Tag Archives: culture

Theater Review: “The Collector” at 59E59

You know that logline for “The Wizard of Oz” that circulates Facebook from time to time, about Dorothy killing a woman and then banding together with friends to kill again? Frederick Clegg (Matt de Rogatis) opens The Collector by pleading for the reverse shift in perspective for his narrative: self-pitying rich man in a position of ultimate power begs us to feel bad for him and blames everything but himself for his circumstances for 2½ hours, while we in turn watch him kidnap, torture and kill a young woman. Who he supposedly loves.

The source material, John Fowles’ novel of the same name, is thick with symbolism. It it would be easy to spend this entire review digging into the parallels between the butterflies Clegg collects and Miranda (Jillian Geurts), who he has kidnapped. But given that the book has been around since 1963 and the play was staged in Edinburgh around 20 years ago, I’ll set aside my desire to dig in on that side of things, and just talk about this production.

De Rogatis and Geurts achieve a deeply disturbing connection on behalf of their characters, one that develops and deepens over the course of the film. Of course, the question is always whether or not Miranda’s feelings are genuine – and Geurts’ accomplishment here is that there are times when Miranda’s attempts to escape shock even the audience – despite the fact that she has been straightforward with both her captor and with us: she will make the attempt every time she gets a chance.

While his accent initially seems unspecific, over time that becomes less distracting and de Rogatis’ real talent shows through: his ability to draw the audience into complicity through connections with individual audience members – some of whom I observed nodding and smiling as de Rogatis delivered a line to them here or there. What initially seemed like an awkward presentation became artfully intentional as the play progressed, transmuting the voyeuristic qualities of the audience into moral support for the monster at the center of the play.

Attempted, but flawed in its execution, is the horrific naturalism of novel and script. 59E59’s Theatre C is small, but the layout of the set and the script’s specific instructions regarding how to achieve its intentions mean that the weight of the set and action often felt imbalanced. Without enough space to really separate each level either physically or with laser-focused lighting changes, there were times when the sharply defined limits of Miranda’s world were blurred, lessening the transfer of her claustrophobic surroundings to the audience and intensifying the effect Geurts needed to have to keep the audience feeling that level of tension. While she more than made up for this loss of energy with one intense exchange with de Rogatis after another (and certainly it was helpful that in many of these exchanges de Rogatis was able to contribute physically to a claustrophobic atmosphere), the play requires the audience to watch a young woman’s terror and pain and take it in as entertainment. The script demands our complicity in its violence, with its treatment of Miranda as a character who wants to break out of the limitations and definitions imposed on her by others, but who is never able to transcend the boundaries and demands placed on her (as the damsel-who-can’t-quite-get-herself-out-of-distress) to achieve true personhood. We’re allowed glimpses into her life – she has a loving upper middle class family, a sister, some friends, a lover/teacher – but we have a far more specific picture of Clegg’s pathetic existence. Which is probably exactly as it should be, given that – again, requiring our cooperation in the narrative – we’re listening to Clegg’s side of the story.

As audience members, we are the reason for the theatrical snuff film that unfolds over the production’s two and a half hours (which, it’s important to note, doesn’t feel overlong at all). In any theater, after the play concludes and the lights come up, we reflect on what we’ve just been a party to. In the case of a production like The Collector, those reflections will be vast and sometimes disturbing.

The Collector plays at 59E59 in New York City, through November 13, 2016, and is presented by Nine Theatricals & Roebuck Theatrical.

Stretching Your Writing Limits

This is going to be a bit of a ramble. I hope you don’t mind, and would appreciate your thoughts at the end via comment.

For the last year or do, I’ve been working on an ambitious project: a series of novels spanning epic concepts of philosophy, religion and mythology, with my friend @sareliz. Both of us wrote first drafts of two chunks of narrative last November as part of NaNoWriMo, then earlier this spring I knocked out a 50K first draft of a third book. As I’ve chipped away at rewrites, however, I’ve become more and more aware of one simple fact: in order to be true to the reality of my protagonist’s world, things are going to have to get a lot darker and more brutal than I ever anticipated, which is going to require a metric f*ckton more research than I’ve done so far.

The book isn’t supposed to be gritty or hard-hitting in a way that features depictions of extreme violence or torture, so there’s also going to have to be a balance stuck between realism and the fantasy world of the series. The more I research, the more I question: can I do this? Have my ambitions gotten ahead of my ability?

This story story, currently planned as the first novel in the series, involves a reporter who travels to a corrupt county to look for a friend and colleague who’s gone missing. As part of my research I’ve been reading about reporters in war zones and oppressive regimes (which plays into another aspect of the series’ overall plot), and with each article I read I realize that the draft i have so far actually features what could be called “danger-lite.” Terrifying things happen to journalists who travel abroad to investigate corruption. They are beheaded, jailed, tortured, ‘disappeared’ and more. The citizens of the countries they investigate are far from immune to brutal treatment, too: look at the kidnapped/murdered Mexican teachers, girls kidnapped and sold into “forced marriages” by Boko Haram, and activists murdered by drug cartels. Even in America, police Senn able to act with near impunity when out comes to summarily executing American citizens in the street.

While there are certainly overlaps in how oppressive regimes the world over treat their citizens and their media figures, (Pakistan and Myanmar are currently in the spotlight on this issue) specificity is key in writing what you don’t know, perhaps top an even greater degree than when writing what you do know. After all, I might take poetic license if I’m writing about a bar in Buffalo or a subway route in New York City, but that’s an informed choice. Blundering the details in a novel about another country or another culture just comes across as lazy ignorance.

Even the small chunks of reading I’ve done so far have highlighted my own ignorance while at the same time pouting my research in stark contrast to lived experience. Reading books like THE BRIEF WONDEROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO by Junot Diaz, being immersed in a world where a revolutionary leader reigns over the lives of citizens with sadistic whim, is nothing like living under such a regime. ‘They’ say to write what you know, but what chance do I have (thank goodness) to understand the lifestyles of people in those circumstances with any degree of accuracy in fiction? How does someone like me write inclusive, relevant, diverse novels on topics like this without fucking it up royally?

The only answer I have is research.

So I’m trying. Really hard. I’m reading what I can, trying to get a feel for both the human, day to day lives of people living under the repressive circumstances the story needs to portray, but also trying to gain more knowledge of the truly horrifying acts oppressive governments can subject their citizens to. At the same time, Itry to find a way to retain the ability to see the monsters responsible for these reprehensible acts as humans, with motivations that made sense to their own internal logic, because it’s a rare human being who sees themselves as a villain, no matter how vile they might be. I try to think of ways i can portray the horror of human suffering at the hands of others while being honest but while avoiding graphic depictions of circumstances that don’t fit the tone of a series of fantasy novels. And then I question myself and start to feel paralyzed. And then i remind myself I’m still working on a draft. There’s always time for another rewrite.

There are bright spots in my research. My trip to St. Martin last year and the one i just took to St. Thomas both informed me on climates, terrain and cultures that will also figure in to the stories my cowriter and i will be telling. And I keep reminding myself of the importance of this, whole trying not to get to bogged down in the details. But when a simple hike through a national park demonstrates that you’ve completely miscategorized your story’s setting, how can you ever know when you’ve researched enough to get on with the writing? And even writing  this, I cringe, because I feel like I’m wading into waters where it would be so easy to give offense.

They say to write what you know, but it’s also critical that writers be willing to learn what we don’t know so we’re can write accurate, diversity populated fiction in terms of our characters, settings and cultures. Whether it takes the form of readings, conversations or traveling, the only answer to this conundrum is research.

Oh, and asking for recommendations. Anybody got any suggestions on trying material or media I can consume? Please leave them in the comments. Your thoughts would be very much appreciated.

Versatile Blogger Awards (Part 1: Blog Recommendations)

IMG_20131017_213750On Saturday, I found out that Christina Zarrella had awarded me a Versatile Blogger Award! Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyways), I’m so flattered that she thought of me when selecting her nominees! Christina’s blog, Turbulence in the Veins, talks about her journey from homeless teen to Yale grad, offering some incredible insight into the struggles she faced and overcame on the way and talking about issues faced by those in similar situations to hers. To be honored by such a blogger was immensely flattering, and I hope you’ll all check out her writing. She has a memoir, of the same title, on the way. Thank you so much, Christina, for your kind words about I Wrote This:

Rachel Lynn Brody’s blog is always informative – whether on tech/blogging/writing topics and tips: http://rlbrody.com

Part one of winning a Versatile Blogger award is nominating another 15 blogs – so here are my nominations (in no particular order)!

  1. Sare Liz Gordy (Inspiration, One Day At A Time) www.sareliz.com – Sare and I have known each other for years; her blog, which she updates with regularity, is always a window into her attempts to view her world with clarity and self-knowledge. Whether she’s posting about migraines, Feng Shui or finding enlightenment, her blogs are always a focused reflection of the world around her.
  2. Tony Noland (Landless) http://www.tonynoland.com/ – A Twitter acquaintance who I’ve known for a while now, Tony’s blog is a combination of his self-publishing exploits, flash fiction and the occasional DIY project. His sense of humor is always evident in his takes on everyday life.
  3. Jamie Broadnax (Black Girl Nerds) http://blackgirlnerds.com/ – Jamie and I have been chatting on Twitter for some time now, and her blog is a phenomenal resource for all things nerdy. She runs a weekly podcast of the same name, and both outlets dig into comics, culture and more. Through Black Girl Nerds, she’s built a phenomenal community that’s well worth checking out.
  4. C.D. Reimer http://www.cdreimer.com/ – This is actually a combination of three blogs, where C.D. posts about writing, Silicon Valley and poetry. His writing blog is incredibly informative and often offers helpful insights into the process of self-publishing.
  5. Johann Thorsson (On Books & Writing) http://jthorsson.com/blog/ – Icelandic author Johann Thorsson writes short stories and novels (mostly in English). His blog is a collection of book reviews, photographs and excerpts from his essays for megasite Book Riot. As an added bonus, those who follow him on Twitter often get to see, via photo, how jealous we should all be that we don’t live in Iceland.
  6. JC Rosen (Girl Meets Words) http://jessrosen.wordpress.com/ – Jess runs a few different book- and writing-related discussions on Twitter. She’s always supportive of writers and willing to chat about their work, and always able to give an encouraging word. Her blog includes flash fiction on diverse topics and write-ups of the different things she’s reading.
  7. Emily Suess (Suess’ Pieces) http://emilysuess.wordpress.com/ – One of my first Twitter acquaintances, Emily also runs a copywriting business – and when I met her, had taken on the beheamouth of online vanity publishing services to try and help new writers avoid unethical treatment. Seuss’ Pieces has been retired and archived to this URL, but still contains plenty of advice for beginning writers.
  8. Melanie Ardentdelirium (Lovely Like Beestings) http://lovelylikebeestings.wordpress.com – Mels is a Twitter acquaintance whose blog tackles issues of both mental health and Roller Derby. Her topics cover everything from broken bones to sick cats, all with a frank edge that gives you a real taste of her personality.
  9. Jo Clifford (Teatro do Mundo) http://www.teatrodomundo.com/  – Jo, my former MFA supervisor, is also a well-regarded, talented and prolific playwright in Scotland. Her blog is both a resource for understanding what it means to be a playwright in today’s world as well as a rich collection of ruminations on personal experience.
  10. Sarah Hartley (StoryGirlSarah.com) http://storygirlsarah.com/ – Sarah is a New York fashionista in the truest sense of the word, with her signature mod/vintage look stamped across her fashion and design work. (Did I mention she’s responsible for the cover of Hot Mess?) Follow her blog and on Instagram to get the full impact of her creative and clear-headed style.
  11. E.M. Thurmond (Count My Stars) http://countmystars.wordpress.com/ – While it hasn’t been updated in some time, E.M. Thurmond’s blog tells the story of an aspiring TV writer in Hollywood. From interviews with women writers to accounts of her own experiences developing her career, it’s a place where readers can find insight in the crazy maze of trying to make it as a screenwriter while staying true to your goals and ideals.
  12. Vossbrink and Kukurovaca (Hairy Beast) http://hairybeast.net/ – These two twitter acquaintances are quick-witted on Twitter, and the depth of analysis on this blog dealing with photography and culture will change the way you look at pictures. Well worth checking it out, but carve out enough time to really immerse yourself in the subject matter. You won’t regret it.
  13. Debbie Vega (Moon in Gemini) http://debravega.wordpress.com/ – Another blogger I found through #MondayBlogs, Debbie covers writing and pop culture. She participates in a lot of themed blog events, like “The Great Villain Blogathon,” and offers anything from advice on how writers can improve their craft to her perspective on popular films.
  14. NYPinTA (Talking to the Moon) http://www.nypinta.com/blog/ – Film, music, theater, travel and television all get their chance in the spotlight on NYPinTA’s blog. Her clear and direct writing style lets you enjoy her experiences as if you’d been there.
  15. Hugh C. Howey http://www.hughhowey.com/ – I read Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga last year, and was blown away by his intriguing dystopian vision. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with him once or twice on Twitter, and the thing I love about his blog is how generous he is with his advice for aspiring indie authors. As someone whose self-published stories went from blog entries to Kindle novels to being picked up by a major publisher, he’s walked the road many indie writers want to follow on, and he offers a lot of insight along the way.

Honorable Mention:

Maybe it’s cheating to bring up a blog I help contribute to, but this list wouldn’t be complete without including Calming Brits & Irishmen. My friend @aboleyn started this Tumblr as a way to cheer me up after my back injury, and since then it’s gained nearly 4,000 followers and turned into a sort of Post Secret for Anglophiles. In addition to the meme-like photographs with calming sayings that we started out posting, we now answer anywhere between 3-15 “asks” a day – many anonymous – from followers dealing with upsetting issues from studying for exams to dealing with breakups, mental health issues and the deaths of family and friends — all through the medium of animated gifs of some of our favorite British and Irish personalities. Apparently the brings a smile to many peoples’ days, and if you’re looking for versatility, the topics it covers run the gamut of human experience.

There’s a second part of the Versatile Blogger Awards – sharing seven things about yourself – but as this blog is already topping 1000+ words, I’ll save that for a second part. Stay tuned tomorrow to learn more about me.

I’m currently seeking beta readers/advance reviewers for my upcoming collection of sci-fi and speculative fiction stories, SHORT FRICTIONS. If you’re interested, please click here to find out more. 

Butchery, Part III: Makin’ the Bacon

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 12 PMWelcome to the third and final part of my Butchery adventure. Check out parts one and two to get caught up. This blog was written in the immediate aftermath of the butchery lesson, but it’s taken me a while to up and post here.

Written: 3/29/13

A few years ago, a friend challenged me to do one new thing a month for the entire year. I think today would have impressed him, because today I helped butcher a pig.

If you’ve read parts one and two of my porcine journey, you’ll know I had serious misgivings about how I might make it through once the pig parts started to fly.

My friend and I made our way to the restaurant; we arrived a little after ten. After introducing us around, they asked what kind of experience, if any, my friend and I had in butchery. I haven’t had any; my friend had taken part in something similar with a lamb and had been studying pig butchery for weeks.

IMAG1143We were given chef’s jackets and aprons before being shown the pig we were about to butcher.

I’ve never been confronted with a pig’s head before. They’re not animals I’ve spent a lot of time with, and the pork shoulder that started this journey was, I now realize, probably not as high in quality as the one we were about to artfully dismember.

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 19 PMBefore we started, the Chef was gave us some background on American and European butchery – for example, did you know that in Europe they cut pig according to its muscle structure, rather than trying to eek out every bit of a so-called choice cut? – and told us a little bit about his own journey to his present position.

Then we learned a little about the pig we were going to work on. It had been raised well and not filled with hormones or antibiotics, and just a few days earlier had been alive and in the fields. In other words, it didn’t get any fresher than this.

IMAG1137I could give a play-by-play of how the Chef walked us through each of the portions of the dissection, but I don’t think I could do justice to just how good of a teacher he was. Both my friend and I had questions, and the three of us chatted as the Chef explained how we were going to take the pig apart so as not to waste any of it. We felt organs and spinal fluid, removed strips of fat (set aside to be rendered), helped saw off limbs, trussed the pork loin, seasoned Bacon for curing and even got to sample a small piece of pork fresh-cooked with olive oil, salt, garlic and thyme.

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 26 PMA lot of anatomy was discussed. My mom used to teach at the University at Buffalo Medical School (as did my grandfather) and as a child I was once treated to a visit to the gross anatomy lab in the middle of a class while my mom spoke with a colleague. I remember things like the spinal columns in a jar on her desk, and while I was never a crack student in biology, the physiology of a human and a pig are similar enough that it made sense to hear how pigs used certain muscles more regularly than others, and how, for example, a muscle a pig wouldn’t use at all would be much more developed in a human because of how we move and bend.

Giving an example of how little pig was wasted in the dissection, the Chef at first threw a few small pieces of “silverskin” – inedible tendon tissue – into the garbage, then changed his mind and retrieved a dish that might have held a cup in volume (though I’d be surprised). When we were finished, he assured us, the cup wouldn’t be full. That’s how much of the pig gets used. It was impressive.

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 20 PMI also saw some first-rate knives in action, which (if you know me) I found pretty damn cool. Watching the Chef easily slide the blade under layers of fat and clean off the pork, I started trying to calculate how many years it will be before I could afford my own set. Way too many.

Once we finished the first half of the pig, which had weighed about 250 pounds when it was alive, we took a break.

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 33 PMBoth me and my friend had glasses of water, and the chef cooked up a “snack” – which he paired with a glass of beaujolais when I took him up on the offer of a glass of wine. (What, did anyone think I’d turn down free wine with a gourmet, freshly-butchered snack?)

When it came to the second half of the pig, the Chef worked quickly. My friend and I helped saw off the legs – the ham, or what would become it (and please note that all errors in naming parts of the animal are the fault of my memory and not poor delivery!) and trussed pork loin to make densely-rolled cuts that would cook evenly.

When both sides of the pig had been butchered into parts, we took a few minutes to prepare ourselves – washing up (though the entire process was far cleaner, and far less bloody, than what I had anticipated), getting our coats back, and stashing the aprons we’d worn – authentic chef souvenirs! – into bags the Chef provided.

Then,the question restaurant- and food-lovers love to hear:

Photo Mar 29, 9 59 01 PM (1)Did we want lunch?

Neither of us was about to say no. We took seats at the bar and agreed: everything on the menu looked amazing, and both of us were happy to eat whatever the Chef wanted to share with us.

It may have been the best meal of my life. We started with a charcuterie board, which featured different cured meats, head cheese, some kind of bacon-wrapped thing, porchetta (please God let me be getting this right) and more. And amazing bread.

Speaking of bread, a couple of guys were kneading gorgeous trays of focaccia beside us, under what looked like extendable heat lamps that hung from the ceilings. Before our eyes, they transformed a giant tray of kneaded dough into a salted and seasoned tray off carby-delicious-goodness.

The next dish – the Chef asked if we wanted to keep going, and neither me nor my friend was about to turn him down – was a gorgonzola, Apple, radicchio and bacon salad.

Photo Mar 29, 11 31 28 AMNow, maybe you like bacon. But when you’ve just spent a week freaking out about whether you’ve got what it takes to butcher an animal, in the way of “not running screaming from the carcass” kind of way – and then found out that indeed, you may indeed have what it takes – the bacon tastes WAY FREAKING BETTER. Or maybe that was because it was freshly cured by a very talented chef.

It was probably the chef. 😉

The next course was spaghetti bolognese, which was the best pasta bolognese I have ever had in my life. Bar none. As my friend said, “that pasta was like a warm hug.”

Finally, the main course. Oh em jee. Butternut squash, kale and chanterelle Mushrooms, and a taste of a few different types of pork: tenderloin, pork belly and a little pork-sausage-type thing that I want to call a croquette, but I know that isn’t the name for it.

Did I mention the chef prepared each course himself?

Best meal of my life. Hands down.

Afterwards, we said our good-byes and expressed our appreciation. I think we left the restaurant a little before two. It was probably one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had in quite some time, and one I’ll treasure for a very, very long time.

Not only did I gain a new appreciation for where my food comes from, but now I know I’ll have the butchery skills I’ll need to survive a zombie apocalypse – and that if it comes down to me or a zombie, I don’t have to worry that I might be too squeamish to, as my butchery t-shirt said, “sever the head.”

IMAG1118

Although I might get the hand saw caught on a bone.

 

Why It’s Not Okay To Call A Nine Year Old Girl A Cunt

$1D7FBBEA90888EAI didn’t think my blogging-brain would be dedicated to telling people, today, that calling a nine-year old girl a cunt, in any context, is not okay.

But apparently some people need to read this.

First of all, if you’re not aware, this appened a little after the Oscars.

Here’s a screen grab of @BlackGirlNerds’ RT of the original tweet from @TheOnion:

 

Capture

This isn’t okay. It’s not okay because – contrary to all the guys (and so far, lest you think I’m exaggerating, they have – with one exception- all been guys) – this isn’t satire, it isn’t on par with the way women are picked apart by the media, and it isn’t funny. It’s also f*cking racist (nblo.gs/IFrim).

“Cunt” is a word that’s used to silence women. It’s regarded (rightly or wrongly, and I lived for a while in a country this isn’t the case, so my opinion on its use is somewhat more liberal than most people I’ve encountered in America) as one of the worst words our American-English language has when it comes to reducing women to their gender and excluding them from the conversation. (Interestingly, a major plot point in Netflix’s new “House of Cards” revolves around one character calling another this word, and even there, it was uncomfortable – but there, it was being used by fictional characters to prove a point, not flung by an anonymous intern at a child.)

An anonymous writer for a major satirical publication calling a woman (or a nine year old child) a “cunt” after a program in which a host known for racist and sexist “jokes” has been standing in front of America telling just those for three hours?

That’s not humor. It’s reinforcing the power dynamic of Hollywood and putting Wallis “in her place” for standing out. For being a child with distinctive early talent and the personality to express it. Intended as such or not, the message when reading The Onion’s tweet is, “keep your head down and your mouth shut, or we’re gonna shame your ass back to where it belongs.”

I leave it to you, dear readers, to imagine where The Onion’s anonymous Twitter-updater would think this should be.

There’s also a wave of people saying (again, I’ve seen mostly guys saying this) that it’s dumb for people to focus on one tweet as opposed to focusing on discussion of Anne Hathaway’s attire and how it did or did not ascribe to fashion culture and its demands.

Uh, fuck you. Women deal with this kind of discrimination every single day, we are not okay with it, and if you paid attention to campaigns like @EverydaySexism or @MissRepresentation (or, say, almost any piece of feminist writing for the last 30 years) these “nice guys” would see constant and vitriolic indictments of the ways in which media misogyny hurts women and girls in society. It’s not okay, and Hathaway has already been in the spotlight for inappropriate sexual commentary in the past, and as fans and women, plenty of people have had issues with it then, so don’t hold this up now as some kind of thing we ought to be paying more attention to than we already are.

If for one second you think it’s acceptable to tell me that The Onion’s tweet about Quvenzhané Wallis is less worth getting upset about than the hard time Anne Hathaway (a personal favorite, as celebrities go) got for her dress…well, shut up, save your breath, and learn how to be offended by more than one thing at a time.

As far as the people who say that raging about this because of Wallis’ age isn’t okay because it sends the message that it’s okay to use this word against women (as opposed to children): Uh. No. That is also not okay. But it’s especially disgusting that this word was used to attack a talented young woman of color on a night that should have been all about her professional accomplishments.

In some ways, The Onion’s “satirical” (read: chauvinistic and from within the power structure, not attacking or challenging that power structure, i.e. not fitting the definition of satire) is proof of what feminists have been arguing for years: that media slamming of women creeps ever more obviously into the limelight and becomes more “acceptable” with every airbrushed magazine cover that’s published.

What else is disgusting about The Onion’s attack on Quvenzhané Wallis? (Aside from the blatant misogyny and undercurrent of racism, which is better explored in the multitude of tweets @BlackGirlNerds has been RTing.) I could go on about it all day.

But following after a three-and-a-half hour session wherein Seth MacFarlane made clear his feelings on my gender and other races, let’s leave it at this:

This is probably the last time I’m going to bother watching the Oscars, and while they’ve now (as of noon today) issued an apology on Facebook (not that I can find a link to it on the front page of their website, where it belongs) I don’t think I’ll be reading much of The Onion for a while.

Is it because I have no sense of humor? I like to think not. It’s because I’m sick of reading things that denigrate my gender and having to take a step back and try to see things from the POV of the “satirist” in order to laugh. I’m tired of it. I want to watch comedy that’s actually funny, not comedy that spews insults and terms of abuse in order to prop up the insecurities of the comedian.

Update: While I haven’t posted this entry yet, The Onion has issued an apology for their tweet. It can be read at “http://www.theonion.com/articles/the-onion-apologizes,31434/” and undercuts the argument of anyone who thought this tweet fell under the umbrella of satire:

“On behalf of The Onion, I offer my personal apology to Quvenzhané Wallis and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the tweet that was circulated last night during the Oscars. It was crude and offensive—not to mention inconsistent with The Onion’s commitment to parody and satire, however biting.

No person should be subjected to such a senseless, humorless comment masquerading as satire.”

Damn straight.

(At the same time, a friend who called their offices to complain mentioned they’d redone their message machine to include a note to those inclined to rant re: reading the first amendment, so it would appear the spirit of apologetic remonstration is spreading through their offices in uneven fits and starts.)

THEATER REVIEW: Midsummer [a play with songs] by David Greig at the Clurman Theater, NYC

David Greig’s protagonists sit on a park bench in his play Midsummer [a play with words], drinking and aligning themselves with a ragtag group of teenage Goths. It’s an example of how this play captures the strange, free-forming social constellations I will always associate with Edinburgh in the summer.

Helena (Cora Bissett) and Bob (Matthew Pidgeon), who started their association as participants in a raucous one-night stand, are now spending a wad of cash that’s fallen into their laps – a recurring theme, in Scottish drama, now that I think of it (Danny Boyle’s Millions and Trainspotting come immediately to mind). As their bender progresses, the audience is brought into the experience of the festival city’s summertime discombobulation, always maintaining sight of the wider beauty and spirit Edinburgh offers both residents and visitors when the weather is warm.

Midsummer premiered in 2007 – coincidentally, my last summer in the city where it takes place – and is therefore dislocated from its context in three ways during its current NYC run: in time, in distance and in theatrical context. To see a breathtaking production during the Edinburgh Fringe’s unceasing barrage of plays is a singular experience, particularly if one has already seen dozens of shows. Measures of quality warp over the course of three weeks spent viewing productions back-to-back, and to see a show that found success there performed outside of the Fringe is more like tasting whisky after cleansing your palate than not.

Midsummer is an example of modern Scottish theater in many ways. In its opening, Greig’s language is rich and rhythmic, poetic and intense. This eases somewhat as the production continues, and it’s missed, but perhaps appropriate that as we learn the characters of Helena and Bob, they and Greig rely less on words and more on the knowledge we’ve gained throughout the production.

Under Greig’s direction, Bissett and Pidgeon’s depiction of the physical nature of the production and the visceral emotion of connecting with someone else blend into one. The set – resembling a bed, though at times Georgia McGuiness’ design seems more of a jungle gym (Japanese rope bondage!) – features panels and flip-out sections that enrich the specifics of each of the play’s settings; since the set itself is featured throughout the production it’s no small feat to transport the audience with each of its iterations.

As a “play with songs,” Midsummer features interwoven verses and small choruses that lift the audience from the immediate action and into a space that contemplates the individual experiences of the two characters, as well as the nostalgia it brings to anybody who’s resided there through an Edinburgh summer. While the play may not offer deep social commentary or revolutionize theater, it’s a fair representation of professional Scottish theatre – and a high-quality one, to boot. It may not be Black Watch, but Midsummer highlights a far less flashy tradition of Scottish storytelling in a way that’s accessible to audiences in both Scotland and abroad.

“Midsummer [a play with songs]” can be seen at the Clurman Theatre, New York, NY, from January 9-26, 2013.

Let’s Talk About Guns

Thank you to ponsulak via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

photo credit: ponsulak via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What is there to say about guns?

I don’t own one. I never have. My grandfather owns what I think of as a rifle (although given what I’ve learned about how I think about different types of guns, that may not be a specific enough term*) and the running joke is that when he has stories about crows, deer and other animals getting into his garden, you can always bet the story will end with, “And then I shot it.”

It didn’t make sense to me that one of the reasons people defended the use of “assault weapons” was because they were necessary for hunting. So I did what any self-respecting geek does.

I asked about it on Twitter. The tweet has, of this writing, had 111 retweets and 59 favorites. It also sparked a storm of replies, the answering of which has sent me over my rate limit three times in the last 18 hours.

 

 

A lot of replies were from angry NRA members and tackled one of my favorite topics – the specificity of language, and how we make it impossible for ourselves to communicate. As it turns out, the phrase “assault weapons” is read as an umbrella term by those who know their stuff – and it covers both legal semi-automatics (which can be modified into full automatics, although this is illegal) and illegal, expensive fully automatic rifles.

And a lot of people do use legal, semi-automatic guns for hunting. First surprise of the night. But hardly the last.

While some people replied to the tweet and discussion with blatant trolling, others stopped to get involved in the chat. I’ve been trying to keep track of those people, and have made a public list called “Discussing Guns” on twitter; I’ll update that list as I go.

After the first day or so of discussion, there are some points we seem to have found consensus on, from both sides of the debate. They are:

1. The 2nd Amendment right to bear arms is as fundamental to the US as the right to free speech, or the separation of church and state. Some gun owners had fast reactions to the conversation that came out as, “Don’t take away my gun.” My interest in the discussion was in no way related to the idea of taking away any guns that are already in the hands of responsible gun owners.

2. More gun control is not the same as better gun control. There was widespread consensus that what we need are more effective laws, not more regulation.

3.  Participants had vastly different opinions on what steps can be taken to achieve better gun control in America. This is an area where we need to have further civil discussion/brainstorming, and where innovative responses may be required. Thus far the conversation has included ideas from policewomen, volunteer fire fighters, ex-military and other NRA members, as well as hearing those who do not own or participate in a culture that includes guns as part of their everyday life. Suggestions have included SROs and arming teachers, better mental health checks, the idea of “ammo cards” and more. I raised a question about what kinds of penalties are currently in place for people who own guns but don’t secure them properly, since there are cases where guns are stolen from licensed users. It was pointed out that there are already background and mental health checks in place, although a statistic was brought up regarding gun sales for cash at shows. Statistics were presented on gun deaths vs. other kinds of deaths, although they were from 1997.

One serious issue I’ve noticed in this region of the debate is that for many people who don’t use guns, having children in close proximity to guns makes the children less safe, whereas those who are familiar with “gun culture” feel that there is more safety with guns around than not. This is an area where compromise might be challenging. Many on one side feel it is there right not to be in the presence of guns. I personally agree with that point of view. I can’t scream “fire!” in a crowded building despite having free speech – where does the limit of one person’s freedom end, and another person’s freedom begin? I don’t know how we can dig into this area of the discussion, and we may not be that far along yet, but it’s definitely something that needs to be looked at by both sides if progress is going to be made.

4. Mental Health Care is coming up over and over again. Everyone seems to agree that more care needs to be available for those with mental illness, as part of a responsible culture that includes gun ownership and use. So far there has been no notable resistence to the idea of developing a system in tandem with increased access to mental health care, although there is not consensus on what form that might take. Some have raised the question of how mental health care services could be improved while also being paid for. Definitely an area worth further discussion, and as both NRA members and mental health activists have an interest in providing better care to our country’s mentally ill, it might be worth it for them to have a narrow discussion around that issue.

This has been a long discussion that shows little sign of slowing down, and the way in which people are participating is, for me (and hopefully others) clearing up a lot of the questions I had about why there aren’t easy solutions to what seemed, until yesterday, to be an obvious no-brainer. I’m grateful for the participation of those who’ve joined in so far and looking forward to seeing where this conversation goes.

Finally, since this is a summary of an extended and multi-faceted discussion, I encourage you to come over to twitter and check things out if you want to take part or have a fuller understanding of the live discussion. If you’ve been taking part and feel like I’ve missed a nuance, please point it out in the comments or let me know on Twitter and I’ll make an edit.

And finally, because we all need a smile right now, check out this BuzzFeed article: Moments That Restored Our Faith In Humanity This Year.

 

 *EDIT: 12/17/2012) Are there solutions we overlooked in our initial conversation? Do you have new ideas about how to explore some of the areas of consensus found above? Please join the discussion via the comments, below; I ask that everyone take part civilly and in the interest of a useful exchange of ideas.

*EDIT 12:58 EST – Just spoke to @Texasartchick, a police officer and firearms instructor who has offered to provide a more specific definition about types of guns mentioned in this article at her earliest opportunity. Check back/subscribe for comments. Thank you! And BuzzFeed is on a role with this new post.