Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Return of No Quarter - X Marks the Spot

It is that time of year when the collectable quarters show up from the America The Beautiful series, which is shorter than the National Park/Monument/Rec Area/Seashore/whatever. And while we are rolling down the countdown, this year as produced the most political collection of quarters yet, intentional or not. To you they may be pocket change, but they hold deeper meanings.

As always, we rate the quarters, based on design, subject matter, and art. Reviews are entirely subjective, and reflect the views of the management, and not necessarily anyone with any real authority.

Way Cool =A
Not Bad = B
Kinda Lame/Meh = C
Very Lame = D
Facebook makes better cryptocurrency = E

Here we go:

Lowell National Historical Park - Massachusetts

 This one is interesting - when you talk about New England in the Industrial Revolution, you get images of coal-darkened brick buildings filled with young women working long, tedious hours in the service of dangerous machines, lumped together in small spaces. Corporate tyranny. Company towns. Sweat shops.

But. They also were a way for women to get off the farm and improve their lives. It brought them together, and in bringing them together, empowered them to work together. Industrial safety. Unions. Abolition. All of these came out of these women gathered together. They improved their lives and started working to improve others. The anti-slavery movements got a lot of start and support in New England, at the automated looms within those industrial vaults.

The coin itself has a great design, cramming together a lot of elements with a small space. The "mill girl" is dominant, tending to a circular bobbin battery (The thing that looks like a steamship wheel)

It is a revolutionary quarter, with more than meets the eye.

Rating: A (Way Cool - Mostly for the back story).

American Memorial Park - Northern Mariana Islands

This quarter has more than meets the eye as well, but not always that good.

The Marina Islands were one of those island chains we liberated from Japan during WWII, and then kept. So part of it is the "We're part of the US, Really! of the flag plaza.

But for the longest time, the Marinas were used as a textile hub, particularly during the Cold War years when we didn't trade with Communist China. Raw materials were shipped in - there was a captive workforce of native peoples, and you could ship stuff out with the Made in the USA tag. But then the thaw came, and we could get fabric easily from China, and the bottom dropped out. And the islands became better known for sex tourism (and sex slavery). This was reported heavily ten years back, but I can't seem to find any articles to the tune of "We've cleaned things up - things are MUCH better now for the people that live there").

So, yeah. It is a kinda creepy coin, when you know what's going on. Nice design, but I wouldn't hold onto it too long.

Rating: B (Not Bad, C if you think about it).

War in the Pacific National Historical Park - Guam

 Well, this one is a little more honest than the previous one. Guam was another Pacific island that we captured and forgot to give back. It was a big battle, and one of those chunks in the twentieth cent that we really sent people to, so I am cool with the honesty of the presentation in a way that the North Marianas coin does not.

The coin itself has a nice design, showing Willy and Joe single-handedly taking the beaches. But there is a hint of life and activity missing from a lot of other coins. The use of the white space for the lagoon also works to highlight the soldiers. I don't think anyone born after the boomer years would recognize the LTV, and the ships on the horizon look more like power plants than navy units.

 The text accompanying this on its web site talks about the park's rich biological diversity, of which you see absolutely nothing of other than a couple trees in the middle distance. Better that it faces up to its name and owns it, then giving a head-nod to the natural beauty when the picture is the marines storming the island.

Still, an OK coin that carries its message forward.

Rating: B (Not Bad).

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park - Texas

 This one is weird for a number of ways. First off, it is a coin that swipes pretty much another coins' design. This is a Spanish real with minor modifications. The upper right has the Spanish lion (complete with monarchic crown), the upper left replaces the traditional castle (because, Castile) with a mission itself, the lower left shows grain, a regular staple of state flags from agricultural state, and the last is ... water, to show the importance the missions had in creating canals to husband the water. It definitely is selling the message that we came in, conquered, and turned the land to our profit.

When I was in grade school, we saw innumerable educational films that ended with the line - "Thanks to (fill in the blank) and irrigation, we have made the desert bloom". This coin reminds me of those films. 

Oh, and it is divided into quadrants by a Spanish cross. Because putting "In God We Trust" on the money wasn't ENOUGH of a tell.

The mission system was another one of those politically charged points of history. The Spanish settlers spread missions from Texas to California, to civilize (cough) and enlighten the native population. Plus convert them to Catholicism by fire and sword, if need be. And to create a servile working population to work in the fields. Mexico (and those parts of the US that were once Mexico) did not engage as much in the hard genocide of the American Plains, but rather a softer form of erasure of the native ways and conversion into a more acceptable European model.

The coin itself is pretty cool looking, but then, it has been road-tested as another country's coin for centuries. It balances a lot of elements in the way that old state flags, tossing a bunch of elements on the fabric and topping it with a saying like "Virtue" or "I Got Mine" in Latin. But like the Marianas coin, it brings up a lot of questions for discussion.

Nice coin, but you're copying someone else's homework

Rating: C (Meh - I mean, it was cool, like 400 years ago)

Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness - Idaho

OK, Great name. I mean River of NO RETURN. You can just hear the thunder after you announce this coin.

"Your quest will send you down the RIVER OF NO RETURN!" (Crack of thunder, horses whinnying, musical sting).

Anyway, the reason it is called the River of No Return is because of all the whitewater rapids and swift currents along its length, which made it easy (if dangerous) to go downstream, but near-impossible go back upstream. And the coin captures this with a boat just cresting a hydraulic. Nice animation. They could have just gone with some animal and a mountain, but instead the creators of this coin has opted for a more engaged and dynamic look.

The coin itself keeps from looking too cluttered, despite the large amount of elements (rapids, boat, dude in boat, canyon walls, trees) with a camera angle that creates a clear white space to the top, pushing the feeling of majesty and danger as well as framing the words "Wilderness".

The Wilderness in question is a HUGE swath of Idaho that has so far resisted attempts at development and exploitation. In its formation, it swallowed six national forests It is named after Idaho Senator Frank Church, who was instrumental is creating the wilderness area in the first place, along with a lot of other cool stuff.

So, cool name, cool coin, cool presentation, cool backstory. What is not to love?

Rating: A (Feel good when you find it in your change).

Next up: "And the Rest!" - The pick-up states - Kansas! Connecticut! Samoa!  And maybe Alabama, which is the last one on 2021, and maybe, just maybe, they'll slide it in with the others.

More later, 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Theatre: Other People's Mail

Tiny Beautiful Things, - Based on the book by Cheryle Strayed, Adapted for the Stage by Nia Vardalos, Co-Conceived byi Marshall Heyman, Thomas Kail, and Nia Vardalos, Directed by Courtney Sale, Seattle SEP through June 23rd.

Review first, then a summary of the season.

Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of advice articles spread out into a theatrical format. A new advice columnist (Julia Briskman) settles into her job under the pseudonym Sugar, working from home, and advising people who write into her column. In the process she reveals her own traumas and backstory. I can't say the letters become therapy for her, but it does help her define how she has dealt with abuse, drugs, family and marital problems in the past It is less of a play than a greatest hits collection - the plot has only the slightest arc, and problems posed by the writers are never really resolved (so far as we know).

As she answers those seeking advice, the house becomes haunted with the spirits of the letter-writers, played by three actors (Chantal Groat, Justin Huertas, and Charles Leggett), who meld into a stream of supplicants, alternating begging for advice and castigating Sugar for lacking consistency in her replies. And all the actors are brilliant in their parts as well as being familiar faces, having been in plays old and new at the Rep: Julia Briskman was in The Beard of Avon, The Imaginary Invalid, adn The Servant to Two Masters, Chantal Degroat popped up in Well, Charles Leggett has been everywhere (A Raisin in the Sun, both of the recent Sherlock Holmes plays, Of Mice and Men, Glengarry Glen Ross, Opus), and Justin Huertas was the mind behind and the star of Lizard Boy.

And this is where the Rep truly acts like a repertory company - you get to see actors that you know, as opposed to some polished road show that swoops in, adapts for the particular stage and audience, does its listed number of shows, then swoops out to the next gig. The play itself is slight, but the actors sparkle, feeding off each other, dropping into and out of conversations, and giving Sugar company as they take over her home.

And her home is probably the most Seattle-like stage I have seen, right down to the games in the corner, the Xbox hooked up to the TV (playing Minecraft), the IKEA furniture, and the multi-toned walls. Yes, the place looks lived in, and fits the nature of the performances.

The play is a slight thing, but the actors are great. It wraps up this weekend, and there are worse ways to spend a Sunday matinee.

Tiny Beautiful Things wraps up the season for the Rep, and it has been a little .... weird this time out. And I think part of it is because so much of it had sources in other media. Thousand Splendid Suns was an adaptation of a book. A People's History rested firmly on a foundation of Howard Zinn (and yeah, I bailed on listening to all of the performances about a third of the way in), Last of the Boys sets itself on MacNamara's biography. A Doll's House Part 2 comes out of a Doll's House Part One (so that's at least still theatre). Nina Simone was deeply drenched in her music. I THINK The Woman in Black was fully original, and In the Heights is on the boards primarily because of its later relative, Hamilton.

And Tiny Beautiful Things is based on a book which in turn was based on articles. This was a season where you needed a lot more backstory that previous years. I don't know if that was its intention, or it just worked out that way. But everything this year seemed to be leaning on something else.

There was good stuff - The Woman in Black was great, and I'm a fan of A People's History, but the bulk of the season felt like there were jokes I was missing, references that went right past me, things that required some prep time. I dunno - I can sustain repeated Shakespeare and Moliere and August Wilson until the scripts themselves become translucent from wear and the print fades to grey, and I can get behind new works that are experimental, but this season? This season was sort of other people's stories, cut and fit to the stage.

The advantage of all this is that, of course, there is a next season as well, and I will embrace that as well. And maybe I will be talking about other things than just plays in this blog,

More later,.