24 August 2011

this is a post where every paragraph begins with "so". but it's about the earthquake.

So here's the thing. While the earthquake wasn't frightening to me personally, I am quite capable of recognizing that this was because (a) (mainly) I was busy being baffled almost until it was over and (b) I work in a one-story building that is designed to be Quite Sturdy in ways I shouldn't say much more about. But the fact remains that here in Washington - on the east coast in general, in fact - we don't have learned instincts about this sort of thing. You know what I mean. I grew up in the midwest, so I know what to do when the sky turns yellowy-green and how to drive in snow. But until people started talking about it in December 2004, for example, I'd have had no idea what to do if I were in a coastal area and saw all the water rush away from the shore. I had to read someone talking about how the right answer was to run like hell for higher ground; without that I'm pretty sure it would never have occurred to me that the water would all come back in a big damn hurry.

So it's not just that our building codes don't much bother to include earthquakes (or, this far north, probably hurricanes either) - which changes the learned reactions, by the way, doesn't it?, because I believe bracing yourself in a doorframe is the right answer in a lot of places and rushing out of the building is the wrong one, but a lot of buildings were evacuated on purpose today and not just emptied by people panicking and fleeing into the streets.

So right. It's not just that. It's that absent what we may have picked up from here and there (including having lived elsewhere), a lot of us around here don't actually automatically know what to do when stuff starts shaking. Or, you know, to the extent that we do, our first thought is not going to be that it's an earthquake. Friend of mine was working a couple of blocks from the White House today and mentioned that he's never been so glad to hear something was "just" a medium-to-severe earthquake in his life.

29 July 2011

stratford festival 2011

22 July: BWI-BUF

Should have realized vacation was off to inauspicious start when Long-Term Parking A was closed. Parked in B just as bus pulled up, but wouldn't stop for me - 'you have to go to the bus stop', said the driver, who then went to the bus stop but pulled away before I could get there. Waited 10 minutes for next bus to come to that stop, though two came & went without passing my way.

Then plane was delayed - which made it not so bad that relatively short line to check bags took forever to get through as only two people working at only one station. (You know who never has that kind of trouble? Airtran. You know who just acquired Airtran? Southwest. You know what airline I was flying? Yeah. I'm not filled with confidence for the future.)

Got good boarding # (grr, the cattle-call-ness of SWA) so got a window seat close to front of plane, but extreme crowding meant had middle-seat mate who fidgeted a lot. Managed to doze, thank god, as 10:05 didn't pull back until 11:15.

Got off plane quickly at BUF, but waited forever for luggage. Called hotel - no answer after 4 minutes of ringing, and would have told me no shuttles anyway, so on balance good that car rental guy was still closing up & willing to let me have tomorrow's car tonight, even though past closing time. Am driving Kia Sportage due to no-small-cars free upgrade, which is 3x more car than I need.

Staying at "charming" airport Red Roof Inn. Technically clean enough (I'm sure it is, but it is not conspicuously so as a more expensive (frankly) place would have been), presumably safe as am not on ground floor etc., and all I need is a door to lock & a place to lay my head, so. (And a shower in the morning.)

Still am feeling like am too old for all this crap, and next time may shell out for a real airline and a hotel that will come to the airport and get me.

Tomorrow will be better.

23 July: BUF-Stratford, Merry Wives, Richard III

Today indeed off to a better start - did lose like half an hour at the border crossing. As my friend Rhian would say: 'kinell. Anxious all the way up, and discovered I'd lost one of my capture beads somewhere. BUT made it to the place, and thanks to the miracles of plastic money, I had time for a glass of wine before the show. Thank god.

Merry Wives was good. Funny, fast-paced, Geraint Wyn Davies and his inexplicable Welsh accent not too insufferable, only v. slight enunciation issues - nothing like last year.

Would you rather have a full house with a lot of comps, or a sold-out house with a lot of no-shows? I'd choose (a), which may be how you know I'm a performer and not a manager.

Between shows got blisters from v. comfy shoes - that's how hot and sweaty it is, even here. :-(

Richard III was very good. Seana McKenna playing Richard - not as a woman, obviously, and it turned out the fact that she, a woman, was playing the part was uncommented upon in the program - which on reflection pleased me very much. She did a nice job. (She did curtsey in one of her curtain calls - the only nod, as far as I could tell, to her being a woman at all.) So did they all - esp notably Martha Henry (always reliable) as Queen Margaret, who, DAMN. (She got my standing ovation.)

Nice ghost stuff, too. The 'despair and die' dream sequence is always a bit much, but the ghosts stuck around, and the battle scene was quite well choreographed - one by one the ghosts (well - the grown-men ghosts) quietly diverted Richard's killing stroke on one or another of Richmond's (Henry Tudor's, of course) men; after two or three of these, Queen Anne took the crown off his head and gave it to the Prince of Wales (or whatever his name was - the older nephew, obviously), then the rest of the men kept blocking his killing blows, and the last thing was the Duke of York taking the sword out of Richard's hand - Tudor kills Richard - he falls back into the arms of the ghosts - and they spend Tudor's closing monologue staring down at Richard. But then after Tudor's speech about unity etc., he closes with "Amen", and then the ghosts snap to look at him and whisper "Aaamennn." (Whispering and loud exhaling had been used throughout the play, less effectively - in particular, the whole thing began with some people whispering "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" while they re-enacted a battle from the end of Henry VI with life-size dolls, which didn't work much for me - but it was all apparently just to set this up.) It was awesome. Goosiest goosebumps I've had since the blackout came down on the murderers advancing toward Macduff's little daughter.

Twelfth Night had better be good - I have every reason to believe it will be, so also I hope the Sunday matinee crowd doesn't piss me off.

24 July: Twelfth Night, Stratford-BUF

Well, Twelfth Night did not disappoint. We had the standby - somehow bigger than an understudy - as Viola, and she was v. good; also she was in the production stills, so maybe it was just that the other girl looked a shade more like the dude playing Sebastian? Probably not - that's a dumb way to cast Viola.

Anyway. Looked great - costumes approximately Edwardian, but who can tell? I'll have to look up Edwardian fashion to see what's what. Also a lot of extra-textual business - golf, tennis, a sauna - that McAnuff seems to have thrown in for fun. And a ton of music - Feste played electric bass and was the leader of a whole band. Lots of songs - including, at the beginning of the second act, a setting of "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love" and "The Nymph's Reply" to a tune that sure sounded to me like it owed a lot to "Radio Gaga", but then at one point Juan Chioran as Fabian, whose most prominent feature (other than a widow's peak that could probably cut glass) is his long, long legs, grabbed the microphone for a solo and did a whole Freddie Mercury lunge, so hey, at least they were owning it. Basically it sure seemed like this was a successful version of what last year's As You Like It was going for. (NB: One intermission! Just one!) (Feste was Touchstone last year, by the way.) You could understand everyone, and the more out-there choices weren't totally out there. (Okay, the mannequins in the ending tableau were inexplicable. But by then - who cared? The show was over & we were all happy. :-) )

Also: Brian Dennehy did get a round of applause on his first appearance, but the band had just finished playing a song, so the applause from one thing flowed seamlessly into the applause from another, and it wasn't disruptive at all. In fact this audience applauded at the end of every scene, which wasn't necessary, but which fails to annoy me as much as audiences who applaud at the end of every movement in a symphony, concert mass, etc.

Feste and the band kicked off the curtain call, and Feste was so awesome that the lot of them got a standing ovation - and then they started to play, so inevitably the audience started clapping on the beat.

You know what must be awesome? When your curtain call is when they stop clapping on the beat because they just have to whoop and holler and clap for real. Which is what happened to Malvolio. (Who also had a standing ovation as Frank Ford. Dude has been having a good year.) Brian Dennehy and Stephen Ouimette as Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (and Juan Chioran as Fabian, by association) got a big swell of cheers, and then Olivia and Sebastian behind them not so much - just plain enthusiasm. What can you do. (Well - get a better part, is what.)

Still, though, the best Twelfth Night I've seen was at the RSC when Feste was in love with Maria. That one was outstanding. This one was merely excellent. :-)

Then an easy drive back to Buffalo - no wait at all at the border, although yesterday the US-bound lanes were backed up for miles. Returned the car, and tonight's hotel has an airport shuttle and now I am in a real hotel with a lobby and indoor hallways, and everything! In a bizarro sunken room - ground floor but not wheelchair accessible, wtf? - with two king beds, an arrangement I have never seen before. Already checked in for tomorrow's flight. Must repack and then read until I sleep.

Glad this thing started out iffy and got better, instead of the other way around. :-)

25 July: BUF-BWI, eventually

Heh. Yeah. So the flight ahead of mine was delayed because they were waiting for a crew from another plane. Off they went, and our plane and crew was here, and we all boarded on time, and no sooner had the last person got on the plane for the 1:55 flight than - at 2pm ("on time" being an approximate measurement for the airlines, of course) the pilot got on the intercom and said Listen, there's weather between here and BWI, and there's about to be more, and nobody's allowed to land there at the moment, which means we're not even allowed to take off - so we're in a ground hold, and we'll know more at 2:30, but in the meantime, if you want to get off the plane, please take one of these reboarding cards.

Fine. I didn't get off the plane because half an hour isn't that long. But at 2:30, the update they had was, We'll have another update for you at 3:30, and we'd like everyone to disembark at the moment, please.

So they'd asked us not to make a huge line at the kiosk, but they'd let people know the status of their connections - on the bright side, since it was BWI that was socked in, that was why we couldn't get there, the connections also couldn't leave. Assuming they could even get there in the first place. So people were going to be late to where they were going, but it wasn't because they'd be stuck in Baltimore.

Except I was going to Baltimore. So I did stand in line, and I asked the girl what my options were, and she offered to rebook me on the 3:35 to BWI leaving from the same gate. "Okay," I said, "but do you seriously have any confidence that the 3:35 is going to leave at anything like 3:35? Given that they're not even going to give us another update about the 1:55 until 3:30? I know that's what your computer tells you to do, and it's sweet of you to offer, but let's think ahead a bit, is all I'm saying. I have no confidence at all." So her supervisor said they could refund my ticket (there was a brief moment of extreme confusion when she asked if I wanted her to refund my whole round trip - I was so stumped by the question that she had to look at her screen her own self to see that half the round trip had already been completed), but not pay for a rental car. Whatever - I'd have been happy with both, but really one or the other was fine.

Down I went to the rental car counter, where nobody would rent me a car without a reservation, and some places wouldn't rent me a one-way at all - but I stepped away from the counter, busted out my phone, made a reservation, and stepped back to the counter, and hey presto. I hit the road about 3:30.

It's a beautiful drive down through western and southern New York, through central Pennsylvania, along the Susquehanna (plus it's fun to say Susquehanna). I'd periodically check the status of my flight - at 5pm they were still "boarding". By 7pm they had arrived, so I concluded they'd actually got away in the sort of 6pm area; I didn't pull in to return the car at BWI until 10, and then I had to get back to the terminal and out to the parking lot and drive home. So if I'd stuck it out I'd have got home about three hours sooner - but I'd have paid for those three hours with three, maybe three and a half hours of frustration in the company of increasingly cranky people, in Buffalo. This was way better.

Until I woke up Tuesday with a migraine that was already making me queasy. :-P But that could have happened even if the flight had been on time. Still: it turns out my vacation was not so restful that I have been cured of the awful-headache-with-nausea-and-dizziness condition. Boo. Today I walked into a doorjamb - I've been misjudging angles on things more lately, or at least noticing it more. Ah well.

12 January 2011

fuming, seething, spitting nails, etc.

Copied and pasted from the Facebooks, mainly.

So look. I know we're meant to avoid ascribing to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity, so it would be charitable (to say the least) to conclude that Sarah Palin and/or her speechwriters and other handlers had heard the phrase "blood libel" at some point and drawn a couple of conclusions about what it seems to mean, and used it in the present context of how it really is not quite appropriate to blame her and her gunsight-map thing for Jared Lee Loughner's shooting rampage in Tucscon, and the fact that nobody working for her was in a position to say (or maybe in a position to reach her with) "Um, Governor, let's have a careful think about whether these are the specific words you really want to use" was just bad staff work.

I can't do it. I think that woman is much more shrewd than that, and ignorant about a lot of things but not about right-wing Christian Dominionism - and the particular brand of Zionism that comes from the Christian Right makes my skin crawl, by the way, because it has nothing to do with sympathy toward the Jews in any way, shape, or form - and I think she did choose her words carefully and deliberately, knowing full well that she was elevating the importance of what she believes is happening to her, or trivializing what "blood libel" actually refers to, or, hey, why not both.

Side note. I had a history teacher in high school who said on numerous occasions that I can remember that what happened to the indigenous peoples of North America when the Europeans got here was "the true holocaust". And we know what he meant, which was that as a percentage of the population exterminated by violence and disease, the genocide of the Native Americans by and because of white Europeans was much more nearly complete (if you'll accept that, semantically [g] - my mother doesn't like comparing absolutes, but she's not here, is she) than the genocide of the Jews by the Nazis. Which is true. But saying "that was the true holocaust" kind of comes right out and suggests that the one we've known all this time as the Holocaust was some sort of mere aspirant, which is kind of an offensive thing for a gentile to say, especially to a roomful of teenagers. And (speaking of semantics and dragging in etymology), that's aside from the fact that the North American version didn't involve fire, certainly not the way the European one did, so you'll have to call it holo-[something else], Dr. S, thanks.

So back to the point, which is that this indefinite article the present right wing is using is kind of precious and disingenuous, because there's generally just the one blood libel, and calling Sarah Palin out for an ill-judged bit of graphic design isn't it.

(PS: Scalzi has a nice smack-down. Thanks to Shannon for pointing me at it.)

06 January 2011

i'm learning things i didn't want to know

I was at L's for New Year's last weekend, and in amongst everything else, she made me watch Chess.

To clarify for those of you not in this particular know: Chess is a musical in the rock-opera style with tunes by Benny and Bjorn of ABBA and lyrics by Tim Rice. It concerns the Cold War, a woman torn between two men (sort of), a man torn between two countries, and the whole business played out in a kind of on-the-nose chessboard metaphor. It dates (and is dated, oh boy) to 1984; it apparently did okay in London, but was fairly comprehensively rewritten for Broadway and bombed. (For the record, my feeling is that the London version is ... not bad, and the Broadway version is terrible, except that the new song they added for Judy Kuhn as Florence is quite good.) We (L and I and many others) did the show in college, and it was awful in a lot of ways :-/, but we do know the score, if you see what I mean.

So what she made me watch was the 2008 concert performance at the Royal Albert Hall. This is an apparently "official" (I'd have said "definitive", but my irrational issues with Tim Rice are not my focus here) version, keeping some of the new stuff from the New York edition but mainly going back to the London version, so that's good; also, it gives the aforementioned new song they added for Judy Kuhn as Florence to Svetlana, who is not at all Florence, which is sort of the whole point of her. This is an interesting choice of which I heartily approve. Anyway, this concert performance included:
  • Idina Menzel as Florence - very good, but her head sure does move a lot when she sings, doesn't it?;
  • Adam Pascal as Freddie (whom I always prefer to think of as The American) - outstanding, more sympathetic than one expects if one knows the show, and sings circles around Murray Head - except that nobody but Murray Head can really properly sing "One Night in Bangkok" (side note: this guy sang the hell out of "Pity the Child", though, I tell you what; it was as if the band played the final sting on that number and Pascal went "Yeah, Groban, I got your Anthem right here");
  • and Josh Groban (!) as Anatoly (The Russian) - outstanding, which vocally isn't a surprise, but who knew he was any kind of actor?
  • also some other people in the other roles.
I turned out to enjoy this thing a lot more than I'd have expected to. The show is, as I said, not very good. The music is fine for what it is, but it's not all that interesting; the lyrics are very occasionally good but usually blah or obvious or both; the whole thing is kind of a series of monologues, even when two or (verrry occasionally) more characters are together - they monologue at each other a lot. The whole thing has never really hung together, I thought, which was part of why I was so shocked when I went to see Mamma Mia!, and danced all the way home - an ABBA rock opera with a book!, omg!, I didn't know you could do that! Anyway, though, it seems that they got the Mamma Mia! people to help them pull together the Chess book, as well, or something, because now it has one, at least a semblance of one, and it's really much better than it was. ... Book-wise. (The lyrics are not much improved - there's one spot where the American used to call Florence "honey" and now calls her "partner", and that's better - but otherwise, meh.) It was a concert performance, so there wasn't a lot of set to get in the way - there was some staging, but it was more there for mood than anything else. They had a screen up above the middle of the stage where they projected scene-setting visuals, so you didn't miss the expository sets at all.

And, crucially, most of the stuff that really gets under the fingernails, they didn't take especially seriously - and that changes everything. Oh my goodness. Many, many things that fall flat when taken at face value (and god knows in college we played the whole thing straight) are sort of amusing when it's clear the performers are in on the joke.

So on balance, I wasn't sorry L made me watch it (and I've had one frakking line stuck in my head since then: "When it's East-West and the money's sky-high ..."; probably doesn't help that my street is just off East-West Highway). :-) One thing, though, just sent me into a flying rage. (Okay, two things, but one of them was Tim Rice's speech introducing everyone, and see above re: my irrational issues with Tim Rice.) The first act ends with the Russian having won the world chess championship and fallen in love with his opponent's second (who also happens to be the opponent's estranged girlfriend), and contemplating defection to the West. He sings "Anthem", a really beautiful song:
No man, no madness, though their sad powers may prevail
Can possess, conquer my country's heart; they rise to fail.
She is eternal; long before nations' lines were drawn,
When no flags flew, when no armies stood, my land was born.
And you ask me why I love her
Through wars, death, and despair?
She is the constant -
We who don't care -
And you ask me, will I leave her -
But how?
I cross over borders, but I'm still there now.


How can I leave her?
Where would I start?
Let man's petty nations tear themselves apart -
My land's only borders lie around my heart.
Nice, right? It's actually a lovely enough song that it's difficult to do badly; even a mediocre singer can be quite moving, provided he has all the notes. And Josh Groban is, as you know, a fine singer - he hit it all the way out of the park by the eighth bar. But then. Then, after the instrumental, they brought the chorus in to go "ahh" behind the soloist for the end of the number. This annoyed me, but I could live with it. Stylistic differences; whatever.

What lit me all on fire was, over the last few lines of the song, what did they project onto the screen but a big Soviet flag. A SOVIET FLAG. WHAT. NO. I mean, seriously. Seriously. Did they not listen to the words? Tim Rice was in on this production and he wrote the words. WHAT?! When the man sings "I cross over borders, but I'm still there now," he's not talking about the Soviet Union! That's not where "there" is! I could just about handle the red gels on the lights over the chorus and the orchestra, but the hammer and sickle on the JumboTron are right out. "Let man's petty nations tear themselves apart," he sings. "My land's only borders lie around my heart." THIS IS NOT A SONG ABOUT RUSSIA. IT IS IN POINT OF FACT A SONG ABOUT NOT-RUSSIA. DUDES.

26 August 2010

except it's played in theatres that I get very weary in

Packing out now, and will have to find something to do with myself between leaving the B&B and going in for The Winter's Tale. In the lobby on Tuesday afternoon an usher approached me with an economic impact survey, so I've spent the last few minutes collating my receipts, and good grief I've spent a lot of money on the past few days. But on the other hand, I am on vacation, and as week-long vacations go, it's probably actually not as pricey as it could be.

Next year's season is announced: in the big house, The Merry Wives of Windsor, which I will probably be in favor of, depending on the cast; Camelot, which I saw some years ago and have no reason to suppose this isn't a remount of the same production, so there's no need; Twelfth Night, which I'll probably see no matter the cast; and The Misanthrope, which I may need to be talked into, because I do have to be in the right frame of mind for Molière. In the proscenium, Jesus Christ Superstar, which I love, but no, thank you; The Grapes of Wrath, which I have mixed feelings about; and The Homecoming, about which I know nothing. In the barn, Richard III, which I will probably see, and Titus Andronicus, which I will not. And in the black box, The Little Years, which I imagine is a new Canadian play; Shakespeare's Will, which I imagine is just what it sounds like; and Hosanna, which I imagine is a one-man or -woman show of some kind. This is a season in which I am grabbed by three shows, maybe four (Twelfth Night, Richard, Merry Wives, possibly Misanthrope or Grapes of Wrath but not likely both and possibly neither). Especially given that this year's costs include finally finding the DVDs of the Gilbert & Sullivan productions from the 80's that I haven't been able to buy separately before, it looks like next year will be a much less expensive trip. :-D

(much later)

Well, The Winter's Tale was outstanding. The guy we saw as Brutus last year was Leontes, and he was just so good - the standout in an all-around excellent cast. Best bit of all: at the very end, as everyone has left, Leontes and Hermione are left alone at opposite ends of a bare stage, and they step towards each other and as they're reaching for each other the lights go to black. It was so perfect, after the whole play making such a row about his accusations and her trial and death being so public, that finally at the very end of the play they get a moment that's private. ~love~

25 August 2010

but I did find the yarn shop.

The trouble with this town is that it takes less than one day to exhaust everything there is to do that isn't live theatre. (It may take a little longer if you throw in the various tours they run - backstage, costume warehouse, and so on. I've done these, and they don't change.) There are two streets with shops on them. The most determined shopper can go out after breakfast and only be done with one of these by the time the house opens for the matinee; but then there's time to kill between shows, and that means you'll have done all the shopping before the evening performance, and then what will you do tomorrow? I got in yesterday just in time for the matinee, but I foolishly looked in a couple of places after dinner, which meant I had used up some of today's diversion. Thank god I'm leaving tomorrow, although I have no idea what I'm going to do between checkout time and the 2pm curtain. Last year I was traveling with a pregnant woman, which meant (a) everything happened slower and (b) there was enforced rest time. This year - I don't remember what I did with my free time the last time I traveled alone, is the trouble.

It was a full day in the Big House today, and what did I tell you about the big splashy productions? In the afternoon it was The Tempest, one of the marquee shows - arguably the marquee show, as the poster shot for the whole season is of Mr. Christopher Plummer as Prospero. And it was fine - well-executed, good-looking, etc., etc., but it didn't really grab me. Well, it didn't grab me the way I wished it had done. It's not a play I'm nuts about, but I wasn't nuts about Pericles, either, to take one example, and I liked that one better. I have come to conclude that this may be in large part Des McAnuff's fault; I've liked the big splashy marquee productions under other artistic directors (with the signal exception of Richard Monette's Hamlet with Paul Gross, which I feel like I liked better than this, but it may have improved with the passage of time), but this had a lot of choices in it that I wouldn't have made myself and, more importantly, didn't especially care for once he'd made them. In fairness, the more I think about it, the more I think these were design choices rather than directorial ones, so okay, but again, artistic director!, I'm sure he's a more powerful member of that artistic team than the director of some other production is w/r/t his or her designers; and also, this is more true of As You Like It, about which more below. I just - I don't know, maybe it's the play, which is kind of a mess, when you really think about it, a mess held together by a couple of good lines and the dream speech and the epilogue. It also didn't help that seated behind me was an elderly couple of the sort that talks to each other during the play because they seem really to believe that other people can't hear them. (Either that or they don't care, but they were whispering, so I think they thought they were making an effort.) Example: Prospero has some lines about how Miranda was three or four when they left Milan, and they've been living on the island for twelve years. From behind me, the husband to his wife: "That makes her fifteen." Later: enter Trinculo. From behind me, the wife to the husband: "This is the comic relief." Fortunately they shut up with enough glaring and an even worse violation from someone another row or so behind them. (Prospero: "... so take my daughter." Boor in audience, not quite out loud: "Please!") Oh! But listen, the thing I liked most about this show was that Mr. Christopher Plummer's first real entrance was up the center aisle during a speech of Miranda's, which he answered immediately, meaning there was no chance for the audience to applaud him the moment he appeared! He sneaked right in and cheated them out of it! It pleased me immensely. He did get an immediate standing ovation when the thing was over, just for being Christopher Plummer, but that's easier for me to forgive - particularly as he had the first curtain call, which meant the standing O persisted for everyone in the cast, which was nice. Side note: Ariel was dynamite, and got a big roar of applause when she came out between Miranda and Prospero Again, and I was glad. And the last bit of the curtain call was everyone else was gone and just when you think it's going to be Prospero left alone on a bare stage, it turns out to be him and Ariel, which also pleased me. Back to the play: Prospero has a good epilogue, and Plummer did a nice job with it. This shouldn't be a surprise, but I think it's worth noting.

In the evening was As You Like It. I think this is my favorite of the comedies - have I said that before? or have I said it about the Dream? If I did, I shouldn't have, because it's this one - and this was at least the fourth time I've seen it here, along with at least two other productions that I can think of off the top of my head. This may have been my least favorite of the half-dozen, which is a little disappointing; it's not that there was anything seriously wrong with it, but as I said above, that wretched McAnuff makes or allows other people to make choices that not only would I not have made, but that once made and executed I found (variously) odd, unsatisfying, and even distracting. This one was set in a sort of twenties style, which I wouldn't complain about at all as far as costume choices. So Duke Frederick's henchmen were all in military-style uniform (Frederick himself appears to have done his usurping in a military coup - again, so far, no complaints), and some of them had their faces covered in featureless masks. Why? No idea. It may have been for some mundane reason like those actors were going to be used later as forest lords attending Duke Senior, but that's highly unlikely, as actors in nameless roles are reused all the time - and even in named ones, as when the actor playing Charles the wrestler, whose face we could see fine, appeared later as William the dude who's in love with Audrey, whose face ditto. So the faceless-henchman thing was odd. There were also, from time to time, people standing in decorative places on the stage with flowerpots for heads. I mean they had flowerpot headdresses - flowering bushes, actually, when they were in the forest - that covered their faces and rested on their shoulders like Lion King puppets. One of Duke Frederick's uniformed henchmen had the head of a wolf. (Or a fox. He wasn't prominent enough for it to be easy to tell.) In the forest there were people with animal heads as well. A person with the head of a stag. Why not? When Oliver comes to tell the girls about Orlando's tussle with the lioness, out came a woman, wearing a slinky dress - and with the head of a lioness. I think the idea must have been that the random-headdress people were supposed to illustrate themes, but it seemed incompletely conceived to me, this ... well, this surrealist concept, and I wish if they weren't going to be able to do it in a way that made sense (at least some sense - surrealism, after all), they wouldn't have done it at all. In other execution issues, an awful lot of this cast had enunciation issues an awful lot of the time, which really is disappointing in the Other Marquee Production. This show had Ms. Lucy Peacock as Audrey - twenty years after I first saw her as Rosalind, holy crap - and the difference between her projection and articulation and that of a lot of the younger cast members was really startling. And some of the older ones! Mr. Brent Carver was very good as Jaques, but he's got quite a soft voice these days, and I'd like it if he sang out a little. It was a good thing I already knew the play, I mean to say, or I'd have missed a lot of it. The two guys sitting next to me were respectively bored and very frustrated by this production, and left in the second intermission. Which brings me to the two directing choices I was baffled by: first, they killed Adam! Correct me if I'm wrong, but normally, doesn't Orlando bring Adam to the forest court and the forest lords feed them both and Adam is revived and this is, you know, a happy play? Yeah, no, tonight, Orlando brings etc. etc. feed them both and then Adam dies. They wrap him up in the picnic blanket as a shroud and a minute later Orlando comes in and scatters his ashes (or scatters some dirt in his grave; it wasn't clear what he was scattering, but it was very clear Adam was dead), and ~intermission.~ What?! And second, by ~intermission~ I mean ~first intermission~. The second one came after the bit where Orlando and Rosalind-as-Ganymede fight. 'Twas a puzzlement. So okay, the first baffling choice, I don't actually have a compelling reason to disagree with, and I didn't disagree as much as boggle at the unexpectedness of it. So, well done there, in fact, Des. But the second one? FFS, this thing was a decent length with one intermission; why did you need two? The Tempest got by with one. Two Gents got by with one. Maybe this play ran longer and collided with some sort of union regulation? Maybe because of the musicians, who are in a different union than the actors (presuming they're hired as musicians, and not as actors playing musicians, because after all many actors have musical training)? Peter Pan had musicians, and they only had one intermission. If this play was longer than all the rest and had to have two intermissions for union-rules reasons, doesn't that maybe make you think that some of the singing and dancing could be cut back a bit? There was really a lot of it. I'm just saying.

(Rosalind has a terrific epilogue, too, and this actress's delivery of it left me sort of meh. Again, probably not entirely fair, because I loved the epilogue in the 1996 production so much. It's not just the actress in either case, of course, but the director who tells her how he wants it done; in 1996 (wow, I didn't realize it was that long ago), she gave the speech exactly right as far as I'm concerned, and Orlando was still on the stage waiting for her, and the whole thing was just beautiful - so it's probably not fair to compare other productions' epilogues to that one, because I'll always find them wanting. Nevertheless! This one was only medium. She did make a lovely curtsey. And, hey, one of the things she does is charge us to like as much of the play as please us. So I have. [g])

24 August 2010

not forgetting the Ontario Pork Congress

Found town of Stratford much as I had left it. Am booked into single room in B&B, to be honest only slightly larger than the room I grew up in - which tells you how small my room is at my parents' house, really.

Two plays today. In the afternoon it was The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which I'd never seen, in the Studio Theatre, where I'd never been. I liked them both very much. The older I get (I think that's the variable), the more I like the small, cozy productions. Not that the big expensive splashy ones aren't well done (and not that the tiny ones aren't expensive, come to that), because they are, but it doesn't seem to matter as much. There's even a degree - and this is completely unfair, just let me say that up front - to which I can occasionally suppose the casts of the bigger marquee shows don't care as much. Like I said: totally unfair! Last year's Cyrano de Bergerac was enormous and stupid expensive (I haven't seen the balance sheet, but knowing what I know about the production values* up here, you know what I'm saying?) Anyway, Two Gents pleased me greatly. There was a bit in it where one of the servants had a speech that I remember almost word for word from the Comedy of Errors; I'll have to look it up and see if it was these guys borrowing material from another play, or if Shakespeare himself reused some of his own stuff.

This evening was Peter Pan, and it was pretty good. The audience was full of kids, which is as it should be. (For all productions of Peter Pan, that is, except the one I saw at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake a number of years ago, in which Peter - as played by Tom McCamus, who you will agree is not and cannot pass for a little boy, and who didn't try - rather than being a boy who refuses to grow up, was a man who has refused to grow up. Put a whole different spin on the thing, which I'm a little sorry I can only remember in vague snatches of detail and what my parents remember more clearly, because I was only about twelve at the time. I remember that the scene where Mrs. Darling comes into the nursery and finds the children's beds empty was not charming at all; she screamed, and ever since then I've really been much more on her side than anyone else's from that point in the story onwards - a nice moment in the most recent Peter Pan movie, incidentally, for values of "nice", I suppose, remember?, when the children are flying away and the voice-over is talking about how wonderful it would be if the parents could get there in time, and the film cuts to a slow-motion shot of the parents running hell-for-leather down the corridor because Nana has told them Something Is Happening, and the looks on their faces are, if you ask me, exactly right - anyway. I also remember this broad-shouldered, deep-voiced Peter Pan, and how strange that was. And I remember the scene at the end, when Peter comes back to the house and finds Wendy's daughter in the nursery instead of Wendy; Wendy says "I grew up, Peter," and he says "You promised you wouldn't," and I can still hear him saying it. And when Wendy is gone he pulls a knife and only just stops himself from killing the daughter in her bed! This was a dark play.) This one - tonight, not the Niagara-on-the-Lake one - seems to have been the Barrie original? With a Barrie-character narrator, as well, who doubled as Hook, which I liked fine. (A nice moment, for many more values of "nice", when the action returns to the nursery and Mrs. Darling is waiting for the children to come home, and Barrie-the-narrator says "Some people like Peter best, and some people like Wendy best." [nods toward Mrs. Darling] "I like her best." I mean, on the one hand, of course you did, J.M.; on another hand, did you really?, now, be honest; but the point is, see above re: my being on her side.) It was kid-friendly and hammy as all get-out, and while there was singing, it was not the musical, which is just as well.

A thing I always wish about Peter Pan, and probably always will, is this: I wish we didn't actually know the family name. I really wish the kids only thought their name was Darling, because that's what they were always called - "Wendy, darling", don't you see? It even works with the parents, because of course they'd call each other George, darling and Mary, darling. But, alas, the (more or less omniscient?) narrator calls them Mr. and Mrs. Darling, and I think George is called George Darling in some work-related capacity, so I'll have to live with the fact that this really is their name and not further evidence of how young these kids really are and how they're confused. Too bad. (I know it's my inner child getting confused between Peter Pan and 101 Dalmatians, where - isn't that the one? - the humans are named Darling and John Dear. Maybe it's Lady and the Tramp? Anyway, some other Disney movie with a dog. I'd still like it if it were true.)

*Method costuming, for example, which is to say authenticity is essential and money is little if any object. (When they did The Mikado they sent their costume buyers to Japan to buy silk which they then had hand-painted. And then a guy danced and sweated and got greasepaint all on it for thirty-nine weeks (or however long). Could the audience tell it was real hand-painted Japanese silk? Of course not. But, darling, guess what? Balenciaga it was. [Extra points for getting that reference.]) Fortunately, this attitude - toward props and sets and decoration as well as costumes, by the way - that everything is better if you throw more money at it does not lead them to neglect things like blocking, pacing, and other performance elements that can't be as tangibly improved by a bigger budget. Put another way: of course one would much rather see excellent performances in a show with insufficient funds than mediocre performances in a show with unlimited funds. Around here, nine times in ten you get excellent or at any rate very good performances in shows with more or less unlimited funds; it's just that the more of those I see, the less sure I am how I feel about the unlimited funds, no matter how good the performances are.

18 August 2010

dear everyone


Really. "Ad nauseum" is wrong. It really is. This is not a matter, for once, of getting too prescriptive for one's own good, or usage determining correctness, or anything like that, because Latin? is not a living language. *AD NAUSEUM. AD NAUSEAM. I swear I'm not lying to you.

This has been brought to you by YET ANOTHER professionally-published article with "ad nauseum" in it and my wondering why the everloving $@#! copy editors aren't doing their jobs anymore.

14 August 2010

post hoc

My apartment has many outlets and switches, of course, and thus many fuses. But these seem to be divided into two zones. The northern zone includes both bedrooms and half the living room; the southern zone includes the rest of the living room and "dining room" and the kitchen. Last night the power came back on in the northern zone, and only halfway or so in the southern zone. I unplugged the refrigerator and ran a heavy-duty extension cord to an outlet that was working, in the interest of at least getting the contents cold again as soon as possible.

But this morning, my internet is working, which is the standard for brownout-vs-full-power in the northern zone; and my kettle boils water, which is the standard in the southern zone. I'm going to tentatively say my power is back on to stay.

Course it's only now that I discover my cable is down, but shockingly, that bothers me a lot less.

12 August 2010

pepco had the gall to send me a bill today.

Oh, let me tell you about my summer.

Three weeks ago Sunday, there was a forecast for a storm to come in, with a tornado warning. About 3:00 in the afternoon, the winds picked up a bit; and then the power went out; and then it rained like hell, with the dark sky and the blowing leaves and everything. That night I stayed in my own apartment (as did my house guest, who was on his way to take the bar exam - fortunately not the next day, but two days later); Monday night, I took refuge with a friend across the street, who had not lost power at all.

The lights came back on Tuesday morning.

(Look, I know it was a fast-moving and very nasty storm. Four people were killed in that storm. I went to the funeral of one of them. I'm not losing perspective here: there are things that suck much more than the power being out for two nights. In fact I didn't even lose anything in my freezer - they said the contents of a full freezer are safe for up to 48 hours, and my power was only out for 38 hours, so. I'm just saying.)

This was, mind you, after this past February, when Snowmageddon deposited two and a half feet of snow on a Friday and then another ten or so inches the following Wednesday. That time, I lost power while I was asleep Friday night, stayed with one friend Saturday night and another Sunday and Monday before my power came back on Tuesday.

And before this morning, when another even nastier (but smaller and evidently less dangerous) storm came in and knocked out the power again. This time they hope to have everyone's power back on by midnight tomorrow, but last I heard they hadn't even assigned a crew to my particular outage, so who knows.

My issue is this: why is EVERYTHING a multi-day event with Pepco? It's because there are so many trees in Montgomery County, apparently. The trees fall in the storms and knock down the wires and cleaning up the fallen trees and the downed wires takes all kinds of extra time that BG&E, DelMarVa Power, Dominion Virginia Power, et al. don't have to deal with. Fine. But what I don't know is, why do the trees always fall on the same lines? I get that it would be prohibitively expensive to bury all the wires. (Bury ALL the wires?) But if we could bury the ones that persistently get knocked down and take whole days to restore, that would be a huge step, wouldn't it? That's if we can't get someone to trim the damn trees to a point where they won't knock down the lines in the first place.

Tonight, my neighbors who have previously taken me in as a refugee are variously without power themselves, or are not at home, or are already hosting company, or still have cats. So I thought about it and wrung my hands for a bit and finally said SOD IT and have checked in to a hotel. (Paying for parking, too.) And I was planning on walking out for some dinner, but now that it's raining again I think I'll order a pizza and let someone else deal with it. (And with the fact that only one elevator in this joint is working.)

23 September 2009

me and the Stratford Festival

My usual Stratford companion, C, and I disagreed in the car on Sunday about a couple of points in our shared history -- specifically, whether she had been with me when I saw The Two Noble Kinsmen (I said yes, she said no) and whether I had ever seen Titus Andronicus (she said yes, I said no). So this evening I looked in the Archival Box O Programs to research the matter -- I was right on both questions, as it happens, but she claims the hormones associated with being seven months pregnant are addling her mind, so she can be excused. :-) Anyway, though, for a giggle I wrote down what I'd seen up there each year so next time I wonder I can answer the question with keystrokes rather than aging original documents.

Understand that I grew up with videos (in many cases recorded from the CBC, back when we still got the CBC as far from Canada as I grew up) of the Stratford productions of The Mikado (1982), The Gondoliers (1983), Iolanthe (1984), The Pirates of Penzance (1985), and As You Like It (also early 80's some time), so for a long time I kept after my parents to take us up there so we could see some stuff live. They'd gone a number of times before I was born, so they were happy to resume when they judged us old enough. In 1990 my brother was ten and that was good enough for them.

  • The Merry Wives of Windsor - with Colm Feore as Frank Ford, and you might be surprised to learn that I remember him; there was a bit where Ford takes a flying leap at the wicker basket where he thinks Falstaff is hiding, and physical comedy is always funny, right? So there you go. I don't remember a lot else about this production. I thought it was William Hutt as Falstaff, but the program tells me it was James Blendick.
  • Julius Caesar - with Colm Feore as Cassius, as it happens, and Brian Bedford as Brutus. My father is a big ol' Brian Bedford fanboy, and I remember that he was really looking forward to this performance, and found it something of a letdown. Bedford seemed to stumble over a lot of his lines, and I suspect it was not a character choice. Ah well. This production had a great deal of really sloppy stage blood, so the smearing-up of their hands was particularly gory. (We went to a post-show discussion or some such thing where they talked about the laundry difficulties of that production.) And then when Scott Wentworth as Antony came in and shook all their hands, and did that left-hand clasp thing with each of them as well, he ended up with his right arm bloody all the way up to the elbow. It was very effective.
  • As You Like It - with Lucy Peacock as Rosalind, in a very beautiful production that sets Arden more or less in the woodier parts of Quebec.
  • Guys and Dolls - I remember this being not too bad. Big expensive showy production, I'm sure it looked fantastic and was technically unimpeachable but not all that exciting. Certainly not so memorable, is what. :-)
1991, we apparently didn't go. 1992
  • Romeo and Juliet - with Megan Follows as Juliet, Antoni Cimolino (now General Director of the Festival) as Romeo, Colm Feore - these were the Colm Feore years - as Mercutio, and Barbara Bryne as the Nurse, whom I can still hear screaming "scurvy knave!" This production was very beautiful, set in Italy in the 20's, with lots of white silk flowing about the place. It's available on DVD, and one of these days I might have to buy it.
  • HMS Pinafore - This I remember being good, but not great, not up to the level that the 80's productions had been. It was musically sound and the dancing was good, but somehow it wasn't the same. In retrospect, this is because by the early 90's the spark had gone out of everyone's affair with Gilbert and Sullivan, but I wouldn't recognize this for a few more years. Stay tuned.
  • Gypsy - This I remember being good. Good Rose, good Herbie, good Louise, good dancers. I don't know if I've ever seen a weak production of this show, actually, but let's not make the mistake of thinking the show is foolproof. (That'd be Guys and Dolls, above. [g])
  • The Mikado - this was a remount of the 1982 production, which would not in itself be a bad thing, but it had some of the same people in the same roles, which, ack. Actually the same woman reprising her Pitti-Sing was fine, because she still had it, but the same woman reprising her Katisha, ack, she'd gained about forty pounds which wouldn't have been a thing except that she had no air left. She was singing at a volume an order of magnitude below everyone else. Disappointing. See above re: spark, G&S, 90's. But did we learn?
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream - with Colm Feore as Oberon and Lucy Peacock as Titania. I remember the fairy costumes involved a lot of swirly-colored spandex, and Puck had (unsurprisingly) wild hair, and almost nothing else about the production except that it was good. I'd seen the play once before, at the RSC when I was eleven, so I had something to compare this to, at least, and I liked this one better. (The RSC one had a bicycle hanging from a tree, and at least one character (other than the young lovers, on whom it might have made sense) in pajamas, but it did include a moment I still remember where Puck has put the nectar on Demetrius' eyes and Demetrius wakes up and seems about to turn toward Lysander instead of Helena, and Puck has to strain with all his magical might to make sure he hasn't fucked it all up again. Good stuff. But anyway, that was the RSC in 1988.)
  • The Importance of Being Earnest - was this the first time I'd ever seen this play? Might have been. Colm Feore as Jack Worthing and Lucy Peacock as Gwendolyn, and wtf, the two of them were everywhere in those days.
  • The Pirates of Penzance - this was a very fun production of the sort where there's a company putting on Pirates and then some snobbish English types come in and make their production better, a framing device, I guess, not quite a play-within-a-play, and it was very good, exactly what everyone's affair with G&S needed (though as it turned out it was more of a last hurrah than any recharging or anything). Colm Feore as the Pirate King, and this is getting silly.
  • Alice Through the Looking Glass - Sarah Polley was very big at the time on account of being on some Avonlea-related TV show, I guess?, so they put this on for her. It was good. Helps to like the Carroll stories, I guess. :-) Lots of fun costuming and over-the-top stuff, because, well.
  • The Comedy of Errors - Stephen Ouimette and Tom McCamus as the Dromii, and manalive, what a pair those two are. Also, Adriana was pregnant. (Apparently she had no understudy, as this was one of the smaller productions, and along about the end of the season she had the baby earlier than she'd expected and some small number of weeks' worth of tickets had to be refunded. I learned this from the bios in the following year's programs. Always hire an understudy!)
  • The School for Husbands/The Imaginary Cuckold - ... about which I remember nothing.
  • The Gondoliers - this was a remount of the 1983 production, and again had one or two of the same people; I think maybe only the Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro, and they were still funny?, but they were more than ten years older, I mean, dude, and so even though there weren't the same kind of gasping problems there'd been in The Mikado, it just wasn't the same. We finally learned our lesson. Fortunately, so did they; there hasn't been another G&S on the playbill since, I don't think.
  • The Boy Friend - the show that made Julie Andrews! It was fine. Fine singing, very good dancing. Frothy.
  • Amadeus - with Stephen Ouimette as Mozart and Brian Bedford as Salieri, and oh my god, it was brilliant. Brilliant. I can't, it was all those years ago, and I can still see Bedford throwing the blanket off his shoulders and standing up out of the wheelchair, and he was awesome, awesome, and do you guys even know how good Stephen Ouimette is?, I mean, of course you do, because you've seen Slings & Arrows, and gah. Gah. Brilliant.
  • The Country Wife - ... about which I remember nothing.
  • Macbeth - Scott Wentworth and Seana McKenna as the Macbeths, and they were good, but what I really remember from this is the Macduff family; Wayne Best as Macduff, who when he got the news that his family was gone put his hand over his mouth and stood frozen for probably a full minute, which is a long damn time when nothing else is happening; and the family, which, oh my god. In addition to Lady Macduff and Young Macduff, who are in the text, there were two more children, a boy and a girl, who (obviously) didn't speak. And the four of them are together when the murderers come, and of course it's terrible, the murderers kill the older boy and rape Lady Macduff and kill her and break the younger boy's neck and through all of this, the fighting and the yelling, the little girl has been down at the front of the stage clutching her rag doll and watching the whole thing in mute terror, and the murderers don't notice her. And they've killed the mother and the two boys and they're leaving, and the little girl turns her back to the scene, i.e. turns to face the audience, and whimpers, and the murderers stop and look at her and look at each other and look back at her and step towards her and blackout. OH MY GOD YOU GUYS, that was the first time I can remember hearing a whole audience wibble all at the same time. Not that I had the word "wibble" in my lexicon at that time, but that's exactly what we all did. Listen to me, it was fourteen years ago and I have goosebumps again from describing it to you.
1996, the first year without my family; we couldn't get all four schedules together, so I went by myself.
  • The Merchant of Venice - what I remember about this production was the end of the trial scene. Portia has done her lawyer thing and persecuted Shylock, and everyone else has cleared out, and just as she's leaving two guys in black shirts come on and notice her and stop on their way through the square to applaud her. And her face absolutely falls - the actress did a nice non-verbal "oh, shit" before she ran off. (They always seem to exit running, don't they.)
  • As You Like It - Jonathan Crombie as Orlando, and I believe the formerly-pregnant Adriana as Rosalind, who did the best job I think I've seen with the epilogue. Also this production had a much younger Jaques than usual, contemporary with Orlando and Oliver, which makes Jaques a whole different guy, doesn't it.
  • King Lear - with William Hutt as Lear; need I say more? But I will: this had a very young Fool, which I didn't know was unusual, but wow, was he good, and in any other production he'd have got whoops and hollers, but he was opposite William Hutt, so, you know. And when that man came out for his curtain call, everyone in the building -- and it was a full house, because this was at the height of the exact opposite of a recession and it was William fucking Hutt as King Lear -- was on their feet between one clap of your hands and the next. It was nuts.
  • The Music Man - with a Harold Hill who could sing, who knew you could do that? Dude sang and danced the hell out of the part, and the whole thing looked and sounded and was fantastic. Hurrah!
1997 - the first year C came along.
  • Romeo and Juliet - with Jonathan Crombie as Romeo (several years after Megan Follows played Juliet, that's right [g]), and he was very good; the rest of the production wasn't as good as the previous one, except that the death scene was excellent. Romeo takes the poison, right, believing Juliet is dead, and he says how quick the drug is working, and he starts to slide to the floor, and then Juliet stirs, and the audience gasps (again, unanimously), and of course it's too late for him, and he's looking like oh god and helplessly finish his collapse as she comes around, facing the other way so she doesn't even see him there at first. (I later learned that something not unlike this occurred in the death scene in Baz Luhrmann's R&J? Except she woke up in time and they had an eyes-meeting oh-shit moment before he died? I still haven't seen it, and I'm not sure which I'd prefer, but not having seen that before I saw this, I was utterly shocked and thought it was a brilliant, brilliant choice and awfully well executed. Goosebumps, I've got, though not of Macduff-murder-scene proportions.)
  • Richard III - Stephen Ouimette as Richard, in a small, odd production. I don't remember a ton about it. There was a good bit with Richard dragging a cape out of the way, which had been covering the whole stage, so that a flunky of some kind could approach where he was reclining without stepping on it.
  • The Taming of the Shrew - Lucy Peacock as Katherine. There was some on-stage business with raw eggs, which I remember being funny. They solved the massive problems of the play by adding a bit after the end where Petruchio, having won the bet, splits the winnings with Katherine, according to what were obviously the terms of their deal.
  • Oedipus Rex - done in the classical style, with big ol' robes and face masks; hey, they've got a place that's more or less an indoor amphitheatre, why not? What I remember in particular is that Oedipus had a terrific gold mask and headdress and robe when he was king, and then after his fall the next time he appeared it was all more or less mustard-colored, right, the luster had literally gone out of it. Also lower platform sandals and smaller shoulder-frames than he'd had before. Ah, the platforms; everyone was on platform sandals of pretty impressive height, so that a) Oedipus could literally be lowered, like I said, and also b) the two daughters at the end, who were on plain flat sandals and in robes with no infrastructure, would line up next to everyone else like children. Their last line was (in unison) "The dead are free from pain." (Goosebumps!) And there was no curtain call; the Chorus leader came out and gave a nod and that was it. One imagines everyone else was completely exhausted, and plus it wouldn't fit with the period concept, I guess.
  • Camelot - it was in a curtain speech by the actress about to play Guinevere that I learned Princess Diana had died. (She said something about "the accident in Paris last night", and while everyone was applauding politely I turned to the complete stranger next to me - C doesn't care for musicals, so she was amusing herself elsewhere - and asked what had happened in Paris the night before; I'd made it all the way to the theatre without seeing a headline anywhere, apparently.) Gave a different spin to the show, is what. Tom McCamus as King Arthur, and they dressed him in tunics a little too big in the shoulder and a little too long, while the dude playing Lancelot had costumes a little too snug and a little too short, which nicely emphasized the difference in their sizes and relative bulk, and made Arthur overwhelmed and Lancelot all big and strong and heroic.
  • Waiting for Godot - Stephen Ouimette and Tom McCamus as the tramps, and the whole thing was awesome. See above re: the pair of them.
  • Dracula - a chamber musical, which was meh.
  • Julius Caesar - ah, these were the Benedict Campbell years, I remember now. He'd played Oedipus and done a hell of a job, and I believe he was Brutus here, and okay, sure, the production was fine, but in this case for the besmearing-their-hands they all reached into a hidden pouch on the upstage side of Caesar's costume and pulled out handfuls of purply-red string, for entrails or something, and my gracious, it didn't work at all.
  • A Man for All Seasons - Ben Campbell again, as Henry, and he was exactly right in the part, and I believe it was a very good More (but who could be as good as Paul Scofield?), but I really remember Brad Rudy as Everyman, a character missing from the film, and wow, was he good. With a bit of a northern accent, as I recall, which, if I'm right about that, was a nice touch. His last line: "If we should bump into one another - recognize me." Goosebumps again!
  • The Winter's Tale - a charming small production. Loved it.
  • Man of La Mancha - a big good-looking production, with a dynamite Sancho Panza (Bruce Dow, who was playing Pseudolus in Forum this year until he was injured).
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream - from the pictures it looks like there was a lot of spandex in these fairy costumes, too. Huh. Also a dynamite cast - Seana McKenna as Titania, Brian Bedford as Bottom, and the young guy who'd been Lear's terrific Fool as Puck, none of which I had recalled. What I remember about this production was that Peter Quince was a young guy who was just about beside himself during the play, and eventually couldn't stand it, you could see him losing his shit by the second. ("Ninus' Tomb!") And also that Oberon got pretty snarky with Puck when giving him the fixing-the-mess-you've-made instructions. Pronounced "Lysander" very slowly and carefully. Big laugh line. :-)
  • West Side Story - I remember it being very good, but I don't remember anything about it in particular.
  • Fiddler on the Roof - with Brent Carver as an unusually quiet Tevye. A very good production, but it doesn't hurt that I love this show.
  • As You Like It - Lucy Peacock as Rosalind again, and you're reading that right, yes, ten years later. Ah well, I don't remember anything especial about this production, but if it's the third-strongest As You Like It they've done at Stratford in ten years, well, it's still an awfully good show.
  • Medea - Seana McKenna as Medea, and damn. She was good, and the three women of the chorus were tremendous. There's a moment between when she goes in for the last time and when they realize what she's about to do in there, omg frozen horror, and then they all fling themselves at the door screaming, and they must have given themselves bruises night after night.
  • The Importance of Being Earnest - the four-act version. Apparently Oscar wrote this four-act play with more depth and, well, earnestness than the one we're accustomed to, and the producer convinced him to cut the third of the four acts, and based on the reception of the three-act version, said "Well? Wasn't I right?" ... He was. :-P
  • The Three Musketeers - ... about which I remember nothing. (From the program, it seems that this was a family-type production - there's a kid with a storybook in the poster shot, and the three - actually four, of course - musketeers behind him. Seems to be Ben Campbell as ... Porthos, probably, but it could be any of them, I suppose.
  • Hamlet - with Paul Gross, not that I had the faintest idea who he was at the time. Ben Campbell as Claudius, incidentally. The performances were solid, but the production was odd. Hamlet was given to tantrums, which didn't seem to line up with what I'd have thought would be described as 'melancholy'. And it tried to make Claudius more sympathetic than usual, which is an interesting idea, but turned out to remove most of the conflict since they didn't take the additional step of giving him a good reason for his actions - Hamlet was temperamental but not dangerous. (I understand that the recent David Tennant ~ Patrick Stewart version handled this concept better. Those TV stars and their Hamlets, I tell you what.)
  • it was this year that my friend saw Titus Andronicus, by the way, while I was at either Fiddler or Musketeers. Hee.
In 2001, we were intending to go toward the end of September, and that turned out to be a difficult time to make plans to leave and return to the United States, so we didn't. 2002
  • Threepenny Opera - I'm not as bonkers about this show as (a) my friend is and (b) I am about some others, but I like it fine. (It's Brecht. He and I have never really gotten along very well.) This production was good. The performances were solid, even if the singing was (to be honest) weak, except for Lucy Brown -- she nailed that "Sorry" number right between the eyes, yes she did. Part of the trouble is that the opening number is (obviously) "Mack the Knife," and (equally obviously) it's not Bobby Darin singing it, ever, which is a thing for me -- in my mind, there's no other way to do that song. So from the very beginning, I always feel like the show is misguided, even when it's nothing of the sort.
  • King Lear - I. Love. This. Play. Thing is I won't ever forget the standing O for William Hutt. This production had less of that, I'm afraid, but I don't know how many people in the audience were making the comparison, because this one had Christopher Plummer as Lear. He got a round of applause at the beginning of the show, which I'm afraid always irritates me. (It's not his fault, of course; it was the audience I found irksome.) He was good; he might even have been great. But he wasn't William Hutt; he didn't make the hair on your arms stand on end. The Fool was good. The daughters, the bad ones, were good. The sons-in-law were fine. The Gloucester family was fine -- Edmund was a little better, and Edgar was a little annoying. Cordelia, unfortunately, was entirely unsympathetic. She came off, to us at least, as very smug -- which is all, all wrong. All wrong. I'll tell you who was really good, was Benedict Campbell as Kent. Kent's a good part anyway (one of Shakespeare's pantheon, headed by Horatio, of Awfully Nice Guys), but in Campbell's hands it became freakin' terrific. My friend lists him among those who can Do No Wrong.
  • Henry VI, part A - I say part A because it was the first of two parts, rather than the first of three. Henry VI is long and (in large part) dreary, so this director did a good deal of slicing and dicing and, mercifully, removing of Re-Expository Monologues (which, as some of you know, I loathe). This thing was subtitled "Revenge in France," which is a shame, but what can you do. It was uniformly excellent. Whole bunch of characters in these histories, and to the extent that we needed to keep track of who was who, I felt like we were able to do so. Plus, Michael Therriault (as Henry VI) and Seana McKenna (as Queen Margaret) can Do No Wrong, and Thom Marriott (as Richard, Duke of York) seems to be headed in that direction. We saw McKenna as Medea two years ago, and that production left me ragged and drained; I saw her as Lady Macbeth some time before that, and it was similarly impressive. Therriault is younger, but I've never seen him give a bad performance -- bleedin' fantastic. All in all, the fact that the girl who played Joan of Arc drives my friend right up the wall was a minor point.
  • Henry VI, part B - Every bit as good as the first part. Better, in a lot of ways. A marathon of Shakespeare histories, though -- damn.
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel - Not the musical that was nominated for some Tonys a few years back; this is a different play altogether, although there is music in it. We decided at the last minute to see this one, on the recommendation of my friend's parents, and couldn't think why they'd been so all over it. It was inoffensive, but about as substantial as candy-glass. Not that we minded seeing it, but we could probably each have found other things to do with the money we spent on the tickets -- and the folks around us were ... well. I admit I can be unforgiving when it comes to behavior in a live theatre. It's one area in which I'm afraid I'm quite conservative. I don't mind comments to one's neighbor, but if anyone else can hear so much as a whisper, it's too loud. Paper-rustling is right out. I get annoyed when people cough, okay, which I know they can't always help. But there's always another change-of-scene coming up, where there's no dialogue for people to miss -- that's when to make whatever noises people need to make, you know? :-) And don't get me started on cell phones. So. Around us was a bunch of especially lively people. In particular, the woman next to my friend was very chatty with her own friend, seated on her other side, and didn't even bother to whisper until the whole balcony shushed her at once; meanwhile, behind me was a girl who must, I swear, have been drunk, if her goofed-out laughter was anything to go by. Don't get me wrong: I think people ought to laugh when they find things funny. This is not one of the Proscribed Noises. :-) But, I mean, damn.
  • Richard III - The conclusion, thank god, of the Wars of the Roses series. Last year, they did Henry IV (parts 1 and 2) and Henry V; the year before, I think, they'd done Richard II. So this was really a wrap-up of biggish dimensions. The concept wasn't too weird, and the performances were solid here; it was a little distracting to have Seana McKenna (see above) as Queen Elizabeth, since Queen Margaret also appears in this play, but she's compelling enough that it wasn't an issue. As Richard, we had Tom McCamus, who can Do No Wrong (and who Due South fans may remember as the head bad guy in The Gift of the Wheelman). He was tremendous -- it's a great part, of course, but he was especially good in it. Very satisfying -- especially since the last time they did Richard III up there, also with a dynamite cast, it was weird and nonsensical, and ultimately only pretty good.
  • The Two Noble Kinsmen (C was totally there, and once I reminded her, she remembered [g]) - On the fence about this one for a long time -- but we finally pointed out to ourselves that we weren't likely to get another chance to see this play performed for an awfully long time, and it was unlikely to suck, so we went ahead and saw it. And let me tell you how glad we were. The play was fine -- it's the Knight's Tale, is what it is, with the addition of a subplot by Shakespeare's co-writer -- but the performances were terrific. My friend could spot the differences between Shakespeare's language and Fletcher's from sixty paces, but I was sufficiently drawn in to the play that I didn't even notice, which is really satisfying. Plus, they played a little with sexuality, which I'm always glad to see. The two noble kinsmen, right, are both in love with the same girl, Emilia, who's devoted to Diana, goddess of chastity. So there's some discussion in the dialogue about her assurance that she'll never love a man -- but a couple of scenes later, she has a conversation with a servant girl, and the vibe between them was a little on the romantic side. Very nice. (Also adds depth to the character, in my opinion, which never hurts.) As well, the duke's lieutenant has some lines about the fineness of form of one of the kinsmen, and spent a couple of scenes looking quite appreciatively at the guy; add this to the moment when he joins the two women (Emilia and her sister, the duke's bride) in begging the duke for mercy on the kinsmen's behalf, and you have just enough subtext where it's really only subtext for those audience members who really have to remain in denial of such things. I was entirely pleased.
2003 - C couldn't come, but She Who Must Be Obeyed could, and did!
  • Quiet in the Land - excellent. Like Fiddler on the Roof, only no Jews. Lights went down for Act 2, music came up, said to K, "Hey, there was no harmony in the Act 1 music - getting More Complex," and then a character mentioned this in an argument later. Go me! Cast uniformly ace - leads utterly fantastic. (S. Russell & whoever played the deacon; M. Therriault continues to Do No Wrong.) K identified her mother-in-law in 2nd female lead, the girl's mother. Good line: "Those are things to want on the outside. A church is on the inside." Better line: "You don't get back lost sheep by yelling at the ones who stayed put." A play to look into keeping on the shelf.
  • The Birds - a total acid trip. Concept, cohesive; plot, insane. Apparently the rest of Aristophanes' plays are even crazier. Whatever. Costumes looked good. Singing & dancing v. good. Lost a lot of people during intermission - not sure what they were expecting, but that wasn't it. B. Hopkins v. entertaining as E_____ (greek name) - apparently Liverpool accent = comedy. Poss. equivalent of Jersey (Joisey) or Am. South, but then what would be equivalent of Geordie/Newcastle? Anyway, B.H. absent from curtain call - appeared in Act 1, but only first couple minutes of Act 2, so presumably went home.
  • Antony and Cleopatra - fabulous. D. D'Aquila continues to Do No Wrong. K very impressed by B. Hopkins, who gave excellent performance w/ almost no lines. W. Best did v. nice job w/ speech about perfume on riverboat, etc.
  • No Exit - FUCKING AWESOME. This was the show I was here to see, and it didn't disappoint. S. Ouimette DNW. C. Jullien v. good -- yay! C. Reid superb. Superb. Practically stole the show. (Impossible to completely steal shows from S. Ouimette, otherwise would likely have done so.)
  • Pericles, Prince of Tyre - excellent. First act sort of trippy, but second act v. good. J. Goad in aged-grieving-Pericles makeup & hair looked alarmingly like L. Neeson in Episode 1.
2004 - I had to go look in the Archival Program Box to remind myself that I'd gone in 2004. Erm. But listen, that was a summer of much upheaval for me, so I bet there's a lot I don't remember.
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream - we are now in the Jonathan Goad years, is what we're in. He was Pericles in 2003 and both Theseus and Oberon here. I see from the program that there was a lot of color accomplished with gels on the lights, which, okay; leaves and feathers and beads and things in the fairy costumes - they were going for a sort of jungle thing - and, you know, okay. I don't remember that so much. I remember that the mechanicals were a bit much, as is often the case, and the Athenians were unusually good. Also, a moment during the play where a cell phone went off, and just as the audience was looking around for whom to glare at, Demetrius goes omg and pulls out his phone and struggles to turn it off, while Nick Bottom looks absolute daggers at him. A nice bit.
  • Noises Off - a thing about this play is that for two of the three acts it's the funniest thing you've ever seen, and then in the third act it kind of all falls apart, doesn't it? It's better in the movie, where the play within a play finally comes together, instead of the way it is in the play, where it (the play within a play) is just a complete disaster. That's what happened here. They did it well, but it's only two-thirds of it that's worth doing.
  • King John - I would have bet money that I'd never seen this play. And I'd have lost! That's what C should have disagreed with me about. Now that I see the program, though - hurrah for documentary evidence! - it's coming back to me. Stephen Ouimette as King John, and of course he was very good. I seem to remember three women being very good as well. Intrigue and vile doings, that sort of thing. The sort of play you go see when you have a chance, because how often do such chances come - I should have written up the 2004 trip at the time, clearly, because now the next time I get a chance to see King John I'll have to go see it again. :-)
2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008, I didn't go. School, work, $. And then, 2009, in which three of the five shows we saw featured Jonathan Goad in important roles (Hippolytus in Phèdre, Antony in Caesar, and Quarelus or a name like that in Bartholomew Fair); I wasn't wrong about these being his years.
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream - Fine, solid, B-plus production. The black leather and spike heels were, well, a choice a person makes when it's Dream for the nine millionth time and you have to think of something. Best Nick Bottom I've seen. An absurd curtain call; line-dancing? But fun nevertheless.
  • Phèdre - I give the performances an A and the script a B-minus. That Racine does go on, doesn't he. And this is a translation that preserves a lot of the French interpretation of the classical language, okay, so lots of epithets, no problem; but it also preserves a certain amount of the French language style, so there were places where I thought, huh, I'd have had that sentence with all those words in it but in a different order; and then there were a fair number of times when a sort of modern English turn of phrase crept in and was really jarring.
  • Julius Caesar - A-minus. Best Brutus I've seen, and I've seen some good ones.
  • Bartholomew Fair - Very silly. Good fun. I'd had some wine with dinner, which seemed to be exactly the way to see this play. :-)
  • Cyrano de Bergerac - A+++ would see again. The translation kept a lot of the original French, which I suppose would have been tiresome to audience members who didn't understand French. Sure enough, I wanted to smack Roxane and Cyrano upside the head, but I loved them anyway. Ragueneau the baker broke my heart, which surprised me, as I tend to forget that character is even there. Colm Feore as Cyrano got a standing ovation I haven't seen equalled in enthusiasm and unanimity since William Hutt played King Lear. I was totally right to plan the weekend so this play was last. :-)
So for those of you keeping track at home, that's 17 (or 18, if you count the two Henry 6's as all three parts) of the plays I've seen at Stratford (along with whatever-all I've seen elsewhere, which I have), including two Romeos and Juliet, three As You Like Its, and four bloody Midsummer Nights' Dreams, so I think that's probably enough of that for a while. I mean, they're not wrong, when they keep doing it, that it'll sell, I guess, are they. But given that half my reaction this time was that they must have costumed it the way they did because they had to come up with something, it might be a good time for me and Dream to take a break.

21 August 2009

as we reckon time

Here's a story some of you will like.

My father's parents were married in 1944 (So were my mother's parents, as it happens, but this is not a story about them.), on September 10.

Along about the early 90's, my grandmother started thinking about what kind of party she was going to make for their 50th anniversary. There's a picture in the album of her parents' golden wedding party, and although she didn't have as many children and grandchildren as her mother did, nevertheless, her golden wedding was going to be, if possible, an even bigger blowout.

Dates were saved. Lists were begun. Plans were hatched. In about March of 1994, my grandmother went in to the hospital for a minor outpatient procedure having something to do with her hand, and came home with the news that her blood count was hinky, and before long it turned out she had leukemia.

Over that spring and summer, it gradually became clear that the party was going to have to be rather less of an affair than had previously been intended. Then it became clear that it was going to be a very quiet celebration with just those fewer children and grandchildren than her mother had had, and the cousins and friends and whatnot would come another time. Then it became clear that she wasn't realistically fighting for her life any longer, but for the day of her anniversary - everybody knew she couldn't live long, but maybe she could live long enough.

My grandmother died August 30, 1994, which is why I'm telling this story now; I always think of it about this time of year. One of my clearest memories from the next day or so is of my father saying how unfair it was that she'd hung on for all those months just hoping to make it to the anniversary, because achieving fifty years of marriage was so important to her, and she got so close, but succumbed with less than two weeks to go. It was just that little bit extra that made the loss bitter as well as devastating.

At the funeral home, we were given yahrzeit calendars for the next ten years. Many of you who will like this story already know this, but some others of you may not: it is the custom for the decedent's siblings and children (and, God forbid, parents) to light a candle on the anniversary of the death; but the Hebrew calendar being what it is, this is obviously not the same day on the Gregorian calendar every year. A person could look up the dates, of course, but in this case the funeral home did this small favor for us.

I also have a clear memory of someone embracing my aunt and wishing that the new year should bring better times for her. Rosh Hashanah comes in the autumn, of course. And someone else said yes, Rosh Hashanah is very early [on the western calendar] this year, it's already next week, September 6, and look how in 1996 this day, 23 Elul, isn't until September 7.

So we looked, and we saw that the first yahrzeit for my grandmother was going to be September 18, 1995 -- and after that, September 7, 1996; September 25, 1997; September 14, 1998; and so on, almost always in September, because Rosh Hashanah normally comes later in September or even in October. (In 2001, 23 Elul was September 11. 23 Elul is not a good day.) I wonder, someone said, what day 23 Elul was in 1944.

You can see where this is going, I imagine. We didn't have the internets to do the looking-up for us at the touch of a button at that time, but a year behind me at school was a girl whose father was a rabbi, and I asked her to ask him to find for me the date in 1994 that corresponded to September 10, 1944, and what do you think it was.

Right: September 10, 1944 was 22 Elul 5704. My grandparents' fiftieth wedding anniversary was August 29, 1994. She won after all.

15 April 2009

hold on to your cheerios for a sec.

So I finally watched the Susan Boyle clip.

Background, for those of you under whose rocks the news has not yet managed to creep: Britain's Got Talent is a reality-TV talent show in which aspirants who have sufficiently impressed some unseen producers (positively or negatively, one imagines) perform for a three-judge panel, including the famously acid-snarked Simon Cowell (not, not, not to be confused with Simon Callow, although I may be the only one who mixes these names up) and two other presumably famous people, and a full theatre full of live audience. The audience are invited to be vocal during the performance; the judges have honest-to-god buzzers in front of them which, if all three judges ring in, ends the performance whether you're through or not. (It's the buzzers that get me, not the ending, really; if it were an audition, someone would say "Thank you!" and that would be that. But they wouldn't gong you off the stage.) Once your performance is ended -- whether you've been buzzed or whether you've been allowed to finish -- the judges talk about whether they thought you were any good or not, and make a public decision about whether you'll advance to the next round of competition.

It sounds absolutely excruciating, and I mean this as a viewer, but that's not the point.

The Susan Boyle clip is a seven-minute snippet of this show that's been making the rounds for a couple of days. Susan Boyle is a contestant who absolutely embodies that very useful expression, "Oh, bless her heart." She's a 47-year-old grey-haired roundish cat lady from Nowhere-in-Particular, Scotland, with a healthy British kind of back-chatting attitude but not much sense (it seemed to me) of humor. Or shame, I guess, might be what I mean, not that she should have been ashamed, but you know the kind of thing where people don't really notice that they're being teased (and then mocked, and then scorned)? If they notice but don't care, that's one thing, and they may even make like they're in on the joke; but she doesn't quite get there, does she. I read somewhere that in fact she's got (slight) learning disabilities -- no idea if this is the case, but in any event she's got what we're meant to think is an inappropriate level of self-confidence.

Certainly the way the clip is edited, you're meant to dread her performance, whether you're on the judges' side or on hers: in the former case, because you'll be subjected to this awful performance (though at least you won't have to be polite about it); in the latter, because you think she's going to go down in flames and you're going to have to witness it and you're going to be so embarrassed for her that you'll just want to die.

So out she goes onto the stage, and Simon and the rest tease her, and she doesn't get it, and she says she'd like to be as successful as Elaine Paige, and the camera cuts to a couple of girls in the audience making faces (we're meant to think the girls are saying "shya, as if", but I confess it occurred to me they might be thinking, "as successful as who?"), and she says she's going to sing "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables, which she cannot really pronounce, and you brace yourself.

And she opens her mouth and sings, and Simon's eyebrows rise, and the other two judges are gobsmacked, and the audience is on their feet and cheering (instead of shutting the fuck up and letting her sing, but see above re: excruciating), because she's really quite good. And she knocks their socks off, and doesn't get buzzed, and she gets three Yes votes to advance, and she's beside herself, and isn't it a lovely Cinderella story, and the blogosphere goes berserk.

Which is really the reason I bring it up at all. I've seen a lot of people talking about this over the past 48 hours, and links to bloggery elsewhere, and it's come up on Facebook, and my own father sent me the link and a column about it from (bless his heart) the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and while I've been writing this my office-mate and a friend of hers were watching it on the other side of the room. It's everywhere, and the general (though not universal) consensus seems to be made up of one or more of the following points:
  1. Simon and his colleagues never knew what hit them (best turn of phrase on this, actually, from fillyjonk over at Shapely Prose: "They’re all so overwhelmed they don’t even taste the crow.")
  2. Susan has a great voice, a marvelous voice, the sort of voice people pay hundreds of dollars to see in famous concert halls and rave about for weeks afterward (I've also seen this particular rendition described as better than various Fantines, including the woman some commenter saw in Boston or some such place last week, but also including Broadway's Randy Graff and London's [heh, and the world's] Patti LuPone)
  3. How's that for inspirational.

And this is the part where my opinions get unpopular.

Item 1. Well, I suppose it's possible, maybe even likely, that Simon et al. assumed ol' Susan must have got through the producers for some sort of comic reason -- Can you believe this bird, thinks she's the next Elaine Paige, let's put her on the telly and mock the shit out of her -- but it's also possible that they assumed she must have been all right to get through the producers, but were sufficiently taken aback by her self-presentation (appearance and demeanor) that they were unprepared for how good she was. Yes, most of what people are quibbling with is this taken-aback-ness by her self-presentation; but I really don't think they were sitting there thinking a middle-aged frump couldn't possibly have a voice on her -- I think they were distracted by the frumpiness and then surprised by her voice.

Also, though, these are professional judgers of talent, and TV stars for it. The first thing means that they've heard plenty, plenty of really impressive performances (about which see item 2), and the second thing means that it is their job to turn their reactions up to eleven. Yes, maybe Piers was ashamed of himself for doubting that Susan could sing. Do I really believe that he's going to go out after the show and buy a sword to fall on? No. And so on. The first or second time the camera finds Simon after Susan begins, damn if Simon doesn't flick his gaze right over to it -- just for a second, but it's so clear to me, it's Right, it's my close-up, better do my Rapture face. I don't think the judges' reactions themselves were insincere; I do have my suspicions about the degrees of those reactions.

Item 2. Okay, she was good. I'll even go as far as very good. Particularly given the nerves (which, given her self-confidence discussed above, she may not actually have felt as much as all that), the fact that her voice was steady and damn near note-perfect was pretty impressive. And it's a tough number, covering close to two octaves and a biggish emotional range.

Here's the thing: she was, as I said, damn near note-perfect, and her voice was very steady and rich. But it didn't sound to me like she had the lowest notes -- hard to say because of the yelling and carrying-on in the audience, and incidentally, it's hard for me to tell if they're really impressed by the performance of itself or if they're impressed by the performance from her, right?, the way I've always said Gwyneth Paltrow won the Oscar for Biggest Difference Between the Performance We Were Expecting and the Performance We Got by an Actress in a Lead Role, which is a category the Academy doesn't actually officially recognize; do they think she's doing well (would they even know? [/snobbery, sorry]), or are they cheering because she's done it at all?, not forgetting that this is a people who sent Eddie Edwards to the Olympics as a ski-jumper.

Anyway, moving on. It didn't sound to me like she had the lowest notes, and she was a little ahead of the beat, and -- and this is the biggest issue for me -- she didn't really range the emotions at all. The number tells a story, and she didn't do that; she sang all the words (actually she sang "lives" instead of "years" at one point, but that's a kid who grew up with Les Miz talking, and not itself a deal-breaker), but you couldn't convince me she felt it. She didn't sell it, except the way the guy on the TV sells Oxi-Clean. I give it a B+, with a little extra credit for situational irony.

Item 3. I don't find the episode especially inspirational, frankly. Even without items 1 and 2, I'm thinking, great, so she'll go through to the next level of competition, fine. She won't have the surprise factor going for her any more, because she's a bona fide Internet Sensation, so she'll have to really, really nail whatever she sings at the next round. I'm sure she can do this, especially with a little coaching, and I assume she'll get that as well as some attention to her hair and wardrobe (which is actually a shame, that she'll have to change things about herself to succeed -- now that she has already succeeded! -- but again, the surprise factor is gone anyway). But it's the Internet Sensation that actually makes me the saddest. Doesn't anyone else see a future in which Susan Boyle becomes a one-trick pony, forever singing "I Dreamed a Dream" for a slack-jawed Simon Cowell who knows the camera loves him? Bless her heart.

07 November 2008

how to build a cathedral

Here is an excerpt from an essay I remember reading as a teenager:
The experience with the Driving Master emphasizes the profound truth of of an old story. If you don't know it, it's time you heard it. If you know it, you ought to hear it again once in a while.

The story says that a traveler from Italy came to the French town of Chartres to see the great church that was being built there. Arriving at the end of the day, he went to the site just as the workmen were leaving for home. He asked one man, covered with dust, what he did there. The man replied that he was a stonemason. He spent his days carving rocks. Another man, when asked, said he was a glassblower who spent his days making slabs of colored glass. Still another workman replied that he was a blacksmith who pounded iron for a living.

Wandering into the deepening gloom of the unfinished edifice, the traveler came upon an older woman, armed with a broom, sweeping up the stone chips and wood shavings and glass shards from the day's work. "What are you doing?" he asked.

The woman paused, leaning on her broom, and looking up toward the high arches, replied, "Me? I'm building a cathedral for the Glory of Almighty God."

I've often thought about the people of Chartres. They began something they knew they would never see completed. They built for something larger than themselves. They had a magnificent vision.

-- Robert Fulghum: "It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It"
reproduced without, of course, even asking for permission
So here is a rough accounting of my Tuesday. All times are Eastern.

3:58 am: Some slight noise, possibly connected to something I may have been dreaming, wakes me. I look at the clock on my phone and see that I have beaten the alarm by two minutes. I am very pleased by this. I move quietly through the house in the hope of not prematurely waking my hosts, shower (note: the water takes forever to be anything other than the coldest running water I have ever known; just when I have begun to despair, it starts to warm up -- is this a metaphor?), and dress superstitiously in blue from head to toe.

5:15: Having decided that the garage where I parked my car is, in fact, not yet open, I decide to walk to my Assigned Location. It's ten or fifteen shortish city blocks; no big deal.

5:45 or so: I arrive, introduce myself, correct my name on the sign identifying which chair is mine, ask if there's anything I can do to be helpful, help the manager of the room with the last couple of inches of the zipper on the back of her dress. :-)

6:30: The phones start to ring. Poll watchers and observers are checking in. We start taking calls about lines, machines, election judges.

7:45ish: The phones stop ringing. Turns out Something is Up and IT is working on it but calls are going straight to the voice mail.

9:30? I don't really remember when IT managed to get the phones ringing again.

8:00 - at least 10:30: I triage voice mail calls, scribbling details of the messages and handing them to the others so they can call the poll workers back. In over two hours I am able to deal with messages left in a span of about thirteen minutes. (Others at other tables are also doing this, with the system starting them at different points on the clock.)

middle of the day: With the phones working again, I take some calls in real time as well.

3pm, maybe: Back to the voice mail for a bit. By now the issues have in many cases already been addressed, but we try to call everyone back to make sure. They seem gratified.

4:45 pm: Brace for the 5:00 rush as after-work voting begins.

5:30: We are mystified by the low volume of calls. Periodically we try calling in ourselves to make sure the phones ring; also checking the voice mail to make sure the volume of messages hasn't exploded. They do, and it has not.

7:00: Polls close in Indiana and Kentucky, and these are not called immediately. Everyone commences with the hopeful fretting.

8:00: Polls close in, among other places, Pennsylvania, and someone says "Anyone who's not on the phone right now is going to want to be over here looking at the television."

8:02: MSNBC calls PA for Obama. Place goes predictably nuts.

People are hugging and crying. I'm choked up and I've only been on this team for twenty-four hours (counting generously; fourteen counting conservatively).

8:03: Guy who has been two places away from me all day waits for a second network to call PA before he is prepared to cheer.

8:05: Talking heads start saying stuff about how so far this map is looking just like 2000 and 2004. We throw things at Chris Matthews.

8:20: A few calls start to come in as polls finish up with the people who were still in line at 8:00. Some of us bring the phones with us to look at the TV, because Things are Happening. The networks call New Hampshire for Obama. The room is elated, as there had still been some question about New Hampshire. They still haven't called Ohio, where the polls have been closed for close to an hour, or Indiana, where they've been closed for an hour and a half. Likewise we are eagerly awaiting Virginia, Florida, North Carolina.

8:25: Even without knowing about NC's electoral votes, we know that Liddy Dole has lost her Senate seat. A number of people are very pleased. County counsel team leaves amid a general ovation.

8:30: Still no call on Ohio. It's very close, but the cities haven't come in at all. Guy next to me says "If he gets Ohio, that's it, it's over."

I say "Well. Very likely. Some extremely improbable things would have to happen for him to lose at that point."

"What, like he loses California?"

"That would be extremely improbable, don't you think?"

There is almost no wood in the room. I have to knock on Formica.

something like 8:50: D and That Crowd arrive from Wherever It Was They Were Working. I give him the care package S sent up for him, which consists of (1) a chocolate bar with espresso beans and (2) a big hug. He does not appear to be dead on his feet.

somewhere in there: Fox News is the first to call New Mexico for Obama. We are flabbergasted. Several of us wonder if they are being deliberately un-cautious and calling things with 0% of returns in case a later reversal could be seen as helpful for McCain.

9:00: People have been talking about where there may be a party, and I fret about whether to go and what time, if I do, I will get home. I begin to agree that the sooner I leave, the better, but I don't want to leave before we Know Something. Polls close in a Super Tuesday-sized swath of states, including a lot of heartland, but also New York.

9:01: MSNBC or CNN -- I don't remember which network we were looking at by then -- calls New York for Obama, and nobody is surprised. They call Ohio, the state where I grew up, for Obama, and the room goes bananas. More crying and hugging. I am in tears myself.

D, who is about to head back to Wherever It Still Is but hasn't left yet, instructs me to call when I'm on my way home. Someone announces that this room is officially closed for business, and we're free to go. MSNBC or CNN, whoever it is, says a number of places (including Texas, Colorado, Missouri?, etc.) are too early to call, and the room is pleased; they say Arizona is too close to call, and the room is berserk.

9:30: I give up waiting for Virginia, North Carolina, Florida -- although I badly want to win Florida, because I feel that Ohio and Florida would be the most poetic victories tonight -- and head back to the garage where my car has been lodged. A guy I pass sees that I am carrying a plastic grocery bag of various Obama rally signs, concludes that I have been working on the campaign, and says "Good job." I smile and thank him, and two steps later, turn and look over my shoulder and say "Hey -- you too." I call my parents, in Ohio, en route, and there is general satisfaction, relief, and caution that weirder shit has happened than this thing not yet being in the bag.

10:15: Having retrieved the car, I set out for home, pushing radio buttons trying to find the talking heads. I land on ABC News, and drive along to the sound of Charlie Gibson, Diane Sawyer, and George Stephanopoulos talking to John Lewis et al.

11:00: I cross the state line from Delaware into Maryland. Polls close in California, Oregon (if they were ever even open up there?), Washington, and Hawai'i. Also Idaho?

11:01: ABC calls the four states I'm sure about, and thus the election, for Obama. Idaho is too close to call. Idaho. I call D, as promised. He answers "Congratulations"; I say "You just got a guy elected president! How do you feel?" He does not report any intention to go to Disneyland.

11:05: Text message from [Her] Who Must Be Obeyed, who will shortly be waking her 10.5-month-old daughter to listen to the victory speech: "Yes we did!!" As I am hurtling down I-95 at 80 mph approx., I decide it is safer to call her rather than texting her back. We talk about Arizona and Florida (and Pennsylvania, where she and her husband both grew up, and Ohio). While we are on the phone Matter-Eater Lad reports that some network or other has called Virginia for Obama. She tells me McCain has called Obama to concede. I hang up the phone and continue driving.

just a moment later: SWMBO calls to tell me Obama got Florida. I crow out loud and would flail and kick my legs except see above re: 80 mph.

11:15: The radio goes live to McCain's concession speech. It is indeed classy. I appreciate that he shuts his people down when they start to boo etc. I would like him to have done more of this during the campaign, but one can't have everything. Still, now that he is no longer the candidate, perhaps we are back to having the old John McCain, whom I liked rather better than the one we've had since he clinched the nomination.

11:59: The radio goes live to Grant Park and Obama's victory speech. It is a thing of goodness; when he promises the girls a new puppy, I weep. This continues when he gets to the 106-year-old woman in Atlanta who voted for the first time.

12:45: I arrive. I've heard Barack Obama referred to as president-elect no fewer than three times. I can't quite get my head around it. As I go in my door I can hear a few cars on 16th Street whose drivers are merrily sounding their horns as they return home. It really is a new day.

I've had some thoughts about the disappointment of those who are disappointed, and how I cannot at the moment believe that disappointment can possibly be compared to our disappointment (around which I have thought long and hard and decided not to use quotation marks) in the last two elections -- in 2000 because we [thought we] had it and it was taken away from us, so it wasn't just that we didn't get the president we'd have preferred but we really believe we were robbed; and in 2004 because we'd tried so hard to defeat an incumbent that we hated, and done better than we'd ever done before, and it still wasn't enough (and, depending on your suspicions about Ohio in 2004, robbed again, but I don't think Ohio 2004 was the same kind of thing as Florida 2000). That is, what happened to us in 2000 had never happened before and god willing will never happen again, and is just not remotely the same as what happened to you last night; and you can't at the moment be as disappointed as we were in 2004, because Obama has not been president for the last four years. Let's talk again if he's re-elected in 2012, although even then, because the 2000 situation has not repeated itself, your hopes of getting him out in four years' time will not be the same as our hopes of getting Bush 43 out were four years ago. (All of which I've been thinking of mostly in response to some comments I've heard hoping that we, who are jubilant in victory, will be spared the sort of bitter invective from our R-leaning friends that they got from their D-leaning ones four years ago; I share those hopes, but I think the odds we'd get such invective flung at us are long, on account of the qualitative* differences in our respective disappointments. And not, that is, because we are sorer losers than those who feel they lost last night; instead, because our losses themselves were sorer. I know some of you won't believe me, and will think I'm rationalizing and we really are sore losers and ungracious winners. I'm sorry for that. But it's important to me to make my thoughts as clear as possible.)

[* Note that I'm speaking just of the qualitative differences, not the quantitative ones. So I guess I should have said you can't at the moment be disappointed the way we were in 2004; the difference is in how you are disappointed, not in how disappointed you are. If you'll permit the wordplay. I can't possibly know how disappointed you are, though, because I have no idea how badly you wanted McCain to be president (if in fact that's what you wanted, instead of badly wanting Obama not to be president). And if you tell me, I still won't understand. So let's just note that it's not the point and leave it at that.]

-- but instead, I will note this:

See, in the above timeline, how the cautious optimism persisted even as the thing looked surer and surer and surer? And then I got home and saw one message after another where people were saying things like "OMG (almost!)" and "YES, barring electoral irregularities, WE DID!" and so on. It's kind of funny, how the Democrats and their usual supporters have learned that there is no such thing as too much caution, and how you can't count a chicken before it has hatched and survived at least a couple of days, and so on. Kind of funny. In a poignant sort of way.

Not letting it harsh my buzz, though. Not a bit. :-D