June 6th, 2016

Love & Friendship

Tuesday evening, May 31st, we went to the Downer Theater to see the new movie, Love and Friendship, adapted from Jane Austen’s unfinished work, “Lady Susan.” The adaptation was done by Whit Stillman who is also the film’s director.

Unusually for Austen, instead of being set in the 18-teens, the story takes place in the late 1770’s-early 1780’s, as the “American War” is recently over. Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) is recently widowed and left penniless. Her primary mission in life is to find an advantageous marriage for her talented but shy daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), and secondarily for herself. She complicates matters for herself due to her due to her own desires, since, as the story opens, we see that she is being thrown out of the house of her friend, Lady Manwairing (Jenn Murray), who quite correctly believes that Lady Sarah has been too friendly with her husband.
She is able to take refuge with her late husband’s brother, Sir Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards) and his family, which she uses as a base of operations to continue trying to make a match between her daughter and the wealthy but intractably stupid Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), while cultivating a relationship of her own with the young and handsome Reginald De Courcy (Xavier Samuel).

The course of true love never did run smooth, and that of calculated matrimony even less so, as there are considerable complications before the plot works out.

Mr. Stillman is not quite up to Jane Austen’s level as a writer of dialog, and most of the wit and snark that we look for in adaptations of her novels is missing. This is mostly made up for by Lady Susan’s bottomless fount of invention. A master manipulator, she is never at a loss, even when nearly caught red-handed entertaining one man while keeping another on her string.

The plot works out in what we thought was the sensible fashion, although the denouement is brought about with some off-screen slight of hand, so a bit unsatisfying. On the other hand, the film is shot on location in Ireland, so both settings and costumes are fine to look at. Beckinsale gives a fascinating performance, and the cast of supporting characters, including Chloë Sevigny, Stephen Fry, and Jemma Redgrave, is just splendid, so it all adds up to a pleasant little movie.

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Lunching at “Le Reve”

June 4th, we went to Le Reve restaurant in the “Village” of Wauwatosa for luncheon. I had the Canard BLT, which was duck confit, bacon, arugula, tomato, and tarragon aioli on a toasted baguette. Georgie had the Pan Bagnat, which was chicken breast, watercress, tomato, basil tapenade, and roasted caper aioli on a soft bun. Both of these were delicious. We split an order of “pommes frites,” which were basically standard french fries, but nicely done and with a very tasty garlic aioli with them. Georgie had a nice green salad with her sandwich. Lunch time is a bit early for wine for us, so we accompanied the meals with a pleasant sparking lemonade.

Service was attentive and quick, as usual for Le Reve. We took home a Napoleon slice and a Valrhona chocolate tart from their bakery case for later, both of which were perfect and delicious. Le Reve continues to be one of our favorite restaurants, although we hear they are getting a new chef. We hope changes under the new regime will not be too radical.

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A Bigger Splash

A Bigger Splash is the new indie movie featuring Tilda Swinton, whom we will generally go to see anytime. We went to see it at the Oriental Theatre Saturday evening, June 4th. In this film, Swinton plays Marianne, a famous rock singer, who has just had throat surgery in an attempt to save her failing voice. She and her lover, Paul, (Matthias Schoenaerts) are living in seclusion on the Italian island of Pantelleria, in hopes of a peaceful and quiet convalescence. This dream goes glimmering when they are descended upon by Harry (Ralph Feinnes), Marianne’s former producer and also former lover. He is accompanied by an attractive young woman (Dakota Johnson), who Marianne and Paul are surprised to find is Harry’s recently discovered daughter, Penelope.

Marianne is not supposed to be talking while recovering; Paul is a reticent fellow, and Penelope is sulky, so Harry (Feinnes) has as much dialog as the other three put together. Harry is a manic personality, seeming determined to be the life of the party even if no one else wants a party. He’s also an incessant manipulator, wheedler and grifter. When you notice that his blizzard of verbiage includes frequent digs at Paul, and references to the “good old days” when, coincidently, he and Marianne were together, that his purpose becomes clear. Marianne and Paul think they know Harry, and think they owe Harry, and so are inclined to tolerate his presence. We viewers, not burdened with that baggage, can quickly tell that Harry is using his verbal tools to try to drive wedges between Paul and Marianne so that he can get Marianne back. Further, he’s brought Penelope along in order to try to distract Paul while he does it.

The movie is a complex and multilayered story of seduction, misdirection, and desperation. Lushly photographed, the film contrasts the austere beauty of Pantelleria, with the sensuous bodies and lifestyles of the characters. All of the main characters have nude or semi-nude scenes, tastefully done and in context, though definitely adult. Again, the narcissistic Harry has the most and longest scenes, including the “full Monty”. (Fortunately, Mr. Feinnes has a pretty good body, especially for a 52-year old man--.)

The plot works out to a tragic climax, redeemed by an ironic and timely twist ending. Highly recommended for adult viewers with a taste for drama.

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Villa Terrace, Garden Opening

Sunday, June 5th, we stopped in to the Villa Terrace Museum for the annual opening of its Renaissance garden. This amazing site stretches down the bluff from the Villa atop it down to the shores of Lake Michigan, incorporating handsome mature plantings, and a spectacular staircase fountain.

This year, the grounds included an installation art piece by local environmental artist Roy Staab. The piece, entitled “Shadow Dance” consists of huge overlapping hoops of bundled reeds, five circles and an ellipse, overlapping and suspended at different levels on a framework of saplings. The work is very impressive when viewed from above from the Villa, and when walking around it on the lawn. To examine it up close and see the uniformity and precision of the bundling and lacing is croggling, as is the perfect circumference of the circles, knowing that he does all this work by hand. The weather and the gardens were beautiful.

The Villa also has a photograph show of a selection of Mr. Staab’s other installations, called “Suspended in Time,” and a collection of art baskets curated by Staab, “Beyond Baskets,” all of which were very interesting.

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Skylight Opera Theater, “The Pirates of Penzance”

On Sunday afternoon, June 5th, we went to see the final production of this year’s Skylight season, Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance.” This was as manic and active a production of the famous operetta as we have seen. All of the action was intensely choreographed, and, with the exception of the few slow numbers, the stage was a continuous whirl of color and action. The “silly” meter was cranked up to high, to the point that the production verged on self-parody at times, but it was all good fun, and we enjoyed it very much.

Benjamin Robinson was a handsome and stalwart Frederic, and Julie Tabash Kelsheimer an attractive and forceful Mabel. Both had gorgeous voices and lead an excellent cast. Drew Brhel as Major-General Stanley and Diane Lane as Ruth were splendid in their important comic roles, and sang well as well.
As mentioned, a lot of the scenes were almost continuous dance and action: the intense choreography by Ryan Cappleman, and the stage business as directed by Shawna Lucy, were continuous and seamlessly integrated.

The set, with its postcard backgrounds, worked well with the action, and incorporated its own set of jokes. The women’s shirtwaist outfits for the first act were more 1900 style than 1879, but they were attractive and pretty and that was sufficient.

The orchestra, under the direction of noted Gilbert and Sullivan director Robert Linder, performed with out noticeable flaw, and supported the singers at just the right level.

A very enjoyable afternoon at the opera, with just as much energy as we could stand.

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June 6th, 2016, the end of an era.

Today, Monday, June 6th, was officially Georgie’s last day employed by the West Allis Public Library as she begins what we hope will be a long, creative, productive, and happy retirement. She’s enjoyed working at the library for 31 and a half years, since October of 1984. However, particularly of late, her work has gotten to be more and more “desktop tech support” and less and less of the human contact reference work she really enjoyed. When we calculated that pension and Social Security would equal the income she was getting from her typical hours, she decided it was time to take time for herself. The library will doubtless miss her graphic arts support, in particular the popular colorful posters for Summer Reading program and similar events, but the more-or-less steady demand of those jobs and her irregular work hours kept her from being able to put sustained effort into creative projects of her own. She plans now to set herself a regular schedule to work on the backlog of projects she has on hand.

Georgie got very nice personal letters of congratulation both from the Library Director and the Mayor of West Allis. This afternoon, her co-workers brought in tea and snacks for a nice get-together. Georgie got a lovely card in which more than one person expressed the sentiment that the library would not be the same without her.

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