29 Apr 2006

Nora

I confess that after two mainstage comedies (Noises off and As you like it), I was a little scared of what sort of depressing tragedy the theatre department would come up with to balance them. As it happens, my fears were unfounded (well, maybe they were founded, but they weren't realised), and the spring mainstage was not tragic and only slightly depressing.

I knew going in that it was Neil Blackadder directing it, but I think I could've guessed anyway; the the scene changes, the sets, the whole feel of the show bore a marked resemblance to last year's Round Dance. It even involved an actor smoking an actual cigar, although this one was a much more well-behaved cigar, not filling the performance space at all. This despite the space being considerably smaller—in a novel turn, he staged the show in the round, on the Harbach stage, with risers with chairs on them. It thus had the feel of a studio production (and could easily have been staged there instead, aside from the fact that it was officially this term's mainstage show).

The show got off to a bit of a rough start. The acting was far from wooden, but still seemed a bit... disconnected, as if the actors were delivering their lines with just the right intonation and feeling, but in a vacuum rather than actually in response to the line before. There was also a lot of unmotivated walking around the stage, presumably to make the in-the-round work, but it was a little distracting nonetheless.

Happily, both of these problems seemed to diminish as the play went on. By the end of the first scene, the actors had found their flow, and we could settle in for Nora Helmer's flightiness and Torvald Helmer's sobriety; for Nils Krogstad's creepiness and Kristine Linde's sensibleness. Dr. Rank's depression I never quite felt; he was dressed like a dandy and always seemed much too cheerful to match up well with the deep depression the other characters kept seeing in him.

I wonder why we haven't seen Anjalika Kapur before in a lead; I know I've seen her in smaller roles before, and my program tells me she's a senior. Perhaps it was just a wait for the right role for her, which this seemed to be; her Kristine Linde had just the right air of sophistication, a worldly sensibility without a hint of arrogance. Marty Helms (Krogstad) is another person we haven't really seen in leading parts before. He certainly did fine here, although I thought he didn't act creepy enough. (On the other hand, if he'd been too creepy, we would have found the match with Mrs. Linde to be too unbelievable.)

Nick Perry's Torvald seemed sort of distant, which I guess is about right, but I still wasn't satisfied with the performance somehow. I did think that he had a really good angry voice in the second-to-last scene, and the character seemed reasonable in the earlier scenes. The distress he showed in the last scene was less good, but mostly I think he was unconvincing as a thirty-year-old banker.

The TKS review said that this play was about "Victorian feminism" and went on to riff on this topic for a few paragraphs. As the play went on, I really was just forced to disagree; Nora, as competently played by Saras Gil, was flighty and then stressed and moody (Saras actually looked like she'd been beaten up in the scene after the party), but was not portraying any sort of strong feminine. The character did display some initiative, but was fundamentally dependent.

But that last scene was amazing. Her character arc through the play does not end with "stressed and moody", but progresses right on into "willful" and "independent" and "not gonna take it anymore". Saras is certainly making a creditable stab at the best-actor award here; there is a lot of character development in this show, and particularly in that last scene she conveys a great deal of conflicting emotion. Her realisation that "No... I don't" love Torvald anymore is sudden, and we are perfectly convinced that she had to evaluate the question on the spot and was surprised and anguished by the answer. Knowing how it ends and what a dick he's going to be later on*, her ability in the early scenes to be so flighty and light-hearted is even better in retrospect.

By and large, I loved the costumes in the show. I can't say whether they were perfectly period or not, but to the untrained eye they were convincing. They fit well and, aside from a certain plastic bra strap that was glinting through a sheer blouse in one scene, worked perfectly to set the scene and tell part of the story by themselves. When Mrs. Linde walks in and takes her cloak off, you notice immediately that she's dressed in mourning. When Nora takes the stage in the last scene, her costume says everything; you sit up and exclaim to yourself, "those are travelling clothes!"

Which is why it was so odd that they fumbled on the last costume for Torvald. He's to be in bed, and so he takes the stage (before the scene starts) wearing only his boxers, and gets in bed. Setting aside the apparent mandate from somewhere that every show here needs to have a guy in his underwear, it made all his movements in that whole scene awkward and unnatural, because he needed to be concerned with keeping the covers arranged over him. He pulled on a shirt at one point for no clear reason, but still had to stay under the covers because there were no pants to put on. The real irony here is that (to my understanding), it would have been perfectly period for him to wear a nightshirt, which would then resolve all of the blocking difficulties as well.

Other tech work was good, too. There were some really nice lighting fades between the scenes. The makeup was way better than usual, without the crazy overdone face lines that tend to prevail in mainstage shows (though, come to think of it, I think As you like it was okay in this regard too). The props were generally fine, although the nylon pantyhose were a funny substitute for silk stockings, and technically, not that anyone else in the audience would ever notice this, Norwegian knitting is usually done in the round. :)

* Seriously. In the scene where he reads Krogstad's letter, I wrote down "What a dick." A few moments later I was compelled to add: "DICK DICK DICK." Yikes.

"Above all else, I am a human being, just as you are." --Ingmar Bergman, "Nora" (Nora Helmer)

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28 Apr 2006

Actually, no, I wouldn't

I just went to a biology talk. One of the things that's always fun in the experimental sciences is finding incidental apparatus for some experiment or another; in this case, adhesive that could stick bits of string onto starlings. It was in this context that Professor Templeton (the speaker) uttered the following very funny quote:

"Eyelash adhesive. You'd be amazed to hear that they still sell fake eyelashes—who knew?"
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26 Apr 2006

Who needs freecycle?

Here in Galesburg, we have free municipal trash pickup. (Well, not "free", but we pay in taxes and not per-pickup.) But fifty weeks out of the year, you can't put out items that weigh more than 50 lbs or that are longer than, I think, five feet in any dimension. It makes sense, because that way during those weeks they can send around a single person manning each garbage truck.

But two weeks every year, they have Magic Trash Pickup, where anything you put out on the curb, except tires, will get picked up and whisked away.

...just not necessarily by the garbage truck.

See, by making there be only two weeks out of the year (one in April, one in October) that you can put out heavy things like couches and tables and fridges and washing machines and bookcases, that means that everyone trying to throw such things out has them out at the same time. Which makes it worthwhile for scavengers to roam the streets in their pickup trucks to find the good stuff. Which, in turn, means that people will "throw out" some things that they know are perfectly good, and don't belong in a landfill, fairly secure in the knowledge that someone else will come by and pick it up later. I just did a circuit of three blocks of Broad St with Nutmeg, and already there's nothing of worth left except one window that appeared intact and one narrow wooden door without hardware. There was quite a bit more when I walked him three hours ago (and probably even more before that).

It's hard being a packrat when these weeks come along. I have a firm rule that I do not pick up anything unless I have a very specific use in mind for it and a place for it to go (and even then, nothing with upholstery—ew). That rule has actually prevented me from scavenging anything in the past, although today I acquired an end table and a heavy wooden bookshelf, both in fair condition. I was able, with some effort, to restrain myself from taking a really nice old heavy rolling desk chair (the kind that weighs a ton because it's all steel, with firm vinyl seat and back), and a whole stack of perfectly good windows and screens.

It's really a great system, though; a low-tech freecycle.

"Some men think a green-eyed woman is exotic. The truth is she's got fat eyes." --Cecil Adams

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24 Apr 2006

General update

I haven't been feeling very bloggy lately, but I've actually been doing a few things worth writing about. Saturday I was in Indianapolis for part of a dance competition, where I didn't do very well, but really liked the downtown area. Vibrant and very well-integrated, you could tell it was active from the crack of dawn until past midnight, unlike say downtown Chicago or downtown Galesburg. It's big enough to have a decent nightlife (at least, so it appeared in one evening there) but small enough that the nightlife hasn't divorced itself from the business district, which is nice. Also, the architecture is great, at least in the half-mile square right around the city centre.

Then I had to rush back to Galesburg to practice for the chorus performance on Sunday. We did a Civil War-themed concert, with each song preceded by narration and readings (of the voiceover-on-A&E-specials variety) that really made the concert feel more like a play. (Or a revue, but that term makes it sound kitschy, which it wasn't.) Everybody was on, at least to the outside observer. The soloist that had woken up with no voice and the soloist and reader suffering from severe back spasms didn't let on, and you'd certainly never know. The world-premiere piece that we did really came together, and we actually finally liked it (after a couple of months of banging our heads on it—it's modern, so you need a while for it to grow on you). I can't wait to see the DVD.

And then I had to turn around and write a midterm exam for CS 142. Which, for some reason, was way harder than usual. I was having a devil of a time writing questions of the appropriate size. Although I prefer writing more smaller problems, so that blowing "part 1" doesn't screw you for part 2, I just kept devising these monolithic problems that I couldn't tease apart into pieces. It's also a very boring exam, largely due to the order I've had to follow in teaching things, which hasn't really let me devise any of my fun problems. (Maybe that's just as well? But I have heard students comment that they enjoy my exam problems.) And I couldn't use problems from last year's CS 142 midterm, because I haven't covered any of that material yet, although I'm close in a few cases.

Now I need to tidy up some loose ends and do laundry, and tomorrow I'm doing a fast round-trip to Chicago for an eye appointment and to get my car fixed. Fun fun fun....

"Giving 51% of the people 100% of the power is immoral. It's rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic to debate whether the 51% should be chosen randomly or by careful scheming." --Paul Hebble

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15 Apr 2006

Spring is here, Spring is here...

With volunteer tulips and peonies in the backyard, even.

I have to say, I find almost meditative the truly sisyphean task of weeding the dandelions.

In other news, I could have sworn that the tree planted right in the middle of my front yard was one of the purple-leafed trees that are so common in Galesburg. In fact, I have many pictures to that effect from last year. But it's leafed out and the leaves are perfectly green. Many other trees on the block (including the one in my parkway) that I remember to be purple are, in fact, purple. But this one is green. Baffling. (But not unwelcome, actually.)

UPDATE: Purple!

"Don would know how much more true that is than I do!" --Lee

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13 Apr 2006

Yikes!

I had just brought Nutmeg in from his walk (hurry up Nutmeg, it's going to start raining any second) at about 10:25 when the sirens started going off. So, I scoop him up and grab a leash, grab the radio, and go to my basement. The absolutely spectacular electrical storm we'd been having—which was already picking up wind—got even windier and started pouring rain. Knox County had apparently been under tornado warning until 10:30, based on radar, but then it got extended to 11:15 when an actual tornado was sighted a few miles from town. So we settled in.

It was a little worrisome when the radio station suddenly cut out, and six of the eight or so strong FM stations were just broadcasting silence (the other two were broadcasting music). Apparently several stations had been tied into the live broadcast from downtown, which got hit with a power problem. They came back a bit later, and the rest of the warning period was uneventful other than hearing the wind and driving rain. Oh, and the hail.

[Several big pieces of hail in my hand]

The radio was warning of possible baseball-size (!) hail, and it sure sounded loud, but when I finally went outside about 11:25 (maybe fifteen, twenty minutes after the last round of window-pelting hail) [Pieces of hail, and a nickel] it was only about nickel-sized. And the window that I didn't get a chance to close got completely soaked. But this part of town appears to have come through unscathed. Power's out in other parts of town, and they're reporting that the flagpole at the post office is bent over, but we'll see what that means.

Aaaaand they just went back to regular programming. So I guess that means the danger period is really over now. :)

"These conditions can signify one of two things: (1) some horrible disease, trauma, or other problem, or (2) nothing." --Cecil Adams

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11 Apr 2006

Flunk Day!

A more subdued Flunk Day this year; it was nice, but still only low 70s, and windy. That caused them to cancel the band and the Polynesian fire dancers (booo) and to move the inflatable-screen movie to the fieldhouse. And I didn't get there until almost 2pm, because I had somehow picked today to sleep in. Ah well.

Also, the faculty had our asses handed to us by the friars this year, 15-9. First time in five years. Not sure how that happened....

Geoff's Question: For heaven's sake, if people have absolutely no idea how to use technical terminology of grammar, why do they try...?

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8 Apr 2006

Another HS drug raid

Today's paper had a front-page above-the-fold article about a drug raid at the high school. No suspicions or anything, they just felt like it. My letter in response:

Of the lockdown and search at GHS on Thursday, Principal Hutchins said, "we feel like it sent out a good message."

The message it sends to all the students of GHS is this: whether you are guilty or not, whether we suspect you or not, you and your belongings are subject to being searched whenever we feel like it.

Because people who've done nothing wrong have nothing to hide?

This is not "a good message". This is an egregious erosion of civil liberty. If these students had been adults at work, the raid (evidently with no probable cause and no warrant issued) would have been a clear and obvious violation of the Fourth Amendment. The terrible message that the school has sent here is that the freedoms that the American colonists fought so hard for are nothing more than inconvenient words on an old piece of parchment, to be evaded whenever a loophole presents itself.

It was precisely this sort of search that loomed large in the Framers' minds when crafting the Fourth Amendment: during the Revolution and before it, British agents under "writs of assistance" would go through people's houses fishing for smuggled goods. This gross invasion of privacy was a major factor in furthering the movement for independence---even innocent people aren't too happy at having government agents rifle through their stuff.

Increasingly, we hear from people who seem to believe that saying a magic word like "drugs" (or, for that matter, "terrorism") suddenly justifies the negation of all the rights enumerated in the Constitution. Patriotic Americans should not let that happen; when we pledge allegiance to a nation "with liberty and justice for all", we shouldn't have to add any disclaimers at the end.

Should be printed sometime next week.

UPDATE: Printed in Monday's paper.

"A Catholic university is where the Church does its thinking, and that thinking, to be beneficial, must come from an intellectually rigorous engagement with the world." --Fr John Jenkins, CSC

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7 Apr 2006

En fuego

I had a great class today. Despite the ongoing malaise (today: "productive" coughing. Ew.), I was pretty well on top of my game. We backed up and covered some stuff that should have been review but maybe wasn't; I gave an extemporaneous blurb about the bitwise operators (summary: ^ does not mean what you think it means. Caveat programmor.); I answered some more questions about exceptions, and we moved on to implement the first half of IntArrayBag. And students were asking lots of good questions. An excellent day to have four visitors (two students, two parents).

Now I'm going home to take a nap and cough into my pillow. :P

'The question isn't whether God exists like a brick exists, but rather "what part of our experience does the symbol 'God' reveal and what parts does it obscure?"' --Jim Rigby

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5 Apr 2006

Bluchhh.

Yesterday, it was just a sore throat. Today, it's a sore throat, a stuffy nose, maybe a slight fever, but above all this general malaise that just makes me feel generally cruddy. Bleh. And yet, still not bad enough to override my pressing need to not fall (further) behind in classes, so here I am at work, teaching. Sigh.

"Large religions are not merely difficult to usefully generalize about because they're large; they're large because they're difficult to usefully generalize about." --Jonathan Prykop

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