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Kyle Barr

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini during his inauguration. File photo by Alex Petroski

By Kyle Barr

Amid escalating gang activity in Suffolk County, District Attorney Tim Sini (D) announced the creation of a gang task force to combat the rise, specifically of MS-13, the group linked to six Suffolk killings in 2017.

The gang unit, which has already begun operations, exists inside the new Enhanced Prosecution Bureau within the district attorney’s office. Sini said during a press conference Feb. 7 that the unit will focus specifically on prosecuting gang members, even lower-level ones or members who commit non-gang-related crimes. Just before the event a meeting took place, which is said to be the first of many bi-weekly meetings, co-led by the DA’s office and Suffolk County Police Department.

“This is an enormous shift in paradigm — this will bring the fight to a whole new level.”

— Tim Sini

“Previously, when a gang member committed an offense, that prosecution issue was handled by any number of different bureaus within the district attorney’s office,” Sini said. “It created a system where gang members could fall through the cracks or be treated like any other individual. That is no longer going to be the case. We will be strategic in our prosecution against gang members.”

Though overall crime rates in Suffolk County have gone down, there has been persistent MS-13 activity, including the double homicide of young Brentwood residents Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas, and the murder of four young Latino men in 2016. More than a dozen alleged gang members were arrested in 2017 and charged with their murders. Many more murders, attempted kidnappings and drug sales have also been linked to the gang.

The new focus on gang activity has become internalized in other law enforcement agencies, such as Suffolk County’s Sheriff’s Department, which plans to revamp its gang unit inside the office and expand its data analytics and predictive models relating to gang crime.

“Part of it is going to be a learning curve, because my staff is going to have to learn my ideals and how I want to look at things, and it will require more resources,” Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said. “The Suffolk County PD is assisting us with some technology that will allow us to look at these patterns differently, and not only patterns, but individuals as well.”

Sini said that with this change the county will be more effective in deciding whether a crime should be processed locally or federally.

The Suffolk County PD is assisting us with some technology that will allow us to look at these patterns differently, and not only patterns, but individuals as well.”

— Errol Toulon Jr.

“This is an enormous shift in paradigm — this will bring the fight to a whole new level,” Sini said. “In some instances, it may make sense to start a case in the state system where we’re able to develop probable cause in an efficient manner while it may take longer to build that federal case.”

The 14-member gang unit includes eight assistant district attorneys and six special investigators. The gang unit will be led by deputy bureau chief Kate Wagner, and the Enhanced Prosecution Bureau will be led by veteran prosecutor Christiana McSloy, who has previously worked on gang cases in Nassau County’s District Attorney’s office.

The assistant district attorneys assigned to the gang unit will be on call on a rotating basis. and available around the clock for when police need assistance or advice. One of the prosecutors speaks Spanish.

The district attorney’s office also announced a partnership with Suffolk County Crime Stoppers, which will still allow community members to send in tips on gang activity that, if leads to an arrest, offers cash rewards up to $5,000.

The new program was announced just over a week after President Donald Trump (R) made mention of MS-13 in his State of the Union address. He cited the rash of gang killings as reason for America to change its immigration laws. MS-13 activity in Suffolk also inspired the president to visit the Brentwood Suffolk Police Department Academy campus during summer 2017 in which he addressed a crowd of officers.

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Michele and Bill McNaughton lost their son James in 2005. He was killed in Iraq by sniper fire. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Bill McNaughton, a retired NYPD officer, army veteran and Centereach resident could hear the party outside the small back room. The music was loud and upbeat, the crowd was hundreds strong and their bodies nearly filled every inch inside Mulcahy’s Concert Hall in Wantagh. The event attendees were all out there celebrating the life of McNaughton’s son James, an NYPD officer and army reservist who while stationed in Iraq was killed by sniper fire in 2005. He was 27.

“You know what it is, even though we’ve been doing this for years, this is like the first every time,” Bill McNaughton said. “It’s nice, but it brings back everything. And you know everybody else goes home tonight, but it stays with us.”

Pictures of his son, known to most as Jimmy, were hung out on the dance floor and on televisions around the room. Every year since January 2006, half a year from when he was killed, family and friends have come together to celebrate his life and raise money for veteran aid groups.

Friends Eric Wiggins, Anthony Palumbo, Vinny Zecca and Danny Leavy​ celebrate the life of their childhood friend. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Jimmy, he’s still helping guys today,” McNaughton said. “That’s what this is about, he’s still helping his men. All those people out there shows how he touched so many lives, and as a father you can’t ask more than that. It is an honor to see it.”

The annual event honoring James McNaughton hosted its 13th anniversary Jan. 27. The donations from sponsors helped raise money for nonprofit Wounded Warriors Project and PTSD Veterans Association of Northport.

Jimmy McNaughton graduated high school in 1996, and having early enlisted, immediately joined the army. When he returned home after being honorably discharged, he joined the reserves and the NYPD, where both his dad and stepmother worked as officers. He helped in aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and was sent oversees with the reserves in 2004 and 2005. He was killed in August of that year.

The event was created by the veteran’s childhood friends, including Vincent Zecca, who worked to ensure the memory of his friend was never lost.

“We tried to think of something that he would want,” Zecca said. “He wouldn’t want us to be somber and hold a traditional benefit, he would want something that everyone could enjoy.”

“Jimmy wouldn’t want people to cry in the corner, that’s just not how Jimmy was.”

— Michele McNaughton

McNaughton’s stepmother Michele agreed it’s a celebration that further strengthens her son’s memory and memorializes his story.

“Jimmy wouldn’t want people to cry in the corner, that’s just not how Jimmy was,” she said. “He always had a goofy smile on his face. I’m not going to say it’s easy for Bill or myself or even his friends — it’s hard to keep yourself together, and it doesn’t get any easier with time — but Jimmy was a really fine and funny kid, always laughing, he was never down in the dumps. This is how we remember that.”

The deejay, Michael Paccione, was a childhood friend of McNaughton’s. One of the bands who played two sets, Plunge, has donated its time for several years. The band was joined by New York Shields Pipes & Drums, which played Taps on ceremonial bagpipes.

Attendance at the event has remained consistent at the 1,000-person mark over the last few years.

Eric Wiggins, another longtime childhood friend, saw McNaughton as one of the most loyal people he ever knew.

“He would do anything for you,” he said. “We’re all one big group of friends, and doing this like this, with this party, and how many people come, just shows us returning that loyalty.”

The band Plunge has donated time to perform at the James McNaughton Foundation fundraiser for the last few years. Photo by Kyle Barr

Lou Puleo makes the photo slideshow, and mixes them up every year.

“He was the selfless type,” Puleo said of his old friend. “He was the type of guy that when he was overseas, he would get care packages, but if there was something good, he would give it out to everybody.”

Brothers Mike and Ross Burello grew up across the street from the McNaughton’s. They remember their neighbor as the youngest kid of the group, always up for playing outside.

“I don’t get to see these guys too often,” Ross Burello said. “So I love coming here every year. The montage and slideshow at the end brings it all back. It shows just how much he did for our country.”

Bill McNaughton said not a day goes by he doesn’t think about his son. He has Jimmy’s face tattooed on his arm so when he shakes a person’s hand, they just might ask who he is. His name and likeness are also stenciled in both his large army Humvee and his ‘69 Chevelle.

“I remember that Colonel walking on my lawn,” he said. “That’s my way of dealing with it. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do any of that stuff. You know how I deal with it? I take that Humvee and I drive.”

JIm Powers, president of the Townwide Fund oF Huntington, at their annual gala. Photo from Facebook

By Kyle Barr

There’s a Huntington man who keeps himself awake at night, driven to make sure he does his best to raise funds for charity — benefiting not one, but nearly 40 organizations.

Jim Powers, the president of The Townwide Fund of Huntington, thinks of his time with a business-like aim toward efficiency. He wants to get the biggest bang for his time.

As president of the fund, an organization created by the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce to raise funds for local charities, Powers funnels his time and energy toward aiding 39 nonprofit organizations. In 2017, the fund gave out more than $200,000 to charities in and around the Town of Huntington.

Jimmy Powers has been credited by some for saving the Townwide Fund of Huntington. Photo from Townwide Fund of Huntington

“It’s almost one size fits all,” he said. “You’re putting all your time into one organization [where] you can affect 39 different charities touching tens of thousands of different people in the town. Our tagline is, ‘The money raised in Huntington stays in Huntington.’”

Powers dedicates hours each week to the fund, whether it is looking for donations, supporting charity events, hosting their own fundraising events and more. At full board meetings, he’s known to bring coffee and bagels, knowing that all but one board member is a volunteer. Powers wants to show that their time is appreciated.

Powers is also a volunteer for the fund.

“He’s the heart and soul of this organization,” said Gloria Palacios, executive director of The Townwide Fund. “Our fundraising events are the most important thing that we do and Jim gets behind each one because he’s so driven to make sure that we get all the sponsorships and ticket sales and what not.”

Palacios said she marvels at the amount of time Powers puts into the organization, knowing he works many hours a week teaching at New York Institute of Technology and is also the director of business development for Bohler Engineering. She often teases him, Palacios said, knowing in the two or three days before The Townwide Fund events he doesn’t sleep, anxiously making sure every last detail works out perfectly.

“I keep telling him, ‘That it’s not your event, it’s a team event,’ but he says, ‘I know, but this needs to work for the town,’”
Palacios said.

Nine years ago, The Townwide Fund was nearly closed. Many people on the board point to Powers as the person who saved the fund from collapse. He drew up a business plan, replaced much of the board with what he called a “young, vibrant board” including not just business leaders but bankers, architects, attorneys, teachers and stay-at-home moms.

“He’s probably raised more money and given away more money than any other president in the fund’s history,” said Dave Gustin, vice president of the board and president of Melville Chamber of Commerce.

He’s the heart and soul of this organization.
— Gloria Palacios 

Others say Powers is the first person to make phone calls or jump in when something needs to be fixed. Carl Adler, third vice president of The Townwide Fund, recalled one day when they drove by one of the organization’s fundraiser signs together and realized it had been hit by a truck.

“We decided to get out — we had a shovel in the car — and fix it up together,” Adler said. “It’s very typical of Jim when something comes up, he’s going to fix it or he’s going to get people involved.”

Bob Bontempi, founding board member of Long Island Business Council and former chairman of the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce, said Powers supports not only The Townwide Fund but is visually active in several other organizations.

“I don’t know how he has the energy to do all the things he does,” Bontempi said. “He’s just one of those people that you go to because he’s a visible leader, and it’s the totality of selfless effort and time over the years that finally needs to be recognized.

Small business owners like Marion Bernholz, who owns The Gift Corner, above, are trying to find ways to compete with big box stores. Photo by Marion Bernholz

By Kyle Barr

For 40 minutes each morning when Marion Bernholz, the owner of The Gift Corner in Mount Sinai, opens her shop she lugs out all the product she keeps on the front porch all by herself. She does it every day, hoping the colors and interesting items will flag down cars traveling on North Country Road.

Thanksgiving day she was closed, but on Black Friday she put out her flags, signs, decorations, not expecting many customers at all, she said. Black Friday is perceived as a day for gaudy sales for the bigger stores with nationwide brands, or the Amazons of the world, though it has become just the appetizer for a weekend synonymous with shopping.

Ecolin Jewelers in Port Jefferson is co-owned by Linda Baker. Photo from Linda Baker

Instead, people flooded Bernholz’s store the weekend after Thanksgiving, and the customers kept streaming in even after Black Friday was days passed.

“We were busy on Friday, way busier than we had been since the bust, when the economy went down,” Bernholz said, beaming with excitement. “Wednesday was a spike. Friday was a major spike. It was so busy Saturday that people couldn’t find parking. There was a line out the door.”

At Elements of Home, a home and gift shop in St. James less than 12 miles from Gift Corner, the situation was different. Owner Debbie Trenkner saw Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday float by with only a small bump in sales, she said.

Though she advertised, Trenkner said that she only received a moderate boost in sales that weekend with only 27 people walking through her door on Black Friday, and only about 70 Saturday when she said she expected to see hundreds.

“After speaking to other retailers or feeling through the grapevine, all major events this year, Mother’s Day, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, we’ve done half the amount we’ve done in the past,” she said. “People do not shop local. Those that do are your 50-and-over crowd who do not like to order online. Younger people these days they are so attached to their phone, it’s their lifeline, in my opinion. It’s unfortunate because this is what communities are based on.”

“People do not shop local. Those that do are your 50-and-over crowd who do not like to order online. Younger people these days they are so attached to their phone.”

Debbie Trenkner

The similar local stores had polar opposite experiences during one of the busiest shopping weekends of the holiday season, though businesses overall this past Small Business Saturday, an event first sponsored by American Express in 2010, did very well though they fell short of 2016 numbers in total. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, 108 million consumers spent $12.9 billion Nov. 25.

Despite the slight dip from 2016, the data shows a much higher number of consumers are making the conscious decision to shop locally on the biggest spending date of the year for small businesses.

Stacey Finkelstein, an associate professor of marketing at Stony Brook University, said in a phone interview she has used psychological and behavioral economics to inform people about marketing problems, and she said a battle between instant gratification and the desire to support local stores is being waged for today’s consumers.

“Another tension for a lot of consumers who face this dilemma layered on top of this is this ethical quandary, which is ‘I want to support businesses that are consistent with my code of ethics and the values that I have as a consumer,’” Finkelstein said.

That value-based sales pitch is important, especially when it comes to the services offered. Many local businesses surveyed after this Black Friday weekend across the North Shore agreed the services they provide, whether it’s free gift wrapping or the ability to make a custom product, or even the ability to offer hands-on help to customers trying to figure out what gift is best, are the types of factors that neither online nor most large stores can match.

Fourth World Comics in Smithtown. Photo by Kyle Barr

“I think the most important thing to do besides creating an emotional experience and offering, obviously, great service is to really think about the values of those consumers in the local town and try and tap into those local values, such as if a town is really interested in sustainability, or ethically sourced food,” Finkelstein said.

One of the biggest questions that small business owners ask is whether young people are still willing to shop local. The consensus is they are the “plugged-in” generation, but that fact can be harnessed to work in favor of small business owners.

“Social issues are particularly important for a lot of millennials,” she said. “You tend to see a lot of that. I definitely don’t think millennials should be written off. I’m big into knitting, and if you ask what’s the stereotype for knitting, for example, is that grandmas knit, but actually there’s this active and large youthful contingent of knitters that are really driving and shaping that industry in a completely fascinating way. I think what it’s about is that millennials have these ethically laden values where they want to buy things that are local, that are environmentally sustainable.”

While many stores surveyed said this Black Friday weekend was “better than average” to “great,” there were several stores that did not see anywhere near the same boost in traffic. While the weather was nice, stores that didn’t meet expectations cited insufficient support from their local governments, or locations with little foot traffic, as their main deterrents.


Reactions from local store owners

Port Jefferson—Ecolin Jewelers

Co-owner Linda Baker:

We tend to run our sales to support our loyal customers, support our repeat customers. We had 20 percent off many items in the store, not all. That hasn’t been a big motivation to shop. In our industry
either they know us or they don’t.

The village was decorated nice and we had a good weekend. Black Friday for most retailers, for independent mom-and-pop retailers, has not been a big day for us. Our business is the last two weeks of the year. I think Black
Friday is when mom and dad go to look at televisions or cars — one big
purchase. It’s not a downtown thing. I don’t compare same day to same day from years before. I think there are too many variables, whether it’s the weather
or the news. Though I’d say this year was better than last year across the board.

Mount Sinai—The Gift Corner

Owner Marion Bernholz:

I don’t think Black Friday is as big of a thing anymore. We had people coming in at 10 a.m. and I asked them why they weren’t out shopping and they would say, “Oh, we don’t do that anymore.” I think people just don’t like to rush anymore, plus all the deals are available all week long, so there’s almost no point. Maybe, eventually, people will be able to have Thanksgiving dinner with their family, that’s the hope.

Though this was one of the best Black Fridays I’ve had since the bust in 2008, I went back and I looked at the papers for how it was in 2005. I couldn’t count it all — it was like the funds were flowing like water. It’s never
going to be 2005 again.

Half the people who came in my store on Saturday had no clue [about Small Business Saturday]. We’d be like, “OK, now we’ll explain it to you. Good that you’re here, and this is what it’s about.”

Rocky Point—Rocky Point Cycle

Owner Gary Wladyka:

We didn’t advertise but had in-store deals. We had discounts on shoes and sunglasses. There were more customers that Friday because more people had Friday off.

We’re always trying to get more customers, but we’re more of a
destination shop rather than a “Let’s go take a look” type thing.

This is the beginning of the end for small business. It’s going to continue to demise with people wanting to do
everything on the internet. The way new consumers are, it’s going to be hard to grow it. We try to provide service. You’re not going to get service online.

Setauket—All Seasons at Ari’s Treasures

Owner Jeff Aston:

We have an online presence. We did very well online over the course of the weekend. The store was busy. I’m a Christmas shop, so it’s kind of the height of our season now. We were offering 20 percent off storewide, we had some 25 percent-off items, some 50 percent-off items. We definitely went along with trying to capture that audience.

We do custom sign making and engraving, and it’s a little more of a custom product. I’m not sure how Black Friday helped us with that part of the business, but overall it was a good weekend. I’d say it was comparable to last year.

People want personalization, they want customization. You have to see the expression on people’s faces when they see our work. I’ve been in the Christmas business for 40 years, and I’ve never done anything more rewarding for my customers than what I’m doing now.

Young people today push a button and they get what they want. I’ve gotten away from the similar product you will see on Amazon. The beauty of the internet is that we can put our product out online. We’re on Etsy, and for the small business person who’s creating something themselves, Etsy is the way to go.

Smithtown—4th World Comics

Manager Terence Fischette:

“We didn’t do too much in sales. We did a lot of half-price items, took out a lot of stuff we wanted to get out of the back room. We don’t really compete with any of the big stores when it comes to Black Friday. We ended up doing a lot better than a normal Friday because people are out and in the shopping mood. The weekend was kind of normal, but it was one of the better Black Fridays that we’ve had in years.

You see some regular customers, you see some new people. Comics are definitely more popular now, people see the sign and they pull over. It’s a lot more gifts and toys. Whenever a new superhero movie comes out you’ll see kids coming in who want the new Captain America or the new Thor book. Black Friday is more of just toys, T-shirts and stuff like that.

We have our own holiday sale on Dec. 16 and that’s one of our biggest holiday sales of the year.”

Smithtown

4th World Comics (Comics, figurines and memorabilia)

Manager Terence Fischette:

“We didn’t do too much in sales. We did a lot of half-price items, took out a lot of stuff we wanted to get out of the back room. We don’t really compete with any of the big stores when it comes to Black Friday. We ended up doing a lot better than a normal Friday because people are out and in the shopping mood. The weekend was kind of normal, but it was one of the better Black Fridays that we’ve had in years.

You see some regular customers, you see some new people. Comics are definitely more popular now, people see the sign and they pull over. It’s a lot more gifts and toys. Whenever a new superhero movie comes out you’ll see kids coming in who want the new Captain America or the new Thor book. Black Friday is more of just toys, T-shirts and stuff like that.

We have our own holiday sale on Dec. 16 and that’s one of our biggest holiday sales of the year.”

Northport—Einstein’s Attic

Owner Lori Badanes:

“We did great, it was wonderful. We offered a lot of in store promotions. We had an Elf on a Shelf here, we read a story to the kids and the kids got a notebook and a pencil. They got to fill out a wish list, then all the kids got to make an ornament. We had giveaways, and make your own putty on Saturday.

We started planning this in the summer, back in August. We do it every year.

We did better this year than other years — 17 percent better. It was a nice jump. One thing is that we offered some light ups for an outdoor event. The kids got a lot of things to take home. I feel we’re a community-based business, and we support our community every chance we get.”

Huntington—Cow Over the Moon

Owner Brian Drucker:

“I feel like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, definitely did better than previous years. I didn’t do any specific specials that I can think of offhand.

It was a mixture of new people and regulars coming through. The big thing about a store like this being here for 23 years is that we have a steady number of regulars, but I saw a good crop of new customers come in.

One of the things I also do is sports memorabilia, and Aaron Judge [who plays for the New York Yankees] is one of the hottest, hottest things in the world. He had one of the greatest rookie seasons ever in baseball, so we sold a bunch of Aaron Judge autographed memorabilia, some pretty expensive stuff.

It’s hard to explain … why we did well. You never can tell you know, there was just a lot of people walking around. The town  was pretty booming.”

Centereach Fire Department teamed up with Operation Christmas Child to collect shoeboxes filled with gifts to be donated to needy children. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

It wasn’t quite Santa’s sleigh, but it was large, red and carried presents, so an ambulance was good enough for the Selden Fire Department, which took over Santa’s duties last week and stuffed 100 shoeboxes with gifts for poor young children all over the world.

Volunteers help fill a Selden Fire Department
ambulance with shoeboxes for Operation Christmas
Child. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Most of these boxes are going to go to kids who never even get a gift,” Selden Fire Department Treasurer Vincent Ammirati said. “This is something that will put a smile on a face, and this is the fire department — everything we do here is for other people. All we do is try put a smile on people’s faces.”

The shoeboxes were collected as part of Operation Christmas Child, a function of the evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse. The organization takes the shoeboxes from drop-off points in local churches before sending them to distribution centers that will ship them to poor communities in Africa, South America, Asia and others. The shoeboxes are labeled by age and gender, and usually contain toys like inflatable soccer balls or stuffed animals, but mostly they contain hygiene products like soap and toothbrushes along with school supplies like books and pencils.

All seven companies within the Selden Fire Department helped contribute to the stack, with some companies acting as a group and other members of the fire department contributing indipendently.

Children in Uganda receive shoeboxes of gifts from
Operation Christmas Child last year. Photo from
Danielle McCarthy

Volunteer firefighter and Operation Christmas Child Long Island Coordinator Danielle McCarthy headed the fire department’s collection drive. She said she got the idea of filling an ambulance full of shoeboxes from watching the Los Angeles Police Department and how a funeral home had pulled in with a hearse full of shoe boxes.

McCarthy has been involved with Operation Christmas Child for more than a decade, first packing boxes before becoming a local packing leader, and then area coordinator. In 2012 McCarthy travelled to Uganda to help hand out shoeboxes.

“As we put shoe boxes into their hands and they opened up those boxes I saw their delight,” she said. “To look at them having physical needs met, to be able to see the joy that came to them from these simple things like school supplies and toys and that sort of thing, that impacted me. But what really impacted me even more, and what keeps me packing shoeboxes, were all the kids standing outside the place who didn’t get shoeboxes because there wasn’t enough to give to everybody.”

Shoeboxes for Operation Christmas
Child were collected with gifts to be
donated to needy children.
Photo by Kyle Barr

Every box also comes with a picture book called “The Greatest Gift,” put inside after each is packed. The book depicts a number of biblical stories told in that country’s native language. There was a $9 fee for every package, which pays for both the book and shipping costs. The fire department pulled together $900 to go toward this cost.

“Every one of these shoeboxes to us is not just a gift that we’re giving to a child, but around Christmas time Jesus is a gift we try to give, too,” said Victor Rossomano, an Operation Christmas Child Suffolk County-area coordinator. “It’s in their language and their culture. We try to keep it within their culture; we try not to send America to them, we want them to be who they are.”

Ammirati helped McCarthy drive the shoeboxes to the drop-off point at the Grace Gospel Church in Patchogue. He said he plans on using his officer status with the Suffolk County Volunteer Fireman’s Association to try and spread the idea out to all the different fire departments in the county.

“It’s a great way to show our community presence with the fire department and also for Operation Christmas Child,” McCarthy said. “It’s taken a few years to get this rolling, but when we challenged the fire department to fill the ambulance, as you can see, the guys stepped up.”

The 100 boxes kicked off national collection week, which ran from Nov. 13 to 20. In 2009, Suffolk County gathered 7,100 boxes, but the number has grown. The group is hoping to have 20,000 boxes packed this year

Stephen Treglia as Sancho Panza and Michael Bertolini as Don Quixote’ in a scene from ‘Man of La Mancha’ Photo by Courtney Braun

By Kyle Barr

 

In the conflict between cynical realism and colorful idealism, “Man of La Mancha” is fully in support of the latter even while being so close to giving into the former. It is a production that teeters on this line even in the most silly of circumstances, and it is this fine line that requires quite a lot from everyone involved from music to set design to acting so that the meaning does not get confused.

It is good then that the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts is up to the challenge.

Michael Bertolini as Don Quixote’ in a scene from ‘Man of La Mancha’ Photo by Courtney Braun

While classic productions like “Man of La Mancha” (a 1960s Broadway production ran for over 2,000 performances) give local theaters the opportunity to perform something familiar, these shows can have the side effect of giving the impression that it is “amateur hour.” However, the SPAC, even on its opening night, not only manages to have a show with great performances on every level, but it also manages to capture the depth and heart of the play.

The story first centers upon the “bad poet and idealist” Miguel de Cervantes who, along with his manservant, is arrested by the Spanish Inquisition under the charge of foreclosing on a church. In prison, all their possessions are taken by the other inmates, including the tough yet sympathetic “Governor,” who declares they will put on a mock trial for Cervantes and that if he is found guilty everything including his precious manuscript will be taken or burned.

The aging gentleman declares he wishes to present his trial in the form of a play about a man named Alonso Quijana, who has become so fed up with the evil of the world and has spent so much time around books on ancient chivalry that he goes insane, dons a breastplate and helmet and makes himself a knight errant named Don Quixote. He has the other inmates act out characters throughout his defense, all while time is ticking down before he must meet his real trial in front of the Inquisition.

The cast of ‘Man of La Mancha’. Photo by Courtney Braun

What is remarkable about the production, and what director Kenneth J. Washington and the other folks at the SPAC have managed to convey, is how well the theme and meaning builds over time. At first the audience must agree with the inmates, thinking Cervantes is an idiot idealist who has little excuse for his actions. Slowly it is clear through the obtuse silliness of Don Quixote that Cervantes might have a point, and eventually it is clear the production is a metanarrative about theater and fiction itself.

It is a theme expressed even by the set design, headed by resident designer Tim Golebiewski. At first the set seems well designed, with good work on the foreground and the paintings of stonework that seems truly lifelike. But it all seems a little dull and gray, easily blending into each other.

However, this works to the play’s themes. The audience is there inside this dungeon, and just like the inmates the place is dull and harrowing. Once Don Quixote is on stage, running around with broken lance and bent sword, both inmates and audience imagine a more colorful scene much in the way that Quixote seems to imagine it. It is all enhanced by lighting designer Chris Creevy who does a fine job on the subtle hints of lighting to fit the scene.

Of course, this setup would not work at all unless the actors convey that they too are being transported into Cervantes’ world, and on opening night last Saturday the entire cast went above and beyond what was expected.

Stephen Treglia as Sancho Panza and Michael Bertolini as Don Quixote’ in a scene from ‘Man of La Mancha’ Photo by Courtney Braun

While actors are often expected to play multiple parts on the stage throughout a play, lead Michael Bertolini has the harder job of switching between Cervantes, Quixote and Quijana often in the middle of a scene. Nevertheless, he manages it flawlessly, with each character having a distinct presence on stage. Cervantes is composed and gentlemanly, while Quixote is loud, boisterous while cripplingly old. It was a joy to watch Bertolini put on makeup right on stage, quickly transforming himself into another character in a scene only usually reserved for behind the stage.

SPAC veteran Brianne Boyd, who plays Alonsa, the kitchen wench of the local inn, fills her roll with a great melancholy that is pitch perfect, not to mention her voice that captures that loneliness and hopelessness especially in her song “It’s All the Same,” which musical director Melissa Coyle and choreographer Danielle Nigro must have spent countless hours getting just right. The song stands out as the most memorable and affecting number of the entire production.

The other standouts of the cast are easily Stephen Treglia as the manservant Sancho Panza, the unflappable sidekick to both Cervantes and Quixote, and Steve Ayle, his first time at the SPAC, as both the Duke and Dr. Carrasco, who has a stern face when talking of the merits of cynicism and realism over idealism.

If you have never seen “Man of La Mancha,” then SPAC’s production is a great introduction to the magnificent story. If you have seen La Mancha before, then this is a good way to remember why you loved it so much.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present “Man of La Mancha” through Oct. 22. Tickets are $35 adults, $32 seniors, $20 students with valid ID. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

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Jeremy Renner and Gil Birmingham in a scene from 'Wind River'

By Kyle Barr

The first time the audience sees the Native American reservation in “Wind River,” written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, they see a fire pit surrounded by natives huddling in blankets against the cold. The small thin sticks of the fire form a teepee and give off a dark grey smoke. It then cuts to an American flag hanging from a pole upside down. At this point in the film, it became clear that this wasn’t the mystery crime thriller that the marketing material and trailers made it out to be.

Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner in a scene from ‘Wind River’

One can be excused for thinking that the bare plot could serve as a vehicle for much nuance. A young Native American woman named Natalie (Kelsey Asbille) is found dead in the snow by Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent. She has died miles away from the nearest building without shoes and with signs of murder and rape apparent on her body.

FBI special agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) comes to investigate, but when the coroner cannot declare the death a murder, which would give Banner the authority to call in a full FBI investigation, she teams up with surly Tribal Police Chief Ben (Graham Greene) and Lambert to find the killer, not yet aware that Lambert has his own personal reasons for becoming so involved in the murder of this young woman.

The story plays out much less like a mystery thriller and more like a police procedural, unfolding from one discovery to the next until we finally find out who has committed the rape and murder, via a flashback toward the very end of the film. That ends up being a very good thing, as a mystery could have been a distraction from the point the film tries to make. The big revelation that ties the themes of the film together is not figuring out exactly who was responsible, but who those responsible people represent.

Jeremy Renner stars in ‘Wind River’

Early in the film it is clear that it is going to be politically charged. The Wind River Reservation in Wyoming is shown to be a cold, ravaged land with little in the way of resources, both natural and governmental. Films like “Fargo” have already figured out the lonely and desperate tone a film can have with wide, sweeping shots of snow-covered plains and smothered buildings. But while in the Coen Brother’s film the empty expanse is supposed to put the audience on edge, the empty fields and silent mountaintops in “Wind River” showcase a sorrow brought by white desolation.

The only shame then is that there is still a hint of the white-man-saves-the-brown-people plot that Hollywood still continues to peddle (just think “Dances with Wolves.”) That is not to say that Renner and Olsen don’t do an excellent job showing people who honestly care, not just about the death of the young woman, but also for the plight of Native Americans on the reservation.

Jeremy Renner in a scene from ‘Wind River’

Olsen’s character works well in this context, as the native characters like Martin, played by Gil Birmingham, are not only reserved around her, but even antagonistic because she represents both the authority of the federal government they feel has abandoned them and a century-long history of repression.

While the native characters are not as reserved around Renner’s character, the film does a good job at showing that even though he has lived among them for years, he will never truly be a part of their society.

Yet it’s still hard not to say that Renner’s character, especially considering the events at the very end of the film, would have been even more poignant if played by a Native American actor. It’s hard to recommend a better film, especially one that deals with topics so rarely seen in other major motion pictures. “Wind River” is a legitimately good film that you might owe it to yourself to watch, especially as the summer blockbuster season winds to a close.

Rated R for strong violence, a rape, disturbing images, and language, “Wind River” is now playing in local theaters.

Photos courtesy of The Weinstein Company

Bruce Campbell answers questions from the audience.

By Kyle Barr

Bruce Campbell walked from the back room of the Book Revue in Huntington on August 15 to a crowd that had flooded the entire space of the bookstore. Fans had crowded in between shelves stuffed with books and in chairs besieging a small podium to the rear of the store. The line to pick up Campbell’s new book, “Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor,” snaked its way around the store.

The man made famous for starring in B movies, the “Evil Dead” trilogy and television show as well as for his large, clefted chin was rather nonchalant about the turnout.

“Who came the farthest away today?” he asked the crowd. A person in the back shouted “England,” with an English accent. “England?” Campbell said, his mouth twitching. “You’re full of crap.” Another person yelled out California. “California? You didn’t come here just for this, cause I’m going to California.” The audience laughed. “You’re either lying or you’re an idiot.”

The crowd was large enough that Campbell was signing books and memorabilia late into the night. The venue didn’t allow people to spend too much time taking pictures with Campbell, but he was eager to calm people by making a joke of it. “They’ll take pictures, they’re gonna grab your damn camera, click click click click, you’re gonna go, ‘Oh, are we posing?’ nope, click click, the camera’s back in your hand and you don’t know what happened. You’re gonna get pictures tonight, they’re gonna be mostly crappy. Photoshop, reframe them. I’m gonna see all these crappy photos on Twitter tomorrow and I’ll go, ‘Wow, that’s another crappy photo.’”

Campbell is well known for his facial ticks. He always talks with his head tilted to the side and his lips twitch often. It’s part of his persona, the one people have learned to appreciate from childhoods spent watching the “Evil Dead” films and Campbell’s other B movie rolls — people like Dennis Carter Jr. of Lake Ronkonkoma, who that day cosplayed as the chain-saw-toting, ripped shirted main character of the famed “Evil Dead” franchise.

Carter says his friends call him the Long Island Ash, as he has a penchant for dressing up as the main character of the “Evil Dead” franchise and going to conventions. He especially likes to show up wherever Campbell appears. Just the day before Carter traveled to New Jersey to see him at a book signing in that state as well.

“Bruce is really a good guy,” Carter said. “He’s not like other celebrities who get pompous about these sort of things. He’s really humbled by the crowds that he gets. He’s worth it.”

Dog owners like Kevin Harrigan and Taylor Gittin who are watching their dogs Cassie and Ruby play can look forward to using fresh water stations at Selden Dog Park thanks to a grant secured by Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Dog owners in Brookhaven have something new to bark about, as the Town of Brookhaven received a grant to make improvements to the Selden Dog Park.

Last week, Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) announced the town was one of just 25 local municipalities out of 215 from across the country to receive pet supply manufacturer PetSafe’s annual Bark for Your Park grant — a $10,000 prize. Most of the funds will be used to install new water stations and water fountains inside the dog park, and the rest will go toward minor improvements.

Taylor Gittin and his dog Cassie play at Selden Dog Park. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We have a lot of dog owners that want a place where they can bring their dog who can run around with other dogs who live in the area,” LaValle said. “That’s where this all started — a lot of dog lovers out there who needed a place to go.”

Selden resident Taylor Gittin has already visited the park several times with his 1.5-year-old dog Cassie since recently moving to the area from Chicago.

“There were some parks in the neighborhood, but they were concrete, so its nice that there are trees and she can run on [the sand],” Gittin said of his old park compared to the one in Selden. “A few times coming here I forgot water bottles from home because I’m used to other dog parks having [fountains], so that’s the biggest thing for me [the town could improve on].”

Not including villages and private property, the town currently supports two off-leash dog parks — in Selden and Middle Island. The Selden Dog Park will receive sprinklers, and new plants will help beautify the entrance. Slats will be added to the entrance gate so excited dogs don’t crowd the entrance as new owners enter.

“We’re always looking to save taxpayers money, and going out and getting these grants, whether it’s for infrastructure or parks, is something we really focus in the town because it offsets our costs,” LaValle said. “It’s these little extras that the residents want and the residents need that helps keep the tax bills down. We beat out municipalities from all over the country, so this was a great thing.”

“A few times coming here I forgot water bottles from home because I’m used to other dog parks having [fountains], so that’s the biggest thing for me [the town could improve on].”

—Taylor Gittin

The Bark for Your Park grant began in 2011 as a social media contest that would earn just over 40 applicants PetSafe Brand Marketing Specialist Justin Young said in an email. In 2016, the contest was transformed into a grant-giving campaign. There are 25 grants available in different funding levels — communities building a new park can apply for a $25,000 grant, communities performing maintenance on existing parks can receive $10,000 and communities that desire new equipment can get $5,000 worth of park accessories through park furnishing company Ultrasite, a partner of PetSafe.

“The program is all about finding enthusiastic, pet-loving communities that support green spaces, with civic leaders and community organizations who want to improve their communities and encourage responsible pet ownership,” Young said in the email.

Centereach resident Kevin Harrigan is a regular to the park and takes his three dogs Ruby, Max and Jasper for a walk around Selden almost every day.

“This dog park is a God send,” Harrigan said. “From my perspective, there’s a lot of people like me — I’m in my 60s, I’ve been living in this community for 20 years and I pay my taxes every year. I have three dogs. I can’t bring them in the parks, can’t bring them in school areas. I pay the taxes to pay for all these things and I can’t enjoy any of them. [A good amount] of the population are out here without kids, so for a lot of us, dogs are our kids.”

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A South Korean soldier inside the joint security area. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

TBR News Media intern Kyle Barr visited South Korea in 2016. Photo from Kyle Barr

In the summer of 2016 I traveled to South Korea with the Stony Brook University’s program Journalism Without Walls. Though three weeks is never enough time to entrench yourself into a culture, I got to see a lot of what Korea is, and what it isn’t.

We traveled to the Demilitarized Zone, the DMZ, between North and South Korea. We learned of the minefields of the surrounding area hiding behind lines of barbed wire, the towers above the fields that could watch down into the North. Soldiers took us to the Military Demarcation Line in between two buildings, one owned by the North and one owned by the South. There are three small blue houses where the two sides are supposed to speak, but they haven’t for years. There’s a lone North Korean soldier on the far side beyond the line. He stood there at attention up the large stone steps. The atmosphere is oppressive, as if the air sits heavy on the shoulders.

But it’s a tourist spot. It’s a place with a gift shop and where a good many tourism companies run buses to all the major sites. Kids are often taken there, mainly from the schools in Seoul. The South Korean tour guide wanted us to take pictures of the North Korean soldier all at the same time like everyone with a camera was a private with a rifle at a firing line. The DMZ is a tool as much as much as it is a contested piece of real estate. The South Korean government wants you to come, it wants to convince you that everything you see is important.

South Korea is suffused with modernity. From up on the top of Dongguk University in Seoul, where my group and I stayed, the night skyline buzzed with color and light. The streets were clean even through the bustle, as it was a cultural tick for people to pick up garbage even when it wasn’t theirs. The subways were a masterwork of clean efficiency. Electric signs told when the next train was coming, and it was always exactly on time. I think Seoul is the most modern place I have ever been to in my life.

When I originally told my parents I wanted to go there, when asked they couldn’t even find South Korea on a map. Worse, my folks heard the word “Korea” and their eyes went wider than if they had seen a car crash 2 feet in front of them. Korea, to them, was a place of great anxiety, where a madman holding a big red button threatened everything they knew. My mother actually thought it could be possible that I would be walking around Seoul, get lost, then accidentally end up on the other side of the border in North Korea, suddenly finding myself surrounded by armed soldiers.

North Korean soldier on the opposite side of the DMZ. Photo by Kyle Barr

A year ago I didn’t have to fear for my life, of course, but now things are different. Seoul is only a short 35 miles from the DMZ. Along the border in entrenched positions there are thousands of artillery positions well dug in and lined up within easy range of Seoul. Any sort of conflict that erupts, whether from a huge, planned military endeavor or sudden strike, could result in a staggering number of casualties.

I spoke to a few young people originally from North Korea who braved so much hardship to escape to the South, with their parents hiring brokers that would ferry them across harsh terrain into China, and from there a looping path through several countries before they could seek asylum in the South. The people living in the North are destitute and much of the country relies on foreign aid. While some buy fully into the propaganda displayed by the Kim Jong-un government, many are at least in some part disbelieving.

These are the people that we ignore when United States officials talk about a confrontation with North Korea. Not only do they not want conflict, much like us in the U.S, but they and people in the surrounding countries and territories like Japan and Guam are stuck dealing with a conflict between two nuclear powers. In the expression of our fear, it’s imperative that we don’t forget these people who are left in the crosshairs.

Kyle Barr is currently an intern for TBR News Media.

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