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Kyle Barr

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.

Bethel Hobbs Farm's Run the Farm 4-mile challenge kicks off. Photo from Councilman Kevin LaValle's office

By Kyle Barr

For Ann Pellegrino, the founder of Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach which donates 90 percent of its locally grown vegetables to area food pantries, the mission hits close to home.

“Years ago I was a single mother with three kids working two different jobs, and I’ve had to go to food pantries a couple times,” she said. “But when you go to the typical food pantry, you get boxed stuff, stuff that doesn’t have any nutrients, stuff that doesn’t have any vitamins in it, it’s just stuff to fill your belly.”

Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach holds an annual community race to raise money for the farm. Photo by Kyle Barr

Because the mission is so important to her, when government funds ran dry, she needed help.

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) stepped in with an idea to host a local race to bring the community together while helping to raise funds for the farm.

LaValle called for help from Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) and Hobbs Farms volunteers and the annual Run the Farm Four-Mile Challenge was born.

Now in its third year, more than 200 runners of all strengths and abilities came out on a warm, humid day Aug. 19 to support the farm. In total, more than $7,500 was raised.

“This is the last remaining farm in Centereach — It’s not only a part of our history but an active part of our history,” LaValle said. “You have kids 5, 6 years old, you have college kids, high school kids, seniors that are out there volunteering. It brings so many people together in this community for a great cause.”

The runners lined up at the start in front of the Oxhead Road Elementary School and waited for the horn. Their route took them in a loop that ended on the west side of the farm where they were greeted by cheering family members, friend and volunteers. Tall yellow sunflowers and green vegetables could be seen growing beyond the archway to the farm and a sign saying “Love Grows Here.”

“I was remarried and I was able to step back a little bit because people were there for me,” Pellegrino said. “I wanted to give back to people stuff that wasn’t just packaged.”

The Bethel Hobbs Community Farm’s founder, Ann Pellegrino, donates most of the produce to local food pantries. File photo

The volunteers at Bethel Hobbs farm are often community members, with a handful of student volunteers from Suffolk County Community College and Stony Brook University.

“I live three houses down from here, so I’m always here helping out when I’m not in college, and when I’m not busy during the semester I stop by and do some help inside the community,” said SCCC student Bershell Hall. “I think it’s really great what they do here, because they have health standards, people in the community can come here and pull for their own usage.”

Kraig Rau placed first in the race with a time of 22 minutes, 52 seconds. He strode across the finish line with a body and face streaming with sweat, and he gladly took the water bottle from a volunteer’s outstretched hand. Rau grew up in the community and graduated from Centereach High School.

“It’s my second time here; I was here last year,” he said. “I think it’s a great event, it’s the local community here. I live a mile away so I run here and then I just run home.”

The run was sponsored by several groups, including a few large-scale food chains like Whole Foods and ShopRite. A group of 21 employees from the Selden ShopRite showed up to support the event.

“The farm is vital to the infrastructure of the island and Middle Country, and we’re very fortunate to have it,” said Charles Gallagher, the owner of the Selden ShopRite. “We need to make sure we continue to support it, it’d be a real shame if it went away.”

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A scene from 'The Glass Castle'

By Kyle Barr

“The Glass Castle” is wholly transparent, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. You can see all the hard work that the cast put into the film, but its Hollywood drama sensibilities also show straight through. While a number of the cast put up a good fight, the movie is brought down by a script that feels awkward and, at times, rather dumb.

The film flips between Jeannette Walls as a young girl (Ella Anderson) and as an adult (Brie Larson). Her childhood is spent growing up in poverty with her parents, Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) and Rex (Woody Harrelson) and siblings.

 

Chandler Head as ‘Youngest Jeannette” and Naomi Watts as “Rose Mary Walls’ in ‘The Glass Castle.’

The family spends its early years traveling aimlessly around the country before eventually settling in Welch, West Virginia. Jeannette’s mother is an eccentric and absent-minded artist and her father is an alcoholic yet imaginative man whose dream is to settle on a piece of land and build his dream house, his “Glass Castle,” for his family.

The second time line is of Jeannette as an adult working as a gossip writer for New York Magazine. Her parents show up yet again to complicate things just as she gets engaged and plans to get married.

It is this dual structure to the film that drags the plot, mostly because the scenes set in New York are just so much more dull and tiring than those set in the past. Jeannette’s plight of trying to get married to New York Wall Street broker David (Max Greenfield) is not only doddering in pace, but it also grows incredibly annoying. David barely has a personality, and seemingly his only purpose is to grow Jeanette’s anxiety about marrying him. He’s so worthless apparently Destin Cretton, the director who also wrote the script, didn’t bother to give him a last name.

A scene from ‘The Glass Castle’

In this setting Larson does not seem to be trying either. For a character whose main conflict appears to be between her old, adventurous personality and her new, humdrum but stable life, she never appears to ever show that conflict. And no, staring out the window with a forlorn expression does not count.

The past events give a much stronger impression, and it could be Harrelson’s performance that allows the character to be grounded even when the script makes him say some really eyebrow-raising lines. His rampant and passionate performance complements the rest of the cast, with even the younger performers of two separate ages putting in a strong effort.

A scene from ‘The Glass Castle’

The major problem with the film is that it feels like the entire thing was doused in Windex, then wiped and scrubbed flat. Everything that could have been gritty, like Rex’s alcoholism and Jeannette almost being raped as a young adult, feel so washed out and edgeless it’s sometimes hard to forgive the film. Then there are moments of whimsy and heart, like that of the older Jeannette sitting by her father’s sickbed that just reek with obvious and dull dialogue that you can easily find in a soap opera, much less a major Hollywood drama.

There are genuine attempts at both the gritty and the whimsy. Once in a while a scene might hit the mark, like when on Christmas Day Rex gives young Jeannette the pick of any star she wants in the night sky. However, there is a consistent feeling that there was a better movie here, somewhere buried underneath the poor dialogue and strange plot developments. In fact, if one is really interested in the story, the memoir written by Jeannette Walls can be a great read. Otherwise, it’s hard to recommend the film for anyone who isn’t already a huge fan of the autobiography.

“The Glass Castle,” rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, language and smoking, is now playing in local theaters. 

Photos by Jake Giles Netter, courtesy of Lionsgate Publicity

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Alyssa Paprocky, 22, is one of only two female racers at Riverhead Raceway competing in the Blunderbust class of cars. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Alyssa Paprocky parked her car, her acrylic nails still wrapped around the steering wheel. She got out and took off her helmet, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. She just finished 9th out of 14 in an Aug. 5 race and she was happy enough with the placement. She’s only been racing for a few years, and is still considered a rookie. She looked to the front of her car where there was a mark of pink along her front driver’s side wheel well — driving that close that fast on such a speedway is bound to rub a few the wrong way. She shrugged.

“Rubbing is racing,” Paprocky said.

Coram race car driver Alyssa Paprocky jumps into the seat of her car. Photo by Kyle Barr

The 22-year-old Coram resident is one of only two female racers at Riverhead Raceway competing in the Blunderbust class of cars. She started racing three years ago, and said even with a number of female outliers — like Janet Guthrie and more recently Danica Patrick — being a female in what has traditionally been considered a man’s sport has had its challenges.

“People think that there’s this stereotype that women don’t know how to drive,” Paprocky said. “People assume that you’re not going to do well. Us girls want to go out there to prove them wrong.”

Racing is in Paprocky’s blood, but she is the first female driver in her family. Her grandfather, and father Joe Paprocky both raced in their day, with her father working on fixing cars and even sponsored some in the 1990s and early 2000s. Being an only child, Paprocky grew up constantly surrounded by cars..

“Once I get in and strap into the race car — the car doesn’t know if I’m a guy or a girl,” she said. “It doesn’t know the difference.“

When Paprocky was young, she would watch NASCAR events and knew the names of all the drivers, their numbers and even their sponsors. She would help her dad work on cars — holding the flashlight so he could see while he was deep in the car’s “guts.” She spent so much time by his side she knew what size socket wrench he needed based on the part he was working on before he even asked for it. Now, she gets in there, puts the wrench in and gets her own hands covered in grease and oil.

“People think that there’s this stereotype that women don’t know how to drive. People assume that you’re not going to do well. Us girls want to go out there to prove them wrong.”

—Alyssa Paprocky

“She wanted to drive for years — you know, being a daddy’s girl,” Joe Paprocky said. “I was like ‘no, no, no, no.’ Then one night, I just thought what was I doing holding her back. It’s been a work in progress, but each week we get something out of it.”

Natalie Fitterman, an English teacher at Centereach High School and friend of the Paprocky’s, said she enjoyed watching the pair work together.

“I saw a man taking the time to teach his daughter about something he is very passionate about, and it is something most fathers would never want their daughters to know about, let alone actually do,” she said. “I have a hard time finding models for my students, but she’s one of them.”

Lenore Paprocky, the young driver’s mother, has also worked on cars. She marveled at the fact that her daughter has taken it one step further than she did — not only working on cars, but driving them. To her, it’s the family and community developed in racing that sets it apart from other sports.

“Camaraderie is a big part of why people stay with this sport,” she said. “It’s competition, yeah, but you could call it a friendly competition.”

Cassandra Denis, the other female racer at the speedway who also races in the Blunderbust class, came up as a rookie around the same time Alyssa Paprocky did. She said she respects her competitor, and admires the courage it takes to be a female in the sport.

“It’s about earning respect on the track, and that means you do the work turn laps and get a victory,” Denis said. “I respect [Alyssa] going through the same struggles. We have to work harder to get here and prove ourselves.”

Alyssa Paprocky (No. 5) follows the pack in an Aug. 5 race at Riverhead Raceway. Photo by Kyle Barr

Paprocky has been in 16 races since she started at Riverhead Raceway. Last year’s season was cut short because her car kept breaking down, and at first, she felt defeated.

“My first engine blew and it was the most depressing thing — it was as if someone had come and shot my dog,” Paprocky said. “Then, it was rebuilding … a smaller engine. That meant everything had to change. Even my driving style.”

Paprocky tries to remain realistic, and though she might place well in some races, what she really looks for is consistency in her improvement.

“I set realistic goals for myself, and every week I would put the hours in and I feel like I met those goals for the most part,” she said. “I take a positive out of every week.”

She said the spirited young fans that approach her after her races keep her going.

“I’ve had little kids come up to me in the pits to sign autographs and they ask ‘whose the driver?’ and I say ‘That’s me,’” Paprocky said. “I still sometimes feel like a rockstar. A couple weeks ago two little girls came up to me, and I went to get a marker to sign their flag and I heard them go ‘Oh, she is the driver? Oh my God.’”

The Rocky Point Drive-In sign in 1988, the year it closed. The marquee announces the screening of ‘Crocodile Dundee 2’ when it reopens on May 25. Photo courtesy of Cinema Treasures

By Kyle Barr

For almost three decades on summer nights North Shore residents gathered together on lawn chairs, blankets or in the comfortable seats of their cars while a speaker hooked into the car’s window played action, romance or comedy into their expecting ears. It was a scene played out practically every summer night at the Rocky Point Drive-In, and while undeveloped Rocky Point was a dark, wooded area, the brightest light for miles around was the movie projector and the big, bright screen.

Above, what’s left today of the old sign that welcomed families to the movies from 1961 to 1988. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Rocky Point Drive-In was just one in a multitude of drive-ins on Long Island. There was one in Smithtown, Brentwood, Coram, Nesconset, Patchogue and Riverhead, to a name a few, but now every one of them is gone. The only remnants of the one in Rocky Point is the marquee sign surrounded by shrubs and weeds on the side of Route 25A.

The Mammina brothers, Joe and his younger brother, Wayne, had both worked at the drive-in as teenagers during the early years and remember both the comfortable and weird aspects of working at such a place.

“We used to call it the passion pit,” Joe said and then laughed. “It was a real lovers’ lane.” “You never went to the cars in the back rows at the drive-in because the windows were always steamed up,” Wayne said.

The Rocky Point Drive-In opened on June 16, 1961 with a capacity for 750 cars that would drive up onto small ramps to better see the movie over the cars in front of them. It was built and owned by Prudential Theaters but was later sold to United Artist Theaters, which operated it until it closed in 1988.

The theater existed in a time when Route 25A was a two-lane road bordered by woods, and nearby there were only a few houses and places with rural sensibilities like horse barns. “This was the sticks,” Joe said.

The site was a large field surrounded by a fence. To the side sat the concession stand next to a playground that the children used during intermission. Opening on Memorial Day weekend and then closing on Labor Day, the drive-in would play a feature film, a B-movie, then the feature again on a 110-foot screen. The first two films they showed were the 1960 movie “The Alamo” starring John Wayne and the 1961 flick “Ole Rex.”

“By the time it was over, you didn’t get out of there until 1 or 1:30 in the morning,” said Wayne.

Joe worked at the drive-in first in the concession stand, then as a ramp man — the title for the people who were guards of the drive-in. Dressed up in white suits they were in charge of making sure nobody snuck into the venue without paying and corral the people and children back to their seats after intermission.

“The ladies who worked at the ticket booth in the front would say ‘the car coming in is kind of low in the back,’ and there would be five kids in the trunk,” Joe said and then chuckled. “And quite a few times they would be friends of mine.”

Above, an ad placed in the Port Jefferson Record in 1961 announcing the drive-in’s grand opening

The memories of the drive-in are bundled like candy wrappers in nostalgia. It was a time of optimism, said Joan La Manno, who, along with her husband Charles Peter, founded C.P. La Manno’s family restaurant in Miller Place. La Manno was the manager of the drive-in concession stand through the 1960s. “Hot dogs, hamburgers, Dixie Cup ice cream, popcorn galore. The popcorn machine was going constantly. It was a lot of fun. All our workers were in sync,” she said.

“She would take her kids to work with her,” added Joan’s daughter, Michele. “My father opened the pizza shop while she was still working there, and people would rush up, get a pizza, and then go and wait on line at the drive-in, and there would lines of cars waiting to get into the movie,” she said. “It kept the community going and the community together.”

Joe agreed, saying, “Everything was a family affair, everybody was sort of related. Anyone who talks about the Rocky Point Drive-In talks about my dad, Joe.”

Joe Sr. started as a ramp man but then became manager of the whole property.

“He was such a fabulous manager, really sweet, really kind, very generous. He was a good man,” Joan said.

The films were played on two big carbon-loaded projectors, each the size of a grand piano, that glowed like a welding torch from the carbon rods that helped it work. Some film reels were as wide as a grown man’s outstretched arms. The projectionist had to time it perfectly, first listening for the bell and then looking for the six dots that would tell him when to switch from one string of film to the other.

“We did the same thing in the Navy,” Joe said. “I used to show movies on the aircraft carrier, and they would always ask me ‘how did you know how to change that?’ and I would say, ‘I’m not telling you.’”

Above, a photo of the Rocky Point Driving Range marquee sign, taken in November 2009. Photo courtesy of Cinema Treasures

The titles of each week’s films were displayed on the marquee on Route 25A and the letters were laid out every week by ramp men standing on rickety ladders. The old sign for the drive-in is still there, though now surrounded by trees and overgrowth. For a while the sign read Rocky Point Driving Range after the property was bought and used for practicing golf swings. After the range closed the sign became progressively dilapidated, as the words were slowly peeled off to reveal the “Drive-In” words underneath.

The current property owners, Heidenberg Properties Group, have been trying to build a big box store, first a Lowe’s and later a Target, on the property for several years. The Town of Brookhaven changed the zoning of the area from retail to recreational in order to restrict such a large store the town said would be inappropriate for the area.

New York State courts have upheld the decision even after the properties group brought a lawsuit and then an appeal against the town. The Mammina brothers don’t go to too many cinemas anymore, not with the advent of Netflix and on-demand movies.

The La Manno family might go to see the occasional movie, but they still say it is not the same feel as pulling your car up, setting up your blankets on the grass, as the sun goes down and the movies play under the stars. Said Joan, “The drive-in brought people together. It was just a happy, family time.”

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