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Archive for the ‘Theater and Movies’ Category

Cultural Event

I’m sure you are all familiar with college theater, which can be surprisingly good–and of course, surprisingly horrid–but which is always available, and very grateful to the wallet. I just attended such a show–of the surprisingly good variety–and during the perhaps a TEENSY BIT long fund-raising spiel that preceded the show, the worthy dean mentioned that tickets for the show cost less than parking at the Kennedy Center. Well of course, MOST things cost less than parking at the K Center, but still, I see his point.

The show was at the Hartke Theater, of Catholic University, where my parents used to take us back in the stone age–they were ever on the lookout for thrifty ways of introducing their children to culture. For more expensive shows, they chose one amongst us on a rotating basis. (I will never forget that black day when the grim chore of child sacrifice to culture fell on me and I experienced Handel’s Messiah for the first time. A quick perusal of the text had fostered the comforting illusion of brevity—HA! A vile trick! I was outraged to discover that having once sung whatever it was–they went and SANG IT OVER AND OVER AND OVER. Hours and hours passed by. The infant Hope fumed.)

So now, some 60 years later, my kindly nephew and his family invited me to see the Hartke Theater’s boffo version of Kiss Me Kate, that grand show. I had seen it at the Shakespeare Theater a couple years ago, and this show was actually more fun, if of course less professional. Fine singing, good sets, and if some of the costumes were heinous, I have seen worse. (Though perhaps not MUCH worse than the fairly ghastly attempt at a cod-piece which possibly was meant to be humorous but which covered the groin like a frontal diaper. Spare my blushes, Catholic University!) However, nothing could be more garish than the costumes of the original production.

One of the songs has aged badly, alas, and is something of a trial for modern audiences-gamely performed by the charming young singers, but they must have had inward misgivings:

I’m a maid who would marry
And will take double-quick
Any Tom, Dick or Harry,
Any Tom, Harry or Dick.
Dick, dick, dick,
A dicka dick,
Dick, dick, dick,
A dicka dick,
Dick, dick, dick,
A dicka dick,
Dick, dick, dick,
A dicka dick!

Which brought to mind a VERY NAUGHTY SONG by Frank Zappa which I will not sully these pages by quoting but will just add a teensy link. I always liked Frank Zappa–what might he have accomplished if he hadn’t died so young!

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The first dance performance of the season–for which I virtuously purchased season tickets, thus demonstrating my support for the arts–was a dazzling performance of The Red Shoes, a full length show based on the old movie. The Washington Post reviewer was disappointed to find it not quite up to the movie—never having seen the movie, I allowed myself to be enchanted.

The show was created and choreographed by that naughty wunderkind, Sir Matthew Bourne–famous for his gay version of Swan Lake. Which, I will own, I did not entirely love. But then neither do I entirely love the traditional version. Quite the reverse, in fact–deadly old chestnut which you would have to pay me to watch. But the Bourne version is not winning my vote either…

However, The Red Shoes is another thing altogether, charming and witty. The music is a mélange of music by Bernard Hermann, who composed scores for films: Citizen Kane, Fahrenheit 451, and many others. You’ll be thinking, whoa, what a dog’s breakfast, but in fact it works very well. The show was absolutely stunning, with gorgeous dance, astonishing sets, deliriously silly and wonderful costumes. Bourne’s dancers are very athletic, and the women are much more, how to put it, voluptuous, than traditional ballet dancers. The dancer playing Victoria Page (= ensorcelled by the red shoes) actually had breasts—unheard of for most ballerinas. Possibly Bourne allows his dancers to eat the occasional cupcake, something which traditional ballerinas can only dream of.

Flamboyant scenes, one after another—dancers rehearsing, cigarettes hanging from those beautiful mouths—dancers partying at the beach, wearing the most amazingly garish swim suits while bouncing matching beach balls–

—and, oh my, the brilliant ballet-within-the-ballet, which at one point became nothing but elegant black silhouettes against a white backdrop. This was a SHOW, comrades. I came out of the theater still smiling.

Next week: La Bayadère. Sigh.

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Listlessly trolling through the tedious Netflix offerings–LORD, how it reminds me of those ancient days of fruitlessly scanning the shelves at video stores, finally stomping out empty handed, in a frenzy of sulky despair–I came across that old chestnut, Blazing Saddles. Which I have always eschewed as VULGAR and not befitting a lady’s attention. MEL BROOKS! Les bras m’en tombent. But, the mood was on me, and I bid Netflix show me the peccant morsel.

WELL.

It certainly is vulgar, though of course outstripped completely by more recent productions. It is also completely OUTRAGEOUS.

I cannot deny that I was entertained. Partly by the total outrageousness.

Lordie, lordie, how those delicate young students of today with their triggers and safe spaces would HOWL–could this movie be made today? Surely not. And everyone connected with this Indecent Immoral and Completely Unacceptable Movie of Godlessness condemned to be cast into the Outer Darkness! AND have their internet connection wrest from them! AND forced to undergo Sensitivity Training for a thousand years!

There are many quotes from this movie, which is still adored by a vast company of fans online. For example. The one that made me squawk with mirth was the moment when Gene Wilder beckons to the two Ku Klux Klanners (all decked out in sheets, with ‘Have a Nice Day’ inscribed on their backs) saying “Hey BOYS–look what I got hyeah”–and up pops handsome Cleavon Little: “Hey, where the white women at?” Made me chortle, I admit.

Yesterday I was walking in Silver Spring and it was early evening, and there was a singer down in the park, singing Nightshift. A song about loved people gone, lost to death. I was thinking about Blazing Saddles, as it happened, and Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little came to mind. Both on the night shift now.

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After work on Wednesday, I met a friend at Friendship Heights and after a modest repast, we joined fellow opera fans to watch the Met’s fabulous staging of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette on the Big Screen—this delightful innovation that allows one to see grand opera for a FRACTION of the cost and NONE of the bother that is an unfortunate aspect of attending live performances.

Roméo was played by Vittorio Grigolo—a very pretty fellow indeed, with a voice as sweet as honey. Though the costumes tended towards 18th century gowns and powdered wigs, he and his fellow Montagues were outfitted in bad boy leather coats, ruffled shirts and high boots. Mercutio kept his ruffled shirt opened down to his navel, revealing not only his manly chest but several chains with glittering crucifixes. Yes, a strutting bunch of quarrelsome hooligans–but devout hooligans.

Beauteous Diana Damrau was Juliette—and though she is in her mid-40’s, she almost made me believe in her youthful innocence. Until, that is, she came out in the most dreadful nightie—WHAT were they thinking of, to put her in this ghastly Frederick’s of Hollywood number? WITHOUT a bra underneath? Which would have been fine for an actual teenager, but not for the more traditionally built soprano. Juliette HAS to wear a nightie of course—TRADITION!–but there are ways of managing the busty substance so as to dispel any droopage, if I may use a technical costumer’s term. However, she sang like an angel, and the duets were so lovely, so beautiful.

Gounod tidied up the plot a bit, so that the lovers can sing some beautiful arias in the tomb before dying. See, in this version, Roméo bursts into the tomb where Juliette lies under the gauzy white sheet (she is still wearing that horrid nightie, unfortunately), pulls a bottle of poison out of his coat pocket (just the sort of thing a young gallant carries about, I guess) and swallows the contents. THEN Juliette awakens. Horror! Dismay! He explains, they sing rapturously and then Juliette plunges a knife (that happens to be nearby) into her STOMACH. Yuck. However, no blood mars her white nightie, they sing more soaring harmonies, and then collapse.

THE END.

 

In the play–but not the opera–there is an epilogue showing the grief and repentance of the warring families, with the Prince having the final words:

For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

PS This has been Shakespeare month for me! I have been reading 2 fine books based on Shakespeare plots, and dipping into the plays as I read. Book reviews here.

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English Magic

Since graduating from Game of Thrones, the cats and I have moved onto Mr. Norell and Jonathan Strange –a fine show, with ==>no beheadings<== at all! I read the book some 10 years ago, and absolutely loved it, it is so well written, so ingenious: the charming concept of an alternate England, alike to ours in every way, except…magic! Mr. Norell electrifies polite society with his magical demonstrations, and Jonathan Strange comes to London to be his pupil. The magicians are sought after for their invaluable help in conducting, for instance, war. Wellington engages Jonathan Strange to help him during his peninsular campaign in the Napoleonic wars, and Parliament particularly honors Mr. Norell for his contributions to British defenses. But Mr. Norell is a complicated and jealous man, whose aim is to deny magic to anyone but himself–and he makes a crucial error in performing a kind of magic which invites one of the fae into the world: the elegant but completely selfish and despotic Gentleman With the Thistledown Hair.

The gentleman looked doubtful. Any reasoning that did not contain a reference to himself was always difficult for him to follow.”

Many terrible and complicated outcomes result, and in the background looms the dark shadow of the Raven King, the powerful Mage of ancient times who brought magic to Britain, and whose power lingers.

This show was very well received indeed, and a sequel is under consideration. We look forward to it!

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Well, I managed to complete Game of Thrones Season 5 last night –and MY OH MY, the penultimate episode ended in a blaze of glory, with a body count that FAR surpassed any previous episodes.
I lost track and had to start taking notes [NOTE: Spoilers!]:

  1. Mrs. Stannis hangs herself
  2. Because her daughter had been BURNT ALIVE at the order of her dad
  3. Stannis’s army is massacred in attack on Winterfell
  4. Stannis is killed by Brienne
  5. Sansa and Theon leap off outer castle wall (possibly surviving? Season 6 will reveal!)
  6. First pushing Bolton’s horrid girlfriend off inner wall (she definitely doesn’t survive)
  7. Danerys is strolling about some hills and is suddenly surrounded by hundreds of screaming riders. She must survive this, but we have a moment of unease.
  8. Mycella is poisoned by horrid viper woman.
  9. Arya kills one of the guys on her list–and is then BLINDED!
  10. Sersei does the Naked Walk of Shaming through the town while people throw things at her. She survives this, but is wounded. Also shamed, of course.
  11. Jon is killed by his friends of the watch.

However, people have a disconcerting habit of coming back from the dead in these stories–and they are NOT HAPPY upon their return. So some of these corpses may reanimate in Season 6.

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Yesterday I saw the Merchant of Venice, put on by Shakespeare’s Globe on Tour, with Jonathan Pryce playing Shylock. A difficult play for modern audiences to watch, with its odious medieval animus against Jews on full display–and though this production tried gamely to show why Shylock is so set against Antonio—quarts of spit he had to wipe off his tunic—still, one is taken aback by the whole venomous business, Shylock sharpening his knife, his little set of scales to weigh the flesh. We are not living in a world that would allow such a nasty transaction. Always a problem, confronting customs of 500 years ago. Sometimes, considering the past with its bear baiting, public executions, inquisitions and tortures, one can’t but think that after all, the western world is become more civilized—well, except for the beheadings and night club massacres of course.

This production tried, as they all do, to give Shylock fair play—and Jonathan Pryce did a grand job in the part, one of those actors who can reach straight to the audience, take up all the emotional space in the house. This is what great actors do, and the reason why we take the trouble of going to the theater– buying the pricey tickets, dealing with the damn parking, and spending far too much money on boxes containing a laughably tiny amount of chocolate.

The play started with one of those Merrymaking scenes, with musicians and actors prancing about in grotesque masks, hooting and chortling. Their mirth was not quite as infectious as they supposed, however. A couple of Lusty Minxes—also masked–prowled through the audience before joining the madcap pranksters on stage—which was lit with real torches, whose smoke lingered, giving a cloudy chiaroscuro aspect to the proceedings.

The ladies were lovely and fun to watch, and Jessica, Shylock’s daughter, was particularly so—played by Jonathan Pryce’s actual daughter! The men—Portia’s suitor, Bassanio, his friend, Gratiano, and the foolish merchant Antonio who loves Bassiano so well—spoke well and convinced. These are competent actors, if not particularly compelling.
But NOTHING, nothing, can make Antonio look anything but fatuous for agreeing to the pound of flesh business. This production hinted (as is the custom these days) that the feeling Antonio had for Bassanio was more sexual love than just friendship—but whichever feeling animated him, he comes across as a prejudiced, thoughtless imbecile. Not the sort of person who handles vast argosies of trading ships.

However, this is one of those things we just have to accept—as also the tradition of Shakespearean clowns.

This play features one of the least lovable of the clowns, Launcelot Gobbo, Shylock’s servant. I perceived with a sinking heart that the actor was going to pull one of these ‘Get the Audience Involved’ shticks. With admirable forbearance, I kept from groaning as he leaped from the stage and dragged up first one and then another good natured theater goer (Note: this why you NEVER NEVER buy a front row seat). Lawks, such FUN! The audience roared as Gobbo instructed the two to do this and that! HA HA! Finally he allowed them to return to their seats and the play resumed. You’ll say, but Hope, why be such a killjoy, and I will answer that I do not pay $100 a ticket to watch my fellow audience members be bullied and manipulated by actors.
However, I was much amused by the scene in which Portia’s suitors have to choose between a golden, silver, or lead casket to win her—silly and charming, ridiculous slapstick—it made me laugh, as it has made audiences laugh for the past 500 years.

And then the excellent trial scene—a Daniel come to judgment!—with the rather vicious ending, when Shylock is stripped of all his belongings, and told that he must convert to Christianity. This production ends with an elaborate presentation of that conversion , with Shylock in a white gown in a procession led by a priest carrying a cross. Uncomfortable, rather.
I enjoyed the play, aside from the few aberrations I mentioned, and one must take the bitter with the sweet.
“I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano, A stage where every man must play a part, And mine a sad one.”

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