A Salute to Vienna

Having suffered through a few early morning wake ups in a row, all I wanted to do after work today was lounge on the couch and wait for SNL.  So be it.  I’ve brought pillows and blankets from my bed.  I have technology–laptop, phone, remote control–within arm’s reach.  I have Old Dutch pretzels.  I have a water bottle for the inevitable moment when I start to shrivel from the saltiness of the pretzels.  Ruby is at my feet chewing the squeaker out of her stuffed skunk (that’s an odd sentence).

On TV is, of all things, A Salute to Vienna.  It is “a music and dance gala concert showcasing the musical heritage of Vienna.”  And I’m enjoying it immensely, even though I’ve already forgotten enough German that I can only listen dumbly.

Photo credit: salutetovienna.com

Photo credit: salutetovienna.com

Every so often, as they tend to do, the PBS folks break in and ask me to donate sixty dollars so that programs like this might remain on television.  Their cause is a noble one, but I have to say that they should consider changing tactics.  Instead of politely, humbly asking for our money, perhaps they should try threats.  Like, “if you don’t call in RIGHT NOW the principal soprano will appear in your living room and blast a high C until you produce your wallet.”  Or, “Remember your little three-week Keeping up with the Kardashians marathon last summer?  Gee, I would hate to let slip about that to your friends and relatives…”

Beyond inspiring brilliant fundraising strategies, A Salute to Vienna is making me remember when I was in Vienna myself a few years ago.  Particularly, when friends and I stood in line for hours in order to get 4 Euro parterre seats for the Magic Flute at the Vienna State Opera.  Despite parterre translating to “standing room in which you may fight over velvet-topped railings to lean on.  Tough luck, Holly.  You should have worn more comfortable shoes.”, it was a beautiful night in a beautiful city.

Wiener_Staatsoper

Heck, maybe I’ll cough up that sixty dollars.

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Friday Favorites 3

This song:

You know that song “Mirrors” by whats-his-name former *NSYNC lead?  The song that is played three times an hour on every radio station in the country, including those stations typically reserved for classical and/or talk?  That song has been stuck in my head for the past three days.  This afternoon I even invented an elaborate system which involved showering with the door partly open so that Mac could blast “Mirrors” without suffering steam damage.

Mystery critters:

Ruby–who has only just learned to whine when she has to use the outdoor facilities (before she simply followed one of us around with her ears perked)–and I discovered a mystery whilst patrolling the yard yesterday evening.  Sidenote: Ruby is a dog, not my human younger sister.  My real human younger sister only whines when I talk to her during Pretty Little Liars.  Anyway, some kind of animal was up in a tree clipping sizeable branches and letting them fall to the ground.  There was already a scattering of green-leaved sticks when Ruby and I arrived on site, and a few more fell as we peered up to catch a glimpse of the creature.  No luck.  The foliage was thick enough to hide it, and it quieted once it spotted us.  Was it a squirrel?  But I’ve never seen a squirrel prune branches like that, unless it’s beginning to build a nest for winter and planned to gather the clippings later?  Was it a bear?  I’ve seen a treed bear before.  For a split second I thought maybe a pet monkey had escaped from somewhere and was about to flash down at me, teeth bared.  But perhaps that’s not it either.  If any zoologists care to comment, particularly if you can support my monkey theory, I would be grateful.

This book:

cheaperbythedozen-book

I would like to dispel any rumors involving the feature film Cheaper by the Dozen, starring Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt.  The movie is, in fact, based on a real-life family, but only so far as both the real and the fictional family had twelve children.  The real-life family, the Gilbreths, were quite different than Steve and Bonnie’s in every other way.  The parents, Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr. and Lillian Moller Gilbreth, were pioneers in the field of motion study around the turn of the century.  And the book–written by two of the children–details the uniqueness of a large family governed by notions of efficiency.  Think French and German language records played in the bathrooms.  The book is heartwarming and very funny:

“Dad himself used to tell a story about one time when Mother went off to fill a lecture engagement and left him in charge at home. When Mother returned, she asked him if everything had run smoothly.
Didn’t have any trouble except with that one over there,’ he replied. ‘But a spanking brought him into line.’
Mother could handle any crisis without losing her composure.
That’s not one of ours, dear,’ she said. ‘He belongs next door.”

Weddings:

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I’m attending my first tomorrow.  I mean, I was a flower girl for my aunt and uncle’s wedding when I was five, but all I remember about that is enjoying the swish of my beautiful dress.  Tomorrow two of my friends from college marry.  I will be wearing lipstick. I will likely cry.  I will likely make a fool of myself on the dance floor.  But I’m so excited that I doubt I’ll sleep well tonight.

This blog reader:

feedly-update-640x521

Okay, guys: this is cool and something you should look into if you, like me, keep tabs on about twelve different blogs.  To get set up, all you have to do is make a free account with Feedly, enter the URLs of the blogs you read, and then the day’s postings appear right on your Feedly.  No need to go to each individual website.  I use Feedly on Mac and as a mobile app, and both are user-friendly and frankly pretty slick.

This TV show:

Official-Office-Wallpaper-the-office-28us-29-34269_1024_768

When I was in high school and everyone else in the nation was watching The Office, I wasn’t.  What was I watching instead?  Survivor, House Hunters, probably some Disney Channel.  The commentaries on the Chronicles of Narnia DVD.  I don’t know what was wrong with me, either.  I’m on the bandwagon now, however, and happy to be here.  Kevin and his squinty-eyed one liners are my favorites.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

One of my elementary school teachers was an organized sort of person who not only liked to hang charts on her classroom walls, but also liked to lay down the facts straight off.  On the first day of school it felt like we learned more about her than she learned about us.  We learned her pet peeves, we learned her expectations, and we learned the meanings of distinct phrases she frequently uttered.  “Heavens to Betsy” was one (an expression of mock despair or genuine surprise).  “Crumbuttons” was another (the Catholic school version of “oh shit”).  “Garbage in, garbage out” was a third.

We became used to hearing the phrases after a while, just as I became used to having to stare at the large red x’s that abutted my name on the behavior chart (often, my report card from that year tells me, for talking out of turn.  Imagine that).

But up until now, I had always associated “garbage in, garbage out” with television.  Perhaps the teacher explained it to that effect.  Anyway, it meant that if you watched TV shows with excess violence or profanity, you ran a high risk of adopting similar behaviors yourself.  It made sense.

All these years later, however, I’ve realized that the phrase goes further than that.  Namely, in my case, when I read poorly written books, my writing takes a nose dive in quality as well.  But when I read beautiful books–The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, recently–my writing becomes (forgive me) a little bit beautiful as well.  I’ve always known that as a writer, books are a great influence.  I sincerely doubt I’ve ever written anything that I hadn’t first picked up in one existing book or another.

This is still a dramatic realization, though!  On one hand, if I read Woolf, Fitzgerald, Atwood, I may have a shot at standing in their ranks some day.  On the other hand, I like to read the odd low-grade paperback.  I like to revisit my childhood favorites, down to about RL5.  I sometimes like to not think as I read, as horrific as that may sound to you.  Am I doomed to forever waver between genius and foolishness, then?  Shall I publish a Pulitzer one year, bonfire kindling the next?  Or should I simply stop reading altogether, removing the good in order to avoid temptation to indulge in the bad?

Crumbuttons.

DSCN1570

Pride and Prejudice and Celebrity Creeping

Tuesday evening found me sitting in a red plush chair, in the very, very back row of the Guthrie Theatre’s Wurtele Thrust Stage.  My sister was next to me, and under our breath we were singing the theme song from Gilmore Girls.

Why?  Because the production was Pride and Prejudice, and playing Mr. Darcy was Vincent Kartheiser.  Kartheiser, or Pete Campbell as you may know him from AMC’s Mad Men, is engaged to Alexis Bledel.  Alexis Bledel played Rory on Gilmore Girls.  So you see that although we were only at a preview show, although it was a Tuesday night, and although we were much too high up to do much effective celebrity sighting anyway, Amy and I thought that it might somehow summon Ms. Bledel should we sing her song.

Photo source unknown.

Photo source unknown.

What I’m about to launch into is a play review.  But before I begin with the pros and cons, and before I tell you whether or not I was in the presence of Ms. Bledel on Tuesday evening (or she was in mine), I have a few disclaimers: 1) The performance of Pride and Prejudice I attended was a preview performance, which means that between the show I saw and the “official” show, some things will likely change.  Elements that I thought could have used improvement may indeed improve by opening night, and perhaps elements I adored will have gone missing.  Please don’t accuse me of sleeping through it if the show you see is different from the one I did.  2) I was sitting in the very back row of the theatre, and off to the right.  While I could see and hear what was happening well enough, there were some facial expressions and some quieter lines that I may have missed simply because I was so far away from the stage.  As I firmly believe that acting should be delivered to an entire theatre–peanut gallery and all–I will certainly let my physical perspective influence my commentary.  3) Preview night is a whole lot cheaper than “official” showings, and you don’t feel at all deprived.  I highly encourage you to take advantage of one some time.

If you asked me to say what I thought of the show in the most general terms, I would say this: Pride and Prejudice is not meant for the stage.  If you’ve read the novel, or even seen one of the many movie and TV adaptations, you know that the plot of the novel is extremely complicated, and peppered throughout with surprise meetings, with an abundance of characters who it is imperative we get to know, and with intimate moments which sometimes take place in the largest and loudest of settings.  I don’t blame the playwright one bit for attempting to make it work: Pride and Prejudice is beloved.  It is endearing.  It is a thought-provoking study of human nature.  But on stage, it felt like it wasn’t being given its due, purely for the complications I expressed above.

In order to keep the runtime down, the plot had to be smashed together so that at the end of the play, Mr. Bingley proposes to Jane, and then suddenly Lady Catherine arrives to yell at Lizzie, and then, again suddenly, Darcy appears to propose to Lizzie.  I felt sorry for those in the theatre who weren’t familiar with the story, because the whirlwind of twists and turns must have been hard for them to keep straight.  I felt even sorrier for myself because dear Fitzwilliam, one of my favorites, was cut out entirely.  Without him, it wasn’t made clear at all how Lizzie found out that it was Darcy who convinced Bingley that Jane didn’t care for him.

I don’t make these criticisms because I love the novel too much to give adaptations a chance: I acknowledge that any adaptation must be viewed as separate from the novel, and that directorial decisions must be made based on what works best for the format of the adaptation.  But in the end, I think what works best for Pride and Prejudice is the screen, where we can see closeups of the actor’s faces as they react to one another; where directors can use computers to flit from one scene to another, allowing them to stuff much more in without the hindrance of having to manually move a set; where even a conversation in a noisy ballroom can be heard with perfect clarity.

That being said, there were a lot of things I did like about the production: The acting was smooth and polished, the sets were realistic and moved mechanically, the costumes were lovely (although the similar colors of the women’s dresses made it difficult to pick out main characters).  The interpretation was clean, but standard: it stayed true to Austen’s period–all empire waists and bowing–which was appropriate for a 200th anniversary (of the novel’s publication) performance, but a little disappointing in its lack of freshness.

And of course, now we must come to the main event: Vincent Kartheiser as Mr. Darcy.

Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

As I said, the acting throughout the play was solid, with Suzanne Warmanen as Mrs. Bennet being a standout, especially when comic relief was needed.  Kartheiser was good as Mr. Darcy.  Good, but not great.  The official “celebrity cast member” of the production, a great deal of pressure was put upon him to bring something new and interesting to a role which has been played so many times before, and by so many different men: Colin Firth, Mathew Macfadyen, Laurence Olivier …  An interview Kartheiser gave in the Minneapolis Star Tribune tells us that Kartheiser was more than aware of the pressure, and planned to “bring some mischief to the role” (7/7/13 issue).  Though there were some funny bits near the end–when Lizzie and Darcy finally had their passionate kiss they quickly broke away in embarrassment–much of Darcy’s stage time was spent stiffly.  This would be acceptable if Darcy were, indeed, just another rich snob.  But we know he isn’t.  He is merely so painfully self-conscious that he doesn’t know how to comfortably interact in social situations, doesn’t know how to translate his high morality into personable conversation.  I would have thought Kartheiser’s performance more on par with what is revealed about Darcy’s character at the end of the play if he had let more flashes of truth show through throughout.  Once more, the staged version of the story failed where a screen version might have succeeded: Kartheiser certainly could have more successfully expressed the subtleties of the character had he had the option of a close-up.

In conclusion, despite my long list of criticisms, and despite the lack of childhood hero sightings, Pride and Prejudice at the Guthrie was a show worth seeing if you’re an Austen fan.  Or, heck, a Mad Men fan.

One more thing I must tell you is that Alexis Bledel did not make an appearance at the Guthrie last Tuesday evening.  There were a few false alarms: “Wait!  That girl has medium length brown hair!  It must be her!”  There was actually a lookup of Ms. Bledel’s height on mobile IMDB in order to spot her with elevated ease.  No comment on the level of creepiness there.

Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

Welcome to the Creek

dawson07jy9

Reasons why Dawson’s Creek has utterly captured my interest and my heart:

1. Young Michelle Williams (one of my favorite actors in the universe.  Although, let’s be honest, we don’t really want her to end up with Dawson.)

2. Young Katie Holmes (who, let’s be honest, I’ve been a little prejudiced against since the Tom Cruise fiasco, but have now officially warmed up to.)

3. Real talk.  This show has it all: parents having affairs and dealing with the consequences, teachers having affairs with students and dealing with the consequences, teenagers growing up, sex, interracial relationships, Christianity vs. atheism, high school drama, LGBT (so far only mentioned, not exemplified, but I’m only a few episodes in).

4. Wit.  Reminds me in this way of Gilmore Girls: lots of pop culture references and quick banter.

5. Best friends falling for each other.  Yes, this is somewhat less of a revolutionary aspect than the previous four, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.  It’s what keeps me watching.  Will Joey tell Dawson she’s in love with him?  Will he reciprocate?  Can they be more than friends, or will admitting their feelings only make things awkward and tear them apart eventually?

6. The title.  Like I said, I’m somewhat new to the scene, but is the creek (seems more like a river) that shows up frequently in the show actually named Dawson’s Creek?  And is the character Dawson named after the creek, or vice versa?  Or is the title some metaphorical statement about the way Dawson’s life and feelings and relationships are constantly in flux, like a moving body of water?

7. Movie references.  This goes hand in hand with item 4.  I love to hear the characters talk about different films.  What they’re watching, whether they like it, etc.  It makes me want to start a list of the ones they recommend, and then watch them myself.

8. The theme song.  (hey hey hey yeah)

Don’t Watch Downton Late At Night

***NO SPOILERS

Downton Abbey slayed me last night.  Absolutely slayed me.  I couldn’t even sleep afterwards; I had to pull the trick I developed when I was a kid: I read something nice until I’d forgotten about whatever was not so nice.

If you don’t watch Downton, you should probably get on board.  It’s only the third season, so it’s really not too late.

And then we can talk about it together.

Doings

Not one to fail to wring every last drop of ‘weekend’ out of the weekend, I have done the following in the past two days:

1. Hosted a game show (see previous post)

2. Watched Mad Men with my gentleman caller (we’re on Season Two now, and although still enthralled, we both continue to be disgusted with a) the amount of smoking everyone does, b) the sexism, c) the infidelity, and d) the terrible parenting exhibited in almost every episode by Don and Betty Draper.  Was an entire generation like this?  I certainly hope not).

3. Made the most delicious chili in the universe with the g.c.  It was an easy enough recipe, but we had to take a twenty-minute break in the middle of cooking because I feared I was going to perish from the combination of eyes burning from onion and throat burning from jalapenos.  I think at one point I was sitting on the linoleum with my eyes pressed against my arms, seeking reprieve from the fumes wafting above.

4. Watched my third favorite movie of all time (You’ve Got Mail) with the commentary turned on because I know every line anyway, and because I was missing Nora Ephron and wanted to hear her insights.

5. Did two loads of laundry.

6. Cleaned the kitchen.

7. Painted my fingernails.

8. Practiced with my intramural volleyball team.  Scraped up my knees diving for the ball without kneepads.  Also fell on my butt a few times, an anecdote I’m including just in case you were beginning to think that I’m some kind of intense, Misty May-esque player.

9. Am just now settling in to do some studying.  No class tomorrow, so this isn’t a complete act of procrastination on my part.

Going to heat up some leftover chili.  Enjoy these last few blessed hours of weekend!