Pamplona at the Goodman

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I was lucky to get to see Pamplona starring Stacy Keach at the Goodman Theater. Set in a hotel room in Spain, Pamplona shows Ernest Hemingway struggle with writer’s block as the tries to write an article on bullfighting for Life magazine. As he struggles, Hemingway looks back on his life – all four of his marriages, his conflicts with his father and mother, his writing career and his love and respect for bullfighters and their sport.

Throughout the play, vintage photos are projected on the hotel walls placing the set in history. Pamplona is staged in Goodman’s smaller theater, which resembles Chicago’s Shakespeare Theater so every seat provides a good view in an intimate setting.

Keach brings Hemingway to life and is wonderful in this show. You have to be a powerful performer to captivate an audience for 90 minutes. Kudos to Keach.

I enjoyed learning more about this writer and was pleased with the surprising ending. Just masterful. The play was one of the best of this year’s season.

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Human Condition, II

HUMAN CONDITION

Tatsuya Nakadai as Kaji

Part two of Kobayashi’s trilogy Human Condition maintains the excellence of the first film. Here the hero Kaji is a private in the military. It seems no one on the face of the earth faces more degradation than a WWII Japanese private. Kaji’s particularly targeted because he’s suspect of being a “Red” since he tried to get humane treatment for the Chinese P.O.W.’s stationed at the mine he managed.

The “vets” or soldiers with more experience are merciless in their brutality against the newer recruits. In fact, the sensitive Obara, who’s physically weak and plagued by domestic problems, is beaten and humiliated in a way I’ve never witnessed. While Kaji tries to help, that makes matters worse for Obara who commits suicide rather early on in this three hour film.

Although Kaji is strong and performs his duties without failure, because of his principles, he’s berated and targeted. In no uncertain terms, the film indicts the Japanese military, where a few good men are outnumbered by corrupt brutes. Even when he was in the hospital, he was beaten. The head nurse thought nothing of striking patients!

As in Human Condition, part 1, Tatsuya Nakadai, who plays Kaji, is stellar. I just learned that he was a shop clerk and Koyabashi, the director of Human Condition, discovered him and put him in a film.

I Puritani

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Friday I got student tickets for the Lyric Opera Chicago’s production of I Puritani. Written by Vincente Bellini, I Peritani is the story of Elvira, a young girl in love with Arturo, but whose father promised a soldier named Riccardo that he could marry his daughter. Understandably, Elvira is beside herself.

However, she soon learns her father’s reconsidered and will permit her to marry Arturo. It all sounds grand, except to Riccardo, who’s now jealously plotting against his rival. Unaware of Riccardo’s response, Elvira is on Cloud 9 and preparing for her wedding.

The story takes place in the 17th century England when the Royalists are at war with the Puritans. The disposed queen, Enrichetta has been captured and brought to the castle where the opera takes place. She’s able to hang out wherever she likes for some reason. As she’s sitting in a courtyard, Elvira sees her and decides the best way to see how her veil looks is to put it on this other woman she doesn’t know. Queen Enrichetta dazzles in the veil. For some reason, Elvira leaves the queen forgetting the veil. What ensues is a case of mistaken identity when Arturo promises to help Queen Enrichetta escape. He’s seen by Riccardo, who plots to show Elvira her fiancé “cheating on her” with the queen.

The music and singing was heavenly. During the first intermission, college night attendees could attend a Q & A session with a woman who works with technical aspects of the production. This was informative, but I’d prefer it if they speaker prepared about 5 minutes of a talk and then opened the floor to questions. As I don’t know opera well, I am not able to think up questions.

Before Act II began, a man announced that the singer playing Elvira had taken ill and the understudy took over. She did a fine job, on par with the star, to my unsophisticated ear.

For the second intermission, the curtain was up and a stage manager narrated what the 50+ professionals were doing to transform the set. That was fascinating to see.

The opera lasts 3 hours and 35 minutes and since I either get the 10:35 pm train or I have to wait till 12:15 am, I wouldn’t get home till 1 am, which I wasn’t in the mood for such a late night so I left after the second intermission. I’ll have to find a DVD of this opera to see the ending. While the story is quite contrived, the singing, music, costumes and set made I Purtani excellent.

Incredible Customer Service

I just read this set of slides for a marketing course I’m starting for my Library Science program. I’m stunned and gladdened to see such devotion to customers. I’m going to start shopping with Zappos.com.

Do you know of other companies with exemplary service? What do they do that’s a cut above the norm?