Thursday, November 30, 2023

Play: Holiday Play 1

Little Women by Kate Hamill, adapted from the novel by Louisa May Alcott, Directed by Marti Lyons, Seattle Rep, through December 17

Hey, a real play at the Rep! Not a performance, not an exhibition, not a looping  musical, not a dance troupe. With real actors portraying distinct roles, a couple of whom I've actually seen in other stuff (which is part of what a Repertory is -  while delighted to see actors making their "Seattle Rep Debut" I could stand to see a few other dependables). And an intermission. I don't know how long it has been since I've seen an intermission!

OK, I never read Louise May Alcott's Little Women back in the day. The Lovely Bride did, but her memory has faded in the half-century-plus since. But a lot of other women had read it back in the day, as I noticed that the audience had a lot of women in it, young and old. So call it an American Classic. Me? I'm relying on Wikipedia for what happens in the original text.

So for those of you who missed that part of English class, here's the skinny. Little Women is the story of four March sisters during the Civil war - Would-be author Jo (Ameilio Garcia), studious Meg (Cy Paolantonio), delicate Beth (Katie Peabody), and bratty youngest Amy (Rebecca Cort). Their father is away at the war, and they are trying to make ends meet. The young women squabble, argue, laugh, relax, put on theatrical productions, and press on through life. Jo is traditionally presented as a "tomboy", but in casting a transmasc actor (Garcia), director Lyons pushes the envelope further - Jo presents male in a lot of the scenes, and when forced into traditional female garb of the era, is a fish out of water.

Traditional gender roles are a big part of the first act. Meg is very much a feminine icon of the times, while baby of the family Amy (Cort plays the role to the hilt) is obsessed with growing into societal expectations. Jo, for her part, encounters the visiting neighbor Laurie (an excellent Austin Winter), a sensitive young man unsure about his own expected role in society as well. He and Jo hit it off as a nice duo.

But actually Peabody's Beth is the secret protagonist of the play - the character that drives the action forward. She's the one that takes action. Jo has announcements and pronouncements, but it is quiet Beth that takes action with the neighbors, that engages in helping the poor, and, when she takes to her sickbed, rallies the family together. She's also the one that, at the start and finish of the play, encourages Jo to not write potboiler action romances, but to instead write about the family, closing the loop on the work itself. 

The play's pacing is a bit weird, in part because the original work has its own odd pacing (here comes the Wikipedia notes). The text version most folk are familiar with is really two works mushed together. Little Women was the original work, and Alcott expanded on it with a second volume that was published in the States as a combined work (In Britain it was published as a separate story and titled Good Wives - Alcott's coffin would be strapped to the rotisserie and set spinning on "high" for that one). In any event, the play's first act is that first story, and everything resolves by the intermission - father returns home, Jo sells her first story. Meg starts courting Laurie's tutor. A delayed Christmas happens. Jo and Laurie kiss under the mistletoe. Happy resolutions. When act two kicks off, it's a couple years later - Meg is now a stressed-out mother, Amy has become the unpleasant society woman that Jo disdains, Jo is still dreaming, and Beth is still the fragile secret protagonist. The theme has changed as well, stressing now the demands of adulthood on the quartet. There is a lot of "Oh, grow up" among the character discussions here, and a question of what that really means.

The second act also takes some liberties with the original text. Characters and actions from the additional volume don't appear, and there feels like a disconnect as JoLaurie becomes AmyLaurie (the two hook up in Europe in the book, which is not covered here). It is a weird sort of denouement that resolves with Jo choosing to become the writer we know Alcott as. It feels like a bit of a change-up a sequel to the first act as opposed to a continuation..

Hamill did Pride and Prejudice at the Rep a few years back, and took some amusing swings at the original text. She feels more grounded in this one, more traditional to the written text, more fitting into the period. The sets have that suitable, open feel that suits the Rep well, with pianos, dinner tables and sickbeds wheeled on and off. It does have that cozy feel suitable for a a traditional Holiday Play, something you can take the kids or the visiting relatives to. I still have no great desire to engage with the original source material, or even the half-dozen film adaptations over the years, but it was a good afternoon in another place, another era. 

More later,

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Recent Arrivals: Pre-Holiday Rush

This season's collection, with a 
festive fall display.
This particular entry is a mixed bag of  goodies come from a variety of sources. Kickstarters, purchases from local stores, mailing list, and even Amazon (yes, Amazon). 

I notice these write-ups are getting longer as we go along. Often it is because they refer back to a previous product and I've read, or remind me of something in the long-ago. Also, credits are getting longer over the years and projects get larger. Bear up, folks, and have a happy Holiday Season.

Heroes' Feast: Flavors of the Multiverse, an official D&D Cookbook, by Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, Michael Witwer, Sam Witwer, recipes by Adam Reid, 216-page hardbound, Ten Speed Press, part of the Penguin Random House Empire, 2023. This arrived on the doorstep unannounced. I am on a mailing list, apparently. This is a sequel to the previous Heroes' Feast, by the same talented group. The first cookbook was framed around various fantasy racial cuisines, while this one is geared at the various D&D campaign settings. The adventuring firm of Newman, Peterson, Witwer & Witwer deliver good works, the food photos are nice, and the recipes are by an unbio-ed Adam Reid, who I believe is the guy doing the equipment tests on the Cook's Country/America's Test Kitchen shows. One amusing reference is in their shrimp tarsis recipe, which does a nice call-back to the turkey tarsis recipe the Lovely Bride put into the now-classic Tales of the Inn of the Last Home book.

Historica Arcanum: Empires of the Silk Road and Herald of Rain by Sarp Duyar and Doga Can Sayilkan (Project Leads), 256- and 224- page hardbound books in slip case with maps, Metis Creative, Kickstarter. I thought that their first project (City of the Crescent) was good, but when this handsome slipcase arrived, it convinced me to back their NEXT Kickstarter project (Era of the Crusades) immediately. You can really see the Evolution of the company's styles here both in design and presentation. Crescent was about Constantinople, and these volumes focus on the Baghdad to Samarkand route in the 13th Century.  Empires of the Silk Road is about the cities and cultures of the region (which is underdeveloped in RPGs), and is packed with 5E alternatives. Herald of Rain throws the PCs up against the Assassins - the OG Assassins out of the Citadel of Alamut. One amusing thing is the hardbounds back in the day sometimes had blown-in pieces of paper when they are bound to help the covers cure. In this case, the blown-in endpapers were Captain America prints. Amusing and unintentional meeting of West and East. 

Paladin Adventures by Ruben in 't Groen, based on the King Arthur Pendragon Rules by Greg Stafford, 120-page hardbound, Nocturnal Media/Chaosium/Moon Design Publications, 2019, Purchased at Mox Boarding House, Bellevue. This was a whim purchase, and a surprise that it would show up on the shelves after all these years (Nocturnal Media is no more, and I don't know how this would end up on the shelves of the Mox (by the way, I like the Mox, but its parking situation is usually dire)). Paladin is Pendragon switched up from Arthur's Day to the time of Charlemagne and the Song of Roland. It is a direct descendent of Pendragon 5.2 in a slightly more modern setting. I always despair of good rules not getting good support material, and was happy to see eight adventures for the game. The book has the high quality of its predecessor, and drips with the vibe of the era and its stories. The feeling of it is very European, and it does feel like a translated import, but the Internet has failed me on that. Good job, regardless.

Heckna! Campaign Setting Boxed Set, by Ashley Warren, Misty Bourne, Verity Lane, and others, 294- page hardbound PLUS a box crammed full of card decks and standup paper counters, Hit Point Press. Kickstarter.  This is something that Kickstarter does well - I don't think I would pick up something this massive in the local store. It is a 5E campaign centered around a demiplanish carnival oe eeevil. It feels like Ravenloft with all the jambs kicked out and Strahd sent to clown college. The game has taken a lot of modern 5E tropes (like milestone advancement), adds tons of content, new monsters, and items, and wraps it up in a cool narrative bow. AND then adds decks of cards for monsters, spells, and magic items, stand-up cardboard counters, tickets, and a regular card deck with game material. The production values here are top-notch, with lavish art and a huge amount of content. I don't know if I'm ever going to PLAY this one - it is a bit daunting, but I am going to READ it all the way through.

I actually gave this book to 
a friend, so I had to ask
him for a picture
Monsters, Aliens and Holes in the Ground, by Stu Horvath, 256-page hardbound, MIT Press, 2023, Picked up on a whim at Midgard Games and Comics, my regular comic book shop in Fed Way. This is not a complete history of RPGs, but rather a wandering through the author's collection of highpoints. It is broken down into eras, but he wanders into later editions and reprints, particularly in the photos. The results are uneven, as certain projects are slighted because they were not part of his personal journey, or because he just didn't like the creators. His source material is often other published works, including the Internet, which means a lot of old rumors bob to the surface. In particular, he ascribes to the old hack that everything TSR (and later WotC) did was wrong, but all the scrappy independents were OK. Bloggy, gossipy, and definitely opinionated, it's a fun read but definitely makes me want to come out swinging in places. Your mileage may vary. One petty nit? He shows the cover of the original yellow-box Marvel Super Heroes game, but credits the art to Jeff Butler (Jeff did the Advanced Set covers - the original was by (drumroll) John Romita Sr.) 

This book is also on loan, 
so I had to get a separate
photo to include it here.
Lore and Legends by Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, Michael Witwer, Sam Witwer, 416-page hardbound, Ten Speed Press, 2023. Yep, I'm definitely on a mailing list, and that's OK. This volume sings the praises of 5th Edition, now ten years old. I'm an old grognard, but I am definitely good with this. Recent books have been dealing with in the depths of D&D History for a while now - it is practically it's own subgenre. I'm delighted to see something written about the 5E era. It's a little self-congratulatory, but makes an excellent tonic for the previous tome above, More importantly, in addition to talking about all the hardback adventures since (and yeah, there are a lot of them), they recognize the importance of Live Play in the modern era, and show pictures of people actually playing the game! Yay!

Cults of Runequest by Greg Stafford, Jeff Richard, and artists Loic Muzy, Agathe Pitie and Katrin Dirim. Mythology 158-page hardbound, The Lightbringers 164-page hardbound, The Earth Goddesses 142-page hardbound, all 2023. Amazon. Yes, I bought game products from Amazon, as NONE of my regular shops carried this new series of hardbacks, and while you can order from the publisher (and get free e-versions), the household already had free shipping through Prime. In any event, Runequest is my favorite game that I follow but do not play (I have played EPT and Traveller, two others I tend to follow, within living memory). In my work the Runequest game operates on two levels - a tactical, personal level which has a Bronze age feel to it. Alongside that is a religious backstory of Gods that makes the Realms seem frankly underpopulated. Mythology gives a good overview I really like untangling a mythology where the gods themselves are both good or evil depending on point of view. Mythology gives an overview of the legends (a lot of which occurred before the beginning of time, which you have to wrap your head around). The Earth Goddesses and The Lightbringers are more grounded, dealing the various cults to the Earth Goddess pantheon and the old-school hero pantheon of the Lightbringers, whose rescued the Sun God Yelm after one of their numbers (Orlanth) killed them in the time before Time existed. Yeah, it's complicated. Also, the art in these books is great.

The Cataclysm of Kang Adventure by Matt Forbeck and others,  256-page hardbound, Marvel Worldwide, 2023 Midgard Comics, Games, and More. Picked up this one up on my Wednesday lunch break. One of the challenges to the old 80's MSH game was adventures. They were designed to feature one particular group (Avengers, FF, Alpha Flight) but we had to take into account what happens when someone wants to bring in a different team, or bring a custom-group of their local heroes as well. The new Marvel Multiverse RPG (MMRPG? MarvMult?) deals with that in that the adventure is hero agnostic, and that you can run it as a 7-issue graphic novel for one group of fledgling heroes that advance over time, or 7 separate adventures with various heroes of the appropriate power levels. You start off in an Italian Restaurant and end up fighting in an Galactus-level Kang to save an alternate-Earth ruled by the bad guys. The book also include 60 new MU characters that were left out of the initial hardback. 

And that's it for this round. Happy Thanksgiving, or general fall festive holiday, to all who observe.

More later,

Friday, November 10, 2023

The Political Desk: Results - The Center Holds

So, long-term readers of this blog know that I wait a couple days before posting the results of the election. This is because Washington State uses mail-in ballots, and it will sometimes take a while for the dust to settle. Particularly in this season, because some knuckle-head mailed white powder to the voter-counters. Fortunately, the Elections Department actually planned for this type of A-hole move, evacuated, cleaned up, and went back to counting.

The nation story this year is that the GOP and its candidates faceplanted. More progressive candidates and issues carried the day against more conservative alternatives. But in Seattle, the big city next door, the more centrist, business-friendly wing of the Democratic Party succeeded in taking control of the City Council (and yes, the Progressive votes tend to come in late, I don't think we're going to see the amount of movement necessary to overturn many of the early results). So the centrist-business-friendly Mayor has a centrist-business-friendly council to work with. That's cool. Let's look for some results.

And lest the chattering classes tend to view this as a sudden lurch to the right (and I'm looking at you, Seattle Times columnists), the city overwhelmingly approved a near-billion dollar levy for low-income housing. Oh, the horror.

Down in our neck of the woods, the story is actually much the same. Incumbents and moderates prevailed, with one exception. That's cool, generally. Let's check out what happened. 

 King County Director of Elections - Incumbent Julie Wise smashed her opposition, a MAGA-leaning, election-denying talk show host, flat. She actually got more votes than were cast in the King County Assessor's race, where the incumbent was running unopposed. As for her opposition, who knew that denying the fairness of elections would make people less willing to vote for you in an election? 

Port of Seattle Position 5 -  Fred Felleman handily won re-election to his position as well. That's nice.

City of Kent Council, Positions 1, 3, 5, and 7. Incumbents Marli Larimer and Zandria Michaud won re-election, and retired Boeing guy John Boyd joins the team. Yeah, that works. 

Kent School District No. 415 Director District 2 and 3 - Here is where it gets interesting. At the time of this writing  Meghan Margel won her position, but and Leslie Kae Hamada has fallen behind Donald Cook by a gnat's whisker (a politically scientific term for 166 votes, which even in our small city is not a lot. Which is odd for me, since Hamada was the only candidate that had (so far as I noticed) mailers and yard signs. But it may be tied to next item.. 

Kent School District No. 415, Proposition 1 (Replacement of Expiring Educations and Operations Levy) is passing (by two gnat's whickers) while Proposition 2 (Capital Projects and Technology Levy) is failing. Disappointed in this one, but These props were a rebuild of a bond issue in the last election that didn't make 50% either, so it is not a horrible surprise. Funding issues are going to be a discussion in the near future.

Special Purpose Districts -  I know no one besides the candidates who are googling their names will find this one, so congrats to the winners. 

  • Soos Creek Water and Sewer District Commissioner Position No. 1 -  Alice Marshall 
  • Public Hospital District No. 1 Commissioner District No. 1 - Anthony R. Berkley 

And that wraps up this year's election. But, oh ghod, they're already talking about next year's elections.

More later.