Red Velvet

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Dion Johnstone as Ira Aldridge, CST

Chicago Shakespeare Theater presented an excellent production of Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti. The story of the first African American to play Othello on the London state in 1833, the story explores racism. As we know, abolition was a hot issue in the mid-1800s. In England there were protests against the slave trade.

When Ian Keen, who starred as Othello, fell ill the manager of the Covent Garden Theater chose Ira Aldridge, a black actor from America to play Othello. Some in the cast were excited and supportive, but Ian’s son and another actor were strongly opposed.

Aldridge was a fine, thoughtful actor, whose goal was to work in London. He takes his art seriously and gives a passionate performance the first night. However, the critics were shocked to see an actor of African heritage on stage and their reviews were venomous. The manager, Pierre LaPorte is a good friend of Aldridge and he counsels the actor to tone down his performance. Yet we can see that Aldridge can’t rein in his perfectionism. His desire to bring Othello to life as he reads the play leads to disaster. A consummate professional, Aldridge pushes the edges of his performance.

The performances were all pitch perfect and the play was compelling as it showed a chapter of theater history, I wasn’t aware of. The play has been produced in London and New York. If it comes to your hometown, I highly recommend you check it out.

Ben Hecht’s 1001 Afternoons in Chicago

I’m intrigued by a book I just discovered, Ben Hecht’s 1001 Afternoons in Chicago. It’s available on Project Gutenberg. It’ll have to go on my TBR (to be read) list for a time, but sample this:

FANNY

Why did Fanny do this? The judge would like to know. The judge would like to help her. The judge says: “Now, Fanny, tell me all about it.”

All about it, all about it! Fanny’s stoical face stares at the floor. If Fanny had words. But Fanny has no words. Something heavy in her heart, something vague and heavy in her thought—these are all that Fanny has.

Let the policewoman’s records show. Three years ago Fanny came to Chicago from a place called Plano. Red-cheeked and black-haired, vivid-eyed and like an ear of ripe corn dropped in the middle of State and Madison streets, Fanny came to the city.

Ah, the lonely city, with its crowds and its lonely lights. The lonely buildings busy with a thousand lonelinesses. People laughing and hurrying along, people eager-eyed for something; summer parks and streets white with snow, the city moon like a distant window, pretty gewgaws in the stores—these are a part of Fanny’s story.

The judge wants to know. Fanny’s eyes look up. A dog takes a kick like this, with eyes like this, large, dumb and brimming with pathos. The dog’s master is a mysterious and inexplicable dispenser of joys and sorrows. His caresses and his beatings are alike mysterious; their reasons seldom to be discerned, never fully understood.

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Shake Shack

Since I’d seen the 60 Minutes feature on Shake Shack, it seemed high time that I visit this high caloric eatery. Ordering was efficient and the man who took our orders was polite. Even though

I soon got my ShakeBurger and chocolate shake. The shake was decadently delicious, while the burger was good, but nothing exceptional. My friend had the same sandwich and a salted caramel shake, which she said was very good.

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I’d say the burger isn’t on par with what we’d get a Hackney’s, a legendary Chicago-area spot, and it’s not as good as what people make themselves at home, but you’d pay a few dollars more at a better spot.

If you look at the calorie count, you’ll see that Shake Shack is an indulgence. I’d have tried a holiday shake, but those were over 800 calories!

The interior was a step up from a Wendy’s or even the nicest McDonalds.

Shake Shack started in New York and is moving across the country.

American Writers Museum

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Timeline

This year the American Writers Museum in Chicago on Michigan Avenue. It was high time I visited so despite the rain and cold, I took a friend from Milwaukee to explore it.

After showing our tickets, which I bought online and got a 20% discount on, we were directed to start our visit on the right where there is a timeline of American writers.

If you look up on the left and you’ll see a timeline of American history. Under that is the main exhibit showing a chronological series of portraits of significant American writers. When you turn the panel, which has three sides, you’ll find more information and background about each writer. Below is information on a well designed panel about various literary movements or authors. It’s a lot of reading, but its well presented. Also, the curators seem to have made an effort to present authors from all backgrounds. Across from the time line is a wall of squares with author’s quotations. The squares move to reveal an panel with more information or a video.

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Parallel to the gallery with the timeline was a photo exhibit on biographies, written by or on authors or celebrities along with their photos. The black and white photos of 50+ years ago were my favorite. There’s something about the crisp gradations and the styles of bygone eras that we just don’t see much anymore.

The next room I saw was the Readers Room which focuses on reading. It highlights different kinds of reading, such as educational, newspapers, magazines and more. There are two interactive screens where you can submit your favorite authors and see the most popular authors or books other visitors have chosen.

Another gallery had a small exhibit on Laura Ingles Wilder with biographical information, maps of where each of her books was set, depiction of her work in other formats and critical responses to her works.

The museum has a table with different typewriters, from the earliest kind to Selectric to a laptop. People were pounding away at the old typewriters while the laptop wasn’t used while I was there.

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Quotation, Octavia Butler

Then there was an exhibit on the skills of writing with interactive exhibits on specificity, making prose active and such.

Finally, there was an area dedicated to Chicago writers like Saul Bellow, Ida B. Wells, Mike Royko, Ring Larder, Gwendolyn Brooks, Carl Sandburg, Theodore Dreiser, Peter Finley Dunne and many more. Here you could listen to short recordings of their work and see these turnable banners with their portraits and information on their work.

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Each month the museum offers several programs including public readings. The staff was very helpful as we went through the galleries. They’d point out little things like the mural in the children’s room which had squirrels in a tree reading Caldecott award winning books and each squirrel had some element that related to the story it was reading. For example, the squirrel reading Charlotte’s Web, had a wisp of a web hanging over it.

All in all, I give the museum a thumbs up and will be back. I’d say allow an hour to get through the museum. If there’s a program, add more time.

Tickets: Adults $12, Students $8, discounts for children and seniors.

 

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge

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Melbourne, Australia

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Hopetoun, Melbourne, Australia

Each week Cee of Cee’s Photography challenges bloggers with a fun prompt. This week we’re to find photos of subjects that contain the Letter K, anywhere in the word. Cake came to mind so here you go.

If you want to see more Letter K photos, go here.

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Night of 1,000 Jack o’Lanterns

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From Night of 1,000 Jack o’Lanterns

This weekend from Thursday through Sunday the Chicago Botanic Garden is holding the Night of 1,000 Jack o’Lanterns. I got tickets in advance which turned out to be essential since it’s sold out for all days.

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The event is well planned. Our time to enter was 7:45 pm and though we arrived at the gardens on time the line to enter was long, so we should have come earlier. After parking, and we lucked out that they directed traffic so well that we must have hit the period when those who came at 5:30 had all left so we got to park in the lot nearest the visitors’ center. After entering we found long lines, but they moved swiftly.

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Sea Monster

Once inside we were delighted by Halloween music and dozens of jack o’lanterns, large and small. Well, huge and mid-size is more accurate. The “small” jack o’lanterns were the size most families buy and the big ones were perhaps 3 feet high. The jumbo ones were carved by artists and were grouped by themes. Themes included musicians, Chicago sports, Flora of Illinois, Fairy Tales, and Classic Halloween.

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After about an hour we reached a fork in the paths. One side led to the exit and the other to the model train exhibit. Though I’ve seen the model train exhibit, which consists of models of American sites like the French Quarter in New Orleans, the Hollywood sign or Wrigley’s Field, we decided to go again. I’m so glad we did. They’d decked out the buildings made of twigs and the trains with ghosts, goblins, witches, pumpkins and such.

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Then after exiting the model train exhibit we got to see two more themes of jack o’lanterns: Fairy Tales and Classic Halloween.

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Tickets are sold out. For members they were $12 and for non-members $14.

Parking for members is free and it costs $25 for non-members.