22 Feb 2008


Saw it again tonight. The nice thing about seeing a show like this a second time is it gives you a chance to look at some of the background activity, and let the feel of the thing sort of wash over you without worrying you'll miss something. Knowing what's going to happen also lets you pick out some lovely little pieces of foreshadowing, and you know where to look to see the best bits of physical work.

The discussion tonight was nearly all about the costuming, about which I didn't say anything before, but that was certainly an oversight on my part. Lani Tortoriello is a genius: working on a fairly thin budget, she put together a classy look for the production that gave all the animals just the right hint of whatever animal they were supposed to be; it's about as far as you could imagine from the look of the original production, with full-body animal suits that are more reminiscent of a Six Flags mascot:
Picture of original production in Kassel
Knox's sets were a lot nicer, too, although Ms Kricheldorf didn't take the bait when I asked her to comment on them.

I still have a bunch of questions. Am I going to go again? Maybe I'll just try to sneak in for the question part after the show tomorrow. ;)

"We are not a collection of red states, and blue states, we are the United States of America and in this moment, in this election, we are ready to believe again." --Barack Obama

Posted by blahedo at 11:36pm | Comments (1)

21 Feb 2008

Rosa und Blanca

I'm glad that I decided to see this term's mainstage show on opening night, because it leaves me the option of possibly going again, and in particular of asking more questions of the author. Rosa and Blanca is a translation of a recently-authored German play by Rebekka Kricheldorf, and she is in Galesburg from tonight through the end of the week. The translation is "in-house" as it were, having been done by Knox's own Neil Blackadder, who also directed—and so the Q&A afterwards includes essentially all the creative talent that went into the production. A rare, if not unique, opportunity.

The play is a loose adaptation of the Brothers Grimm tale usually called "Snow White and Rose Red" (that other Snow White ;). The scene opens onto a forest, with hypercliché pastoral sunrise music (I'm pretty sure it was first movement of Peer Gynt 1 "Morgenstemning" ("Dawn"), but it looks like it's listed as part of William Tell Overture on the program. Hmm.) fading in; a dwarf in a three-piece suit pops out of a hatch in the ground, turns to the audience, and says, "Fuck you, sun!"***—so we're not exactly following the script of den Gebrüdern Grimm here. (Though this characteristic of the dwarf is not that far off, come to think of it.)

The setting is actually more or less modern, though European, with city and forest closely juxtaposed, and in this tale Rosa and Blanca have fled the awfulness of the city to live an idyllic life in the forest, with Mom trying to talk them out of it but not really able to bring much to the table to force the issue. My memory of the first scenes are already thin, but my usual criticism thereof—that a play starts out sort of stiff until the actors and the dialogue sort of slide into place—didn't really come to bear here. I still didn't know what was happening, of course, but that didn't seem problematic. Other than a bit of odd overenunciation on the part of nearly everybody in the early scenes, everything got off to a great start.

The animals (for what is a fairy tale without animals?) were played in a way that nagged at me, that I finally pinned down as reminding me of (of all things) Family Guy: in that cartoon, Brian, one of the main characters, is a dog. He's the family pet, and definitely a dog in many ways. But also a sentient adult in many ways. The other characters interact with him as if he were human, mostly, except sometimes not. The baby, Stewie, is in a similar situation: his shtick is that he's scheming to take over the world and/or kill Lois, but this is blended seamlessly with his baby characteristics and activities, and which one is at the fore basically just depends on which one the scriptwriters needed at the moment. So also with the animals in this show. The lamb is definitely a lamb, grazing, with sheepy concerns and sheepy interests, but at the same time is definitely speaking and holding conversations with the humans and the other animals. Particular props to the dove, Brian Humpherys, who pulled off the most uncanny scene-stealing snippets of pigeony activity, but the animalia in general were very effective.

But the character I've most been dwelling on as I continue to think about the play is the bear. His entrance, dancing privately to the music of an on-stage boombox, was immediately endearing, his face somehow expressive despite being largely covered by a mask. I didn't even recognise the actor at first, and had to sort of mentally narrow it down to Eric Feltes (which was correct) based on cues like height and build and who I knew to be in the theatre program here. Once he spoke, of course, the voice confirmed it—although the mask did change the sound of his voice somewhat, and actually at times the resonance of the mask actually made the voice sound a bit richer, a nice effect. The bear, despite the ferociousness of the source animal, is essentially a sympathetic character in this play, with a medium range of emotions including insecurity, joie de vivre, and others; though in the end he is, yes, actually a bear, the emotion is not simply stylised or one-dimensional (just slightly limited in range). He worked exceptionally well with his mask, compensating for the loss of subtlety with an increased range of head and mouth movement that conveyed as much or more, I think. Despite having seen him in several shows now, and interacted with him a few times in person, I was basically unable to see Eric behind the mask; I just kept seeing these expressions that don't look anything like him. At this point, I have to go watch the show again just to see if I'm overthinking this.

But, as I mentioned earlier, I also want to go again for a chance to catch another Q&A involving the author. I want to know more about intended social messages—certainly there's a theme of failed idealism, but I wonder if Blanca's line that the other teenagers are "a dwarf army of the society of the future [that] don't develop, they just grow" is more of a character line or intended as real commentary. There's a whole plotline about the dwarf causing damage and death, but Rosa keeps saving him anyway; and when confronted or told to leave him, she just repeats, "But then he'll die," as the only justification she needs or will give. This, too, is an interesting piece of philosophy, making a fairly explicit claim that one should make the effort to save even a life known (or thought) to be guilty—and I wonder where the eventual fate of Rosa, the dwarf, the bear, and everyone else leaves that claim. Meghan Reardon as the mother has a great line that "once you've understood that you're just like me, it'll be far too late for suicide," a suddenly very intimate window into the mother's past life; tonight's discussion touched on this a very little bit, but I'm curious to hear from all the relevant parties** what they think that past life might have been. In one of the few clear lines that we hear from the dwarf (as translated by the eagle), he wonders "why do you only hold yourselves responsible for your thoughts, and not for your feelings?" Given that, as one audience member put it tonight, the dwarf is really set up as the unsung hero in this play, could this line even be seen as The Moral Of The Story? It's not one of the ones I would have first thought of* but I'm a little curious if any of the relevant parties would see it as such, or just as the character perspective of the dwarf only.

In several ways, this show reminds me of The Skriker from a couple years back, both in surface form and in some of the deeper ideas. There are big differences too, and one of the nice ones is that this one is more accessible on a surface level, giving you something to enjoy while you're there while you're waiting to drill down and mull over the deeper stuff later. One of the similarities seems to be that the more you think about it, the more you want to go see it again....

*E.g. "Always listen to your mother", "Don't eat the cherries", "Major in science, not art"

**That is, Rebekka the playwright, Neil the translator and director, and Meghan the actor that played the part. I love that all three will be on stage at once.

***Quote fixed. I had "fuck you all!" in the original post.

"By globalising, we take away from nation states their ability to enforce and to enact the polices necessary to internalise external costs, to control population, to do the things that are necessary." --Herman Daly

Posted by blahedo at 1:09am | Comments (0)

20 Feb 2008

Warm and cold

Ok, so here's what I want: a small electric radiator that has just the form factor of a coffee mug. It would plug in and you could thermostat it to 85° or so, and use it to warm up your fingers when you're not typing. Because dammit, you can put on as many layers of clothes as you want, but the fingers still get cold, and you can't type with gloves on. This single device would probably let me lower my house thermostat by three or four degrees right there. Sigh.

"I'm just amazed that US history before the Depression is covered in anything but the most cursory of fashions. The Depression and WWII were such enormous reset buttons on the lives of most Americans." --Michael Kimmitt

Posted by blahedo at 11:58pm | Comments (2)

15 Feb 2008

Instruments of faith

I just got back from this week's Studio offering, and boy do I have a lot to say. It was a production of "Instruments of faith", a one-act written by Jacquelin Hedeman two years ago, then a junior in high school (at Uni High of Urbana, so she's even relatively local). The subject matter is some pretty heavy stuff: a reaction to Pope Benedict's 2005 pronouncement on gay seminarians. To the extent that the play presents an argument, it is similar in theme to my post "De sacerdotibus homosexualis" from that period, though my post was a response to the pronouncement in general, and this play is more specifically addressing the concurrent investigation of all U.S. seminaries. Other than the brief flirt with donatism near the end, I still stand by the analysis in that post, and so of course I was sympathetic to Hedeman's message.

Not, I should point out, that that message was an unambiguous black-and-white analysis (which would certainly have made for a very boring morality play). Rather, there is some fairly clever use of the different characters to show the different angles on the issue. Good people don't react all in the same way, but the play isn't shy about showing the viciousness of the spiritual attack on many people that the instrumentum laboris consisted of. The vindictive McCarthy character, Father Pascal, is a truly nasty piece of work, and I wish I could say that he was a caricature and there aren't really any Catholics like that, but I am not at all confident of that; I am comforted that at the least none of the Catholics I know personally are like that. The conclusion seems quite open-ended: it doesn't really give any indication what happens to the characters afterward, but of course as a short story (as it were), it doesn't need to.

The production was a first effort for many of the people involved, I think, including the director (Meredith Noseworthy, who was one of my FP students last year) and several of the actors. The inexperience showed in a few parts, but in general, I think they're going places. The start was a bit slow—and the abrupt shortness of many of the early scenes probably didn't help—but once they established a flow, the actors were able to keep it going without dropping the ball. There were occasional line flubs, and quite a few of the actors need to work on their cutoff lines. Most of them were able to shake off the woodenness and monotone of the first couple scenes to give a much more natural "read" to the scene, though, and certainly by the time we moved from tense anticipation of conflict to the high emotion itself they were in good form. Jay Robillard managed to flush his cheeks in anger and hold his voice just this side of cracking on his line about the chaste men in the house of God (a great line which I wish I'd thought to record verbatim—I'll have to go look it up later). Lauren Neiheisel, playing Dr. Turner—the only woman on the seminary faculty—was one of the actors I was seeing for the first time, and also one of the best; she shone as the only actor who never once looked like she was Acting. She was just Dr. Turner. (In that, it probably helped that she was the only actor who wasn't playing a priest or seminarian, and therefore somewhat less outside her own experience. :) Overall, it was a good show, and I just wish more of the local Catholics had gone to see it so that I could talk to them about it...

After a brief intermission, we were presented with a more informal scene reading of a couple of two-person scenes written by Knox Creative Writing majors. It turned out to be Catholic Night in the Studio, apparently; the first of these was about a relationship where Catholicism figured pretty heavily into the "it's complicated", and it at least got a brief mention in the second. The actors in these were somewhat rehearsed, but weren't in any particular costume and were carrying their scripts; I found this decided informality to be quite charming and intimate, and really enjoyed the experience. I do hope that the theatre/creative writing folks try to put these Playwright's Workshop segments together a little more often.

Not that the pieces themselves were perfect, of course, nor would one expect them to be. The first (by McKinley Murphy, who I know from the NOLA trip last year) was a little disjointed and had a hard time nailing the flow of real-sounding dialogue. The character development was a tad abrupt—one character went from "what? you like me?" to "you have to commit to me!" very fast and without enough transition to put her there. And I definitely object to the characterisation of Catholicism in this one, with lines like "Catholicism and Christianity are just different, that's all", and the Catholic character saying he couldn't go to Newman Club because he knew that one member lied, one cheated, and one had had an abortion—not that there aren't such holier-than-thou folks out there, in Catholicism as anywhere else, but a lengthy middle chunk of the play hashed out this point for long enough that it started to come across as some sort of propaganda play for this viewpoint. On the other hand, for all of my complaining about sections that need work, it was a good capture of the angsty, irrational late-teen It's Complicated, and I hope she polishes it up rather than dropping it.

The last piece I have a lot less to say about, other than I wish I knew more of the backstory of these characters! Brittany Alsot (another person I met on the NOLA trip, oddly enough) wrote a fairly tight little play about a college girl visiting Oxford via Barcelona, with some sort of long-distance boyfriend back home in the US, talking to a philosophy student(?) who is from Oxford and who she met that morning. They really hit it off and have some really genuine-sounding erudite dialogue—although, as I commented to her after the show, she wrote some of the geekiest laugh lines ever, and the great thing about seeing this at a place like Knox is that the rest of the audience laughed at them too. :) But (and this just shows that the author drew me in very thoroughly) I still kept feeling like I was being teased with a thin trickle of details as I started investing myself in the characters. Still curious! And then the scene, and show, and evening, end. I did enjoy it. :)

"I encourage us to teach history backwards & outwards. No one's doomed to repeat history just because they think Plato used to be a planet, but we're certain to repeat it if we can't remember the twenty five years before we were born or who built our town's water way." --Jonathan Prykop

Posted by blahedo at 10:13pm | Comments (3)

5 Feb 2008

Voting Green

Today is primary day in Illinois, and I had decided some weeks ago to vote in the Green primary, for a variety of reasons. I was looking forward to seeing what would happen at the polling place, where I knew I'd be likely to be the only one voting Green in my precinct (if not the city!).

I arrived and said my name, and they found me and checked me off the precinct list, and as they were doing that, I was glancing over to the stacks of ballots they had—one for the Dems and one for the Republicans. Not a good sign. Sure enough, they asked, "which ballot would you like, Democrat or Republican?"

I replied, "um, Green?" And the initial reaction was that I was teasing them because the counting slips and the bar across the top of the ballot itself were green on the Dem ballot (yellow for the Republicans). So there was a bit of, ah-ha, funny, Democratic then?, but I said, no, Green *party*. This seemed to ring a bell in the head of one of the judges, who turned to a small stack off to the side that were the Green Federal ballots (whose slips were white and the bar across the top of the ballot sheet itself was red).

Then ensued a bit of confusion because they knew there was a distinction between a "federal ballot" and a "primary ballot" (which I'm not too certain of myself but I think has something to do with whether you registered to vote far enough in advance of the election or something—the federal only lists the presidential candidates, while the other lists also all other local positions), and they thought I was entitled to a "primary ballot" but couldn't find any. I knew the Greens weren't running anybody in this district, so the ballots would be functionally equivalent, and was happy to settle for the federal.

As I was filling it out, the judges from the other precinct at the polling place were piping up to tell my judges that no, there really was a separate primary vs. federal ballot, and just then one of my judges found them. So we officially spoiled my first ballot (which I'd already marked), and at this point I observed that they were getting a lot of practice with the more rarely used pieces of electoral judge procedure. :)

Finally handed a Green Primary Ballot, I marked my candidate, fed it into the machine, thanked everyone, and headed home.

Overall grade: C+. They didn't offer me a Green ballot initially, which they were supposed to, and then tried to give me a Dem ballot even after I asked for Green. And then, they gave me the wrong Green ballot. However, it is at least a passing grade, because there was no active discouragement (just confusion) and in the end I was in fact able to vote the correct ballot. The plus is because they were so darn polite about the whole thing and incredibly eager to help me get through the democratic process.

Though I don't want to ascribe any malice to anyone over the choice, picking green to represent the Dems was really unfortunate. I like in general the idea of picking a random, or at least arbitrary, color to represent each party, but when the name of one party is the same as the color associated with another, this is just begging for problems....

But still, I'm positively giddy over having voted in an actual, honest-to-God Green Party primary today. Hurray democracy!

"Real hypocrisy is not in the failure to practice what one preaches, for ideals that may be practiced without stumbling are hardly worth preaching in the first place. Rather, hypocrisy is the failure to forgive the particular failings of others the way you'd forgive yourself for your own particular failings, to see the good despite the bad in yourself but not in others." --Jonathan Prykop

Posted by blahedo at 3:50pm | Comments (0)