Alum in the News

By Torri Still / March / April 1998
December 28th, 2007


Our Man in Nigeria

Bringing optimism to Africa

The United States' new ambassador to Nigeria wants to disabuse you of some notions about his post: "The image of Africa as a continent of unrelieved crisis is outdated," William H. Twaddell told a U.S. State Department-sponsored town meeting in New Orleans last April. "I recognize the challenges facing modern Africa and am, nonetheless, unapologetically optimistic about its future."

Confirmed by the U.S. Senate in late November, Twaddell will find his optimism put to the test. It isn't hard to catalog the problems facing Nigeria: Africa's most populous and fastest-growing nation has the world's lowest life-expectancy and adult-literacy rates. One of the fastest-growing hubs of narcotics production and distribution, Nigeria is ruled by a corrupt and unpredictable military government with one of the worst human-rights records in the world.



William H. Twaddell in a 1969 photo.


Still, as Twaddell told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations at his nomination hearing, "One thing is clear: Nigeria is too important to ignore." The United States imported 21 percent of its crude oil from Nigeria in 1996; the nation is our largest trade and investment partner in sub-Saharan Africa. Because of the country's size and relative wealth, Twaddell added, "Nigeria's capacity to influence regional developments, for good or ill, is large."

Twaddell's interest in establishing relations with Nigeria doesn't mean he'll back down on issues such as human rights and democratic elections, however. "We are committed to retaining all existing measures and sanctions against Nigeria until there is significant improvement on the ground to justify a change," he said. "If we are part of what some call `the American century,' then history will judge us on what we achieve beyond as well as within our shores." - Chad Galts



Triple Feature

An actor, playwright, and film director on the rise

One night in mid-November, Tim Blake Nelson surveyed the crowd filling Bunkamura Hall for the Tokyo International Film Festival. The actor, playwright, and first-time director was in Tokyo with his film, Eye of God, fresh from an acting gig in Australia, where he'd been filming a part in Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line.

Eye of God has been racking up awards: Its female lead, Martha Plimpton, won the best-actress citation at last year's Sundance Film Festival. And the judges at the Tokyo festival awarded Nelson a bronze medal in the Young Cinema competition.

Nelson's film tells the story of Ainsley Dupree (Plimpton), a spunky short-order cook who on a wild impulse marries a handsome ex-convict with whom she has been maintaining a prison correspondence. Nelson developed the film from a one-act play he'd written earlier. "I started to write a script that would use that little play as the final scene," Nelson says of the movie, "and in which the moment that occurs between two people would be the single most generous and compassionate in their lives."

Nelson's film acting credits are also beginning to pile up. He has landed roles
in Hal Hartley's Amateur and the MTV-
produced film Joe's Apartment. Last year he played an FBI agent in Donnie Brasco. But Nelson still finds himself drawn to writing and directing. His latest play, Anadarko, which takes place in a small-town jail in Nelson's home state of Oklahoma, will be staged at the Manhattan Class Company in March. He would also like to bring The Gray Zone, his play about death-camp Jews who aided the Nazis in exchange for privileges and extended lives, to the big screen.

In the meantime, Nelson is enjoying his film reviews. Named one of the best films of 1997 by the New York Times, Eye of God has been praised for its nonlinear structure, a form that derives from Nelson's concept of film as abstract art. "You have a color here, a color there," he says. "Certain colors are echoed, certain colors appear only once, and if you've done your job as a writer and director, it's coherent in the end." - Yishane Lee '91




Killing My Lobster

When your day job gets you down, grow some claws

By day, Marc Vogl '95 "does Web stuff," while Paul Charney '95 works for an advertising agency. By night, they are sketch comedians, amateur filmmakers, magazine publishers, and above all, lobsters.

In the fall of 1996, Vogl, Charney, and a handful of other recent Bay Area Brown graduates had, as Vogl describes it, "an elaborate vision." Former members of the Brown comedy troupes Improvidence and Out of Bounds, they decided to found a new comedy group, one that would be especially original, Charney explains, "and not a different interpretation of others' ideas." Thus began Killing My Lobster, a comedy collective that has spawned four stage shows, a film festival, and a 'zine. The most recent show, Killing My Lobster Owes You Money!, packed San Francisco's Exit Theatre for six nights in December.



Lobsters at rest (clockwise, from left): Marc Vogl, Paul Charney, Colleen Cronin '95, Erin Keating, and Perre Stroud '95.5


Charney coined the term "killing my lobster" in a burst of frustration over his friends' ineptitude at a party game. The phrase has become synonymous with "You're bumming me out," says Vogl, and the group has embraced the lobster logo and lingo in its promotional materials. Though Charney and Vogl are listed as "producing lobsters," they emphasize that the group has room for everyone - from writing lobsters to technical-support lobsters to publicity lobsters.

Charney admits that he is surprised the Lobsters have managed to pull off multiple shows in multiple media, a feat he attributes to production manager Lisa Lepson '95 and the after-hours dedication of the entire group, all of whom have day jobs. From their first performance in a twenty-seat, hole-
in-the-wall theater in early 1997 to sold-out shows and a glowing review in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the Lobsters have come a long way in a matter of months. Plans are under way to develop a new 'zine, produce another film, and take the troupe on the road to the Seattle and Vancouver Fringe Festivals in the spring.

"We'll keep trying stuff and try to take things to the next level," says Charney. "Maybe I'm opportunistic, but I believe things are there for the taking. We will not rest until we conquer all of California!"

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March / April 1998