Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tulip Fever Has Passed

The Tulipomania workshop has ended, the flowers have all been picked! I had such a good time. Not only did I get out of the house, I got to watch the growth of a play as well as bask in the talent of some great actors. After having worked with many of these actors in Candide, it was great to see them in different roles. The stage reading was well-received. I am always impressed when busy people can take time out of their day to watch a reading. It's so cool!

The first three days of the workshop were devoted to learning music and understanding the story. By the last day, however, it was an explosion of fully formed characters that suddenly sprang to life. Without any blocking, the actors told the story sitting behind music stands and yet, I believed them. One actress, Mary Martello, a staple on Philly stages, played the role of the housekeeper. She had this song, Ceremonium Mysterium, in which she disguises herself as a notary (rather Moliere-esque). By the final day of rehearsal, not only did she have the song down but she had infused it with such life that the other actors had trouble not laughing at her.

If Tulipomania is given a full stage production, it will be difficult to see different actors in these roles. Of course, who knows? If the Arden stages it, many of these actors might be back. Anyway, it got me thinking about different actors portraying the same role.

Coincidentally, I read this article in the New York Times about the three different guys who have played Bobby Gould in the New York production of David Mamet's Speed the Plow. Jeremy Piven left the role due to mercury poisoning (or as Mr. Mamet suggested, to become a thermometer). Ben Brantley, who wrote the article, enjoyed seeing the three different interpretations of the same character in the same production.

I have seen different actors play the same role when understudies have had to go on. When that happens, I am usually more focused on ensuring that the understudy knows where to enter, when to enter, and with what props. Only once did I get a chance to see two different actresses develop the same role.

Back in 2003, I stage managed a production of Harriet Returns for Us, a 45 minute one-woman show about Harriet Tubman that Capital Repertory Theatre toured to schools in the Albany, NY area. When they decided to re-do the show the following year (demand was high from the schools), the original actress couldn't do it so they hired Iris Farugia. We used the same costumes, same script, same props but the two Harriett could not have been more different.

At one point in a tech rehearsal, Ms. Farugia said, "I know I'm supposed to sit here but I don't feel it, I'd like to be standing." And her choice made sense for the Harriet she created; her Harriet was always on the go, moving forward. The original actress had a more introspective Harriet and so sitting worked for her. Both choices worked remarkably well.

Watching Tulipomania evolve and reading that article made me think of that little moment. It's odd how that happens, isn't it? A small thing happens, insignificant really but it stays with you forever. Perhaps I had one of the Aha! moments that Oprah is always talking about.

It will be interesting to see Tulipomania in its final form. As for the actors, I wouldn't recommend quitting their day jobs to work as a thermometer; I don't think it pays well.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Tulipomania--A Quickie

I'm stage managing a short gig at the Arden Theatre, a workshop of a new play entitled, Tulipomania. It is indeed about that period in Dutch history (around 1640) when buying tulips was like starting a dot-com in the 1990s. The price of tulips rose and rose until, oh you guessed it, tulips flooded the market, the bubble popped and the tulips were nearly worthless. Although without the tulip craze, what would we associate with Holland?

Anyway, Michael Hollinger (a local playwright) wrote the script and Michael Ogborn wrote the music and lyrics. The Arden is hosting a staged reading of the play in order to see where it stands: does it need any re-writes, is it ready for production, etc.

We have (under AEA rules) 29 hours to rehearse and "perform" the play. I put perform in quotes because a staged reading has little if any blocking, no costumes, no props and the actors have their scripts in hand. We're rehearsing over 4 days and most of the actors were also in Candide. A friend of mine, who also worked on Candide and is currently stage managing Asher Lev, remarked, "It's like Candide lite."

It's so exciting to see theater in its most nascent form; right when the piece becomes a collaboration between writers, director, and actors. No matter how many times you write or re-write a play, it is intended to be interpreted by others. As the actors learn the music, it's interesting to watch as the composer tightens up certain songs or adds measures to make a an ending stronger. During this time, the playwright makes changes as well after hearing his words come alive by the actors. For one character, he changed quite a few lines because, as Mr. Hollinger put it, "He's just not that nice."

The final collaborator (before a full production with designers jumping on the band wagon) is, of course, the audience. While a polished staged reading is not necessarily the goal, their reaction is important in gauging what works and what does not as the piece moves forward in its development.

So I'm having a great time watching the growth of Tulipomania while hanging out people I love to work with and getting out of the house for a few days. Plus, I have no blocking to record or props to track. It's a sweet gig. I told the production team at the Arden, "Anytime you have one of these workshops in need of a stage manager, call me." Who doesn't love a good quickie?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Frost/Nixon and Sex

I went to see Frost/Nixon today and ruined the bread. Now, I know what you're thinking after reading the title, but sadly, it's nothing like that.

I played "stay-at-home-mom hooky" today and went to the movies. Frost/Nixon by the way was great, well-acted and exceeded my expectations--especially for being a movie from a play (if you're in doubt, see my post about Doubt). And, I should say, since we're on the subject, quite PG in the sex area; alluded to but not directly mentioned or shown.

Anyway, I got back from the movies with enough time to put some dough together for bread. I've been baking instead of buying bread for the past few months. I figured I'd bake a loaf today since I'm doing a short workshop at the Arden over the next few days and won't be around.

Everything went as planned and I was the multi-tasking queen! Bread was in the oven rising as per the recipe, and I felt pretty damn good about myself...
Aren't I just the bomb? I can bake bread, take care of the family, and stage manage...I rock!

And then my kids came home from school.
My daughter had a bad "pre-teen" day at school: worst runner in the class, friends yelled at her at recess, etc. So I comforted her while my son felt neglected and pouted. It's difficult to deal with my son because he doesn't like to listen to me. He'll listen to Brian but when it comes to me, he likes a fight.

So, we had a fight, and he ended up in his room crying at the top of his lungs.

I left him there for a few moments thinking I could get a couple things done for the workshop and then set the bread for a second rise. Perhaps it sounds cruel to leave my son in his room but when he gets to the point of crying like this, it's better to let him calm down a bit before engaging him again. Most things have to be on his terms--which is probably why we butt heads, I like my terms.

As I am about to print a schedule for the workshop, my daughter enters with two books under her arm, "Mom," she says, "I don't know what this word means."

She has dog-eared the pages.

I bring her into the kitchen so I can tend to the bread when she drops the bomb and shows me the word: SEX.

I eye the half full bottle of wine, pour myself a glass and have The Talk. It's a down and dirty talk about penises, menstruation, uterus', vaginas and sperm. She's thoroughly disgusted at the end.

I'm elated by her reaction.

The bread, however, rose too much, and after punching down and baking, now looks meager and anemic.

The moral of the story is probably: Do not play stay-at-home-mom hooky. But the one I'm taking away from it is: Aren't you glad you didn't have three kids? Because one of them would have been severely neglected.

At least the movie was good.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Quotable Wine

Wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages. Louis Pasteur

I have found a new, rather inexpensive, Chardonnay which is quite drinkable. It's not La Crema but for an ordinary Sunday, it's just fine. It's Pascual Toso 2007, from Argentina. I picked it up because it was around $8.00 at my local wine store. Living in Pennsylvania has meant inferior wines at exorbitant prices. This wine, though, is quite drinkable--oaky and buttery. If you're not into butter or oak, I wouldn't try it. Actually, if you're not into butter or oak I'd either not get a Chardonnay or at least buy French; their Chardonnay does not share California's penchant for oak and butter.

Oh Some are fond of Spanish wines, some are fond of French. John Masefield

French chardonnays are normally called Chablis because that grape is grown in the Burgundy region known as Chablis. This makes me chuckle because when I was growing up, my parents had wine at dinner every night. My mother would buy large jugs (seriously, they were jugs) of Burgundy or Chablis from the grocery store (oh to live in a state without the harsh liquor laws). I can't imagine the wine was any good. Just thinking about it makes me shudder.

It's a native domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you'll be amused by its presumption. James Thurber, New Yorker Cartoon

The last time I was in Paris, I brought home a French Chardonnay and tried it alongside a Californian Chardonnay. Both were equally drinkable although quite different in taste.

"Come, come, good wine is a good familiar creature if it be well used; exclaim no more against it." Othello, Act II, Sc. 3, line 293

Burgundies elicit a totally different story. On our honeymoon (which was a "if it's Tuesday, it must be Belgium" type) we popped into Burgundy for some wine tasting. Brian and I settled on visiting Pommard (one of the many villages in the region). To try wine, we found houses that had the sign, "Achats et Degustations" on it, meaning "buying and selling." We knocked on the door, were invited into the house, and tried some wines. It's odd to knock on a stranger's door and ask for wine but after one or two, we got used to it.

We want the finest wines available to humanity, we want them here, and we want them now!
Withnail and I (1987 movie)

At the end of the day (and it was a long day), we stopped at Christophe's. Christophe had several wines for us to try that day. He poured himself not a tasting, but a half a glass of wine to ensure it's quality. Then he poured the same amount for Brian and me.

In water one sees one's own face; But in wine, one beholds the face of another. Old French Proverb

After the third glass, Christophe wanted to have a conversation and after a day of trying wines, so did Brian. Only Christophe did not speak English and Brian did not speak French. I speak both but I am half the size of Brian and I had matched him glass for glass for the entire day.

For when the wine is in, the wit is out Thomas Becon

Three sheets to the wind, I tried to translate between Brian's musing on the particular Pinot Noir we were drinking and Christophe's advice for all Americans. Their insights turned to first-grade drivel as I tried to translate and ended up saying, "um, uh, he likes the, uh wine, yes?"

Good times!

Days of wine and roses laugh and run away, like a child at play. Johnny Mercer

Isn't it funny how wine can start a story you hadn't meant to tell in the first place? No worries, I've got more where that came from. Stories, I mean.

Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine so that I may wet my mind and say something clever. Aristotle

Well, actually, wine as well.

Stay tuned, unless of course you order the Merlot...

"...if anyone order Merlot, I'm leaving. I'm not drinking any fuckin' Merlot."Sideways

It's not that I don't like's that I just love that movie.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

But How Much Longer in Nano Seconds and if the GW Bridge isn't Backed up?

My kids are obsessed with numbers. They should be math geniuses but not so much. I wish they were math geniuses, then I'd be a lot more patient with their quest to assign a numerical value to everything.

Oh hell, who am I kidding? They could be Stephen flippin' Hawkins and I'd still be annoyed.

We'll be driving somewhere, say to a cousins' house in another state, and right off the bat Brian and I hear, "How long until we get there?"

We try to blow them off with a, "I don't know, it depends on traffic."

Then we get, "Well, say that we don't have any traffic?"

We're caught at this point and everything goes downhill. If we say 4 hours, and we get there in 4 1/2 hours, we don't hear the end of it. If I overshoot and say 5 hours and it takes 4 1/2 hours, my son feels the need to admonish me, "But you said it would take 5 hours."

If we just say we don't know, they ask, "How many highways will we go on during the trip?" But it's not just highways, it's highways, regular roads, tunnels and bridges.

But that last one, that was my fault. I've discovered something in my 10 years of parenting, only I discovered it a bit too late. You can tell your children not to jump on the couch, to flush the toilet or to pick up their clothes over and over and over again. They won't listen. Play a number game with them and you have fallen into a hole of your own making...and there is no way out. On a long trip a few years ago, I thought I'd get out of the "how much longer?" game by saying that we'd be taking 7 highways. I said it once, once I tell you! And now, everytime we get in the car, it's "how many highways?" And yet, they still jump on the couch!

One night, sick of trying to get my kids to finish dinner, I said to them, "I bet you can't finish your rice in 10 bites."

Big mistake.

From then on I had guess the number of bites. Every night.

Or, if I tell my son, "I'll be there in just a minute." I can hear him, whispering, "one mississippi, two mississippi, three mississippi...."

If I'm not there by 60, I hear about it. Down to the last nano-second.

As my children have grown older, I've added to my numerical misery. At the pool one day, I saw my son cannonball into the pool and I said, "Wow, beautiful, I'd give that a 9.6." And it began. Now everytime I'm near a pool with my children, they immediately begin jumping into the pool asking, "what do you give that one mom?"

After the 15th cannonball they all begin to look alike. I feel sorry for the Olympic judges. Annoyed, I channel the Russian judge we all made fun of in the 1980's: "Well, that was awful, I give it a 3.2."

What is it with numbers and kids? Is there anyway to break them of this habit? And can you tell me how long this phase will last? In nanoseconds and with no traffic? onemississippi,twomississippi,threemississippi....

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Doubt Full

I was at a movie festival seminar years ago in Lake Placid that discussed plays being made into movies being made back into plays (and vice versa). At that seminar, the playwright Doug Wright (at least I think he said it) made the point that drama started when a caveman stood up around the campfire and told a story; in other words, drama started with words. Movies, on the other hand, began in silence with the story told by images.

I thought of this as I left the movie Doubt tonight. John Patrick Shanley directed the film of his screenplay which he adapted from his play. Perhaps he should have had another director. Sometimes I think it's good to have another eye to assist in shaping a story.

It's quite obvious from the movie that it began as a play--it just had that feel to it. Some plays transfer quite successfully to film but again, maybe with another director.

The script still has its strength but much of it was lost in the images on screen trying to support the words. But here's the thing: in a play, you don't have supporting images and the words stand alone. So I felt that the movie got in the way of the story--Mr. Shanley focused so much on wind blowing and feathers flying that he forgot to just tell the story. Don't get me wrong, the images were great as were the scenes where one could really hear the great script. It's just that the two--the movie images and the script--worked against each other. I'm not sure if I'm making sense so I'll move onto acting.

Meryl Streep (Sister Aloysius) and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Father Flynn) are a joy to watch on screen but I never felt that their characters grew at all during the movie. In theater we call this the character's arc and Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn pretty much flat lined throughout the film. It didn't make any of their scenes less interesting but when a character holds the same convictions at the start of the movie as at the end, it's kinda boring. Oh, I know Sister Aloysius has that moment of "doubt" at the very end of the film but it really came out of left field and at that point I didn't care so much about her.

And, there was the big confrontation scene between Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn that didn't really make any sense to me. At one point he appears about to confess and then she says she's going to get him and the next thing I know he's leaving that parish. I think I got distracted by Sister Aloysius holding her cross up and then crying and then saying something really snarky and adjusting her crucifix. See, those damn images got in my way of the story.

The only character who really changes during the film is Sister James played by Amy Adams. She plays a young nun who first suspects Father Flynn and then is convinced that he is innocent. Ms. Adams did a great job but she has played quite a few of those wide-eyed innocents lately.

So I enjoyed the film but I wouldn't say it's Best Oscar material. Viola Davis may get a nod for the mother role but while she did a good job, she didn't have a lot of screen time. I was just lamenting to my sister that it's so much harder to find women in good leading and supporting roles. The Academy is reduced to nominating actresses who are on screen for 10 minutes! And don't get me started on Nicole Kidman winning a Best Actress Oscar when she was on screen for less that 1/3'd of the movie--I'll save that for another post, entitled "My Issues with Oscar."

Excuses! Excuses!

Mark Bittman got me thinking about excuses. See, Brian and I had planned on re-doing our kitchen and turning it into a start of the art culinary Eden. Then I read this blog post about Mark Bittman's bad kitchen--they don't call him The Minimalist for nothing. Basically, readers were shocked to learn that Mr. Bittman would deign to cook in such a small kitchen. His response? Yeah, he doesn't like his kitchen but...

You use your crummy kitchen as an excuse not to cook. Maybe it's like
saying, "I can't exercise in the winter because I don't have an elliptical

And that's what got me thinking about excuses. Oh, for an elliptical trainer, the things I could do.

How often do we "say" we want to do something but we just don't have the (fill in the blank)?

Most of the time the blank is time. Have you noticed how busy everyone is these days? And yet, some people get more done in 24 hours than others. Why is that?

It's cool to be busy or so it seems. Busy is the new black. What's everyone doing that so important? Sometimes I wish I were busier. It's not that I don't have things I could do, it's that I don't want to do them.

In my quest to eat greener this year, I've thought a lot about time. It takes time to find non-processed foods and to prepare them. Making my own bread requires planning--will I be home long enough to bake it? And, through these little choices, I've realized how much "busywork" I tend to do. Did you know that your kitchen floor will not corrode if you don't mop it every day?

The other point Mark Bittman makes is that we don't need fancy equipment to accomplish our goals. Sure, sometimes the right tool makes the job easier but we can make do with what we have. Of course not having the right tool is the perfect excuse not to do something. The question then becomes what is it you really want to do?

I have no answers except that Brian and I will continue to cook in the non-culinary utopia that has always been our kitchen. But cook we will and without state-of-the-art technology. Yet, I can't help thinking, if only I had an elliptical trainer....

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Golden Globes Recount

A few thought on the Golden Globes:

A note first: I'm writing as I watch and I'm posting directly after so please forgive grammar and spelling mistakes.

JLo's dress - not so much. And what did she mean by: "Mama talkin' now"? Really, doesn't she know that no kid listen to their mother?

Ahh, I didn't know that Bruce Springsteen wrote the music for The Wrestler. That puts it into higher contention for the Oscar now (think Philadelphia).

Laura Dern: Great actress, great dress, great acceptance speech!

Yeah, I know that I'm supposed to like Wall E much better than any other animated film but I think Kung Fu Panda rocked!

Heath Ledger -could have predicted this one. Eternally missed but never forgotten - yeah, I think Mr. Nolan got that one right.

Why do the foreign language films always look more interesting than the American films? I know we started the whole movie thing but sometimes I think the other countries perfected it.

And, here's an odd thing, the Golden Globes are the Hollywood Foreign Press awards - so why do they give an award for a foreign language?

What is with the poofiness on the dresses?!

Seth Rogen - Not so funny.

Screenplay Award? Slumdog Millionaire - a great film, I'm hoping it wins Oscar gold but it won the screenplay award here which usually means "runner up" for Best Picture. It's not often a film wins both - Screenplay and Picture.

Kevin Connolly (Entourage) looked so disappointed when he lost for Supporting Actor, I like him so much on the show. But he was up against Alec Baldwin - that's like being up against Daniel Day Lewis.

Paul Giamatti in John Adams. I hear the critics didn't like the mini-series so much but so far three wins and, okay, I love Paul Giamatti. Have you seen Sideways? Or American Splendor? And, he is exactly one year older than I--yup, same day, off by one year. Hmm, I'm feeling like I need to do more with my life...

30 Rock - shocked! Okay, not really. Who doesn't love Tina Fey after the Sarah Palin impersonation? It is the rest of the world we're talking about. I was just in Cancun with friends who live near Washington, DC. When Mexicans found out where my friends were from, they would say, "Oh, you're near Barack Obama."

Best Score - Slumdog Millionaire, so deserving except I didn't see the rest of the nominated films but I LOVED the music in Slumdog Millionaire. If you haven't seen it, do stay for the credits, they are so great. Okay, what do we think - Screenplay and Score? I don't think it's winning best picture.

Tina Fey - best actress. Hmmm, yeah, could have predicted that one. Plus Ms. Fey is funny.

Commercial Break - the Eagles in the Super Bowl? Did the Phillies start something? We shall see.

Isn't Martin Scorsese so flippin' cool? Everything he said about Mr. Spielberg could be said about Mr. Scorsese. Yes, Mr. Spielberg is a great director and deserving but Mr. Scorsese is just that much cooler in the way that Frank Sinatra is cooler than Bono. AND-yeah, we all need mentors but Mr. Spielberg, couldn't you be interesting?

So I keep searching to find out how many films won both best screenplay (either adapted or original) and best picture. If anyone has this information, please let me know.

Dustin Hoffman is drunk again, I think.

Wow! So wrong there! Danny Boyle, Best Director for Slumdog Millionaire. Yay! I love being wrong when this happens! Might not win Best Picture but c'mon, this award really brings it home. Great film--go see it if you haven't.

Colin Farrell--Best Actor for Comedic or Musical Picture for In Bruges. He's going on and on as if he'll never win another award in his entire life. Of course, if this speech goes on, we may not have time for any other movie, ever.

I thought Sacha Baron Cohen's comment about Madonna was funny but no one in the room did. Oh well, can't laugh at your own. What does that say?

I love it when Woody Allen wins (for Vicky Cristina Barcelona). He just makes films. He loves to make films. We can talk about all that other stuff but why?

Kate Winslet: Double Win! Wow, when has that happened? Yeah, it's the Golden Gloes but 2 wins in one night. Nice. Haven't seen either film but I am looking forward to Revolutionary Road.

Mad Men won best drama for television. I don't get that show. I tried to watch it but got bored. Men sitting around drinking and being chauvinists--now that's entertainment.

Mickey Rourke won best actor! Didn't I tell you he'd be Sean Penn's competition? Yeah, Hollywood loves a comeback kid so let's see what happens on Oscar night. And, you can tell that Mr. Rourke hasn't spoken to another adult in a while, yeah?

Slumdog Millionaire - the little movie that could!

Doesn't this make you all itchy for Oscar night?

New Year's Resolution

Do you make New Year's resolutions? I tend to call them "goals" as opposed to resolutions but then instead of coloring my hair I say that I 'encourage it to be blond.'

Most of my goals are things that I've noticed that I need to work on which in my mind makes it easier than a resolution. If I'm working toward a goal, I can screw up a few dozen times before achieving it. For example, one year I noticed that I took everything other people said as comments about me. A friend of mine might say that she took up running and suddenly I'd be thinking, "Does she think I should start running? What does she mean by that? Maybe I'm getting really out of shape?"

Pathetic! So, my goal for that year was to not take things so personally. And, it helped because when I found myself questioning how someone mowing their lawn could be an attack on me, I'd remind myself of my goal and realize that perhaps that person might have just mowed his lawn without even thinking about me--crazy, I know.

So this year, I've decided to try to eat greener--you know with less of a carbon footprint. It can be so difficult because pre-packaged food is so bloody convenient. Not to mention that corn-fed beef is much cheaper. But there you have it, we're going to eat a bit greener.

I'm assisted in my endeavour by two articles I have read; one in Bon Appetit about "50 Ways to Eat Greener" and one on Mark Bittman's blog about what to get rid of in your kitchen.

So I hope to eat greener and yes I'll probably fail a few times. Let's just say, I'll be encouraging my family to eat greener.

Of course, before I do any of this I have to watch the Golden Globes. It is Oscar season after all!