It Was the War of the Trenches

war trenches

A gritty look at WWI, Jacques Tardi’s It was the War of the Trenches shows the dark side of World War I from the French side. Most of characters are jaded, egotistical schemers, who’re willing to break the rules. They’d inflict themselves with wounds to avoid fighting. They’d collude with the enemy if it meant survival. They would shoot women and children if that was the order given.

Nonetheless, I felt bad when a man would die, even though that same man would desert his comrades or cheat them one way or another. It’s an interesting angle to a historical book.

Well, it’s not exactly a historical book. In the forward Tardi says:

“This is not the history of the First World War told in comics form, but a non-chronological sequence of situations, lived by men who have been jerked around and dragged through the mud, clearly unhappy to find themselves in this place, whose only wish is to stay alive for just one more hour…”

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The drawings convey the horror and violence of the war, but I must remind myself and you to realize that this book is just one perspective on the war. It’s definitely worth reading, though I don’t think children under 15 should read it (maybe older still). But also, we should read and view other more historical books or films to really understand “The War to End All Wars.”

Rapture, Blister, Burn

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Written by Gina Gionfriddo, Rapture, Blister, Burn* takes the audience on a hilarious exploration of modern feminism. When my friend, whose husband didn’t want to see a play, explained it too me she said it was about two women, one a stay at home, married mother and the other a single, successful career woman reunite. I felt nothing new would be offered.

I was wrong.

Rapture, Blister, Burn* does tell the story of two friends who haven’t seen each other since grad school. Catherine became a famous feminist professor who’s on the talk show circuit to discuss terrorism, the Internet and porn, and Gwen, who’s married Catherine’s former boyfriend Don, who’s turned out to be an unambitious academic dean. Don’s the guy who counsels the kids who ditch class, drink too much and maybe take drugs. He demands so little of himself or his students.

Catherine moves to Gwen’s town to care for her mother, who’s had a heart attack. This crisis has made Catherine question her life’s choices and women’s progress. Don, Gwen’s husband, was Catherine’s boyfriend and she now thinks perhaps Don was “the one.” What happens between the trio is the main plot of the play, but what I found most interesting was the interaction between Catherine, Gwen, Catherine’s mother and Avery, Gwen’s rebellious babysitter. Catherine needs something to do in the summer so Don’s able to get her a seminar to teach. Only two students register for Catherine’s feminist studies seminar so she holds it in her mother’s living room. Gwen and Avery turn out to be the two students.

Avery’s an outspoken millennial who got a black eye while shooting a reality show with her boyfriend. Avery has some beliefs that I confess I found shocking — yet intriguing. She argues that you can totally outsource homemaking (not just housework, but giving a home its feel). During the seminar and the cocktail hour that invariably follows, the women discuss Phyllis Schafly, Carol Clover, and other feminists. Their discussions were funny and enlightening, which surprised me as I thought the topic one I knew all about. Gionfriddo’s characters have open minds and do wrestle with ideas that you’d expect them to immediately reject. I’d never heard of feminist ideas surrounding horror movies or Clover’s concept of the “final girl.” Catherine, her mother, Gwen and Avery debate and argue without sounding pedantic. The humor reminds me of a modern day, feminist Socratic discussion, one where the participants all have a lot riding on the ideas.

Rapture, Blister, Burn has played in London and L.A. and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. While, like me, you probably won’t walk out of the theater envious or any character or ready to espouse their beliefs, you will play with the ideas discussed and just might find yourself tracking down Phyllis Schafley’s books at the library. I never thought I would, but this play is full of surprises.

(*The title is from some lyrics to a Courtney Love song.)

Frankenstein

If it weren’t for Theater Mania’s email offering 20% off tickets, I’d have never known that the National Theater Live was broadcasting Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller in Evanston. What Sherlock fan could pass up the deal?

The acting, sets and costumes were all outstanding. Last night we saw Cumberbatch as the Creature and Miller as Dr. Frankenstein. I’d caught bits and pieces of old Frankenstein films, which gave me an idea of what to expect. However, I didn’t know the movies departed from Mary Shelley‘s book.

Now I know why.

Despite a stellar performance by Cumberbatch and creative staging, the story fell short of what I’d expected.

Just after birth

The play opened with a scene, a protracted scene, of the Creature’s birth masterfully performed by Cumberbatch, yet the scene dragged. After a while, I was thinking, “We get it, the Creature’s gawky and learning to walk is a clumsy, long process. Can you please move on?” How I wished the director had made that more succinct. I also wondered why Frankenstein hadn’t heard all the banging about his creature was doing. Why did it take him so long to get into the lab to see what the hell was going on? We’re later told that Frankenstein was a workaholic, obsessed with his work. Well, not that night.

Once the creature’s born and walking, Frankenstein discovers him and he freaks out. As a result of Frankenstein’s screaming rejection, the Creature hits the road. Mind you all he’s wearing is a loin cloth and he knows nothing of life. He can barely walk and has no knowledge of language. He has no concept of geography, what a town or street is, what buying or begging is. Nothing at all. Nada.

After a minor run in with some scamps, the Creature meets an old man who’s blind and thus accepting. The man teaches the Creature to read and think critically. Pretty far fetched since a baby needs to hear language for years before talking let alone reading Paradise Lost passages. Yeah, I don’t blame the B movie directors for departing from this story.

While under the tutelage of the blind man, the Creature hides in the shadows fearing rejection and abuse from anyone who can see him.

Life is fine, though limited till the old man’s son and daughter-in-law panic when they first see the Creature. The man was so set on integrating the Creature into his family, yet didn’t have the sense to prepare them for this meeting. He’d been working with the Creature for a long, long time.

If he thought the Creature was hideous, why didn’t he scrap the project and start anew after taking some sewing and art lessons?

Throughout the play the Creature is a gawky biped with gruesome scars and bruises that never heal. It’s like Frankenstein sewed the Creature with his feet. I never understood how Frankenstein, who designed and made the creature was so repulsed.

The play deals (ineptly, I’d say) with themes of responsibility, connection, alienation, prejudice, but it’s all done with the sophistication of an 19 year old. I’m far less impressed with Shelley’s stature as a novelist if this is indeed the accurate retelling the play claims to be.

Frankenstein was the typical one dimensional scientist who’s anti-social and uncomfortable in society. He’s okay with theory, but horrible with real life. For some reason, his fiance is madly in love with him and keeps trying to get blood from the rock-like heart of this nerd dressed in ruffles.

The cost of Frankenstein’s misuse of science is death, several deaths.

While the play will be performed again in July with Cumberbatch and Miller changing roles, I couldn’t sit through the story again. I’m sure Cumberbatch would do an excellent job as Frankenstein, yet he’s limited by the poor story.

It’s weird to see so much good in a production and yet not be able to whole heartedly recommend it. I’d even give the set designers and actors awards, but I wouldn’t want to sit through this again.