Archive for June, 2012

Acrobats in Love

Adaptations from one medium to another seldom work.  Think back over the past fifty years of books to Broadway to the cinema and most of us can rattle off the ones that did work:  The Sound of Music, South Pacific, West Side Story, Grease, Dreamgirls, Mama Mia.  This week we experienced two that are worth noting. 

The Beatles Love is a Cirque du Soleil offering, permanently housed at The Mirage in Las Vegas.  Having seen seven of the Cirque shows, we are Cirque aficionados; completely in awe of their consistent high standards of incredible athleticism, their musical originality, and their otherworldly costuming.   I couldn’t imagine how a catalogue of totally unrelated songs could be successfully incorporated into a workable story line, but Mama Mia was so clever and joyful, I was at least hopeful.   Sadly, the totality of this show did not measure up, although the costuming was imaginative and the theater itself is a marvel of technology – talk about surround sound – the speakers are in the seats!   

Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx

Overall, the incredible imaginings of Cirque founder Guy Laiberte and his legions of technical and artistic geniuses are lost or wasted in this attempt to string together the Beatles catalogue in some magical way.  It just doesn’t work, Magical Mystery Tour be damned.  My only curiosity at the end was…1) who gets the royalties and 2) have Ringo and Paul seen the show?

Our second experience this week was a rip-roaring smash-up of electric eighties hits wound tightly together in Rock of Ages, The Movie.   OMG, this show takes toe-tapping rock and roll to the pinnacle of perfection.  It’s filled with amazing musical talent from every single cast member.  They deliver tight harmonies that invite you to explore your own inner backup singer;  accompanied by The Best R&R band you’ve heard in ages.  As we used to say: “they were all cook’in with gas!”   

Delicious duo, Brand & Baldwin

Typical story line:  small-town stary-eyed kids; jaded rocker with hangers-on; silly city officials suppressing their envy; and a happy ending. 

Tom Cruise, at forty-nine,  shows us he really really really does have acting chops (it’s hard to be sleazy and adorable at the same time) and – surprise – The Boy Can Sing!  He delivers exactly the right twinge of over-the-top debauchery in his sly portrayal of booze-addled rock star, Stacee Jaxx.   I’d give him the Oscar now.

Russell Brand is actually a likeable version of himself, sans the indigestion and Alex Baldwin is typical Alex Baldwin, deliciously smarmy as the club owner.  They deliver a cute plot twist that I won’t spoil for you.  Paul Giamatti is spot on as the dastardly agent.  I had to look twice to recognize Catherine Zeta Jones in Channel and pearls, playing the overzealous mayor’s wife, but of course, she’s always worth the second glance.  Bryan Cranston is pitch perfect as the clueless mayor.  Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, the talented innocents, deliver the best laugh lines:  She, confessing with remorse:  “I’m working in a strip club.”  He, with wincing embarrassment:  “I’m in a boy band.”  She with relief:   “You win.”

Everything about Rock of Ages is just over the top enough to dull the sharp edges that would otherwise make the seedy reality of  eighties excesses way too gross.  Can we  say that there were many tongues in use?  The film tales the typically saccharin and harmless plot of a  high school play and lovingly smothers it in magenta glitter and gold sequins which we willinglyallow to camouflage the more uncomfortable aspects of that time period.   It’s not meant to be a teachable moment.  It’s a feel good escape from today’s weary troubles – the 2012 answer to Busby Berkeley, albeit on steroids. 

We all left the theater  smiling, laughing, humming all the tunes (which were more our kids era than ours) and vowing to download the sound track for our i-pods and  planning a return to the big screen to see it all again.  I”m voting for Imax next time.  Do yourself a favor:  Go See It!  Then let us know what you think.

Review of NCM Fathom’s The Tempest.

Plummer as Prospero

This week at The River, nine of us were mesmerized by the US premier of  The Tempest , starring Christopher Plummer, who, at 82 shows us a thing or two about aging gracefully.  

Don’t stick your nose in the air and say “I don’t like Shakespeare.”  Most of us have not had the pleasure of seeing his magical words presented by actors who know how to deliver the lines as they were intended…as the every-day language of Elizabethan England.  This cast did right by the play.  The meaning of each line is understood – every lovely nuance, is as he intended – in what was Shakespeare’s last, and now considered one of his greatest, works. 

The film brings together a perfect marriage of theater and cinema, filmed before live audiences over two days at Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival.  It strikes the perfect chord of electrifying clarity in glorious surround sound.  The surprising addition of delicate etherial music in the appropriate scenes was exactly the right enhancement. 

Dion Johnstone as Caliban

Having just seen the Metropolitan Opera’s delightful mishmash of The Tempest, entitled The Enchanted Island, I was up on Prospero’s story, which Plummer executes like a calm and skillful surgeon.  I was also just fresh from wading through two novels (Interred With Their  Bones and Haunt Me Still) by author Jenniffer Lee Carrell, PhD.,  who is a Shakespearian authority.  Because of Dr. Carrell’s scholarly approach, she cleverly engages us in her incorporation of The Bard’s work, so I was already in Shakespearian mode.   

Sprite with Prospero

Shakespeare left few if any directions for anyone,  director or actor, brave enough to tackle the text, so we are most often left to our own devices (or not).  Tony award-winning director Des McAnuff is that brave man.  He would be the first of ten reasons on ten levels to convince you to see this production, which is nothing short of brilliant, brilliant brilliant. 

McAnuff dares to enriches the play without sending us into sugar overload.  Take for instance the traditional masks of most Shakespearian productions, which here are kicked up more than a notch by costume designer Paul Tazewell, who may lean a bit on Cirque du Soleil, but it feels right and works beautifully.  Dion Johnstone’s Caliban channeled a Star Wars’ Syth, creepy with the right sympathetic touch.  Kudos to the costuming of Caliban, Ariel and all the otherworldly creatures.   But the standout role for me is Ariel, the Sprite  played with impish charm by Julyana Soelistyo.   She is simply luminous. 

Now that I’m old enough to pay attention to Shakespeare’s subtleties, I can tell you with certainty, this vision of  The Tempest  is not to be missed.  Des McAnuff  and company have raised the bar on how technology will bring classical theater to us in the future.  Lucky us and lucky you – it can be seen throughout July in various theaters. 

Click the link to find where it’s showing near you.

My husband has a favorite saying:  

On The Internet No One Knows You’re a Dog

One of the most interesting and frightening things about the Internet is how it reflects society – the good, the bad and the unregulated.  I’m an unabashed free thinker so I like unregulated.  I’m a big girl; I can regulate myself, having been raised responsibly with strong Southern values and consequences.  A big thank you to my parents and the era into which I was born.

The Internet currently reminds me of an awkward teenager, young, strong, vibrant, full of promise but not quite mature enough to know right from wrong – much like the wild-West-adolescence of this unique and exceptional country we call America.  Back then the Wild West teemed with snake oil salesmen selling quick-claim deeds for non-existent gold mines.  There are similarities on some of today’s Internet sites.

It’s frustrating – this Internet, running rampant with erroneous information, slathering on emotional content in the hopes of evoking sympathy.  Recently two such e-mails prompted me to resurrect my old mantra, which used to blaze across my screen saver:  Crede, sed comproba – Trust but verify.  (Actually it’s a Russian Proverb, but I like it in Latin – authors’ prerogative.)

The first was a harmless list of quippy sayings attributed, complete with photo, to a “ninety-year-old woman named Regina Brett.”   The problem?   Regina is a very young 52; a columnist from The Cleveland Plain Dealer,  and she bears no resemblance to the photograph in the e-mail.  I wonder how she feels about being aged by forty years, never mind having her column co-opted by some anonymous spammer.  Ah, the power of the Internet.  The laziness of the recipient with a forward key (me included.)

The second e-mail was a plea for passage of the 28th Amendment wrapped in the sentimental uniform of a badly scarred war vet, interspersed with the following commentary:

No one has been able to explain to me why young men and women serve in the U.S. Military for 20 years, risking their lives protecting freedom, and only get 50% of their pay on retirement. While Politicians hold their political positions in the safe confines of the capital, protected by these same men and women, and receive full-pay retirement after serving one term.  

If each person who receives this will forward it on to 20 people, in three days, most people in The United States of America will have the message. This is one proposal that really should be passed around.

Proposed 28th Amendment
to the United States Constitution: “Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and/or Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and/or Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States .”

Like many, I couldn’t hit the forward key fast enough.  BUT, as the story unraveled  I discovered that it wasn’t about a wounded soldier.   Oh horrors.  Was our brave military being used to deceive?  Again?   This story was meant to discredit the Congress.

Well heck, there’s plenty of disgraceful behavior in Washington. We don’t need to invent stuff to make that point.

Read Snopes’ full disclosure of the allegations  cited above.  Just click the highlighted, underlined links.  According to SnopesUrbanledgendTruthorfiction, and thatsnonsense, all websites supposedly dedicated to fact checking, this amendment doesn’t exist.  By that I mean no one has actually filed any such bill in the Congress.  And yet, the 28th Amendment has its own Face Book page with over 2,000 ‘likes’  – although details are noticeably absent.   Sloppiness or an assumption that if it’s on the internet it must be true?

I’m cynical enough to be wary of what my 7th grade Civics class called “glittering generalities.”   Rule one: if you want to persuade your audience by circulating these e-mail blasts, get the facts straight.  The allegations behind the amendment are apparently baseless.

If the fact checkers are accurate (there’s a concept for you)…and the conspiracy theorist in me does have a few gnawing concerns… this elaborate picture of the worst of the worst in our elected representatives is a fabrication.   HOWEVER, and this is a really big HOWEVER, on the other hand,  what if the allegations are true, and all the fact-checker websites are a fabrication designed just to keep everyone  off balance?  There go the lemmings right over the cliff.

Remember what Buttercup sings to Captain Corcoran in HMS Pinafore:  “Things are seldom what they seem, Skim milk masquerades as cream; Highlows pass as patent leathers; Jackdaws strut in peacock’s feathers.”

Honestly, I yearn to  critique something more simplistic, like posts with bad grammar. Try diagramming the verbiage used in this so-called amendment.  Verbs, Adjectives, Syntax.   Oh, sorry…depending on which generation started these rumors, one can easily spot the culprits by their dangling participles.  Sniff sniff.   Schools today don’t teach English or Grammar;  American History or Civics.  They teach social studies,  macrame or resource allocation.   I know I know,  I make grammatical mistakes, too.  But at least I try.   Whoops, digressing again.

Does the end justify the means?  Or do the means justify the end?  Ummmm, you tell me.  This tangled web sets my hair on fire.  I want black to be black and white to be white.  It shouldn’t matter which network you watch.  It shouldn’t matter which magazine you prefer.  Facts should be facts.  Truth is truth.  Editorials belong on the Editorial page…where we can know them for what they are.  OPINIONS.  As a former journalism student, we were taught, like Sgt. Friday, to “just get the facts ma’am.”

Currently we’re a curiously, evenly divided nation (evidenced by California’s  recent Prop28 and the incredible ads that whipsawed us from one extreme position to the other.)    The looming question is, what should we believe?  Whom should we believe?  Unfortunately we live in such murky times laced with so much convoluted information that we require an overwhelming preponderance of evidence to believe anything.  That my friends is hard work.   Right.  Our own 21st century Sturm und Drang.  Guess we’ll have to parse those glittering generalities more carefully.

All respectable southern girls were taught as they were growing up that if they really didn’t like someone, they were encourage to say with a serene smile, “She comes from such a nice family!”

Crede, sed comproba indeed!

“So Many Books, So Little Time”   

Who knew Frank Zappa was a bibliophile? 

I covet books.  I love the feel and the smell of them.   One of the features of this blog is the “Good Reads” app on the right side of my page where my current reading list resides and you will note it’s not unusual for me to be reading four or five books at a time.  My joy is learning something new with each selection.   I don’t borrow books, because I don’t give them back. (Even from the Library – my bad.)  I don’t loan them out, because I wouldn’t dare risk not getting them back.  I’m too old fashioned to curl up with a Kindle.  That dear sweet man I married spent two months building twenty feet of floor to ceiling bookcases for my office when we moved to the desert.  Not once did he complain about the one hundred twenty-five cartons of books we brought west when we moved.  Don’t ask about the books we donated to our local library when we  packed up the Cape house.  It broke my heart to part with my old friends…but…I did try to make sacrifices.

The majority of us learn whatever it is that we need to learn by reading books.  Textbooks.  Newspapers.  Instructions.  Directions.  Information.  Reference.  Inspiration.  Pleasure.  Escape.   Knowledge.   To broaden our worlds.  To visit unexplored places.  Reading is a luxury,  a necessity, a joy. 

Here’s a sampling of the the eclectic information that’s been added to my cerebral data base in recent months:

For lovers of history who can manage the heft of 500+ pages, there is no more fascinating read than George, Nicholas and Wilhem, Miranda Carter’s well researched and intricately woven story of  Queen Victoria’s spoiled and out-of-touch offspring: the three Royal cousins of England, Germany and Russia, and the road to World War I.  After reading of the bazaar treatment Kaiser Wilhem experienced as a result of a childhood deformity it’s no wonder he behaved so madly.  

If that period isn’t early enough, tackle Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, the brilliantly fictionalized but historically accurate account of Abraham’s Lincoln’s presidential campaign and his shrewd and calculated cabinet selections.  Or travel even further back to pre-Tudor England and Phillipa Gregory’s  two novels, The Red Queen and The White Queen.  At first I feared these two choices were throwaway romance novels, but the stories of these intricately manipulative women of the houses of Lancaster and Tudor and the War of the Roses’ struggle for the English throne  pre Henry VIII, will keep you spellbound.  Compared to the machinations of these two women, Desperate Housewives is a yawn.  The stories are all the more fantastic because they are drawn from historical facts.

After Florence’s Arno River overflows its banks and thousands of priceless books are nearly ruined, Robert Hellenga, in his novel The Sixteen Pleasures, teaches us about book and art restoration while weaving a tale of deception that involves the Church of Rome and a priceless book of erotic drawings.    Writer Marina Fiorato gives us a riveting look at 17th century Venice, more deception and murder surrounding the origins of Venetian glass blowing in The Glassblower of Murano.  It’s an interesting historical vehicle which shifts back and forth in time as the mystery unravels. 

If modern day Venice is more your speed, pick up Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo, or City of Falling Angels by John Berendt, the true account of a horrific fire which could not be extinguished because the fireboats could not navigate those charming canals, long overdue for dredging.  The fire, of questionable origin, destroyed Venice’s beloved Opera House.  If you like Berendt’s style of historical non-fiction (he’s a journalist, formerly with Esquire and New York Magazine) immerse yourself in Savannah Georgia where I promise you will be mesmerised by his Pulitzer prize winner, Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil.  Truth is most definitely stranger than fiction.

Interested in early 20th century Boston, the Red Sox, and the powerful origins of the Boston Policeman’s union?  Dennis Lehane throws us into a brutal and vivid moment in time  in his 8th novel,  Any Given Day.   I was privileged to hear Dennis speak at a writers conference when this particular story was still resident on his laptop.  He shared with us a wonderful anecdote about the book’s main character Luthur — who incidentally did not exist in his early drafts — who kept intruding in his mind as he wrote.  Finally, as he told us the story, he gave in and created Luther Lawrence – a character so vividly drawn I see him clearly, even today.  This fictional work’s foundation is meticulously researched as we inhabit the early days of the 20th century — Babe Ruth and the Red Sox; a tragic strike by the Boston Policeman’s union; and the racial divides of Dorchester Blacks,  the Lace Curtain Irish of Southie; Beacon Hill Protestants; and the North End Italians.  As only Lehane can do, Boston itself is the central character.   I know Boston well, as does he, and this story brings the city to life in ways that will have you smelling the sweat, salty air  and stale beer. 

For an unvarnished look at the insular, exclusionary and often cruel life of a pre WWI Jewish family from an English  milltown, visit the cobblestoned streets of The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein, who debuted as a first time author at the age of ninety-six.  His  account is unblinkingly memorable.  I learned many things in this book, not the least of which was about the  Shabbat Goy.  Raise your hand if you know that term.

Are you a lover of art?  The Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland is a lovely collection of short stories based on a fictional 36th painting attributed to Johannes Vermeer.  Each story charmingly describes the painting’s prospective owners and the circumstances surrounding their possession of it; working backwards in time to Vermeer’s family and how and why the painting might have been originally conceived.   Not only are the stories captivating, I was inspired to learn more about all of Vemeer’s paintings.  That’s what reading is all about.

Curious about Shakespeare?  Here’s a page burner akin to Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons –  Interred With Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell.  You won’t be able to put it down.  Because Carrell is a distinguished Shakespearian scholar, her credibility makes for a fantastic read.  You’ll have to suspend belief in a few places — like the fact that in this whirlwind saga, no one ever stops to eat, sleep, shower or …you know…but the mysterious suggestion that Shakespeare’s work might have been penned by several others, and the mystery of a missing Shakespeare manuscript, will keep the pages turning.   Either way, it’s a harmless if educational romp that incorporates many of Shakespeare’s’ plots. 

Would you like to inhabit the world of the western settlers from the late 19th century?  There is no better example than Wallace Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize winner, The Angle of Repose, set in the ravaging Colorado and Mexico mining camps.  Stegner  uses his words brilliantly to paint ravishing personal and physical landscapes that will forever be alive in my memory.

There are a few books that so transport us that we don’t want them to end.  Prince of Tides is one such book.  Author Pat Conroy, as eloquent as he is, has a rather small body of work, mostly set in his beloved South Carolina.  To my mind, he’s writing the same story again and again, but his sentences are so beautiful, I almost don’t care.  Maybe we only get one Conroy per generation.  I’m awfully glad he is part of mine. 

Is there anything more pleasing than classical music quietly heralding the desert sun peeking through the orange and lemon trees, an early morning cup of coffee,  the soft desert breeze and a delicious stack of unread books waiting to take me on another journey?

Indeed.  “So many books, so little time.” 

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