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Company

Screen Shot 2017-11-16 at 1.31.43 PMI had no idea when I went to Northwestern’s production of Company by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth, that the story was famous. I actually thought that the musical would be about corporate America. I wasn’t adverse to different subject matter though.

The performers were remarkable, which is usually the case at Northwestern. They got the songs pitch perfect and every step of each dance was on the money.

However, the story itself seemed dated. I couldn’t put my finger on which decade the story was from, but I guessed the 80’s. (I was just off by a decade it was the 70s). Company is about Bobby, a man, who’s just turned 35 and he’s still single, while all his friends are married. These couples are devoted to Bobby and inviting him to their homes seems to be the peak of their social lives. I couldn’t get over how much they cared about Bobby and how much they worried that he was still single. At a certain point, I’d expect people to move on. It wasn’t like Bobby had cancer or a family tragedy that meant people should focus on him so much.

Bobby wasn’t an especially interesting person. He didn’t have an interesting job. In fact we didn’t know what work he did. He wasn’t hilariously funny, or especially generous or active. He had no special expertise. He was just a guy. He had three girls whom he dated, but he didn’t have a particular interest in one. He didn’t criticize these women, but he was lukewarm about them, just as he was lukewarm about every other facet of life.

The friends follow what I call the “Little Women” characterization model. Each person has their own talent, problem or outlook that defines them. One woman’s neurotically afraid of getting married to her live in boyfriend. That boyfriend is very patient. One woman controls her husband’s drinking and does judo. That husband has been caught driving drunk. We don’t know much of anything about these stereotypical characters. I suppose that’s the case with musicals and often opera, little or no character complexity or change, but great music.

I have a hard time with plays or books where the hero is indecisive start to finish, where he or she is wishy washy or noncommittal. I realize that’s a very modern attitude, but I don’t need to spend two hours putting my life on hold and watching someone who’s a wet noodle.

The ending was particularly disappointing. It’s hard to fathom how this play won seven Tony Awards, except that it came out in the 1970s and then it might have been innovative. Now, even with updates like cell phone use, it’s ho hum. Marriage, while on the decrease, is still a big part of life and debates on its merits are nothing new.

So I can’t recommend this show, which plays through Nov. 19th.

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Weeping for Morwenna

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This week Morwenna was a pawn in George Warleggan’s cruel machinations. At first he was clueless and thought His cousin-in-law Morwenna must be bored in Nampara. Far with from it. She was having the time of her life with Dwight and their young chaperone, Geoffrey Charles.

George goes nuts when he hears toads on his property. We later learn that as a boy, Ross terrorized George by putting toads down his trousers. (A tad contrived, but okay.) He makes his servant Tom get rid of every toad in his pond. It’s an impossible task since Dwight and Geoffrey Charles have such fun filling the pond with toads as Morwenna looks on forgetting that she may be wed to an odious toad. The writing was such that I continually thought I was watching a train wreck.

Ross received a letter from Aunt Agatha and raced to see her. Unaware that George and Elizabeth came back to Cornwall and were upstairs in bed eating strawberries, Ross snuck in Trenwith and checked in on Aunt Agatha who’s looking forward to her birthday. She will soon be the Poldark to live the longest . . . if George doesn’t kill her.

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Such a favorite, Aunt Agatha

Dwight suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after his time imprisoned in France. It’s no wonder after all the suffering and violence he’s seen. Yet Caroline expects him to be as happy to be back as she’s happy to have him. So there’s a growing divide. Hugh Armitage seems to be coping much better and Ross brought him to talk to Dwight. It seems that Ross could have talked to Dwight, but I suppose Hugh needed to be introduced into the story. By the end of the episode, Dwight opened up to Caroline so hopefully they’ll be fine.

Tom, George’s servant, spies Morwenna swooning around Dwight when he tries to apprehend Dwight, but fails. Afraid to report back to George, Tom tattles on Morwenna so she can take the heat. George, who’s married up, won’t hear of his in-law marrying down or even fraternizing down. Just by spending time with Drake, Morwenna seems to have become “damaged goods.” She acts like she’s upset, but we can tell she’s relieved not to have to marry sleazy Osborne, whom Ross and Demelza saw exiting a brothel in the Red Light District of town.

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Morwenna

George is all about vengeance and spite. A pettier character, I’ve never seen. He wants to punish Geoffrey Charles, for his wise remarks and even more for his part in the toad episode, so he’s sending him off to Harrow, a boarding school. Then they won’t need Morwenna, whom they’re going to send back home.

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Poldark Returns!

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Drama lovers, history buffs and anglophiles, Poldark has returned to Sunday nights for its third season. Sunday brought what in the UK would be episode 3, but here is episode 2. Demelza and Ross are still in love, but Ross’ headstrong ways still make life hard for Demelza. I’m glad to see she’s got the strength to carry on no matter how obstinate Ross gets. And I’m thankful that at least occasionally, Ross tells her that he’s over Elizabeth and praises Demelza as she’s due.

George Warleggan has grown more prosperous and more pompous as he now is a Justice of the Peace. Woe, to the poor person brought before his court. Unless you’re rich, you don’t stand a chance at justice.

Elizabeth has had a new child, Valentine, whom George believes is his, but Elizabeth knows is Ross’ from another instance of Ross’ foolishness at the end of last season. Elizabeth staged a premature birth by pretending to fall down a staircase. At first she doesn’t want to bond with the baby, but as she comes to align herself more with George  she also accepts Valentine.

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Drake, Morwenna, and Sam

We’ve got a few new characters already. Elizabeth’s young cousin Morwenna is brought to the house to mind Geoffrey Charles, who’s probably about 10 and has gotten quite perceptive and witty in a way George doesn’t appreciate. If George has his way Geoffrey will soon be off to boarding school.

Also after Demelza’s father dies, her two brothers Sam and Drake come to town. Drake soon develops feelings for Morwenna, who at first is tentative because Drake is clearly low born. Sam’s a very pious Methodist and that causes trouble. George insists that Sam and his followers are kicked out of the nearby church. How Christian of you, George! Soon Demelza finds an unused farm building and since Ross is away lets Sam use it for his church.

Where is Ross? He’s gone to France to look for Dwight who’s ship has been captured or lost, no one knows at first. France is in the throws of Jacobin violence. As Caroline and Dwight eloped as her uncle lay on his death bed, Caroline is, of course, beside herself with worry all the while worrying about her love. Rightly so, as in France, they’re killing first and asking questions . . . well, never.

The drama has been true to the original book series and offers romance and drama with complex characters and exquisite scenery and costumes. I do miss Jud’s whinging ways, but with three new characters and more to come, I understand.

 

 

 

 

 

A Picnic in Japan

I’m traveling to Indonesia now and just watched this good Simon and Martina video. It’s 3:40 am in Jakarta on Tuesday. I left home at 10:30 am on Sunday and have one more flight to go so I’m too exhausted to write much, but once I’m caught up on sleep, expect some movie and a hotel reviews.

For now, learn about some interesting foods available in Japan and perhaps get some marriage tips.

Downton Abbey, Season 6 Begins

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In the U.S. after months (maybe 10 months it seems) of promotions, Downton Abbey’s sixth season began on Sunday. My tradition has been to watch Downton with my aunt, who’s now living in an assisted living facility. I brought dinner for us and arrived early. Our problem was we couldn’t get PBS on Direct TV in her room. No one was able to help us. Ugh!

We had dinner and then I left to watch the show, feeling awful that my aunt wouldn’t be able to watch a show she loves.

I enjoyed this first episode, but feel that this review will echo what I said last season. I enjoyed seeing favourite characters and elegant costumes, but not all that much happened.

A chambermaid tried to blackmail Mary about her rendezvous with a Lord Whoever last season. We knew the chambermaid wouldn’t succeed and she doesn’t she’s just an annoyance. I’d expect a chambermaid in a nice hotel would have lots of opportunities for blackmail and that she’d be better at it than she was. It was odd how she had so much time and money to travel to the Abbey so frequently. By the end of the episode, Robert came to Mary’s rescue, showing his fatherly love, which made Mary realise how good a father he is. Still, I’d hoped that wily Mary would have outsmarted the chambermaid.

Violet has learned that a larger hospital would like to take over the village hospital. She shares her scuttlebutt at a board meeting and Isobel and Lord Merton, who seems to be trying to score points with her, oppose Violet and the local doctor, who doesn’t believe bigger is necessarily better. Cora’s caught in the middle and seems to be swayed more by Isobel’s views. I hope Cora gets a better storyline this season, but I doubt it.

Edith, as is often the case, didn’t get a lot to do. Her daughter is fully now part of the family. Edith handled an irate call with the editor of the paper she’s inherited. There was a nice scene with her aunt in which Edith considers moving to London to get out of Mary’s shadow, which would be best for her. Mary dominates Downton and there Edith will always play second fiddle.

I’ve wondered how the series will end and whether the Crawley’s will be able to keep their estate. In last night’s episode a nearby house went up for sale and the Crawley’s neighbours auctioned off most of their belongings. This sale obviously makes us all wonder what will happen to the Crawley’s who’re unable to replace staff and are now considering lowering wages.  The elegiac mood of the end of a beloved era hung more heavily last night and probably will throughout the series.

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At the auction, Daisy had an outburst. She’s very upset that her father-in-law will probably be kicked off his farm. When she saw the new owners, surrounded by her employers and all the people milling about shopping for antiques and what-not, Daisy let loose her feelings of the injustice of Mr. Mason. Though she had a point, she didn’t help Mason at all and just got herself in hot water. As Mr. Carson points out this was a “dismissible offence.” Yet the Crawley’s were merciful and Robert just scolded her.

Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes are engaged, but Mrs. Hughes was worried about the “terms of the marriage.” There was a bit of comedy as she had Mrs. Patmore run back and forth to find out how intimate Mr. Carson expected her to be. In the end, Mr. Carson convinced Mrs. Hughes that he wanted a real marriage and that his love for her was strong and real. I wonder whether Mrs. Patmore will have to continue to play the messenger/marriage counsellor between these two people who’ve known each other for decades?

With a flourish of deux ex machina, Julian Fellows tied up the storyline of  Anna being suspected of murdering her rapist. Another woman confessed to the crime. She must have been a female Jean Valjean since Anna was the prime suspect and there was no clear reason why the woman confessed, but it’s lucky for Anna that she did.

Favorite Violet lines

  • Does it get cold on the moral high ground?
  • If you were talking in Urdu, I couldn’t understand you less.

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The War Room

 

I knew that The War Room was number 1 at the box office when it opened in the summer. I also knew that it was made by a group of Evangelical Christians known for their low budget films. So I feared this film might be low quality and rather preachy. Yet a couple friends had seen the film and recommended it.

When I flew back to the US from China, The War Room was offered on my flight. It seemed like a low risk chance to watch it.

While there are no big name stars and the story is overtly Christian, The War Room held my interest and was worth my time. It’s the story of an affluent couple who’re drifting apart, bickering and arguing a lot, becoming more materialistic and losing respect for each other — two pitfalls that are all too common.

The wife is a real estate agent, who meets a wise widow who regrets letting her own marriage slide. The widow is deeply spiritual and challenges the heroine to pray for her husband in a “War Room.” She insists that it’s not the wife’s job to fix her husband, but to love him and pray for him.

As you’d expect the praying works. What I liked about the film was that although it wasn’t subtle or polished, it touched on an aspect of life that so many people struggle with. It came across as real. All the actors were believable and the story satisfied. I wouldn’t say it was my favourite film of all time, but I am glad I saw it.

Poem of the Week

A friend sent me this poem today. I just loved it and had to share.

Failing and Flying

BY JACK GILBERT

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

Thirst

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Call me a philistine but Thirst (1949) is the first Ingmar Berman film I’ve seen. Hmm. I can’t say I liked it, though there were shots that were captivating like when two young dancers are seen in a dressing room mirror and their grouchy teacher’s seen in the mirror beside it.

However, this film about a married couple and their previous lovers didn’t do much for me. I was put off by their intense “go for the throat” arguments. The heroine, a young dancer who’s career’s ended, was egotistical, selfish and mean. No doubt Bergman wanted to show intense feeling when you want to kill or tell your partner to go to hell, but do we need 100 minutes of this? All the characters seemed both sadistic and masochistic. I suppose the raw emotion and language was modern for the 1940s, but it didn’t do anything for me, except make me not want to visit Sweden.

Seeing that last week I saw and enjoyed Passing Fancy, which I grant is a comedy so not comparable, it was perhaps harder to appreciate Thirst. In Passing Fancy we also see characters who’ve had it with each other, who tell each other they hate them, but the storm passes and other emotions exist. In Thirst when a couple reconciles a bit you believe they still want their partner to die and go to hell. Lovely. Charming.

Actually, Thirst seemed like a bit of hell on earth.

I won’t swear off Bergman, but I’m not in a hurry to see more.

I think I need to see more Poldark and Ozu to counteract the Bergman effect.

To Marry an English Lord

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If you like Downton Abbey, you really should read Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace’s  To Marry an English Lord. I got the audio book from the library. The narrator had the perfect voice, elegant and slightly aristocratic.

To Marry an English Lord presents all sorts of facts and vignettes about the American heiresses, and there were dozens if not hundreds, who crossed the ocean to marry well. The focus is on New York socialites, whose fathers had fortunes, but couldn’t break into the elite circle of the Kickerbockers. Kickerbockers were the descendants of the first New York settlers from Holland, these people wore knickerbockers, i.e. pants that stopped at the knees. No amount of money could get you into their social circle so those with new money headed for England where they were welcomed not just for their money (though that was key) but also because American girls were so open, confident and free. British girls were sheltered and shy. They were chaperoned everywhere, but the American parents gave their girls a lot more freedom. And they had much larger clothing allowances. A British girl would make do with 3 new gowns a season, but the American would get 18 or so spending about $500.000 in todays money (plus a 50% tariff). The British men noticed, in droves apparently.

The book covers every aspect of the women’s lives from dress, parents, education, hobbies and such to marriage, infidelity and socializing. I found it quite interesting that these girls had the best of all worlds because as was typical in the U.S. at the time they were encouraged to be spirited and confident as debutantes and unlike the women who married in America after they wed they could follow the custom of getting involved in politics or writing, which was normal in England.

The book is a solid and entertaining social history that makes me think a real life Cora had more meaningful work to do, more extravagant parties to give, more friendships and probably more infidelity than we see on Downton Abbey. (Mind you I’m happy Cora did not hop into bed with Bricker, the bounder.) The authors’ style is full of wit and energy.

While I enjoyed being able to listen as I drove, I think I’ll get the actual book, because I can envision wanting to fact check the history and that’s hard to do with a CD.

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.)

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