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Monthly Archives: February 2012

How Lovely To Be A Woman*

If you have been in the vicinity of a woman under 27 in recent years, you have undoubtedly found yourself asking “is she asking me that or telling me that?”  Putting a question mark at the end of every sentence began as a teenage affectation and has migrated into the adult world.  If you have spent anytime in the workplace?  You have heard the inflection?  Time and time again?  Like the co-worker of a Tourette’s sufferer, you politely pretend it’s not happening (and later slam your head against your office wall.)  I would probably have far fewer dents in my head if it weren’t for the fact that I have never, ever met a young man who engages in oratory self-doubt.  I’m willing to acquiesce that the question mark had the same genesis as the nervous tic of “like” or dotting “i”s with smiley faces.  They are all just proof of the herd mentality of finding one’s adolescent individuality.  But surely college and then the workplace are not smiley face life stages.  (Oh my, there’s probably software for that now.  It’s only a matter of time when doctoral thesis will be turned in with little smiley faces doting the “i”s.  Ph.D candidates will march across the podium to receive their diploma emblazoned with the 7th grade spelling they created of their name – “Bahrbra” “Stacye” “Sharyn”)

The ubiquitous question mark is disturbing for its implication of uncertainty.  One need only hear Molly Wei testifying in the Rutgers University invasion of privacy case for proof.  This serious, well-groomed and coached witness, ends every sentence with a question mark.  Hopefully the jurors all have teenage girls at home.  There is nothing new about women (of any age) altering their voice for effect.  We can all think of at least a dozen performers or celebrities who have adopted breathy/baby voices.  Performers do that.  It’s what’s called performing.  But when a sales associate? or account manager? ends every sentence with a question mark?  It’s about something else.

A delayed adolescence and all the insecurities that accompany it are on full (somewhat cringe inducing) display.  Walk through a large office and note the identical manicures, outfits, handbags, sunglasses, tech toys.  It’s like walking through a high school.  There was a time when being old enough to work meant being old enough to have an identity.  While I admit (very begrudgingly) that television shows are not exactly the same as social anthropology, it is interesting to note the WJM newsroom.  Even if you were from Mars, you would never confuse Mary with a visiting Rhoda or Phyllis.  They all had a distinct style and sound.  (Sue Ann Nivens was her own best creation, but was a bit older than the other women.)  Was there ever a better voice manipulator than Mary?  Whether she was “Rob”ing or “Mr.Grant”ing you would never confuse her with anyone else.  Isn’t that the point?

Whether it’s habit, insecurity, or immaturity, it’s time to stop.  See all those strings/rubber bracelets on your wrist?  Snap one every time you hear your voice go up.  I promise you, in just a matter or weeks you will lose the tic and before you know it; find you voice.

“How lovely to be so grown-up and free!  Life’s lovely when you’re a woman like me!” – Kim Macafee (age 15) Bye Bye Birdie – Lee Adams, 1960

 

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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And God Created Great Whales – Review

It is rare that a new musical production appears; beautifully crafted and perfectly executed.  And God Created Great Whales is just that.  This two-person play is the story of Nathan (Rinde Eckert) and his muse Olivia (Nora Cole) and their creation of a Moby Dick opera.  Olivia is Nathan’s fantasy, inspiration and musical partner.  She is also often all that is left of his mind.  Nathan is suffering from a rapidly progressing form of memory loss.

The stage is set with several cassette tape recorders, post-it notes, and flashcards.  Evidently, Nathan in the first throes of his illness created effective prompts for the future diminished Nathan.  Through much of the play Nathan wears a recorder around his neck, duct taped to his waist.  Each session at his piano starts with listening to the tape.  He must listen to more and more of these previously recorded reminders as to who he is and what he’s doing as the play progresses.   It would be unbearable to watch if not for the rich bursts of lush operatic score that emerge. The opera is the play within the play and allows for ravishing duets and solos.

There is also much humor in the play.  But its true Amazonian strength is its flawless storytelling.  What could be a depressing and predictably sentimental theme is made beautiful and inspiring.  There is simply no separating the performers from the performance in this production.  Eckert and Cole are mature actors completely immersed in their characters.  They move like trained dancers, in and around each other on the thrust stage.  Eckert is also the creator of the play (and score) as well as the sound designer.  The sound design of this production is worthy of its own review.  It would be overstating to suggest that the sound is a third character in the play.  The lighting (John Torres, Caleb Wertenbaker) and costuming (Clint Ramos) add a great deal to the very exposed and intimate stage.  But it is the fluidity and high production value of the sound that are the most essential.

Directed by David Schweizer, there is a wholeness to this play that is rarely seen on or off-Broadway.  There is not a whiff of anything forced, or a moment that doesn’t exist to propel the story forward.  The structure of the storytelling is very traditional which leaves room for great innovation.  (This alchemy is similar to that of Passing Strange (2008) and Unnatural Acts (2011.))  Both actors are on stage for 90 minutes and at every moment are completely mesmerizing .  My only complaint is I often could not watch both of them at once.  There is much to linger with this play; the fragility and resilience of the mind, the mysteries of the creative process, the many means to an end.  But what will stay with me is a paragon of musical theatre.

Playing at Culture Project until March 25th.

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2012 in Theatre

 

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Is This Seat Taken?

I have reached the point at which the Town Crier warning the villagers about the evils of social media barely registers.  It’s white noise to me now.  “Yes” I think, “Facebook has taken your mature, socially sophisticated, confident teenager and turned her into a gossiping over-sensitive bully.”  (I think this with the soundtrack of The Music Man in my head. “It starts with ‘F’ that rhymes with…”)  I roll my eyes and pound my fist upon hearing that parents and therapists view Facebook postings as a clue to the inner workings of adolescents.  Evidently, talking to your children or patients does not produce as much insight as does as a status update.  The only thing separating a status update from a scribble on a notebook cover or a diary is its audience, not its nature.  When people start wringing their consumer hands over the privacy of social media, I scream into my throw pillow (purchased with a credit card, online.)  Unless you live in a yurt and only traffic in the cash you store under your mattress, your privacy has already been invaded.

But when an airline is going to let people select a seatmate through their connections on Facebook and Linkedin?  Hand me a pitchfork.  I, perhaps like you, use Linkedin to connect with former and current colleagues, and business contacts.  There is nothing about these rather formal and superficial categories which would suggest I want to be trapped sitting next to them for three+ hours in a flying can, or on the tarmac for that matter.  What if I’m flying to a job interview, or to a not entirely kosher consulting gig?  What if I’m on my way to a funeral?  Do I really want to sit next to that tool in personnel whom I could not afford to not connect with?  While Facebook provides a network a bit more personally meaningful than Linkedin, I still don’t want someone to make a transcontinental date with me without asking.  Look for me at the gate.  Security procedures and delays being what they are, we’ll have hours to catch up and perhaps then decide to try and sit together.  I do not want to go through all the aggravations of planning my travel, be patted down and searched, have my chapstick confiscated, wait at the gate for hours with people eating fried foods in their pajamas, listen to blaring CNN, board a can that smells of disinfectant and fuel, find my seat, shot-put my carry-on, settle myself in, and then hear “Surprise!”  I don’t think our reminiscing about 6th grade will make it past the runway.  And you know what?  Without those George Takei photos, I’m not sure either of us is all that interesting.  It’s hard to believe that the airline industry doesn’t have enough problems.  Do they want to get into the business of enabling stalking?

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2012 in Travel

 

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With One Look

Women in their forties are mustering remarkable courage and purchasing shopping carts.  They are willing to utilize the very same device that (gasp) elderly people use.  Perhaps I am just fashion clueless or far too much of a practical penguin to see how getting one’s groceries home has anything to do with age, and everything to do with geography.  Unless you’re putting tennis balls on the bottom of the carts and a crocheted carrying pouch on the front, I don’t think anyone would mistake it for a walker.  And what if they did?  So what?!  Recently a woman in her forties shared that she’s never worn a dress, because she fears her friends would tease her for trying to look like a grown-up.  Tease her.  For looking like a grown-up.

I was under the impression that the joy of adulthood (or aging past the 9th grade) was no longer caring what people were thinking of you.  (The truth is, they are not thinking of you at all.  They are far too concerned that the stroller they’re pushing makes them look fat.)   We are consumed with not wanting to look “older” yet do such an awful job of it.  We plump and lift and emulate the fashion of our teenage daughters.  We wear distressed jeans and black nail polish; not because we like black nail polish (does anyone actually like black nail polish?) but because we want to align ourselves with the under 30s not the over 40s.  We strategically place 6-7 varieties of yellow or honey stripes in our hair and like the teen (we were) in the 1970s, we want it long, long, long.  (Rarely is long hair flattering on a face and neck in a pas des deux with gravity.  But I suppose being mistaken for under 30 from behind – from the shoulders up – is worth it to some.)

If our thirties taught us anything it was (or should have been) what suits us.  By our 30s we learned what type of work (or at least style of working) suited us.  We learned which romantic partners suit us and started dating for the end game.  By the time we geared up to bid our thirties farewell, we also finally took a good look in the mirror.  We learned what great assets we had.  (Those legs people always commented on?  They are fabulous!)  Having two decades of adult dressing under our (perfectly accenting) belt, means we’ve learned a thing or two.   We know that those shoulder pads and MC Hammer pants were a mistake, and we’ve forgiven ourselves.  But we are also grateful that those (seriously unfortunate) choices taught us that just because something is being sold, doesn’t mean it’s right for us.  Torn/distressed jeans are not attractive in the abstract.  They add nothing to a look, but yes, they are being worn by younger people.  Those torn jeans are this generation’s MC Hammer pants.  What would you have thought if your mother had worn those ridiculous 1990 pants?  Would you have shown up for Thanksgiving and gasped; “Why mother, you look 20 years younger?!”  No, you probably would have taken your father or a sibling aside and asked; “Is mom okay?”

Looking as if we not only don’t know ourselves, but are in fact at war with ourselves, isn’t youthful.  A teenager doesn’t look youthful because of being awkward or self-conscious, she looks youthful because she IS.  Youthful style often in fact looks quite silly.  Looking gorgeous and sexy are much more worthwhile goals.  Gorgeous and sexy come from feeling and being confident.  The more gorgeous you feel, the more confident you’ll feel, and vice versa.  The circle of life if you will.  Perhaps it would help if we don’t think of it as “looking our age” as much as “looking our best.”

“There’s nothing tragic about being fifty. Not unless you’re trying to be twenty-five.” – Joe Gillis, Sunset Boulevard (1950)

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Style

 

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Merrily We Roll Along – Review

There is the “greatest generation” and then there’s the generation that came right after.  Coming of age in the late 1950s and early 1960s provided a unique blend of adult optimism to a generation.  Post World War II access to higher education meant more people than ever now saw college as a viable option.  A young, attractive first family was changing the White House and creating cultural pride.  It was the start of the space age and all things seemed possible.  (Which is why people built bomb shelters; all things were possible.)

NY City Center’s production of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Merrily We Roll Along captures that time beautifully.  In flashback, the story of Mary (Celia Keenan-Bolger,) Frank (Colin Donnell) and Charlie (Lin-Manuel Miranda) is told; three friends making their way artistically through life.  We are introduced to their middle-aged selves in 1976.  The fashions, and the circumstances are a bit grim.  Frank is a Hollywood sensation (and all that goes with that) and his friends feel forsaken.  Mary’s relationship with alcohol is now a full-blown love affair, and while her antics are funny, she’s terribly sad.  Luckily we don’t linger too long in the mid-70s.  Two decades worth of seamless flashbacks ensue, and we are left at the end in 1957, when all things seemed possible.

There is much that is wonderful about this show, but the creakiness of the first act is also worth mention.  The first scenes (in the 1970s) feel as bland and self-conscious as the actual 1970s.  Perhaps it was intentional.  There are some great songs in the first act, and I’ll admit to tearing up at the first three notes of Not A Day Goes By.  The second act is nothing but perfect, as it should be; it’s when we see how they got to be who they are.  In this sense, the play itself echoes the creative process.  (It’s always far more interesting to create than it is to analyze the finished product.)  The second act flies by with fast-paced story telling.  It is rare, and exceedingly delightful when it feels as if the curtain comes much too soon.

NY City Center Encores! (musical director: Rob Berman) is a gem, bringing lesser produced musicals to the stage in concert version.  Merrily, directed by James Lapine, is the first Encores! to be presented in the newly refurbished City Center.  Whether because of that status, or not, this is a very different staging of an Encores! production.  The productions have not been pure “concert” versions for years.  Performers are completely off book (even if they do carry the script for comfort or affect) and the numbers are fully staged.  There are lavish costumes and set pieces as well.  Merrily We Roll Along does not have any “numbers” but has one number-lette in the second act, which is mostly tongue in cheek.  What Merrily has is a realism similar to Sondheim/Furth’s Company.  This starkness might feel disorienting to some, and this staging seems to only highlight the condition.  The (ravishing) 23 member orchestra is on a platform one story above the stage.  The performance space is black and there are about a dozen set pieces that get wheeled on and off.  The only set direction is a very large video screen built into the orchestra platform.  The first scene is a slide show of passing decades.  Real New York City photos are shown as are photo-shopped iconic shots.  There is a Forest Gump element to it all that can be very distracting.  Later the screen is used very successfully to portray a theatre and a yacht.  One of the best visual moments is when through clever positioning and video, the actors look to be actually sailing away.

As always with Encores!, the ensemble is first rate.  There are some performances that will really linger.  A small child, Zachary Unger, proves that excellent child performers do exist.  Celie Keenan-Bolger is a remarkable chameleon.  While Mary, is the most interesting of characters in the show, Kennan-Bolger adds dimensions that would be lost in lesser hands.  Lin-Manuel Miranda also has a great character with Charley, and does it wonderful justice.  His number; Franklin Shepard, Inc. is just delicious.  Speaking of numbers; in Act II the three principal characters perform on two typewriters (look it up, they’re like computers without a screen) and a piano.  I find myself wondering what in the world the score looked like for that.

NY City Center Encores! is a beacon of hope for musical theatre lovers.  Their focus on quality of content and excellence of performance makes us believe that all things are possible.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2012 in Theatre

 

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