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|Thursday, November 26th, 2015|
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.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/281449.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Friday, November 13th, 2015|
|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.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/281070.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|“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.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/281165.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Monday, November 9th, 2015|
|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/72157661038076245This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/280728.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Monday, October 26th, 2015|
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.
This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/280102.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
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.
|Wednesday, October 14th, 2015|
|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.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/279839.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
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.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/279693.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Tuesday, October 13th, 2015|
|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.)This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/279429.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Monday, October 5th, 2015|
|Skylight Opera Theatre, "Tosca"
Saturday evening, October 3rd, we went to the Broadway Theatre Center to see and hear the Skylight's new production of Puccini's "Tosca." It was generally considered to be a challenge to "scale down" this popular opera to fit the Skylight's small hall, but this isn't necessarily the case. Puccini tends to write big music for small casts, and "Tosca" is an example, with three major roles in Tosca, Scarpia, and Cavaradossi, a handful of supporting roles, and only one chorus at the end of the first act.
From a scenic standpoint, almost any stage is big enough to portray Scarpia's office in act Two. The section of battlements in Act Three doesn't have to be huge, which leaves the cathedral in Act One. The Skylight deftly got around that one by keeping the chorus offstage for the processional, leaving the visual focus on Scarpia.
Act One was where I had the biggest disagreement with the set design. The large painting Cavaradossi is working on is traditionally a saint if not the Madonna. The one used here was a dancing figure and looked more like a poster for the Moulin Rouge than anything found in a cathedral. Also, the bottom three feet of the painted canvas trailed on the floor and were casually walked on by both Cavaradossi and the Sacristan! (By the time Scarpia got around to treading on it, it wasn't as shocking.) Some of the best scene effects were done with lighting (designer Jason Fassl) in the same act, as, while Scarpia sings, "Tosca, you make me turn away from God!" a subtle shift alerts us that the panels screening the artist's work space form a cross looming over him.
The principal singers were all excellent, with all reviewers admiring Cassandra Aaron Black, who sang Floria Tosca with great power and passion. Her stage presence reminded me of Joan Sutherland. Reviews were more mixed for Chaz'men Williams-Ali as Cavaradossi and David Kravitz as Scarpia. We did not think that Williams-Ali's voice was too "light"; he sang with fine strength and expression. Kravitz was a lean and hungry, though sometimes genial, Scarpia and sang the role very well.
Kravitz may have been somewhat handicapped by his costume, which was described elsewhere as looking like a "Star Wars" villain (I'd have guessed "Buck Rodgers" myself--.) However, by the time we saw Tosca come on for the third act, it was clear the costume designs by Kristy Leigh Hall were intended to be symbolic, since her "traveling" outfit is an impractical but highly dramatic red evening gown that looks like it had been dipped in blood.
Although this was the largest orchestra that could be crammed into the Skylight's pit, it was still far smaller than the usual full symphony used to support Puccini, and it was occasionally, though seldom, evident that they were working hard to make up weight, notably at the end of the first act, when the brasses got a bit sharp in the very demanding processional.
A controversial decision that we had no problem with was to have most of the opera sung in English, as the Skylight usually does, but leave the best known arias in Italian. I thought this worked well and I got more out of some scenes, such as Tosca's second act dialog with Scarpia, than I usually do with supertitles.
All in all, a fine production of which the Skylight can be justly proud.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/279083.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Milwaukee Film Festival, "Magicarena"
On Wednesday evening, September 30th, we went to the Fox Bay Cinema to see the Milwaukee Film Festival's screening of "Magicarena," a new film about the Verona Opera Festival. Staged in the city's ancient Roman amphitheater, this is the world's largest outdoor opera venue.
Specifically, the film covers the staging of Giuseppe Verdi's "Aida" as the opening production of the Festival's Centenary season.
Beginning five weeks from opening night, the film shows us the working up of the production, as mainly seen by the rank and file people that make the big show possible. Choristers, dancers, "mime-artists", supernumeraries, and musicians all talk about what it is like to take part in such a venerable yet vital program. We get to see principals, such as the producer/stage director, orchestra conductor, and lead singers in action, but they do not talk to the camera.
"Aida" is among the grandest of "grand operas" and staging it for a hundredth anniversary might tell you it will be a big production, and it is: REALLY big! Not only is there a cast of literally hundreds, this is to be an "Aida for the New Millennium," so the production design by Spanish group "La Fura dels Baus" is quite eclectic. The costumes of the principal singers allude to Classical Egypt, but with light-up accessories. Egyptian storm troopers wear industrial orange body armor, while their Ethiopian opponents wear ragged camouflage. Along the edges of the Nile, mime-artists pose as both crocodiles and banks of reeds. In the scene of Rhadames' triumph, the procession includes mechanical framework camels and elephants marching as cranes construct a giant solar reflector emblematic of the Temple of the Sun. Priests, ranked around the rim of the arena, bear aloft huge flaming occult symbols.
While we were given a very intimate look at the innards of what well may be the most over-the-top production of its type we've ever seen, I was disappointed that we never got to see one whole scene of the opera for its effect. While we got to see substantial parts of some scenes, we never got an idea what it was really like for the audience. I don't know if this was required by the Festival, or if the filmmakers just got so caught up with the fascinating details, there was no time to give the big picture.
Nevertheless, it was a very rare set of glimpses into the making of a truly spectacular production, and we were very glad to have seen it.
In Italian with occasionally amusing English subtitles. (Example: Massimo, the orchestra member, is described as being principal trombone, while he is shown playing the trumpet. "Tromba" is the Italian for trumpet, where as an Italian trombone is --a trombone.)This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/278868.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Off the Wall Theatre, "Tartuffe"
On Sunday evening, September 27th, we went to Off the Wall Theatre to see their production of "Tartuffe." We were particularly interested in this show, since the script was adapted by producer/director Dale Gutzman, and we had been very favorably impressed by his work on last season's "Odyssey". Not a direct translation, Mr. Gutzman had used as source material some of the better regarded English translations, and then recast the story into rhyming couplets,the form originally used by the author, Moliere.
We found the script as presented very clever and engaging, with the rhyme scheme being very well done, with few strained rhymes. When well delivered, the couplet form was not obtrusive and did not distract from the enjoyment of the play.
In Moliere's play, a well-off business man, Orgon (Randall Anderson), falls under the influence of self-anointed holy man, Tartuffe (David Flores). Orgon (whose name in French means "pigeon") subjects his family to all manner of puritanical austerities dictated by Tartuffe, while behind his back, the preacher allows himself every kind of gross indulgence of the flesh, including thinking lustful thoughts of both Orgon's daughter, Mariane (Brittni Hesse), and his wife, Elmire (Jacqueline Roush).
Anderson's Orgon appears to be a stereotypical buttoned-up Republican type, so its a bit surprising that he falls for Flores' street-preacher, who is crude, unwashed,and unkempt. But, as we find, it is a profound emptiness in Orgon's spiritual life that opens him to Tartuffe's manipulations. Eventually, Elmire and her brother, Cleonte (Jeremey C. Welter) succeed in exposing Tartuffe's hypocrisy, which leads to still more trouble for the family.
It takes only a little updating to bring the issues raised by the play into sharp focus, being as these days, issues of separation of church and state, public morality, self-righteousness, and "selfish-righteousness" are current topics.
The play was very funny, edgy, and we enjoyed it. My major criticism would be in the characterization of Tartuffe, who's such a gross slob it's hard to credit Orgon's enrapturement, even given his spiritual void. I find it more effective when Tartuffe is a Jekyll-Hyde character, able to shift from sanctimonious censor to drooling beast and back in the space of a breath. Since the portrayal is much of a piece with the action and script, I would guess that this is as much due to Mr. Gutzman's imagining of the character as to Mr. Flores' acting, choosing to play the character broadly and make the most of Orgon's foolishness.
Also, it must be admitted that not all the actors were equally skillful handling the verse. The principals, Anderson, Flores, Roush, and especially Marilyn White as the clear-eyed maid, Dorine, were naturalistic, and ably avoided the pitfall of becoming "sing song" or letting the rhyme and rhythm become too pronounced. Not all the supporting cast were as able, but that is one of the hazards of choosing to perform a rhymed piece.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/278671.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Milwaukee Film Festival: Song of the Sea
On Sunday morning, September 27th, we went to the Downer Theater to see the Milwaukee Film Festival's showing of "Song of the Sea," a 2014 animated feature by the same group that had done "The Secret of Kells," (2009), which we had enjoyed and admired.
We also enjoyed and admired "Song of the Sea." Unapologetically hand-drawn, two-dimensional, and often highly stylized, "Song of the Sea" is a truly beautiful film.
Contemporary in setting, the story incorporates classic elements of Celtic myth and legend. Bronach (voice by Lisa Hannigan), the wife of lighthouse keeper Conor (Brendan Gleeson), turns out to be a selkie, or seal-woman. About to give birth to their second child, she is compelled to return to the sea, leaving her newborn daughter with her husband. Before going, she exacts a promise from her elder child, Ben (David Rawle), that he will be as good a big brother as he can be. She also gives him a horn or pipe made out of a nautilus shell as keepsake.
Six years later, Ben is experiencing the typical frustrations of a brother with a young sister. In particular, Saoirse (pronounced "Sirsha") is fascinated by the ocean, whereas Ben is morbidly afraid of the element that claimed his mother. Added to his frustration is the fact that Saoirse, though a bright child has never spoken, which gives his grandmother (Fionnula Flanagan) ammunition in her battle with her son, Conor, over taking the children away from the lonely lighthouse to give them a "more normal" upbringing in Dublin.
When Saoirse plays her mother's shell-pipe, magic lights appear that lead her to the chest where Conor has hidden the "selkie coat" that she was born with. She puts it on, and spends a night swimming with the seals, which puts both Conor and Ben into a panic. Reluctantly, Conor agrees to send the children to the city with Granny.
Almost immediately, the children run away, intending to get back home, but are lead by the magic lights to a fairy mound (located in the middle of a Dublin traffic circle!), where they learn that Saoirse will be hunted by the goddess Macha (also Flannigan). Macha was the mother of Mac Lir (here portrayed as a giant). Unable to bear Mac Lir's grief at the loss of his children (in legend, turned to swans for 900 years by their stepmother), Macha stole away his emotions, which had the side effect of turning him to stone. Herself unhinged, Macha sets out to "help" all the spirit beings of Ireland by giving them the same "cure," which can only be undone by the song of the selkie.
The children have but one night in which to evade Macha's clutches, and find a way to get Saoirse (Lucy O'Connell), who still shows no signs of having a voice, to be able to sing the magic song.
What follows is a mythic adventure, as the children try to get home with both help and hindrance from the remaining mystical beings of Ireland. It works out to a beautiful, sad-sweet conclusion.
The artwork is powerful and expressive and does all that is needed to put the story across, amply aided by the voice acting and a sometimes poignant, sometimes rousing musical score.
"Song of the Sea" has our highest recommendation.
The movie was part of the Festival's "kid friendly" programming, and by all standards, it is, though may be intense for younger children.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/278385.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Wednesday, September 16th, 2015|
|Great Lakes Baroque, “Io Vidi in Terra: Reflections of Florence”
On Sunday evening, September 13th, we had the pleasure of attending the inaugural concert of a new performing organization, Great Lakes Baroque, at the St. Joseph’s Chapel on the School Sisters of St. Francis campus.
I say “organization” rather than “group”, since there is no fixed group membership or ensemble. Noted harpsichordist Jory Vinikour is the Artistic Director, who will be assembling performers for each program as needed. For this concert, he put together an ensemble of truly talented and experienced musicians. The group consisted of Mr. Vinikour; Mezzo-soprano Celine Ricci; Countertenor Jose Lemos; lutenist Deborah Fox (theorbo and guitar); and cellist Craig Trompeter. All these people have remarkable recording, performing, and conducting records, and it was a privilege to have them all together in one place.
The evening’s program focused on the works of Claudio Monteverdi and approximate contemporaries of the Italian 17th Century, and opened with Occhi, perche piangete? by Agostino Seffani, a vocal duet accompanied by the instrumentalists. This piece got particularly thrilling effect from the very lively acoustics of the marble chapel. The reverberation of the singers’ voices (although not, curiously, of the instruments) made it sound more like a chorus than a duet, and, although the singers were a few paces from us, as though the voices were coming from the middle of the air.
This was followed by Su la cettra amorosa, (Tarquino Merula), a love song with quite a modern sounding moving line in the guitar and harpsichord, and then a theorbo solo by Ms. Fox, Toccata arpggiata, by Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger.
Next was Se dolce e’l tormento (So sweet is the torment), by Monteverdi, and Io vidi in terra, by Marco da Gagliano. This was followed by a Spagnoletta, by Bernardo Storace, which was a solo by Mr. Vinikour on the chapel’s pipe organ.
Ms. Ricci soloed on L’Eraclito ameroso (Udite, amanti), a song by Barbara Strozzi, one of the few women who’s compositions from this period survive. Dark and passionate in tone, Georgie and I detected elements found in the fado music of Portugal, and in the tango, and suspected there were common roots. The first half ended with Se l’aura spira, by Girolamo Frescobaldi.
Following intermission, we had Canzonetta spirituale, by Merula; L’amante segreto (The secret love), another torch song by Strozzi; and Ciaconna, by Storace, which allowed Mr. Vinikour to exhibit his virtuosic talent on the harpsichord. This was followed by works by Frescobaldi, Benedetto Ferrari, and Steffani. There was an encore, the climactic duet, "I gaze at you, I possess you" from L'incoronazione di Poppea.
This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/278237.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|American Players Theatre, “Othello”
On Saturday, September 12th at Spring Green, we saw an excellent and memorable production of William Shakespeare’s “Othello.”
One of the noteworthy additions to this production was the wordless prologue, depicting the wedding of Othello and Desdemona as a beautiful tribal ceremony performed by Othello’s people. (Digression: it had never occurred to me to wonder whom the pair were married BY. I’d always assumed vaguely that Othello as a “Moor” was from a Muslim background, but his remarks to Desdemona in the last act, “I would not kill thy unprepared soul” do indicate that he is a Christian by that time.)
The play proper begins with Iago’s “I hate the Moor” speech, in which James Ridge shows us his take on the character. By contrast with James DeVita’s Iago, blunt and resentful, this Iago is edgy, eaten up with his jealousy of Othello. Yes, the play is about jealousy, but it is Iago’s jealousy that is the main driver, not the jealousy Othello is coached into by him. Iago is jealous of Othello’s rank and reputation, believes he may have committed adultery with Emilia, and is jealous of Othello’s preferment of Cassio.
Chike Johnson is a fine Othello, a man of powerful passions. He loves passionately, hates passionately, is passionately possessive and jealous when lead to it. His straightforwardness makes him easy for Iago to baffle, since he suspects no wrong motives on his own.
Laura Rook as Desdemona gives us a young woman who is sprightly and willful. We get the impression that she has heretofore twisted her father (Brabantio, Brian Mani) around her finger, and is puzzled and hurt when he rejects her marriage. That she assumes her charm will win over Othello on the subject of Cassio’s rehabilitation plays directly into Iago’s hands.
Colleen Madden plays a properly feisty and bawdy Emilia, in the last act denouncing Othello’s crime and Iago’s treachery with a fine rage. If the theatre had had rafters, they would have shaken.
The other major roles were well filled with Marcus Truschinski as the foolish Roderigo, and Nate Burger as trusting Cassio, both of whom also fall victim to Iago’s masterly manipulations.
Costumes by Matthew LeFebvre were handsome and evocative, and the minimal set, distinguished by its water feature which was cleverly used, worked well for the staging.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/277888.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
We saw the movie “Jimmy’s Hall” at the Downer Theatre. I was curious about this film, which is based on real events that occurred in an era I knew little about, the Irish Free State of the 1920’s and 30’s.
Following the conclusion of the Irish War of Independence of 1919-21, Irish self-rule was established by the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which provided for the establishment of the Irish Free State as a self-governing dominion within the British Commonwealth of Nations. Disagreement over this treaty lead to the Irish Civil War of 1922-23, which left bitter and lasting schisms in the country. (I had vaguely known that there was an Irish Civil War, but it bled together with the War of Independence in my mind--.)
The main character, James Gralton, as an anti-treaty republican, had been forced to flee Ireland in 1922, going to the United States. In 1932, he returned, and tried to pick up life in his home town. The movie is the story of what happened then, with flashbacks to the parallel events of 1922.
At first, Gralton wants a quiet life. But then, responding to the pleas of the young people in town, stultified by lack of opportunity and lack of cultural stimulation in Depression-era Ireland, he agrees to re-open the community hall that was built on his land in the 20’s. While intended to be a peaceful place for educational and cultural activities, the Hall draws the ire of the Catholic Church, which claims a monopoly on all education in Ireland, and the suspicion of the Nationalist government, who view it as a likely focus for IRA-related political activities. While the Church’s fears about “teaching Communism” and “immorality” (i.e., jazz) are mostly unfounded, Gralton can’t help but get drawn into strife between the Nationalist government, representing the landed vested interests, and the IRA representing dispossessed tenants. Gralton and the Hall become the targets of escalating retaliatory action, until, echoing the events of 1922, he becomes a hunted man. Condemned without trial, he was ordered deported on the grounds that he held a United States passport, and was therefore an undesirable alien. Gralton remains the only Irishman ever to have been deported from Ireland*. Even when Ireland ceased to be a dominion in 1937, he was not permitted to return.
The various actors play their roles with passion and honesty, showing us the moral, philosophical, and practical dilemmas they are faced with. Barry Ward as Gralton is very good, but he’s somewhat overshadowed by the villain of the piece, Jim Norton as Father Sheridan, the parish priest. While he rants a good hellfire sermon about saving souls, he also shows that he’s capable of a Stasi-like surveillance of his parishioners, and, in private, frankly admits that it is all about power and control.
The film is beautifully shot in the areas events actually happened, and gives some insight into a rarely portrayed time and place, although somewhat prettified for movie purposes. (Evidently, Gralton was much more of a Communist than shown--.) We found the film very interesting and were glad to have seen it.
(*I found this injustice shocking. Then, this morning, I learned that. Between 1930 and 1945, the United States summarily deported (or “repatriated”) two million persons of Mexican origin, of which 1.3 million were naturalized citizens of the United States.)This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/277508.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Monday, August 17th, 2015|
|The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Sunday evening, our power went out, due to a tree limb down the block falling on the wires. (Probably broken in Friday’s wind, and wilted in Sunday’s heat--). So, instead of sitting home and sweltering in the dark, we moved up our intention to see the new “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” movie and went out to our nearby cinema.
We both enjoyed the movie a lot. The plot is an origin story, something I don’t believe was ever done in the TV show, and shows how CIA operative Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) meet, first as opponents, then as reluctant allies, and finally become (less reluctant) partners. Some of the reviewers have criticized the film as more style than substance, but, in the 1960’s style was what it was all about. (After all, in 1960’s television, you couldn’t have the overt sex and ultraviolence that passes for substance in cinema these days, so you had to have something to attract viewers.) Director Guy Ritchie and his coterie of co-writers did a nice job of capturing the “U.N.C.L.E.” feel, with location establishing shots, and multiple split-screen montages. True to the TV series, although there was considerable violence, notably in the climactic assault on the villains’ lair, it was handled with a light touch and no gore. Also, the bad guys were ultimately defeated by an exercise of wits, and not merely by measuring who has the greatest endurance in a bare-knuckle slugfest—astonishing. This was the thing we appreciated most about the film. Most updates/reboots take the basic premise and then impose modern standards of speed, brutality, and amorality. “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” most avoided these clichés.
Cavill and Hammer do nice jobs with their re-imagined characters. Solo is both a decorated soldier and a notorious art thief, dragooned into the CIA’s service as an alternative to prison. Kuryakin is a veteran of the Soviet Special Forces who volunteered for the KGB, but has unresolved anger issues relative to his father--. Unlike the TV show, where Illya tended to do most of the breaking-and-entering type work, both men share the heavy lifting, although Solo’s path-of-least-resistance style contrasts nicely with Kuryakin’s (often equally effective) bull ahead tactics. The rivalry between the two is fought out in every field from spy gear to fashion and is fun to watch.
The men are well matched by the ladies, Alicia Vikander as an equally reluctant member of the spy team, and Elizabeth Debicki as the exotic and deadly master villain, “Victoria”. Victoria is a great character with wonderful fashion sense, and who, if she were in a James Bond movie, would, in my opinion, go down as one of the great opponents, along with Goldfinger and Scaramanga.
The plot is a 60’s classic nuclear paranoia idea, which plays out well enough, although it must be noted that a good part of the fun comes from noting the 60’s and spy references. (Hearing part of the TV U.N.C.L.E. theme on the radio; characters named for SPECTRE agents; ect.)
The movie ends with U.N.C.L.E. going from an ad-hoc to a formal team, which makes one hope there might be sequels.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/277315.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Irish Fest 2015
On Saturday, the 15th, we made our annual trip to Irish Fest, and, again, had a splendid day. There was a lake breeze, which kept the temperatures on the festival grounds quite pleasant, and there was no rain. (Friday evening had been interrupted by a short but violent storm passing through--.)
This was the 35th Irish Fest, and the organizers had decided to recognize it as a significant anniversary, with the year’s theme being “Living Tradition.” This suited us just fine, as we tend to prefer the more traditional styles of music.
The first group we went to see was Myserk, which draws inspiration from Brittany as well as Ireland. With the somewhat unusual instrumentation of two wooden flutes and guitar, they played a very mellow set with interesting music, which we found very enjoyable. Like a lot of the groups, they had dancers join for some numbers, in this case from a school in St. Paul. I particularly appreciated the dancer’s traditional steps, relatively simple but becoming costumes, and natural hair, which was a nice reversion from the typical overdone dresses and “Irish Dance Hair” many schools use.
Next, we chose Athas, at the relocated Celtic Roots stage. Athas gave us a very nice program of old and new pieces. We picked up some snacks from “The Gaelic Baker,” which were excellent.
At 2:30, we went to take in Blackthorn Folly at the Milwaukee Pub Garden. Appropriately enough, they are a “pub band,” and played a set full of boisterous and amusing pieces, such as “Johnny Jump Up,” which Georgie hadn’t heard before and found particularly fun.
Next, we went to the Tipperary stage to hear Full Set, a band from Ireland making their first appearance at Irish Fest, and I’m sure I am not alone in hoping it will not be their last. With six players (bohdran, fiddle, uleiann pipes, concertina, flute, and guitar), their arrangements have the depth and intricacy that I associate with the great Chieftains, and which I particularly enjoy. We bought one of their CDs.
Lunasa at the Miller Lite Stage was next, and very popular. This is one of the largest performance areas, and we found all the regular seats filled buy the time we got there. Fortunately, there was plenty of seating at the adjacent picnic tables, and we could hear the performance perfectly well, although not see much--.
Shopping was good—there was lots to look at, and Georgie found a nice skirt. We took a break from our usual bridie and sausage roll dinner upon observing (and smelling) that American European Foods had real spit-roasted spanferkel, which we hadn’t had in years. I got a dinner, and Georgie ordered the roasted lamb sandwich. Both were delicious and really hit the spot.
Our last major set of the day was Cherish the Ladies at the Aer Lingus stage. Cherish the Ladies always puts on a splendid show, and this was no exception. It was unfortunate that there was a bit of fuzz in the sound system for this set, but that didn’t keep us from enjoying it, although the experience could have been better.
After that, we wended our way out, sampling enough of the Billy Mitchell Pipes and Drums to be satisfied, and picking up an obligatory box of “Mother Machree’s Irish Strudel” to take home.
This was one of the best Irish Fests musically that we can recall.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/277225.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Fairs and Festivals
On Saturday, August 8th, we went to the Bristol Renaissance Faire. This was an unusual outing for us, since it was Time Traveler’s/Steampunk Invasion weekend, and we decided to go in summer Steampunk attire, rather than the Ren Faire garb we usually wear when attending. There were quite a few other people in Steampunk outfits, including several other members of the Milwaukee Steampunk Society, but we were still in a minority compared to the hordes of attendees in mundane clothes.
The cloudy, relatively cool day made it an ideal day to be at the Faire, and rain the night before had quelled the dust. Turnout was very heavy: when we left about three PM, all nearby parking was full, and there was an unbroken stream of cars still heading into the outer parking areas.
We had a very good time, consisting mostly of a leisurely stroll around the grounds, chatting with acquaintances, shopping, and snacking. Oh, and having our pictures taken. I can’t recall any occasion at which we had so many strangers ask us for pictures. Partly, this may have been due to the understatedness of our outfits, which some of the people said were “elegant”.
Between events like this and Lytheria Halloween, I can’t count the number of perfect strangers that have pictures of us in their collections. I sometimes picture future generations looking at the family photo album—“Who’s that, Grandpa?” “Oh, just some people we met. Great outfits, though!”
On Sunday the 9th, we doubled down, and went to the Wisconsin State Fair. We tended to follow our usual routine there as well, although we did see some things we had never seen before, notably the pig judging. We happened through the pig barn as a couple of classes of spotted sows were being judged, which we were surprised to discover does not just consist of weighing and conformation. The pigs must also be shown, which means walked around the exhibition space. This is done by guiding the animal with a “show stick,” a light rod about three feet long. One guides the pig by tapping the side of its face on the side you want it to turn away from. It’s quite interesting to see a sow being driven in this manner by a boy or girl obviously less massive than the pig, especially when it gets off course.
In the horse barn, we encountered miniature donkeys (about the size of a large dog), something we hadn't known existed, although evidently, unlike miniature horses, the small donkeys are part of the natural size range of the animal, and are still used as beasts of burden in some places.
We got our usual lunch at the Wisconsin Cattlemen’s stand, which I think has some of the best hamburgers on earth. I’m sure they use prime beef, but there’s just something about them other than that.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/276791.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Monday, August 3rd, 2015|
|American Players Theatre, “Merry Wives of Windsor”
Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor” is one of my favorite plays, and this year’s production took full advantage of the many opportunities for over-the-top foolery.
The production was updated to Edwardian times, which worked well, and gave the designers some interesting options with costume and set, although I do not think the inhabitants of Windsor (then or now) would be flattered at being compared to American television’s “Mayberry”, as in the director’s notes. An interesting dimension was added by musical numbers which sounded like period music-hall songs.
Brian Mani plays Sir John Falstaff as a decorated veteran of colonial campaigns, wearing a Boer-War era khaki uniform, and accompanied by his raggle-taggle bad men Bardolph (Wigasi Brant), Nym (Chike Johnson), and Pistol (Jeb Burris). (The men’s broad-brimmed hats, Colt pistols, and Bowie knives give kind of an American West vibe, like Rough Riders gone to the bad--.) Mani’s beard and makeup resemble the late Orson Welles in his age, had he played Falstaff as an old man, and Mani’s characterization, sometimes pompous, sometimes threatening, and sometimes pathetic, was always spot on.
Falstaff, ever self-deluding about his charms, casts eyes both lecherous and covetous on two wives of wealthy commoners, Alice Ford (Deborah Staples) and Margaret Page (Colleen Madden) whose wiles are more than up to the task of making a fool of Falstaff, while initially hiding the goings-on from their respective husbands.
James Ridge, as the easy-going Page, has little to do but be amiable, except when plotting against his wife to marry their daughter to the man of his choice (Robert R. Doyle, the diffident Slender). On the other hand, David Daniel, as Ford, has a major bit of scene-chewing to do as the husband “possessed of a fine devil of jealously,” and takes full advantage of the opportunity.
Although Falstaff is the star, Daniel’s Ford dominates the scenes he is in, whether laughing, crying, and grimacing in his solo rants as “Master Brook,” or in destroying his own house hunting for Falstaff. I have often heard the somewhat vulgar phrase “going apeshit,” but never seen it done on stage until now. When Ford, having emptied the buck-basket fruitlessly searching for Falstaff, sits in it, rocks, and literally screams with rage and frustration, it was truly primal. The audience roared its appreciation.
The supporting cast was also excellent. I give full marks to Tim Gittings for his Welsh accent and delivery as Sir Hugh, the parson, even though American audiences don’t find Welshmen as easily funny as comic Frenchmen like Dr. Caius (Jonathan Smoots). Sarah Day was a lively and youthful Mistress Quickly, and gave a very good rendition of a song as well. Eric Parks, playing the aptly named Peter Simple, gave a charming dimension to the character by hugging everyone he meets, no matter whom. I was so very glad that the Theatre took a stab at actually presenting Hugh and Caius’ revenge prank on the Host of the Garter (Chris Klopatek), which is often cut, although the duel scene that sets it up is always left in--.
The climax in Windsor Forest was very nicely done, with period-appropriate disguises, effective lights, and a major musical number when the ‘fairies’ discover Falstaff.
This was a thoroughly delightful evening at the theatre, and has our highest recommendation.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/276508.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|American Players Theatre, “Pride and Prejudice”
Saturday, August 1st, we went to American Players Theatre for a “double-header.”
We were very interested to see American Players take on the Joseph Hanreddy-J.R. Sullivan adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, which we had also seen done by the Milwaukee Rep. APT made the play their own, and did a marvelous job with it.
The set was very spare, with only some chairs and one desk/piano serving to delineate all the locations, with some of the action spreading off into the gardens at the sides of the stage. Costuming was referential rather than strictly accurate, but generally attractive and supported the story more than detracting. (I do, however, seriously envy Darcy’s long blue riding coat--.)
Kelsey Brennan, as Elizabeth Bennet, alternatively crashed against and withdrew from Mr. Darcy (Marcus Truschinski) like the surf battering a promontory. Tall, handsome, and as rigid in his carriage as in his principles, Truschinski was the perfect Darcy, his face a frowning cliff that was a marvelous setting against which Elizabeth’s emotional rises and falls play out. (I had to wonder if Mr. Truschinski needs to have his face massaged after the play, since he has to frown through two hours and fifty-nine minutes of a three-hour show--.)
Of course, Sarah Day was the only choice for Mrs. Bennett, and played the shallow and foolish matron with such unaffected energy that she remains loveable, and it is understood why her daughters and husband stick by her. James Ridge as the long-suffering Mr. Bennett showed us his sardonic humor with more of an edge than some we have seen, which contrasts nicely with Day’s Mrs.
Standout performances among the supporting cast included Chris Klopatek (reviewed herein as Bertie Wooster at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre) as unctuous Mr. Collins, Melisia Pereya as a wonderfully bratty Lydia Bennett, and Tracy Michelle Arnold, who gave her Lady Catherine de Bourgh a nice physical edginess. The other Bennett girls were well represented, with Laura Rook quite fine as the saintly Jane, Aidaa Peerzada pouting well as Kitty, and Elyse Edelman getting off a number of good humorous interjections as the bookish Mary.
It really was a delightful show, and made even the fact that we ended up in the one section that had full sun all afternoon bearable.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/276341.html. Please comment there using OpenID.