Tag Archives: review

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.

The Revenant Recap/Review: Someone Give Leo His Oscar Already

revenant

“GIVE ME MY OSCAR ALREADY!” — the dialogue that goes along with this image, in my head

Just got back from seeing The Revenant, and the last thing I’ve seen that was that brutal might have been…well, I don’t even know. Mild spoilers below. You’ve been warned.

I spent most of the movie thinking it took place in Alaska, either because I didn’t read anything about it beforehand or because I associate Alaska with the man-versus-nature conflict. (Thanks, Jack London.) But it doesn’t – it takes place in South Dakota and Montana. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in films before but holy crap talk about natural beauty. No doubt assisted by Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography (though I did see some lens flare there for a second, let’s not go all JJ, now), the setting is most definitely a character in this one. A brutal, unforgiving character. 

Most of the characters in The Revenant are brutal (not the last time you’ll see this word in here, sorrynotsorry) and unforgiving, though, and those who aren’t don’t come out of things too well…or sometimes at all.

As the film opens, we get some smoky memories/images of Leo — sorry, Glass — and his Native American wife, and their young son, and the camp/community they’re living in. Then we see a lot of burning structures and hear a whispering voice recite the theme of the film – while you still have breath, keep fighting to survive. (Not a direct quote.) Next, we flash ahead to Glass and a group of fur trappers. He, his son (Hawk, played by Forrest Goodluck) and another member of the group (possibly Will Poulter’s Bridger, though honestly I have a hard time remembering faces the first time I see them so it might have been another member of the expedition) are hunting, trudging through ankle-deep watery swampland. They kill an animal and we head back to the fur trapper’s camp. We quickly meet our supporting cast: the captain, a bit naive and idealistic, with a father who apparently bought him his commission; Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), who is a bastard (we know this because he cares more about money than people, makes a bunch of racist comments about Hawk’s parentage, and eventually leaves Glass in the middle of the woods to die.

They’re attacked by a band of Pawnee, and the entire sequence was chilling and ghastly and bloody. We don’t know it as the attack unfolds, but the leader of the group is seeking his missing daughter, Powaqa (later played by Melaw Nakehk’o), and has decided that she must be with the Americans – only ten of whom (out of forty) manage to escape with their lives. Glass, Hawk, Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) and Fitzgerald are among them, as is Bridger, as well as a half dozen other men of varying importance. Henry and Glass quickly decide that they have to abandon the few furs they’ve salvaged, leaving them behind for later retrieval, and that they need to ditch their boat as well. (They escaped on the boat, but staying on the river will leave them open to the Pawnee group.) Fitzgerald and a few others are upset by the thought of leaving a fortune in furs behind, and when a few of the men are assigned to set the boat adrift, they instead stay on it and float off down the river. Not sure we ever found out what happened to them. Given the rest of the film, I somehow doubt it was anything positive, unless by “positive” you mean “a quick and relatively painless death.”

The men who stay behind – Hawk, Bridger, Glass, Henry and a few others – stash most of their furs and set out back to their fort*. As their scout, Glass goes ahead to make sure their path is clear. Just as we, the audience, are getting past the opening slaughter…Glass gets between a mother bear and her cubs.

In a three-stage attack that left me covering my eyes with one hand and my mouth with the other, Mama Bear rips up Glass’ back, then rips up his front, then nips him in the neck, then for a minute it looked like maybe she was going to use her teeth to sever his spine, she dislocates his ankle…it’s ten or fifteen solid minutes of watching one of nature’s most frightening predators do her thing. Every time she starts to move off, Glass tries to breathe through the pain and finish her off, but this just provokes her to come back and keep tearing chunks off him. Finally, he stabs her repeatedly with a knife, then they both end up sliding down a hill into a valley, where the fight finally ends.

When the other men find Glass, they tend to his wounds and try to make him more comfortable, but ultimately the prospect of carrying him all the way home on a stretcher proves impractical. A few of the men say they ought to put Glass out of his misery, but the captain prevails and offers a reward to anyone willing to stay with him. Presumably, it will only take a day or two for him to die, then they can bury him and be on their way to the fort as well. Finally, Hawk and Bridger both offer to give up their shares of the reward money if Fitzgerald will stay behind. I was a confused as to why the captain would put the guy who just wanted to shoot Glass like a wounded horse in charge of the rescue mission, or why he’d trust the man’s word, but I’m hoping there was some other reason for that and maybe I just didn’t catch it. Clearly the captain shouldn’t have trusted Fitzgerald, because by the time another twenty minutes go by, Hawk is dead, Bridger is cowed, and Glass is resting half-covered and not actually dead in a shallow grave.

I could go through a play by play – the deceitful French trappers/rapists, Glass’ arduous experience in the wilderness, a number of encounters with other Pawnee, how everything pans out – but what’s more interesting to me is the way this film portrays an ordeal of superhuman determination and vengeance. We’ve been seeing a lot of “lighter Leo” the last few years – The Wolf of Wall Street, The Great Gatsby – and the heaviness of this story stands in strong contrast to those roles. There’s very little (if any) humor to be found here (not that the script calls for it), but between the story and the characters and the acting, the film is still riveting.

From avalanches to mountains to frozen wastelands and eerie forests, every single setting is shot with an exquisite eye. From one moment to the next, you’re either rapt in wonder at its beauty or else you’re overcome by the idea that this man is trying to survive in this wilderness, sustained only by his desire for revenge. More than once, I thought, Damn. I don’t think I could do this. I’d lie down in the snow and be done by now. And yet Glass kept going. And kept going. And kept going.

One of the turning points in the film comes after we and Glass watch a pack of wolves bring down one Buffalo out of thousands. As Glass stares at the scene unfolding before him we can almost see him salivating. At the same time, with no real weapons, he has to hold himself back from surging forward – and the tension is palpable as this takes place. He sleeps, and when he meets a Pawnee whose village has been massacred by Sioux; the man takes pity on Glass and carries him, treating him when his infection rises and building him a shelter and fire where he can heal. Almost as mysteriously as he appears, the man is gone, leaving only a few words of wisdom behind: “Revenge is in the Creator’s hands” (in the hands of the creator? Not sure.). It’s a message Glass takes to heart, as we learn later. Abandoned by his savior, Glass wanders smack into the village of French trappers. He goes to steal a horse, but stops when he sees that the Frenchmen have a Pawnee woman captive and have been repeatedly raping her since her capture. He goes into action, first taking the Frenchman by surprise then allying with the woman – who we assume, then later confirm, is Powaqa. They both escape, though separately.

As he’s riding away from the French, the Pawnee warriors attack again, and this time Glass and his horse try to outrun them and end up running off a cliff. You know how it felt when Buffy killed off Ms. Calendar? Like nobody was safe anymore? Well, when your hero is mauled by a bear in the first act, you can be pretty sure that’s not the worst thing that’s going to happen to him. Time and again, Glass overcomes the odds. He keeps fighting to survive.

After the massacre of the French camp, as Glass lies inside his horse like Luke in a Tauntaun (sidenote: Google Docs appears to recognize Tauntaun as a word, whoa), one of the Frenchmen turns up at the fort – which we now learn is only about 13 miles from Glass…and said Frenchman is carrying a water flask that Bridger had left on Glass’ chest with a weak apology, earlier in the film. Assuming that the flask was dropped by Hawk, the Captain offers ten dollars to any man willing to head out with him on a search. They find Glass. Fitzgerald catches wind of it, and knowing his lies are falling apart, he takes off. The captain and Glass head out to find him, there are confrontations, and then another brutal battle where both Fitzgerald and Glass leave blood-covered chunks of the other in the snow. With Fitzgerald almost dead and taunting him about how he hopes revenge is enough, as it won’t bring Glass’ son back, Glass looks up and sees the Pawnees on the other side of the river. Remembering the words of the man who saved him, he pushes Fitzgerald into the river, where the current carries him to the Pawnee leader. Who kills him. As the band of Pawnee walk by on their horses, we see Powaqa, which is presumably the reason Glass is allowed to live.

Glass, left bleeding and weak by the side of the river, turns to look directly into the camera. Without a word, the screen fades to black.

There are a few things I want to look into: first, the film fails the Bechdel test with spectacular aplomb, so I’m curious as to whether there were women who worked as fur trappers (kind of like I’d never heard of lady pirates until a former roommate revealed her slight obsession with them). I want to know what Native American groups think of the portrayals of both the Pawnee and the Sioux. I want to read a bit more about the time period when the story takes place in general, to have a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding the entire unfortunate event. I appreciated that the film makes mention of things like “company store” contracts, and that it relies so heavily on imagery over dialogue (a good portion of which is subtitled). I’m curious as to other work by the director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (who wrote the piece with Mark L. Smith). And I might even want to read the book, if I get through my current “to read” pile any time soon.

Mostly, though, I want Leo to finally get his Oscar. He does a riveting job of bringing Glass to life, of showing the man’s depth of feeling and the range of emotions that shut down, one after another, as his desire for revenge overtakes everything else – and how letting that happen to him allows Glass to survive long enough to avenge his son’s death.

I’m not usually one for Westerns, so I’m not well-versed in the contrivances of the genre, but one thing that stands out to me as particularly smart was how Inarritu and Smith turned the convention of the kidnapped woman on its head. In something like The Searchers, and throughout Western (genre) literature, the idea of “the Indians” capturing the innocent white girl is pervasive; here, and perhaps in a more historically appropriate setup/synechdoce, it’s the white man who have kidnapped and brutalized a Native American woman. I don’t adore that the one named female character was basically there as motivation for the opening brutality, nor that she’s being repeatedly raped – that one hits a little close to truth, given national statistics about sexual violence against Native American women – but in terms of genre convention it was certainly a twist. 

Much like how I’m not a fan of car chases yet thought Mad Max: Fury Road was freakin’ amazing (another Tom Hardy flick, funnily enough), I highly recommend seeing The Revenant on the big screen in order to appreciate just how stunning the scenery really is – and to give you the best view of Leo’s raw emotive power during this two-and-a-half hour experience.

The Revenant is currently in theaters.

Writer Duet: A Great (Free!) Solution for Screenwriting on a Chromebook

When I first got my Chromebook, one of the first things I wanted to do was find a screenwriting app that would let me write plays and screenplays as easily as Final Draft. (Final Draft, for my non-writer readers, is the industry standard for writing in either format.) While there were a few online environments that allowed you to write in screenplay format, they were a) expensive and b) unwieldy.

A quick refresher: because Chromebooks operate in an online, Linux-based environment, it’s difficult to find software that’s compatible with special formats. While most well-known screenwriting software has versions compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems, so far there’s been very little in the way of creating specialized software for Chromebook. At one point I heard that Google was working to make any app available for their ultra-lite notebooks, but to date there doesn’t seem to have been much progress on that front.

Anyways. I’m working on a sitcom pilot, and one of the practical challenges I’ve had to work with is making my edits to the text. My Windows laptop, which is limping along with the help of both external mouse and keyboard, has my copy of Final Draft on it – but at this point, the program runs so slowly that it’s frustrating to use.

I printed out and edited my script the other day, and was dreading finding the time to break it down into manageable chunks to input the changes.

Enter this morning.

I decided it was worth taking another look for screenwriting software that was compatible with both Final Draft and Chromebooks this morning – after all, the software scene is constantly evolving – and after some searching, discovered two things:

  1. My initial Chromebook write-up is one of the first page of results on the topic of screenwriting on the platform (yay!) and
  2. There is now a workable – and highly functional – Final Draft alternative for writers who are familiar with how that software functions but want to write in an online (Chromebook-compatible!) format.
A blank template for screenplays on Writer Duet.

A blank template for screenplays on Writer Duet.

This alternative is called Writer Duet. And it’s unbelievably powerful, incredibly well-designed, and completely intuitive for anyone who’s already used to writing in Final Draft. It imports and exports to multiple standard screenwriting format, doesn’t require knowledge of markup or formatting, and best of all?

It’s FREE.

That’s right. FREE.

Sure, there’s a paid version (which, at $99 for a lifetime membership is a bargain) but so far the free version looks and feels just like writing in Final Draft.

This morning, while lying in bed icing my back, I was able to edit a 46-page script in a fraction of the time it would have taken on my laptop. There was no lag inputting or processing commands as the document got longer (which has been an issue in Final Draft), the formatting is highly intuitive (perhaps more so than FD), and the output is easily downloadable and back-up-able. Signing up took less than a minute. Imports of documents in .fdx were flawless (.pdf imports less so, but you shouldn’t be saving in-progress docs as .pdfs anyways). The program was so easy to use that I almost immediately recommended it to a friend of mine who’s taking his first shot at writing for the stage. (He was confused by it, but it took me a few tries to get used to FD, so I’m not counting that against Writer Duet at all.

If you’re interested in writing in stage or screen format, and don’t want to shell out $125+ for Final Draft, check out Writer Duet. If you’re on a Chromebook and despairing because you can’t find an elegant solution to the issue of formatting your stageplays or screenplays, check out Writer Duet.

I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

 

Please note, this is not a sponsored blog post, I am endorsing this program because it’s amazing and if you want to write in screenplay format for a Chromebook, it is far and away the best solution I’ve found to date.

ACT ONE REACTION: Slaughterhouse Five

 

Sometimes, one leaves a theatrical experience and the foremost thought in one’s mind is, “That’s X hours I’m never getting back.” When attending plays as a reviewer (i.e. with free/comped tickets), I always stay through to the end. However, when I’ve paid for my ticket – as in this case – I no longer feel it necessary to sit through an entire production once I’m convinced it’s not getting any better. Please bear in mind, while reading, that for all I know the production takes a massive upswing in the second act and I missed out on something truly brilliant – though this writeup in The Buffalo News makes me doubt that was the case. Here’s my reaction to the production.

From The Buffalo News: Tim Joyce and John Kennedy star in Subversive Theatre's season-opening production of "Slaughterhouse Five."

From The Buffalo News: Tim Joyce and John Kennedy star in Subversive Theatre’s season-opening production of “Slaughterhouse Five.”

ACT ONE REACTION: SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE BY THE SUBVERSIVE THEATRE COLLECTIVE

Subversize Theatre Collective
Great Arrow Building
Manny Fried Theatre
Directed by Michael Lodick
Adapted by Eric Simonson

Saturday night, I left Slaughterhouse Five, produced by the Subversive Theatre Collective, at intermission. While the presentation was competent, it wasn’t compelling enough to keep me and my parents in our uncomfortable seats — or the overheated auditorium.

If you haven’t read Kurt Vonnegut’s masterpiece, the story of Slaughterhouse Five revolves around a man named Billy Pilgrim, who has become “unstuck” in the space-time continuum. The novel itself is disjointed, offering a broken narrative – the book incorporates parts of Vonnegut’s own time in the service and as a POW. While the script seems faithful to the story, even setting up Vonnegut’s narrator conceit, something about the production meant it never really seemed to offer much spark.

Tim Lane’s set is colorful and visually engaging, and its versatility allowed the players to move seamlessly from scene to scene. The brightest moment of the play’s first act came from Rick Lattimer, whose performance as Elliot Rosewater suddenly came to life during a conversation with Pilgrim (Shane Zimmerman) and his fiancee (Brittany Gabryel as Barbara). Suddenly animated, Rosewater describes the book he’s reading to Pilgrim, ranting about an alternate view of reality. For a few moments, there was a sense of welcome tension from the audience. Then it passed.

As the narrator, Tim Joyce kicked the play off with a one-man scene that set the stage. There were times when some mannerisms began to feel affected, veering more towards Mark Twain than Kurt Vonnegut, and smoothing those moments over would help the audience forget that they’re watching a performance. Generally speaking, there was very little about the performances that was notable.

One of many huge challenges inherent in mounting a production where each scene is only a few minutes long is that it’s difficult for the audience to remain emotionally engaged without a connection to each scene.  After nearly an hour of story, no one in my party felt a strong enough connection to the show to stay and watch the second half.

Fan of Vonnegut looking for new insights/perspective on your favorite author and one of his most famous works? You might very well enjoy this production. Casual theater-goer looking for a thought-provoking experience that also entertains? This might not be the show for you.

THEATRE REVIEW: Why Torture Is Wrong and The People Who Love Them

Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them
By Christopher Durang
Directed by Thomas LaChiusa
Subversive Theatre Company

Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them by Christoper Durang, has a plot that unfolds – at first – quite neatly. A young woman (Felicity, played by Andrea Andolina) wakes up in bed with a man (Zamir, played by Michael Votta) who she doesn’t know. Who, as far as she can tell, she’s married by accident. As the action develops, it begins to take a strange veer away from reality, heading into an absurd – yet frighteningly possible – world.

Feicity is, throughout the first act, constrained by the barely-restrained violence of combating Alpha males Leonard (her father, played by Victor Morales) and her new husband Zamir. Her mother Luella (Christopher Standart) has disassociated from the world, relying on absent-minded discussion of Broadway hits (Wicked, A Chorus Line) and is at odds with her daughter’s desire to tackle problems in the here and now. Namely, the problem of Zamir. He might be a danger. Or a terrorist. He’s already shown some tendencies toward violence – if not physical, yet, the certainly verbal – and while Felicity wants her parents’ help in getting an annulment, she also doesn’t want Zamir hurt. It’s a pretty morally admirable decision, given Zamir’s actions towards her early on. Still, one cheers a little when he and Leonard stand off. The delicious whiff of mutually-assured destruction is in the air.

The play strikes the same cheery, sick satirical chords as something like Torben Betts’ The Unconquered, or (if I’m giving his an even darker comparison) Sarah Kane’s Blasted (if Blasted were played for laughs without any on-stage violence). Some cultural force has warped our male leads, and one almost hopes the dystopia of the outside world is bad enough to justify the chill that runs through Durang’s script when it comes to his character’s brutality. One suspects that world might be reality, while hoping that isn’t the case.

Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them is a funhouse-mirror post-9/11 dark comedy. The metaphors for punishment without trial, racial profiling and next-generation “patriots” (the kind who take selfies flanked by flags and guns and government conspiracy theories) and domestic violence are present. It asks us, as viewers: how does a person cope with all that? Can we, as society, stand our ground and demand the ability to effect change (Felicity’s stance, in the first act), or disassociate into a disengaged enjoyment of our Marxian opiate of choice?

Luella, we see, has chosen the latter. While her husband waxes poetic about “Father Knows Best,” exploring the taste of calling his daughter the pet names from the kids in the classic TV show, Luella wears matching floral house dresses and insists on lighthearted conversation about the Theatre and French Toast. While she develops into an ally for Felicity as the play moves on, one can never be sure of when Luella’s small-chat fog may be sliced open by razor lucidity.

As for Leonard, everything we hear about his contact with the government? We hear it from him, or from one of his co-conspirators. In other words, it’s not hard to imagine that his Shadow world is, just like Luella’s also turtles all the way down. It might as well be self-contained. If Luella has floated away, maybe Leonard and his fellow nutjobs aren’t far behind.

If so, then what can be made of the final movement of the script, where Felicity’s compassion for Zamir – a man who has threatened and intimidated her – allows her to finally wrest away control of the situation’s swiftly deteriorating violence? She takes charge and the axis of Durang’s play starts to twist. A voice that’s been speaking to the audience throughout the play – Becky Globus, who also takes on several other roles – smashes through the 4th wall, and Felicity wills a feat of metatextual narrative timetravel. Her drive to change what’s happened drags the whole cast, including a pornographic priest (James Cichocki) and one of Leonard’s whackadoo comrades (Mike Seitz), back to a point before the play even started: the night Felicity and Zamir meet.

Conjured back to their ground zero, Felicity searches for a way in which the best aspects of herself and Zamir can be together – while also setting clear and entirely reasonable boundaries about what she wants as the end result: a world where things turn out differently. She directs the conversation carefully, laying out boundaries and guidelines, until she’s coached both herself and Zamir to what might be their “best aspect”. Zamir wonders if this even leaves him as the same same person, but Felicity’s insistence carries the day. Have they truly time-traveled, and will they now create a better future? Or has Felicity just experienced just had a disassociative snap, her mind creating a false reality to protect her from the world’s harsh truths? Has Felicity just found her delusional opium?

That I’m left with questions like these (and more) is a testament to the quality of Durang’s script, Thomas LaChiusa’s direction, and the cast’s ability to seamlessly integrate the two. Subversive’s production is tight and focused, an achievement for a show gets farther “out there” than normal. It’s easy for a play that toys so much with fantasy and reality (including metatextually) to drift aimlessly, but Why Torture Is Wrong…keeps its feet on the ground. And that makes a huge amount of difference in its ability to hold the audience over the course of two hours, as well in its ability to spark thought afterwards.

While John Kennedy and Michael Lodick’s set doesn’t quite evoke the luxury the script indicates, it’s unclear if that’s because the wealth isn’t translating physically, or if – like Zamir’s insistence on being somehow Irish – it’s yet another place where character’s perceptions and reality diverge.

Why Torture Is Wrong… is at the Subversive Theatre in Buffalo, New York through April 12, 2015, and I hope you make the time to see it.

Tickets were comped for this production.

Also of interest:

Samsung Chromebook Update

chrome-instead-of-windows-8

It’s been a few weeks since I brought my Chromebook home from the store, and I’m not gonna lie – I am completely and utterly in love with this little machine. It’s light to carry, easy to use, offers comprehensive access to what I need my computer for, and (with about an hour of preparation when I first bought it) puts all my work at my fingertips. I’ve encountered one or two hiccups since booting the Chromebook up for the first time, but have found all of them supremely navigable.

This comes with a couple of caveats: I don’t play computer games, I have above-average knowledge (if we’re talking the average of the general population here) of how a computer works, I haven’t yet used the Chromebook for screenwriting, and I’ve maintained a primary desktop that runs on Windows 7, which I use when I need to save large files or print a document.

With those disclaimers out of the way, here are some of my favorite things about my Samsung Chromebook:

The Keyboard
99.9% of what I use my Chromebook for is typing. Whether I’m tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, novelling, emailing or a dozen other -ings, words are at the center of most of my computer usage. The Chromebook’s keyboard is close enough to full-size to be comfortable and easy to type on, unlike the Asus EEE netbook I bought (and ultimately discarded) four or five years ago. The keys are low to the surface of the laptop’s lower casing, and give a satisfyingly mechanical click when struck. I can’t stand silent keyboards. They make me feel like I’m fooling myself. One reason I picked the Samsung over the other models of Chromebook available at the Best Buy I visited was the tactile experience of testing its keyboard and mousepad before purchase. Given the importance of the tactile experience in my writing process, I think I made the right choice.

Living In The Cloud
Dropbox has become a more important part of my storage life for the last few years. I haven’t yet found a satisfactory way of mirroring files from Dropbox to Google Docs, and since Google Docs can’t open direct from Dropbox, I’ve had to use a roundabout process of downloading, converting and opening files to get my documents across, but I’ve now started saving my work directly to my Google Drive. Almost every service with a web interface is accessible from Chrome, so I’ve been able to keep watching my shows on Hulu Plus and listening to music on Spotify. I’m also (as I’ll discuss next) really growing to enjoy — not just tolerate — the experience of using Google’s productivity suite.

The Software Experience
My biggest point of hesitation when it came to moving away from the Windows OS was my reliance on Microsoft products. All my writing (with the exception of screenplays) has been done in Microsoft Word since around 1993, and being able to access those files is critical. I knew that moving to Google Docs was going to be a transition, but I didn’t give a lot of thought to the casual use of image editors. And even though my phone is an Android, the idea of my choice of OS having a substantial impact on my organization and planning hadn’t really occurred to me.

Where its office suite is concerned, the Chrome OS is a winner. Google Docs (the company’s replacement for Microsoft Word) and Sheets (for Excel) make it possible to import Microsoft files (though you have to be sure to use the “import” command rather than just “open,” or you won’t wind up with an editable file. On top of this, Google offers Forms, which may be the easiest way to set up a survey and collect simple data that I’ve ever used (and I’ve used Access, Surveymonkey, LJ Polls and more). On top of this, Google has added offline mode for everything from gmail to Docs, which means I can keep up with my work even when I’m not online.

Managing Appointments
At the moment, thanks to a plethora of doctors’ appointments, my calendar isn’t as uncomplicated as you might think. Since getting my Chromebook, I’ve noticed a jump in the up-to-date nature of my calendar. Suddenly, putting new items on my agenda has become a seamless process, since I no longer have to navigate the default options put into place for me by Microsoft. Any time I get the option to “add to Google Calendar,” I click it, and presto – my calendar is updated the way it always should have been, but wasn’t, when using my Google Calendar from a Windows machine. It also carries over to my phone’s Google calendar – again, this should have been happening before, but there was some kind of hiccup taking place when I tried to do this from Windows, and I never took the time to fix it.

Photo Editing
Thanks to an article I read early in my research process, I had learned about Pixlr, touted as an online alternative to Photoshop. When I got caught needing to make a picture for my first blog post about Chromebook, I tried it out – and I am happy to say, it works exactly like a replacement for Photoshop – right down to the functions of different tools and where they’re placed. It may not be a twin to the most recent version of that software, but it’s certainly showing the level of functionality I need.

Battery Life
The Samsung Chromebook advertises as having a battery that holds a charge for over six hours. I haven’t timed it yet, but so far I haven’t been dissatisfied with the amount of continuous use I’m getting out of the machine. I can sit down and work and not worry too much about having to plug in again – plus, when that time comes, it only takes a couple hours before I’m back at 100% charge.

The Downsides

  • I don’t play video games, and that’s just as well, because the only ones I could play on the Chromebook would be browser-based games. The downside here is that I really want to play Actual Sunlight and I just haven’t had a chance to play it on the Windows computer I’m using as my base.
  • I can’t watch Netflix from the Samsung Chromebook. This is something to do with site compatibility and what the Chromebook won’t run (I want to say Java?).
  • Skype doesn’t work on the Chromebook (I hate skyping, so I don’t actually consider this a downside, but if there were a situation where I needed to discuss something face-to-face with a family member, friend or client who was geographically distant, it would be Google Hangouts or bust.
  • The keyboard is not a traditional QWERTY setup. There’s no “home” or “end,” no “page up” or “page down.” That row of familiar F-keys along the top of the keyboard has been replaced by a series of icons, the meaning of which isn’t always immediately clear. Right-click is non-existent. Caps Lock has been replaced with a “universal search” key that acts much as the start-menu search in Windows. That said, there are easily-searchable lists of keystroke commands. You can summon the right-click command menu by following instructions on trackpad use. There are alternatives, you just have to be ready to investigate them.
  • Inexplicable technical quirks. The first two times I turned on the Chromebook, my mouse pointer disappeared after a few minutes. Both times, it re-appeared once the computer was restarted. I suspect that I inadvertently triggered some kind of keypad command, but haven’t followed up to see what it was. More worrying was the sudden drop-out of any ability on the part of the computer to connect with my home WiFi network. My Android was still connecting just fine, but despite numerous refreshes and restarts, I couldn’t get the computer to connect to the home network (which it could still see). I went to a friend’s house intent on performing a complicate reboot — and if that didn’t work, mentally preparing to send the whole thing in to Samsung for a replacement under warranty — but when I got to my friend’s the computer connected to her home WiFi network without a hitch. Once I got back to my own place, it was as if the problem had never been there in the first place. These technical glitches are worrying, mostly because figuring them out wasn’t possible and now the problems have passed, and if I’d been under a deadline they would have been extremely distressing – particularly the one about the WiFi not working, since the Chromebook is designed to function at full capacity only when connected to a network.

Overall? I’d still recommend the Chromebook over a Windows laptop for anybody who doesn’t need to game or program with their system. The price is right, the capabilities seem more than adequate, and the experience of use has been more or less friction-free so far.

 

NYC Theater Review: GORILLA by Rhea Leman (Scandanavian American Theater Company)

In the Scandanavian American Theater Company’s production of Rhea Leman’s Gorilla, five businessmen and their HR director navigate a weekend seminar on expression and trust. In what is revealed to be an evaluation that could cost them their jobs (and in some cases, far more), the characters’ relationships, personalities, histories and sex lives are laid bare, pride is chucked out the window, more than a few punches are thrown and questions are asked about the role of masculinity in the modern professional world.

We never get a solid sense of what Owen (Albert Bendix), Stephen (Oliver Burns), Robert (L.J. Ganser), Ernest (Alfred Gingold) and Lawrence (Khris Lewin) do for a living, only that for the past year they’ve been doing it rather badly. Their team has had the poorest performance in the company in a year of economic distress (the play is set in 2009), and now they’re at the last of a series of teamwork workshops designed to help them work with more trust and intimacy.

Dragging them down this path of corporate and personal enlightenment is Lillian (Jennifer Dorr White), from the company’s HR department; midway through the play, they are joined by their boss, Thrasher (Tullan Holmqvist), who makes it clear their suspicions of future firings are well-founded. Some murmurs of the role played by sexuality and gender make their way through the blend of analyses and posturing, and it’s in her sexual and animal metaphors that Leman’s play shows both strength and depth.

Gorilla never breaks the fourth wall, maintaining a setting within the walls of a single conference room in sanitized, businesslike shades (to call the pale tones “colors” seems over-ambitious). There are moments, such as one where Owen and Stephen negotiate a possible transaction, where the characters show how deeply imperfect they are – in one particularly insightful speech, Stephen describes his wife and her lack of confidence and her need for affection in a way that makes one wonder if he isn’t, in fact, projecting his issues onto her.

One nitpicky point regarding the translation: midway through Gorilla, Owen explains the meaning of the word to Stephen. Something – I’m not sure what – is missing in the exchange that takes place around the translation of “Gorilla” itself; maybe translation from Danish to English has dulled the comparison’s point? It’s frustrating that it isn’t clearer, since Leman can be assumed to have been making the connection to her play’s title in that moment. Addressing this point more clearly could have heightened the title’s impact for English-speaking audiences.

The individual characters are as specifically drawn as their roles require; while Ernest and Thrasher seem to have limited arcs, the others are more active. One feels as if there should be more weight to Lillian’s inability to make a tough choice, near the end of the play, particularly given the knowledge we’ve already attained via audience privilege.

This is a satisfying eighty minutes of theater, a naturalistic play with a story that gets you somewhere – even if, as the lights fade to black, you’re not exactly sure where you’ve ended up.

 

Rhea Leman’s Gorilla is playing at the Lion Theatre on Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, www.theatrerow.org. For the curious, here’s the production company’s page on IndieGoGo: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/gorilla.