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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Gregory G. H. Rihn's LiveJournal:

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Friday, February 12th, 2016
8:16 pm
On the Greatness of America
I’m tired of hearing candidates blather about “making America great again.” America—the United States—is already great by the standards they approve of, those being wealth and power.

By those standards, the United States is still the greatest of great powers. Our economy, despite its flaws, is still the richest on Earth. Our military, despite its challenges, is still the most effective, best armed, best trained, and best led fighting force in the world.

If the proposal were only to strengthen the economy or improve our armed forces efficiency, I could hardly object, although I think we should do more. Instead, what I see is a pervasively destructive and backward-tending set of policies in the offing.

Looking at the agenda of the more extreme neo-conservatives, it is clear that what they want is to go back to the 19th Century: to dismantle not only the accomplishments of Franklin Roosevelt, but also those of THEODORE Roosevelt.

By doing away with economic and industrial regulation, they would return us to the era when Trusts controlled the market place, and rich men and their companies could do as they pleased, and there were no such things as environmental protections or health and safety regulations. When workers had no rights, and could be beaten and killed by company goons with impunity.

They want to take us back to a day when women and children were property, and blacks, Latinos, Asians, and non-Christians were third class citizens if they were allowed to be citizens at all.
These policies do not promote greatness, they erode greatness. There is more to being a great nation than just wealth and might. A great nation also demonstrates magnanimity, charity, compassion, intellectual curiosity, and reverence for culture. At its best, the United States has all these qualities. When we are injured or fearful, like any people, we draw inward and become defensive, but we should not take counsel of our fears.

The program that is offered us to “make America great again” is fearful, insular, bullying, stingy, mean Know-Nothing-ism. When we have thrown away all our freedoms for the illusion of safety, and when we have built walls around the country and locked the gates, what will the United States be, but a larger North Korea? That is not “greatness” by any measure I understand.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/284429.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
7:57 pm
Hail, Caesar!
On Wednesday evening, February 10th, we went to the Oriental Theatre to see the new Coen Brothers’ film “Hail, Caesar!”

The film covers a bit more than twenty-four hours in the hectic life of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), Head of Physical Production for the fictional Capitol Studios. Mannix is second-in-command to the studio’s never-seen owner, which means his day consists of dealing with manifold crises brought about by artists, their egos, and their bad habits. (Mannix is loosely based on the real-live studio executive Edgar “E.J.” Mannix, who was at one time General Manager for MGM.)
Chief crisis of the day is when star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) disappears from the lot during filming of a Biblical epic, curiously titled “Hail, Caesar! A Tale of the Christ.”

Whitlock plays a Roman tribune who undergoes a conversion when meeting Jesus, basically the plot of the 1953 movie, “The Robe,” somewhat simplified. The studio is in the last day of shooting the cast-of-thousands spectacular when Whitlock goes missing, a fact which makes Mannix willing to pay off Whitlock’s unlikely kidnappers. Meanwhile, he has to think fast in order to keep competing twin-sister columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton) from figuring out that his star has gone missing.

He also has to deal with a pregnant but unmarried actress (in a day when that was significant) , another scandal lurking in Whitlock’s past, and his boss’ insistence in plugging a singing cowboy into a lead role in a drawing-room drama.

The plot and subplots are ultimately shruggable. The real pleasure of the film is the loving homages to bygone genres of the 1950’s. The title sword-and-sandal epic is the least successful, being mainly boring and not improved by Michael Gambon’s intentionally pompous voiceover. The over the top action sequence that introduces cowboy star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is quite amazing, and the water ballet sequence featuring Scarlett Johanssen as an Esther Williams figure, synchronized swimmers, and a mechanical whale, is ridiculous fun. Georgie, expecting never to see a new dance number anything like those in the classic “On The Town,” was delighted by the extended sequence featuring Channing Tatum in the Gene Kelly slot, and declared it worth the price of admission. Tatum, who learned tap dancing for the part, isn’t a patch on Gene Kelly of course, but nevertheless exhibited impressive athleticism and style, and the choreography was a very effective pastiche of the glory days of dance films.

Another part of the fun is matching up the references and homages. Clooney’s character has been referred to as partly based on Clark Gable, but Gable never did that sort of movie, so he’s more like Charlton Heston with Gable’s off-screen character. Veronica Osorio has a sweet role as Capitol’s version of Carmen Miranda, and there are many other allusions in the backgrounds. If I were more of a serious film student, I might be able to tell you who the directors, arty Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Feinnes) and foreign-sounding Arne Seslum (Christopher Lambert) might have referred to. (The director of “On the Town,” Stanley Donen, was American, and Michael Curtiz, notorious for his Hungarian accent, never directed musical films--.)

The stellar cast was also a major reason we went, and we were not disappointed. The huge cast means that no one except Brolin (who was very good), gets a lot of screen time, but it’s clear everyone was having fun and getting their teeth into the roles. We will likely see this a second time, probably on DVD, so that we can catch all the trivia.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/284186.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016
5:05 pm
Alice Jeanette Rihn (nee Lambert) 1934-2016
My mother, Alice Rihn, died this afternoon, February 3rd, after a long decline brought on by a series of strokes. She would have been 82 in March.

It’s rather awful to think of my mother’s death as a relief, but it is. She’s been dying by inches for years now. Bedridden, she lost the use of her hands and most of her ability to speak. For the last year, she’s been unable to swallow and so been fed through a tube. The horror of it is, as far as we’re able to tell, she hadn’t lost her wits. To think of that brilliant woman reduced to the condition of a baby, and aware of it—there are no words for how awful it makes me feel to think of it.

Alice was born March 26th, 1934 at Lyndon Station, Wisconsin, the second daughter of Harry Lambert and Elizabeth (Beth) Lambert (nee Clark). In her early life, she lived on the family farm near Wisconsin Dells with her parents, older sister Mary, and two brothers, James and John.

She was a graduate of Wisconsin Dells High School, Class of 1951, and married schoolmate Harold E. Rihn (Sr.) in June of 1953. They took up residence at 1032 Church Street, Wisconsin Dells, where they lived for more than fifty years. Their marriage produced five children: Gregory, Harold Jr., Teresa, Michael, and David. Alice was a good mother to us. She kept house for us and for Dad’s grandfather, George Zinke, whose house it had been, and who lived with us until he himself went to the nursing home. She and Dad had the classical dynamic of Dad as the disciplinarian, and Mama as the one who kissed things and made them better, but they were always a united front. You couldn’t get around one by asking the other. Mama was the rock our family was built upon to the extent that, when cracks did show, it was terrifying. The night my father came home and said he had been laid off by General Telephone is etched in my memory as the first time I saw Mama cry. We children were too small to understand what had happened, but knew it was bad, and we were afraid. My most striking recollection of the Cuban Missile Crisis was my mother’s outburst of fear that Kennedy and Khruschev would kill us all. I really didn’t appreciate what an atom bomb was, but knew that if it made Mama afraid, it was serious. Ironically, the only other time I recall her crying was the day Kennedy was shot.

Mama loved to read, something shared by Dad and Grandpa as well. She had a large number of Barbara Cartland white covered paperbacks, one of the few authors she bought rather than getting from the library. She loved mysteries, and very frequently the catch from the library included Agatha Christie or something by John Creasy or one of his pseudonyms. It was Mama who first gave me Sherlock Holmes (the science-fiction was from my father’s side--). She had little time for other hobbies of her own, putting up with ours and Dad’s being a full time job. Model trains, model cars, model planes, scouting, hamsters, and tropical fish came and went and were taken in stride. She went bowhunting with Dad, and the two of them were early members of the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association. (My father designed the WBA crest that is still in use, a black and white stag’s head against a yellow arrowhead.) She occasionally shot trap, later, but never cared for it as much as Dad did. When Dad followed in his father’s footsteps and took up RV camping, she gamely went along and, I think had some of the better times of their life exploring our country until they got too ill. (I know that Mama went to Niagara Falls once—I don’t recall if it was a trip with a girlfriend, or their honeymoon—and might have gone over to the Canadian side. If so, that was the only time she ever left the US.)

There must have been times when we were on the ragged edge of poverty, but we kids never realized it. My father went years without regular work, keeping us going by self-employment in radio and TV repair, grocery delivery, newspaper distribution, and other jobs. There must have been times when Grandpa’s railroad pension was the only regular money coming in to keep eight people going, but we were never hungry, cold, or ragged, and every Christmas there were presents under the tree. I blush now to think how bratty I was when I didn’t get the particular toy I had wanted, when we were probably lucky to get any at all. Mama’s management kept food on the table and coal in the bin, and if clothes were sometimes hand-me-downs, they were good ones.

When we children were old enough for Grandpa Zinke to watch, Alice helped support the family by working various jobs, including as a waitress for local restaurants, as a hotel cleaner, and for some years as an assistant cook and server for the grade school hot lunch program. For several years in the 1960’s, Alice was the “inside” person for the family egg business. Dad collected eggs from area farmers. Alice would grade, sort, and box the eggs for sale, and Dad would deliver them to the grocers who sold them.

For the greatest portion of her working career, Alice was employed by Snow White Garment Company in Baraboo, a firm that made nurses’ uniforms. She worked cutting the fabric that was to be sewn into clothes. Cutting fabric took skill, and was not without its dangers. One day she took off part of the tip of her left forefinger with the cutting blade. She was a member of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, followed her husband’s example in becoming a union steward, and eventually was president of her Local. For a couple of years, while I was going to college at Baraboo, we commuted together, as I later did with my father going to Madison, and I think to some extent we were friends as well as son and mother.

Snow White eventually went out of business due to overseas competition. Alice took advantage of a government program to retrain “displaced” workers, graduated from an Insurance training program at Madison Area Technical College, and found work as an insurance underwriter. It was during this period that she suffered the first of a number of mini-strokes that eventually lead to her disability retirement.

After Harold Sr. also retired, they continued to reside in Wisconsin Dells, until increasing disability and the difficulties of managing winter cold caused them to move to a nursing home, first in Wyocena, Wisconsin, and later to the Karmenta Center in Madison, where Harold Sr. passed away in 2010. We are grateful for the excellent and sensitive care they both received at Karmenta.

Mama was raised Catholic, but left the church (or was pushed away) when she married Lutheran Harold. Dad’s later feud with the Lutheran pastor meant that church wasn’t a part of our lives much. She went back to the Church after retirement, and I hope she found some solace in it since.

Alice is survived by her sister, Mary Edmonds of Wisconsin Dells; five children, Gregory Rihn, of Milwaukee, WI; Harold E. Rihn, Jr., of Mineral Point, WI; Teresa Schroeder, Brookfield, WI; Michael Rihn, Tiburon, CA; and David Rihn, Madison, WI; six grandchildren, and two great-granddaughters. also named Alice).

Alice Rihn was a good a mother as a man could have. She was a loving and patient wife, a dedicated and loyal worker, and a leader among her peers. She was wise, strong, and caring. She will be sorely missed.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/283944.html

Current Mood: sad
Monday, January 18th, 2016
6:37 pm
The Met in HD: "Les Pecheurs des Perles" (The Pearl Fishers)
Saturday afternoon, January 16th, we went to see the Metropolitan Opera simulcast of Georges Bizet’s 1863 opera Les Pecheurs des Perles (The Pearl Fishers). This was the first new production of this opera at the Met in one hundred years, which is surprising, given how lovely the music is.

Originally Set in ancient times on the island of Ceylon, the opera tells the story of how two men's vow of eternal friendship is threatened by their love for the same woman, whose own dilemma is the conflict between secular love and her sacred oath as a priestess.

This production was updated to arguably modern times, with the pearl fisheries piers floating on oild drums, and ball caps and sneakers in the costuming, but it really didn’t affect the plot.

As the opera begins, Zurga (baritone Mariuz Kweicen) is being elected leader of the fisher’s village, a position that carries with it absolute authority. After he is elected, his friend, Nadir (tenor, Matthew Polenzani) enters. Nadir is a hunter, and has been on a lengthy trip. They greet one another joyously, and reminisce about the time that their friendship was almost torn apart due to rivalry for a woman, but they had both forsworn her and pledged eternal friendship.

The pearl fishers’ village then welcomes a new priestess. A virgin priestess is dedicated to the village for a year to pray for the safety of the fishers. By law, she must remain inviolate and veiled to all. If she keeps her vows for the year, she is rewarded with the finest pearl taken that year, a princely dowry. If she breaks her vows, she is put to death. Leila (Diana Damrau) affirms her vows before the villagers.

Nadir is electrified when he hears her voice. He has lied to Zurga about forgetting the woman they both had desired, and has been seeking Leila’s love during his time away. Leila, in turn, recognizes him.

In the second act, Lelia is established in her temple, which overlooks the ocean on one side, and is guarded by the villagers on the other. Nadir scales the crag to visit her, which throws Lelia into confusion. She loves Nadir, but is terrified he will be found there. After a passionate love duet, of course he is caught, and the two are taken into custody. They are brought before Zurga for judgment. The priest demands their deaths, but Zurga is reluctant until Leila is unveiled. When Zurga realizes that Nadir has broken his promise, he angrily pronounces the death sentence. A terrific storm breaks, echoing his anger and that of the villagers.

Act three begins in Zurga’s office, where he is wrestling with remorse at the pending death of his friend. Lelia gains admittance, and begs for Nadir’s life, saying that he is innocent, he got lost and came to the temple by mistake. Unlikely as it is, Zurga is willing to accept this as an excuse to spare Nadir, until Lelia goes on to confess how she and Nadir love one another. Roused to new fury, Zurga declares that both shall die at dawn.

As she I lead away, Lelia give one of her attendants a pearl that was given to her when she was a girl by a grateful man she had sheltered from an angry mob. After she leaves, Zurga snatched the pearl and recognizes it as the one he himself had given her. He had been the hunted fugitive, and she was the girl who had saved his life.

As dawn approaches, Nadir and Lelia are readied for execution. Zurga appears and calls a halt. He tells the people that the bloody glow in the east is not the sunrise, but that fire has broken out in the village, and that if they wish to save their homes and families they must go to fight the fire now!

Left alone with the prisoners, he frees them, telling them he does so because it was his life that Lelia had saved years ago, and bidding them to escape with their lives. Zurga remains behind, saying that he will take whatever comes. The lights go down on him, with his village blazing in the background.

Although the plot (libretto by Eugène Cormon and Michel Carré) is distinctly contrived, the music by Bizet is lush and beautiful. The first act mens’ duet, "Au fond du temple saint", is a favorite concert piece. All the principals sang beautifully, and acted with enough believable passion to carry the story along.

Conductor Gianandrea Noseda lead the orchestra with skill and aplomb, and the production looked very good, with the modern details merging into the milieu very quickly. The overture was accompanied by a spectacular “water ballet” featuring some of the company’s more acrobatic dancers employing a new and upgraded flying harness, which, coupled with computerized projections, gave a remarkable illusion of swimming above the stage.

We were very glad to have had the opportunity to enjoy this uncommonly performed opera.
This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/283900.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Tuesday, January 5th, 2016
8:59 pm
More thoughts on “The Force Awakens” (contains spoilers)
I laughed about the science-fantasy violations of the laws of physics in A New Hope back when it first came out. Beam weapons that end at three feet, and will cut anything except each other? Six energy beams that cancel vectors and merge? (I always thought that Lucas missed the boat on light-sabers: instead of glorified samurai swords, imagine fighting with weapons that can’t be parried or blocked, except with the Force itself. Then, you’d have to be a Jedi to duel with one, since a battle would be an aerial dogfight of Force flying and Force pushing as each tried to get inside the other’s guard without getting tagged in turn. I originally speculated that the lightsaber was actually a “Force” blade with the laser effect there merely so you could see where it was, but material published since is to the effect that the blade is a contained plasma effect and it’s well established that you don’t have to be a Force user to wield a lightsaber, although it helps--.)

In a number of ways, The Force Awakens is even worse, and in possibly damaging ways. The biggest one is the change in hyperspace travel. In the Starkiller battle sequence, not only do the Rebels have real-time intelligence of what’s happening at Starkiller Base (weapon status, etc.) which has to be light-years away, but then, the fighter wing is launched and instantaneously transitioned to the Starkiller planet. In the previous episodes, hyperspace voyages took days if not weeks. I suppose it’s possible that, in the 30 years since Return of the Jedi hyperspace drives might have progressed, that doesn’t explain how the Millennium Falcon (that hasn’t even had the interior cleaned in 30 years, evidently) can do the same trick (let alone operate--).

Spaceship hulls are evidently composed of something with a strength approaching Larry Niven’s monocrystalline “hullmetal*”. On Jakku, we see the hulks of at least two Star Destroyers that have crashed there, but retain most of their hull integrity, very surprising for vessels that were presumably built in space with no capability for landing. And, again, the Millennium Falcon seems well-nigh indestructible, surviving Han Solo’s below nap-of-the-Earth approach to the Starkiller, which shears off a sizable forest of mature trees, as well as Solo’s controlled flight into terrain landing.

Which makes one wonder, why don’t they make Storm Trooper armor out of that stuff? The standard plastic/ceramic seems to be totally useless. If you are a Captain, like Phasma, not only do you get issued a name instead of a number, you can have metal armor, which is way heavy (based on the footstep sounds) and probably power-assisted, but she still gives up immediately just because a pistol is pointed at her helmeted head. So, what good’s the armor?

Of course, blasters, or their ammunition, seem to have been upgraded, too. Bolts even from Rey and Solo’s pistols detonate with the effect of a concussion grenade, sending troopers flying, which makes one wonder what the minimum safe range for use is? If Solo had shot Greedo with a bolt like that, Greedo would have splattered, the table would have gone through the roof, and Solo probably would have been blown backward through the wall.

The Starkiller is frustrating, since it’s one of those descriptions where the ludicrous explanation could have been vastly improved with a few added words of dialog. As written, the Starkiller uses the entirety of its star for power, literally causing the star to “vanish” at peak power. The star magically reappears after the dirty work is done. Instead, one could have said that the Starkiller uses the entire output of the star, causing it to become briefly invisible due to sucking up all the visible light. Given the science-fantasy milieu it’s not reasonable to expect the production to bother with a science consultant, but couldn’t they have a “does this make any sense at all?” consultant?

*Hullmetal

Better known as the “General Products hull material”, it is made of energetically reinforced nano-scale macro molecules. Transparent to visible light, and highly durable, the nearly impervious state allows for vehicles and structures to be built to withstand ridiculous amounts of punishment. GP hulled ship Lying Bastard crash landed on the Ringworld floor while moving at over 770 miles per second. It was also blasted by a large ultraviolet laser, the Ringworld's meteor defense, triggered by the Ringworld in its own sun (Stasis field triggered in defense as well).
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8:56 pm
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
On Sunday, Dec. 27th, we went to see the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens. We were pleased and satisfied with it, although not perhaps thrilled. (I would like to know the reactions of someone who came to it never having seen any of the prior installments--.)

Quite a bit has been said and written about this film’s similarities to the priors, in particular A New Hope. I think almost all of this is intentional, not just in putting in characters and visual references from earlier movies, but in overarching theme and plot. I rather suspected/hoped that this would be the case after viewing the much-maligned The Phantom Menace. The plot of that film, with its discovery of the talented young one, and the battle culminating in the destruction of the enemy’s flagship by an attack from within its defenses, also echoes the theme and plot of A New Hope, and seeing this recur again makes me “hope” that this also was not an accident nor a failure of invention. Remember, that George Lucas supposedly had nine episodes plotted out in “The Adventures of Luke Skywalker,” and it is just possible that even those years ago, an overarching plot had been envisioned, in which the cycle of time returns on itself in a spiral, not quite coming back to the same point. Those who fail to learn the lessons of history—the always short-sighted “Sith”—build ever larger and more terrifying super-weapons, only to have their technological Goliaths destroyed by the Light Side’s Davids. *

At the beginning of The Force Awakens, the galaxy is in a state of low-intensity warfare, pitting a renascent “Republic” against the remnant Empire lead by the “First Order”, with the “Rebellion” staging an anti-Empire insurgency. The McGuffin this time is not a set of plans, but a star map showing the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, who has become a hermit. Incidents surrounding the attempts to recover the data heat up the war, causing the First Order to activate its “Starkiller Base,” a planet-cracker that is an order of magnitude more dangerous than either version of the Death Star.

The next generation of heroes are caught up in the tide of events. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), the Rebellion/Republic’s ace fighter pilot at least signed on for this. “Finn,” (John Boyega) a reluctant Storm Trooper dragooned into the Imperial forces as a child, finds an opportunity to desert. And Rey (Daisy Ridley) is an orphaned scavenger inhabiting a Tattoine-like desert world when Fate, perhaps literally, seeks her out. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is a conflicted Vader-wannabee, the genuine next generation of Dark Lords.

They have time to establish themselves firmly as the protagonists of the film before the old guard, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), “General” Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 (now apparently a genuine robot, as Kenny Baker is listed only as “R2-D2 Consultant”) put in appearances.

The plot cycles through an arc familiar from Episode 1, and especially Episode 4, but with enough variations and diversions (and one very significant surprise) to make it fresh, fun, and entertaining for the aficionados.
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8:55 pm
Milwaukee Art Museum Renovation
Much of the exhibit space at the Milwaukee Art Museum has been closed for months while being repaired and renovated. These spaces were re-opened this month, and on Saturday the 26th, we went to check it out. We were pleased and impressed.

Basically, the major improvement is much better use of space. The two parts of the older building make up large rectangular areas only really broken up by a central stairwell, so, theoretically, one could cram in as many dividing walls to hang things on as one could and still leave space to see the larger pieces. The Art Museum didn’t go that far, but there does seem to be more wall space for hangings, but enough open space to appreciate what is on view. The total number of pieces on exhibit has been increased from 1500 to 2500. Critics have been very complimentary toward the renovation, including a significant article in the New York Times of December 28th. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/29/arts/design/milwaukee-art-museum-reinvigorates-with-renovations.html?emc=edit_th_20151229&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=23107975&_r=1)

This effect is most noticeable in the lower-level contemporary art area. The very austere high-ceilinged spaces make excellent locations for the frequently large modern paintings and installations. Beyond the familiar Warhol and Lichtenberg pieces that have been mainstays of the collection, there are now many more very interesting pieces on display. (A daunting number of which are titled “Untitled,” which makes me realize that it would be very easy to curate a large exhibit on that theme--.)

The upper level, housing the historical collections, has been broken up into intimate rooms, with wall colors and treatments that support the theme of each room. We were glad to see that a version of the “Layton Gallery,” which seeks to recreate an art exhibit as it would have looked at the time of the Museum’s founder, has been preserved, as have iconic exhibits such as the 19th Century German painting collection.

The Milwaukee Art Museum will never have the size or scope of something like the Art Institute of Chicago, but it has always been a very good museum and now is much improved. Its collection gives a nice overview of the history of Art from ancient to modern which is accessible within a leisurely day.

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Tuesday, December 29th, 2015
8:26 pm
Dining at "Antigua"
Sunday evening, December 20th, we had a festive dinner at Antigua Restaurant, on West Burnham St. in West Allis, and found it very good.

We came particularly wanting to sample the paella, which takes half an hour to prepare. So, we started off with some of the restaurant’s “small plates,” some of which are classic tapas, and some not. Antigua has what might be called a “Latin fusion” menu, with dishes from a number of different countries.

For starters, we ordered patatas bravas, a Spanish tapas, which are crisply browned cubed potatoes, seasoned with paprika, and served with both a spicy romesco sauce, and topped with a bit of cilantro aioli.

We also had an order of the “Yolanda Empanadas,” (named after the person they learned the recipe from) which are an Argentinian variation on the filled pastries. These had a light flavorful crust, filled with ground beef, seasoned with onions, red bell peppers, manzanilla olives, hardboiled egg whites and raisins, and which came with a chimichurri basil dipping sauce. Both the patatas and the empanadas were very good.

Antigua separates its paellas into Paella Valenciana, which has chicken and pork, and Paella de Mariscos, which has fish, mussels, and shrimp. We elected to go with the Mariscos. One order is assumed to be for two, and the dinner-plate sized pan was more than enough for both of us.

When it came, the paella was as handsomely presented as any I have seen, with shiny black mussel shells and lovely large shrimp arranged over the top of the rice. The rice was a rich orange color rather than saffron yellow. Saffron was definitely present, and I believe that the orange tint was due to paprika in the broth, making up for the fact that chorizo sausage, a common ingredient in paella, is not used.

The seafood was tender and perfectly cooked, but seemed bland to our taste. It appeared that the mussels and shrimp were cooked separately and then added to the dish at the last minute, which means that they will not be overcooked, but also that they don’t pick up flavor from the rice mixture. Taking a little bit of the rice on the fork with the seafood tended to remedy this, I would have liked it better had the mussels and shrimp had an opportunity to pick up some of the blended flavor on their own.

For drinks, I had a glass of the Sangria, which here is red Tempranillo wine, orange and lime juices, and brandy. This was not as strongly fortified with brandy as some I have had, which I consider good thing. I liked it quite a bit and would have gladly had another had I not been driving. Georgie had a glass of the straight Tempranillo, which is a mellow varietal we enjoy.

For dessert, we tried the flan. This was an unusual preparation, being stiffer than most we have had, and having been made in a Bundt pan or similar. We split a very generous serving, which had a nice vanilla-bean flavor accompanied by the traditional caramel sauce.

The service was quick, cheerful, and attentive. The restaurant is a bright and airy place, pleasant on a gloomy December evening. Latin music was nice and not obtrusive, and, although the Packers’ game was on the television, the sound was either off or low enough that it didn’t carry away from the bar.

We would definitely go there again. I’d like to try the Paella Valenciana, and there are a number of other good looking things on the menu, including Mexican and Peruvian inspired dishes, that look worth sampling.

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8:25 pm
Village Playhouse of Wauwatosa, “Santa’s Workshop”
Sunday afternoon, December 20th, we went to Inspiration Studios, 1500 S. 73rd St., to see “Santa’s Workshop,” a trio of new short Christmas-themed plays created as part of the Village Playhouse’s Young Person’s Playwriting Project.

The pieces were: “The Christmas Goose,” adapted by Rachel Czestler from “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” by Arthur Conan Doyle; “The Little Match Girl and the Prodigal Son,” adapted by Clayton Mortl from “The Little Match Girl,” by Hans Christian Andersen; and “Five Golden Rehearsals,” an original story by Rachel Czestler. We were interested to see how these worked out, since we had heard some news about the production and knew some of the actors had come on board to fill vacancies at very short notice. We were pleased to see that all of the young actors did very well with their parts, there were no detectable missed lines, and you could not tell that some had had only a week to rehearse.

“The Christmas Goose” was a very effective and compact adaptation of Conan Doyle’s story, which preserved the author’s dialog, containing some very famous Sherlock Holmes aphorisms. This story is one of Holmes’ more purely intellectual exercises, and that is where the fun is, since it is somewhat low on drama or action. Very nice performances by James Sullivan as Holmes, Nicholas Hightdudis as Watson, and Edward Cruz in the dual roles of Sgt. Lewis and Ryder.

“The Little Match Girl and the Prodigal Son,” adds an extensive frame to Andersen’s pathetic tale. The “Prodigal Son” of the title, Casimir, (Nicholas Hightdudis) in the confessional, gradually unfolds his anger, grief, and guilt regarding the death of his sister, Helena (Lusciana Gomez), the “little match girl.” The framing device made the story quite affecting, showing that callousness and shortsightedness are major causes of Helena’s death. That Casimir’s resentments include ethnic tensions between Irish, Polish, and Germanics (The play is set in 19th Century New York.) adds a dimension.

“Five Golden Rehearsals” gives us five vignettes from the rehearsal period of a new Christmas play, as produced by a small community theater group. In the process, the play morphs from a story about a playwright’s’ difficulty in writing a script (reflected by the actual struggles of writers Steven (Mr. Hightdudis) and Katherine (Emmah Gonzalez), to a pageant about unusual Christmas traditions, while the director (Brianna Sullivan) balances scarce resources, the demands of the local “diva” (Kate Warren), and the chorus’ preference for singing “Jingle Bells” ala Elvis. This was the longest play of the show, and quite funny (particularly for those of us with community theater experience--).

Overall, I was quite impressed with the production. Timing and cues were tight, and good use was made of the minimal set, kudos to producer/director Thom Zuehlke. The young cast exhibited impressive skill and ability, notably James Sullivan’s ability to muster four distinct accents (Holmes, Irish priest, Germanic mill owner, “Elvis”), Nicholas Hightdudis’ emotional agonies as the “prodigal son,” matched by Lusciana Gomez’ ecstatic transports as the “match girl,” and Brianna Sullivan’s controlling-but-coping director in “Five Golden Rehearsals.” Of course, there are the issues that one has to expect with a young cast, such as occasional enunciation and elocution problems, but these are things that can be overcome with time, and I would be glad to see any of these actors, or work by the playwrights, on stage again.

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8:24 pm
Milwaukee Public Museum, “Streets of Old Milwaukee”.
Sunday morning, December 20th, we went to the Public Museum to check out the renovated “Streets of Old Milwaukee” exhibit.

The basic layout of the exhibit has not changed much, the major change being the streetcar “time machine” entry, which is quite cool. As you move through the car, each set of windows shows a different time period street scene scrolling by, with some of the same buildings in so that you can see changes over time. The vignettes are animated so people walk on the streets, smoke comes from chimneys, etc.

Although the street is still set at night, it seemed to me that the illumination level was slightly brighter than in the past, which made details easier to see. The soundscape has been augmented in a number of ways. The phonograph in “Granny’s” house wafts music onto the street. There are transient sound effects such as thunder, and the sound of horses’ hooves on the street. Some sounds, such as a conversations in the printers’ shop or the barber’s shop, are triggered when you stand in certain places.

A unique addition is the smell of bread which is quite noticeable in the vicinity of the bakery.

The restored police call box is the major addition to the exhibits, and the movie house is now open and running continuously (Melies’ Voyage dans la Lune was playing when we were there). The General Store has been opened up so that you can step in and look around, which gives you a much better look at the thousands of items on the shelves. Other than that, memory fails as to what else might be new or different from the last time we were there, there are so many details and things to see.

I remember coming to Milwaukee to see the museum when I was a boy, when the exhibit was still relatively new, and thinking it was just the neatest thing. I still think so. This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/282248.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Thursday, December 10th, 2015
3:06 pm
Skylight Music Theater, “My Fair Lady”
On Sunday, December 6th, we went to the Broadway Theatre Center and saw a delightful production of Lerner and Loewe’s musical “My Fair Lady,” as presented by Skylight Music Theatre.

Natalie Ford as Eliza Doolittle was just excellent. Singing fine, dancing perfectly adequate to the rather simple choreography required of the character, but her real strength was in her acting. She is an eloquent physical actor, and her expressive face, combined with her vocal range, gave her Eliza a spirit and fire that I associate more with Judy Garland in her prime than with the frequently more subdued Audrey Hepburn.

Ms. Ford’s force wonderfully crashed against Norman Moses’ immovable object. As Henry Higgins, Moses’ default expression of a slight self-satisfied smile made the Professor an even greater monster of egotism than the classic Rex Harrison grouch version. That Moses’ Higgins seems to think he is above it all makes the disruptions Eliza causes in his comfortable life all the more effective.

Rick Richter as Colonel Pickering was all that the role required: upright, honest, kind, generous, and courteous. He cannot be faulted if he is not as charming as the late Wilfrid Hyde-White—no one could be.

Joel Kopishke had a lot of heavy lifting to do in the role of Alfred P. Doolittle, and handled the part of cheerful reprobate well. I disagree with whomever made the choice to give the character a thick beard, which I think hindered Mr. Kopishke’s ability to mug; Alfred P. Doolittle is a great mugging role, and we missed some of that behind the facial foliage.

The principals were very well supported by Carol Greif as Higgins’ long-suffering housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, and David Flores as the “hairy hound from Budapest,” Zoltan Karpathy. Diane Lane as Mrs. Higgins was marvelously kind, calm, and gracious—in a word everything her son is not. (Which makes me wonder, not for the first time, how Henry grew up to be such a pill. It must have been due to his father’s influence--.)

This also had to be one of the hardest working ensembles in theatre. When we’ve seen London street people, Ascot spectators, Embassy ball attendees, and Higgins’ household staff, it’s rather shocking to see only nine people in addition to the others taking a curtain call.

Stage business, as managed by Director Dorothy Danner was lively and clever, supplemented by enjoyable dancing choreographed by Pam Kreiger. The orchestra, directed by Shari Rhoades, supported the singers well and had excellent tone.

Costume design by Chris March was a major area of interest, in particular the Ascot scene, for which Mr. March provided some amazing outfits, in particular the hats, which nevertheless did not overwhelm the action. That bit of fantasy aside, I was equally impressed by how well the everyday outfits of the street people and servants looked. The Embassy Ball sequence was costumed with grandeur and elegance that was period-appropriate and wisely did not attempt to match the Ascot scene for excess.

The reconfigurable set pieces, especially when decorated with Higgins’ fine furniture, looked very well, and again gave the actors all they needed.

This was my first experience seeing “My Fair Lady” live and I was very glad I went. It is truly one of the classics of musical theatre, and the Skylight did it justice.

Highly recommended. "My Fair Lady" runs through December 27th.

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3:01 pm
Spectre
On December 1st, we went to see “Spectre,” the latest installment of the ongoing James Bond franchise.

As Daniel Craig’s reputed last outing as 007, “Spectre” seemed to be both overtly and covertly a recap of James Bond’s filmic career. The film plot explicitly refers back to Craig’s movies, “Casino Royale,” “Quantum of Solace,” and “Skyfall,” tying together events of those films as part of an underlying plot by Spectre head Blofeld/Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) to destroy Bond as a hobby while pursuing his world-domination plot.

More subtly, the film contains numerous references to past Bond films. The opening sequence in Mexico City on The Day of the Dead harked back to the voodoo elements in “Live and Let Die;” the ensuing fight scene inside the helicopter echoes an incident from an earlier Craig Bond film. At Q’s shop, the classic Aston Martin DB-5 from “Goldfinger” and “Skyfall” is being rebuilt.

The train journey, and the fight with the brutish assassin therein, harks back to the fight scenes with Red Grant (Robert Shaw) in “From Russia With Love,” Jaws (Richard Kiel) in “The Spy Who Loved Me,” and Tee Hee (Julius Harris) from “Live and Let Die.” The 1948 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith limousine that Blofeld sends to fetch Bond and Dr. Swann (Lea Sedoux) is not the same model as that owned by Goldfinger (a 1936-39 Phantom III limo) but reads much the same and is, I am sure a reference. The mountaintop clinic where Dr. Swann works recalls “Piz Gloria,” Blofeld’s medical facility in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”

Blofeld’s headquarters in the North African desert have the classic high-tech look of Bond villain strongholds. Apparently, the explosion when the works blow up beats some kind of world record, although it’s totally illogical. Bond triggers a chain-reaction with a few luckily-placed rifle shots that sends the entire facility up in smoke, which makes no sense whatever. Blofeld doesn’t seem to have stinted himself on amenities, but having every room plumbed with hot and cold running gasoline seems to be a peculiar, not to say, hazardous, taste.

There are numerous other references and harkbacks to past Bond films and writings. (Having reviewed extensive lists at IMDB.com and The Daily Telegraph, I seem to be one of the few who recognized that the safe house location, “Hildebrand Printing,” is a reference to “The Hildebrand Rarity,” one of the as-yet unadapted Bond short stories. )

Following posthumous instructions from the late “M” (Dame Judi Dench) Bond tracks down and kills a criminal, Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), and then disobeys orders in order to attend his funeral, which leads him to a meeting of Spectre, where plans for world domination are in full swing, and Bond makes a shocking discovery of the true identity of “Blofeld”—a man Bond had believed long dead.

Recent criticism of Daniel Craig has been that he is too stone-faced in the Bond role, and it did appear that way at times, particularly in the first action sequence. When the helicopter you are fighting in is careening across the sky, one might think a bit of expression would show up, due to g-forces if nothing else. Craig’s Bond does loosen up a bit as the movie progresses, particularly in the scenes with Dr. Swann, but overall, we never forget that Bond is first and foremost an avenging force.

Lea Sedoux as Madeline Swann is one of the best Bond movie women to date. (Not using the term “Bond girl” for her, see below--.) She is intelligent, tough, competent, capable, and overall makes an excellent match for Bond—including being equally sexually forward when the situation calls for it. Her character’s attempts to analyze Bond, who is shown to be deliberately non-introspective, are both amusing and revealing.

Christoph Waltz does a good job with the role he is given as Oberhauser/Blofeld, being genially creepy, but the character is a curious one, as though you had cast Steve Jobs or Bill Gates to be Hannibal Lecter. In the scene where Blofeld is torturing Bond, I was irresistibly reminded of “The Pit of Despair” from The Princess Bride, and would not have been at all surprised if Blofeld had asked Bond to describe how he is feeling.

Monica Bellucci has the classic “Bond Girl” role: the woman whom Bond encounters in the early part of the film, who is usually associated with the bad guys, falls for Bond, and supplies him with information, whereupon she is killed. Besides being more mature than previous women in these roles, Bellucci’s character seems to avoid the “Bond curse” being still alive, at least when we see her last.

Dave Bautista, as “Mr. Hinx,” joins the lengthy line of hulking brutes Bond has fought, including Red Grant, Oddjob, and Jaws. While he’s certainly huge and frightening, unfortunately, the character isn’t given any development. (Bautista, who also plays “Drax” in The Guardians of the Galaxy, can be quite engaging if given the chance--.)

The main title theme, “The Writing’s on the Wall, “ written and performed by Sam Smith, was effective while it lasted, but was forgotten immediately, unlike the theme from “Skyfall,” which I can still recall years after having heard it. Somehow, I don’t find Mr. Smith’s trademark falsetto, however good it is, to be evocative of James Bond.

Cinematography in this film was the most stylish since Casino Royale, although subtle: there are recurring uses of mirrors, mist and smoke, and pulled focus shots reflecting how Bond is seldom seeing the whole picture clearly at any one time.

As Bond and Dr. Swann ride off into the sunset in the DB-5, it seems quite clear that this is a series-ender, at least for the Daniel Craig Bond*. However, the end titles did announce “James Bond Will Return.” IMBD says there will be a “Bond 25,” but no title or other information as yet.

Recommended for fans of the franchise, and action-adventure fans generally. I agree with some critics, not quite as good as "Skyfall," but still good.

*I, and other people, I expect, have proposed that “James Bond” (and perhaps, by extension, the identities of the other 00-agents) are shell personas like “The Dread Pirate Roberts,” intended to protect the real names and families of the 00 agents due the extreme danger of that assignment. From time to time, MI-6 has gone outside the “regular” intelligence services to recruit.

The Many Faces of 007:

007.1 Commander James Bond, R.N., seconded MI-6. Retired. Replaced by:
007.2 (real name unknown) Killed in action, along with “Tracy Bond” by Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Replaced by:
007.1.5 Commander James Bond, briefly out of retirement. Replaced by:
007.3 Simon Templar, a.k.a., “The Saint.” Successful agent, but too flamboyant for many tastes. Retired, replaced by:
007.4 (real name unknown) Cashiered after “going rogue” in the Sanchez affair. Replaced by:
007.5 “Remington Steele” (real name unknown) Medically retired. Replaced by:
007.6 (real name unknown, but evidently recruited from Special Air Service or similar group) Resigned. Replaced by:
007.7 (?)

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Thursday, November 26th, 2015
11:50 am
TeslaCon 6
We arrived at TeslaCon 6 about noon on Friday, and checked in without difficulty. This year’s program, the “Cognitive Reasoner” newspaper, was useful and informative.

The first presentation we attended was “The Not-So-Wild West; The North-West Mounted Police,” which dealt with the origins of the forerunner to today’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The presentation included a great deal of very interesting information about the history of Canada and the founding of the North-West Mounted Police, but was somewhat difficult to listen to due to the speaker’s verbal tic, which at times seemed as though every other word was “ah” or “um.” I think that having the presentation copied out instead of switching between notes and reference books might have helped this.

The next event we went to was one of the “Immersion Events,” “The Story So Far,” which was described as “Totes McCoates, from last year’s ‘Time Travel for Tourists’ is back to get you up to speed on what’s brought everything to this point.” I’m sorry to say that this event was very poorly prepared. When Your Correspondent attempted to get the ball rolling by asking her to relate the significant events of the past year, she essentially responded that she couldn’t do that. “Beauregard Krieger”, also present, offered no help, although perhaps he felt he’d already done his share at the “War Stories with Beau Krieger” event earlier. After a bit of unstructured talk, “Ms. McCoates” attempted to address the request of another audience member, who was a new attendee, to fill in some of the more historical backstory. This was done clumsily, and the information supplied in many cases directly contradicted the historical timeline given in the Cognitive Reasoner. For example, referring to Lord Bobbins’ lunar adventure, she alleged that Dr. Proctocus had used a giant magnet on the moon to activate a robot army on Earth. According to the newspaper, Proctocus had pre-positioned a robot army on the Moon, which was de-activated by Bobbins and Krieger using a giant magnet.

At dinner time, we had purchased advance tickets for the “Krieger Family Barbecue.” At $21.00 a head the price might have seemed a bit high, but in my opinion made up for not having to either go out of the hotel for dinner or deal with the hotel’s rather small restaurant. The quality of the food was mostly excellent, with smoked brisket, beans, bread, and barbecue sauces being particularly good. Corn on the cob, which, at this season, has to have been frozen, was a bit spongy, but not too bad. The musical entertainment, “Milkhouse Radio,” was very good and entertaining, without being obnoxiously loud. Admiral and Frau Krieger worked the room, but, with 150 for dinner the actual interaction couldn’t be much.

After having stood in line for dinner, we stood in line for the Opening Ceremonies, which was the biggest disappointment of the convention. Entering the auditorium, we found that there were very few seats set up (presumably in order to leave the floor open for the Cotillion, which was immediately to follow), so the vast majority of people attending were “standing room only”. After having stood for an hour to get in, we did not feel like continuing to stand, so seated ourselves on the floor along the wall and attempted to listen. Unfortunately, the sound was poorly adjusted, and was largely unintelligible past the first few rows. Given that the other people in the back of the room couldn’t hear either, there was no reason for them not to mill around and chat, which made the whole thing a bust from our position. We eventually gave it up as a bad job, and, feeling too tired to dance, went back to our hotel room and to bed.

Saturday started off better. I was assisting my wife, Georgie Schnobrich, with her presentation on “Lies and Legends of the Old West,” which covered such storied characters as Wild Bill Hickok, Jim Bowie, Judge Roy Bean, and “Deadwood Dick,” the pulp hero. The presentation ran smoothly and seemed to be well received by the audience.

After a break in which we took a brief glance into the awesome dealer’s space, I did my presentation on “Weird Weaponry of the Steampunk Era,” which again the audience seemed to enjoy.
After that, we attended “From Disaster to Dashing; Steampunk Fashion for Men,” presented by Tony Ballard Smoot and DJ Doctor Q. The two gentlemen gave an entertaining and useful presentation on style basics for men, from shoes to hats.

This was followed by “The Pinkerton Detective Agency” presented by “Famous Captain Anthony LaGrange” a.k.a. Tony Ballard Smoot. This covered the establishment, founding principles, and history of the pioneering detective agency. The presentation seemed to be well researched, included lots of interesting information, and was skillfully presented by Mr. Smoot.

After that, we took a break to change for dinner. This year’s “Bobbins Dinner” was a bit bigger than years past, which made interaction a bit harder. (I note that the website posted that there were thirty tickets for the Bobbins dinner, but closer to sixty people were seated, some of whom, of course, were cast members.) The Marriott’s banquet staff is usually excellent, and the appetizer, salad, and dessert were all up to standard. The appetizer, shrimp on a rosemary skewer with chili barbeque glaze, was perfectly cooked, spicy but not too hot, and the shrimp were large and tasty. The salad was lightly grilled endive, with cheese and chicken garnishes, and a very nice lime and cilantro dressing. Dessert was a generous portion of flourless chocolate cake with bourbon infused whipped cream. The entrée, cider braised pork belly, was not a success. We were served a very pale piece of meat that some could not tell if it was pork or fish. Half the portion consisted of gelatinous fat, and the rest of nearly tasteless meat. No trace of cider was detectable. This was a misjudgment on the part of the chef. It is to be expected that pork belly is going to be fatty, but the braising method of cooking does not generate enough heat to render down or crisp up the fat as roasting or grilling would have. Nevertheless, since the appetizer was virtually an entrée in itself, the salad a goodly portion, and dessert filling, we did not go away unsatisfied.

After dinner, we lined up for the Night Circus, and were fortunate to get swept into fairly good seats. I was thrilled to enter the auditorium and hear the band strike up “The Big Cage: A Circus Galop”, which I had played in my high school band days. We were pleased to recognize Milwaukee performer Sir Pinkerton Xyloma of Dead Man’s Carnival as the ringmaster “T.E. Night,” and I was delighted to discover that the Original Baraboo Circus Band was being conducted by Professor Jerry Stitch, my old professor of Music.

The first half of the program was made up of acts associated with Dead Man’s Carnival, which are local people who are reinventing for themselves old-style circus and sideshow acts, with considerable success. The feats of strength, balancing, and juggling were truly impressive, all the more so for the occasional wobble or do-over which lets you know the effort involved is real, and the performers human beings like us.

The second half of the program was presented by Madison’s Cycropia aerial dance troupe, who performed a series of sets using fabric, trapeze, and custom equipment, including some I had never seen before. This show was beautiful, lyrical, and sensual and well worth seeing.
After the performance, the seating was broken down for dancing, but we preferred to decompress by finding a spot to sit in the hotel lobby to people-watch and chat with passers-by until we decided to call it a night. (People-watching at TeslaCon is always fun, but this year’s was exceptionally good. Perhaps the Western theme made dressing easier, but it seemed that the level and pervasiveness of good garb and gear was up a notch from years past.)

Sunday morning, I again assisted Georgie Schnobrich with presenting the second installment of “Wild Women of the West,” which dealt with Belle Starr, Martha “Calamity Jane” Cannary, Mary Ellen Pleasant, The Other Magpie, and Adah Isaacs Menken.

Following that, we checked out the Science Fair, which had some very amusing entries, but seemed down in numbers from years past. One of the highlights was the robot-drawn pony cart, which was actually pulled by a walking machine (based, so I over heard, on the walking action of a dollar-store wind-up toy), which was built to resemble a scaled-down version of “The Steam Man of the Prairies” from 1868 dime novel by Edward S. Ellis.

Next, we made a thorough inspection of the almost overwhelming dealer’s room, which was rather crowded, but crammed to the rafters with luscious merchandise of every description. After making a couple of purchases, we escaped with what little remained of our money.
By this time we were beat, and, facing the possible prospect of having to shovel snow walks and driveway at home, we took off before the closing ceremonies.

Conclusions: We had, as we always do, a very good time overall. There did seem to me to be, in some ways, a bit letting down of standards perhaps due to “Lord Bobbin’s Vacation” being a bit of a pause in the more intensively scripted episodes of the past and the promised future, but overall still a very impressive effort bolstered by a lot of very well prepared volunteer presenters. Next year’s outing is Paris for the International Mad Scientist’s Convention, which looks to be fun. Special guests will include Abney Park and Professor Elemental which will be “specially ticketed events” which I expect means they will cost extra, but probably within reason for those who are interested. We have our tickets for next year.

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Friday, November 13th, 2015
2:32 pm
Off the Wall Theatre, “Grand Guignol”
On Sunday, November 8th, we went to Off the Wall Theater for “Grand Guignol,” a program of four short plays inspired by, or adapted from, works performed at the notorious Parisian theatre of horrors during its long run from the 1880’s to the 1960’s.

Producer Dale Gutzman, who also appeared in one of the segments, gave some entertaining historical context as an introduction to each piece.

The first, “Clowning Around,” contains all the elements of a classic Grand Guignol play: it is short, punchy, includes a surprising twist, and a rather grisly special effect (although it must be said that Off the Wall’s effects relied more on sleight-of-hand than grue, and were surprisingly light on gore). It also showed how easily updated some of the stories could be: the play’s opening scene, a man in clown make up painting pictures of clowns, gets an added frisson because the modern audience knows who John Wayne Gacy was.

“The Final Torture,” set in 1901 China during the height of the Boxer Rebellion, is more of a period piece, but one could visualize modern-day situations where the kind of horrid choice forced upon the commander of a besieged French enclave might still reoccur. In this one, the coming “twist” was obvious, but the horror is in the psychological agony that leads up to it.

“The Kiss,” a 1913 piece dealing with a horribly disfigured man confronting the woman responsible for his injury, was perhaps the most chilling piece, as the injured man, Henri, (Max Williamson) plays out his anger toward his former fiancé. Mr. Williamson’s somewhat flattened affect in speaking made his voice a more effective instrument as he transitions from a pitiable invalid to a monster of revenge.

The fourth segment, “Pagliacci,” was freely adapted by Mr. Gutzman after the Leoncavallo verisimo opera plot. For those not familiar, the story concerns a troupe of travelling commedia del’arte actors. The troupe’s Columbine is the beautiful Nedda (Kirstin Roble), wife to Canio (Jeremy C. Welter). Nedda has unwillingly inflamed the desires of the gross clown Tonio (Lawrence K. Lukasavage), and less unwillingly, those of the handsome young Beppe (Patrick McCann), who plays Harlequin in the troupe. However, she has given her heart to Silvio (Henry Hammond), a stalwart stagehand.

Spurned by Nedda, Tonio spies upon her and sees her rendezvous with Silvio, although he does not see Silvio’s face. He rushes to fetch Canio. The two interrupt the liaison, but Silvio flees without being identified. Nedda refuses to give her lover up, despite Canio’s rage.

The troupe has attracted a full house, so the show must go on. Seething, Canio prepares. In his version of the famous Veste la giubba (“Put on your costume”) aria, Canio struggles with himself, asking, how can he go on when he is so tortured. “Are you not a man?” he asks. The reply is, “No, you are an actor, and the audience has paid to see you play.”

The play is an infidelity farce wherein Columbine is cuckolding “Pagliacci” (Canio) with Harlequin. Canio is barely holding himself in check when Tonio recognizes Silvio in the audience by his voice. In the resulting melee, Canio knifes Silvio and Beppe, strangles Nedda, and stalks out of the theatre declaring, “I am justice!” Tonio, left on stage cries, “The play is over!”

The real tension in this segment came at the crisis, when Nedda and Beppe appeal to the audience for help. We, as an audience, know we ought not interfere, but one does wonder how much one ought to interact--. As it was, the audience did nothing, we only watched, as the horrified audience members do in the opera.

In his director’s notes, Mr. Gutzman allows that the plots are slight and shallow. However, that doesn’t mean that they can’t be a vehicle for some very good acting, with James Feeley in “Clowning Around” and Mr. Welter in “Pagliacci” being particularly good, in addition to the aforementioned Mr. Williamson. Jocelyn Ridgely, in “The Kiss” was a good match for Williamson.

And of course, the plays are violent: in ninety minutes of theatre, we had seven stabbings (eight if you count impaling a man’s arm with a hatpin), two strangulations, and a vitriol-throwing, all of which were relatively tastefully done. And, we observed, most of the victims “had it coming,” following the sense of justice of the melodrama that was Grand Guignol’s forbear.

We enjoyed this performance. There was horror, but not too much horror to be likable.

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2:28 pm
“Os(z)mosis” (contains spoilers)
On Thursday evening, November 5th, we went to the Comedy Sportz venue on South 1st St., to see “Osmosis”, a musical presented by In Good Company, which is the production arm of Milwaukee Metropolitan Voices.

(Full disclosure: Emory Churness and Hillary Giffen, who put the show together, are good friends of mine, and I attended one of the early brainstorming sessions for the project, and contributed a couple of ideas.)

The concept was an interesting one: what if you could tell a story using only songs that were not written for that story? And what if the audience had to figure out what the story was as it went along?

And, what if the story was “The W*z*rd of *z,” and you were doing it without any songs from the 1939 movie, from “The Wiz,” or from “Wicked”?

Well, the result would be “Osmosis.” (A hint is in the program design, where the ‘s’ is replaced with a vertical Infinity symbol, which can also be taken as an s overlaid with a z.)

Dustbowl Kansas was evoked by “Dust in the Wind,” while Dorothy (Betsy Mueller) longed to be “Somewhere That’s Green.” Arrival in Oz bought up a duet of Glinda (Hillary Giffen) and the Wicked Witch (Rachel Elizabeth Wachtl) on “My Eyes,” from “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” which I thought worked really well for two women.

“The Long and Winding Road” was a natural choice for the beginning of Dorothy’s trip to the Emerald City, followed by The Muppet’s “Movin’ Right Along” as she gathers companions. Some added lyrics to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” clued in the audience as to what the story was as the first half ended.

The second half was more open and humorous as the cast added makeup and costume bits to the action. One of the funniest bits was the chorus’ rendition of “Hey, Hey, We’re the Monkees,” as the Wicked Witch’s winged henchmen. There were some fine dramatic segments in this half also, with Ms. Wachtl on “Witchy Woman,” and Kyle Gunby as the Scarecrow preparing to invade the Witch’s castle to “Into the Fire”.
Even knowing the secret ahead of time, we enjoyed the show very much, having the pleasure of perceiving how each number fit into the storyline as they came up. “Osmosis” was a really clever idea that was well executed.

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Monday, November 9th, 2015
6:51 pm
Lytheria Halloween, 2015
This year’s theme for Lytheria “Trick or Treat” was “Men in Black,” after the movies of the same name.

Some of us, such as myself, Charles Tritt, and Julie Ann Hunter, were “outside” agents, meaning we were human looking, and dressed in black suits, white shirts, and black ties. (Not that this was a huge costume stretch for me--.)

The porch interior was done up as an MIB headquarters, with strange zapguns hanging on the walls, computer monitors running sci-fi screensavers, and a registration desk rigged up with a couple of plasma balls as “scanners”. The inside staff, including Georgie, Lee Schneider, and Mike Davis, were more or less obvious aliens. Lee had knee length white hair, Georgie was wearing a bright yellow bird mask and wig above her black suit, and Mike, working the desk, wore a variation of his “Killer Croc” outfit.

The routine began with Julie Ann and a couple of loose aliens shepherding the trick-or-treaters to the house steps. I was working the steps landing, and would tell them, “All aliens must register. What planet are you from?” Some of the kids were quick enough to give an answer of some sort. Others, I “sorted”: Bozonia, Zombezia, Bat World, Planet of the Killer Clowns, or whatever seemed appropriate. Those who answered “Earth,” I scanned and replied, “Nope, alien, gotta register, step up.” ( I was actually running a “tricorder” app on my cell phone, but few people noticed.)

Charles Tritt staffed the door, giving an intro to life on Earth. Then Lee let them in, and Georgie and Mike processed them by having them put a hand on one “scanner sphere” so that their genotype was entered into the database, and then to put a hand on the other so that alien fingerprints could be “erased”. When things got more backed up, both spheres were used for scanning in. The new resident aliens were given a sample of Earth food (the candy bar) and ushered out through the “recently decommissioned” but still ominously flickering “disintegration chamber.”
Halloween fell on the one chill, rainy day out of a two-week period, so attendance was down, although we still ended up giving away approximately 500 candy bars.

Since, for a change, the trick-or-treat fell on Saturday, the Halloween party was that same evening. Georgie and I rushed home, got some dinner, and changed costumes for the party. We both went as characters from animated films of the year.

Georgie went as “La Muerte,” ruler of The Land of the Remembered, from the movie “The Book of Life.” She assembled a great looking costume in my opinion, and the makeup I did for her worked pretty well. (We decided not to try to attach electric candles to the already extravagantly bedecked hat, as adding too much weight--.)

I went as “Yokai”, a.k.a. Prof. Robert Callaghan, from “Big Hero 6,” and was also quite pleased with the way the costume came together. We had a good time at the party, but didn’t stay awfully long, due to being tired from the day.

Note: As last year, Dreamwidth does not seem capable of actually inserting images. Collected pictures taken by David Martin, Lillian Sullivan, and Charles Tritt can be seen here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/61681349@N00/albums/72157661038076245

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Monday, October 26th, 2015
8:11 pm
Crimson Peak

Saturday evening, October 24th, we went to see Crimson Peak, it being the right season for a ghost story. Crimson Peak is such a story in which, as Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) tells us in the first line, “ghosts are real.”

The story, written by Guillermo Del Toro and Matthew Robbins, is a proper old-style Gothic thriller, which Mrs. Radcliffe or “Monk” Lewis would have been proud of, had they been able and willing to put the occasional gory killing directly on stage.

When the plot proper begins, Edith is the bluestocking daughter of Buffalonian businessman Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver), she meets and is attracted to penurious nobleman Sir Thomas Sharpe, Bart., (Tom Hiddleston) who is seeking to raise money to continue work on his prototype excavating machine, with which he hopes to restore the family fortunes, which rest (literally) upon played-out deposits of a rare clay.

Cushing puts a stop to courtship after having a detective dig into Sharpe’s past, but his objections are ended by his sudden death, and Sharpe consoles the grieving Edith by making her his bride.

The remainder of the story plays out in England, at the Sharpe’s ruinous Gothic monstrosity of a mansion, which sits alone in an empty landscape in one of England’s most desolate regions. Sharpe’s brooding sister, Lucille, (Jessica Chastain), is a resentful presence, and Edith is soon haunted by the ominous and grisly spectres of the hall’s past.

The story very stylishly plays to its somewhat Grand Guignol climax along themes that are equal parts Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Perrault. While there are some plot holes, much can be forgiven for the fine acting, marvelous cinematography, horrific special effects, strikingly eerie sets, luscious costumes, and very good acting. I will admit that Del Toro does not admit logic as a barrier to effect. For example, the Hall is shown as sitting in an empty plain, with a single November-bare tree in sight. Nevertheless, autumn leaves continuously drift down through the gaping hole in the atrium roof, until they are at last replaced with snow.  The bloody-colored clay that causes the area to be known as “Crimson Peak” has supposedly been mined out of easy reach, but oozes through the manor floorboards and stains the snow red around the house.

While we didn’t find Crimson Peak to be particularly thrilling or shocking (with a couple of exceptions), we were just pleased and amused to see someone tell a story that aspires to stand with The Fall of the House of Usher, or The Mysteries of Udolpho, in this day and age. Recommended for those who enjoy an occasional infusion of the Gothic, the melodramatic, or the weird.
 

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Wednesday, October 14th, 2015
7:40 pm
Focus Film Society, “Chimes at Midnight”
On Saturday evening, October 10th, we went to the Church in the City on North Hackett Avenue for the FOCUS Film Society showing of Orson Welles’ 1965 film, “Chimes at Midnight.”

FOCUS (Films: Old, Classic & Unknown on Saturdays) is basically a two-man operation, led by film experts Henry Landa and Dan Guenzel, who track down films of interest that can be run on 16mm projector. This involves renting movies from archives across the country and even overseas.

The description of “Chimes at Midnight” is: “Celebrating the 100th anniversary of Kenosha born Orson Welles, The FOCUS Film Society presents Welles' last important film, CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, his take on Shakespeare's Falstaff stories. Plagued by money problems and filming logistics in Spain Welles nevertheless created something extraordinary and, we might add, entertaining. Supporting Welles are such artists as Jeanne Moreau, Margaret Rutherford, Fernando Rey and Sir John Gielgud. Great visuals, beautifully-spoken dialog and an exciting battle scene (filmed on a shoestring though you wouldn't know it) highlight this forgotten masterpiece.” That is a pretty good run-down. This is Welles’ centenary year, but the tenth of October was also the 30th anniversary of his death.

Welles of course plays Falstaff, the raffish knight who accompanies Prince Hal (Keith Baxter) through the events of Shakespeare’s plays “Henry IV, Part One,” and “Henry IV, Part Two,” with some dialog lifted from “Merry Wives of Windsor”. Welles is the iconic Falstaff, and Baxter stands up to him very well as the Prince. John Gielgud is aloof and distant as the disapproving King Henry IV, who, knowing the questionable legitimacy of his reign hopes to leave a secure crown to his son, and that his son will be worthy and capable of holding on to it.

The film does a good job of following the royal politics as the rebellion of Northumberland, his cousin Worcester, and his son, Hotspur, ferments; meanwhile, Falstaff and his ragged gang of bandits, whores, and ambitious commoners, surf the waves of unrest as best they might, looking out for any advantage.

Distilling two lengthy plays into one two-hour movie requires a lot of cuts, and quite a few characters familiar to Shakespeareans, such as Douglas, Glendower, Scroop, Mortimer, and Lady Mortimer do not appear.

All the acting is notable, with Welles leading as Falstaff. After his long run as the buoyant and seldom at a loss reprobate, his devastation at Hal’s final rejection of him is powerfully done (as is Hal’s blistering rebuke when Falstaff interrupts his coronation procession). In the scene in which Falstaff and Hal take turns mocking the King, it is discernible that the voice they are “doing” is Gielgud’s. Norman Rodwell as Hotspur is big, handsome, and loud, the proper captain of the team, likable as a man and for his enthusiasm, and unlikable for his stubborn cocksureness. Welles is ably supported by Margaret Rutherford as innkeeper Mistress Quickly, and Alan Webb as Justice Shallow, his annoyingly cheerful friend.

The sequence of the Battle of Shrewsbury is surprisingly long given the length of the movie, but, unlike some films, not tediously so. It is amazing, not least in its frank depiction of war as dirty and brutal. I appreciated the fact that many poor foot soldiers, such as Falstaff’s levy, are armed with nothing more than clubs, with which they are still deadly.
The settings, exteriors shot in Spain, are perfect, and the film is dramatically lit and very artistically shot. One area where the poverty of the budget unfortunately manifests is in the sound, with some of the otherwise “beautifully-spoken dialog” getting lost, but not so much that you lost the gist of what was going on.

Recommended for fans of Shakespeare, Welles, or historical dramas. The film is available on DVD.

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7:38 pm
Short Subjects
Wauwatosa Tour of Homes

Saturday, October 3rd, we took the annual Wauwatosa Historical Society tour of homes. This year, the neighborhood for the tour was Washington Highlands, with six houses open on Washington Circle, Upper Parkway North, and West Washington Boulevard. All the homes were very gracious and handsomely appointed. The two we liked best happened to be the first two we visited. One was a nicely remodeled and finished “Milwaukee Bungalow” on Washington Circle, and the second an “American Tudor” on West Washington Boulevard. An “American Tudor” is based on Tudor design, but is a bit modernized and streamlined as compared to a classic English Tudor home. This house backs onto parkway land along Schoonmaker Creek and Martha Washington Drive, which gives the effect of having a sizable scenic estate.

The Wauwatosa Historical Society does a good job of organizing these tours, and all the docents were friendly and informative. Thanks to the generous residents that opened their homes to us!

West Allis Car Show

Sunday morning, October 4th, we took a quick pass through the annual West Allis Car Show on Greenfield Avenue between S. 70th and S. 76th Streets. As ever, the show included a wide variety of classic, vintage, and collectible cars, with emphasis on later-model American “muscle cars”. Unlike the “Milwaukee Masterpiece” show which covers mainly historically correct restorations, at West Allis there are a lot more custom cars and “hot rods” which are interesting to see.
It’s always a pleasant time if the weather is good. A DJ will be playing classic rock through the speakers that cover the district streets, various charities will be selling snacks, and the people-watching is almost as good as the car watching.

Dining at Sanford

On Tuesday, October 6th, we went to Sanford restaurant for dinner. For starter, we split an order of duck breast, which was excellent. For main course, I had the “Lacquered Quail and Crisp Veal Sweetbread with Grilled Peach and Braised Collards, Peach Kernel Gastrique“. Lacquered Quail has been grilled and glazed, which gives it a shiny finish. Mine was quite delicious, and the veal sweetbreads, lightly breaded so that they had a dumpling-like appearance were excellent also, with a very light flavor. The grilled peach and collards were a fine accompaniment.

Georgie had the “Spiced Paillard of Salmon* with Bulgar Pilaf, Cilantro and Tomato”, which was part of the monthly ethnic menu, in this case, Lebanese. The salmon was perfectly prepared, moist and delicious, and the bulgur pilaf was good with it. The only drawback was the drizzle of tomato sauce, which contained some very hot spice that was too sharp for our taste.

For desserts, I chose the wickedly rich Banana Butterscotch Toffee Tart, while Georgie had the Blueberry Clafoutis. These are both variations on classic Sanford desserts, and were up to expectations.

Service at Sanford was as usual excellent. We were pleased to see that, although it was early on a week night, business was brisk, perhaps due to Sanford being rated number one in the Journal-Sentinel annual review of restaurants that came out recently. The rating is well deserved.

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Tuesday, October 13th, 2015
6:02 pm
Milwaukee Film Festival, “Extraordinary Tales”
On Wednesday night, October 7th, we went to the Times Cinema for our last showing in the Milwaukee Film Festival series, “Extraordinary Tales,” an animated anthology of 5 stories adapted from Edgar Allan Poe. Directed by Raul Garcia, each segment was animated in a different style. The pieces are tied together by a framing story, in which the spirit of Edgar Allen Poe (voice, Stephen Hughes), appearing as a flame-eyed raven, haunts a graveyard where the stones bear names of his characters. The voice of Death (author Cornelia Funke) cajoles Poe to come to her, but he initially refuses, concerned with fame and the remembrance of his name. To convince him, Death causes him to recall his stories, and how they reveal his love for Death.

The first segment, “The Fall of the House of Usher” is animated in a stylized and sculptural style that works well for the subject. There were features I liked, such as the gradual progress of the house’s collapse, mirroring that of the inhabitants, and some ambiguity introduced as to whether the climactic appearance of Madeline Usher is physical, ghostly, or a figment of Roderick Usher’s fevered brain. One can’t fault the delivery of the narration by Christopher Lee, but, as adapted by Mr. Garcia, the story falls flat. The faults lie in the timing, and in the lack of emphasis at the climax. The narrator runs from the fragmenting house, and it is shown to collapse in on itself, but the ending has none of the power of Poe’s prose: “While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened — there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind — the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight — my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder — there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters — and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the House of Usher.”

This was a problem with most of the segments. The best one was “The Tell-Tale Heart,” where the narration consisted of a recording of the story as read by the late Bela Lugosi. The animation was done in a wonderfully eerie style of black on white, with the white background being negative space and all from defined only by shadows. In this piece, the pacing and action had to follow the recording of Lugosi’s reading, which makes it the most successful of the five segments.

“The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” was next. I enjoyed the old-style horror comic style, including the fact that the main character (voice by Julian Sands) resembled Vincent Price as he appeared in the Poe-based films of the 1960’s. Again, however, the adaptation blew it at the climax. The rapid decomposition of Valdemar, the ultimate horror of the story, occurs in seconds, in distant silhouette, leaving only a man-shaped stain on the mattress. There is no voice-over at this point, so we are robbed of the power of “As I rapidly made the mesmeric passes, amid ejaculations of “dead! dead!” absolutely bursting from the tongue and not from the lips of the sufferer, his whole frame at once — within the space of a single minute, or even less, shrunk — crumbled — absolutely rotted away beneath my hands. Upon the bed, before that whole company, there lay a nearly liquid mass of loathsome — of detestable putrescence.”

“The Pit and the Pendulum,” narrated by Guillermo Del Toro, is perhaps the least successful. Done in a more photo-realistic style, the animation often directly contradicts the text, even as adapted. Admittedly, since the much of the time the character is supposed to be in pitch darkness, it’s difficult to do that in a movie, but his cell is shown as having a window to daylight even as the narration bemoans being immured in darkness. While the pendulum device is well done and matches Poe’s description, the piece totally fails to capture the terror of the pit.

The last segment, “The Masque of the Red Death,” was done in a water-color style that was beautiful to look at, and captured the decadence of Prince Prospero’s castle very well. There isn’t actually much action in Poe’s story—a lot of it is setting the scene, so the animated vignette takes us very directly to the masked ball. Annoyingly, when the specter of Red Death appears, it’s a conventional robed skeleton, rather than the blood-bedewed plague victim in Poe. (In these days of Ebola awareness, one would think that the artists might have portrayed something close to the type of hemorrhagic fever described by Poe--.) One nice touch is that the few lines given to Prince Prospero are voiced by Roger Corman, famous or directing his own freely adapted (but shocking) movie versions of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” and “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” (in the 1962 anthology film, “Tales of Terror”). This version of “Masque” is done without narration, so we again loose the impact of Poe’s words, “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”

Conclusion, a frustrating film. There was so much wonderful work and talent expended, all vitiated by the clumsy scripting. I think the lesson here is that, if you are going to play with the finely honed works of a master like Poe, great care is required to preserve his effect.
(Quotations are from the “Griswold” edition of Poe’s stories, archived on the Edgar Allen Poe Society of Baltimore’s web site.)

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