March 19, 2019

This Week’s Popcorn – ‘The Conspirator’

‘The Conspirator’ has an ulterior motive

3 popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to The Citizen

Robert Redford’s “The Conspirator,” about the only female accused of conspiring to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln, informs of a sad truth you first learn in the playground and then have confirmed somewhere in your graduate history studies. Might makes right. Oh, we noble Americans try alright. But we still have quite a way to go.

Detailing the rigmarole of conscience and the fear that too often trumps it despite our best efforts to realize an enlightened society, “The Conspirator” intelligently dissects the trial that shortly followed the catastrophe. A few paragraphs in, it is apparent that while shedding light on the historic episode, Mr. Redford is also referencing its example.

Just as the antiwar “M*A*S*H” (1970) was about Korea, but really an epistle about Vietnam, it is clear that the case of Mary Surratt is a barely veiled muckrake of how we’ve dealt with our most recent class of alleged terrorists. Led by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s charge, Robin Wright Penn’s Surratt is denied a jury trial.

Stanton wants to leave nothing to chance. A war-weary, beleaguered nation is hungry for quick remediation and healing. Hence, she is to be judged by a military tribunal of seven generals and two colonels. And since no lawyer might represent her without himself being accused of treason, the perfunctory defense falls on an unproven novice.

While a celebrated war hero and undeniable advocate of justice, James McAvoy’s Frederick Aiken demurs politely when approached by Maryland Sen. Reverdy Johnson to defend Mrs. Surratt. The cards are stacked. Nonetheless, politics and careers being what they are, he ultimately accedes to the lead defense attorney’s imploring.

The stage set and the players in place, director Redford rolls up his sleeves and unfurls a substantial, filmic monograph on this unfortunate but very telling chapter in American history. Though complicated, and fraught with as many unanswered questions as still attend the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, there is an engaging accessibility.

Invitingly realistic art direction and costumes establish the era; competent acting performances secure the demeanor and intrigue surrounding the painful crucible. Machiavelli is alive and well in 1865 Washington, D.C. So is the social scene, absorbing and integrating the cause celebre into its daily buzz. And then there’s Mrs. Surratt herself.

No sense equivocating here. Redford, working from a script by James D. Solomon, is decidedly sympathetic to the accused’s case for reasons that will studiously evolve as the story unfolds. Of course, in Hollywood fashion, despite the film’s independent bearing, counselor Aiken will take some convincing. Suffice it to note, he is first a seeker of truth.

Robin Wright Penn is excellent in the title role as she walks a frayed tightrope between national disgrace and unwitting victim of circumstance. As of April 1865 the U.S. Federal Government has never executed a woman. That this may soon be about to change is sharply dramatized in Mrs. Surratt’s wrinkle lines, perplexed gaze and wary speech.

Just in case you forgot this right after you aced the test, the only known conspirator to have eluded the long arm of the law following the assassination was Mary’s son, John (Johnny Simmons). Often in the company of the plotters during late night sessions in mom’s boarding house, his complicity is less a cause for speculation than Mrs. Surratt’s.

But he’s purportedly hiding in Canada, and they’ve got her. Thus the prosecution’s cat and mouse scheming clashes with motherly love in a conundrum worthy of Greek drama. The high stakes finagling is not lost on Mr. Aiken, tossed into this unwavering, steel-cold vice to do the bidding of those powers that be. It will prove the watershed in his life.

Even the Civil War didn’t prepare counselor Aiken for the tough realities that often upset our apple cart of idealism. In fact, he thought that he fought the war to preserve what he saw as the American way. Mr. McAvoy’s fine interpretation of the young lawyer’s harsh revelations serves as a smart subtext to the tale. The poignant postscript speaks volumes.

Portrayed as Aiken’s indomitable foil, keeping the ship of state afloat through the only patriotism he knows, Kevin Kline’s Edwin Stanton superbly represents the intemperate tone of the times. Equally persuasive, Tom Wilkinson as senator and former Attorney General, Reverdy Johnson, perceptively embodies the judicial predicament.

Warning! Hawks and those who believe in shooting first and maybe asking questions later should note, this is from a champion of lost causes. Essentially a clinic in human rights, it isn’t as much about Mrs. Surratt’s innocence or guilt as it is about one’s right to a fair trial. Truth is, “The Conspirator” is really a plot to preserve an endangered value.

“The Conspirator,” rated PG-13, is a Roadside Attractions release directed by Robert Redford and stars Robin Wright Penn, James McAvoy and Tom Wilkinson. Running time: 123 minutes

PHOTOS: CVU boys lacrosse tops Essex

April 28, 2011

Observer photos by Shane Bufano (

The Champlain Valley Union boys lacrosse squad defeated Essex, 10-8, on April 21.

PHOTOS: Easter egg hunt

April 28, 2011

Observer photos by Karen Pike (

The 13th annual Bill Mikell Easter Egg Hunt and Parade at Williston Central School on April 23 included soggy weather conditions. The Williston-Richmond Rotary hosted the event.

Hinsdale-Bickford adds stage to her many roles

Former CVU student to perform in ‘The King and I’

April 28, 2011

By Phyl Newbeck
Observer correspondent

Mary Hinsdale-Bickford (Photo courtesy of Mary Hinsdale-Bickford)

Mindy Hinsdale-Bickford never felt she was a natural for the theater.

The former Champlain Valley Union High School student grew up dancing and auditioned for theater productions with her eye on the dancing roles. In second grade at Charlotte Central School, she earned the part of Liesl in “The Sound of Music.”

Her next big break came as a junior at CVU, where she was cast as Daisy Mae for the school production of “L’il Abner.” Convinced she got that role because of her blond hair instead of any talent, Hinsdale-Bickford said: “I never considered myself a theater person even though I enjoyed doing it.”

Nearly 30 years later, the actress who once thought she wasn’t a natural will play Anna in the Middlebury Community Players’ performance of “The King and I” beginning Thursday.

“The King and I” is one of Hinsdale-Bickford’s favorite musicals but even if that weren’t the case, she’d probably still be thrilled. That’s because the performance will be a family affair. Her husband, Bill Bickford, will play the part of the King and her daughter, Molly Bull, will also be in the show.

Hinsdale-Bickford met her husband in the theater, while playing Cinderella in Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” but this is the first time they have played opposite each other in a musical. The couple has had leading roles in theater productions, but things have never quite worked out for musicals.

“Sometimes he’ll get the lead and I’ll be in the chorus, or vice versa,” she said. “It’s a dream come true to do this with my family.”

Aside from the family dynamics, Hinsdale-Bickford admits she has always wanted to play the part of Anna. She has read a number of books about the character, including Anna’s autobiography. The musical is based on the true story of an English governess/tutor in Siam (now Thailand) in the mid 1800s.

“She was a strong woman and a brave person,” Hinsdale-Bickford said. “It’s such an exciting story to think that a woman would do what she did and make such a difference in that country.” In addition, Hinsdale-Bickford likes the fact that “The King and I” has a wide range of musical numbers, from light, fun tunes to those that are deeply emotional.
“It’s challenging,” she said. “A lot of musicals don’t have as much depth.”

Hinsdale-Bickford, who also had a role on the line in Lyric Theatre’s recent revival of “A Chorus Line,” would audition for more shows if time permitted but her day job interferes. She runs the Steeple Ridge Farm in Charlotte and finds that the summer horse show season limits the number of plays and musicals in which she can participate. In fact, the timing of “The King and I” is less than ideal because it cuts into her time at the farm.
“I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t the show I’ve always wanted to do,” she said. “I savor every moment on stage but because I’m so busy with my business, I have to pick and choose what I do.”

Hinsdale-Bickford loves her work with horses, but noted that she got back into theater as a way to discover a life outside the barn. She credits Bill Reed and his voice studio in South Burlington with helping her find her voice.

“(Reed) really taught me how you can explore yourself through musical theater,” she said. “I just love to take a song or a scene or a character and explore them and find how I can personally relate to them and share that,” she said. “It’s almost like therapy.”

“The King and I” will play at the Town Hall Theater in Middlebury from April 28 to May 8 with 8 p.m. showings on April 28, 29, 30 and May 5, 6, 7; and 2 p.m. matinees on April 30, May 1 and 8. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for children 12 and under. Tickets are available through the Town Hall Theater Box Office at 802-382-9222 or online at

Education Notes

April 28, 2011

Scholarship opportunity

The Williston-Richmond Rotary Club will award two $1,000 scholarships to eligible high school seniors residing in Williston, Richmond, or St. George. The awards are available to students who will attend college or a post-secondary vocational program in the 2011-2012 academic year. Applications are available in the Champlain Valley Union High School guidance office and can be sent to: Williston Richmond Rotary Club, P. O. Box 114, Williston, VT 05495. Applications must by received by April 30.

Everyday Gourmet

Guilty, as charged

April 28, 2011

By Kim Dannies

I confess. I’m a stalker. There is simply no defense for my obsession with the magnificent vegetable, asparagus. When those spring stalks land in my kitchen crosshairs, I cook them into every conceivable dish until even my piggy pugs refuse them.

The simple-sublime way to enjoy asparagus is to start with a big bunch of fat-fingered stalks. Asparagus preparation is easy: simply remove the bottom stems by snapping the bases. If the stalks feel a bit tough, peel them gently. Toss the spears in a little olive oil. Fire up the grill and roast the asparagus until they blister and glisten, about 5 minutes. Asparagus is cook-friendly: you can roast it, steam it, sauté it, or zap it in the micro with fine results.

I like to serve a big batch of asparagus on a platter sprinkled with sea salt and fresh pepper. If I have an orange, I’ll grate a bit of the zest and then squeeze the juice over the spears. Finely chopped hard-boiled egg looks great, too. There is no better accompaniment to grilled asparagus than a spicy herb aioli. Chop 6 to 8 garlic cloves and a bunch of mint leaves in a mini-processor. Add 2 cups of mayonnaise. Season to taste with hot sauce and salt. Blend well. This dish alone will keep me on my best behavior — at least until strawberry-stalker season begins.

Orecchiette Spring Fling

Boil water to cook a pound of Orecchiette pasta. Chop a large onion. Heat a large pan. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Sauté the onions 15 minutes; stir often. Prep and cut 2 pounds of asparagus stalks into thirds. Add to the sauté along with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 3 chopped garlic cloves. Sauté for 5 minutes more, stirring often.

Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta water to the sauté pan along with a 1 cup of ricotta or crème fraiche. Stir well. Fold in pasta. Blend well, season to taste. Cover and heat for 5 minutes. To serve, top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and chopped fresh chives. Serves 4.

Kim Dannies is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France. She lives in Williston with her husband, Jeff; they have three college-aged daughters who come and go. For archived Everyday Gourmet columns go to

Construction begins on bridge along U.S. 2 in Richmond

April 28, 2011

Construction work to widen the U.S. 2 Checkered House Bridge in Richmond over the Winooski River has begun. Until the temporary bridge opens this summer, travel may be reduced to one lane. The entire re-construction project will take approximately three years to complete. For more information, visit
Drivers are asked to please use caution.

Information provided by the Chittenden County Metropolitan Planning Organization

CVU Sports Schedule

April 28, 2011

Thursday: at South Burlington, 4:30 p.m.
Saturday: MOUNT ABRAHAM UNION, 11 a.m.
Tuesday: at Essex, 4:30 p.m.

Thursday: at South Burlington, 4:30 p.m.
Saturday: MOUNT ABRAHAM UNION, 11 a.m.
Tuesday: at Essex, 4:30 p.m.

Wednesday: at Champlain Country Club (St. Albans)

Friday: at Mount Mansfield Union, 4 p.m.
4 p.m.

Saturday: at Mount Anthony (Bennington), noon
Wednesday: BURLINGTON, 4:30 P.M.

Thursday: at Rice Memorial (Callahan Park), 3:30 p.m.
Friday: SOUTH BURLINGTON, 3:30 p.m.
Monday: BFA-ST. ALBANS, 3:30 p.m.

Thursday: RICE MEMORIAL, 3:30 p.m.
Friday: at South Burlington, 3:30 p.m.
Monday: at BFA-St. Albans, 3:30 p.m.

Wednesday: at South Burlington, 3:25 p.m.

Sports Notes

April 28, 2011


A Champlain Valley Union boys lacrosse player battles for possession with an Essex player during CVU’s 10-8 win on April 21. (Observer photos by Shane Bufano)

With its home session with Middlebury postponed on Tuesday by wet grounds, the undefeated Champlain Valley Union boys lacrosse team will chase their sixth victory Friday afternoon at Mount Mansfield Union in Jericho Center.

The Cougars are 2-2 for the season. CVU will return home Tuesday (4 p.m.) to take on 1-2 Burlington.

The Redhawks’ latest came on April 23, a 12-1 shellacking of BFA-St. Albans at home. Lanky attacker Taylor Gingras unloaded four goals and helped out on three others to lead the potent CVU attack.

Lawrence Dee collected three scores and a helper. Nathaniel Wells and Chris Bulla added a pair and Jake Marston scored once. Wells and Marston also had assists.

Goalie Eric Palmer blocked eight BFA shots with the Bobwhites getting their lone tally in the third period.

The triumph followed a 10-8 nipping of defending Division I champion Essex on April 21 on the Burlington High School turf, after a switch from the Hornets’ grass due to wet conditions.

Griffin Brady and Justin Beaudry fired in late scores to help the Redhawks prevail in their first encounter of the campaign.

Wells had three goals and Dee added a pair. Marston, Gingras and Robbie Dobrowski also scored for CVU. Palmer had some big stops in the nets.

Ben Adams (two goals, three assists) led the Hornets, who lost several key operators from the 2010 title crew. Marty Harrison and James Olsen also had two tallies.

The makeup date for Tuesday’s postponement of the Middlebury game hasn’t been determined but could happen in mid-May.


After getting the bats untracked Monday with their first victory of the season over visiting Rice Memorial, the Champlain Valley Union softball Redhawks enter a stretch of three tough games with visits to South Burlington on Thursday and Essex on Tuesday, and a home fixture on Saturday against Route 116 neighbor Mount Abraham.

Held to but two runs total in season-opening losses to Mount Mansfield (17-0) and Missisquoi Valley Union (14-2), coach Sara Armstrong Donegan’s charges took powerful and productive swings on a rainy afternoon in crunching the visiting Green Knights 18-3.
The Hawks got off to a fast start when Susan Parmalee led off the home first with a single, Kenzie Roberts reached base and No. 3 batter Leah Leister smashed a pitch over the fence in centerfield for a three-run homer, the Hawks’ first behemoth blast of the campaign.

The offensive assault continued after Rice got the first two outs in the second inning. The swift Parmalee and Roberts legged out infield singles before Leister brought them home with a double. Sophomore Alannah Roy (two hits in the game) got bopped by a pitch and Kayleigh Colbeth plated the runners with a single. Colbeth later scored on a wild pitch, giving the Hawks an 8-0 lead after two frames.

From there, CVU kept adding runs. Parmalee wound up with three hits and Roberts had two. Senior pitcher Cayla McCarthy worked the first three innings and whiffed six. The game was called after six innings.

Tuesday’s scheduled contest against Vergennes was postponed until Wednesday because of rain.


Tuesday’s soggy field conditions led to postponement of the Champlain Valley Union girls lacrosse team’s visit to Essex until Wednesday afternoon. Monday’s tennis matches for the CVU boys and girls teams were switched to Friday afternoon (3:30 p.m.) with the boys hosting South Burlington at the Shelburne courts and the girls visiting the Rebels in South Burlington.

-Mal Boright

Mother Nature throws CVU baseball a curve

April 28, 2011

By Mal Boright
Observer correspondent

Champlain Valley Union third baseman Jason Schneiderman dives to catch a foul ball during the Redhawks’ 8-2 loss at Missisquoi Valley Union on April 23. (Courtesy photo by Roger Nadeau)

With its home field well watered and more rain on the way, Champlain Valley Union baseball coach Tim Albertson was looking forward to some blue skies on Tuesday and getting his team outdoors for a few practice sessions, not to mention games.

That afternoon’s scheduled home contest with Vergennes had been postponed due to wet conditions.

“We hope we can play tomorrow (Wednesday)” said Albertson with a doubtful look.
The coach noted that the team has been outside only seven times this rainy spring.
“And five of those were either games or scrimmages,” he added.

The forecast for Wednesday (makeup against Vergennes) and Thursday (at South Burlington) were mixed as of Tuesday night. Saturday’s outlook was much better with Mount Abraham scheduled to be at the Redhawks’ Hinesburg field for an 11 a.m. tilt.
Monday’s home loss (8-5) to Rice Memorial left the Redhawks with a 1-2 mark, coming on the heels of Friday’s 8-2 loss to Missisquoi Valley Union in Swanton.

But Monday’s encounter, played in a light but stubborn drizzle that caused difficult-to-grip baseballs, was a tight and tense duel for six innings before a whacky seventh allowed the veteran Green Knights to put it away.

It was a 2-2 deadlock going into the top of the seventh when the fates turned on CVU reliever Curt Echo After a leadoff walk, Zak Poland reached off a bunt down the first base line that Echo could not field properly. This brought up the Knights’ No. 3 batter Chris McCormick, who immediately pounded the ball over the fence in right center for a 5-2 Rice lead.

The Knights added three more runs off reliever Tucker Kohlasch on a package of three singles, a throwing error, two fielder’s choices and a walk.

CVU got three runs in the bottom of the seventh. John Keen drove home two with a solid double down the right field line.

Poland, a southpaw with some heat, whiffed seven and gave up just one run in the fourth before pinch hitter Ian Solomon’s double to deep right center, Justin McKenzie’s walk, and Ryan Machavern’s RBI single chased him in the sixth. McKenzie eventually scored to the tie the game at 2-2 when Jeff Badger reached on an infield throwing error.

Drew Nick started for the Hawks and allowed two runs, four hits and struck out five, before giving way to Echo in the fifth. Echo masterfully escaped a two-on, no-out situation when he entered the game with two strikeouts and a pick off. Rice was clinging to a 2-1 lead at the time.

Rice’s Evan Healy, a righty, took over for Poland in the sixth and got the win.
In the loss at Missisquoi, Thunderbirds’ pitcher Turner Ede went the distance. Kohlasch smashed a triple and double with an RBI for CVU. Nick rapped his second double in two games, and Keen produced a run-scoring single.