Sunday, June 30, 2013

The 2013 Utah Shakespeare Festival: Review of Anything Goes

I attended the first preview performances of all six plays at the Utah Shakespeare Festival last week, and I have been reviewing them here on the blog.  For my review of King John, click here.  For The Tempest, click here.  For Love's Labours Lost, click here.

Besides the three Shakespeare plays done every season, the Festival added three other plays -- usually a drama, a musical, and either a children's show or a comedy -- a number of years ago.  This year's musical, Anything Goes,  is the first with lots of dancing that the Festival has ever featured (or so I was told by Fred Adams, Festival founder).
Rhett Guter did the choreography and also plays a sailor in the show.

He's the third sailor from the left in this official Festival photo.
He's done a spectacular job. It truly is the best choreography I can recall seeing at the Festival.  Tap dancing, people!  Tap dancing!
Melinda Parett, who plays Reno Sweeny, is quite the dancer.  And she has so much FUN doing it!  You can see it in her face.
In fact, everyone has fun doing this show.  It's funny, it has great Cole Porter music ("Anything Goes," "Blow, Gabriel Blow," "You're The Top."), and tons of great dancing.  The set and lighting and costumes are all delightful.
Fred Adams keeps downplaying the plot.  True, it's nothing but a bit of fluff: gal likes guy who likes other girl who's engaged to an Englishman, guy chases girl onto ship and is presumed to be missing mobster, in the end, everything works out fine.  But it's the drama equivalent of a beach read; it's light, fun, and happy.  You go out humming the tunes.
Why would you miss this?  Here's a link; go buy your tickets now!

The photo is from the official website at bard.org.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The 2013 Utah Shakespeare Festival: Review of Love's Labour Lost

This week, I've been reviewing the plays at the Utah Shakespeare Festival.  Click here for my review of The Tempest and here for my review of King John.

Love's Labour Lost is one of Shakespeare's earliest comedies (preceded only by Comedy of Errors, I think.).  It is not produced all that often, as it has an abrupt and awkward ending, so it's not as appealing as Much Ado or Twelfth Night or Midsummer.
The  basic plot is that the King of Navarre has decreed that no women shall be admitted to his court for several years while he and his nobles dedicate themselves to studying.  However, just as they all commit to this plan, they receive word that a delegation from France, headed by the Princess and her ladies, is arriving.  The King decides they must receive the women, as it is important to keep good foreign relations, but that the women may not come to the court; they must stay in tents in the woods.  Of course, as soon as the men meet the women, they all fall in love.
The King is played in this production by the fabulous Quinn Mattfield, who turns every role to gold.  But, for some reason, the website contains not a single photo of him in this role.  Still, audience members would do well to watch his facial expressions, as he conveys so much that way.
The rest of the lovers aren't so well-played, but the story goes forth understandably and pleasantly.
Other interesting characters are Armado and Moth, a visiting Spaniard and his page, who provide delightful comic dialogue as Armado courts the lovely Jaquenetta.

(No photo of the wonderfully talented Melisa Pereyra playing Moth is available as I write this.  Such a shame, for she was fantastic!)

And, also far more interesting than the lovers, are the school masters and Dull, a constable who is clearly the forerunner to Dogberry in Much Ado.  Master Holofernes loves words, and Shakespeare obviously took great pains to make fun of school masters with this character.  Holofernes is portrayed expertly by Henry Woronicz.  Dull, played by Thomas Novak, is hilarious.  (He even comes out at intermission to do a silent routine with a croquet game.  SO funny!)  Contrary to what one might expect, Holofernes does not disdain the stupid Dull, but rather he works -- not too successfully -- to teach him things.

In a departure from the norm at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, this play is not set in the time period Shakespeare intended, but in Regency England.  Thus, we see a lot of top hats and empire-waist dresses, and the whole thing has a very Pride and Prejudice feel to it.  The director even chose to have Moth sing a snatch of Byron's "She Walks In Beauty" in a spot where Shakespeare did not specify what the character was to sing.  (This certainly surprised me when it happened, as I was pretty dang sure Shakespeare was no time traveler, but I asked the director at the seminar the following morning, and she said she chose Byron because Shakespeare's sonnets did not have the correct meter to fit with the music she wanted to use.)  However, the play still works well in spite of this straying from tradition.

This is a play well worth seeing.  It's easy to understand and has some very funny moments.  Shakespeare newbies should not fear this one, and those more familiar with the Bard's works will enjoy the talents of so many of the actors in this production.  Don't miss this one!

All photos used in this post are from the official website, bard.org, and ticket information can be found there as well.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The 2013 Utah Shakespeare Festival: Review of The Tempest

I spent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, among the first official audiences to see all 6 plays of the 2013 season.  Yesterday, I posted a review of King John.    Today, I'm going to review The Tempest.

Like most people, I'm much more familiar with The Tempest than with King John.  I read Tempest in an undergrad Shakespeare class and have studied it and read it for fun several times since.  I first saw the play performed live in 2001 at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, where the set was fantastic and where David Ivers was the most definitive Caliban ever, in my humble opinion. I saw it again in Salt Lake City a couple of years ago, a steampunk production of it, wherein Prospero was more of a scientist than a magician, and Ariel was an automaton.  (Naturally, I really liked that version.)
So, the 2013 Tempest was my 3rd live version, and, I must say, it was well worth the ticket price.
The Tempest was one of Shakespeare's last plays, and it was something of his bidding farewell to his audiences.  It may be classed as either a comedy (in the sense that it has no death and the love matches work out) or a romance.  It is a play about Prospero, the Duke of Milan, whose brother has usurped his power and set him adrift with his 3-year-old daughter in a boat.  The boat arrives at an island inhabited only by spirits and fairies and the half-human/half-monster Caliban.  For 12 years, Prospero has ruled the island, but, as the play begins, a boat carrying his brother and the King of Naples and his son Ferdinand passes near the island.  With the help of the fairy Ariel, Prospero makes the boat appear to crash, and he spends the day/play making his brother "pay" for what he has done while making Ferdinand fall in love with his (Prospero's) daughter, Miranda, thus assuring her a good future.
In the Festival's 2013 production, Prospero is indeed the star.  In some productions, he is not a strong character, and the audience ends up caring more about the lovers or the humorous drunks.  But in this production, Henry Woronicz is a compelling,  powerful, and slightly sexy Prospero who takes a back seat to no one.  Part of this success stems from the fact that he's not made up to look like Merlin/Gandalf/Dumbledore for a change.




Melinda Parrett, always a fantastic actor, plays Ariel, with eerie, whitish contact lenses:


Because Melinda has such a beautiful voice, the director makes the most of it, and her songs to Prospero and the others are wonderful.
Caliban is strong, too (even though I still prefer David Ivers' version).  Played by the African-American Corey Jones, he has a bit of the Caribbean to him, and there's even a fun little reggae-style song with "Ban-Ban-Caliban" that delights the audience.
The set is another strong point to this production.  The actual storm scene is really well-done, and there are magic tricks aplenty, with Ariel's having light-up thumbs and Prospero's doing a bit of levitation.


Overall, this is a great production of The Tempest.  It's accessible to Shakespeare newbies but fresh enough to enthrall even the well-seasoned playgoers.
If you can afford to see only one play at the Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City this year, The Tempest is the one to see.

All photos used in this post are official Festival photos.  More can be found at the Festival website, bard.org.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The 2013 Utah Shakespeare Festival: Review of King John

I love the Utah Shakespeare Festival!
I've seen Shakespeare performed at the festival in Ashland, Oregon, in Stratford-on-Avon, England, in London, England, in Salt Lake City, Utah, and on the streets of the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.  True, I'm not a professional theatre critic, but I can tell you that the Utah festival is the ONLY one I've attended where the audience is not considered by the actors and creative staff as a mere group of peasants to be distanced from the artists at all costs.  Nope, in Cedar City, at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, the average Joe Schmoe can bump into the creative directors/casting directors and the festival founder nearly every night before a show.  The directors are available during the first week, and the actors make themselves accessible later on.  There are free literary seminars/discussion groups led by either a theatre journalist or a university professor every morning after a play has been presented.  The audience is never treated distantly here.
And so I go nearly every year.  And I review the plays on my blog.
But last summer I had two surgeries and didn't make it down to the festival, and in years before that, I reviewed on different blogs.  Thus, this is the first time I'm reviewing the plays on this blog.

Brian Vaughn and David Ivers, the creative directors of the festival, have determined that, for their Complete the Canon project, the Bard's history plays will be presented not in the order in which they were written, but in the order in which they fall historically.  And thus we begin with King John.


King John is a difficult play and is not often produced.  In fact, the Utah festival has only produced King John twice in the festival's entire 52-year history (i. e. 2013 is only the second time).
Corey Jones (shown above in an official festival photo) is a superb King John.  The character is indecisive and impetuous, but Jones makes the viewer sympathize with his predicaments, even if it's nearly impossible to feel he's a hero.  Jones portrays him in a modern way, as if John is rather like a celebrity seeking power and popularity while pitted against a very fickle public opinion.
John is unsure of himself, and, once his mother, the wise and steady Eleanor of Acquitaine, dies, he is left to make very difficult choices in a no-win situation: his older brother's widow(Constance, widow of Geoffery) is trying to force him to give up his throne so her pre-teen son can have it.  If John protects the boy, his throne (and his own son's chance at it) is in danger, but if he has him killed, his popularity is in danger.
And everybody in this play (except for 2 characters) wants power and popularity: the king of France, his son the dauphin, Constance (John's widowed sister-in-law, played by Melinda Pfundstein in the best acting I've ever seen from her; she portrays her as a nasty witch-with-a-capital-B who is willing to use her child to achieve her own ends and then act hysterical when her plans are thwarted), Eleanor, the nobles who keeps switching sides, and manipulating and calculating Catholic cardinal, who starts a war to "punish" John for not paying enough heed to the Pope's political whims.
Only John's son Henry and a completely fictional character with a series of names who is the illegitimate son of Richard I (John's oldest brother, dead before the play starts), who is noble, wise, and honest, are the characters untouched by the reality show mentality of doing anything to stay in the power game.


I found the play moving and powerful, with an uplifting ending.  I loved John and the Bastard (played by Steve Wojtas) and Eleanor, while I really felt for the plight of poor Blanche, John's niece, who's bartered into a marriage for peace, only to have her new husband renege on his promise almost immediately.
However, this play is probably not a good choice if you are new to Shakespeare.  History plays can often seem dull if you are not familiar with the content or used to Elizabethan language.  Yes, there are funny parts.  And there's certainly plenty of action and intrigue (with a war, kidnapping, a scene where a good man has been ordered use hot pokers to burn out the eyes of the boy, power struggles, etc.), but it's not as easy to like as Shakespeare's comedies or more familiar tragedies.

My recommendation: if you're a history buff, a drama geek, or well-versed in Shakespeare, this is not a play to miss, as you won't often get chances to see it.  It is superbly acted, and the costuming is gorgeous.  However, it you're a newbie in any of those areas, this might be a bit difficult.

Five stars to the 2013 King John!

(All photos courtesy of the Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Insecurity

... is waking up to find a spider bite that wasn't there when you crawled in bed.
*shudders*

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Incredibly Stupid Headline Alert

On ksl.com today I found this gem of a headline:
3-year-old dead after drowning in hot tub

Yeah, most people are indeed dead after drowning.  In fact, I've never heard of anyone who drowned and lived through it.  Yes, a few lucky souls technically die and then are revived, but drowning is fatal. Otherwise it's called "near-drowning."
A better headline for this unfortunate incident?  How about "Three-Year-Old Drowns In Hot Tub"?  Not that anyone's pleased a child drowned, mind you, but at least the headline itself would befit a tragedy and not a comedy.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Because Childhood Isn't Complex Enough Anymore....

Today I had to trek over to my local Kmart to by exciting things (like socks -- because my life is just that thrilling), and I happened to pass by the toy aisle wherein I saw this:

Fashion Photo Barbie.
I stared blankly at the box for a good 2 minutes, trying to grasp 1) how (camera in doll's spine takes pics to display/make slide shows on doll's tee shirt) and 2) why (I have no freakin' clue why a parent wouldn't just get the child a cheap camera instead).



Once home, I searched for it on amazon to see more and found that Stepford Wife Barbie #1 is not alone!  No!  There's is Stepford Wife Barbie #2, aka Barbie Video Girl!


This one records videos from her necklace and then shows them on her back.


I had no idea that Mattel was so very in league with the NSA.  Who knows what Big Brother will want to see next if Barbie's bugged!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ten Things You Probably Didn't Know About Me

1) I have never owned any Legos.
2) I read Catcher in the Rye at age 14, prepared to have my life changed by this highly recommended book.  I saw no plot and no point.  I read the book again after years and years of teaching English, prepared to be amazed by what I had missed as a kid.  I still saw no plot and no point, only a spoiled and unmotivated protagonist who goes from nothing to nothing.  I still wonder why anyone views this book as a classic.
3) I eat sandwiches in a circle.
4) I grade school papers in green ink, usually with a Bic pen.
5) I learned about the Red Baron and Beethoven at age 6 from reading the Peanuts comic strips.
6) I don't really like to chew gum.
7) I don't do Facebook because of the lack of control the profile owner has over who posts what on their page.
8) When I was 3, I disliked the number 14 so much that I would intentionally skip it when counting anything.
9) The spelling/grammar/punctuation errors that most infuriate me are "a lot" and "all right" spelled as single words, sentences that confuse "then" and "than," and errors with plural possessives (like when people write "girl's volleyball team" instead of "girls' volleyball team" or "mens restroom" when it's "men's restroom").
10) I've been too busy this week to write any decent posts.
Oh, wait.  I think you guessed that last one already. :P

Sunday, June 16, 2013

An English Teacher Rants About Proper Word Usage: Rant #3 "Retro" And "Vintage"

Pinterest, etsy, twitter, online clothing stores, and various blogs are filled with fashionistas -- ignorant fashionistas who cannot tell the difference between the terms "vintage" and "retro."  This makes me want to scream.

Vintage = old.  It's referring to wine, which must be aged in order not to be grape juice.  Vine -- vineyard -- vintage -- get it?
Vintage clothes, vintage jewelry, vintage cars all must be OLD, not just made to look old.

Retro, on the other hand, is a prefix meaning "back" or "backward."  Something retro is looking backwards into the past.  Therefore, new items made in an old style, be they replicas or just something that hints at a former style, are retro.  They are not vintage.

The website that sells this Halloween costume for $26.00 calls it "retro vintage."  It's not vintage.  It's just retro, cheap retro at that.


I found this iPhone 5 case on pinterest labeled "vintage retro."  No, an antique truck is vintage; it's not retro.  And an iPhone case is neither vintage nor retro.

This I also found on pinterest.  It was also labeled "vintage retro."

This is neither vintage nor retro.  Not even during the 70s did people wallpaper their bathtubs.  The correct term for this is "hideous."

This was labeled "vintage."

Uh, well, maybe the chair is vintage, but it's kinda hard to tell when it's covered with neon green paint/icing that is most definitely NOT vintage.

Look, this one's pretty simple.  Vintage = old.  Retro = new but made to LOOK old.
Got it?
Good.
Use the terms properly.
This has been another rant from your local English teacher.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

An English Teacher Rants About Proper Word Usage: Rant #2 "Traditional Marriage"

For the last several years, the debate about what marriage is or isn't has become an increasingly hot topic.  And lazy reporters, bloggers, and ordinary citizens repeatedly use the phrase "traditional marriage" as some kind of opposite to the term "gay marriage."  Here's an example:
Protecting Traditional Marriage: For centuries, marriage has been defined as a union between one man and one woman. Efforts are underway across America to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples.
This drives me freakin' nuts because "traditional marriage" is such an ambiguous term.
Exactly WHOSE tradition does the speaker mean?  In some Middle Eastern areas, it's apparently legal and traditional for a man to marry up to four women -- and to have stoned to death any who are "guilty" of adultery.  In India, girls are often forced into arranged marriages at very young ages.  This is done according to tradition.  In some spots in Tibet, it has been traditional for one woman to marry 2 or more brothers, so as to keep the land inheritance going into the same family lines.  In Utah, polygyny (most often called "polygamy" instead) is the most traditional form of marriage in the state.  In ancient Egypt and in several royal households of Europe, incest was traditional, so as to keep the royal lines "pure."
Even if we limit "traditional marriage" to Judeo-Christian traditions, it's still pretty ambiguous.  This graphic (misspells "polygyny") shows most of the Old Testament forms of "traditional marriage."

(Yup, forcing a woman to marry her rapist is "traditional."  But that doesn't make it right, even if the Bible says it.  Sorry.)

Look, people, whatever your political views, stop using the ambiguous term "traditional marriage" as an all-purpose antonym for gay marriage or same-sex marriage.  If what you mean is "heterosexual monogamy," then learn to pronounce all those difficult syllables and start using the term.  NOW.

Friday, June 14, 2013

An English Teacher Rants About Proper Word Usage: Rant #1 "Toddler"

Yes, I am silently correcting your grammar, syntax, punctuation, vocabulary use, etc. all the time.  I cannot help it any more than a dentist can help noticing the state of your teeth or a fashionista can help noticing whether or not you have run-down heels.  And the internet is FULL of mistakes which make me want to slap people.  However, since slapping my laptop screen will do no good, I will rant instead.
Rant #1 concerns the misuse of the term "toddler."

A toddler is a child who is past the stage of infant.  It is a child who is learning to walk, and hence, it toddles, or walks unsteadily.

From a medical dictionary:
toddler
Etymology: ME, toteren, to walk unsteadily
a child between 12 and 36 months of age. 


From a Random House dictionary:
toddler  (ˈtɒdlə) [Click for IPA pronunciation guide]
— n
1.a young child, usually one between the ages of one and two and half

Thus, unless the kid can't walk properly after the age of 2 1/2 or 3, it is not correct to call that kid a "toddler."  If it doesn't toddle, it's not a toddler.
A child too old to be a toddler but too young for school is often called a pre-schooler.  This general designation indicated children from age 3 to those 5-year-olds not yet in kindergarten.  A child of 3, 4, or 5 is NOT A TODDLER.

This is wrong.

So is this.

Learn the difference and stop confusing your readers.  There is no such thing as a 4-year-old toddler.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Why The Gods Of Google/Blogger Gave Us Comment Moderation

To the dude who tried to post a link in my comment section to a pole dancing blog:
Uh, no.
Not even.
Go away.
That is all.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Irony In A Mangled Cliche

From this Yahoo! article about shoplifting pregnancy tests, we get this line:

Many little boxes can be stuffed quickly into a bag in one fail swoop.


Um, yeah.  I'd call it a "fail," too, when you can't even get a cliché right.  *rolls eyes*  It's "one fell swoop."  Duh.
That's not even a mixed metaphor; it's just dumb.
But it IS irony.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Greek Fountain Dance -- Part II, With Video!!

Okay, so there was this post that got your attention, as I described spitting on my fellow teachers.
Then I gave you a photo of the scene.
But this weekend, I found that someone had posted our lovely dance (the first assembly version, anyway -- the one wherein kids run in fear, rather than curling up into fetal positions) onto youtube.  I thought I'd share:


But, we are far from original.
Youtube is filled with other versions of the same dance, most of them quite long, and most of them featuring only men.  Here's one:


And here's another (with younger, less pudgy guys, which makes it less funny, in my humble opinion):



I still think we got the best audience reactions.  No other group has kids screaming and running for the exits.  :D

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Novel Just Waiting To Be Written

 A couple finds a fully-stocked, 1960s-vintage bomb shelter in the backyard of their new home.
If I ever finish the four books I'm currently writing, this one might be the next in line.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Which Song Is The Voice Of This Generation's Memories?

Today was the year-end assembly for our 9th-graders.  This is always a point of mixed emotions for them: they're happy to go; they're scared to move on.  It's one of those few moments where you can see in their eyes the knowledge that we old folks understand, that we've been there, too.

When I was in high school, the year-end assembly was an actual slide show.  You know; the kind with SLIDES on a projector and music played from a cassette over the auditorium sound system.  And the song of our generation's pain at losing the past was this:

"Bookends" by Simon and Garfunkel
The words are so very poignant:
Time it was/ And what a time it was, it was./  A time of innocence. / A time of confidences./ Long ago, it must be./ I have a photograph./ Preserve your memories; they're all that's left you.

Wow.

Then I started teaching school, and technology improved!  We actually had THREE SLIDE PROJECTORS timed with a CD to show the blurry photographs.
And the song for years and years?  This one:

"Good Riddance" by Green Day.
The words are still pretty poignant when applied to ending a huge chunk of one's life.  (Yes, 3 years of junior high constitutes a "huge chunk" when one is only 15.  That's a fifth of a life for them.)
"It's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right./ I hope you had the time of your life."

By now, of course, the slide projectors are things of the past.  Some of my students have never seen one before.  The photos we saw today were all jpeg files (many of them taken by me on Shakespeare night, actually) set to various MP3 downloads and put into sequence with a video program, shown with a computerized projector onto the big screen.  Many of the songs chosen seemed to have nothing to do with what was being shown, but the one that made the kids sit up, the one that resonated with them emotionally, was this one:

"Some Nights" by fun.
It's a song about confusion rather than about memories.  Odd, that.  But the harmonies are exquisite and powerful, so perhaps that is why it was the song that made them grab each other's hands and stop joking for just a few minutes to take in the seriousness of the step they're taking in life right now.

And I, long past making similar steps, left the auditorium humming this one as well.

Murphy's Law As Applied To The Last Week Of School

It's the last week of school.  Different grade levels have different assemblies and activities at different times to make it easier for us to manage the crowds but making the kids confused and even more hyper, as they're under the impression that no one is going to make them work this week.  Also the kids may no longer use their lockers, so many of them will use this as an excuse to come to class with no materials whatsoever.
Therefore, the copy machine will break down today and refuse to work for the entire week.
It's a given.