Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Dead Weather

in the Crystal Ballroom and very, very live.

I have never been to a show so intense. Because of it, I was not only squished, pseudo-levitated and bathed in the sweat of me and my four closest compatriots [meaning the people boxing me in], I gained a huge [TALENT] amount of respect for the artists in this band. I knew I loved Jack White. Everybody who knows who Jack White is - which should be everyone ever, but there's no accounting for taste - should at least appreciate the undeniable music in his soul. I mean, that music must come pouring out of him somehow: to have been in The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather all within a fairly short amount of time (not to mention various underground Detroit bands before getting his claim to fame with The White Stripes) is awe-striking at least. Add that to his stage presence and you get an international superstar [all Green Day and Moulin Rouge! references aside, I'm serious]. Couple all that with the intensity of Alison Mosshart and things get explosive.

Mosshart's sound for her second band, The Kills (Dead Weather being #3), is alternative and, in some cases, playful. For all those curious, see Tape Song. In The Dead Weather.... I think the best possible word I could choose here is gnarly. She was a grunge cigarette zombie queen in the body of an indie fashion model. I can't conjure anything more evocative than that, abstract though it is, so there you have it. Her badassery knew no bounds. She was aloof to the desperate cries and raucous sing-along of the crowd who reached for her as though their lives depended on it, teased them even, and gladly received an unlit cigarette from a devoted fan or two who knew she didn't give shit about the no smoking rules onstage. In short, she rocks. Hard.

The thing that was definitely the most insane and amazing about the show was the investment and passion pumped into every single note. They were larger than life and they knew it, and since they knew it, they weren't about to put on a poor show. And there's evidence to say that they love their crowds and devoted fans as much as the fans love to show it: at a New York show full of big wigs Jack White reputedly shouted "F*** you, you hip motherf***ers!" Go, Jack, Go!
Overall: one of the best shows. Ever. It'll be hard to top that one.

Opening band: Harlem.
What I remember the best from this set is honestly the bassist, sporting a Mickey Mouse-emblazoned baseball-cut 3/4 sleeve tee and rosary made of what I can only assume was pale green and frosty white jade. Well, that and the ability of the band to switch it up and change instruments mid-set. That at the least was worthy of a nod. Sadly, with the sound quality they received they seemed basic indie pop at best. However, their enthusiasm and energy level were certainly promising, and I would be more than willing to give them a second listen.
You can pay Harlem a visit at Shockhound, and on MySpace.

Fashion Report:

The Band
Jack White. Black, long-sleeved tee; tight black jeans; white shoes with a slight heel (soles: black) and buckle closure.
Alison Mosshart. White on black silkscreen tee; 3/4 sleeve leopard-print sweater with button closure; black skinny pants (not denim, a la Tripp); gold ankle boots; silver industrial bracelet; dainty silver chain with silver disk pendant; black nail polish.
Dean Fertita. Short-sleeved v-neck tee, thin horizontal black and white striped; black jeans; black shoes (presumably boots).
Jack Lawrence. Black from head to foot; button-down shirt; jeans; shoes; coke-bottle glasses.

The Crowd
Was completely inconsistent, in retrospect. I saw stylin' hippie-skirts and halter tops in with sleek designer skinny jeans and leather pumps. My personal favorite was a guy in a muscle shirt, pinstriped button-down, and last but not least a huge pair of headphones worn around his neck. But hey. It was a typical motley Portland crowd, and it certainly says something about the sheer number of people The Dead Weather is able to reach.

Official Site

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Adam Lambert

Live and in concert: the following being a recollection of one hell of a night.

I have never seen the Crystal Ballroom so packed. Then again, I suppose that's a given, being the show sold out within twenty minutes of the tickets being available for purchase, but still: for those of you who know what I mean, the line was like K-Con. For those of you who don't, I mean that it went all the way around the block.

Absolute truth be told, rather like when I saw Muse, I didn't consider Adam Lambert among my favorite artists, though I certainly respected his voice from the get-go. Also like with Muse, my standpoint is now rather different. Even with how painfully loud the music was, Adam's voice more than held out. He clearly takes immaculately good care of it: there was no sign of wear and tear as is typically inevitable while on a tour circuit. Rather, it was spot-on. Thus my respect grew. Couple that with the dance beats of half his songs and you have an irresistible mix. And even beyond that, it was the energy with which he performed, the energy with which the dancers moved, and the sheer passion for their art that every single performer displayed. That is what made this a glorious show.

I will have to admit, my night was pretty much made when he performed his rendition of Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire. But then of course it only got better when his cover of Tears for Fears' Mad World as well as his own Strut and Fever made the setlist. Perhaps the best piece he performed - his intended last before his encore - was If I Had You, not for its pop hooks, but for the fact that he made a point to say before he began "This is what this tour means to me." Gotta love an artist with that much honesty and that much passion, no matter the manner in which he climbs the charts.

For the gossip column: Tommy Joe Ratliff, on bass for the Glam Nation Tour, was absent the night I attended. Lambert brought it to the special attention of the crowd, asking for good wishes for him, as "a family emergency" called him urgently home. There has been speculation that Ratliff's father fell victim to a stroke, but the tabloids rage on and time will tell.

To give credit where it is justly due:
the two opening artists, Allison Iraheta and Orianthi, were pretty tight. I have to say that I respect Iraheta's fabulously pink/purple fadeout hair and her energy, Orianthi's voice [it was noted by a friend I made at the concert that she sounded hoarse, but I thought it added a nice growl-flavor to her vocals. oh well], and the energy and talent of Orianthi's bassist (who I sadly cannot find the name of).

Alert to all readers! The following is a new segment I've decided to add to my music reviews. Being I am now employed by a company which deals with both music and clothes, and especially how they work together, I have decided to use my powers of observation toward that end. So, without further ado,

Fashion Report:
The Band.
Adam Lambert. Had a variety of costumes a la David Bowie's Thin White Duke routine, though he didn't quite have one outfit for every song. The following are not complete outfits, but rather elements of various ensembles.
Coat and tails (black) with a white or off-white fur collar; tall, sparkly, red top-hat with a black silk hat-band, black brooch, and two long, thin, black feathers angled and drooping toward the back on one side; p/leather pants; to the floor black coat, presumably either [Tripp fabric] or p/leather; makeup galore; black vest-like muscle shirt, fiddle back (these seams were accentuated by ridges of dark neon-blue fabric, perhaps bias tape on a fold), emblazoned with a calligraphic letter A; long-sleeved button-down black or charcoal grey shirt, silver scrollwork embroidered at the top of each sleeve near where each was set in at the shoulder as well as between the shoulder blades; black cane headed with a silver skull (featured especially in the song Strut).
Dancers' ensembles and other things of import. Honestly I was far enough away from the stage to be unable to absorb the majority of the other fashions onstage. However, I was able to note that the dancers were sporting garments that were either made by the fabulous Skingraft or else they were made to look like them. I recall especially the use of something similar to shoulder-holsters: it made me recall this Skingraft bridle harness.
Allison Iraheta. Black corset, sweetheart neckline; black skinny jeans. [apologies for the brevity: I couldn't see much of her and almost nothing of Orianthi excepting her fabulous hair.]

The Crowd.
There was a predominant sense of glam-rock on the legendary floating floor. If glitter really is the herpes of everything, the Crystal Ballroom will never be the same. It was everywhere. Anything that sparkled, glinted, or shined could be seen, from temporary body art and makeup to sequined butterfly-cut vests to stretch-glitter you-name-it. The sparkle was the key. But there was no lack of skinny-jeans or corset-clad fans, either. There was more than a hint of clubwear, laces, mesh, and lace. I especially recall a black empire-waisted coat, long-sleeved, with a standing collar and lace-up back.

IN SHORT, readers, it was a night full of glitter and good fun.

Wiki article for the Glam Nation Tour
Adam Lambert:
Official Site
Allison Iraheta
Official Site
Official Site

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Shutter Island

May I open this one with a great big SPOILER ALERT.
Then again, I think you're all pretty aware that I'm liberal with the details on this blog, so I don't know why I was compelled to do so. Moving on.

For a true beginning to this review, I'm going to lay it out there plain and simple: I expected a lot more from this film. I love Leonardo DiCaprio - I believe he's very talented - and I'm also a huge fan of Emily Mortimer. However, this movie definitely left something to be desired in multiple courts.

The Plot is my main concern. In fact, I think I may be experiencing the same kind of disenchantment with Shutter Island as many other people of my acquaintance experienced with Avatar: in the end, it did exactly what I expected it to, and so it was a let-down. I mean really. When the major plot twist, that the gung-ho main character is actually insane, gets predicted by someone in the room within the first half hour of the film, there's something rotten in the state of Denmark, and in this case it rank of someone failing miserably at trying to pull a Tyler Durden. I would rather have watched a hackneyed and predictable story about a bad-guy insane-asylum-gone-experimental-medical-facility post-World War II featuring a detective with post-traumatic stress disorder which, naturally, he then uses to solve the case and escape; the blind leading the blind, the traumatized spiraling into the insane in order to understand the insane and thereby gleaning a glimmer of truth to cling to. I would have adored that, run-on sentence and all. Eaten it up. But of course that's not how things seem to work right now. The only redeeming quality of the plot was the very end, the very conscious decision of Teddy/Andrew to commit mental suicide and be ice-pick lobotomized: "to die a good man" rather than "to live as a monster."

The other main aspect that I was disappointed with, honestly, was the score. It kills me to say so, as movie music is one of my favorite things in life, but there it is. Upon looking into it further, it kills me even more to see that the score wasn't original: it was hand-selected tracks from various classical sources! Oh Hollywood Gods, why do you do these things? [Give me a moment to compose myself.] I must give credit where credit is due: I desired the 'silence is more terrifying than sound' effect, and they gave it to me in spades (once I waited a while for it). However, my complaint, in light of the aforementioned discovery, is with the use of certain tracks. Every once in a while a piece would be chosen that just screamed that the film was trying too hard to be suspenseful and thereby ruined the entire setup. During the sequence wherein Teddy and Chuck are being driven to the compound on Shutter Island to work on their missing persons case, the music was so repetitive and over the top I actually laughed and said "I can'e even take this seriously right now." That same track happened at least twice more, and it totally pulled me out of the film. It became a parody of itself, and I cannot see how that could have been the intent for the piece. It did the song no credit, and it did the visual film no credit, either.

Because, dear readers, if you've even made it this far, I hate to bag on this film. I really do, and not least because the cinematography was brilliant. Stunning, even. The contrast in lighting between the waking hours on Shutter Island and Teddy's dreams of his home and wife were excellent. The stark lighting and bleached-out effect for every flash of lightning during the migraine scene was gorgeous, an almost poetic representation of the characteristic photosensitivity, as was the transition with every flash between that waking world and the dream world, witnessed only by brightness and the presence or absence of Teddy's five o'clock shadow and subtle beard. The devastatingly still sequences of Teddy's flashbacks to the war and the concentration camps were exquisitely horrifying, and beautiful because they were so. But by far my favorite shot caused a reference I can only hope was intentional: Teddy's wife, during one of his dreams, is pictured standing at the window with her back to him. At this point in the film it is an accepted idea that she was killed when their apartment was set ablaze by an arsonist. In this shot where she lingers at the window, her back is cut away so to speak, to reveal that she is hollow and made of a charcoaled log with still-glowing lines of ember. In several traditions, Faery or Elfin women, as well as some dryads, are described as beautiful women having holes in their backs which reveal that they are hollow and made of wood. The use of this image in Shutter Island was not only well done, it was striking, worked gloriously in the context of the story as well as in that of the nightmare, and ultimately demonstrated Teddy's idealistic view of his wife: as a beautiful, even supernatural creature beyond the bounds of humanity and thereby beyond the bounds of mortality. It reflected his inability to let her go using mythological connotation with a twist of logic. It was brilliant.

And to touch on the performance itself, there was not a single actor who I found lacking in skill or conviction. I continue to be impressed with both Leonardo DiCaprio and Emily Mortimer. I was also very impressed by Ben Kingsley and Mark Ruffalo. There was no lack of talent or fervor in the cast, and I commend them for making the most of that which they were given. It was only that which they were given that I had quips with.

So, in short, overall I was disappointed. I feel that this had potential to be much more than what it was, especially with the visual brilliance displayed throughout the film. But, I think now that I have detained you for long enough.


Oh my goodness have I delayed on this review and I apologize to the Film Deities for said delay. This film deserved immediate attention and I can no longer conjure the reason it did not receive it.

Snatch is a jewel of a film. Released in 2001, it can only be called an action flick with every good thing: con artists, incompetent thieves, bare-knuckle boxing, gypsies - throw in one cute dog and one bat-shit crazy pig farmer and you've pretty much got it down. Written and directed by Guy Ritchie, it's one hell of a ride. Infused with a host of unique characters and with one of my favorite plot twists of all time, the film's cherry-on-top is a star-studded cast featuring names like Jason Statham, Benicio Del Toro, Alan Ford, Dennis Farina, and, that's right, Brad Pitt.

The whole cast was impressive, but I think the best performance goes to Brad Pitt. For those of you who know me well, you'll already be aware of the fact that my conversion to Brad Pitt fandom was fairly recent. That conversion would have come much quicker if I had seen Snatch sooner than I did. He portrays Mickey O'Neil, a lightning-fisted and almost completely unintelligible Irish "Pikey." (Wiki article on said derrogative term here.) I think it's one of the best performances he's ever done. The accent was perfect, the attitude was marvelous, he as a whole was simply excellent.

I would highly recommend this movie to everyone I know, just know that it is VERY heavily curse-laden. If you have no problem with this (and even if you do but are willing to set it aside for about two hours), watch it and see what happens. My dad has repeatedly grouped it with Bank Job and The Italian Job (2008), in a way as their predecessor. [And hey, the marvelous Jason Statham is in all three! That's always a plus.] Snatch is quickly becoming one of my favorite films, and I can't wait to see it again.

Until next time, dear readers. And remember, don't Snatch.

Trailer (Sadly censored. apologies. Had trouble with my videos.)

Boondock Saints

Yes, the first one. No, I had never seen it before. Please get all your sin and sacrilege responses out now.

Feel better? Good. Let's move on.

A little bit of background, for the books. The 1999 film The Boondock Saints is the comedic and action-packed brainchild of writer and director Troy Duffy, for whom I gained an insane amount of respect in the span of approximately two hours. I can't even touch on how many aspects of this movie I adored, so you're just going to have to put up with me when I say "all of them." Especially the (SHOCKER) Willem Dafoe in drag there in the end. Not gonna lie. I just about busted a lung I was laughing so hard. [Mostly at myself: for a split second there I actually thought it was a woman.]

Speaking of Willem Dafoe, oh gracious, what a wonderful cast! And Mr. Dafoe was not even the most exciting star-stud it featured. Billy Connelly was, honest to god, the last person I expected to appear in an action flick, especially this one, so when I realized it was him I thought it was Christmas. He was fantastic as Il Duce (which I believe translates to 'the Duke'), and he, now he had a great plot twist. I will actually try and stay mute as to the majority of the twists in this one, being they're just too delicious. The aforementioned Willem Dafoe played a fabulous [and I mean insert rainbows here kind of fabulous, though the character himself certainly did NOT accept the existence of said rainbows until the very last minute] FBI agent with just a twist of insanity. Overall, wonderful performance. And then there were Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus as the MacManus brothers. They were funny, convincing siblings in all the right ways, as well as solemn and poised. Their banter was fantastically delivered and their characters were flawless: their personalities were even projected in their stances and walks.

I especially appreciated the use of Irish-Catholic heritage and faith as a device in The Saints' killings. The coins over the eyes were a nice touch. The rosaries were nicer. The family prayer was my favorite. And, as though the brothers needed one more thing make them wholly inseparable, their hand tattoos, one reading Veritas, the other Aequitas, or Truth and Justice, were a wonderful choice. I also approved, then, of Il Duce's tatoo on his hand, though I couldn't determine quite what it was.

To note, the whole idea of killing in the name of god usually doesn't sit well with me. For some reason, in this case, it did. Yes it was vigilantism, but somehow it felt right, necessary, in the context of the world woven by the film. The Saints were undeniably heroes in my mind, though they were perhaps a little bumbling, like all human beings can be, and terrifyingly absolute in their judgment. Perhaps it was the light nature of the film's tone on the whole that made me glide over this particular age-old quip of mine. But whatever the reason, I loved the MacManus brothers, and I don't think anything is going to change that.

Overall, glorious, amusing, wonderful, IRISH, mob-gang-decimating good fun.
I can't wait to see it again, and I would recommended it a hundred fold.

And shepherds we shall be,
for Thee, my Lord, for Thee.
Power hath descended forth from Thy hand,
that our feet may swiftly carry out Thy command.
So we shall flow a river forth to Thee
and teeming with souls shall it ever be.
In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Riverrun Trilogy: Yestern by S.P. Somtow

Praise the unlikely triple-goddess, it's over! I cannot believe the sheer volume of time it took me to finish this trilogy. It was by no means due to the quality of its writing, nor its content: life got in the way, and that was the only obstacle.

Though perhaps a tad bit convoluted at times, The Riverrun Trilogy was, in all, an excellent read. The writing is disarming for two reasons, in my mind, however. For one, the first person perspective switches constantly. I wasn't in love with the idea at first, but it made the end of Yestern: it would have been an entirely ineffective literary climax without it. The other factor, which I did not fully acknowledge until the end (go figure) is that it's written in present-tense. I am not a fan of present-tense, so S.P. Somtow, wherever you are, I commend you: you used it effectively and without driving me crazy.

I also must give credit where credit is due: the Whitmoosh Award for knowledge of a little bit of everything in (at least) this universe goes to S.P. Somtow. I have not seen so many mythological, philosophical, and pop-culture elements implemented and referenced in one space. In that court, bravo!

In retrospect, I can think of very little to criticize. There are some themes I thought a tad bit unnecessary - the emphasis on incest could have been less-so, even if the characters tried to justify it with "we were gods at the time" or some variation on "Greek and classical mythology are full of it." But ultimately, this is a rather small complaint in a sea of compliment: the books were marvelously executed, and, for the most part, kept me on the edge of my seat.

A recommended read, but be warned: heere there be were-dragons and a whole lot more. not for the faint of heart.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I wish I could have captured my first impressions about this glorious and strange film right as they occurred, but alas, fate did not tend that way. Since I do not have my initial impressions and reactions, I will offer first facts and then recollections.

In the facts department, Ink was released in 2009 and appears to be entirely thanks to the handiwork of Jamin Winans. The film is produced by his production company, Double Edge Films with the aid of Kiowa K. Winans. It was written and directed by Jamin Winans, and the score was composed by him as well. It leaves a very distinct "what CAN'T he do?" feeling.

Now the recollections. My first recollection is how sheerly visual the film was. At first I found myself wondering if it were going to be so abstract as to have no dialog at all. Even then I found it had nothing wanting: the aesthetics are incredibly engaging, as are the dynamics of the forces at work. The Storytellers, Incubi, and Ink himself are all terribly fascinating to look at and watch, and thereby they are ideal. My favorite aspect of the movie by far was the design: it had me wanting to run off and make things, which is increasingly the sensation I get when I really, really enjoy something.

The concept was also superb. It was certainly surreal enough for me. In some capacity it reminded me of The Fountain, and in another of Neil Gaiman's Sandman. For fear of spoiling anything, I'll avoid saying much more, but it was, in my experience, one of those stories which only makes sense at the very last moment, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

The actors, too, were remarkably good. The only complaint I lodge on this front is with the Drifters (Steven Brown and Shauna Earp). Though they were described as poorly acted to me, I don't think they were so much poorly done as overdone. I didn't mind them too terribly most of the time. I think I'd have to see the film again to have a real opinion on this front. On the other hand, the rest of the cast was glorious. I especially liked Jeremy Make as Jacob, also known as The Pathfinder. He was excellent. And, though it was a short-lived appearance, Jeffrey Richardson's Incubus Prince was glorious. I would have loved to see more of him. Then again, I love antagonists.

In the end, I was impressed with how poignant and heartfelt this movie was. It kindof blindsided me, and it was a pleasant surprise, indeed.

Links for your convenience and leisure:
See the trailer here at
The film is available to purchase through Amazon, as well as through the Official Ink Website.
IMDb is perfectly thorough, and Wiki is busy discussing it as well (just for you, my wiki-addict reader: you know who you are)
And last but certainly not least, if you're interested in Double Edge, pay them a visit right here on Blogspot!

Stay thirsty, my friends.

Toy Story 3

I don't even really know what to say about this film. It was beautiful and heart-wrenchingly sad like a Pixar movie ought to be, and I cried in the theatre, just like I ought to.

I am going to refrain from discussing any details because I absolutely refuse to spoil any of this movie for anyone, so sorry, but this will be incredibly brief and potentially even sparse.

(It helps that it's been a few days between when I saw it and when I wrote this entry. Apologies.)

I think the only issue I had in any sense with the film or its presentation was this: that it was only available in 3D. I mean really. I don't understand the appeal. I'd love to hear people's thoughts on it, because it just doesn't do anything for me. Not for Avatar, not for Alice in Wonderland, and certainly not for this. For me, a movie experience is enhanced by a large screen, good sound, and being able to share it with people I care about, the latter being the most essential. And, while I'm at home, the people I most readily share movies with are my parents: 3D gives my mom headaches and my dad simply can't see 3D films, so in the end it hinders far more than enhances.

But, a la Casanova, I have too long dominated the conversation; what are your thoughts on the matter?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Just a Thought

You know, I’ve always considered Brom’s The Plucker to be a sort of Toy-Story-Gone-Wrong, but, after watching Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in marathon (gearing up for seeing the new one tomorrow), I can’t help but think that if Woody and Buzz ever met this they’d be scared shitless. I mean really – a Jack in the Box who is infused with the essence of Banshee and armed with a sword and poisoned pin? Seriously. And Jack’s the GOOD guy.

Just sayin’.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice

Entry No. 4 in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) 2010 Recollection Series.

This being the first time I have ever encountered this text in any format, I warn you, dear readers: this may look more like musings and ramblings than a review.

I would like to think that Shakespeare wrote this play is order to spur conversation and debate. In fact, I'd wager the true performance here occurs after the curtain call - in the reactions of those who were of late in attendance and applause.

What struck me most was that there was only one character in the main cast who I found truly likable: Basanio. His only fault that I can see was haste without discretion and foolishness to trust a woman he'd not known previously (we must assume, or at least not to any great extent) to love him simply because he won her in accordance with her father's will. But this is pardonable by comparison.

I feel sorry for Antonio that his (in this production) obviously romantic feelings for Basanio came to nothing at all [what is it with Antonios? First the pirate and now this! And both in trade, of sorts. I wonder. Was one or both Antonios (be they perhaps in reference to an original) comparable to a summer's day?] and I feel sorry he resigned himself to die. However, I do not in the least feel sorry for him in light of his blatant prejudice and harmful, open discrimination, "climate of the times" be damned. Likewise, I feel sorry for Shylock's oppression due to his religion and the pain it causes him, but I can by no means pity his open greed and his lack of grief for the loss of his daughter rather than his duckets. And additionally, of Portia I can pity her predicament at being the grand prize in some shell-game contrivance of her father's, but I cannot help but be appalled by all her other dealings in the play: deceiving her husband on a whim, preaching mercy yet showing none, and being constantly swayed by prejudice and hatred.

I fully understand that this is a work more relevant to our times than many would be comfortable with admitting. I can see that, and I openly acknowledge it. As a text it is something which is timeless and thereby invaluable, and I commend all directors, designers, artists, participants for attempting to drive that point home by anachronistic integration (the costumes, for example, were a blend of Renaissance Italy and present-day Europe: my best example will once again be Basanio, who cut a fine figure in a blue leather doublet with detachable shoulders, black riding boots, a white shirt with a button-down collar, and blue jeans): you did your jobs well.

At last I think I come to my point, in a roundabout kind of fashion, as seems to be usual for me now. I think I am so unsettled by this work because although the aim was to have this piece hang somewhere in the interim where past and present are seem at once like two panes of different colored glass held to light [for blue and yellow do indeed make green] in some brilliant stroke of fantasy, the cruelty in the actions and words was all too human, and all too real. So I beseech not only myself, but others, though to few ears and to the world in general, if it had a mind to hear me: learn from that cruelty. Acknowledge it, and know it can bring no good.

But then again, how precious few look to do things for "good"s sake alone.

In short, my readers, a grim kind of not-quite-fiction, human through and through, and absolutely food for thought.

Shakespeare's Hamlet

Entry No. 3 in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) 2010 Recollection Series.

There is always a certain dubiousness one encounters upon realizing a shakespeare is done out of its time. It is never, for me, a question of "purity" of the work, rather, "is it done well?"

Well. In the case of OSF 2010's production of Hamlet, yes, yes it is done very well indeed. In fact, out of all the years I've attended OSF, this year's Hamlet has certainly been one of their best shows, and one of the best shows I've seen in my life.

This is owed in part to Dan Donohue, who played the title role with skill, grace, and above all else, passion. In 2007 I saw him play opposite John Tufts' Romeo as a motorcycle jacket-clad Mercutio. I've admired his style and ability ever since. I could go on about Donohue all day, but suffice it to say he played an intense and intensely convincing Hamlet.

The rest of the cast was likewise brilliant. Susannah Flood as Ophelia, especially, was impressive. In the end, it was the integrity of the actors which made this play what it was. All else I will discuss later, but the actors, their passion, and skill where what gave me chills and ultimately what moved me to tears. (I will admit to losing it when Horatio spoke: "Goodnight, sweet prince. Angels sing thee to thy rest," as well as in the end, where Old Hamlet's ghost appeared to hold his dead son in his arms under a single, stark spotlight. Oh, and of course when Horatio tries to poison himself to follow his closest friend to the grave.)

But enough of that: there's a lot of ground to cover with this one.

Hamlet had my second favorite Ashland set ever (second only to the aforementioned 2006 performance of Jekyll and Hyde). Its diversity and changeability left nothing at all to be desired. Nor, on the subject, did the costumes. It was admittedly disarming at first to imagine and then see Hamlet in a perfectly modern black suit and sunglasses, but in the end it suited him marvelously. The portrayal of Horatio as a sort of roadside scholar and sometime hitchhiker was equally disarming and then endearing (the glasses were a great touch).

And the lighting! I could go on for pages. An example: the low, dim lighting of the scene following the play within the play, Hamlet vowing to use words only and not weapons when he goes to speak with his mother, then suddenly seizing the dagger anyway and plunging offstage with an almost animal cry of "MOTHER," and, just as suddenly, the low lights on stage extinguish at the same instant that the house is plunged into light! (I gasped aloud and jumped, neither of which happen very often with live theatre.) And what, instant intermission? it was great. As was the introduction of hip-hop for the players (don't worry, I frowned when I first read it, too: trust me, it worked), but that's another matter entirely.

In short, everything was fabulous, but a few more tidbits and things I want to remember, before I go:

One. Old Hamlet was portrayed as deaf. He and Hamlet conversed in sign-language, Hamlet only relaying bits and pieces of what his father told him to the audience. He also had a habit of occasionally punctuating his conversations with other characters with a sign or two, placing special emphasis and usually anger on certain words and moments. This even deeper connection between father and son - this absolute fluency that not even the audience was privy to - was powerful.

Two. Hamelt's antics with scissors when feigning madness. It went something like this: Hamlet's repeated line of "except my life" (suggesting self-slaughter, see Act 2) was accompanied with a slow advance on Polonius. Hamlet held a pair of scissors at eye level as though ready to kill him then and there and have done with it. After he stopped and fell silent, rather than strike, he abruptly cut off Polonius' necktie and, as if it were the most natural thing in the world (but not without a hint of thoughtfulness), used it as a bookmark.
I also enjoyed later that all Hamlet had to do to make Polonius back off was to snip his scissors at him once.

Three. The choice of casting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern not only as women, but as a lesbian couple. It was a take I had never thought of and certainly have never seen before: the innovation was refreshing.

Four. Everything else.

Do You know me, sir?
I do, sir.
Do you?
Aye: you are a fish-monger.

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

Entry No. 2 in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) 2010 Recollection Series.

May I begin this critique with praise for the set: the stage was gloriously adorned. The chandeliers, backdrops, and use of both doors and windows was overall very aesthetically pleasing. Though it's not quite as out there as 2008's Midsummer Night's Dream, also performed in the Bowmer Theatre, and not as overall engaging or impressive as the same theatre's set of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of 2006, it was in its way delicate and very appropriate for Pride and Prejudice. I realize that I have not previously noted that the Elizabethan stage is by far my favorite (complete with live bats!), even if the Bowmer offers certain technical advantages and innovations. Now that all that's over with, moving on.

I must give credit where it is due to the propsmaster (or perhaps the director) for the maintenance and use of an actual harpsichord. I have not as of yet had the pleasure of playing an harpsichord, but in my understanding they are famously finnicky instruments, especially in the realm of keeping it tuned.

Also in the realm of music, the show opened with a lovely rendition of O Mistress Mine arranged for soprano voice, while it appeared the previously in Twelfth Night as sung by Feste. Another common trend between these first two productions is that Twelfth Night was set before the French Revolution, Pride and Prejudice (as per usual) after it. I thought it appropriate, but I digress.

I think my only real criticism for this rendition is the portrayal of Elizabeth. Though I fully understand that part of the point of the story is that both Darcy and Elizabeth are proud and conceited, this production, in my mind, over-emphasized Elizabeth's pride, so much so that it overshadowed Darcy's. It seemed almost incongruous for the Bennets to criticize his arrogance when Elizabeth's rivaled his so well. However, in the end it opened up more interplay for Darcy and Elizabeth, and upon the advent of the second act, everything I thought to criticize in the first act improved. In fact, the whole production turned positively squee-worthy after the first half was over and done with. But again, I digress.

The costumes throughout were marvelous. I have always been keen on Empire sensibilities, and this production was no exception. After seeing the production I was determined not only to watch the ever-beloved BBC miniseries with Colin Ferrel, I was about ready to break out the sewing machine.

What has struck me as truly exquisite so far this season is the blocking and timing. In both shows thus far, there have been moments - the slightest of gestures - that add the perfect touch, whether it be of comedy or heartbreak, to the scene.

I realize I have not touched upon the performances of the other actors. John Tufts as Wickham was marvelous. Though I would have liked to see him as Bingley or even (I confess) Mr. Darcy, he played the universally sleazy Mr. Wickham wonderfully. Darcy was fabulous. Elijah Alexander put a touch of enjoyable quirk into his mannerisms, especially in the second act, and Christian Barillas' Bingley was appropriately adorable. All the Bennets were great, but Mr. Collins was more than worth a mention. James Newcomb played the creepiest creeper I've seen in a while and his vocal tics were terrifying. All in all, a beautiful cast.

Ah, and as a parting shot: they put in a bit of a spoof at the very beginning. Before the show technically began the cast came out to mill about on the stage as though at a party. When the god mic came on to tell us all to silence our cell phones, etc, Kitty and Lydia screamed and then promptly chattered to each other trying to figure out what it was: they were the only characters able to hear it. Nice touch, if you ask me.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

Entry No. 1 in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) 2010 Recollection Series.

Twelfth Night, like many of Shakespeare's works, is a story of wit, love, and ultimately confusion. And, like most of Ashland's takes on Shakespeare, it was an impressive, tight, and utterly entertaining production.

The acting, consistent with every year I have attended OSF's productions in Ashland, was superb. The only complaint I have was in the casting of Miriam Laube as Olivia. Laube, who has in some circles earned the nickname of "smokermanface," was an interesting choice to say the least. She has a bit of a tendency to be over-exuberant, and her voice would have much more suited the role of Viola/Cesario. Having seen her in the 2008 production of Comedy of Errors as Adriana, I can say with certainty that she plays the role of a the masculine woman very well. She played an over-excited Olivia, yet despite this, she cut a grand figure in her costumes. Luckily her hyperbolic blocking got less-so in the second that. Either that, or I grew used to it. Once I was able to tune out her voice, she didn't bother me near as much as she could have.

However, in the end, I wouldn't switch out Viola/Cesario for the world. Brooke Parks was not only charming, she cut her role well on all counts. She was able to match Laube's exuberance in a mocking way appropriate for Cesario, and her chemistry with Kenajuan Bentley's Orsino was deliciously scandalous. In short, I loved her. I wish I could shake her hand.

But wait, it gets better: my absolute favorite casting choice was Michael Elich as Feste. He is, as demonstrated by this role, VERY multi-talented. Not only can he play the cunning, the half wit, and the sensitive soul, he can play them all at once. I was also thoroughly impressed with his voice: a decided full bass with a baritone flavor, or at least that's what I'd wager. I wish there was a recording of the music from this show. I would readily purchase it.

Equally amusing was the choice of time period: the late eighteenth century. The costumes lent themselves very graciously, all in late-Gregorian style but sparing the audience the pains of both Periwigs for the lads and Rococo for the ladies. Sir Andrew, brilliantly portrayed by Rex Young, was dressed as an Incroyable. The joke self-referenced when he pretended to be fluent in French: I thank whoever had the clarity to make the connection. However, dress notes aside, the period induced two factors into the mix which made the production: Mozart, and a very well-timed reference. Mozart is always welcome, especially to enhance that gossipy court-feeling many of the scenes carry (an atmosphere which was, thankfully, emphasized: it enhanced the aforementioned delicious scandalousness). The reference, meanwhile, was I think one of the best moments of the show. For, in the words of director Darko Tresnjak, "Consider Malvolio's exit line: "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you." The sound of a guillotine and a tableau of gorgeous, smitten characters, all clutching their throats, seems right for this dangerous comedy." Dangerous indeed.

Oh, did I mention the gay pirate? (Antonio, played by the excellent Jimonn Cole. Yeah. Totally gay for Sebastian. He's fabulous. I love him.