Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dancing On The Edge

Dancing at Lughnasa: by Brian Friel, Directed by Sheila Daniels, Through 5 December, 2010.

Many (many) years ago I had the chance to see this play at the Milwaukee Rep, but demurred. Instead the Lovely Bride took a Good Friend to it and enjoyed it thoroughly, such that it went into the category of "things you really should have seen" that would pop up every so often in our conversations in the years since.

I, for my part, felt little guilt about passing up on this opportunity, as the play had been presented to me as being a) Irish, and b) about five sisters. For the first case, I am only merely tolerant of plays in Irish brogue - it takes about ten minutes for my ears to properly callus up and I can understand what is being said. Further, theater about the Irish (in particular theater about RURAL Irish) usually deal with bonecrushing despair, deprivation, and oppression, and English-Language theater loves it because its within walking distance of London.

For the second point, I knew that it would be about female bonding, and any males presented would be fool or leches or both. Team that up with Irish and you know you are not heading towards any kind of happy ending.

Still, when the opportunity presented itself once again to attend it with the Lovely Bride, I did not shirk, but faced this Irish play like a man. And while it was very much as I expected it (indeed, the couple next to me bailed at intermission), it was very good, well-written and well-acted, and worth the trip (sorry, couple next to me - you lose).

The play is the adult reminiscence of the adult Michael (Benjamin Harris) of a summer in his aunts' cottage in rural Ireland (warning!) in 1936. He is the illegitimate child of Christine (Elizabeth Raetz), and the pair live with Christine's four sisters - inflexible Kate (Mari Nelson), joking Maggie (Gretchen Krich), motherly Agnes (Linda K. Morris), and simple Rose (Cheyenne Casebier). Elder brother Jack (Todd Jefferson Moore) has returned from Africa, where he was a chaplain at a leper colony and has gone a bit off his nut (male figure as fool). And Michael's bio-father (Troy Fischnaller) is a con artist whose infrequent returns delight Michael's mother and then plunge her into depression when he leaves.

And the household is both light and dark - struggling to get by while at the same time exuding warmth and family. The dancing of the title fits in as analogy for sex, for society, for the world outside, and for tradition. And all this brightness as adult Michael foreshadows the storms that will swamp the home.

And about half-way through the final act, I finally get it. This is what it is all about - that last summer when they are all together, when they are dancing. After this everything caves in slowly as the family breaks up, as hearts are broken, as the flesh weakens and the mind wanders and things will never be the same. But for the moment, everything fits together, everything works, and there is hope for survival. Yeah, that makes the trip worthwhile.

The cast is generally brilliant, in particular the women. Maggie swaggers and kids effortlessly. Kate is brittle almost to the point of breaking, Agnes has deep waters flowing, and Christine is by turns commanding and vulnerable. And Cheyenne completely disappears into the role of Rose.

The men are a bit more of a mixed bag. Harris engages as our mouthpiece into this world. Moore, as Jack, plays the fool, broadly at first, but with increased dignity as he recovers in the family (though with a dark edge as they cannot expect what he recovers to become). Fischnaller was the sole disappointment, in that if he's got a welsh accent, I'm a member of Monty Python.

The production values were high and convoluted, to the point that the stagecraft was at points blocking the action.

Do I still not regret going to the first version of is some 17 years back? No. Am I pleased to have gone now? Yeah, for reasons that would not have been clear to me as a callow youth back in '93.

More later,

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Snow. My. God.

So, counting the physical time in the car, the dinner, the evening spent working at the friends' house, the sleeping at the friends' house, and the omelets in the morning, it took me just over 19 hours to get home yesterday.

No, I'm not talking about commuting from the East Coast. I'm talking about a normally thirty- to forty-minute commute from Bellevue (where my company is based) to Grubb Street (which in near Panther Lake on the East Hill of Kent - the key word here is "hill").

Yes, it is the start of the snow season here in Seattle, where madness rules on the streets and we all tip towards anarchy.

I thought I was smart. I had packed a travel bag on Monday morning and took it with me to work. I left the office early, at 4, before the sun went down. Little did I dream that it was already far too late and that I was doomed.

Doomed, I say! Already thick flakes were coming down, adding to a snowpack that had been accumulating all morning. An inch, maybe, and mere sundry in Pittsburgh terms, but in this land of insufficient plows and sparce sanding, enough to completely shut down the city. Already the roads were slick, and made worse by the fact that there were people who had no clue how to drive in snow (I'm looking at you, little miss "5 miles an hour with your flashers on" - thanks for completely snarling the traffic behind you for miles with your sociopathic rejection of standard commuter mores).

Still, only a half hour to reach Renton itself, at the base of the hill I needed to climb. Still daylight. But then everything fell apart. My first choice route up the hill was solidly blocked. OK, we go to the second. A half-hour later I am still not moving on my second choice. Another half-hour not moving at my third choice. Apparently there were accidents on I-5, and they were channeling the traffic onto the surface streets. At in the meantime the snow beneath my tires had become ice and things had a hard time moving even on level. There was no way I was going to get up the hill and home.

A call the Lovely Bride who called friends in the Kent Valley, a level shot from where I was currently stranded. They were more than willing to help, and I did bring my own luggage. So I spent a very nice dinner and evening working (I had also brought hard copy to work on), and crashed on the spare bed in one of the offices.

And in the morning, the roads still glistened with now-compacted ice. I made a valiant attempt at omelets (better than I normally do, but still too brown) and made another attempt at the now-mostly-empty hill leading up to Grubb Street. With the direct sun and the passing traffic, it was mostly easy, but once getting on the roads on top of the hill the ice returned.

Now I am home safely. The Lovely Bride is making a fire and the Houseguest is working on her files. And I get to change into some dry socks, which I did NOT pack into the go bag.

Ah well, I learn as I go forward.

More later,

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Someplace Special

Still busy - have another video. This one is of my home town, Pittsburgh, and my old neighborhood appears around the 15-17 second mark.

It is interesting in both what they counted as worth seeing and what they did not. Carnegie Museum gets a reference for Flashdance? When right across the street is a statue for Steven Foster? Phipps Conservatory and Beuhl Planetarium get the short shrift? We miss both Point Park fountain and the stadiums (and Clemente park)? And you give us Warhol's grave but not his museum?

Oh, and you drive right past the Galleria without noticing it, but that I can understand.

More later,

[Update]: The other thing to notice is that most people get around Pittsburgh by back roads and local routes. Everyone has their own way to get through town.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

We Are A Global Community

Busy right now, so here's Harry Potter singing Tom Lehrer's "The Elements"

Oh all right, here is the original

More later,

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day


In Flanders Fields

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

More later,

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Play: Maiden, Mother, Crone

Three Tall Women by Edward Albee, Directed by Allison Narver, Seattle Rep through 28 November.

Not content to merely lead off with God of Carnage described in numerous locations as "Albee-esque" or "Albee-lite", the Rep decides to bring us a big steaming chunk of original, caffeinated, leaded, fully locked and loaded Edward Albee himself.

And it is a reminder that Albee is a much better writer.

One truism I stand by is "If you do something wrong long enough, it becomes a style". So when one goes to an Albee play, one knows what one is getting into - plot is minimal to non-existent, will take place in one room of a house, characters provide their own Greek chorus as phrases are picked up, reiterated, spun back on the speaker, there is a lot of talk, and most of it is about sex and death. To complain about such things is like grousing about the coldness of snow or the blueness of a summer sky. It is just so utterly useless.

So, the plot, then (and spoilers abound). Act One deals with three women, A, B, and C ....

OK, I guess I have to step in here, because by denying the characters names, Albee unbinds them from the narrative flow. That's important, later on, but at the outset it feels like approaching some modern art piece that is a random assortment of pigments, and titled "Untitled, No. 57". OK, back to the plot.

There are three women, A, B, and C. A is elderly, going senile, her body and mind failing her, her emotions as brittle as her bones. B is a middle-aged caregiver, jollying her along, tolerating the abuse, both supporting and mocking. C is a young woman, sent over by the family lawyer, to get signatures on documents that will not be forthcoming, pedantic and confused by dementia. The three spiral through the old woman's stories and are frustrated from accomplishing anything or moving forward. No central plot or theme seems to emerge. Then the old woman has a stroke. Curtain.

Act Two, the three woman are back, but the youngest is dressed as a flapper, the middle-aged woman as a 50s society wife, and after a few moments, the eldelyr woman herself enters in a sensible gown and stands regally over her dying body in the bed. Yes, it all works, and the play proper begins. The first three women you met were just to lay some groundwork - the real play is with these three incarnations of the dying form in the bed. They could be metaphysical echoes of the old woman's life, or the last dying memories caught between the synapses. That doesn't matter, because they rewind the woman's life and, this being an Albee play, talk about death a lot.

The only way to take on Albee is at full speed and head-on - nuance just lies there. And the actors are for the most part up to task. The elder goddess is played by Megan Cole, who snaps neatly between Alzheimer victim to grande dame who know what the others think (for she lived those parts before). The middle child is Suzanne Bouchard, who is a bit too carnivorous in the first act, but carries the pain of her age in the second. Alexandra Travares is the youngest version, irritating as the lawyer, a slender reed in the second. Cole does the best of the three versions (though the Lovely Bride preferred Bouchard better). Nick Garrison appears in a dumbshow role as "Boy" (Yeah, its an Albee play).

It is a better play that God of Carnage, in part because it dispenses with the artifice of a constructed plot. No single event brings together the women of the first act, nor divides the women of the second. At no point can any of them throw up their hands and just leave. They do not have the problem of Xeno's Exit - there is no place to go and no one gets out of here alive. The gravity of their universe pulls them together. No comedy here, but humor is present, and unlike God, you don't hate the characters by the end. And in the end you realize what you have is a single character study, from the outside in (the old woman of Act One is the center of that universe that cannot hold), and then from the inside out.

And after it all, there is a bit more meat here than in the earlier play, more to chew on. It is serious theater with a capital sear, and done very well indeed.

More later,

Monday, November 08, 2010

Election Day Cleanup

So here we are, about a week after election day and I finally get around to reporting the results. Part of it is the result of not having a machine over the weekend (another story) but part of is because of the nature of Washington State Elections. We vote by mail, and the ballots must be postmarked by election day (In California, they have to have arrived by election day). So the result is that close elections will hang fire for a couple days before the near-final results are known. Oddly enough, I'm good with this, but this is why people in the business of shaping a narration for this election thought our Senate race would make us the "New Florida" (Spoiler Alert - It didn't).

So, how did things go?

Some things surprised me. Some things saddened me. Only one did both.

I-1053 (Tim Eyeman hearts the oil companies) PASSES - This is the one that both surprised and saddened me. Really, really bad idea that will come back to haunt people (Heck, in the time since the election, Eyeman has already challenged a fare increase for the ferries fares as a "tax").
I-1082 (BIAW hearts big insurance) FAILS
I-1098 (Bill Gates and his Dad want to pay taxes) FAILS
I-1100 (Costco wants to keep the Stranger staff drunk) FAILS
I-1105 (Smaller distributors want to keep the Stranger staff drunk) FAILS
I-1107 (Beverage companies want to avoid taxes) PASSES - this is what happens when you put a candy tax on the ballot so close to Halloween.

R-52 (Cute Puppy wants to repair schools) FAILS
Amendment 8225 (Redefine interest calculation to let the state take advantage of Federal loans) - PASSES (which is surprising because it is a relatively complex issue, which voters supposedly would not understand)
Amendment 4220 (Allow judges to deny bail under narrow conditions) PASSES Handily.

And what have we learned? The people have pretty much sent a message that new taxes, new fees, and closing loopholes are off the table. Get ready for deep and painful cuts in services, since that's the only option you've got left.

King County Amendment 1 - (Revise charter's preamble to put business on same level as environment) - PASSES
King County Amendment 2 - (Remove duplication of effort in Public Disclosures) - PASSES
King County Amendment 3 - (Allow Sheriff to negotiate collective bargaining, but not for important stuff like wages or benefits ) - PASSES
King Count Proposition 1 (Cute Puppy wants to keep cops, firemen, and rest of the government) - FAILS

US Senator - Patty Murray (the media hesitated long and hard even though more King County votes piled up in her favor - finally, denied of their promised narrative)
US REP, 8th District - Dave Reichert

State Senator, 47th District - Joe Fain, who out-hustled Claudia Kauffman (and I just found out he's brother to a local sports radio host - the stuff you don't learn until later).

Representative, 47th District, Position 1 - Mike Hargrove (Two-Thirds majority to raise any tax, plus Representative who has pledged never to raise a tax = what could go wrong?)

Representative, 47th District, Position 2 - Pat Sullivan.

State Supreme Court Justice Position #6 - This is, oddly, the one that is hanging fire, refusing to resolve. When the ballots first went out, Sanders had a comfortable incumbent's lead. Since then, though, a lot of stuff that happened recently (racially-tinged statements made alongside fellow Justice Jim Johnson, who, alas, was running unopposed on this ballots), combined with articles from the Stranger and Times on past questionable behavior has resulted in late ballots breaking towards challenger Wiggins. At this point, things are so close that Sanders is already claiming fraud.

Position #3 - David Meyer
Position #6 - Matt Williams (I'm O-for-2 on this one).

And what is the larger picture? Well, pretty good considering that the recent election was supposed to be such a massive rejection of the current administration that time and space would be ruptured, Bush would be put back into office for a third term, and the Rangers would retroactively win the World's Series on a 5-4 decision. Instead, a populace frustrated with the economy turned the more volatile House over to the party out of power. Sounds about right (In the state house, the Dem majorities are reduced by not overturned).

Actually, what is interesting is that most of the US House Dem losses occurred in areas where conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats were running AWAY from the achievements of their party, Of the thirty+ Dems who voted against Health Care Reform, less then a dozen are coming back. Meanwhile, the "progressive wing" of the party held its own, with a couple notable exceptions.

But as noted above, the state government is charged with covering anticipated shortfalls without increasing taxes, raising fees, or closing any loopholes. So buckle down for a slew of "local Cute Puppy lacks funds, must be tossed into shredder" stories. Because that is now the new narrative.

More later,

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Theatre: Lovecraft at Play

H.P.Lovecraft's Pickman's Model, Adapted by Vincent Kovar, John McKenna, Dustin Engstrom, and Ron Sandahl, Peon Circle Theater. through Nov. 13, 2010.

Dying=easy. Comedy=hard. Horror=Really tough in live theater.

Horror lurks best in the mind, so its champion media is the printed page, equaled perhaps by the glory days of radio, when the eldritch horrors are conjured in the mind. Even movie-making, whether it is the shadow of the knife or the Grand Guignol, has more tools available to it to chill the blood and disturb the soul. Live theater, in particular small live theater like the Open Circle, now in Belltown, has a greater challenge. Yet every Halloween they unearth Lovecraft's cadaver and make the bloody best of the media.

Pickman's Model is a mash-up of the title piece, broken into two acts and adapted to Seattle, and The Music of Erich Zann which is played pretty straight and inserted into Act One as a piece of performance art. The construction is by a small horde of adapters, and does not hang together as neatly as one would like. There is info about the connection the Malicious Dr. Reid and the artist Pickman in the first act that is forgotten in the second, and the Malicious Dr. R starts promising and villainous in the first act but recedes to an afterthought in the second.

Let me back up to the main frame of this picture. Act One is a gallery opening for Richard Upton Pickman's latest work, and while attempting to present a backstage look at a gallery show gives us a bit of a jumble. The proceedings include a dance performance of Music which really works in and of itself, though attempts to link the music and the paintings are a bit strained. The latest portrait is revealed (all pictures are blank canvases to us, a very good move as we fill in the unpleasant details), and everything goes to hell. Pickman's former artistic agent Thurber (Marianna De Fazio) and news photog Eliot (Kenna Kettrick) decide to go off and confront Pickman about what he's really up to.

Act II is that confrontation, with Simon Astor creating an amused, definitely plummy Pickman, too clever for his own good and delighted by the chaos he creates. Many hints are dropped, and the history of Seattle's Underground is rewritten to good effect, before the nasty devils below come to take their due, leaving the protagonists slamming around in the dark for a while, firing off camera flashes, while we the audience, are led to imagine the worse. It goes on for a bit too long, and I seemed to be always facing the flash when it went off.

Act II holds together much better than Act I, and shifting two of the protagonists to female characters works nicely, and it made the old story set in the East quite at home on the west coast. Lacking the mighty special effects of a Seattle Rep, the small theater does its best with blank paintings (good), flash cameras in the dark (irritating and silly in places) and unearthly tones (which went from irritating to creepy and back to irritating). The connection between Zahn's music and Pickman's paintings through the lizard-brain is well-researched, but still feels tenuous, a ghost that vaporizes if considered too long.

Adaptions do not need to lockstep into their original forms, and this one actually manages to deliver both straight and evolved versions of Lovecraft's tales. Worth checking out, even if we are past the due-date on that Halloween pumpkin.

More later,

Monday, November 01, 2010

DOW Breaks 11,000

Well, broke. It happened a couple weeks ago, when I was busy going into all the initiatives. But I'm sure that you heard about it from other sources, since even such a transient benchmark like this is worth reporting. Right?

No? Well, you probably were out enjoying your tax cut. What, you didn't hear about that, either?

Actually, there is a lot we don't hear about, and a lot of things that we think are true that, turn out, aren't quite as right as we thought.

You know, if only we had a 24-hour news source that could get this information into the hands of the people. It feels weird, but it honestly feels like we know less now than we did back when Walter Cronkite talked to people for a half-hour (and he was quoted that when he said "for more details, see your local newspaper", he meant "for ALL the details, see your local newspaper").

I don't know if the media is just naturally contrafactual or just behind the times. When we first pitched into this rabbit's hole of a recession, the media seemed to be deeply in denial, yet now that we are (painfully slowly) working our way out, we seem determined to hide promising signs as much as possible.

It is not just economics. We seem hellbent on cultivating our fears. An ironic rally in Washington outdraws a hatefest a few weeks earlier and is brushed off. We pull combat troops out of Iraq two weeks ahead of schedule and there are grumbles at best. A real, live terrorist threat that is foiled and everyone shrugs because that's the way the system is SUPPOSED to work.

I mean, I'm supposedly cynical, but it feels like this part of the room has gotten really crowded over here. And if no one else is going to say nice things, I'm going to have to do it. No, no, don't thank me. I give myself about three days before I gos back to my grumpy ways.

More later