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Research on 4H

So my 12-year-old hero from Central Maine has been in 4H, because he would, and besides, I need him to, for the plot.  Having grown up in NYC a long time ago, I know not from 4H.  I mean, I've been to county fairs and seen children standing proudly beside their goats and calves and prize-winning carrots and canned beans, but that's not knowing anything.

The internet has proven less than useful in this instance.  It will tell me all about 4H programs and how wonderful they are for character-building, but I can't find anything telling me how it works.  On the other hand, I now have a firm theoretical knowledge of how to milk goats and the best winter bedding for my (fictional) pig.

Anybody out there willing to help me out with the 4H?  What I need is a quick primer on how involved my character might reasonably be with it, given his age and his economic situation (very poor).  If the fact that his uncle (who is a mechanic and lives in a town) wouldn't pay for any extracurriculars even if he could afford them means Nick (my hero's name is Nick) wouldn't have been part of 4H, I need to know that, too.  If you can help, leave a comment, and we'll find a way to move this to email, or even a phone call, because I don't need much, I just need enough so I can write a paragraph without sounding like the total urban ignoramus that I actually am.

Bless you in advance.  Even if nobody knows what I need, just formulating it like this has already helped.

Chaplin

I wanted to love it, I really did.  I like Chaplin (as an artist and a character, anyway--he wouldn't have been at all fun to know personally).  I like most of the historical periods he was active in.  I'm not enthralled with Hollywood celebrity bios, because narcissistic and utterly without sense of proportion, but I can make allowances.  After Priscilla of the Desert and How to Succeed in Business (not to mention On a Clear Day You Can See Forever), I feel that I can deal with a great deal of silliness and sentimentality as long as the production is good and the music doesn't offend my ears.

I'm sorry to report that I couldn't at all deal with Chaplin.

It's not that it was soppily sentimental--I'd expected that.  Chaplin himself was no enemy of the jerked tear and the staged poignant moment.  But at least when he wasn't being sappy, he was genuinely funny.  Chaplin wasn't funny, except inadvertently.  The third or fourth time the specter of his mad mother floated onto the stage, plucking heaven alone knows what from the air two feet in front of her, Ellen and I had to bite our lips to keep from laughing out loud. The touching number in which Chaplin creates the Little Tramp out of memories of his impoverished childhood on a London street was similarly risible.  Why do plays (and movies) about artists have to reduce inspiration to a simple (not to mention simplistic) equation?  Beethoven took a carriage ride in the Vienna Woods and wrote a symphony about what he heard.  Charlie Chaplin grew up poor and had Mommy issues, and all his movies are about social justice and impoverished, slightly mad women he can't quite connect to.  Also his Inner Child, a kid in baggy harlequin pants and a regrettable cloth cap whose acting was a whole lot more natural and affecting than the cringe-worthy dialogue he was given to speak.

Pretty much the same can be said of the rest of the cast.  They are all professional, and they all do their level best to make something substantial out of very thin material.  Oh, the songs aren't bad--or at least the music isn't, being reminiscent of each decade between the 1890s and the early 50's, when Chaplin's permit to re-enter the US was revoked for his Communist leanings.  And the costumes are splendid--all black and white and shades of grey, until the last scene, when everybody blossoms into Glorious Technicolor.  I coveted every stitch Hedda Hopper wore, and there was sparkly 30's number, with floaty panels. . . .

But I digress.  The cast is genuinely splendid, every last one of them.  Special kudos, however, have to go to Jenn Colella, whose Hedda Hopper has a perfect 40's Radio Voice, even when she sings.  She's utterly, gloriously slimy--I love that in a character.  I loved Michael McCormick, too, who manages to breathe some individual life into three very similar cardboard characters , and Erin Mackey, whose Oona O'Neill manages to undercut her cloying dialogue.  But I really have to take my hat off to Rob McClure, whose Chaplin very nearly rescues the entire stupid play.  Not only does he look so much like Chaplin that it's a little creepy, he inhabits the role with whole-hearted fervor.  When he's charming, he's delightful.  When he's mean, he's terrifying.  When he's sappy, he convinces you he believes every sentimental cliche that's coming out of his mouth.  That's acting, man.  

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Clothing the Characters

I've been cheating on my current WIP (hopefully soon to be my ex-WIP) with my next WIP.  It's set in New York, on the eve of the Great Depression (at least at the beginning.  *Spoiler*  Everybody loses all their money), and my heroine, Isabelle (or maybe Isabel, I'm not sure) is a Young Lady of Means.  Of course she needs dresses, so I've been spending many happy hours on OMGThatDress shopping for her.  So far, I've mostly found party dresses, of which this is my favorite.

[Yes, I know a 2nd grader can upload pictures from Pinterist.  Sadly, I'm not a 2nd grader.  Somebody is going to have to show me, slowly, several times.  I've finally learned to follow knitting patterns, but computer directions?  Not so much.]

Oh.  Anybody who knows a good, layman's book about the causes of the Great Depression (the first one, this would be), lay it on me.  Because I'm stockpiling research.


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On Parties

Today we hosted a party.  Our good friend nojojojo was having a Big Birthday and she has a small apartment and we've been known to host parties for friends in that situation and the food was being brought in and it was an afternoon affair, with many willing hands to clean up.  She showed up at 2:15 to set up, the food showed up at 4, closely followed by the guests.  We ate scones and tea sandwiches and mini shepherd's pies and sticky toffee pudding from Tea & Sympathy (Where the Sfnal Anglophiles of New York and the inner boroughs meet to drink tea and air their literary woes), drank English Breakfast tea and ever-multiplying bottles of wine, and talked and laughed and generally enjoyed ourselves.

The only strange thing in this scenario is that, in the six years we've lived in this apartment, we've never actually thrown a party for ourselves.  No house-warming, no music party, no let's-get-together-and-celebrate-whatever party.

Oh, we've thrown parties.  A play reading, a radio-play unveiling.  A wedding reception.  Numerous family gatherings around out-of-town family visits or the Jewish holidays. Sometimes we've done the cooking, mostly we haven't.  Nor have we determined the guest list.  In a couple of cases, I hardly knew a person in my living room.  Luckily, I'm perfectly comfortable with talking to people I don't know from Adam, and they were all artists of one kind or another, so making conversation wasn't hard.  Some of them have since become friends.  But still--not my gig.

It's not because we don't like giving parties. We're actually pretty good at moving the furniture to comfortably accommodate the largest number of bodies, both sitting and standing, in the least amount of space.  There's a sideboard for the drinks, the garbage goes under the edge of the dining table, which is turned sideways in the bay, with room for people to get to the food set out at the back.  No muss, very little fuss, and everybody pours their own wine.  It's a good party house, too, with space to stand and space to sit and plenty of places to put down your drinks.  And the house is a great party house.  Not only was it laid out for entertaining, back in 1910 when it was built, with lovely public rooms in the front, all flowing nicely into each other and making comfortable places for people to talk, but it seems to enjoy being entertained in.  I swear, it preens when guests walk in the door.  The air fills with a kind of welcoming excitement, a feeling of "It's Party Time!"  And, believe me, at least at the beginning of a party, we're usually running around like mad things, setting out plates of this and bowls of that, closer to panic than excitement--although that wears off soon enough.

So why do we give parties for others but not for ourselves?  Some of it, I think, is the perception that there isn't enough time.  When we're home, we should be writing, right?  Or doing laundry or taking care of business or making phone calls or answering email or doing one of the Projects on the Endless To-Do List.  Home is for work and (occasionally) for rest.  Out is for fun.  Also, making decisions is a lot more challenging for us than you'd think.  And yet, we can make them just fine, when it's for someone else.

And the point of all this?  We like giving parties.  We have friends who have invited us to parties over the 6 years we've lived in New York, friends we'd like to see in our house who have never been here.  It would make them happy if we had a party.  I like making my friends happy.  It would make the house happy, too.  It likes dinner parties, but it simply adores gatherings.  So we wouldn't be doing it for ourselves at all, would we?  We'd be doing it for our friends.  And the house.  So we should do it, right?

Does anybody else have this (extremely First-World) problem, or am I just a nut?

Today's party was lovely, by the way.  Many good conversations, both with people I knew and people I didn't, and so much help with clean-up that I'm left with nothing to do but write an LJ post.  The house is humming softly to itself.  Yeah, we should do it.

Bring It On

Of all the plays anybody who knows me would expect me to see, a musical about cheerleaders would probably be pretty far down on the list.  In fact, when Ellen said she'd bought tickets for it, I didn't know it was about cheerleaders.  I did know she was apologetic.  There was this play a friend had to see for professional reasons, wanted to see it with someone who'd be willing to talk about it afterward, there were cheap TDF tix.  Fair enough.  I trust Ellen, I like theater, even bad theater, I like the friend.  I said I was in and forgot all about it.  I was crazy busy, still catching up on things that had piled up over a somewhat scattered summer.  By the time we found our seats, I was still in a state of blissful ignorance, which lasted until the traditional pre-curtain announcement about cell phones and recording devices, which ended with a coy prohibition about flipping young women except on stage.

I raised an eyebrow at Ellen.  "It's about cheerleaders," she said. 

My heart sank, the music and lights went up, and there I was, with the prospect of two hours in PerkyVille stretching before me like the Nefud.

At first, it was just exactly as dire as I feared.  The "I Want" number was a young (although older than the 17 year old she was playing), skinny blonde praying (literarlly) to become the Captain of the cheerleading squad.  There was a lot of hot pink and turquoise and squeaky-clean hair (mostly blond) tied up with perky red bows.  Everybody was overprivileged, everybody was dressed by Banana Republic and J. Crew.  Virtually everybody was whiter than white.  There was a Queen Bee, her Devoted Yes-Woman, a Fat Geek Girl, a Cute Boyfriend, an Eager Beaver Wannabe Cheerleader, and a chorus of extremely athletic flippers and flippees forming human pyramids and hurling themselves through the air to very loud (and not particularly distinguished) music.  I was, well, bored.  Whatever gene makes people root for the hometeam, I lack it--in that manifestation, anyway.  Who cares if Hamilton High wins the National Cheerleading Trophy?  Not me, and you can't make me, even if you shout real loud and fly through the air.

Then, midway through Act I, Our Heroine (Campbell, her name is) gets redistricted to another school for her senior year, thus losing boyfriend, squad, friends, and all in one fell swoop.  Jackson, of course, is black and street next to Hamilton's white and privileged.  As poor Campbell tries to find someone to tell her the rules so she can try and fit in, her new schoolmates swirl around her, singing of the joys of individualism in perfect harmony.  Enter the hip-hop crew, dancing fit to beat the band.  I can see where this is going, and it isn't anywhere good.  I'm heartened by the fact that one of the hip-hop dancers is a transvestite of considerable beauty and presence, that Campbell gets called on her cluelessness and that the Fat Geek Girl Bridget  (who has been stuck in the mascot's costume in her old school) gets to join the crew and dance a sparkly black lame costume which she rocks exceedingly.  Yes, I'm seeing stereotypes and stereotypical plot points, but I'm seeing them undercut and questioned and played with.  It's not so much irony as it is a mild injection of social consciousness into the fantasy of musical-land, and I'm almost starting to like it when suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, there's this HUGE production number, with Campbell in a sequinned, skin-baring outfit and a black and Latino chorus in throat-to-to shadow suits, and my blood pressure's going up and I'm sitting with my mouth hanging open, because what the hell is this anyway?

I tweet angrily about fail and complain to friend and wife, (which is when I hear that this is based--very loosely--on a movie from the 90's) and sit down for Act II with my arms folded and my jaw set, metaphorically loaded for bear.

The lights go up again, and it turns out the Fail Number was just Campbell's clueless white fantasy of how she's going to win the Nationals even if she's no longer at her old school.  Which gets pretty much the reaction from the Hip-Hop crew that it got from me and made me feel a lot more charitable towards the writers, the actors, the whole musical in general.

This one's likely to be around forever, between Broadway and high school productions, so I won't spoil the surprise twists and turns of the plot.  I will, however, say that, while not nearly as faily as I feared, however well-meaning and clever and genuinely subversive (and it is all that), Bring It On is firmly mired in the white, liberal gaze, with all that means. I couldn't help noticing that all the non-white students were as nice and broadminded and cooperative and generally enlightened as the white students were bitchy and competitive and generally stupid.  According to the Bring It On view of society, all you have to do in an inner-city school to fit in is not try and fit in--which I think we can all agree is not the way it works in real life.  Still, the writers seem to be doing what they're doing deliberately, skating between making sure they don't scare the audience too much (although the delicious Gregory Haney as La Cinega does his best to make them nervous) and making it question some of its cultural assumptions.  I can't say it entirely succeeded for me, but if it makes some tourist from wherever stand up and cheer for somebody they would usually cross the street to avoid, it will have done some good in the world.  Of how many musicals can that be said?

Politics aside, the flipping and twirling and leaping and human pyramids are spectacular.  There was one tiny young woman with a gymnast's strong, compact body, who performs as if flying 20 feet in the air, landing in a roll, and coming out of it to do flips across the stage was no big deal.  And that's in previews.  I don't know who she is, but my hat's off to her, and the rest of the remarkably hard-working and talented chorus.

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Genre Writing and Junot Diaz

Trolling Facebook (terrible habit, I must break myself of it.  Tomorrow, or maybe next week), I found a link to an on-line interview with Junot Diaz, whose The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao  not only won a Pulitzer Prize, but was also the subject of a really cool essay in Interfictions Zero by Carlos Hernandez.  But that's not what I wanted to talk about.

What I wanted to talk about--or at least point out--is the following paragraph, which says what I've been thinking for quite some time now, and even saying, over dinner and in bars at cons.  But never this cogently, nor from the position of authority and, yes, privilege, of a Pulitzer Prize winner.  There's not a lot we citizens of Genreland can do about this that we're not already doing--writing interesting, well-crafted, thoughtful novels about important subjects (and magic and space).  But it's nice to know that we've got at least some powerful Literary allies willing to tell it like it is.

Here's the relevant paragraph.

I think it’s no accident that we’re celebrating genre writing by literary writers and not genre writing by genre writers. I think that one of the elements, one of the dimensions that is left out of this discussion endlessly, and to my great frustration, is the word privilege. No one would be reading these books at the level they’re reading them now, if they didn’t have the credentials, the imprimatur, of literary fiction. Which is to say if a genre-writing-Joe had produced both of those books they would be stuck in their genre moment. And I think that this is what’s incredibly important about this discussion … is that there is privilege, and that this privilege grants a serious reading to literary writers writing genre versus genre writers writing genre. I don’t think we’re giving them a serious reading, I don’t think they’re going to be reviewed in the New York Times, and there is a deep unfairness there. Somebody like Justin and somebody like Colson, they have an American passport and they can come back and forth from the third world of genre writing and no one asks them any questions, but the genre writers are stuck with a Dominican passport, and they can never get out.

He has some interesting things to say about feminism and clueless men and his latest novel, too.  Interesting guy.

Into the Woods

The second production at Shakespeare in the Park this summer <sup>1</sup> is Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, directed by Timothy Sheader.  I was in two minds about going to see it.  First, I hate getting up before dawn to go sit on the ground for hours in the heat (inevitably) and the sun (sometimes) or the rain (occasionally) and maybe not get tickets after all.  Second, I Have Issues with Into the Woods, which seemed to me, the first two times I saw it, to be about how useless magic and fairytales are in the face of hard, cold reality.<sup>2</sup>  Butcsecooney was coming into New York to see it andtinytempest was proposing a group-waiting party kind of event, and I'd read the kind of peevish negative review of the production in The New York Times that made me suspect that something really interesting was going on.  So I hauled myself out of bed at 4:45, Claire and I met Tempest at the 81st Street entrance at 6, and we made camp under a spreading maple tree for the next 7 hours reading, chatting with people on neighboring blankets, writing <sup>3</sup>, and workshopping Claire's novella when Ellen showed up with food at 11:30.<sup>4</sup>  At 1:30 pm or so, I came home, triumphant, and collapsed until it was time to deal with dinner and dressing to go see the actual show.

At this point, my general attitude could be described as "Totally worth it, even if the show stinks.  Which it won't.  Probably.  I always liked the first act, anyway.  The music's great.  And the production sounds like it'll be lively, even if it doesn't work.  I hope I don't fall asleep.  Now, where did I put my shoes?"

Of course, I didn't fall asleep.  I couldn't.  And not because it was loud and busy and irritating and cartoonish (which is basically what Ben Brantley of the Times said).  It was because, for the first time ever, the play totally worked for me.  I saw the magic.  I saw what Sondheim and Lapine were trying to say about story and wishes and risks and the importance of knowing what you want and the unaccountable nature of consequences and what growing up and being a parent means.  It's definitely a Forest Perilous of ideas and themes, some of them more clearly stated than others, but somehow, this production managed to point up the various narrative and thematic paths so that I could actually follow their emotional logic to the unified conclusion Sondheim and Lapine wanted me to reach:  that stories and art are primally important to humanity.

In other words, I laughed a lot, ruefully sometimes, cried more than once, and stood around the entrance to the Park with the six of us who ended up going together for about 40 minutes afterwards, talking about exactly how awesome it had been and why.

Possibly the biggest change from previous productions was Sheader's decision to cast the Narrator as a boy--11? 13?  somewhere in there--who has run away from home after a (taped) argument with his father.  He shows up in a wonderful jungle-gym of a set with a sleeping bag, a flashlight, and a backpack full of dolls and stuffed animals, which he uses to tell himself a hodge-podge of fairy tales he's obviously heard and read and understood in his own  wa.  Since these are his fairy tale characters, he visualizes them in ways that make sense to him, ways that owe a great deal to popular culture.  Little Red Riding Hood is a juvenile Roller Derby chick in a red hoodie.  Cinderella, post make-over, is Disney Princessoid.  The Wolf and the Princes Charming are Steamy Romance Covers.  The Wicked Stepmother is a dead ringer for Patsy on Absolutely Fabulous and her daughters are slightly down-market Sloane Rangers.  The Mysterious Man is a street perso, complete with can of cheap beer.  Not all the references work equally well.  The Baker and his Wife, for instance, look like escapees from a realist English film from the 1940's, which probably makes more sense if you're English.  But the point itself seemed clear enough to me.  We're still making archetypes.  Some of them are further from their sources than others, but there they are, powerful and useful as they were in 1300 and before:  the disobedient child; the overprotective or destructive parent; the desperate couple; the lonely maiden; the predatory stranger; the danger--and glory--that can be found by stepping off the beaten path.

And that's just the costumes.  The direction contributed, too.  For the first time, I felt that Act II was a direct outgrowth of Act I, not just textually, but aesthetically and emotionally.  The characters had grown and changed without realizing (or even always wanting) it, changing not only their circumstances but their view of the world.  That I felt for them all--including the Wicked Stepfamily--is a tribute to the actors, most of whom turned in strong, unexpected, interesting performances.  Donna Murphy as the Witch just burned up the stage, dominating every scene she was in with the power and flexibility of her voice, the perfect control she had over her body.  Jesse Mueller (who was by far and away the best thing about On A Clear Day, You Can See Forever) as Cinderella was prime, too.  Utterly focused, utterly real, and man, what a voice.  Pure crystal, but with feeling, which isn't easy.  Sarah Stiles's comic timing was perfect as Little Red Ridinghood, and she was a cute as a button.  I loved Denis O'Hare, who played the Baker as a bit of a schlemeil, with a mush-mouth delivery that shouldn't have worked, but somehow did.  Amy Adams' Baker's Wife was perfectly solid, if somewhat bland.  Maybe her performance would have worked better on-screen than on the Delacourt's unforgiving stage--this was her first theatrical role, after all, and good screen acting is a lot more pulled in and subtle than stage acting.

Some of the best performances of the night were turned in by Milky White the cow, the beanstalk, the giant's hen, and the Giant's Wife, who were all played by puppets.  It would take maryrobinette to do full justice to a description of them, so suffice it to say that you'd be astonished what can be done with umbrellas, sticks and straw, pots and pans, a painted trash can, and whatever the cow heads were molded out of.  I felt my eyes prickle when Milky White keeled over, and the hair actually rose on the back of my neck when the Giant's Wife materialized out of a clump of trees.  My hat's off to the consensually invisible puppetteers who brought them to life, and to the orchestra who sat behind a scrim of leaves and ladders, 20 feet off the ground, in the heat, keeping everybody on pitch and in time as they negotiated their way through the score.  Outside.  With huge racoons scurrying across the back of the set during Act II, indicating that they must have been somewhere back stage during Act I.  Which must have been somewhat disconcerting for all involved.

Anyway. I've had a transformative experience.  I'm back from the woods, and I get it now.  Into the Woods is a remarkable play as well as a remarkable musical. See?  Growing wiser doesn't always have to be a painful experience. 

It runs through September 1.  The tickets are free.  Get up early and get in line.  It's worth the wait.

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1. I missed As You Like It owing to Too Much Travel in July.  I am sad, but resigned.  You cannot lead all possible lives at the same time.  Although we do try.

2.  Yes, I know you don't agree with me.  There's a narrative going on here.  Please don't stop reading.

3.  I revised most of Chapter 4, and might have finished it, but my battery gave out.

4.  It is wonderful.  We had a great time analyzing and anatomizing it.  I hope it helped.

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Nebulas 2012

Yes, I will be there.  With bells (and a deep purple velvet gown glvalentine made me buy at Second Time Around right before ICFA) on.  Not really doing much of anything but hanging out at the bar and chewing my (deep purple) nails and seeing the sights at the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress in the company of ellen_kushner and possibly lareinenoire (if she can take the time off from grading papers).  But I will certainly be at the following events:

- Friday, 5:30-7:00pm: Book Signing.

- Friday, 9:00-11:00pm: Reception! 

- Saturday, 6:30pm-10:00pm: The Nebula Reception, Banquet, and Awards. I enjoy these things so much more when I don't have, er, a dog in the fight?  Skin in the game?  A book nominated?  Yes, that's it.  I'm figuring I haven't a prayer, with so many wonderfully strong contenders in the line-up, but my nerves haven't quite got the memo.  Still, win or lose, thanks to Genevieve, I have a great dress to do it in. 

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes + Rantlet

Which brings us to Sunday.  We already had plans for the evening, but when Ellen's Uncle Ron said he had an extra ticket to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at Encores! (1) I jumped at the chance  I'm slightly more enthusiastic about musicals than Ellen and the Times had given it (and Megan Hilty, who played Ivy on Smash, and plays Lorelei Lee here) a glowing review, so I went.

And I'm glad I did.  I saw the movie with Marilyn Monroe, approximately a million years ago, and remember being mesmerized by the glowing innocence she brought to everything she did.  But I didn't remember what actually happens.  Or (with the exception of the iconic "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend") any of the music.  So I was happily ignorant of what to expect.  Except a truly professional production (which I got), and some great performances (ditto).  Jules Styne and Leo Robin aren't exactly Cole Porter or Stephen Sondheim, but they deliver catchy tunes (I liked "I'm Just A Little Girl From Little Rock") and some clever lyrics (the funny better than the romantic, for my money).  By the time we saw it, all the principals had put down the scripts Encore! actors customarily carry through the whole show (since they've only had a week to learn it, and have a lot of blocking and dance moves to remember), and were doing the whole thing from memory.  The dances are spectacular, the costumes remarkably posh for what is supposed to be a semi-staged reading, and the performances polished, energetic, and engaged--especially Megan Hilty, whose Lorelei Lee falls somewhere between her Amy on Smash (2) and what I imagine her Glinda must have been like in Wicked:  ruthless but with a core of genuine sweetness, hard because she needs to be. 

In short, I had a good time.  But I came out of the theater feeling, well, uncomfortable.

Uncle Ron loved it.  When I said I found it a bit dated in bad ways, he looked so alarmed, I segued right into how much I'd loved Hilty's performance and the dancing (truth).  But I can tell you, right? 

Writing about it on the train (3), I realized I had some of the same issues about it I had with How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.  Yes, it's a light-hearted satire.  Yes, every single character in it is a more or less featureless stereotype of a stock comic character (dumb blonde, alcoholic rich lady, chorine with a heart of gold, hen-pecked husband with roving eye, battle-axe wife, up-tight mama's boy, self-absorbed inventor, workoholic rich boy, stern parent.  Yes, the tunes are hummable and most of the lyrics are cute and funny.  Yes, what little common sense is demonstrated by any of the characters resides entirely with the women, who are also shown as working very hard for what they want.  Which is, of course, the silly, blind, head-in-the-clouds, unpractical, vain, self-centered (but very rich) men we've all just been laughing at.  Because that was the world Anita Loos was writing about in her 1932 novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and the world America was eager to get back to after the social upheavals of WWII.  Lorelei Lee is practical and self-sufficient out of economic necessity.  What she wants is to be taken care of.  Love is a means, not an end.  The way Megan Hilty plays her, she expects men to come and go, and doesn't much mind when they do, as long as they leave diamonds behind them. I find it hard to believe she loves or trusts her Gus any more than the other men she flutters and pouts at. There's a hardness in her smile, a calculation in her innocence.  The way Monroe played her, I was afraid for Lorelei.  The way Hilty plays her, I'm more afraid for Gus.

Which is all true, but nothing I can't deal with.  I am no stranger to historical cultural relativism.  It takes more than a little cynical mysogyny to give me emotional indigestion.  And yet that's what I had.  I felt it when I saw How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, too.  I suspect some of my discomfort comes from my fear that contemporary culture is being pushed towards the social attitudes that color those mid-century musicals (4).  They present themselves as innocent, light-hearted, charming, silly, but when it comes right down to it, their basic assumptions are none of these things.  They tell us that woman is nothing without a man, that marriage is primarily a financial transaction, that marriage turns women into controlling battle-axes or alcoholics and men into fashion accessories, spineless yes-men, or cheating sneaks.  They glorify a world in which beauty, riches, and position are everything, kindness and learning opportunities for comedy, and racial and cultural stereotypes abound.  During the Brazil number, I didn't know where to look, and that's a fact.

So yeah.  Mixed feelings about the play.  Not a single reservation about any of the performances or the staging.  I bet it ends up on Broadway, with better costumes for the chorus and more scenery.  And I might even go see it again, even if I don't really like diamonds. (5)




(1) They do obscure and/or impossible to mount In This Economic Climate musicals, mostly from more than 50 years ago.  We saw Juno there, and Fanny.  It's always a real education.

(2) Currently the only TV program we watch, and boy, are we addicted.  Having started half-way through, we now have to go and see the beginning.  Luckily, we're used to watching stuff inside-out.

(3) Where I was meeting Ellen for dinner before we went to see yet another play, which I'll write about when I've had a chance to think about it a little more.

(4) Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was written in 1932, made into a musical in 1949.

(5)  I wish I knew how to do superscripts, because I love writing footnotes.

ET get Ivy's name right and repatriate a lost verb in the second sentence.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream

Moving right along (as did we).

On Saturday (Could that be right?  *checks calendar*  Yes, Saturday.) we ate at the chi-chi Central Park South eatery Sarabeth's with friends, then took a walk in Central Park, with stops at the Dairy (which is now a purveyor of tourist tat, maps for the lost, and books for the interested) and the Carousel.  Having determined that unaccompanied adults were indeed allowed to indulge in a ride on one of their beautifully repainted and spirited steeds, all four of us (one with a bad hip, one with bad knees) climbed aboard and spun up and down and round and round to the tinny strains of "Someday Soon" and other tunes of a similar vintage.  Which Ellen and I sang along to while our friends laughed uproariously.  The air was warm and fragrant with orange blossom, the sun was shining with all its might, the green of the new grass and leaves was gloriously blinding and tender.  And what do we do?  We skibble off to the Classic Stage Company on E. 12th Street to meet Liz Gorinsky, who had two extra tickets to their production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

And you know, I'm not sorry we did.

The Classic Stage Company is where we saw our beloved Venus In Fur last year--twice--and The Iron Age, and (about a million years ago, before I started writing reviews) Tony Kushner's Illusion.  What they do is always spare, always fresh, always interesting--even when it doesn't work.  Their Midsummer Night's Dream does work, very well indeed.  It's like Circus meets pantomime, updated to the day before yesterday, with Hermia and Helena as a matched set of Long Island rich girls (one blonde, one brunette) in sky-high heels and tight little dresses and Lysander and Demetrius as interchangeable Preppie frat boys in head-to-toe Brooks Brothers.  The fairies are clowns, with beards and skirts and corsets and glitter distributed among their costumes with a fine disregard for gender and color sense.  Puck, as played by Taylor Mac is the gender-bendiest of them all, tall, supple, irreverent, his costume varying from stripy clown to Alice in Wonderland drag to Green Man to something that looked as if it had been made out of skinned pink plush elephants, all flapping cartoon ears and stuffed trunks, including one, diamante, bouncing you-know-where.  A bit distracting, but he made it work for him.  And work.  And work.  He, and the gloriously unsubtle Bottom of Steven Skybell (who I remember fondly from his ART days), put me strongly in mind of the iconic Peter Brooke Dream, which I saw in 1970.  They have the same delight in the language, the same firm knowledge that these fairies aren't wifty and ethereal, but robust, earthy, tricksy, creatures of lightning and darkness and thunderstorm as well as moonlight and flowers, playful and scary in the way clowns are scary, in that you don't know what they might do next.

It wasn't perfect.  Ellen and I agreed that the Pyramus and Thisbe play was dull--a series of bad-performance in-jokes that clearly tickled the actors, but left us, at least, cold.  One lady in the front row of the center section, who nearly fell out of her seat laughing, would certainly disagree.  And, try as I might, I cannot warm to David Greenspan's mannered, unvarying execution of whatever part he is called upon to play.  He clearly works his ears off, and is game for any costume or stage direction, however strange or athletic.  But he's always David Greenspan, working his ears off; I prefer actors who disappear into their parts.  Like Skybell.  Like Christina Ricci, come to that, who does a dandy job with Hermia, and Bebe Neuwirth, whose dominatrix Hippolyta is super-pissed off at Theseus in the first act, and who thaws, not only beautifully, but believably, at the end.  And I don't know who Anthony Heald is, but his Theseus is a real C.E.O of a major corporation who falls in love with a queen, who learns (off stage, of course) to court rather than try and dominate her, and wins her heart.  I loved their Titania and Oberon, too--true wild things who do what they do because they want to do it, wild, unpredictable, and unreliable, but beautiful all the same.

As is this play.  As is, finally, this production.

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