INDY Week 10.06

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Raleigh | Durham | Chapel Hill October 6, 2021

A new bill in Congress aims to provide relief to thousands of servicemembers and their families exposed to contaminated tap water at Camp Lejeune. But its passage remains uncertain. BY LEWIS KENDALL, P. 13


October 6, 2021

Raleigh W Durham W Chapel Hill VOL. 38 NO. 38

Open Durham site editor Nick Levy shows some of the local historical ephemera sent his way, p. 17 PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA



A Durham woman fears losing her home following what she says was an illegal credit check by a local car dealership. BY THOMASI MCDONALD Ashlee Inscoe, an intersex, transgender inmate housed in a men's correctional facility, is fighting for a transfer to a women's prison. BY JADE WILSON


13 The Camp Lejeune Justice Act promises relief to thousands of survivors of contaminated tap water at the N.C. military base. But its passage in Congress remains uncertain. BY LEWIS KENDALL


How Open Durham is chronicling the city's storied past—and its swiftly changing present. BY SARAH EDWARDS 20 A tale of two regional productions, and their winding roads to opening night. BY BYRON WOODS 21 With final Emergency, Cochonne brings an era of deranged playfulness to a close. BY DAN RUCCIA

THE REGULARS 4 15 Minutes

5 Quickbait

6 Photo Series

COVER Photo via Unsplash / Design by Annie Maynard


Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald


Digital Content Manager Sara Pequeño

Editor in Chief Jane Porter Managing Editor Geoff West Arts & Culture Editor Sarah Edwards Senior Writer Leigh Tauss

Copy Editor Abigail O'Neill Theater Critic Byron Woods

Contributors Madeline Crone, Grant Golden, Spencer Griffith, Lucas Hubbard, Layla KhouryHanold, Brian Howe, Lewis Kendall, Kyesha Jennings, Glenn McDonald, Anna Mudd, Dan Ruccia, Jake Sheridan Interns Caryl Espinoza Jaen, Ellie Heffernan, Rebecca Schneid



Creative Director

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Annie Maynard Graphic Designer

Jon Fuller Staff Photographer

Brett Villena

Raleigh Sales Manager MaryAnn Kearns

C I RC U L ATI O N Berry Media Group

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October 6, 2021



Last week for the web, we wrote about Novant Health’s decision to fire workers who didn’t comply with the organization’s vaccine mandate, a total of 175 former employees out of 35,000 who work across 15 hospitals and 800 health care facilities. Some readers took issue with the way we framed the story, arguing that the vaccine mandate has, in fact, been a successful policy for the Novant Health system (FWIW, we agree!).

“Important when presenting these headlines to again point out the vast majority of healthcare workers are vaccinated,” wrote Facebook commenter LIZ MICHELE. “Et tu, indyweek? This framing is ridiculous. The real story is that was 175 out of 35,000 and that these mandates are highly successful,” wrote Mike Babyak on Twitter. Other commenters had different thoughts about the layoffs. “I hate to see a healthcare career wasted over refusal to get vaccinated but the mandates are critical to protecting patients and staff,” wrote Facebook commenter JASMINE ESS GRRARROW. “Most large healthcare companies have had vaccination requirements for years, including my own,” replied commenter MARK ELLIS. “This shouldn’t be any different, and doesn’t need to be.” “garbage. pro vax but pro freedom too. These are the same people regarded as “heroes” 12 months ago. Disgraceful,” wrote Facebook commenter MJ HYDE. “‘Heros’ put the lives of others before their selfishness and silly ideals of ‘freedom.’ Those fired were never heros they are the opposite. Good riddance to them every one,” replied commenter RENEE DEININGER ADDISON. We also wrote about Chapel Hill officials’ enthusiasm for the Rosemary Street Redevelopment Project and its nifty new parking deck, but it’s not just a parking deck—it is, actually, so much more. Facebook commenter Scot Dunlap takes a swing at what these officials are really thinking: “Now that we’ve gotten rid of all the mom and pop and locally owned businesses, we can really focus on building the local economy with this here parking deck. Chapel Hill has for years now wanted to become more like Raleigh by getting rid of the local college bar & restaurants, banning locally owned businesses and moving towards a more cookie-cutter feel, which has worked well for towns like Charlotte and Atlanta. National chains and condos that look alike will help make Chapel Hill stand out and with increased tax revenue, make it a place people want to visit.” Ouch.


October 6, 2021 @indyweek



15 MINUTES Michael Troxel, 36 Assistant professor of physics at Duke University and dark matter expert BY JASMINE GALLUP

How did you get into cosmology? [Honestly], I was pretty bored with school and I was thinking about the most challenging thing I could do. At that point, the most challenging thing I could come up with was astrophysics. I had no idea what astrophysics really was but it sounded really hard, like rocket science. One of the earliest memories I have of something that really made me fall into physics is learning about the idea that light gets bent by gravity. I had no idea what I was thinking or talking about then, I was 12 years old, but it was the first time I was trying to understand the universe in a really conceptual way. That ended up becoming what I’m doing now in my daily research.

What is dark matter? If you trace the [speed] of stars in the galaxy, as you move outward from the center, the curve is basically flat. Things that are close to the center [of the galaxy] and things that are at the edge of the galaxy are all moving at the same velocity. Gravitationally, that makes no sense at all, given what we can observe. The only way it can happen is if there’s other stuff we can’t see that is contributing to the gravitational field of the galaxy. We call this dark matter. Dark energy is basically the opposite. Instead of something helping the universe collapse onto itself, dark energy is pushing things apart. Dark matter is helping things collapse together faster and dark energy is slowing that collapse.

Blanco Telescope Dome PHOTO BY REIDAR HAHN

What is the Dark Energy Survey? We basically spent six years, since 2012, looking at an area of the sky about 5,000 square degrees, which is about an eighth of the total sphere of the sky. We took pictures of every part of that area ten times. [The dark energy camera] used a new type of [detection device] that was particularly sensitive to red wavelengths. This is important when you want to look at things that are very far away [almost 10 billion light-years].

What do you do with pictures from the Dark Energy Survey? I work on something called gravitational lensing, where we look at all of these galaxies in this part of the sky and we use the shapes of the galaxies to reconstruct a map of all the mass in the universe. Photons that are streaming toward us from these far-away objects, like everything else in the universe, interact gravitationally with everything they pass by. As a photon goes by something that has a large gravitational field, the path of the photon will appear to be deflected. We can’t see dark matter…. but the deflection of photons by the gravity of dark matter allows us to create a huge, 5000-square degree map of where dark matter is in this part of the universe.

What is the goal of the survey? If we look at this dark matter distribution as a function of time or distance from us, that tells us about how the universe is expanding. These new experiments we’ve been building, the Dark Energy Survey [and others] are designed to give us a handle on what dark matter and dark energy are. [These are] things that must exist for [our cosmological model of the universe] to work, but which we’ve never directly detected in a physics experiment. W


Give You a Boost



s the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to surge through North Carolina, many vaccinated residents are wondering if it’s time to get another shot. The federal Food and Drug Administration has approved Pfizer booster shots for residents considered at high risk or individuals over the age of 65. Think you qualify? Here’s what you need to know about getting a booster.

COVID By the Numbers (as of Tuesday, October 5)


Additional Dose vs. Booster ADDITIONAL DOSES

daily percent positive rate, or about 9 in every 100 people

For immunocompromised people Pfizer/Moderna only Available now


BOOSTER DOSES At least 6 months after you're fully vaccinated

currently hospitalized in North Carolina

Currently Pfizer only


deaths in North Carolina since the start of the pandemic

Available now for: Agest 65+ Long-term care residents

Vaccines By the Numbers

69% of adults received at least one dose

65% of adults are fully vaccinated

11 million doses administered

Ages 18+ with underlying medical conditions Those who work in high-risk settings that may come in contact with many people of unknown vaccine status To sign up for a booster shot, visit You’ll need to have your vaccination card.

Source: NCDHHS

October 6, 2021



Women’s March, Durham

October 6, 2021


As the U.S. Supreme Court opens a new term—and the court refused to block a draconian Texas law that allows anyone to sue anyone else who helps a pregnant person obtain an abortion—protesters took to the streets in cities across the country to show their support for reproductive rights. The Triangle was no exception. Hundreds marched in downtown Durham in a demonstration captured in these pages. W

October 6, 2021




Car Trouble A Durham woman says what she believes was an illegal credit check from a local car dealership could result in her losing her home. BY THOMASI MCDONALD


hat Donna Frederick says she endured at a South Durham auto dealership in late summer gives an altogether different meaning to the term “car trouble.” Frederick, retired and living on a fixed income, is the former owner of The Playhouse toy store on Ninth Street. She says the service department at Michael Jordan Nissan repaired the timing belt on her 2015 Nissan Versa, but the dealership’s sales department tore her credit apart. Frederick says a salesman at the dealership on U.S. 15-501 applied for a $24,000 auto loan with at least three different agencies without her permission. She says the process placed five hard inquiries on her credit history and lowered her credit score at a time when she’s trying to work out a forbearance plan with her bank to save her home. According to consumer education platform Forbes Advisor, a hard credit check or inquiry takes place when someone applies for a loan, credit card, or an increase in a line of credit. A hard credit inquiry can lower one’s credit score. A salesman last week at the Sir Walter Raleigh Chevrolet also told the INDY that a hard credit check can lower one’s credit score. By comparison, soft inquiries have no impact on one’s credit score. Forbes reports that if a lender checks a consumer’s credit report, the inquiry won’t show up and is only visible on consumer disclosures via a personal request. Frederick says the red flags that appeared on her account prevented her from cashing her monthly Social Security check at her bank. She’s not even sure she can cash this month’s government check at her bank. If what Frederick says happened really happened, it’s not a good look for an auto 8

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dealership that prominently features the name and logo of a living legend who is arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. Last week, Dean Ives, general manager of the dealership, said Frederick’s account of events is “not factual,” and that as a respected dealer, the business does not engage in practices that are harmful to its customers. “To be blunt, there would be absolutely no reason to attempt to secure financing on behalf of a consumer without their knowledge or consent, if for no other reason due to the extreme inventory crisis plaguing the auto industry,” Ives said in an email to the INDY. “We simply do not have enough vehicles to meet the needs/desires of interested parties as it is. We in no way desired ... then or now, to harm Ms. Frederick. Nor was there any malicious activity with regard to interactions with her.” Nazneen Ahmed, press secretary for N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein, told the INDY that the dealership’s action could potentially be a violation of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, and encouraged Frederick to contact the DOJ office to file a complaint. “And if she’s concerned about identity theft and potential violations of North Carolina’s identity theft statute, she should also consider contacting local law enforcement,” Ahmed said in an email to the INDY. Frederick says a credit history showing that an unemployed retiree on a fixed income tried to secure a $24,000 loan to buy a car may hurt her chances of keeping her home. Frederick has not paid her monthly mortgage since July of last year, when the Centers for Disease Control and Preven-

Donna Frederick


tion imposed a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures with so many people across the country thrown out of work due to the pandemic. With the moratorium’s ending on September 30, Frederick has been working with Wells Fargo bank on a forbearance plan to save her home. Things seemed to be working out. Then, on August 25, she was sitting in the service department waiting area looking at her phone when she was approached by a young salesman who told her she could receive an above-average price for her car if she was willing to sell it to the dealership, who would in turn sell her a 2020 Nissan Kicks. “He told me, ‘A lot of people are looking for used cars and we can give you a great deal if you trade in,’” says Frederick. A widely reported semiconductor chip shortage has recently prompted automakers to cut their production of vehicles. As a consequence, the limited supply of new cars and trucks has led to an increased prices for used cars. “I thought, ‘I got a couple of hours, why not look?’” Frederick says. Why not, indeed. The young salesman showed her a 2020 Nissan Kicks that the dealership had just taken off the showroom floor.

“He said the Kicks was an upgrade,” Frederick explained, and that the dealership would buy her car and also pay off the loan amount left on the vehicle. Frederick told the salesman which bank was holding the loan on the car. He left to “run some numbers,” returned, and said he could get her in the Kicks for a monthly payment of $500 a month. “I told him, ‘No way,’” Frederick says. “I told him I was retired and didn’t have any money. I was just trying to get my car fixed.” Undeterred, a second salesman assured Frederick they were “pretty close” before ducking away to again “run some numbers.” He returned and told Frederick she could get the car with a monthly payment of $470. “I told him no, again,” Frederick said. “I told him I can’t pay that. I don’t have a job and I’m on retirement.” Frederick told the salesman he should talk with her niece. “She is looking for a car,” she explained to him. “Maybe she’ll be interested.” Frederick got into her newly-repaired car and went home. Two days later, she received a letter from officials with Langley Federal Credit Union out of Newport News, Virginia, who thanked her for applying for an auto loan but she was not approved for the $24,000.

On September 1, Frederick received a second letter from officials with TowneBank in Virginia Beach, Virginia who also informed her she had been denied the $24,000 she had applied for. A third Virginia lending institution, the Northwest Federal Credit, sent a letter that informed Frederick her application from Michael Jordan Nissan has been “instant denied.” “I thought, ‘Now wait a minute. These are all car loan applications. I didn’t apply for a loan,’” Frederick says. It was the first of the month. Fredericks’s Social Security check had arrived in the mail and she went to Wells Fargo to cash it. “When I got to the bank, the teller said, ‘I can’t cash your check. And it won’t let me deposit it.’ I asked her, ‘Why not? It’s a government check.’” The teller told Frederick to come back tomorrow. “I said, ‘Oh okay. No problem. I’ll get the manager to check on my account.’” But when Frederick returned, the teller told her the account had been flagged. Frederick eventually went to another bank and cashed her check. She then went online and obtained a 43-page copy of her credit report. “There at the very bottom it showed that someone had made five hard inquiries and one soft one on August 25. They were all from Nissan,” she says. The Forbes Advisor notes that a single hard inquiry can lower a credit score five points or less, and stays on a credit report for two years, but only impacts the score for one year. Ives, the dealership’s general manager, remains unconvinced that actions by his dealership had anything to do with the bank refusing to cash her Social Security check. “In my thirty plus years, as an educated businessman, I know of no provisions for a bank to refuse to cash a check or withhold funds due to inquiries,” he told the INDY. “To do so seems highly suspect and bordering on illegal, and perhaps is due to other circumstances. My advice to Ms. Frederick [is to discuss] this subject with the bank manager.” Ives also attached documents from Experian and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that outline regulations that guide inquiries and credit. The documents contradict the Forbes Advisor report and what appears to be conventional wisdom. “Shopping for the best deal on an auto loan will generally have little to no impact on your credit score(s),” states a document from It also states it is not legal advice or regulatory guidance.

A Q&A from Experian notes that “most credit scoring systems allow people to shop for the best rates on car loans without having a negative impact on their credit scores. They do so by counting all inquiries for auto loans within a given time as a single inquiry.” And as for submitting loan auto loan applications without someone’s permission, Ives told the INDY he “will respectfully disagree. “She not only test drove/viewed multiple vehicles, she also willingly provided address, social security, birthdate, and income information,” Ives said. “We certainly were not privy to that information prior to her providing it, and moreover a person doesn’t provide such information unless they are attempting to purchase a vehicle.” Per the state attorney general’s press secretary’s statement regarding identity theft, it is illegal for a car dealership to run a hard pull of a customer’s credit without their permission. Frederick called the dealership and talked with Justin Bowden, the company’s consumer affairs manager who promised to undo the errant inquiries. Frederick says Bowden texted a confirmation note from Experian to her on September 15 indicating the inquiries would be dropped from her credit report by October 15. Bowden did not return calls and an email from the INDY last week, but Ives said his fellow manager went “above and beyond, stepping outside the scope of responsibility, in an effort to assist Ms. Frederick with regard to these inquiries, even though they are legitimate.” But Frederick is standing her ground. “I don’t care if I test drove 50 cars, I didn’t give them permission to apply for a $24,000 car loan,” she says. Frederick called Nissan America, and a legal firm she found online. She also filed complaints with the N.C. Department of Justice and the N.C. Better Business Bureau, and she contacted the lending agencies that denied the Nissan salesman the $24,000 loan on her behalf. Ahmed, the attorney general’s press secretary, told the INDY she’s not aware of what Frederick says about what happened to her being commonplace, but added “it’s always possible that such situations are underreported to our office.” As for saving her home, Frederick says she spoke with someone with her bank’s customer service division and said they are aware of what’s going on. So Frederick remains hopeful, but she’s still furious. “I wish I could get in touch with Michael Jordan himself,” she says. “I know he wouldn’t be happy.” W

October 6, 2021


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North Carolina

Stick or Twist Ashlee Inscoe has been held in Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution since 2018. Why hasn’t the North Carolina Department of Public Safety transferred her out of the men’s facility yet? BY JADE WILSON


shlee Inscoe sleeps in a prison unit with 33 men at Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. Inscoe, a 40-year-old intersex, transgender woman is waiting to be recognized and treated in alignment with her gender identity and has been housed at Avery-Mitchell since early 2018 when she transferred from another all-men’s facility, Craven Correctional Institution. Her most recent transfer requests have been repeatedly denied. Late last month, Inscoe’s attorney filed a court order against North Carolina’s Commissioner of Prisons, Todd Ishee, asking the court to force Ishee to transfer Inscoe to a women’s facility. In North Carolina, transgender, gender-variant, and intersex people are housed by the gender assigned to them at birth or their genital characteristics, which puts them at a higher risks of physical and sexual violence. “I just want to be safe and make it home,” Inscoe, who is expected to serve a prison sentence for robbery until 2031, told the INDY of her incarceration. In March, Inscoe sent a letter to a group of advocates seeking help with her case and explaining that she has constant pain in her abdomen and needs surgery to remove residual painful gonad material. “DPS need not wait for a tragedy to respond to the dire needs of intersex and transgender persons in its care,” Inscoe wrote in the letter. “I am facing escalating distress and growing fears for my safety. I have filed grievances within the DPS system and have exhausted those remedies with nothing in return but denials, heartache, and fear of retaliation by officials.” This summer, North Carolina Department of Public Safety (N.C. DPS) prison commissioner Ishee and his counsel received an 11-page-letter from Emancipate NC, interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth, and Transgender, Gender-variant, Intersex (TGI) Justice Project, three organizations that are now advocating for Inscoe. The letter details the state’s violations of Inscoe’s human rights and demands that DPS transfer her immediately to the North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women in Raleigh. It also demands that her pressing medical needs immediately be addressed. The advocates gave prison officials until August 24 to discuss remediation. In their request, the advocates cited the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments and argue that N.C. DPS is violating the U.S. Constitution and even its own policies. Under the 12

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federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), prison officials are obligated to protect all incarcerated individuals and assess their risk of sexual abuse and assault and take reasonable steps to keep them safe. They are also obligated to provide adequate medical care. In North Carolina, requests for transgender accommodations are sent to the Facility Transgender Accommodation Review Committee (FTARC) and the Division Transgender Accommodation Review Committee (DTARC). The committees are expected to review all aspects of the requests and base decisions on whether they protect an incarcerated person’s welfare. In an August letter, DPS Deputy General Counsel Jodi Harrison said, in response to the advocates’ “myriad allegations,” that FTARC and the DTARC concluded that DPS is providing Inscoe with constitutionally adequate care. “We are confident the decisions that these committees have made with regard to this offender have been thoughtful, deliberative, and fully in line with NCDPS policies,” Harrison wrote. Attorneys for Inscoe disagree. “Unfortunately, many prison officials are transparently hostile to the rights of transgender people, and this adversely affects the judgment of the TARC teams,” says Elizabeth Simpson, an attorney and the associate director of Emancipate NC. “This seems to be what is going on with Ashlee, because medical professionals are unanimous that she needs surgery and is a woman who would be safer in a women’s prison.” On September 30, Simpson filed a writ of mandamus—a type of court order directed to a government official warning them that they’re breaking the law—in Wake County Superior Court asking the court to direct commissioner Ishee to transfer Inscoe to a women’s facility. The FTARC met in October of 2020 to review Inscoe’s original requests for a transfer. In a letter written after Inscoe’s case was reviewed, Shawn Hartzog, an FTARC facilitator and psychologist, says the committee “presented information that endocrinologist E. Klett, MD had recognized this inmate’s intersex condition with the documentation of XX karyotype and recommended transfer to all female facility.” DPS’s current policy only accommodates transgender people and not anyone with an intersex condition. Therefore, the letter continued, the “team resolves that [Inscoe] will

A self portrait of Ashlee Inscoe need to accept the rules of the facility, the decision made by administration, and the decisions set by this committee.” But Inscoe says cases like hers should be considered on individual bases. “Despite PREA’s mandate and DPS’s formal implementation of it, however, my case and situation demonstrates that intersex and transgender prisoners are being subjected to blanket rules with regard to placement,” said Inscoe in a March letter to the coalition. Inscoe is not alone in her experience. Kanautica Zayre-Brown, a transgender woman, was housed in a men’s facility from 2017 until she finally won the battle, with assistance from her supporters, to get transferred to a women’s facility in 2019. Zayre-Brown is believed to be the first transgender person to be transferred from one gender facility to another in North Carolina. “It is my hope that the struggle and constant battle I’m facing will not only result in my transfer to a women’s prison,” Inscoe said in her letter to the coalition of advocates, “but also help other trans and intersex women who are in prison in North Carolina to be housed where they not only feel safe from physical and sexual violence, but to be free of the systemic hatred, homophobia/transphobia, and binary mentality that plagues prisons.” W

Mike Partain with the mammogram showing the grape-sized tumor in his right breast. Partain, who was born in Camp Lejeune, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. PHOTO FROM FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, COURTESY OF MIKE PARTAIN

A bill in Congress would finally allow service members and their families sickened by contaminated water at Camp Lejeune to sue the U.S. government. Despite gaining traction, the probability of its passage remains uncertain. BY LEWIS KENDALL


ourteen years ago, a hug may have saved Mike Partain’s life. It was 2007 and Partain had been working as an insurance adjuster in Tallahassee, Florida, where he and his then wife lived a short drive from the Gulf of Mexico. The hug was an innocuous one, but Partain’s wife felt something out of the ordinary: a hard knot in her husband’s chest. They thought it might be a cyst or an ingrown hair. But when two weeks passed and the lump hadn’t gone away, the 39-year-old went in for a mammogram. Partain is an amateur astronomer—he spends nights peering up at the sky to help, as he says, “keep things in perspective.” That’s why, when the radiologist pulled up the scan showing a mass of cancerous cells illuminating his chest, all he could think about was a globular cluster, the spherical collection of millions of ancient stars he had seen so often through a telescope. A biopsy confirmed the cancer: a tumor the size of a large grape lodged in Partain’s right breast. Being diagnosed—on the day of his wedding anniversary, no less—was the most afraid he had ever been, even more than the time he had been robbed at gunpoint working at a restaurant in college. He couldn’t sleep, and eventually called his doctor asking to have his surgery moved up. “I’ve never been more scared of anything in my life,” Partain says. The operation was a success, and a month later Partain began chemotherapy. He had questions, namely, why had an otherwise healthy, still-young man who didn’t drink or smoke, with no family history of the disease or preconditions, ended up with breast cancer—a diagnosis that occurs for men in less than one percent of all cases? Partain still vividly remembers his first day of chemo. It was a clear, hot Florida after-

noon when he emerged from the clinic to a call from his father. The elder Partain was a Marine through and through, born on Parris Island in South Carolina and a veteran of the Vietnam War. Partain was not used to seeing his dad emotional, so when he picked up the phone and heard a shaky voice on the other end of the line, he knew something was wrong. “You need to go home now and turn on CNN,” Partain’s father told him. Partain rushed back and switched on the television. On it, Bart Stupak, a representative from Michigan, was speaking before a congressional committee. Partain made it in time to catch the end of Stupak’s introduction: “...whether individuals born between 1968 and 1985 to mothers who drank contaminated water while they were pregnant and living at Camp Lejeune are at increased risk of developing certain childhood cancers.” It was a line Partain says he will never forget. “I realized right then and there I was one of those kids,” he says. “I knew what had happened to me.” After nearly 15 years and countless hours spent researching, organizing, and traveling to Washington, Partain is among a cohort of thousands still fighting for recognition and compensation from the U.S. military over decades of negligent water contamination at Lejeune that caused myriad cancers and other significant negative health impacts in servicemembers, their families, and employees on the base. A new bill working its way through Congress aims to provide relief to some of

those thousands affected by the toxic water. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act would allow anyone exposed to contamination on the base between 1953 and 1987 to sue the government for damages. “For decades, thousands of service members and their families were exposed to contaminated tap water at Camp Lejeune, likely increasing their risk of developing cancers and adverse birth outcomes. The state of North Carolina, where this tragedy occurred for nearly 30 years, has made it clear they wish to allow those who have been suffering for too long to have their day in court,” says Rep. David Price (NC-04), one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “It is now the federal government’s responsibility to right this wrong and provide the opportunity for these individuals to seek long-overdue justice.”

Justice for servicemembers Built in 1942 in Jacksonville, North Carolina as a training facility for troops for World War II, Camp Lejeune, at more than 240 square miles, remains one of the largest military bases on the East Coast. Lejeune currently supports roughly 100,000 people, plus a mall and 80 firing ranges. In the early 1980s, the Marine Corps discovered elevated levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the drinking water on Lejeune, including PCE (tetrachloroethylene) and TCE (trichloroethylene). Other contaminants, including refined petroleum products such as benzene—a known carcinogen—had

October 6, 2021


Left: Partain’s mother and father Right: Partain’s mother holding Partain at Lejeune in 1968 PHOTOS COURTESY OF MIKE PARTAIN

ed the drinking water far beyond levels deemed acceptable to both the EPA and CDC via the leaking of underground storage tanks, industrial area spills, and waste disposal sites. As much as 1.1 million gal-


October 6, 2021

lons of fuel may have leaked from storage tanks on the base, according to a separate report. Further research has indicated that the contamination may have begun as far back as 1948.

A 2017 CDC report concluded that the contaminants “increased cancer risk and increased potential of experiencing adverse, noncancer health effects” for those who had been on the base and consumed or otherwise been exposed to the water. Considering Lejeune’s size, and the fact that the contamination lasted decades, the government has since disclosed that as many as one million military and civilian staff and their families may have been affected. Nearly 275,000 have signed up as

part of the Marines Corps’ database intended for those who lived or worked at Lejeune during the period in question. Moreover, documents show that, despite being notified by a testing agency of contamination as early as 1982, over the years the U.S. military has dragged its feet on addressing the issue and notifying those impacted. Partain’s parents arrived at Lejeune in 1967. Having graduated from the Naval Academy a year earlier, Lejeune was Partain’s father’s first duty station. Partain was born on the base on January 30, 1968, not long before his father deployed to Vietnam. “Luckily for me and my mom, my mom hated Camp Lejeune,” Partain says. They remained on base another five months after his birth before heading across the country to live with Partain’s grandparents in California. But by then, Partain says, the damage had already been done. “Everytime my mother drank water from Camp Lejeune, went to the Burger King and got a soda, took a shower, cooked on the stove using the water, every time that happened, those dice rolled,” he says. Partain has consulted with many epidemiologists and health experts since his diagnosis, all of whom have helped crystalize his understanding that his can-

Partain and Ensminger stand with Erin Brokovich in front of the White House PHOTO COURTESY OF MIKE PARTAIN

cer was caused by the water at Lejeune. Indeed, his younger sister, who was born in Maryland, has remained healthy. Partain’s mother has also been spared any significant health complications. The first person Partain spoke with after switching off the television in 2007 was Jerry Ensminger. Ensminger, a former Marine who Partain calls a “walking human encyclopedia” on all things Lejeune, was the driving force behind the “Poisoned Patriots” testimony with Rep. Stupak. By the time of that hearing, Ensminger, who served as a Marine for nearly a quarter of a century, had been fighting for a seat at the table for years. He’d often get up at 3 a.m. so he could drive from his home in North Carolina to Washington D.C., meet with lawmakers and “get the hell out” of the capitol before the afternoon rush hour. In 2012, Ensminger helped pass the Janey Ensminger Act. Named after his daughter, who was born at Lejeune and died of leukemia at the age of 9, the bill provided health care for people who lived or worked at the base between 1957 and 1987. That win, however, has proved short-lived. According to one report, between 2011 and 2019, less than 25 percent of the more than 84,000 Lejeune-related claims by veterans and their families made to the VA were accepted by the agency. In 2019, the Navy said it would deny the more than 4,000 pending civil claims against it over the water contamination, citing a lack of legal standing on behalf of the claimants. The new Justice Act is more broad and, perhaps most importantly, includes a clause that would circumnavigate North Carolina’s statute of repose, a much-maligned state law that prevents affected parties from filing suit more than 10 years after the “last act” of the defendant. That limit means that for Partain, Ensminger, and thousands of others, the window for filing any sort of legal action for what happened at Lejeune closed long before they ever knew they were in danger.

In 2013, a U.S. Supreme Court decision further cemented the state’s statute of repose, finding that it takes precedence even over federal law. In response, the North Carolina General Assembly inserted a clause the following year, effectively exempting groundwater contamination from the 10-year limit. But for Partain, the change was too little too late, and he is resigned to pinning his hopes on the Justice Act. The bill has gained traction, attracting more than 60 cosponsors in the House, while a similar bill has also made its way into the Senate. Partain and other proponents believe the best way to move forward is by attaching the bill to the National Defense Authorization Act— the military’s budget—the same way the Janey Ensminger Act was eventually passed. So far, though, the strategy has fallen flat. “We still have hope,” says Besa Pinchotti, executive director for the National Military Families Association, one of the groups helping push the bill. “This is the closest we’ve ever been on the Lejeune issue.” “Jerry and all of these tens of thousands of victims of the water contamination, they give their all for our country,” she adds. “They sign up to protect us, to fight for us, and then we don’t do the same for them? It’s a gross injustice and something I can’t believe is still happening.” Matt Slavoski, a spokesperson for. Rep. Matt Cartwright, the Pennsylvania Democrat who sponsored the Justice Act, echoed Pinchotti’s sentiments. The congressman “remains committed to working with the Judiciary Committee to find a path forward for this bill,” Slavoski wrote in an email. Ensminger isn’t holding his breath. He calls the Defense Department the “800pound gorilla” in the room on Capitol Hill, a behemoth of an agency that is equal parts powerful and blame averse. That, coupled with precedent like the Feres Doctrine— which effectively prevents military mem-

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bers from receiving damages from the government—makes fighting in situations like this feel like an impossible, unending slog.

A chance at securing damages Part of the issue is proving causality. As a kid, Partain got sick frequently. When he put on dry-cleaned dress clothes to go to church on Sundays, he would break out in a rash. He nearly failed to graduate high school because of how many sick days he was forced to take. Now, he says, he has neuropathy stemming from the chemotherapy. He has joint and tendon issues and says that he skipped middle age and went straight to being an old man. But while he might not be able to prove without any shadow of a doubt in court that Lejeune and the DOD are to blame for the cancer and his health issues, he at least wants a chance to try. “It’s not guaranteed we would win. We could still lose. If my case was heard in court and was heard fairly, and they came back and said ‘Mike, the government made a mistake, but they are protected,’ I could understand that,” he says. “But to use a technicality on something that is just wrong—that doesn’t sit with me.” But the surgical precision with which the Justice Act was written means that folks like Partain might have a real chance at securing damages from the government, says Ryke Longest, co-director of the Duke Environmental Law & Policy Clinic and clinical professor at Duke University Law School. “The good news for the plaintiffs is the language of the text, if it were passed, has a very specific set of procedures laid out,” Longest says. “All they have to do is show they were harmed and that there was a relationship (between Lejeune and the harm). The evidentiary burden here would be very reasonable.” Partain has a larger point he wants to drive home though, one about the way the military treats its veterans and servicemen and women. He saw it with his father, who was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, and with his fellow Lejeune survivors, many of whom have since passed away. “The government poisoned a million marines and their families over a 38-year period. And they washed their hands and walked away from it on a technicality. What does that say about our country, our values and what we’re about?” he says. “This is about individuals who served their country, their family members who supported them, and what the government

did through their own negligence and how they’ve just walked away from it like nothing happened. That’s wrong on every level.” A 2011 documentary about the Lejeune contamination, Semper Fi: Always Faithful, features Ensminger and Partain, along with a host of other veterans and their family members, some who have remained close over the years, bonded through shared trauma. But Partain is constantly reminded of those who did not make it. Names like Joseph Moser and Peter Devereaux. The other day, Partain sent me a photograph of an obituary from a newspaper in Florida of a woman, born in Lejeune a few years before him, who had died of cancer. This Sunday, Lejeune survivors plan to gather in Jacksonville to perform outreach and push for the passage of the Justice Act. Samantha Via, a lead organizer for the event and administrator for the 17,000-member “Camp Lejeune Toxic Water Survivors” group on Facebook, lived on the base with her family from 1976 to 1988. Her father—a Marine for 24 years—died in 2020 due to Lejeune-related chemical exposure, Via says, and her mother passed a year later to multiple myeloma. Via herself has suffered from multiple bouts of cancer. “I made a promise to my father that I will keep fighting for his brothers in arms,” Via says. “I want nothing more than the Camp Lejeune Justice Act to get approved so it can save the lives barely hanging on.” In 1989, Lejeune was declared a Superfund site by the EPA, one of some 130 such sites on military land across the country. But despite the ongoing cleanup effort, contamination troubles have continued. Last year, the agency found elevated levels of PFAS, or “forever chemicals,” in the groundwater in multiple areas on the base. For Partain, the whole situation is emblematic of the way powerful groups treat the environment and people, the Lejeune cohort just happen to be “canaries in the coal mine.” “Our modern industrial society has a lot of benefits, but there are always hidden costs. And those hidden costs come in the form of our health,” he says. Partain is now in remission, or No Evidence of Disease (NED), as the parlance goes. “Ned and I are good friends now,” he jokes. And because he is still able, he believes it his duty to continue fighting— faithful to the cause to the very last. “I’m every bit as indignant with the government as when I started,” Partain says. “There’s a lot of people who aren’t here right now, who don’t have a voice,” he adds. “Because I survived, I had a responsibility to speak out. If I don’t speak out, then who does?” W


Visible City How Open Durham is chronicling the Bull City’s storied past, and its swiftly changing present BY SARAH EDWARDS


elva Rigel’s memories of childhood in her College Heights neighborhood come easily. It was the 1950s and ‘60s. Her family lived in a white bungalow built by her father in 1946. The neighborhood, which makes up 12 city blocks in Southeast Durham, brimmed with N.C. Central University professors who emphasized the importance of education to local schoolchildren, and the ethos of a community raising a child rang clear and true. Neighborhood parents organized hiking trips, cultural events, and parades. Every Christmas, Ezra L. Totten, the NCCU chemist who lived across the street from the Rigel family, famously synched the outdoor Christmas tree lights between neighboring bungalows. When switched on, the display along “Christmas tree lane” was as perfect and precise as an equation. The College Heights of today feels relatively untouched, Rigel says, though there are fewer children and “most of the elders have died.” The Durham surrounding College Heights has changed, though, which is one reason why Rigel—who moved to the West Coast in 1970 but returned to her childhood home in 2008 to care for an aging parent—felt it was important to join in the work of preserving its history. Rigel is one of the volunteers behind Open Durham, an expansive rabbit hole of a website dedicated to archiving the city’s history. The website has changed over the years but remained online, in one form or another, since 2006. Each week, Rigel says, she logs several hours of work on the site; some weeks, when she gets caught up, those hours stretch to 40.

Thanks to her work, those browsing the website can look up nearly any address in College Heights—a neighborhood now in the National Register of Historic Places— and find a full report on the house, including a photo, architectural specifics, and the history of past residents. Sometimes this information is sourced from county tax records; other times, Rigel simply knows the generations who have lived there before. “One thing that I do know is that it is very important for you to write your own history,” Rigel says, “because when someone else is writing your history, almost always, it is not accurate.”


hen I first moved into my current home, an older rental in downtown Durham, the woman moving out left behind a framed black-and-white photograph of a man carrying a box of butter up a set of stairs. I asked what the picture was of. “Oh, that’s this house,” she said, and directed me to Open Durham. Sure enough, when I put my address into the search bar, it conjured that photograph, alongside a patchwork story of the house and a comment describing how an early inhabitant was a passenger on the first streetcar run in the neighborhood. All of a sudden the house, with its slanted floors and weird, creaky corners, took on the dimension of past lives. Upon clicking further into the website, the heart of Durham spilled out in the form of thousands of hyperlinked archival pages. Its design was rudimentary, clearly a labor of love, but the information infinite, like Durham’s own Wikipedia. Soon, in conversations with people around town—architects looking for the

Melva Rigel in front of her home in College Heights PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA history behind a house, teachers planning lessons on local history, journalists digging for background—it became clear that an invisible framework, one shaping the future of the city, depended on this website. And, as it turns out, it is a website run by just a handful of volunteers. One afternoon in June, I met Nicholas Levy, the current site editor of Open Durham, on a bench overlooking Durham Central Park. It was sweltering—the kind of heat that makes you think extra hard about climate change’s grip on the future—so he directed me to a shady spot. An animated redhead, Levy gives the impression of a competent, resourceful person who, if you handed them a balloon, could improvise a challenging animal shape. When we sat down on a bench, he quickly pointed out the story behind it.

October 6, 2021


“This is dedicated to two sisters, Margaret Wilson and Lydia Wilson Parker, both descendants of a man named Peyton Smith,” Levy said, pulling a map out of a tote (which itself was made out of a goat feed bag) and explaining that Smith was a Black Spanish American veteran and prolific Durham businessman. “When Durham Central Park was being organized, his descendants, including the women honored by these benches, sold it to the city to be developed for this purpose.” Levy, a doctoral candidate in Stanford University’s history department, was himself born in Moore County, North Carolina. In 2016, he moved to Durham and became plugged into local historical work; in 2018, while working as a board member at the nonprofit Preservation Durham, the project fell into his lap. He’s been obsessing over it ever since. Open Durham originally grew out of a blog run by Gary Kueber, a local doctor-turned-developer who also spent time moonlighting as a preservation activist and blogger. Frustrated by what he saw as a lack of government-directed preservation efforts, Kueber started blogging on the site, then called Endangered Durham, in 2006. The stakes, as he remembers it, were different then: Durham still suffered from a reputation of blight; houses were cheap, and he did not anticipate the speed at which Durham would develop and gentrify. Back then, he says, he just hoped to advocate for the historic properties in danger of being knocked down. “We were still in that phase of people not really valuing downtown,” Kueber says. “There was a question of, how do we get people to actually invest in downtown? How do we get people to move into it?” For a time, the blog was a regular news source. In a 2008 INDY profile of Kueber, Cleveland-Holloway Neighborhood Association founding member Eleni Vlachos remarked that “people wake up, have their morning coffee and see what Gary posted.” Soon, the site became a nearly encyclopedic, if somewhat chaotic, inventory of the city, with pages for nearly 2,000 places. In 2011, motivated to make the site easier to navigate and contribute to, Kueber began using new software. Endangered Durham was the renamed something more hopeful: Open Durham. “Rather than it being this kind of topdown, ‘I’m the self-appointed expert who’s going to tell you about this stuff,’ the best person to write about a specific house is the person who grew up there or lives there 18

October 6, 2021

Open Durham editor Nick Levy


now,” Kueber says. “Open Durham is editable and updatable to reflect what people think now, or what people think 10 years from now. I would hope that if somebody reads something and they think like, ‘What, what was he smoking?’ they’ll add their own perspective to that. That’s the whole idea, really—that it has that openness.”


n 2016, after years of running the site, Kueber, who has since pivoted to working as a career coach, donated the site to Preservation Durham. The organization has a more formal infrastructure for doing preservation work—it has been around since 1974, has board members, a small budget, and an active event and educational series—though the work of the organization still falls to one full-time employee, executive director April Johnson. “As communities began to gentrify and change, we can understand the evolution of the change, why it’s changed, [and] peo-

ple’s stories,” Johnson says, in reference to the website. “People can tell their own story about why maybe they’ve moved out of the neighborhood, or why they’ve been forced to move out or, or why they decided to move into the neighborhood.” In 2018, Levy took on managing Open Durham. With it, he took on the complications of a rapidly changing Durham—and changing preservation ethics, too, as historians grapple with how to tell the story of the past truthfully when so much of it has been willfully obscured. Preservation work itself has long been marked by racial inequity; of the 95,000 homes recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, for instance, a scant two percent reflect the experiences of Black Americans, reporting in The New Yorker recently revealed. Add to this that deteriorating Black neighborhoods are often scrubbed from public memory altogether—once by high-

ways and urban renewal, now by condo developments—and historians face something of a race against time. “The preservation movement has had a kind of identity crisis in the last 20 years or so,” Levy says. “There’s a history that has largely been defending and arguing for the architectural value and merit of homes that predominantly were owned by wealthy white folks. And the way in which we determined that [a building] is important, even within the category of wealthy white folks, tends to privilege the work done by men over women.” Open Durham is organized by 48 neighborhoods; more than most people might even realize exist in Durham. Upon clicking a neighborhood entry, users encounter an intro paragraph, alongside individual addresses that link to a page with pictures and sometimes anecdotal comments posted by readers. (At 3112 Roxboro Road: “Johnny’s Country Store had the coldest beer in town in the 1970s.”) For history nerds, this kind of database is obviously invaluable. But as development continues aggressively apace, tech companies bring high-income populations to the Triangle, house prices rise—in 2021, the median home price in the Triangle rose to $357,000—and longtime residents find their doors papered with glossy home offers, it is also the only evidence of, and argument for, a rapidly vanishing city. To illustrate the value of a contributor-friendly platform, Levy describes the metamorphosis of one particular site entry, about a block of East Main Street. The block, which had once housed the megamansion of the white supremacist Julian Carr, was home, during the 1950s, to a diner at 111 South Dillard Street owned by a white family. For a while, the site entry featured the idyllic diner pictures that had been submitted from that era. Later, though, a woman named Rashida Brandt reached out with information about what the diner had transformed into in the 1980s—a vibrant Black hair salon owned by her father, Ernest Brandt. “If you ever sat in his chair you were guaranteed to get an in-depth Black history lesson and a beautiful hairstyle, all while Anita Baker or Miles Davis played in the background,” Brandt is quoted as saying on the site, “This address will always hold a special place in my heart and I am extremely proud that my father will forever be a part of the history of Durham, N.C.” Now, the page for 111 South Dillard reflects both chapters of the building. “There was a huge blind spot,” Levy says. “Not just decades in the history of this sin-

“One thing that I do know is that it is very important for you to write your own history. Because when someone else is writing your history, almost always, it is not accurate.”

worry that it had disappeared forever. Levy made a call for tech help as he rebooted the site. (“We have no budget for it, beyond paying its hosting fee,” he says.) Running it, as he explains, is a taxing “full-time unpaid job,” consuming both his time and an extra room in his house, which has become crammed with local historical ephemera that people send him—diaries of a Black minister from the 1920s, newspaper clippings, tackle boxes of slide film—not knowing what else to do with it. In July, a reader of the site reached out to Levy and donated a substantial sum of money to Open Durham, requesting anonymity. During a tight moment, the donation was enough to fund migrating the site to a new platform, which Levy says he should be able to do by next year’s November deadline. (There are also ongoing donation links on both Preservation Durham and Open Durham’s websites). Public history sites like Open Durham exist in other cities, says April Johnson, though she doesn’t know of many in midsized Southern cities like Durham. “I look forward to it continuing to be a gle building, but it was also sort of a microcosm—the history of white flight, and Black community digital public history,” she says. businesses, and a number of other things “As we move into the future, I believe more that have been really important but kind and more people will be using the digital space to learn.” of underdialogued.” And so the site, for now, lives on. Levy Part of the challenge, he says, is getting people—and therefore, policies and fund- can’t help but brighten, too, when he thinks ing—to recognize the value of the histories of its future. He has hopes of making it that look less like the Biltmore Estate and more navigable, with a design that encourmore like the College Heights neighbor- ages more users to contribute. “It wouldn’t be much of a website if hood of Melva Rigel’s childhood. “In some ways, this is an American prob- it just came from me,” Levy says. “That lem,” Levy says. “We have difficulty reading wouldn’t take in the sort of breadth and history that doesn’t look like a 12th-cen- perspective that makes public history tury French cathedral or something—and resources really rich. I would love to draw by ‘we,’ unfortunately, I mean the kind of attention to the incredible collections at dominant white supremacist interpretation Duke’s Special Collections and UNC Special Collections, and the North Carolina of historical value.” There is some good news on that front: collection at the Durham County Library.” Down the hill beside us, a pair of Nationwide, the work of activists fighting to preserve Black history is steadily gain- teenagers at Durham Central Park—preing overdue recognition. Locally, structures sumably, based on the PDA, a couple— like Pauli Murray’s home in Durham have were posing and taking pictures in front received federal recognition in the past few of a sculpture. It seemed almost too on-the-nose to years (and, most recently, a $1.6 million Andrew W. Mellon grant), while Preserva- be watching the next generation interact advertisework or feature a petpublic for adoption, art as Levy spoke about the tion Durham has doneTo substantial pro- with contact previous generations that had lived on tecting and restoring please Black burial grounds. Still, after foundational neglect, the work the ground we stood on. But it squared of historical preservation remains an uphill with the mission of Open Durham: the battle, particularly when so much of it is past and the future both live with us. To advertise a pet “I would like for itor to feature be a place,” Levy shouldered by just a few people. adoption, contact in reference to please the website, “where Drupal 7, the content management says, for recognize that history is somesystem that Open Durham was built on, expires in November 2022. Issues with the thing that they have a stake in—that they server caused the site to crash for a couple may be a part of it, and they may have months this summer, causing readers to something to contribute to as well.” W

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SOMETHING ROTTEN! Stone Soup Theatre | N.C. Museum of Art, Raleigh, Oct. 9–10 Forest Theatre, Chapel Hill, Oct. 16–17 & 23–24 |

THE WOOLGATHERER David Berberian Shadowbox Studios, Durham, Oct. 7–9 & 14–16 |

Beginner’s Luck Two new regional productions take winding, unorthodox paths to opening night BY BYRON WOODS


s seasoned theater veterans, Melissa Dombrowski and Joanna Sisk-Purvis know the old showbiz adage, “Changes keep a show fresh.” Still, as the artistic director and music director of Stone Soup Theatre, they’re hoping right about now that the region’s newest theatrical troupe has seen the last of the major (and wholly unexpected) changes that their inaugural production of the Broadway musical, Something Rotten!, have encountered on the way to its opening performance. How major? Well, first they lost their rehearsal spaces, which had been free. Then they lost their venue. Say this much: theatrical setbacks like those tend to raise the bar for what constitutes bad news. After those reversals, losing 20 costumes suddenly didn’t seem so big a deal. But not to worry: the show will go on, its daytime matinees starting this weekend. And due to equally unexpected strokes of good luck—plus some major community support—Stone Soup’s in a much better place, all in all, than they expected to be by show week. Still, getting there has been a little trickier than expected. To be clear, the two—who last worked together in April on the Durham Savoyards’ innovative online miniseries version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience—didn’t initially plan on mounting a big Broadway musical during a pandemic. When they decided to incorporate a new theater company back in April, “everyone was getting the vaccine and it seemed to be working,” Dombrowski says. At the time, she and Sisk-Purvis thought that a summer production might be too close, 20

October 6, 2021

“but by October,” Dombrowski recalls, “surely we could do it.” “Two days after we cast the show, we first heard about the Delta variant,” Dombrowski says. The pair persevered, requiring proof of vaccination from auditioners, cast, and crew, and rehearsing at a distance in face masks. Then, as Delta surged, municipalities in Orange County closed once more the community center spaces where Stone Soup qualified for free rent as a nonprofit organization, endangering the nascent company’s budget. In the very few places where rehearsal space is commercially available, it’s usually very expensive. At that point, Triangle Youth Ballet decided they couldn’t stage their annual production of The Nutcracker, due to COVID, and gave Stone Soup free studio space in which to rehearse. “We were so fortunate that they were willing to share an entire studio for our run,” Dombrowski says. Then UNC-Chapel Hill placed a 40-day moratorium on the use of the Forest Theatre space following the early September death of a student there. The move threatened to cut their show’s run in half—a move that also would have placed the company’s economics in peril. Then the North Carolina Museum of Art offered the struggling group Bryan Amphitheater as a site for their opening weekend. A two-week run at Forest Theatre following that leaves Stone Soup with a net gain: six shows instead of four, over three weekends instead of the two they originally expected. The latest twist in this theatrical roller-coaster ride comes just before our interview: word from FedEx that 20 doublets— those 17th-century tight-fitting jackets

Susan Jordan White and D.A. Oldis in Something Rotten! PHOTO COURTESY OF STONE SOUP THEATRE

shaped and fitted to a man’s body—loaned for free from a friend’s company in California will be very late, arriving five days before the opening show. “Do you have any idea how much time it takes for alterations on 20 doublets?” Dombrowski asks. “We’ll be wearing paper sacks instead!” After our conversation, in yet another 11-hour intervention, PlayMakers Repertory offered to loan costumes from their inventory. “It feels like somebody wants this show to happen,” Dombrowski concludes in a calmer moment. “We’ve had so much support. This theater is clearly wanted very much by the community we’re trying to serve.” Meanwhile, long-time Durham actor David Berberian has been generating a different sort of beginner’s luck in the run-up to this weekend’s opening of The Woolgatherer, his first regional show as producer. What does a producer do? Select a show they can pull off, for starters: in this case, a work situated in every way on the far end of the spectrum from the song-and-dance spectacle of Stone Soup’s major musical. The Woolgatherer is a two-character psychological drama that takes place in a single sparsely furnished room—which is desirable, if you’re trying to economize on cast size and set design.

Then a producer procures the best talent they can find. Berberian achieved that, tapping Derrick Ivey, an award-winning regional director and former Durham Savoyards artistic director, to helm the show, and Jeri Lynn Schulke, a noted local actor with a long resume of impressive shows, as his co-star. “I just have to say how humbled I am that these two decided to join me. The nice thing about producing this show is that I don’t have to worry for a minute about what Jeri Lynn and Derrick are going to do. They’ve both brought their A-games,” Berberian says. For Schulke, the decision was a no-brainer. “David emailed me, I just emailed him back and said yeah. I didn’t even ask what the play was, where he was going to do it, and who was going to direct.” “I was gobsmacked,” Berberian says. The two play a pair of damaged souls who meet by chance one night in the big city. Playwright William Mastrosimone’s work “is so intimate,” Berberian reflects. “I really think you can feel the heartache of these characters and the lives they’ve accumulated and are carrying around. I like to say they recognize the brokenness in each other. There’s such an intimate dance between them.” W



[Sorry State Records; Oct. 8, 2021]

Bookworm AS K A

Emergency Exit With a final album, Cochonne brings an era of deranged playfulness to a close BY DAN RUCCIA


Staff Members of Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books Every week a local book guru answers reader’s questions. Please submit your questions at

From Jocelyn F. I work with preschool aged children and I am looking for books to address items around the current pandemic. Mask wearing, social distancing, etc. What would you recommend?


o you like your coffee black?” Mimi Luse flippantly yelps at the beginning of “Asking for a Friend,” the second song on Cochonne’s new 12”, issued posthumously after the band disbanded. It’s the opening gambit in some social media-based crush, and like lots of social media, the song takes an immediate turn to parasocial paranoia (“Why won’t you follow me back?”) and lust (“I message you cuz I want more”). Meanwhile, razor-sharp guitar and bass lines run in loose, discordant counterpoint, while the drums stomp a nearly square rock beat punctuated with what sounds like glass shattering. Things get interesting when Luse starts to map out the power dynamics of her character’s desires, alternately telling her would-be partner “make me take it” and “I’ll make you make me take it.” The combination of her tuneless squalls and the lockstep groove make it hard to tell whether her come-ons are serious or just some kind of game. And when Marielle DuToit starts playfully listing off former partners at the end of the song, it feels like a sinister inversion of the B-52s’ “52 Girls.” That template—jerky rhythms, biting guitar lines, Pere Ubu-esque synth bursts from David Rodriguez, and a general sense of claustrophobia—continues through pretty much all five songs on this all too brief album, touching on different kinds of power differentials. At one extreme is “KGB,” where we are the helpless victims of a police state acting with impunity. On the other hand, “Trop” (French for “too much”) sees the female narrator

Lucy’s Mask by Lisa Sirkis Thompson and Masked Ninja by Mary Nhin are the best of the bunch for that age group. Maddie and the Virus: A Young Girl Navigates Life During A Pandemic by Gretchen Susan Romanowski and Mike Rosado is an outstanding book by a local author and a local artist, but it is for a slightly older age group. —Abbe Townsend Children’s Department Manager

navigating the vicissitudes of consensual rough sex in real time. Throughout the record, Luse vocalizes in clipped, semi-effectual imperatives—“show it to me,” “keep mouth shut,” “don’t tell them”—and is less interested in singing melodies than creating different kinds of expressionistic spaces with her voice. (This, by the way, is not a dig.) The only place this darkness lifts is on album closer, “Vampire,” which leans toward the breeziness of Cochonne’s first release. Luse almost arrives at a tune when describing the inescapability of capitalism, DuToit rumbles some fuzzed-out chords, and Rodriguez plays a catchy keyboard melody. The life-sucking force of consumption never sounded so appealing. It’s a shame that this release marks the end for this trio. While all three members have other musical projects (I especially like Luse’s cold wave explorations as Permanent), none of them have the same deranged playfulness as Cochonne. W

From Simeon V. I’m a big sci-fi reader, but with everything going on in the world, I need to take a break from anything bleak and dystopian. Can you recommend any books that are positive about the future? For science fiction set in a hopeful future, I immediately think of Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers universe. Space adventures set in a cooperative, multispecies galactic commons, with themes of belonging, exploration, and growth at the heart of the stories. The books form a loose series but each works as a stand-alone novel. —Ginger Kautz, Assistant General Manager

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October 6, 2021


P U Z Z L ES If you just can’t wait, check out the current week’s answer key at, and click “puzzle pages” at the bottom of our webpage.

su | do | ku

this week’s puzzle level:

© Puzzles by Pappocom

There is really only one rule to Sudoku: Fill in the game board so that the numbers 1 through 9 occur exactly once in each row, column, and 3x3 box. The numbers can appear in any order and diagonals are not considered. Your initial game board will consist of several numbers that are already placed. Those numbers cannot be changed. Your goal is to fill in the empty squares following the simple rule above.

If you just can’t wait, check out the current week’s answer key at, and click “puzzle pages.” Best of luck, and have fun! solution to last week’s puzzle


October 6, 2021




NOTICE OF CITY OF DURHAM MUNICIPAL PRIMARY ELECTION Tuesday, November 2, 2021 The Municipal General Election will be held in Durham County, NC on Tuesday November 2nd. All Durham County precincts will be open from 6:30 am until 7:30 pm. Precinct 26 – Rougemont will not be open because no city area lies within this precinct. Municipal residents who will be 18 years of age by the November 2nd election will be permitted to vote in the election if properly registered by the deadline. The following contests will be on the ballot: • City of Durham Mayor and Council • Town of Morrisville Mayor and Council • Town of Chapel Hill Mayor and Council • Town of Morrisville Referenda Early voting schedule: Thursday, Oct. 14th through Saturday, Oct. 30th, 2021 Hours will be consistent at all early voting locations. • Weekdays: 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. • First two Saturdays: 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. • Final Saturday: 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. • Sundays: 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. VOTER REGISTRATION DEADLINE: The voter registration deadline for the November 2, 2021 Election is Friday, October 8, 2021 (25 days prior). Voters that miss the registration deadline may register and vote during the early voting period. Voters who are currently registered need not re-register. Registered voters who have moved or changed other information since the last election should notify the Board of Elections of that change by October 8, 2021. SAME DAY REGISTRATION: Voters are allowed to register and vote during early voting. It is quicker and easier to register in advance, but if you have not registered you can do so during early voting with proper identification. This same day registration is not allowed at polling places on Election Day. Information regarding registration, polling locations, absentee voting, or other election matters may be obtained by contacting the Board of Elections. Website: Phone: 919-560-0700

Email: Fax: 919-560-0688




CRIT TERS Looking for a loving cat companion? Goathouse Refuge, a no-kill cat rescue in Pittsboro, NC, has many cats and kittens in need of loving homes. We also care for “unadoptable” cats, giving them attention and comfort they deserve. Please support our mission by adopting, sponsoring, volunteering or donating today:


PERSONALS Ron Jones I travel through the triangle area during the week. I am ONLY SEEKING friends to meet for dinner and drinks. I am not looking for long term as I am an older divorced guy seeking friends. If this interests you and want to experience different restaurants write me at my email INDY CLASSIFIEDS

October 6, 2021