Friday, December 28, 2007
First, the original John Waters Hairspray from 1988 is wonderful entertainment and holds a firm place in many a cult film fan’s heart; plus since it’s just so darn winning, it has many more fans than most John Waters films. Many of these fans question the whole idea of making a musical out of Hairspray – why would that be necessary? Why, when the original hangs together so well and has such a kickass soundtrack as it is, made up of forgotten and semi-forgotten R & B tracks from the ‘60’s? Can a Broadway score really keep pace with Little Peggy March, The Five Du-Tones, and The Flares? The result is likely to be disappointing. Further, could any adaptation match the inspired casting (notice I don’t say inspired acting) of the legendary Divine, Jerry Stiller, Sonny Bono, Ricki Lake (at the time a virtual unknown, believe it or not), Blondie front-woman Debbie Harry, Waters regular Mink Stole, and Ruth Brown? In particular, Lake and Divine seemed to leave an indelible stamp on their roles – they were Tracy and Edna Turnblad in the minds of most fans.
Second, the Tony-winning spectacle of the 2002 Broadway musical Hairspray also has a devoted fan base, with deep and abiding affection for the original cast of Marisa Jarrett Winokur and gay drag legend Harvey Fierstein as Tracy and Edna Turnblad. Such strong acting personalities again left an indelible mark on the minds of fans; while the score (by Marc Shaiman) has never been considered as strong as the film (despite nabbing fistfuls of Tonys), it is certain that Fierstein’s singular delivery and distinctive croak are as strongly identified with the musical as Divine is with the original film.
So, along comes the film version of the musical (certainly one of the few stories to begin as a film, be adapted as a musical, and return to film as adapted), and it faces quite the uphill battle to win over fans who have already made up their minds that it simply has no reason to exist. As is fairly common, the original Broadway cast was discarded in favor of film stars and unknowns, which might not pose such a big problem except that one of those film stars is John Travolta, a personality so freighted with hits and disasters (and little in between), Scientology, tabloid gossip, and star excesses, that he can’t help but be polarizing for any potential audience. Further, he is cast as the beloved Edna, a role fully inhabited in the minds of fans of both the movie and the stage show by iconic gay drag professionals, while Travolta’s most feminine role was easily the almost-forgotten Boy In The Plastic Bubble – 30 years of macho heterosexual leads and supporting roles helping to bury a sensitive performance that could in no sense have been considered drag anyway. NO! REASON! TO! EXIST!
The muttering about this film started the second production was announced, and escalated to full on grumbling and groaning by the time the first trailers previewed. “Is nothing sacred?” cry the fans of both film and stage show, horrified at the transformations taking place, sullying the memory of two beloved entertainments. I heard it – as a huge fan of the original movie I had my own reservations, and each day they were shored up by the venomous sniping at the outrage being filmed in Toronto. Toronto! Do they not realize that John Waters belongs to Baltimore? Like many, I didn’t go see it in the theaters, and rapidly declining grosses saw it dropping by over a thousand screens within three weeks of release.
So, the DVD arrives neatly wrapped beneath the tree, and in the midst of a television writer’s strike besides. Faced with the dwindling returns of reality television and short-season reruns, seeing something else (anything else, actually) had its appeal. So…what the hell. See it we did.
Y’know what? It’s pretty darn fun. I enjoyed it, and sat with an enchanted smile through many of its charming scenes. It’s nicely done.
This is not John Waters’s Hairspray. It’s mostly Leslie Dixon’s, the writer who adapted it for the stage and again for the new film. The plot has some similarities with Waters’s, but at least an equal number of differences. Fat girl auditions for weekly dance show, prevails on talent and charisma, and finds love in the midst of becoming a civil rights activist for the cause of dancin’ African-Americans in Baltimore. Dixon had to pare the script to make room for the music, and hones the focus very nicely. Naturally, some of Waters’ more outré inclusions were lost along the way – close up pimple popping, Sonny Bono’s greasy amusement park operator, belabored subplots involving psychotherapy and juvenile detention, and beatniks embodied by Ric Ocasek and Pia Zadora in jaw-dropping cameos. The locations are simplified, the plot streamlined, the characters pared to a manageable few.
While Waters body of work and filming style make it difficult to take his moralizing seriously (in fact dares you to take it seriously), Dixon clearly has an agenda, and a much more earnest tone. It’s a nice piece of adaptation – with new jokes and sight gags, different taglines, and modified character motivations, it stands on its own much more readily than a more faithful adaptation might have managed. By developing something similar yet altogether different, Dixon manages to downplay direct comparison between the works, which is no mean feat.
Director/choreographer Adam Shankman keeps the plot moving along, most of which is advanced in musical numbers ably sung by the talented cast, including Travolta (more on that later), Michelle Pfeiffer, James Marsden, Queen Latifah, and newcomer Nikki Blonsky as Tracy Turnblad. Blonsky has a gigantic amount of music to deliver in this version, and acquits herself ably. She is unquestionably Tracy Turnblad – a character that may possibly be actress-proof; no matter who portrays her, the essential charisma first exhibited by Ricki Lake is out in full force. It is commendable that the singers were well chosen, since there is really very little dialog in the show – most spoken bits are only a few lines setting up the next musical number. As far as the dancing, it seems clear that Shankman is a gifted choreographer, though his film skills don’t always capture his work with the necessary élan – I was watching this on a small screen and musicals often suffer there, but the bigger problem seemed to be Shankman being indecisive about where to point his camera to catch the best stuff. As a result, the singing far outshines the dancing as captured on film. It doesn’t ruin the show, but it is a shame in a story that is so centered on the drama of a televised dance program. Shaiman’s music doesn’t hold up to the period authenticity and brilliance of the original movie’s soundtrack, but it is a serviceable Broadway-style score, and again, does not ruin the show. Blonsky and Latifah in particular have some very fine vocal moments, and almost every cast member has some chance to shine in vocal performance. You may not be humming the songs afterward, but you probably won’t be humming in impatience during the movie either.
While Waters’s anarchic visuals and script have been largely lost in translation, Dixon and Shankman keep in enough questionable taste and sight and sound gags to retain at least a mild flavor of the original’s bite. Waters’s subversive casting (Fat girl! Fat drag queen!) is part of the vernacular here, of course, but Shankman manages to add some subversion of his own, whether intentional or not – it’s really something to see an actress whose sexuality is the stuff of neverending rumors (Latifah) sing a come-hither ditty (much more explicitly than her Mama Morton ever did in Chicago) to another woman, albeit one who is actually a man dressed as a woman (Travolta), whose sexuality has also been the stuff of neverending rumors over the years. It makes one’s head spin.
Ah, yes, Travolta. His Edna really is a thing of beauty – a former glamour girl gone to serious seed, living as a pathetic shut-in terrified of having the neighbors see how far she has fallen, how enormous she has become. In this movie much of the role belongs to a fat suit and a multi-hour make up job; one almost wishes Travolta were hefty enough (and pretty enough) to carry the role on his own (and that someone had coached that bizarre accent into something at least remotely resembling an actual person’s speech.) Nevertheless he imbues Edna with a kittenish flirtatiousness and sexy physicality, and makes Edna’s transition from insecure homebody to canny outgoing businesswoman at least one of the more compelling subplots. While Tracy’s romance with Linc is an essential part of the plot, and her white friend Penny’s romance with the black teenager Seaweed even more so, Edna’s romance with her husband Wilbur (Christopher Walken!) is the real heart of this adaptation. There are many capable actors who might have been a better choice for the part, but Travolta more than carries his own here.
There are some lovely little gimmes for the hardcore fans – witty cameos by Waters and Lake, Jerry Stiller returning in a different role; still others for acting fans (let’s face it, the original cast were not likely to be awarded anytime soon) as Walken, Pfeiffer, Travolta, Alison Janney, and Latifah all dig into their parts like the seasoned pros they are. Zac Efron as Tracy’s love interest stands out in no particular way, but gets top billing on the DVD release, and Amanda Bynes (as Penny) reminds us that bad acting really is a part of the whole Hairspray gestalt. Seriously, was Hillary Duff unavailable? Or anyone else for that matter? But these are quibbles, and part of the way that business gets done in Hollywood these days – Efron’s name on the cover may sell a few more copies to the tweener set, while Bynes picture may make it seem wholesome enough to pass muster with Mom. All part of the packaging.
So, I guess I’m saying give it a chance. Yeah, I know you think it doesn’t belong, isn’t necessary, and resorts to stunt-casting. All of which are to some degree true. Still. While it’s not perfect, it really hits a wonderful note of blithe lightness, and has some very nice moments. And that’s reason enough to exist for me.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
I'm thankful for the cats that enriched our lives up to and well into this year - Ethan and Eloise, my beauty and the brain - rest in peace, my lovelies. I'm very thankful for my continuing relationship with Boo - I spent so many years knowing men without growing with them, and while growing involves many growing pains, I have an experience with him now that transcends all else, even if it's like nothing I would have imagined, and, admittedly, often a lot less exciting than I hoped. I'm thankful for my loving parents, my sisters, nieces and nephews, for whom I continue to hope we can turn the world around and make it a sustainable and peaceful place - I don't think I shall live to see the "Republic of Heaven," but I still think it's worth trying to build it. I'm thankful for technology that continues to make the world smaller, and allows me to meet, greet, and visit with wonderful friends from all over the world by simply looking over my digital back fence. I'm thankful for Prozac and modern medicine, without which I'd either be dead or locked in an institution as an invert with suicidal tendencies. I'm grateful for the continued efforts of all who say "this is who I am, and you may not treat me differently under the law," for we cannot build peace and stability on the broken backs of the oppressed. I'm thankful for being fortunate to be born in prosperity, having more than I ever will need, and the ability to say, "Thank you, that will be more than enough, thank you." Happy holiday, everyone!
Monday, November 12, 2007
Saturday night/Sunday morning
RW: Well, Missy-toes, it’s 2 am; we’ve watched SNL, a tape of Chuck, and this episode of Traveler is almost over – you about ready to hit the hay, Eloise?
Eloise: Uh – uh, oh, I need help! I can’t walk straight – I can hardly walk at all! What’s happening?
RW: Oh, shit! Baby Cat, are you okay? Does it hurt? Hold still. Let me hold you.
Eloise: Whoa, that’s a trip. I can’t make my legs work right. My brain is gefukt, isn’t it?
RW: Probably. Let me get a shower and some clothes on; I’ll call a cab and we’ll go to the vet. Why do you cats always do this to me? It’s 2:30 am on Sunday morning – do you think any vet is open other than the emergency? This is not going to be fun. Look, let’s put your bed right here by the tub, will you stay still for a moment while I shower? Just don’t move.
RW: Okay, I’m cleaner and awake – it’ll probably take a bit for the cab; how are you holding up?
Eloise: I crapped in my bed. Also, I think I’m going to throw up.
Can you clean it up? It’s disturbing.
RW: No prob. Other than that are you okay? Breathing okay, feeling okay?
Eloise: I’m…I’m alright when you keep me still. I can’t really groom; could you stroke me? It helps. It feels like grooming. Ahhh…that’s it. Prrrrrrr…
RW: Man, this is not good – your eyes are shaking from side to side. I wish Boo was here; he’s going to be so heartbroken. You do know if we go to the vet that you won’t be coming home?
Eloise: Yeah. Yeah, I understand. Let me just rest for a moment.
RW: You’ll let me know if you’re hurting won’t you? Because we can go – I’ll do anything to keep you from hurting. Boo will understand.
Eloise: I’m mostly just tired now – can we not go right now? When will Boo be home?
RW: Tomorrow, tomorrow in the evening. You don’t have to wait that long.
Eloise: Yeah, just let me rest.
RW: I’ll be right here.
Eloise: Are you awake?
RW: Yeah. This floor is really hard. On the other hand, my arms and legs are going numb, so I probably won’t feel it soon.
Eloise: I pooped again – could you get it? It’s very undignified.
RW: I think you’re kind of past dignity at this point.
Eloise: Speak for yourself – brain damage maybe, but these things still matter.
RW: Well, you always were so graceful…you’re still very beautiful.
Eloise: Don’t lie to me. I’m staggering like a drunken sailor. This really sucks.
RW: Well, try not to move. Want to go sit on the couch? I can still call that cab if you want…
Eloise: No. Clean up that poop; let’s talk for a while. We don’t get much chance to do that any more.
RW: Well, you are nocturnal. When you’re not sleeping 20 hours a day.
Eloise: I’m a cat. Try not to focus on that so much – I’m a creature of instinct; what’s your excuse?
RW: You haven’t had to use your instincts too much – we’ve tried very hard to give you an easy life.
Eloise: Instinct is not something that just shuts off – my social interactions, my general behavior, all instinctual.
RW: So what’s the cardboard box thing about? I’ve never seen a cardboard box in the wild.
Eloise: Do you have a cardboard box?
Eloise: Well, get a cardboard box. You’ll either understand, or you won’t.
RW: Right. …and the dancing?
Eloise: Hey, that’s your thing. You started dancing with me, not the other way ‘round.
RW: Takes two to tango…
Eloise: I suppose. I dunno. It’s fun. You’re fun. You play with me a lot; a little dancing now and then is a kick. But that red-dot thing is more fun.
RW: I don’t think either is a good idea right now.
Eloise: Yes. I think my dancing days are over. I’m going to die now, aren’t I?
RW: Yes, I think that’s true. If you need to go, I’ll stay with you. Or if you need help we can get some. Seriously, if it hurts at all, we can end it. Just a short cab ride, and they’ll put you to sleep.
Eloise: I’m okay. Let’s keep talking. You’ve been a good friend.
RW: You’ve been a good cat – you’re the smartest, most graceful, most beautiful cat we’ve had. And you know how much I loved Ethan…
Eloise: Oh, yeah, Ethan. Not the sharpest claw in the paw…
RW: Well, but Rhoda…
Eloise: Oh, that girl was a real mess. It’s been a rough couple years with the pets, hasn’t it? You’re not going to have any kitties left, are you?
RW: You’re making me cry. I don’t want you to go.
Eloise: I’m not going anywhere yet…where do you think I’ll go?
RW: I have no idea. Do you know the song Strawberry Fields?
Eloise: Beatles? You never play the Beatles.
RW: Yeah, it’s more my parents thing…”Let me take you down, ‘cause you’re going to strawberry fields…nothing is real, and nothing to get hung about…” Sorry, I don’t know all the words. “Living is easy with eyes closed; don’t be surprised if it’s a dream…” shit, I’m out, and this is just making me cry again…the point is, I’m hoping it’s going to be nice for you. But I really have no idea. I’m not very religious, and even if I were, most religions are kinda fucked up about pets.
Eloise: I’m pretty sure I don’t believe in an afterlife.
RW: Really? Lots of humans do…
Eloise: Not all – take the ancient Celts. They didn’t.
RW: Well, it might have just never occurred to them, but you’re right they didn’t.
Eloise: And yet, if they needed to fight, they did it. Naked, wearing nothing but a metal torque around their necks and fierce expressions…you don’t have to believe in an afterlife to not fear death.
RW: I’m not sure I follow – do you know what time it is? Where’d you learn human history, anyway?
Eloise: I read some – you know I’m in your lap, or Boo’s, whenever you two are reading, or browsing the web…and I loved lying around on the Sunday New York Times…nice to keep up on the news.
RW: Well, without actually having to live most of it, I guess you’re right. But I’m still not tracking you on the Celts.
Eloise: I’m just saying that when the Celts went to battle, they didn’t spend the time beforehand praying and hoping they’d be good enough to get into Heaven. They spent the time getting ready to fight as hard as they could – they got into a mind of fierceness and killing and winning.
RW: Ah, I see what you’re saying; they’re like cats – they just go at it.
Eloise: No, they’re nothing like cats – they’re humans. Celts. They probably did fear death. But they didn’t let it stop them.
RW: Now I think I understand. You’re telling me you’re ready if it’s time…
Eloise: Hell no. Nobody’s ever ready. Except maybe those who suffer. Then it’s probably better when it stops. But mostly, I’m talking about you – you get so afraid that you don’t do anything.
RW: Excuse me?
Eloise: Hey, no offense. But you know what I mean. You even get so depressed you’ll be too paralyzed to do anything. Except think about dying. And yet you worry about my suffering.
RW: Are you suffering?
Eloise: Nope. My dignity, a little. And nice change of subject.
RW: Well, that’s not so bad.
Eloise: Again…you are not a cat. Dignity matters more than you’ll ever understand. This is unacceptable. But you’re right – I’m not ready to go just yet. Sometime soon. In the wild, I’d go find a quiet place to lie down, and in a day or two I’d die. We cats can’t live long without eating, and there’s no way I could hunt like this. And you still changed the subject.
RW: That would be hard. Humans don’t do that. Most don’t. Maybe a few.
Eloise: I’m pleased not to be alone in the woods. You’re very warm, and I like hearing your heartbeat. You could sing some more.
RW: Really, I don’t know the words. And it makes me cry too much.
Eloise: Well, crying’s up to you. I’m not crying. I don’t really understand humans and crying.
RW: …I don’t think I can explain it either. I’m crying because you’ll be gone, and you won’t be here, and I won’t see you anymore.
Eloise: Um…okay, chalk it up to unfathomable differences I guess. Cats don’t cry. So, you want to watch Lord of the Rings?
RW: Maybe tomorrow. I mean, it’s already tomorrow, but after I close my eyes for a bit.
Eloise: Go in on the bed, let’s sleep. You’re going to have to help me get up on the bed.
RW: Not a problem…but how will you stay on?
Eloise: Just be still, and I’ll be still. For a while.
RW: You sure? We could stay here.
Eloise: Nah, the floor is hard and cold, and you can’t sleep. I’d rather be warm and soft anyway.
RW: Alright – but I’m still dressed if you need to go to the vet…
Eloise: I’ll let you know.
Eloise: You changed the subject you know…earlier…
RW: …and I will again. Go to sleep.
Eloise: You don’t have to be so afraid. After all, at least you know what matters to you.
RW: I do?
Eloise: This does. The time with others. The living with the living. The conversation. “Only connect…” You don’t care so much about things like those in the newspapers, but you live for people. Or, you know, “people”. Like cats. And, die a little for them too, when they go.
RW: Yeah. I worry too much about stupid stuff. “What if” stuff. I try to find a line between planning ahead and fretting, but I never really do. I just fret. Change is scary to me.
Eloise: Meanwhile, there’s a war going on, the religious right is destroying your country and all the freedoms you believe in, and you’ve spent the evening bored off your ass, watching TV, and taking care of a dying cat. I submit your priorities are fucked even more than my brain. You don’t even fret about the real stuff.
RW: I’m not comparing my pain. I know that my hurts are trivial. Work sucked this week. Finances are fucked again. The weather was colder than I like. I’m losing a pet. Boo-fucking-hoo. But they’re what I have to work with. Besides, I do what I can. Just not much that makes a difference.
Eloise: Sing to me once more. It makes a difference to me. Send me off, and think of me happy.
RW: I really don’t want to sing Strawberry Fields anymore. Besides, and this probably isn’t a good time to remind you, but you’ve been deaf for at least 10 months now. I might as well sing you a kitty song.
Eloise: You and your kitty songs. Singing “meow meow meow” instead of the real lyrics doesn’t make it a kitty song. You know you’re going to be doing that for weeks after I’m gone now, don’t you?
RW: Probably. But it will help me remember you. I don’t want to say good bye.
Eloise: Hush. Say it tomorrow – Monday tomorrow, not just a few hours from now. I’m feeling fine being still right here. Let Boo say good-bye when he gets home later. Spend another night with me. I can wait. I’m in no pain. Monday morning, well, I’ll be getting pretty hungry by then.
RW: You’re purring.
Eloise: I’m listening to your heart. You should give it a try once in a while.
RW: You’re a very smart kitty. I love you.
Eloise: Sleep now. No, wait, sing me something. I’ll lie here on your chest, and listen to your heartbeat. I can feel you singing. You can feel my purr. Let me be content for a while.
RW: “Let me take you down, ‘cause you’re going to…strawberry fields…and nothing is real – there’s nothing to get hung about…Strawberry fields forever. Strawberry fields forever. Strawberry fields forever.”
Rest in peace, Eloise Sabine, put to final sleep at 2:30 pm today, after a sudden neurological episode in the early morning hours of Sunday, November 11. She was 15 years old, and brought great joy to Boo and me all her life.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Hop in the way back machine; let's take a look at Randy's costume gallery of the past!
I've always loved dressing up for Halloween; I made a clown costume when I was only eight, and once won a school costume contest (are those even legal now?) with lambswool glued to my face with corn syrup and streaked black and gray - a fine, if hot sticky and sweaty lycanthrope. Of course, this pic being from about age 20, I can't be completely sure this is Halloween. I might have just been going to a concert. I think it was Halloween, though, for some reason.
Somewhere around here, I should have a picture in my Smurf outfit - blue painted skin and spock ears, and a pair of cut off sweats turned into shorts and hat - I was clearly dressing to impress. Unfortunately, I can't find it. I was also dressing to impress the night I wore this
though as you can see "DORK!" is the main word summarizing your first impression. From 50 yards. The veins and arteries fluoresce (of course they do) and the heart is covered with sequins. If only I'd had the balls to include what the costume is lacking, I might not have looked like such a dildo.
Ah, married life...here I am with one of my old husbands. When you're married, obviously you don't have to worry about gettin' some.That's also probably my best explanation for Darth Maude - a concept costume that was never filmed, though it did go to a party. It was basically a Darth Maul mask, a tatty gray wig, a two-headed light saber (dirrrrty!), and a caftan. Nobody got it.
But, of course, the best for last...Boo started it by finding a large plastic dish and pretending it was a hat. Next thing you know, we're shopping for fabric, and our friend John, whose sewing skills kept many a Sesame Street stage character, uh, in character, made the lovely dress and cape. I put together the hat, and came up with a way to keep it on Boo's head, and created the feather topknot.
Our friend Grouchbutt dropped in for Halloween, and we dashed around to Ragstock to find his uptown art-chick costume. While the boys were becoming girls, I set to work on my outfit; I'd already made pants, cuffs, and a long tie/scarf earlier in the week. What they weren't expecting was my willingness to shave my head - I'd grown tired of my hair anyway, and it was fun seeing their surprise.
It wasn't til we arrived at the party that someone noticed Boo's alarming resemblance to Glenn Close, so for the rest of the evening, we were the 3rd tier truck show of Sunset Boulevard.
Here's another pic. As you can see, it was a bad year for Andrew Lloyd Weber truck shows.
Happy Halloween, y'all!
Friday, October 26, 2007
Sunday, September 16, 2007
If you haven't already, proceed immediately to see Once. A gentle love story made for next to no money, and featuring nobody you've likely ever heard of, it's truly the most magical movie I've seen in years.
Admittedly I'm biased - but then what critic isn't, really? I have a deep and abiding love for Ireland - we still dream of the day that we leave the US and live there. From the opening scenes on Grafton Street and St Stephen's Green (pictured from our trip a couple years back), Dublin plays as much a role in the film as any other character, complete with the grit, gentle melancholy, and deep vein of joy that so entranced us when we visited. Certainly a lot of my pleasure in the film is the wonderful way that Dublin is captured (on DV, and in mostly natural light)- it is everything that I remember, and exactly as I remember it. There's the spot where Boo and I stood, watching the immense holiday crowds on Grafton Street! That bus! They're sitting right in the seats where Boo and I had that squabble! The buskers! The ocean! Sandymount, where Boo and I stumbled on a St Stephen's Day celebration! Everything is so recognizable, and realistic and wonderful.
The other characters are "the guy" and "the girl"; a street musician and vacuum cleaner repairman, and a Czech immigrant working a variety of odd jobs (look! She's selling The Big Issue!) They meet and begin a tentative romance of sorts, inspiring each other's music and rewarming hearts grown cold from bitter relationships in their pasts. It's a gentle, humorous, touching, and meandering sort of story that neither develops exactly the way you expect, nor resolves quite as you anticipate. The performances are unforced, and the emotions are spot-on. I've seldom seen a friendship between a man and a woman caught so realistically.
Perhaps the most amazing thing after all that, is that this movie is also a musical, albeit a musical unlike any other I've seen. Songs are delivered in their entirety, but in natural situations - sung on street corners for money, at gatherings of friends and neighbors, and, in a particularly beautiful scene, on a late-night street in a flurry of creative outpouring only briefly hampered by the need for new batteries. Yet the songs are more than product for our characters; they also further the story, give voice to internal emotions and conversations, and chart the course of the relationship as it develops. They are also beautiful, catchy, and wonderfully performed. I'll be listening to the soundtrack for weeks to come. It's an absolutely magical, absolutely Irish, and absolutely rapturous movie experience. If it's showing near you, go at once; if it isn't, put it on your Netflix queue right now.
Directed and written by John Carney, starring Glen Hansard (of the band The Frames) and Markéta Irglová, and featuring songs written and performed by Hansard and Irglová.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
We saw 1776 at the Guthrie recently, and it was, well. See it all started when S (that guy we went to North Dakota with) sent around an e-mail trying to see if enough people were interested to try and get group-rate tickets. See, 1776 is not a particularly good musical. I know; I've been in it (Guess when?! Hint: Carter was president...) though we performed a much-abbreviated version. It was still too long. It starts off well, and then, around scene three, it turns into the 18th Century version of C-SPAN. While highlights occur throughout the rest of the show, chances are good you may have already fallen asleep, and will therefore miss them. But, hey, it's the Guthrie, and the people going looked fun, so, of course, I completely ignored the e-mail. But...Boo did not.
Well, the dinner was good. My cocktail was a complete travesty, but that's probably my fault. When it's hot, and it was in the high 90's, I like a good gin Collins. But made with lime, not lemon. This is also known as a gin Rickey with less sugar, but Collins sounds nicer than Rickey. I mean, who would you rather date? And a gin-Collins-with-lime-not-lemon was good enough for Faye Dunaway in Chinatown, and she's a good role model, right? What I got may have had gin in it, though there is no evidence, and I didn't see it made. It couldn't be tasted through the thick sour-lime mojito mix that had been doused over the top. Not a drop of soda was detectable, either. But, like I say, my fault, ordering a classic cocktail when they wanted to serve me a pom-tini or something equally vile.
Dinner was nice, the pinot noir I had with dinner was also lovely, and the company was hard to beat. I was seated across from K, and K's always fun to talk to. K is sometimes masculine and sometimes feminine in appearance, but always pretty level, as befits someone who used to work in construction and now works for a bus company. K ordered a martini, but K is not too fussy, and they didn't screw it up badly. K was in feminine mode, with a lovely delicate cross over her scoop-necked bosom, and a rather fetching teal suit. The thing I like about K's fashion sense is that, while some people find it dowdy, I just find it realistic. It's very much what a Midwestern woman of her age wears. K seldom stands out as a T, not because she tries so hard to blend, but because she's just so casually female. Not glam, not affected, just casually dressed, lightly made up, and with her silvery-gold hair nicely framing her face. We discussed wine, travel, Ireland, Spain, Japan, music, and misspent youth. Quite nice. Boo held court a couple of seats away, and I missed most of that conversation.
I have to give the actors credit; they very nearly saved the production. However, what I'm beginning to find about the Guthrie is that they don't really trust their actors. So, enter technology. The stage is a thrust, and the main set piece was an Independence Hall interior that scooted forward and back, sometimes behind a scrim, sometimes well out to the front of the thrust. When a lovely young man with a lovely voice is singing the lovely and moving
Momma, Look Sharp, it would behoove the director not to choose to move the set. Since it is not quiet. And it only makes it so! much! worse! when you then augment the singer with the most obvious reverb since Madonna's second album (y'know, before she could sing). Also afflicted with reverb was the dynamic and showstopping performance of Molasses to Rum (yeah, these are actual song titles - History was never this much fun!!!) by the amazingly talented (and gay) Bradley Greenwald. Bringing reverb to Bradley is like painting two-inch silver racing stripes on a Bentley - it's tacky, it's ugly, and it's never justifiable.
Poor directorial decisions and a play that was never all that to begin with made for a mostly lackluster visit to the theater.
So, then we ventured out last night for an evening of cinema with Cy and John. We saw Sunshine, though I would much rather have seen Once. However, the other member of our party had already seen it, and Boo and the boys were pretty set on science fiction. Y'know, I'm still yawning. It's a pretty movie. All about flying the Icarus II to the sun to set off a giant fission explosion in hopes of reviving the sun before all life on earth dies. Again, good work by the actors; Cillian Murphy is pretty great as usual, Chris Evans is fine in many, many ways, Michelle Yeoh does a hell of a lot with not much to work with. But, ultimately...meh. The script just doesn't really give you humans with pasts or connections to root for - these people seem to have sprung up five minutes before the movie starts. And, it becomes extremely clear about 1/3 of the way in that ain't nobody coming back alive. So, then it's pretty much just waiting to see if they can actually save the sun before they all croak. And honestly, if you saw Mission to Mars, you'll swear you've seen it all before. Mars's ending is more preposterous, but Sunshine has at least one plot twist that makes you go "Oh, really?!" after they've encountered the Icarus I and found out why its mission failed.
So, not a great month for entertainment.
Just be glad I'm not blogging about work right now.
Thursday, August 02, 2007
You know, I don't think I've ever lived anywhere with a disaster. Weird. Boo, of course, attracts disaster everywhere he goes, but me, not so much.
So I can hardly express how weird it was watching the news all night last night. Very strange. News reporters, I must conclude, are completely insane.
Channel 4 (WCCO) seemed hell-bent on driving me right round the bend - everything seemed to center on the "BUT WAIT! IT COULD STILL GET WORSE!" school of journalism. My favorite paraphrase was "fortunately the kids [from the bus, natch] are physically fine, though the psychological trauma of living through this will, no doubt, remain to be seen." Subtext: Next May, there will be a Very Special Feature® on the "survivors of the horrifying bus on the bridge incident!" I had to change the channel.
I tried 11 for a while (KARE) and they weren't bad, and since a friend of mine works for them, I try to give them a chance. They had some absolutely gripping footage of what has to be my hero of this whole event - a blond amazonian rescue worker, wearing little more than a dive singlet and what seemed to be a Kevlar vest, precariously tiptoeing through the fucking Mississippi along giant fragments of broken concrete bridge and exposed re-bar, and putting her bare hands and arms and head through the smashed windows of crushed automobiles to see if anyone was still trapped inside. (edit: She's now been identified as Shanna Hanson, a Fire Captain.
But I kept going back to FOX ultimately, if for no other reason that I first heard about there - we were looking for So You Think You Can Dance and found, well, oh so much more. Now a word about our local Fox affiliate - they weren't always a FOX affiliate. It used to be a pretty good local station with the usual line up of not terribly annoying re-runs, (the not so usual) annual high school hockey tournament coverage, and some kick-ass local news - this was the nine o'clock news in a ten o'clock news region. Robyne Robinson has been with the station for at least 15 years and a major cultural force in the Twin Cities for most of that time; and while Jeff Passolt alternately reminds me that he used to be a sportscaster when I'm not confusing him with Don Shelby from Channel 4, he's also quite credible. Boo still avers that Robyn absconded with a bunch of hats that his chorus wore in the Pride Parade one year, but I'm sure it was a misunderstanding, and really, what are you doing putting your hats in the Grand Marshall's car, anyway?
This was really fascinating coverage. Both were clearly shocked, and it was interesting to see their emotions so visibly as they presented the news. I'm not sure what was pissing Robyne off so much, but her demand to a reporter on the scene ("...your REPORT!") sounded like it should be followed up with "...or I'll KILL you!". She seemed absolutely furious with the remote reporter every time she attempted to deliver news from the scene. She also seemed on the verge of slapping Jeff most of the evening; a sentiment I must have shared at least once or twice.
Give her the benefit of the doubt; like me, she was probably frustrated with the rate of news reports trickling in from officials, and the inevitable fog of confusion and inaccuracy that surrounds a huge disaster. At least three "eye-witness" reports were credited to people "walking on the bridge" at the time, which is simply not possible unless you're one of the construction workers - there is no pedestrian route across this bridge. It's a fucking INTERSTATE FREEWAY people. Poor Robyne. Sometimes she seems to channel the entire frustration of the Twin Cities intelligentsia. Shame she has to work for FOX.
I'm sure the days ahead will be filled with annoyance and frustration with the media, (I'm looking at you, Malkin, you insane bitch) but I'm feeling pretty good today. Almost all of my friends have checked in, (and if you're local and reading this and haven't, please do. ANDY. FROSTI.) and I can't stop thinking that damn, it could have been SO much worse. Most of the lanes were closed limiting traffic on the bridge, the severe weather did NOT arrive, a huge number of people walked away with minor scrapes and bruises, which, I'm thinking is a pretty good thing. Dropping a Honda or Ford from tree-top height (65 feet!) into a river is not something they've generally designed seat belts or airbags for. There are probably some elements of this that won't sink in until I see the site; on the news it all looks so small, and this is a bridge almost three blocks long. I really am finding it difficult to comprehend.
Today, the press is full of fault-finding and report-dissecting. I don't know yet what they'll find. I do know that at least two years ago I read an article in either Harper's or the Atlantic about the crumbling and decrepit state of America's infrastructure. The recent gas explosion in New York being another symptom. The levee failure in New Orleans being still another. This is scary stuff, and I hope, really hope, that we won't find that we've been sold down the river by our government once again. If the '70's, 80's, and 90's are the best we achieved by pushing grim reality and tedious and expensive maintenance into the future, we were totally had. It wasn't THAT good.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
So I dreamed I was at this really great Memorial Day party yesterday, with lots of great food prepared by the chefs from a local restaurant. Most of the restaurant staff was there, and it was eye-candy overload whether you preferred looking at pretty boys or pretty girls. But they were also really sweet to everyone else - it was like hanging out with the your high school or college A-list, but without the attitude or condescension - just very genuine wit and pleasantry. Everyone was way high or way tipsy, and playing volleyball in the front yard, dancing to music in the back or eating piles of this amazing food - pulled chicken in mojo, mole pork, steak adobo, smoky bean salad, and the perfect potato salad. In my dream, I brought pink lemonade pies (three of them), and they were a big hit - lots of very pretty girls raving over them, and some manly handshakes and pats on the back from actual restaurant chefs who said it was really great. The weather was balmy and not too sunny - and the day seemed to last endlessly. The whole thing was completely ludicrously over the top, and so unlikely that it makes me laugh. Great dream.
Oh, except when I woke up, it turned out that it all actually happened.
Pink Lemonade Pie
Dudes, this is so easy.
8 oz package cream cheese, room temp
14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
6 oz can pink lemonade concentrate (or 1/2 of a 12 oz can)
few drops red food coloring
1 cup heavy cream, stiffly whipped
1 graham cracker pie crust for 9 inch pie
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese til fluffy. Add condensed milk and lemonade concentrate, beat until smooth and well mixed. Add a few drops of red food coloring until desired shade is reached. Gently fold in whipped cream. Mound into crust, cover and freeze 4 hours or overnight until ready to serve. Keep frozen.
If you're feeling ambitious, replace 1/2 cup graham crackers in the crust with 1/2 cup mixed nuts (walnuts, pecans, and/or almonds, especially) toasted until fragrant and chopped fine.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
and for once, I'm not being sarcastic. It really was a great week! Along the way there was some rain, and the vaguely annoying, vaguely exciting process of trying to dash 12 miles home on a scooter that does 35 mph in between torrential downpours that cut the power at work, brought down some tree limbs all over town, and flooded a few underpasses and entrance ramps. 30% chance of rain my ass. In case it wasn't clear from this post's existence, I made it home safely, and honestly, not even all that wet. I've ridden in much wetter. Of course, if I'd been caught out 30 minutes earlier, I'd have probably drowned... so good thing number one.
Good thing number two, is huge: I finally got my promotion and raise. Both of you, my loyal readers, may remember my random work venting posts from a few months back (it shouldn't be that hard, I've hardly posted anything since). The outcome, which I see now I never did post, was a great success. The inservice day was lauded as a great triumph, much fun was had, and the internal bickering of our work team was in no way apparent to the agency at large. Our workgroup got the spotlight in a big way, with two notable outcomes - P the annoying slacker whose broken body we were on the verge of burying secretly in Swede Hollow found himself OFF the team, reallocated to a different unit because there wasn't enough impetus or actual evidence to fire him outright. May he enjoy counting down his days to retirement somewhere well out my sight and hearing.
The other outcome was that my annual review was a huge ego-stroking pat on the head, with a recommended promotion and raise. Which has taken a full eight months to process, with one thing and another. There was an issue with selecting the right title and grade for the position so that P couldn't use his union seniority to bump back into it once his reassignment was up. There was the prolonged position rewrite, which ultimately I had to do myself, since my supervisor spent several weeks out with a back injury and surgery. There was political jockeying and budget pressure, with the post-election reassignment of commissioners, deputy commissioners, and "budget experts" within the administration. There was me applying for a couple of competitive positions with other agencies, because damn, people, how long is this going to drag out? I'm almost up for my next annual review, already! But, at long last, everything has been signed, sealed, date-stamped, and delivered, and I am now an Administrator Senior, with an 11% raise. I think I mentioned back in March that a lot had happened since my final post of 2006 in October, and this is mostly what I was talking about. Now that it finally has some resolution, I guess it's worth posting after all.
So, onto number three...About the same time that this was happening last week, my supervisor pointed out the application deadline for the state's leadership academy - a program designed to build new managers and supervisors to fill the voids left by baby-boomer retirement. The deadline to apply was yesterday. I hadn't planned to apply this year, because the next few months are going to be crazy busy, and last year I didn't get in, since most of the 30 slots available went to state employees who are already managers or supervisors. Which may be the most succinct explanation of state bureaucracy you'll get from me.
So, yesterday, I pulled out last year's application and revised it, and got my two letters of recommendation, and turned the whole thing in. It is a better application than last year, because I have a much more focused idea of what my role in the department is, and more importantly, what it could be. It's not a slam dunk by any means, but my supervisor wrote a great letter of recommendation, and while this is also not a slam dunk, I think I see who he and his boss hope will replace him when he retires in 10 months. But I'm not going to say it out loud, and I think I'll quick knock on wood for even thinking it to myself.
So, all in all, a good week. I didn't go into education thinking it was a good way to make a lot of money, and it has been a struggle for much of the past 15 years, even though I love what I do. Finally making grown-up wages for what I do is tremendously validating, and seeing how the choices I've made have opened up the type of career I've been trying to build all along is really rewarding. Keep your fingers crossed!
The capper, of course, is that the great week has a three-day weekend. Woohoo!
By the way, this week's video has absolutely nothing to do with anything. But I thought it was hilarious.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
I should have just bought the fucking ticket.
A few months ago, I saw that Amy Winehouse was coming to The Varsity. After being wowed by her at the Brits, which we attempted to watch on ITV when we were in London, jet-lagged and bleary eyed on our first night, I was hooked. Back to Black is an absolutely fucking GREAT album, by the way. Had I gotten a ticket, the concert would have been tonight, as it happens.
Cash flow was a bit lean after our trip, and I had trouble convincing people to go with me, so I held off. Of course, Amy started getting airplay, my lame-O friends realize that I have great taste and they should listen to me, and by the time they decided that sure, we should go, she was completely sold out. Well, duh, what did you expect people?
So as an alternative, I get invited to this wine tasting fundraiser at a friend's house. Since it would be after dark by the time we're done, and presumably I would have been wine uh, tasting, I opted to ride the bus today instead of scooter, so I wouldn't have to park it and come back for it tomorrow.
Work is winding up, and I'm ready to go catch the bus to the tasting party, when some moron from another department desperately needs help figuring out how to work the DVD player in the conference room. I know! But I'm nice that way, so off I go, and it was a pain in the ass, because some other moron had turned off the amplifier, which is supposed to be on always, and while the DVD player was working fine, there was no sound, and with all the cables that connect one thing to another, it took way too long to figure out that the fucking power switch was just off, everything was fine, just no power. Now I'm late, but there are several buses, no worries, I'll just boogie on downtown and catch the alterna-route, but I gotta move, because it's in less than 10 minutes and it's a 10 minute walk to the stop. I hustle off.
I get delayed just enough by the traffic lights and the after-work traffic that I arrive at the stop just in time for it to fly by. Gasping from rushing my not-so-little tail off, whilst carrying my backpack over one arm and my jacket over another working up a most unpleasant glow in my dressy shirt and slacks, I curse the fleeing bus, and turn to the schedule to see when the alterna-alterna bus will be by, and then SOME FUCKING PIGEON TAKES A GIANT SHIT ON ME! Spoiling my dressy shirt, my jacket over the arm, and nearly a few other things as I'm hit immediately by a fit of gagging on the foulness and stench.
I phoned Boo and told him not to expect me. I wiped pigeon shit off my shirt with my jacket, and shoved the jacket in my backpack. I stomped off to the bus for home.
Some day soon, I'll begin coughing and wheezing, but we'll assume it's just allergies until it's too late, and a week later I'll be dead from histoplasmosis. Fucking pigeons.
Moral: Buy the fucking ticket when you have the chance. Worse things could happen.
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Had kind of a wistful day yesterday. My friend D's large brown dog has been ailing for about a month or so, and she found out last week that she probably had cancer. Stella has had hip displaysia her whole life, with some surgical intervention at 8 months. The last few weeks she's had increasing difficulty walking, getting up and down stairs, and standing long enough to eat, coupled with lots of fidgety motion and difficulty finding a comfortable way to lie or sit. Yesterday, the weather was absolutely beautiful - nearly cloudless with a gentle balmy breeze. Stella struggled out into the yard with D's help, and she found a nice warm spot in the fresh grass to lie down. D called the vet, and stayed with Stella for two hours, relaxing, stroking her in the warm sun, and saying goodbye. Boo and I came over, and Stella's human brother and sister and D enjoyed the beautiful spring with Stella, seated in the warm grass until the vet and her assistant arrived. They gently muzzled Stella, shaved a small patch on her leg, and inserted the needle. They took off the muzzle, and she gently relaxed into her final breathless sleep.
Afterward, we went to Minnehaha Falls Park, and watched the rushing foss, the blossoming trees, and the young prom-goers walking in their finery. We read the engraved excerpt from Longfellow's poem, with its passages of memory and stories passed on from one to another. We thought now and then about a big brown dog both gentle and fearsome, whose main talent lay in being large and brown and loving D fiercely, and softly said goodbye.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Sunday, March 11, 2007
A couple of reviews. I should be providing more background on what's happened since October, but it's a list, and I think it would be dull to read. I may post it soon as a list of "comings and goings" and you can skip it if it doesn't seem interesting. Anyway, we've just returned from London, which was a very pleasant respite from winter, and helped my mood immensely. Work has been pretty intense since I've been back, and, of course, as is always the case after travel, we're quite broke.
While in London, we did many fun things, not least of which was enjoy an early Spring - crocus, jonquils, and cherry blossoms all over. The weather was great, and we spent as much time as possible enjoying it, including watching the Chinese New Year celebrations, riding three- and five-storey slides at the Tate Modern, and watching Harry Potter and Mr. Dursley perform in Equus at the Gielgud.
As a night of theater, it was more than okay, though like most of the elder West-End theaters, it becomes quite warm by the interval (Boo suggested that it might have been to help avoid shrinkage for the nude Mr. Potter). Also, the guy sitting in front of me had a head like a cinder block, and would not sit still. So I had to keep shifting around to look around his giant blockhead. Boo was bookended front and back by two tweener American girls, who chattered, as tweeners will do, over his seat while he was in the lav. He soon glared them into submission when he returned, but about halfway through the first act he was disturbed by the sound of repeated grunting next to his right ear. Seems the girl behind him had dropped something on the floor and was trying to retrieve it, and breathing rather heavily next to the back of Boo's seat. Unfortunately, it sounded like she was up to, well, something else.
As far as the production goes, well, the leads (Richard Griffiths and Daniel Radcliffe, duh) were excellent, as was the gorgeous Will Kemp as Nugget. We were both much less impressed with Jenny Agutter as the judge. Beyond the cast, however, Equus remains a somewhat frustrating play for me, in that it's marvelously theatrical - some really wonderful roles, staging that complements the content, several crowd-pleasing moments, several thought-provoking moments, and an internal logic that hold together fairly well. It's a great night of theater. Yet...objectively, Shaffer's ideas don't hold up well against the reality of the world - his over-the-top intellectualizing about the role of artists and the mundanity of society is just as annoying here as it is in Amadeus. He's completely up his ass about the workings of psychotherapy. His hero's crisis of faith and identity is built on just as much sham as the patient's ersatz spirituality. Somehow that both works to the detriment of the play and its benefit - the endless parallelisms that Shaffer employs ultimately end up swallowing their own tails, and you end up with something that works so extremely well on its own terms and has so little to carry away outside the theater other than an interesting and entertaining night out. Oh, and to answer your unstated question, Mr. Radcliffe looks fine nude. Clearly has been working out. Has enormous testicles for such a slender lad. Still, give me Will Kemp any day. Today would be fine - I'll await the delivery.
This past week, after returning home, we got to redeem our Christmas present from a couple of friends of ours - we went to see The Glass Menagerie at the new Guthrie on Friday. The new space is beautiful, but a bit awkward to navigate - I can easily imagine patrons becoming lost and wandering endlessly in its multi-level ramps, hidden escalators and stairwells, and "endless bridges". Really lovely to look at though. We were not in the main theater (there are three in the complex), but the proscenium stage, which was quite nice - tricked out in bright red, with lovely sightlines - I was all but unaware of the people in front of us. The legroom was a bit short for my taller friends, but suited me just fine.
The production starred Harriet Harris (Frasier's agent Bebe) as Amanda, and she was quite fabulous. After the show, as we wandered the ramps, stairwells, and bridges, we passed within mere feet of her entering the bar, but as usual I was too tongue-tied to gush, and I never ask for autographs, because I have no idea what to do with them. Far less fabulous was Randy Harrison (mostly famous for getting his salad tossed in the first episode of the US production of Queer As Folk) as Tom - his performance was all over the map, and lacked any coherence. I also hated Tracy Maloney as Laura, for whom shy and fragile mostly translated as weird and abrupt. Jim O'Connor as the gentleman caller mostly redeemed their scenes together, but thankfully Williams's play is so beautifully written than even a couple of dud performances can't really destroy it. Also I didn't love the set design - it needed to be more claustrophobic, and instead it seemed soaring and spacious. A couple of changed angles on the set, and I think it could have been accomplished easily.
Had dinner beforehand at the Cue restaurant (one of two restaurants in the complex) and it was delightful - pricey but well done, and our friends picked up the bill, so I certainly appreciate it.
The theater complex is well worth a visit if you're in the Cities, and while I think that the standard for local theater in Minneapolis has risen far enough that the Guthrie is no longer the "premiere" theater, it's certainly the most well-funded and if you're looking for entertainment (vs challenge and innovation) you can certainly find something to see that will be worthwhile.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Not dead. Just felt like I should be part of the time…
Depression sucks. This is in no way a news flash, but damn, I’d thought I was done with it. Granted, every winter I get a bit low, and it takes a lot of energy to make it through til the days get longer. Usually, the excitement surrounding Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and my birthday make it possible. It’s hard not to get caught up in the enthusiasm of the first snow, planning surprises and menus, and travel or guests.
But this year…
Snow never arrived until December 20th. The days were dark, gloomy, and short. The nights were long and dry. And something in me died around October 20th – the last vestiges of my ability to find Joy. November was an exercise in survival. December was a daily slog through a sluggish dark jelly of emotionless pain. There was nothing I could tell you, for I was the least interesting person on earth.
I’d go to work. I’d fix dinner when I got home. I’d kiss Boo. But nothing gave me pleasure. I smoked more dope than usual, because it briefly made nothing matter, made it possible to laugh. I drank more than usual, because drinking would immobilize me. It’s a depressant, but if you drink enough, you can’t move, and you can’t move against yourself, which was my terror for most of December. When I started the plotting, the planning, of the least painful method, the least horror for Boo to find, the quickest, the gentlest, the most sure way to make sure I would die, I drank more than ever. The Christmas season passed in a blur of pain – hopeless, endless, cold agony. I hated every sparkling light, every money-grubbing commercial for ChiaPets, every sentimental advertisement for the season. I tried, for Boo’s sake, but I felt nothing but sadness and an endless heavy blackness sucking me daily further into its clutches. It was too warm to freeze to death this year in Minnesota, but inside, my heart had already succumbed.
Too late, I finally called for help. I’ve tried suicide in the past. On January 1st, 1987. On January 5th, 1982. January was coming fast. On December 23rd 2006, I saw my doctor, and he gave me Prozac. It was a surrender and a relief. I’ve not taken an antidepressant since 1991. But the time had clearly arrived.
January has come and gone. I'm still here. I'm still not back to normal. But I'm back.