one of the cable news channels displayed in the right hand corner so I knew exactly (to the second) what time it would start.

I am a fan of debates since the Clinton Campaign. I use to tape those and rush home from work at night and watch them right away. 

Last night, I was home to watch the debates in real time. 

Along with the interaction between Obama and Romney another aspect I looked forward to was following my Facebook page and posting status updates throughout the telecast. 

Watching any big-event television (The Olympics, Emmys or Oscars) improves the experience exponentially. 

The only reason I watched all three and some hours of the Oscars last year was because I was on a roll and people were enjoying my posts. 

Staying on Facebook during the debates let me be in a virtual living room and I could actually experience the communal feeling Zuckerberg supposedly strives for. 

Plus I have some hilarious friends who let no good moment pass without a zinger, fact, virtual eye roll or informative link. 

There I was watching it; a little nervous for both candidates simply because I had empathy for how important it was on both sides to deliver. 

I wanted one to deliver more than the other but I could imagine the nerves before such a trial and I didn't envy either of them.

As I started to post and read other updates I realized I was hearing and or comprehending less and less of what the candidate and President were saying. 

The non-verbals were glaring, the awkward interrupting of Jim Lehrer and blatant ignoring of the set time limits raised my cringe factor high. 

By the time Mitt Romney threw Big Bird under the bus (Who does that? Apparently Romney does) I was much more interested in creating a photo (below) for a status update then reveling in the fact that my FB friends "liked" me than what either guy was saying.

Big Bird started trending on Twitter, a Facebook page was created and all of Sesame Street was up in arms.

(By the way, many have referred to Big Bird as a Muppet. In fact, he is not. I guess you could say Muppets and Sesame Street Citizens are members of the same union, though. Solidarity.)

Although I thoroughly enjoyed and am still enjoying the comments on Big Bird I realize my attention to FB completely distracted me from my original goal; following the debate seriously. 

Anyone else get distracted from the point?

This election (or any other) is no joke. 

I look forward to the next debate and I'm going to save the virtual living room for more frivolous affairs. 

I want to pay attention.

I'll definitely check FB after, though.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Work Life Balance or The Lies Contemporary Mothers Tell Themselves

The Pros think I need to spend less time with my children. The "Pros" are my therapist and my sister who thinks I'm too good a mother and should let my kids watch more TV.

Well, my daughters are far from deprived of television but I think I get my my therapists point.

As an actress, writer, teacher and small business owner my schedule is unpredictable and jam packed.

I teach twice a week, go to auditions, book jobs, run my business, blog, and various other things that keep all my careers afloat.

Basically, I work full time (as far as the commitment and focus I put towards my career) but I don't need to be any one place every day to do it,

I spend a good deal of time with my girls. A good deal. Yes, maybe too much.

I'm also a wife who loves her husband and actually likes spending time with him. What a concept.

When I think of the term "work-life balance" (which has received much attention lately due to an article written by Anne-Marie Slaughter) I imagine there should be an equal distribution of time devoted to both. Which is impossible.

I also figure if one of those things is going to suffer it had better be work and not my life; primarily my children. Let's face it: When women think work-life balance they are rarely including genuine time for themselves, which is why trips to the gynecologist or dentist start to hold the same appeal as spa treatments.

Recently, I wasn't going to attend an important work function (which by the way could serve the dual purpose of being fun "me" time) because work had been very busy and I felt like the babysitter was starting to get top billing in my household.

After a considerable amount of back and forth (mostly trying to talk myself out of wanting to go) I decided to attend the event. This meant that I was gone an entire day as well as an entire evening.

Lo and behold, twelve hours away from the girls made me much more available for them in mind and spirit throughout the rest of the week.

I was more patient, less tired, and more able to fill the three to six o'clock bewitching hours most mother's would pluck their eyelashes to avoid.

Equal distribution between work and life is a myth. It's the imbalance (for instance twelve hours away) that creates balance. Ultimately the balance is internal not external.

Another topic that has been getting attention lately is the question of whether women can "have it all."

We are all still stuck on that commercial where the sexy woman brings home the bacon, fries it up in a pan, and never ever lets him forgets he's a man. Thanks a lot Enjoli.

That spot has done more damage over the years than the smell of that cheap perfume. It demanded that women be plate spinners on par with circus freaks. And because the model was a pretty blonde (the ultimate ideal) women aspired to be her. They bought it. (I don't know if they bought Enjoli but they bought the lie.)

I don't think women can have it all because I don't even know what that means.

It's such an American ideal that the benchmark of life is having it all. It completely negates the individual and demands that everyone's goals should be the same.

I always tell my oldest, "Be happy with what you have."

Most parents don't teach our kids to expect to "have it all".

We teach them about patience and priorities, delayed gratification, and give them a sense of the big picture.

We need to parent ourselves and live by the same ideals.

Otherwise we are going to be drained, unhappy, crazed, and always feel just out of reach of the "Enjoli-ideal" which was a commercial NOT life.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Things Laryngitis Taught Me
  • There is a lesson in every thing. (I spelled the word everything in two words on purpose for em-pha-sis)
  • If you can't yell you don't yell.
  • When you speak softly, other people around you start to do the same.
  • There is something to be said for talking less and thinking more.
  • Taking pause and reserving comment for another time is most useful when engaging with your spouse. (Love ya, honey.)
  • Talking less increases your patience.

Exercise Update

Last I visited the topic of exercise was in my post Running As Fast As I Can where I engaged in wanderlust about running and committed to a runner's life (or my version of it. )

The day after I wrote that post I injured myself by lightly running for fifteen minutes on a treadmill.

Not exactly sure how I did it. I am sure I spent the next week walking around with hip, lower back, and shoulder pain along with the overwhelming feeling that my joints were on fire.

Enter Crazy Track Lady who was almost Crazy Trampoline Lady until my husband convinced me that jumping up and down on a trampoline was not going to be the best solution to my fragile bodied woes.

He suggested I walk on the track at the Y (slowly) and listen to music.

Well, walking around slowly didn't appeal to me until I put my own spin on it.

Introducing The Dance/Walk Workout. All it takes is you, music, earplugs and a willingness to shake your groove thing in public when no one else is dancing.

Yup! I'm that lady who people try to avoid making eye contact with because I'm dancing like no one else is watching except they are watching because I'm at the gym. 

I dance to Beyonce, Broadway, Bono as well as artists whose names start with other letters of the alphabet.

Due to my physical limitations, I use small movements and I keep the dancing somewhat low key.
It's hard to contain myself, though. If I had my druthers, I'd be in full on Fame-I-want-to-live-forever mode.

An acquaintance who takes the Spin Class that happens at the same time I workout told me that she tells her fellow cyclists, "She's a writer! She's working on her next idea."

What she inadvertently revealed was that her fellow cyclists talk about me and whatever they say compels her to come to my defense.

I don't care.

I've seen just as many people looking my way with longing wishing they had the boxy to do my workout rather than have their trainer barking in their ears.

Anyway, that's what I choose to believe.

So now, I'm not running as fast as I can. I am dance/walking as fast as I can. Which is pretty slow.

But it sure is fun.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Disney Needs a Princess with Some Kink

My daughter thinks she's a Princess.

She adores Ariel; a mermaid who gives up her entire underwater life to marry a Prince. Hence, becoming a Princess.

I've ruined her.

I first showed her Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast; those durn Disney films because I love Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.

They are good movies with great soundtracks (granted I'm a musical theater geek but--ahem, I digress).

When she started playing dress up at preschool and wore the princess dresses and jewels everyday, I couldn't help buying her a few so she could do the same at home.

She wore them morning, noon, and night and would have worn them to bed if I'd let her.


At least when I hear her playing at the park and her dialogue consists of "Save me, Prince. Save me!" I counter it with, "Don't forget you can save yourself, honey!"

That strikes the right balance, right? Riiiight.

Now I'm grappling with the fact that my precious girl, with her kinky-curly-just-above-her-shoulders-brown hair wants long straight hair; like Rapunzel (whom she learned about in Disney's Tangled.What?! I wanted to see it and figured she'd like it, too!)

Anyway, Disney's Rapunzel is an empowered ingenue who doesn't fall into your typical princess stereotypes. Well, except for that long (really long) straight blond hair.

Aw crap.

Now, she runs around the house with an apron tied around her head so she can feel it swishing on her back.

While the princess dresses she wears are cute it drives me nuts to look her way and see that apron on her head. With great determination, she heads for the door with the intention of wearing it in public. I'm all for self expression but there are limits. The apron just makes her look like she's a crazy person.

The picture below was taken in the back of our house. I won't let her go past the driveway with that thing on her head.

The desire for long hair that covers your back is a rite of passage for most girls (unless they actually have long hair that covers their back).

Even Whoopi Goldberg in her1984 self titled Broadway show played a young black girl with a shirt on her head pretending it was her long straight hair; the hair our culture upholds and adores.

Generally speaking, black hair grows at a much slower rate than Caucasian hair because the hair coils in the follicle which makes it more difficult to come out.

Therein lies a problem.

I happened upon a solution the other day. In the dress-up aisle at Target there was a kid-size long blond Rapunzel wig made by Disney. I got dizzy thinking how much my princess would love it but then my excitement waned.

Then I began to think that getting her that wig would be a set up that would exacerbate her desire for a kind of hair she'd never have.

I figured it'd be irresponsible of me to let her wear it. Then again, it is better than an apron. Hmmm...

I haven't bought it. Just like I haven't bought one of those doll heads that lets young girls (and maybe boys) style hair and put on make-up. All of those things have straight hair. Even the black ones have straight hair.

Hey, doll makers! Curly hair needs styling, too! Hey, Disney kid-size wig makers! Why can't there be a long kinky-curly hair wig!

Ah well.

I guess I'll have to make peace with that apron, forgive myself for ruining her, stop trying to micro manage my daughter's childhood, and be grateful from the bottom of my heart that I get to have such "worries".

But that apron is not leaving the house.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Incredible Hulk; What We Have In Common

I have an alter ego. Imagine a black woman who wears all black, high heeled boots, large hoop earrings, and an attitude. Did I mention she kicks ass?

She comes out when people have gone too far, pushed my buttons, messed with my peeps, or crossed my line. She has defended my husband, my children, and various friends who needed back up.

She doesn't have a name. If she did it'd be something like Shonda or Venus. Her last name would be Jones.

Here's a few examples of times when she has gotten "it" done when "it" needed to get done.

After my youngest was born and exhibited some problems with her breathing a doctor in the intensive care unit said (in the smarmiest voice imaginable) "It's not my fault your daughter has breathing issues," when I challenged the delay in test results that would cause her to stay in the hospital unnecessarily without me.

In a voice I didn't recognize I bellowed, "F*** You!" and proceeded to make a scene that resulted in the test results magically appearing within five minutes.

My alter ego showed up at a Cub Scout meeting after one of the Mothers (in a series of "reply all e-mails) trashed my husband's devoted service as a den leader because he didn't want to do things her way. Never mind she never once volunteered to take the reigns.

I showed up at the meeting unannounced and in a low and measured voice (in front of the other parents) told her in no uncertain terms to back off and quit disrespecting my husband who is a good man and did nothing wrong. She never mentioned him in an e-mail again.

In the case of my Mother; who was living in a nursing home and wouldn't even step out on to the balcony to get fresh air, I was informed that she would be required to come to her bank and vouch for the fact that I had Power of Attorney even though I had the notarized and signed papers with me. I screamed, "She f****** has dementia. She can't f****** come to the bank. I f****** need access to her account. Get the people who can make that happen, on the phone. Now!"

I had a lovely chat with the higher-ups and left with what I needed.

By the way, I don't like to swear. But "Shonda" does when she's gettin' "it" done.

Every woman needs an alter-ego who can push through the limits, get past the boundaries, kick butt and take names. Because it is in our nature as mothers and wives, sisters, daughters, and friends to nurture, be gentle and kind, it's easy not to engage the part of us that can get over, under, and through the things that stand in our way.

In particular, as a caregiver when your focus is being a soft place for your loved one to fall you can forget that "No," often means "I don't know." "You can't," often means, " I can't because I don't have the authority" and "It doesn't work that way," usually means, "We've been doing it this way forever and it hasn't occurred to us to change it."

It's never my intention to be unpleasant or difficult.

But like Dr. David Banner who would transform into the Incredible Hulk if baited, "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Forget to Remember

This summer my sister Gina and I held the distinction of having two parents in the hospital at the same time. On top of that, they were in different hospitals; one hour apart. I was drawn to our Mother and my sister was pulled to our Dad. We didn't pressure each other. Our natural abilities paired with what each parent needed at the time.

Gina is a doctor in a teacher's clothing. I call her first when the girls are sick. Her diagnosis and remedy are always correct. She can read hospital monitors and converse with doctors as if she is their colleague. She retains what they tell her and is able to explain it to others. That's what my Father needed as he suffered with lung cancer. My mother needed an emotional touchstone while stranger after stranger ran test after test to determine whether she'd had a minor stroke as well as the status of her overall health.

Staying by my mother's side was not a conscious decision. I was a magnet and her needs; her heart were my base. Even in a hospital she held the homing device that guided me toward a soft place to fall.

That would've been all well and good if I wasn't also a mother of four, a wife, an adjunct professor, professional actress, small business owner, and writer who occasionally likes to sleep. ( My list is no longer than most people these days.)

In order to be there for my Mother I had to borrow from all of those areas at a cost. When I was with her, I felt guilt for not being with them and vice versa.

And it wasn't as if this was going to be temporary. After her one week hospital stay, we transferred her to a nursing home with a dementia unit. She would not return to the home she'd lived in for forty six years.  I felt responsible for my Mother's (Mommy's--pronounced Mah-mee) well being as if she were one of my children. It wasn't until I embraced that notion that I found a way to manage the responsibility.

For all intents and purposes, she was a child; a dependent. I needed to accept that my mother was in line with my four other children. No, I didn't need to feed, clothe, and bathe her every day but if I opened my schedule to fit one more "child" than I wouldn't feel guilt over my attention being divided. (Or anyway, I'd feel much less guilt.)

Attention given to Mommy wasn't "taking from" it was "a part of" being a caretaker to my whole family. My heart was already open to taking care of Mommy. Embracing her as a dependent enabled me to open up my life and see a bigger picture.

Also, it didn't take away from my Mother's dignity, grace or everything she'd accomplished in her life that she needed my care. Circumstance had converted our relationship. I needed to let go of being "the child". That label no longer applied and I had to make a mental shift in my thinking in order to move forward.

I suppose I could have left my Mother's care to the nursing home but the magnetic pull was always there. (I will address the importance of due diligence and nursing home care in another post.)

The adoption of another dependent was the best way for me to take on my role as caregiver. A role that chose me but I was honored to play.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Forget to Remember

My Mother passed away on February 2nd after suffering a massive stroke. She was found unconscious on the floor of her bathroom at the nursing home she'd been living in for the past eight months. She had lived there since my Father passed away in June. My sister Gina and I had moved her from her house in the suburbs to a dementia unit in the city so she could be closer to us.

She'd been suffering from dementia most likely for the past five or six years. I say "most likely" because she'd only been diagnosed and medicated since she moved into the nursing home. Before then, she and my Father were in denial as the upkeep of their home and health declined.

I recently wrote a one woman show about the series of events that have taken place over the past eight months (Truth Be Told). It addresses living with my Mother's dementia, my transition from being her daughter to her caregiver, my rather confusing childhood narrative, losing both my parents within a short period of time, selling my childhood home, uncovering family secrets of soap opera proportions, and the importance of living a truthful life.

The process of writing the show and performing it once in front of an audience was cathartic. It will be even more cathartic in July when I perform it six times for Fleetwood Jourdain Theatre in Evanston, Illinois.

I've realized that as much as I covered in the one woman show, there is more of this story that I want to share; for my sake and others. People have told me that they relate to my experiences and appreciate my putting their feelings into words. That is the very reason I write.

So I will use "Writing My Mind" as an outlet to talk about this period of time where the circumstances of my life forced me to confront the very notion of who I am as a daughter, woman, Mother, wife, and sister.

I'll share what I learned, what I'm still trying to understand, some helpful information for current or future caregivers, as well as my concerns about elder care, bureaucracy, and how to help a friend in the midst of tragedy.

I am not an expert but in this case, I took a crash course in the school of life and discovered a great deal.

When I address these topics I'll put them under the title "Forget to Remember" because at this juncture one of my biggest challenges is how to grieve the loss of my Mother; a woman I adored.

It has been difficult not to dwell on her last days in the hospital as she lay in a coma. It's been hard not to think of her as a woman who lived in a nursing home whom I feared would not remember me the next time I visited. It's been challenging to accept that it took so long to realize she had dementia and recognize how it affected the last four or five years of our relationship. Now as I connect the dots I can understand behavior that seemed out of character, hurtful, confusing.

I can barely think about my Father because it's unnatural to grieve two people at once. But I can't escape the image of him meek in his hospital bed. It pains me to realize how he started calling more frequently the last six months of his life before I knew he was sick. I don't know if he knew he was sick and didn't tell us. If he did know, how sad to think he suffered alone.

I am still frustrated that it was so hard to get him to go to the hospital and how impossible it was to convince him to get my Mother professional help.

Now, I navigate the world as an orphan; in my opinion too soon. It is unknown territory to be in this world without the unconditional love they gave me. I'll explore that here.

At the same time, because these topics are at the forefront of my mind, I "forget to remember" the other things about my parents. Memories that could sustain me while I grieve, escape me.

I'll share my memories of two extraordinary people I called Mommy (Mah-mee) and Daddy (Dah-dee)

Not every post will cover these topics. I hope when they do, you find a piece that is helpful to you.

Monday, March 12, 2012

March Madness; It Doesn't Matter If You Win or Win...

"It's alright. I'm happy for everyone." That was my answer when I was informed that I was clapping for the wrong team at my daughter Audra's Hoop Dreams Game. That ladies and gentlemen, is the full extent of my competitive edge. So what if the kid in a blue t-shirt made the basket instead of one of the tyke's wearing red like my daughter. The color of the shirt most likely had to do with when the kids were signed up for the activity. In my mind, nothing else separated them.

On a Saturday morning at the YMCA watching a bunch of four and five year old boys and girls run back and forth on the court all I care about is how darn cute they are, what good exercise Audra is getting, and how soon I can get my next cup of coffee. I'm fairly certain that is the sentiment of most of the parents who sit on the sidelines and watch their little moppets but even in something as innocent as toddler b-ball a tinge of good, better, best emerges. The parents (me included) can't help but break into thunderous applause when a basket is made. The moans and groans are march-madness-ri-fic when a basket is missed. It's a natural impulse. We can't seem to help ourselves because we all grew up on a steady diet of "winning is everything". Even if that ideology didn't show up in our homes, we could not escape the message in school and in our culture.

What if we applauded the basket and the miss? Or what if the game was met with no applause at all? Okay, that would be weird. I'm not the type who believes in building artificial self esteem where everything is "Amazing" and every attempt at anything means the kids is a genius but I do wish there was a way to delay the inevitable programming related to winning and losing.

After Audra's "game" I observed a coach running some drills with some older kids. They did a passing sequence and then a kid shot the ball...and missed. "He shoots," said the coach, "And scores," he continued even though it wasn't true. I appreciated that. What mattered to the coach was the process, not the result; the journey not the destination.

I'm not sure if this is right or if somehow I will be depriving Audra of some important edge that will ensure her future success. All I know is that when I teach improvisation and acting and we play a game in order to highlight an important point, my students start to froth at the mouth at the very thought of winning. If I happen to miss adding a point to one of the team's scores, you'd think I was messing with the last few minutes of the World Series. The truth is, I could care less about the score and I try to encourage them not to care either.

In Audra's case, I hope she always maintains that beaming smile as she runs across the court and looks to see if I'm watching. I swear it could land a plane. Because it's not about winning or losing. It's about playing the game. Right?

Monday, February 27, 2012

And the Winner is...Viola Davis

So Viola lost. At the beginning of Oscar Sunday I posted this statement on Facebook: "Whoopi Goldberg is mad Viola Davis turned in the same performance Whoopi turned in twenty two years ago in "Long Walk Home". I got a couple of "likes" and a few agreeable comments. I'd been nervous to post the status update convinced that there'd be some backlash. For the most part, Viola Davis' performance in "The Help" has been described as transcendent, Oscar worthy, miraculous, revelatory. I disagree.

I could have also posted "Regina Taylor is mad Viola Davis turned in the same performance Regina turned in twenty one years ago in "I'll Fly Away". This isn't a criticism of Viola Davis' performance. Her characterization was fine. She connected the dots and delivered a competent perfunctory rendition of a maid in the 1960's; just like Whoopi and Regina did. Just like any competent contemporary black actress would when given the task of playing a 1960's maid. (Think stoicism, pride, straight-backed humility, and flashes of fire)

Viola Davis campagined hard the past few months vying to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. I saw her tell Nightline, The View, and anyone else who would listen that at first she was weary of playing yet another maid in Hollywood until she realized she could humanize the character and that it was practically her duty to do so. That is quite the cliche. It pretty much rivals the old "hooker with a heart of gold" adage. It's okay to play a stereotype as long as you "humanize" them. Whatever.

I was not offended by "The Help" as many people were. There was anger because the Civil Rights Movement was told from the perspective of a white person. It was as if these folks hadn't seen "Long Walk Home" (Civil Rights) "Glory" (substitute Civil Rights for the Civil War) "Cry Freedom" (substitute Civil Rights for Apartheid) or pretty much any other 1990's movie supposedly about black people. The whole "black people problems" through white person's eyes is as overdone as what I like to call the "Green Mile Effect" where magical black people solve white people's problems for them. (Think Will Smith in "The Legend of Bagger Vance"or Michael Clarke Duncan in "The Green Mile")

When I saw "The Help" all I thought was, "Is that it?" I wasn't surprised. I wasn't angry. I didn't care. I thought the movie was utterly benign.

I would have been annoyed if Viola Davis won last night. The right actress won. "The Iron Lady" is a bad movie but Meryl Streep is astonishing in it. Viola Davis was not astonishing in "The Help". She added nothing new to the archetype of the maid. We have seen this maid in the hands of many black actresses. She did what would be expected within the confines of the role. And I don't blame her for playing the part. She's been in Hollywood forever and it's the first time she had a lead. She did what she needed to do.

The fact that the Academy didn't let guilt over the lack of African American roles lead them to vote for Viola gives me hope. It means that black actors can be recognized but we don't have to be placated. It means that it is not going to be reinforced that the "humanized maid" is the only character we will be asked to play.

As a fellow Facebook friend (Tamara Kerrill Field) said, "I want Viola to win for an independent film written just for her." Hopefully her nomination will allow for that someday soon.

And congratulations Meryl. You kicked some ass.