Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Stage, Screen and In-Between

Sorry for the lapse in posts.....SOOOOO busy lately! But the good news is I have a lot to share with you now...
      Last week was full of media - things to see, things to read, things to listen to. I kicked off this information extravaganza with a poetry reading by Howard Altmann at the Bowery Poetry Club. Howard, along with the brilliant actress Patricia Clarkson, read pieces from his new book In This House. I admit that I'm not terribly well learned in the art, but much of the imagery resonated with me. Altmann often uses nature motifs to provoke feelings of tumultuous wandering or tranquil balance and explores the in-between moments of a person searching for their center. Or, at least that's what I took away from it. I was eager to buy the book on my way out, and having had a chance to read more of the poems and chew on the ones I heard at the event, I discovered that Altmann's work has even more to give the deeper you dive into it. I would highly recommend this book....

     The next day, Josh and I went to see the utterly charming How to Train Your Dragon. Wow, 3-D technology has come such a long way. The film itself was great to look at - lush scenery, diverse textures (the fur on the viking's clothing looked like you could reach out and touch it) and imaginative visual quirks that gave each character real personality. The animation style was cartoonish enough to keep the movie playful but also very thoughtful and considered - little stylistic details that gave the film depth and interest beyond fire breathing lizards and flying reptiles (although, the flight scenes were at times so transportive that I had goosebumps on my arms). I'm not usually one to get swept away by a sappy "you're-perfect-the-way-you-are-even-though-you-don't-fit-in-at-all" theme, but How to Train Your Dragon made that point with more subtlety than any children's film before it. Which is why it's worth going out to see, no matter what age you are.

     Last Saturday, we were invited to join our friend and brilliant playwright Jenny Lynn Bader for a matinee of George Bernard Shaw's Candida preformed by the Irish Repertory Theater. I have mixed feelings about this production. All of the separate elements of the production were well executed - the set design, costuming, lighting. The actors performed well, and their direction was the play's strongest attribute (bravo, Tony Walton). But something didn't quite come together for me. 

     Though the play largely revolves around the beautiful Candida, the object of much affection, I found nothing about her character, or maybe the actress's portrayal of the character, to be so magnetic. And with so much of the play bent on everyone else's obsession with her, it became difficult for me as an audience member to invest in their perspective. 
     Furthermore, the other main characters in the play, Marchbanks (a sappy, spineless poet type, head-over-heels in love with Candida) and Reverend James Morell (Candida's stick-in-the-mud husband), were played with lukewarm conviction and very little dimension. Actually, the Reverend James Morell character possessed some subtlety and seeming introspection at times, but Marchbanks was such a ninny that I had a hard time watching him. (P.S.........This is a completely un-educated opinion and should be regarded as such).
     The strongest performances were without a doubt given by Xanthe Elbrick as the secretary Prossy Garnett and Josh Grisetti as Reverend Lexi Mills. Ms. Elbrick brought a lovely comedic facet to her prudish character, and her presence on the stage gave the entire production more dimension and humanity. Mr. Grisetti embodied the stereotypical young Englishman with every stride, gesture and facial expression. Yet instead of a regurgitation of similar characters seen before, he gave fresh wit and elegance to his role. It's only a shame that they weren't on stage longer!
     I am willing to admit that maybe I just didn't "get it." Josh told me later that what he took away from the production was a sense of the intricacies of manhood and vulnerability, and the idea that the more of the latter one possesses, the less of the former he is permitted to claim. I'm willing to accept this as one of the plays' themes, but I don't know that it's representation on stage warrants a 2 1/2 hour running time.
Can anyone enlighten me further?????

This week I finished Steig Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tatoand it's sequel The Girl who Played with Fire. It's sooooo satisfying to sink into a big juicy novel after having read so much political non-fiction! I love that feeling of not wanting to close the cover and looking forward to cracking it open again. These books DEFINITELY provoke that response. 
     Larsson expertly unravels his stories, giving the reader plenty of character development to cling to while he slowly pulls the plot from moment to moment of ultimate suspense. You just want to know what happens next, but instead of hand holding the reader he gives his stories enough breathing room for his audience to feel as though they are participant - instead of only watching the plot unfold. That to me is the great difference between most books and their movie versions - you are involved in the process, not just spoon fed. 
     Larsson is also delicate with his characters. He doesn't try to sap you into liking them, but only asks that you join them for the adventure. Again, he's giving you the space to form your own opinion of them, in a way further involving you in the story. I really like this.....I think this is the same reason why I prefer a good TV series to a movie these days - there's the time for the viewer to become more involved with the characters and story. 

    I also like the snappy new cover art. Sadly, I had to decide to order the next book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest before the new edition with snappy cover art is out. But I just can't wait until May to see what happens next!


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