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

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Monday, April 15th, 2019
4:18 pm
Early Music Now, The Mystical Arts of Tibet

On Saturday, April 13, we went to the Tripoli Shrine Center to experience the program, “The Mystical Arts of Tibet,” presented by monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery, re-established in India in 1969 after having been driven out of Tibet by the Chinese invasion of 1959. This group follows the Dalai Lama and his teachings. I’m copying the program descriptions, since they give a sense of what it was like better than I could, although I’m adding comments:

Sacred Music Sacred Dance for World Healing

Nyensen: Invocation of the Forces of Goodness

The monks invoke creative awareness within themselves and the audience. They enhance a positive environment as a prelude to the performance of Sacred Music Sacred Dance. (The instrumentation includes drums, cymbals, chimes, “high horns:, which resemble conch shells, and “long horns,” which are a kind of telescoping brass alpenhorn. I can imagine that the sound of these echoing in the mountains would be quite scalp-tingling.)

Tentru Yultra: Purifying the Environment and its Inhabitants

Chanting in multiphonic tradition, the monks hold up a mirror and draw into it the reflection of the world and its living beings. They then purify these through sound and meditation, as symbolized by the act of pouring water from a sacred vase over the mirror. (The monks have great lungs. Three singers easily filled the hall with LOUD singing. They also know the art of throat-singing, which adds a most profound effect to the singing.)

Shanak Garcham: Dance of the Black Hat Masters

This ancient dance for the elimination of negative energies is in the style known as drakpo, or “wrathful.” The implements held by the dancers symbolize the transcendence of false ego-identification. The movements symbolize the joy and freedom of seeing reality in its truth. (The implements include ritual daggers and skull cups. These sorts of rituals gave the Tibetan Buddhism an unjustified sinister cast to Western viewers. I have seen ignorant pulp fiction from the 1930’s that used Tibetan “black hat priests” as devil-worshipping bad guys--.)

Taksal: Intense Encounters of the Third Degree

A demonstration of the tradition of Tibetan monastic inquiry. Two monks engage one another in a process leading to the deeper levels of spiritual experience, enhancing the mind of enlightenment. (This was quite amusing to watch: The challengers in the debate stand and move around, using a ritual hand-clap when they have made a point. The ‘defenders’ remain seated and respond verbally. Georgie and I both agreed that debates would be more entertaining if the participants had to dance--.)

 Senggey Garcham: The Snow Lion Dance

The Tibet snow lion symbolizes the fearless and elegant quality of the enlightened mind. Sacred activities are believed to create a healthy and harmonious environment where all beings, including animals, rejoice. (The Tibetan Snow Lion has white fur with green spots. It is a two-person version of the Chinese Lion Dance. Impressive, since the dancers have to manipulate the creature’s eyes, mouth, tongue and tail while keeping up with pretty fast music.)

Intermission

Durdak Garcham: Dance of the Skelton Lords

To remind the world of the ephemeral nature of all things, two monks appear as the forces of good manifested by Cemetery Lords.  (The white of skeletal bone stands for wisdom. Another sinister-appearing dance that’s actually quite jolly.)

Dakzin Tsarchord: A Melody to Sever the Ego Syndrome

Drawn from the 11thcentury female mystic Machik Labdon, this traditional meditative music is considered among the most hauntingly beautiful from the Land of the Snows. Its purpose is to free the mind from ego-clinging habits. (The most melodious sounding piece, to the Western ear.)

Khadro Tenshug Garcham: Dance of the Celestial Travelers

Five dancers symbolize the five elements and five wisdoms. With three musicians, they invoke the sounds and movements of the Celestial Travelers, mystic beings from another world. These spirits visit our world in times of stress and danger, bringing with them the creative energy that inspires harmony and peace. (Our performance had only four dancers, since one monk did not get a visa. If pacifist Buddhist monks can’t get visas, things are getting ridiculous.)

Sangso Shijo: Auspicious Song for World Healing

The monks send forth smoke, which the wind carries to the ten directions as a force invoking peace, harmony and the ways of creative living.

As part of their stay in Milwaukee, the monks also created a sand mandala at City Hall. Georgie and I went to see it on Friday morning the 12th. We got there before the monks, so viewing of the not-yet completed mandala was good. Only a portion of the borders remained to be done, so the most intricate and colorful portions were finished. The design was about four feet across, for scale.

This was a very interesting and informative program about a culture we have had little exposure to. We enjoyed it very much and were very glad to have the opportunity to take it in.

This entry was originally posted at https://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/338170.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Wednesday, April 10th, 2019
3:26 pm
Bolshoi in Cinema, The Golden Age

Sunday afternoon, the 7th, we went to see the Bolshoi in Cinema presentation of The Golden Age (L’Age d’Or), a ballet to the music of Dimitri Shostakovich. This version had a libretto from 1982 by Yury Grigorovich and Isaak Glikman. The original version, from 1930,  about a Soviet soccer team being nobbled by evil capitalists, was censored and badly reviewed, which resulted in Shostakovich refusing to allow the ballet to be revived in his lifetime.

The current version, set in 1920, begins with a village festival. Rita, a local young woman (Nina Kaptsova), meets Boris, the leader of the “Agit-Prop Theatre for Working Youths” (Ruslan Skvortsov).  The clean-living Komsomol troup performs a skit/dance in which they sweep away clown versions of reactionary villains, a Jew, a Capitalist, and a Czarist.

Later on, they meet at “The Golden Age,” a nightclub where Rita, as “Mademoiselle Margot,” is featured in a tango-like dance number with Yashka, a.k.a. “Monseiur Jacques” (Mikhail Lobukhin). The nightclub is a louche place, reminiscent of the Kit-Kat Club from Cabaret, complete with dancing M.C. (Dmitry Dorokhov).  It is frequented by “NEPmen”, small scale capitalists tolerated under the Soviet New Economic Program, who are questionable sorts later to stamped out under Stalin. The flapper/vamp Lyuska (Maria Allash) allows herself to be “picked up” by a couple of aging Nepmen who fancy themselves boulevardiers, and takes them to the club.

After the Jacques and Margot dance number, Boris shows up and Rita goes to him, angering Yashka. Yashka goes to hang out with the criminal gang he is secretly the leader of. Lyuska leads her swains into the gang’s clutches, and they are beaten, robbed, and murdered. Emboldened, Yashka goes back to the club and tries to have Boris thrown out. Boris shrugs off the bouncers and cows the entire club with his righteous anger. Rita intervenes to prevent further violence, and the club’s denizens slink away.

In act two, Yashka tries to win back Rita, to no avail. He rallies his gang and hunt Boris and Rita down. Rita goes for help, while Boris is overcome and beaten. Boris’ friends arrive in time to save him.

Rita has to perform at the club that evening, not knowing that Yashka is the gang leader. After the number, she tells Yashka she is quitting. He tries to demand her love. Overcome with jealousy, Lyuska attacks Yashka with a knife, and is killed fighting him. Yashka tries to flee with Rita as hostage, but he is caught and captured by Boris and his friends. There is a general celebration by the “good guys.”

Shaostakovich’s music for this piece is wonderful, and the Bolshoi’s dancing frankly amazing. The four principals are as good as any dancers we have ever seen, and they astonish with the demanding choreography. The film noir libretto is just fun, and gives an excellent basis for the very stylish parti-colored costume theme (almost everyone except Rita and Boris is in half-black and half-white), and the Expressionist set design, where everything is looming and nothing is perpendicular, reminiscent of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

This entry was originally posted at https://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/337904.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
3:25 pm
Milwaukee Opera Theatre/UWM: La Clemenza di Tito

Saturday evening, we went to the Zelazo Center on the UWM Campus for the joint production of Mozart’s opera, La Clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus). This late opera by Mozart is an opera seria in two acts composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to an Italian libretto by Caterino Mazzolà, after Pietro Metastasio. It was commissioned in order to celebrate the coronation of Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor, as King of Bohemia, and was first performed in Prague in the year 1791, and was the first Mozart opera to be performed in England, in 1806.

The story is built on some fragments from The Lives of the Caesars by the Roman writer Suetonius, and concerns the Emperor Titus Vespasian, who had inherited the crown of Rome from his father, Vespasian, who had deposed Vitellus during the Year of the Four Emperors.

Vitella (Nicole McCarty), daughter of Vitellus, has been in love with Tito, and had hoped to marry him and regain the crown her father had lost. “Tito” (sung by Emanuel Camacho) loves Queen Berenice of Jerusalem, but the Roman Senate will not countenance his marriage to her since she is a foreigner. Instead of coming back to Vitella, Tito determines that he will marry the virtuous Servilia (Megan McCarthy), as being the best and most deserving candidate. This enrages Vitella, who pushes her current lover, Sesto (Katie Gruell) to stage a coup and assassinate Tito.

Meanwhile, Servilla and her beau, Annio (Kaisa Hermann), make known to Tito that they love one another, although they declare that they will set aside their love for the good of Rome if Tito requires it. Instead, Tito releases Servilla to marry Annio, and declares that he himself will officiate at their wedding.

Imperial representatives come to Vitella to let her know that the Emperor has decided to marry her. She is struck with horror, but has no way to call Sesto back. As the act ends, word comes that the Capitol is on fire, there is fighting in the streets, and Tito has been killed.

When the second act begins, Sesto, aghast at his crimes, seeks out Vitella. Publio (Cameron Hendrickson) arrives with the news that Tito is alive: the blow struck by Sesto in the rioting instead struck a co-conspirator, Lentulo, who survived and named Sesto. Publio arrests Sento, and takes him away for trial by the Senate. Vittella worries that Sento will name her as the instigator of the plot. However, Sesto takes all the blame, even before the devastated Tito himself. Sesto is found guilty. The Senate passes a sentence of death, which Tito must ratify. In anger at his false friend, Tito at first affirms the sentence, then withdraws it.

Meanwhile, Vitella is having a crisis of conscience, represented by four “shadow Vitellas” representing her good and bad side, who argue the situation out. Finally, believing Sesto still condemned, she rushes to Tito and confesses herself. Though shocked by this revelation, he pardons Vitella, Sesto, and the other conspirators. The opera ends with a chorus in which the citizens praise Tito’s goodness and mercy.

We enjoyed this performance very much, for all that it was done on a bare stage. There were colorful costumes allusive to a rather late Mediterranean medieval milieu more than Classical Rome (Titus became emperor in AD 79--), with the exception of Tito’s outfit which seemed to have come from a production of Turandot.

The singing was uniformly very good. Mr. Camacho has a light tenor voice that rode easily above the choruses. The outstanding voice of the evening was that of Ms. Hermann as Annio: her strong, sweet  tones well suited the purity of the character. Acting was generally one-note, but that’s what the libretto calls for and was suffcient: Vitella scheming, Sesto hangdog, Tito, Annio, and Servilla various values of virtuous, etc.

The UWM Orchestra was conducted by maestro Jun Kim, and did a flawless job with Mozart’s score.

This entry was originally posted at https://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/337522.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
3:24 pm
Marquette Theater, The Rivals

Friday evening, April 5th, we went to the Helfaer Theater on the Marquette University campus to see The Rivals, a Restoration comedy play by Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

The play is set in the spa city of Bath, where heiress Lydia Languish (Cambryelle Getter) is residing with her aunt, Mrs. Malaprop (Brielle Richmond). In defiance of her aunt, Lydia, who is addicted to romantic novels, is receiving the suit of “Ensign Beverly” whom she fondly believes is a penniless orphan. She looks forward with great anticipation to an eventual dramatic elopement with the handsome soldier. (The audience laughed at some of the titles Lydia was reading, but those were all real books of the time, even The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett--). However, Beverly in reality is Captain Jack Absolute (Nick Parrott).  Jack is the son of Sir Anthony Absolute (Will Knox), who is both wealthy and very much alive. However, Jack is wooing Lydia by playing to her penchant for “Romance.”

Both young people are revolted when informed by their respective elders that advantageous marriages have been arranged for them. When Jack discovers that Lydia is his intended, he goes along with his father’s plan, subject to the covert consideration that he must try not to let on to Lydia who he really is—his own rival for her hand. In addition, there is the interference of Jack’s friend and neighbor, country squire Bob Acres (Brian Miller), who also fancies himself a rival for Lydia, and Sir Lucius O’Trigger (Dan O’Keefe), a fire-eating Irishman who thinks he’s been having a passionate correspondence with Lydia, no knowing that his letters have been redirected to her aunt by Lydia’s maid, Lucy (Agnes Connolly).

The play also has an entertaining second plot, involving Jack’s good hearted but thickheaded friend, Faulkland (Jackson Hoemann), who loves, and is loved by Sir Anthony’s ward, Julia (Emma Knott), but keeps sabotaging their relationship due to jealousy and self-doubt.

This was a nicely mounted production, with set pieces shifting in and out to form the streets and parks of Bath, and Sir Anthony’s and Mrs. Malaprop’s houses. Costuming and wigs were all very well done. The acting got the story across and was quite funny. The company was very energetic—in fact, too much so at times. Ms. Getter never “languishes” although she should. In the speech where she is bidding farewell to her “most sentimental elopements! — so becoming a disguise! — so amiable a ladder of ropes! — Conscious Moon — four horses — Scotch parson — with such surprise to Mrs. Malaprop — and such paragraphs in the newspapers!” she is sitting bolt upright with indignation, whereas she should have been swooning and lamenting to the skies. Sheridan’s character of Mrs. Malaprop (a lineal descendent of Shakespeare’s Dogberry), with her tortured vocabulary, is one of his most famous creations, and needs to be handled more delicately than the broad comedy would suggest. Ms. Richmond’s unnecessary and rigidly declamatory style of speaking robbed her lines of nuance and quite a few of the gag lines were missed by the audience. On the other hand, her stage presence was wonderful, with her “I am the Queen of all I survey” manner.

This play is a favorite of ours, and we were very glad to see it. We thought the troupe did it justice.

This entry was originally posted at https://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/337336.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
3:23 pm
Dumbo (2019)

On Friday, March 29th, we went to see the new (mostly) live-action adaptation of Disney’s Dumbo, the latest of the Walt Disney animated films to get this treatment (next up: Aladdin--). With direction by Tim Burton, you expect it’s going to be a bit different, and expectations are not disappointed.

That isn’t to say that the movie is 100% successful. I have the feeling that, on the one hand, the movie may be too scary for children to enjoy, while on the other hand, being too “corny” for adults.

I say the movie is “mostly” live action, since the baby elephant, Dumbo, is totally CGI. This is the other area where the movie does not quite make it—CGI Dumbo does not quite get all the way over the “uncanny valley.” Of course Dumbo has to have the oversized ears which supposedly make it possible for him to fly, but this Dumbo has also been morphed to make him resemble the cartoon Dumbo. The CGI elephant has two big, blue, human-looking eyes, which are both on the front of his head, to make him more expressive. Resultantly, the head is an odd shape, and the elephant’s trunk seems disproportionately small. The term “mutant” was not in general use when the original Dumbo hit the screen, but now, Dumbo is an obvious mutant elephant, not just one with cutely large ears.

The original plot line, involving Dumbo’s separation from his mother (which Georgie recalled as being adequately dramatic when she saw it as a girl--), is preserved, but is hyped up by adding on the consequences of Dumbo’s fame, when the struggling Medici Brothers’ Circus is bought out by impresario V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who operates a 1920’s-ish, carny styled amusement park called “Wonderland,” a Burtonesque proto-Disneyland. The creepy Vandevere, who is on the hook for money to the even creepier banker, Remington (Alan Arkin), pushes too hard, too fast for a thrilling success, takes risks with Dumbo and his people, and orders the death of Dumbo’s mother to get her out of the way.  When the elephants’ escape is engineered, Vandevere has a “mad villain” moment that initiates the fiery destruction of the park.

A human-interest plot is also grafted on, semi-successfully. Colin Farrell plays Holt Farrier, a circus trick-riding star, who has come back from World War I minus an arm, to find that the circus has sold off the horses to make ends meet. His wife has died from the Spanish Influenza, leaving his two children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) to be looked after by the circus “family”. This is OK with Joe, but Milly, who wants to be a scientist, has other dreams. Since Holt has no other prospects, they have to stay with the circus, and he reluctantly accepts the job of keeper of the elephants, which ultimately makes him, and by extension the children, responsible for the newborn Dumbo. I initially had sympathy for Holt and Milly, and their issues do continue to be a part of the script, they just get short shrift once the action starts to roll.

Details of the circus life were researched at Wisconsin’s own Circus World Museum, whose pictorial archives informed much of the Medici Brothers Circus appearance, notably the circus people’s clothing on and off stage.  This made the cast look quite authentic. I wasn’t as taken by the appearance of the circus train. While the cars were decorated with what looked like authentic period art, it was presented as so weathered as to be barely visible, which I found not credible. Even for a down-at-heel circus, 1) Paint is relatively cheap; 2) The roustabouts and other workers have time to work on things like that during the winter; and 3) This was a main method of advertising, essential to the circus.

Overall, we enjoyed the movie, but I do not think it was entirely successful.

This entry was originally posted at https://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/336959.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Wednesday, February 27th, 2019
3:43 pm
Royal Shakespeare Company: Troilus and Cressida

On Tuesday evening, February 26th, we went to see the movie theater presentation of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, in a new presentation by the Royal Shakespeare Company. We were interested since this is a rare Shakespeare. (We saw it when American Players Theater did it in 2012, but haven’t seen it go by since--.) Upon seeing it again, I was reminded that this is a really talky script—lots of great lines, but there are lots and LOTS of lines overall. The RSC production was another post-apocalyptic setting (“Mad Max” specifically referenced in the pre-show talks), which worked pretty well, and gave the producers the opportunity to cast women in a number of traditionally male roles, for example Agamemnon (Suzanne Bertish), Ulysses (Adjoa Andoh), Aeneas (Amanda Harris), and Thersites (Sheila Reid). In one of the most interesting bits of casting, the role of Cassandra, the prophetess cursed by Apollo so that no one believes her, was played by Charlotte Arrowsmith, an actress who is deaf and does not speak. The scenes in which she is frantically trying to warn the Trojans by signs and non-verbal sounds, were amazingly effective and affecting as they totally fail to appreciate what she is trying to tell them.

There were some interesting emphases in this production that I hadn’t recalled as much from prior shows, notably the scheming between Nestor (Jim Hooper) and Ulysses to get Achilles back in the fight. In the Illiad, and in the version of the play I am familiar with, Hector kills Patroclus believing him to be Achilles, which motivates Achilles to revenge. In this show, her plot to move Achilles to action by rigging a lottery so that the chance to duel Hector falls to his rival, Ajax, doesn’t work, and in the next day’s battle, Ulysses assassinates Patroclus, and blames his death on Hector. This takes Ulysses’ cunning and cynicism rather farther than I thought justified. Also, she kills him with a pistol, which was jarring since no other guns are used in the show.

The title characters, played by Gavin Fowler and Amber James, are fun to watch and carry their parts well, although the characters’ motivations are mercurial. Oliver Ford Davies as the voluble Pandarus, was almost too effective, as I got tired of listening to him almost immediately. In this case, the fault is with Shakespeare, not the actor. Every major character seems to have at least one notable rant, and those by Ulysses, Agamemnon, and Troilus are particularly wordy.

That said, this was an interesting production, and we were glad to have seen it. The play was further enlivened by a musical score by percussionist Evelyn Glennie, which helped develop a nicely barbarous atmosphere.

This entry was originally posted at https://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/336786.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
3:41 pm
Alita: Battle Angel

On Sunday, February 24th, we went to see Alita: Battle Angel, the latest CGI-enhanced live action movie to be adapted from a popular manga.

The world is a cyberpunk dystopia. Alita is a “total-replacement” cyborg, a human brain in an otherwise robotic body. Her comatose head and still-functioning life-support core are found in a junk pile by cybersurgeon Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz) and reactivated after he attaches them to a new body—the body he had built for his young daughter who died before she could use it. The cyborg is amnesic, not remembering her name or background, so Ido calls her by his daughter’s name, Alita. If nothing else, Alita (Rosa Salazar) proves to have exceptional combat reflexes, and ingrained knowledge of a long-lost martial arts form. She establishes a friendship with Hugo (Keean Johnson) a cheerful hustler doing anything he can to get along in the post-apocalyptic slum that Earth has become three hundred years after an apparently mutually destructive war with its breakaway Martian colony.  Alita runs afoul of cyborg criminals, develops a rivalry with ruthless bounty hunters, and becomes targeted for what remains of her advanced technology.

Although there’s a lot of “battle” in the story, I was impressed by the complexity of the plot and the characterization. None of the main characters are only what they seem at first meeting, with hidden, usually, but not exclusively, darker sides.  I was also impressed with the visualization of the ruined world, and with the realization of cyborg combat, with its inhuman speed and power.  I had wondered if the CGI enlargement of Salazar’s eyes (what I call “anime eyes”) would make the movie too “uncanny valley”, but I got used to it quite rapidly, and I thought the effect worked well.

I enjoyed the movie, and with its obvious sequel-hook ending, would go see a second installment, if there is one. It seems to have done better than Ghost in the Shell, interesting considering that the same “whitewashing” complaints leveled at Ghost could apply to this one: in manga, Alita sometimes has an Asian skin tone, and Asiatic eye-shapes, but not a peep about this film that I saw. (Although apparently there was some criticism to that effect.)

Of course, a lot of criticism needs to be taken with a grain of salt, and with context. Some of the early criticism I’ve seen poked at the scene in which, after Alita’s first, girlish, cyborg body is wrecked (the one built by Ido), and she is hooked into a salvaged higher-tech Martian chassis, its nanotech reconfigures itself into a more mature body shape. People who critique this are missing that the youthful body was not her body, and, when we finally see her in flashbacks, she looks then as she does later: so, you really have to know the full story to critique sensibly.

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3:39 pm
Milwaukee Art Museum: Bouguereau & America

On Friday, February 22nd, we went to see the current exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum, Bouguereau & America. This exhibit explores the exceptional popularity of the French artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau with American patrons during the last half of the 19th century.

Bouguereau was one of the last great “classical” artists. As a member of the French Academy, he made his name creating “historical” paintings (which could include Biblical or mythological subjects), which was what the Academy approved. As he noted, his “frantic” paintings did not sell as well as “Venuses and Cupids,” so he painted a lot of pretty subjects that were very popular with purchasers who wanted works of art of obvious quality that would nevertheless not disturb their guests. I can somewhat understand this: Bouguereau’s Orestes,* which shows the title character being tormented by the Furies, is a great painting, but I wouldn’t want it in my dining room.

There’s no question that Bouguereau was a great painter. His composition, draughtsmanship, anatomy, polish, and color sense are all exceptional. He was a skillful portraitist. It’s really only in his subject matter that he falls at all short. Besides “Venuses and Cupids,” which, due the frequently nude subjects, did well with male collectors, being religious, he also painted many attractive Virgins with Child, and similar subjects. He also had an interesting line in what are referred to as “Little Beggars,” which feature pretty, well-fed, unlikelily well-dressed, and impossibly clean “poor” children as beggars or peasants. These were popular with female buyers who were interested in pieces showing compassion or sentiment.  (In fairness to Bougereau, can you recall ever seeing a painting where the subject’s feet were not clean? I mean, not even dusty, let alone muddy? I can’t--.) I had the impression that these were the 19th century equivalent of the “big-eyed children” of Margaret Keane in the mid-20th century.

By 1900, the end of the show’s period, new styles of painting, such as Impressionism and Realism, were making inroads with critics and collectors. However, Bougereau continued his impressive output until his death in 1905 at age 79. It is estimated that he finished more than 800 paintings in his lifetime. The notes at the exhibition show that his works were the foundation of many important private art collections, which went on to become public or academic gallery collections.

We were very glad to see this interesting exhibit. The exhibit continues through May 12th.

*Orestes, son of Agamemnon, gets one of the rawest deals in classical myth. Filial duty requires him to avenge his father’s murder. However, his mother, Clytemnestra, is guilty of it, and, when he kills her, he is punished by the Furies for the sin of matricide.

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Monday, February 11th, 2019
2:13 pm
Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi

On Monday, February 4th, we went to see Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, a film from India about Lakshmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi, who famously led her kingdom in rebellion against the British in the time of the Sepoy Mutiny. We were somewhat amused by the disclaimer at the beginning admitting that liberties were taken with dates, places, persons, and costumes (usually true of any historical film), but, based on Georgie’s research, she said that the movie was 75% true, and true to the spirit of Manikarnika’s story.

Manikarnika (played by Kangana Ranaut) was the given name of the woman who would one day become Queen of Jhansi. As a revered freedom fighter in Indian history, she is given a saintly background. The soothsayer who reads her destiny lines shortly after birth says she is destined for great things. When we first see her as a young woman, she is fearlessly hunting a tiger with bow and arrow, and when the tiger falls over inches from reaching her, we learn that she has only drugged it, so the troublesome beast can be transported to the “deep jungle” rather than being killed. We also learn that she is a swordswoman who can take on her two foster-brothers AND their teacher with the sword and beat them to a standstill. Also, when she comes to Jhansi as the bride of the Maharajah (Jishu Sengupta ), she is the only one who can tame and ride the Maharaja’s fierce stallion.  She refuses to bow to the British agent, Captain Gordon (Edward Sonnenblick) when he comes to call, and takes back livestock stolen by soldiers from poor villagers. (The British are the major evil guys in this film, and nastier about it than they were in real life.)

Everything doesn’t go her way, though. Her newborn son dies, and her husband soon after. They have adopted the son of the Maharaja’s poorer cousin as substitute heir, which upsets his other cousin, who thinks he has a better claim, and goes to connive with the British. After Maharaja Gangadar’s death, the British troops surprise the palace, evict Lakshmi and her adopted son, and burn her library out of spite. (See, I said, evil--.)

She is able to reclaim her palace once the Mutiny breaks out, and her nemesis, Captain Gordon, is killed by mutineers. The movie is honest in that British women and children are murdered by the mutineers and other rebels, but shows that this is in part done by Lakshmi Bai’s enemies in order to discredit her.

Manikarnika raises a militia, including women, to defend Jhansi against the much bigger British force, and does well until treachery exposes a weakness in the fortress defenses. In order to escape, she leaps from the battlements on her horse, carrying her foster son. (This did, in fact happen. Unlike in the movie, however, the horse did not survive it. She and the boy were picked up by loyalists who spirited them away.)

She continues to rally resistance, until Indian and British troops meet in pitched battle at Kotah-ki-Serai.  Wounded and surrounded, Lakshmi Bai steps into a fire in order to deny the British their goal of displaying her head on a pike. (Again, loosely based on history: she is reputed to have lit her own funeral pyre, so that the enemy could not desecrate her body.) The movie ends with a quotation from the memoires of her foe, General Sir Hugh Rose (Richard Keep), who wrote that she was “the bravest and best military leader of the rebels. A man among mutineers."

This epic movie was very grand and beautiful to watch, with great spectacle, handsome settings, and beautiful costuming and makeup. The acting is very good as well.  Ms. Ranaut in particular makes an excellent action hero, and I was impressed with her willingness to growl and glower in battle (Western actresses do not seem to like making “ugly” faces, no matter the situation--.)

The film is not without its flaws. Scripted in Hindi, the dialog given to the English speakers is very stilted, and extra points to actors like Mr. Keep for being straight-faced. The cannon in the battle scenes do not recoil--. Oh, well--.

The subject matter was of interest to us as Georgie had researched Lakshmi Bai for a presentation at TeslaCon, and we found the film interesting and entertaining.

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2:11 pm
Stan & Ollie

On Sunday, February 3rd, we went to see Stan & Ollie, which is a film about the great comedians Laurel and Hardy, and their last performances in a tour of English, Scottish, and Irish music halls and theatres. As happened (and still happens) with a lot of artists and entertainers, the two were not in good financial shape. Unlike some of their contemporaries, they had not had an ownership share in the movies they made, and their contracts with the notoriously stingy Hal Roach, which covered a majority of their career, paid no royalties. This continues to be a source of tension between the two. Add to that previous unsuccessful marriages and expensive divorces, and other Hollywood lifestyle issues such as Hardy’s gambling habit, and problems result. The tour deal they hope will be the start of a comeback that will launch their pet project, a Laurel and Hardy “Robin Hood” movie.

The tour does not initially start with a bang, which gives the two plenty of time and reason to hash over old times and old grievances. Although a clever marketing campaign turns the tour into a success, the stresses eventually result in what may turn out to be a complete fracture of the relationship.

While overall rather poignant, the movie does make you laugh, particularly in the restagings of some of the duo’s routines. Steve Carell as Laurel and John O’Reilly as Hardy recreate the comedian’s comic timing and execution perfectly, as well as looking uncannily like the originals through the miracles of modern makeup (and possibly CGI--). Seeing them in action reminded me how good Laurel and Hardy were: the subtle skill that could make Laurel peeling a hard-boiled egg while Hardy looked on, be funny.  Their comedy was based on situations, movement, expression, and timing, but was never vulgar, crude, or mean. I was very glad to have seen the movie, since it brought it all back to me.

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Tuesday, February 5th, 2019
12:37 pm
Milwaukee Symphony, Der Fliegende Hollander

On Sunday, January 13th, we went to the Marcus Center to hear the Milwaukee Symphony’s concert presentation of Richard Wagner’s opera, Der Fliegende Hollander, as conducted by Maestro Edo de Waart. We enjoyed this performance very much.

Unlike prior opera performances, this one was not “semi-staged,” although the principal singers did use movement, gesture, and interaction in presenting their roles, and there were constantly shifting atmospheric projected images on two sail-like screens suspended over the orchestra.

The singing was very fine. Ryan McKinney in the role of The Dutchman, Melody Moore as Senta, Peter Rose as Daland, and A. J. Glueckert as Erik were all excellent, as were supporting principals, and the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus.

Maestro de Waart on the podium was not flashy, but conducted the music and singing flawlessly. For me, just hearing the wonderful overture, which begins with the dramatic “Dutchman” theme, and ends on the same note of poignant longing that ends the opera, was worth the price of admission alone, and the rest of the performance was equally good.

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12:35 pm
Mary, Queen of Scots

On Friday, January 11, we went to see the new movie, Mary, Queen of Scots, which is very loosely based on the life of the unhappy Queen. The movie stars Saoirse Ronan as Mary, and Margot Robbie as her cousin Elizabeth I of England. Unlike other stories about Mary, as, for example, the plot of Donizetti’s opera, or Schiller’s play, the movie plot focuses on the period from Mary’s return to Scotland after being widowed to her eventual flight from Scotland into England and the dubious sanctuary provided by Elizabeth.

Mary returns to Scotland after the death of her French husband to claim the throne of Scotland, a move that is unpopular with Scotland’s Protestant population. (John Knox, founder of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland (played here by David Tennant) is one of the Queen’s most vehement critics.) Her imperious ruling style soon makes her politically unpopular as well, and, when she dismisses her half-brother, James, Earl of Murray, who had been her regent, from her council, an insurrection follows.  That the insurrection was partially funded (according to the movie) by Robert Cecil, Elizabeth’s Secretary of State (Thom Petty), in the cause of destabilizing Mary’s reign.  He hardly needed to, since the Scots prove perfectly capable of intrigue, murder, and treason on their own.

The climax of the movie is the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth (generally believed to be apocryphal--), wherein Mary seals her fate by telling Elizabeth, “I will not be scolded by an inferior,” to which Elizabeth prophesies that Mary’s strengths, including her beauty and her courage, will be her downfall. This, of course, proved true as Mary’s beauty and “romantic” situation kept drawing would-be champions out of the woodwork, a situation Elizabeth could not tolerate, and which led to Mary’s eventual condemnation.  Her courage makes sure she continues to be headstrong and heedless of consequences. Ms. Ronan plays the mercurial character with appropriate drive and energy.

The treatment of Elizabeth is handled interestingly. Usually, she is portrayed as confident and the master of most situations, as in the movies starring Cate Blanchett. Here, she is more insecure, and worried by Mary’s competition, not only as a rival for the throne of England, but as a woman. Rather than rely on femininity to preserve her crown, as Mary has tried and failed to do, she says that she has “become a man.”

While some of the ahistorical aspects of the film (notably Elizabeth’s accelerated aging compared with everyone else in the film) it’s entertaining and good to look at. (Some of the design aspects are interesting: for all we see of Scotland, it’s entirely wilderness except for a couple of castles. Parts of what is supposedly Holyrood House, the Scots royal palace, are shown with rough rock walls, as though it were part cave.

Conclusion: Enjoyable if you are not a historical purist.

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12:31 pm
Mary Poppins Returns

On Sunday, December 30th, we went to see Mary Poppins Returns, the new Disney movie loosely based on the books by P.L. Travers. Mary Poppins Returns is even further removed than the 1964 film, since matters have been moved forward twenty years and a generation in time, so that the “Banks children” she nannies for are the sons and daughter of Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw), one of Mary’s original charges. This time, it is not the children who are in disarray: it is Michael who is really in need of saving, since, due to the recent death of his wife (sigh—being a mother in a Disney movie is a job without a future, it seems--), he’s lost his grip on domestic affairs, including neglecting the mortgage payments to the point the family home is being foreclosed upon. Of course, there’s ultimately a happy ending, but with numerous of the typical Mary Poppins diversions along the way, beginning with bath time that becomes an ocean voyage.

One can’t help but make a point-by-point comparison between Mary Poppins and Mary Poppins Returns, since they are so similar in structure, and some of the scenes and songs have pretty much direct analogues from one to the other.  The animated sequence in the first film, “Jolly Holiday” is echoed by “The Royal Doulton Music Hall” and “A Cover Is Not The Book” in the new film. Ironically, I thought that the animated animals (including de rigeur penguins) were more poorly done in the new film: by comparison with those from 1964, the new characters are flat and distorted.  In particular, the dog coachman is so bizarrely misshapen as to be disturbing.

Mary’s bath-time song “Can You Imagine That,” has the same function as “A Spoonful of Sugar.” Mary and the Banks children (Anabel, John, and Georgie, played by Pixie Davies, Joel Dawson, and Nathanael Saleh) visit another one of Mary’s odd relatives, Topsy Turvy (Merle Streep!) and, instead of Uncle Albert’s “I Love to Laugh” song, get “Turning Turtle”, celebrating Cousin Topsy’s own odd condition. Jack the lamplighter (Lin-Manuel Miranda) takes the place of Bert the chimney sweep, and the song and dance number “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” fills in for both “Chim-chim-cheree” and “Step in Time.” “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” is quite a fantastic production number, but somehow doesn’t affect me with the same anarchic, manic energy as “Step in Time,” which I still find astonishing.

That’s really the issue with much of the movie, which seems a paler iteration of the original. While Emily Blunt is a fine actress whom I admire, and sings prettily enough, her voice is not a match for Julie Andrews’ remarkable vocal instrument.  (She is very affecting singing “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” which does not have a counterpart from 1964, and which I found inexpressibly sad.)

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Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019
6:47 pm
Aquaman

On Friday, December 28th, we went to see Aquaman, the newest DC comics movie adaptation. 

The character of Aquaman, a.k.a. Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) was introduced in the Justice League movie, where he had an important role. Here, we see his origin, as the son of lighthouse keeper Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) and fugitive Atlantean Princess Atlanna (Nicole Kidman). Arthur is left behind when Atlantis reclaims Atlanna, and grows up as a more-or-less regular guy, except for occasional lessons on how to be an Atlantean prince provided by the loyal Vulko (Willem Dafoe).

Vulko has confessed to Arthur that although Atlanna was married to the King of Atlantis and bore him a son, Orm (Patrick Wilson), she was eventually exiled to the Abyss and certain death for disloyalty. Therefore, when the movie opens, Arthur has not attempted to go to Atlantis, but contents himself with foiling the occasional act of piracy, as when he intervenes in Manta’s (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) seizure of a Russian submarine.

Thing change when Mera (Amber Heard) shows up at the lighthouse calling on him to claim the throne of Atlantis in order to halt a catastrophic war with the surface planned by Orm. Arthur reluctantly takes up the challenge, which sets the main plot of the adventure in motion.

There’s a fairly good “Indiana Jones” style action plot, wherein Arthur seeks the Trident of the “true king” while Orm progresses with his plan to unite the ocean kingdoms against the surface world. There are some refreshing points: Arthur, although intelligent, is not an intellectual and not particularly well educated. Orm, although a jerk, is not insane and has good reasons for taking action against the surface. Mera is one of the best female characters of the season, in every way Arthur’s equal in power, skill, and ability.

The major problem with the movie is that it is overlong, at 2 hours 43 minutes. Not that it’s dull, it’s just that there’s so much of it crammed in. Lots of it is awfully good, like the sequence in Sicily where Arthur and Mera are engaged in separate running battles with Manta and his men, which I found very inventive. The underwater sequences were beautiful. Perhaps that’s one reason I didn’t find the huge battle sequence very exciting, I was too busy looking at the details.

I expect comparisons with Black Panther will be inevitable, since the plot hinges on one-to-one duels for the kingship, but in this case it is Arthur who is the outsider and the challenger.

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6:46 pm
Mortal Engines

On Sunday, December 23rd, we went to see Mortal Engines, the movie made from the successful series of post-apocalyptic novels involving mobile cities that prey on each other for fuel and material.

We thought the movie was actually pretty good, and certainly very interesting to look at. The design sense of Peter Jackson and Weta Workshop are very much in evidence. In particular, the design of the City of London, incorporating St. Paul’s Cathedral, Big Ben, and the statues of Boudicca and the Trafalgar lions into the juggernaut city, is nicely done.

The story is a decent adventure story, although somewhat diffuse. The basic plot deals with trying to keep the head bad guy (Thaddeus Valentine, played by Hugo Weaving) from getting and using a superweapon.

Comparisons with Star Wars are pretty inevitable: London becomes the Death Star; there’s a scene involving flying inside the giant machine to attack it, and even an “I-am-your-father-Luke” moment. The London citizens, cheering as their city overtakes and captures another have good reason to rejoice, but they still reminded me of audiences from The Hunger Games. And, you can’t avoid a Metropolis reference: London’s great engine is the Heart Machine in hellish color. Other than that, though, the characters are their own selves. Valentine is a particularly protean villain, sometimes menacing, and sometimes smarmy. Heroine Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) is not like any other character I can readily think of. Anna Fang (Jihae) is not just Han Solo in drag.

Given its great expense, the movie did staggeringly badly opening weekend and was estimated to threaten a $100 million dollar loss. I think it was better than that, but was badly marketed. It’s not just that the movie establishment still doesn’t know what to do with Steampunk (which it’s lumped into) but I realized that, even though I’ve seen most of the superhero, SF and fantasy movies this year, I only saw about one trailer for Mortal Engines. Compare that with the year-long advertising and hype campaigns that you get for the next Star Wars or Marvel film, and I think it was woefully under-promoted.

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6:45 pm
Off the Wall Theater: "Cole and Noel"

When looking for some entertainment at holiday time that isn’t either A Christmas Carol or The Nutcracker, we often look to Off the Wall Theater for something different. This year, that was Cole and Noel, a review of music by the two prolific composers and writers, neither of whom ever wrote a Christmas song. We went to see it on Sunday, December 22nd.

The two authors were “called back from Heaven” for this show, and played by Dale Gutzman as Noel Coward, and frequent cast member Jeremy C. Welter as Cole Porter. They did both note that coming from Heaven was a bit remarkable, since neither man was a model of conventional virtue during their life on Earth, but evidently God took a more expansive view of goodness, including artistic merit, than He is usually credited with.

Porter and Coward knew each other during their overlapping careers, and were sometime collaborators, and sometime rivals, at least according to this show. Dialog between Gutzman and Welter was witty and edgy, but I thought made a bit too much of the men’s homosexuality, and too little of other aspects of their colorful lives.

However, the main attraction of the show was the music, and in that regard it did not disappoint. Both men were extremely productive over long careers, and there was a lot of music in this production that neither of us had heard before.  Interspersed with well- known songs such as “Mad About the Boy,” “It’s Delovely,” “Don’t Fence Me In,” and “Too Darn Hot,” there were pieces like “London Pride,” Coward’s war-era tribute to home. “Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs. Worthington,” was the thing that veterans of too many long audition sessions would have longed to say, but dared not.

The cast did an excellent job of selling the songs with lots of energy, and giving the impression they were having a fine time doing it. Voices and expression were all top-notch. We got to see some honest-to-Go real-live tap dancing for the first time in I don’t know how long.

We had a really good time at Cole and Noel.

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Sunday, December 23rd, 2018
7:22 pm
2018: The Year In Review

It’s rather a cliché to say that it seems like the years pass more quickly as we age. This makes some sense to me: after all, when you are ten years old, one year is a tenth of your whole lifetime. By the time you are 50, it is equivalent to only 2% of your experiential database. I, however, seem to have hit on how to make a year seem long—spend most of it waiting for one thing or another.

This year has been the longest I can recall in a long time, largely for that reason. I made two job transitions this year, waiting for the scheduled one to happen April 1, and then waiting to hear if I had gotten the new position after that.

I did a lot of  “home improvement” work this year, which also involved waiting for things to be shipped, and work to be scheduled.

Finally, and I expect this to have been a near-universal experience, waiting for the mid-term elections to be over and done with. It seemed like November 6th would never come. In some benighted places like Mississippi, the long bad dream didn’t end until later, but at least we didn’t have to hear about it on a several-times-daily basis up here.

Other than that dragging sensation, it has been a generally good year for us. My new job is going well and continues to support my creditors in their accustomed style. Georgie continues to enjoy retirement. We had some good vacation time. We have had health issues, but nothing serious. I had written: “None of our small remaining number of Aged Relatives shuffled off the mortal coil, and those of my own and younger generation seem to be doing OK, with neither great triumphs nor great tragedies to report.” However, on December 14th, my eldest niece’s husband, Kurt Grade, died. He had been having some health issues, but had a serious heart attack on the 12th, which set off a cascade that ended in his death. He leaves behind his wife, Robin, and their five-year old daughter, Riley. So it’s going to be a dismal Christmas at their house.

Of course, in a world-wide sense, things suck. Despite the Democratic Party victories in the mid-terms, it will be next year before anything can be done to put the brakes on the Loose-Cannon-In-Chief’s ongoing campaign to destroy Truth and Justice in support of his delusional idea of the American Way: which includes enabling climate change, enriching the rich, impoverishing the poor, wrecking the economy via wrongheaded trade policies, and generally making the United States a laughingstock. This is another factor in making the year seem long: with another lie, faux pas, or stupid stunt out of the White House daily, I think I’m suffering from Trump Fatigue.

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Monday, December 3rd, 2018
3:06 pm
Milwaukee Rep: Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley

On Sunday, November 25th, we went to the Milwaukee Rep’s Powerhouse Theater to see Miss Bennett: Christmas at Pemberley, by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon. This was a very funny, sweet and charming play, and we enjoyed it very much.

When the advertising tagline is to the effect that Mary Bennett, the bookish one of the five Bennett sisters from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, finds romance, and you look at the cast list in the program and see that the only unattached male is the new character Arthur De Bourgh, the ending is pretty well telegraphed, although, as the characters themselves note, there are often a lot of turns in the path to a meant end.

It is roughly two years after the end of Pride and Prejudice, and the Darcys are having a family Christmas at the great house of Pemberley. They have invited Charles and Jane Bingley, Lydia Wickham (but not her odious husband), Mary Bennett, Mr. and Mrs. Bennett (who don’t actually appear on stage), Mary Bennett, and Darcy’s school chum, Arthur De Bourgh, nephew of Elizabeth’s bete noire, Lady Catherine. When we hear that Arthur has acceded to title and fortune after the death of Lady Catherine, and that he has been a perpetual student, it is even more obvious that he and Mary are Meant For Each Other. Also, there is the fact that, in two years, Mary has become less satisfied with the role of superfluous woman, and is open to the idea of romance, however unlikely her prospects appear.

Of course it’s difficult getting Nerds to mate in captivity: Arthur isn’t even thinking about matrimony when he arrives at Pemberly, being rather flummoxed by his new responsibilities. Neither he nor Mary have any idea how to conduct a normal courtship. Flirtatious Lydia makes a nuisance of herself, throwing herself at the newly wealthy Lord, and, the dead hand of Lady Catherine reaches out to complicate matters.

The play was excellently acted. Rebecca Hurd as Mary Bennett is very fine, and Jordan Brodess in the role of Arthur showed himself wonderfully funny, being in particular an excellent physical comedian. The other Bennett sisters, Elizabeth (Margaret Ivey), Jane (Sarai Rodriguez), and Lydia (Netta Walker), were all very good, and their respective characters quite recognizable from Jane Austen. They were well supported by Yousouf Sultani as the lordly but increasingly human Darcy, and Fred Geyer as the kind and forthright Bingley. Deanna Meyers was also very good in the role of Ann de Bourgh, whose Lady Catherine-inspired hauteur masks her desperation at an uncertain future. The casting may have had an unintended interesting effect: Ms. Ivey, Ms. Rodriguez, and Ms. Walker are all women of color with “healthy*” figures (Ms. Meyers is a petite Asian), which underscores pale, thin Mary’s position as the odd one out.

Stage direction by Kimberly Senior was interesting and creative. Interludes of movement and music advanced the plot more rapidly than dialog could, such as the scene in the first act where the Darcys and the Bingleys are being annoyingly affectionate and getting on Mary’s nerves, or the book-throwing sequence in the second act, wherein literally everyone is frustrated with the state of affairs.

The set design, by Courtney O’Neill, was handsome, and incorporated Elizabeth’s very fashion-forward Christmas tree, which becomes a running gag as the characters react to the idea of a tree in the drawing room. Costumes by Mieka van der Ploeg were very attractive and becoming.

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Wednesday, November 28th, 2018
3:24 pm
TeslaCon 2019

On Thursday, November 15th, we drove over to Middleton for TeslaCon 9, “The Battle of Britain.”

The immersion plot this time starts with the evil Dr. Proctocus and S.W.A.R.M. in the ascendant, having conquered most of Europe and Asia, with the embattled freedom fighters fallen back on the islands of Britain as their last redoubt. The events climaxed Saturday afternoon, with a climactic battle, in which S.W.A.R.M.’s aerial armada is destroyed by Lord Bobbins’ secret weapon. This was creatively presented: the audience was ushered into the “air raid shelter,” where we could “overhear” the radio transmissions of the combatants, augmented as the crisis by animation of the final combat as “visual pickup.”

We had a particularly good time at this TeslaCon. Most things ran very smoothly. We got dinner on Thursday night at the “Wurst Dinner,” which was quite good and fun. Although attendance was slightly down this year, the people in attendance seemed to be enjoying themselves, and the people-watching in particular was excellent. The wartime theme brought out a lot of colorful military and paramilitary outfits, and it was fascinating to see the creativity expressed. (On Friday, I wore an outfit with a “Home Guard” helmet and medical kit. On Saturday, I sported my 1880’s U.S. Army Medical Officer’s uniform. On Sunday, I dressed as a dirigible crewman, which was thematic with my presentation on Historical Airships in Combat.)

All the presentations we attended were informative and interesting, if not all flawless. “Women in Early Aviation, 1784-1944” gave us a lot of history we hadn’t known before. So did “Alphonse Mucha, the life of a Victorian Occultist and Artist.” While I thought that the presenter’s finding of supposed occult symbolism in Mucha’s graphics work might have been a bit overstated, his involvement in Spiritualism and other occult movements was undoubted. She had a good set of graphics as well, including some examples of Mucha’s prodigious that I (who consider myself a fan of Mucha) had not seen before.

Since 1888 was “the year of the Ripper,” there was a series of panels on Jack the Ripper, which broke the history down into “the victims,” “the suspects,” and “the completion” (other notorious characters of the time). These looked interesting and I approved the detail taken on this voluminous subject, but we found other things conflicting that interested us more.

Friday night, we went to see Eric Larson and “Airship Ambassador” Kevin Steil talk about the year in Steampunk, the good and the bad, dealing with the collapse of a couple of well-known conventions on the bad side, but a continuance of interest and an outcropping of small events was on the good side.

Following that, I went to Thomas Willeford’s talk on “Steampunk Illegitimate Children,” which was a very lively, humorous, and rather chaotic talk arguing that Steampunk could be revitalized by integrating its offshoots, Dieselpunk and Atompunk.

Georgie went to “Ghost Stories by Candlelight”, which was very creatively presented and enjoyable.

On Friday morning, we went to “The History of Street Organ Entertainers,” which had a lot of interesting history on the development of the instrument and its evolution into part of the “organ grinder and monkey” cliché.

We took a break from panels and plunged into the depths of the dealers’ room, which was pretty dangerous. It seemed the goods on display this year were exceptionally nice. Georgie bought a skirt from “As They Sew in Paris,” and I acquired a new piece for my pocket watch collection.

After that, we went to the first of three presentations Gail Carriger was doing. Ms. Carriger, always an excellent guest, really extended herself for this convention, putting on interview/talks (supported bv Kevin Stine) on each of her three book series, plus hosting two sold-out tea events. Plus, she showed up at the Saturday night ball. The first talk was about the “Parasol Protectorate” books, and was very interesting and entertaining.

We went to see “A Commodore’s Briefing: The Evolution of Aerial Warfare,” which was well done, and then to yet another Carriger/Steil presentation, on “Dining in the 1800’s,” which concerned adventures in trying to reproduce 19th century recipes.

We met our friends Tracy Benton and Bill Bodden for dinner at the hotel restaurant, which was rather swamped due to being short-staffed. It took a while to get our food, and Bill and Tracy’s orders went astray for a time, but the food was good, and we were pleased when “Lord Bobbins” dropped in and joined us at our table.

We skipped most of the opening ceremonies, getting to the main hall in good time for the now traditional “Steerage Ball” with band Dublin O’Shea. The music was loud, lively, and fun, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.

On Saturday morning, we went to a rare solo presentation by Eric Larson on “The Costumes of Downton Abbey.” Eric did a really good job with the research, digging up a lot of hard-to-find images.

At 11:00AM, Georgie did her presentation on “Ripping Good Reads of 1888!” in which she gave excerpts from some of the notable works published in English in that year. The audience seemed to enjoy it, and we got a lot of good feedback about it.

After that, we got in line and signed up for next year’s TeslaCon, “Murder on the Orient Express.” Next, we went in for the second session of the “Battle of Britain” presentation, which we found quite enjoyable (except for one detail: the sound effects had the exact same double static burst at the end of every incoming radio transmission, which got annoying after a while).

Then, we went to “Humbug! Hoaxes, Charlatans, and Pseudoscience of the 19th Century,” which had some interesting fresh information in these fields.

The 3:30PM, we went to Carriger presentation 2, on the “Finishing School” books, Georgie’s favorites. This was amusing and interesting, too. Ms. Carriger was approached by the publisher, asking if she would do a Young Adult series. She replied, yes, and sent them her proposal. I asked: what was their reaction when you pitched them a school for assassins, one of whom has ambitions to become a serial killer? She replied, “They were OK with it.” I guess when you consider that The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner are all Young Adult fiction, the bar for violence has become rather high. Plus, Carriger’s books are funny, which the others are not--.

We then retired for Georgie to change for dinner (I was already in dress uniform), and proceeded to the Bobbins dinner. We were seated a good table, with Herr Grossadmiral Krieger, and two very nice people we’d not met before, even though they’ve also been at TeslaCons for some time, Elliott and Gale James from the Twin Cities. The dinner was good as usual, starting with a nice lentil soup, salad with bleu cheese, a sorbet, beef tenderloin en croute (a kind of individual Yorkshire pudding), and a very tasty (but very dense!) bread pudding for dessert. Conversation at dinner was delightful, jeering at the representatives from SWARM fun, and we got to hear the news that Lord Bobbins had been acclaimed King of England first. (How does this happen, you ask? You may well ask! SWARM had succeeded in killing the English royal family, and also most of the House of Lords and other Peers, leaving Bobbins the seniormost surviving Peer and a cousin to Queen Victoria, the heir to the throne--.)

After dinner, we went to the “Ascot Ball.” Georgie hadn’t felt like wearing black and white, ala the Ascot scene in My Fair Lady, nor did many others, so it was a colorful affair. Nevertheless there were a couple of ladies in excellent reproductions of Audrey Hepburn’s costume from that scene. The people-watching was truly wonderful, and we admired the beauty and creativity on display in the clothing and accessories.

The music by Vardo was not as successful, in my opinion. The first set, which is what we stayed through, just was loud, blaring, and percussive. Those who could dance to anything, danced, other people watched. At the set break, more danceable music, including the Merry Widow waltz was on, so Georgie and I got in our obligatory dance, and then, honor satisfied, retired from the field and for the night.

Sunday, we got an early start with my presentation on Historical Airships in Combat, 1914-45. I had a decent turnout for 9AM Sunday, an attentive audience, and good questions.

Between presentations, we went to look at the Teapot Racing. There were some generally amazing machines present, including a cubical one with four wheels that could move directly sideways by contra-rotating the “front” and “back” wheels.

At 12:30PM, Georgie closed out her program slot with How Women of the Empire Went to War, which discussed the adventures of women of the British Empire of the 19th Century who went to war with their menfolk (Lady Sale and Fannie Duberly), succored the Empire’s wounded (Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole), and even made war against it (Lakshmi Bai and Begum Hazrat Mahal). Georgie had a sizable and appreciative audience.

So, we finished the con by staying for the closing ceremonies, which had two big reveals: Number one, that Bobbins has been appointed regent for the destroyed royal houses of Europe, and as such is effectively ruler of all Europe, and Two, that Bobbin’s trusted assistant is, in reality, the Shyam—the evil spirit that controls SWARM and apparently exerts a hypnotic control over Bobbins.

Well! Where will this lead? In the short run (next TeslaCon) we know that the “Orient Express” will be going to China, where Bobbins has also been invited to become ruler. But, will he make it, or, will there indeed be “Murder on the Orient Express”? (Smart money says there will be--.) Tune in next time!

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3:23 pm
Cirque de Soleil: KURIOS

On Tuesday night, we went to see the Fathom Events filmcast of Cirque de Soleil’s show, KURIOS (The Cabinet of Curiosities). This one has a heavily Steampunk setting. The show starts off with a very jazzy opening number. Then, the protagonist, an inventor who is experimenting with time, activates his apparatus. Instead of travelling in time, time is warped, so that he experiences all sorts of strange phenomena, such as a woman on a flying bicycle; chair balancers who build a stack of furniture up from the stage to meet themselves coming down from the ceiling; an eruption of mermen; and other apparitions incorporating stylish circus acts. At the end of the show, the clock, which has stood still at 11:11, clicks over to 11:12, showing that it has all taken place in the space of a minute.

Cirque de Soleil consistently astonishes us with what can be done using only the human body, minimal equipment, and maximal invention and creativity. This show is no exception. While not as flashy as some of the bigger shows, it was still fascinating and amazing.

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