Twelfth Night: A Review Tuesday, Jan 21 2014 

The second show PJ and I saw in New York a couple of weeks ago was William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, starring Mark Rylance, Samuel Barnett, Paul Chahidi, and Stephen Fry. This production used an all-male cast, and the sets, costumes, and staging approximated what it might have been like to see this play during Shakespeare’s own time.

Twelfth Night is about a young woman, Viola, who is shipwrecked and believes that her twin brother has drowned in the accident. Until she can figure out what to do, she poses as a young male servant and go into service for Count Orsino, who is love-sick for Olivia. Olivia, however, won’t give him the time of day, in part because she is still mourning her brother’s death. Orsino employs Viola (posing as a boy) to woo Olivia for him, but Olivia falls in love with cross-dressed emissary. A subplot involves Olivia’s drunken uncle, suitor, and servants conspiring to play a cruel joke on Malvolio, Olivia’s steward, since he often interferes with their revels. After Viola’s twin brother arrives, mayhem ensues until everyone’s identities and romantic matches are clarified.

This was the one play that I had to see during our visit. We saw a Globe production of Measure for Measure with Rylance years ago, which was great, so I didn’t want to miss this show. It is very well done. Most of the actors get dressed and put on their makeup on stage before the show officially begins. There are Renaissance-style musicians, and the set mimics the Globe Theater. There are even wax candles that drip onto the stage from above throughout the performance.

But this attention to historical authenticity and similitude comes at the price of contemporary relevance. I couldn’t help but feel distanced from the action, and I wonder if the play has anything profound to say about the human condition today. I’m not sure it holds up in an era of gay rights and gender bending.

Even so, Rylance is marvelous as Olivia. And Chahidi almost steals the show as Maria, her conniving servant. Stephen Fry is also excellent as Malvolio. Barnett has the most difficult role: an actor playing a woman playing a man. He does it well, but his part ultimately lacks the zest of Olivia, Maria, and Malvolio.

I definitely recommend this production and am glad we saw it. It didn’t move me in the way that The Glass Menagerie did. But, of course, it wasn’t really trying to, so I don’t hold that against it!

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The Glass Menagerie: A Review Monday, Jan 20 2014 

Earlier this month, PJ and I spent a few days in New York City before the spring semester began. We saw four shows in three days, the of which was Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie starring Cherry Jones, Zachary Quinto, Celia Keenan-Bolger, and Brian J. Smith and directed by John Tiffany.

As PJ and I discussed after seeing it, The Glass Menagerie is a play we each had to read in high school, and neither of us came into this production thinking that this is one of Williams’s best works. This production made us both rethink that position. It is an excellent production, one of the best plays I’ve ever seen on Broadway!

The play is about a woman, who was abandoned by her husband, and her two adult children. Cherry Jones plays the woman, Amanda, whose only goal in life is to see her daughter, Laura, played by Keenan-Bolger, married. Amanda knows that Laura’s only hope for future security is marriage, because she is extremely shy and partially crippled. Amanda enlists her son, Tom, played by Quinto, to arrange for a Gentleman Caller to court Laura. The last act of the play depicts what happens when the Gentleman Caller, played by Smith, arrives. Everything about this production is captivating. The stage design, the use of only minimal props, the staging, the acting, everything grips the audience in these characters’ story.

Cherry Jones is a Broadway legend, and I can now see why. Amanda could easily become a caricature, but Jones  humanizes Amanda and, even though we can see how she’s doing almost everything wrong, we also see that she’s ultimately right. I wasn’t expecting much from Zachary Quinto to be honest. I dismissed him as a TV and movie actor. But he was excellent as the son who longs to escape from his suffocating mother, a stand-in for Williams himself. And Keenan-Bolger is heart-breaking as Laura. I wouldn’t be surprised of all three received Tony nominations this year and would definitely support all three winning.

There’s only a little time left to see this production. I highly recommend it. It’s right up there with The Little Dog Laughed and August: Osage County as one of my favorite Broadway shows I’ve seen. This is everything a night at the theater should be.

2013 in Review: Art Friday, Jan 3 2014 

Although PJ and I saw fewer plays last year than we’d like, we went to more museums that I think is typical. As part of my 2013 round-up, I’d thought I briefly write about the five works of art that I most enjoyed seeing in 2013.

Herrin Massacre, 1940 by Paul Cadmus 

The top work on my list is a rather serious work by Paul Cadmus about the massacre of strike breakers in June 1922 in Herrin, Illinois, which I saw at the Columbus Museum of Art.

The painting was originally part of a commission by Life, but it was ultimately not published in the magazine since its editors did not want to offend pro-labor groups.

I tend to think of Cadmus’s work as mostly comic and (homo)sexual rather than gritty and political. He always seems to emphasize the male body in one way or another. Here, I think his way of depicting their bodies adds to the pathos of the massacre: we see these men as living men who are being brutally murdered. It’s beautiful, shocking, and political. I really admire it.

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2013 in Review: Theater Thursday, Jan 2 2014 

PJ and I only went to New York City once in 2013, and we didn’t manage to see any plays when we traveled to other places. Consequently, I saw fewer professional plays in 2013 than was usually  the case over the previous few years. We did see a local summer stock production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was fun. We also saw some of the shows that the School of Theater produced this year. So we didn’t entirely miss out!

Since I didn’t get a chance to post about most of these productions throughout the year, I will write a quick round-up of my five favorite productions that I saw 2013.

Cloud 9 

My favorite production from 2013 was a production of Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9 locally. Our School of Theater has an MFA in Directing. The students, of course, have to direct productions of various kinds to earn their degree. One of these is a “style project,” and one of the MFA directing students, Ryan Holihan, chose Cloud 9 for this assignment.

I don’t know the director, but I love Churchill’s work, so PJ and I made sure we got tickets to see it. Holihan did an amazing job — and not just amazing for being a graduate production in a small Appalachian town. Everything about the production was top-notch.

What impressed me most was Holihan clearly understands the play and was able to get his actors to understand it as well. The production was hilarious, suspenseful, and moving, not an easy combination. Add to that the fact that some of the actors play characters of different genders and ages, and you have a work that could be an utter disaster in the wrong director’s hands. I was clearly impressed by the skills Holihan, his cast, and his crew demonstrated in this production. It’s a reminder that, perhaps, the most important theatrical engagements don’t happen on Broadway by on stages throughout the country, in small towns with amateur or student actors and crews. The work these performers do is arguably the true essence of what theater is all about.

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2013 in Review: Brazil and Seattle Wednesday, Jan 1 2014 

As the new year begins, it feels like the right time to look back at 2013 and think about the year. PJ and I agree that 2013 was a pretty great year for us. We traveled, enjoyed museums, music, and theater, saw friends and family, and generally appreciated the life we have made together. Since I didn’t blog much in 2013, I plan to write a series of short(ish) posts about the things we did and saw in 2013. These will then lead into my annual favorites lists. Hopefully I’ll get them all done before work takes up all of my time again!

This post will be about our travels in 2013. We only made it to New York City once in 2013, which was significantly less than in 2012 (when I was there three times!). Conversely, I visited San Antonio three times in 2013. My younger sister and her husband had their first child in 2012, and I’m totally in love with her. I’ll be going back a lot in the coming years. For our annual summer trip abroad we returned to South America and visited four places in Brazil. It was a whirlwind tour of the country during their early winter, but it was a wonderful experience. And we visited Seattle for the first time to visit one of PJ’s longtime friends and her wife. All of the trips were great, but I thought I would post a few pictures and comments from just two of the trips here: Brazil and Seattle.

Brazil

Brazil is a beautiful country. We were there before the riots; if we had gone after them, it might have changed our perspective somewhat. We started in Rio de Janeiro. We spent our first afternoon on the beach. I enjoyed watching this guy, who seemed to be gay or trans, braiding women’s hair for a small fee:

Maybe we were just hungry, but the cheap lunch we had that day was great — I had a ham and cheese crepe with a local beer. Yummy! We also tried fish balls — balls of fish meat that were battered and then deep-fried.

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