29 June 2010

28 June 2010

54! 54! 54! 54!

...days until the end of my term as chairman of the Department of English at Central Connecticut State University!

27 June 2010

Another reason to hate HD ("high definition TV" not the author)

from the NY Times "How HDTV Scrambles Beauty Standards":

Screen idols like Montgomery Clift and Ava Gardner, known for the contrasts in their coloring, which played especially well in Technicolor and other early color systems, can seem garish in high-def, which makes colors “pop,” often unpleasantly. Stark contrasts — a formerly winning combo like black hair, rosy skin and green eyes — can actually be ruinous these days, Carmindy wrote. “Super pale skin with dark, dyed hair does not look as nice as natural coloring, i.e. light skin light hair, medium skin brown hair, etc.” High def likes monochrome. (Carmindy also pointed out that “dark skin always fares better than lighter skin as it does not show as many lines, veins and discolorations as lighter skin.”)

When pitchers get hurt....

...just because they're not used to running the bases perhaps it's time once again to rethink the designator hitter rule!

26 June 2010

25 June 2010

Just returned from an afternoon at the beach at...

...Rocky Neck State Park and have tattoos on my mind (again).  It happens whenever I go out where many many people have much skin exposed and it seems to me that everyone has a tattoo...we'll, everyone but us.

So, I figure, if I get a tattoo, it would be words rather than a picture, and not some Chinese character that probably doesn't mean what the tattooist says it means, or the name of my woman (I've always wanted an appropriate context in which to write that phrase!), or "Mom," or "Harley Davidson," etc....

I'd probably go literary, say, the first line of Keats' "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" or Euripides' The Bacchae, or maybe the complete lyrics of  Irving Berlin's "Fella with an Umbrella," or the opening sentence of Billie Holiday's autobiography, or, maybe not.  Maybe I will go commercial and try the logo of Hostess Snowballs or Cap'n Crunch with Crunchberries.  But, no, words are better: perhaps some catchy phrase from Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class, or maybe just "Thorstein Veblen."

Then again, maybe no tattoo at all.

24 June 2010

My favorite comment from a parent after my...

..."Dr. G.'s Vowels of Academic Success" talk during summer advising days for incoming students at CCSU:

That was great!  I'm pretty sure that if you were selling something, we'd all be buying!

23 June 2010

There are only FOUR more performances of THE LAST FIVE YEARS...

...at Playhouse on Park, and you should not miss this! 

Directed by Kyle Fabel, and featuring exquisite performances by Carey Anderson and Jeff Scot Carey, this intimate two-person musical is a perfect fit for the POP space.  Confession #1: I tend to be finicky and like old musicals (Gershwin, Kern, Rodgers and Hart) and certainly nothing post-A Chorus Line!, but, thanks to the whole artistic team, this production captivated me completely.  I cared about Cathy and Jamie and what happened to them.  I laughed at their youthful joy and, yes, their youthful insecurity and felt their pain when struggling with their relationship.  I wanted to read the rest of his novel and see one of her summer stock performances in Ohio.  Indeed, at 80 minutes without an intermission, the show left me wanting even more of these two.

I loved the minimal, but evocatively realized, set; the wonderful orchestra (two celli,** violin, guitar, and piano) under the direction of Colin Britt; and the seamless pacing from song to song...

I loved that the performers used no microphones.  When the music got loud, they sang more loudly!

I didn't not like anything!

Well, okay, that's not entirely true...two things (one small, one big):

1) small: I really get bothered by musicals that don't give the audience time to applaud after a song.  At the end of the very first song ("Still Hurting") I wanted to clap because Ms. Anderson was so good, but the orchestration was such that the next song/scene began before we in the audience felt we had the chance.  (Confession #2: I clapped extra hard the first chance we got, after Mr. Carey's "Shiksa Goddess," hoping that she knew some of that was for her!)

2) big: Before the show something was given away about the show that I felt was utterly unnecessary to know then.  I can't tell you what it was -- or else I'd give it away too.  So, when you go (and notice I didn't say "if you go..." but "when you go") to The Last Five Years, hold your ears really tightly when, during the pre-show announcements, you hear Executive Director Tracy Flater say "I want to tell you something about the show..."  Believe me, you'll thank me later!

Hell, when you go to POP before the show closes on Sunday, you'll thank me no matter what.

**A big shout out to the two cellists.  (Confession #3: I LOVE female cellists.)  True story: Several years ago now, Mikhail Baryshnikov came to Hartford with his dancers and a small string ensemble.  Despite having really good seats that allowed me to appreciate the legendary ballet dancer and any number of other young ballet dancers up close, I couldn't take my eyes off the cellist!  I must've matured some since then because this time I kept my focus where I should...but that doesn't mean I can't give the cellists their due.

It was Father's Day weekend, so how better to spend some time with my older daughter than...

...attending a performance of Sophocles' Oedipus the King, directed by Ted Guhl, at the Hole in the Wall Theatre in New Britain.  With fine choreography for the chorus and wonderful original music by Roy Donnelly and Karl Messerschmidt, the production was well conceived, although not nearly the "experiment...[that deemphasized the] traditional elements of plot, character, development, [and] place and time..." it claimed to be.  (And I'm not sad about that at all, to be honest.)  If the chorus of Theban citizens could've taken over the whole play, I might've liked it a good deal more. 

For, indeed, I very much liked most of the production (set, lighting, sound) -- except the performances by three of the leads (Oedipus, Creon, and Tiresius).  None of them, it seemed to me, really conveyed his character in any deeply felt way.  They recited their lines clearly and forcefully, but I never really bought into any of them. 

At first, I didn't buy Jocasta, as played by Jillian M. Dion, either, but in the final scene that she played with Oedipus, as she figured out before anyone but Tiresius the horror that's been her life and the cruel fate that her son/husband will himself soon discover, she gave a noteworthy performance that made me forget everyone else on the stage.

Greek drama is hard to do, but any chance to see a live performance is worth the trip.  I only wish the leadership of Thebes had lived up to its citizens!  

Exactly two months of chairdom left...my

June 23rd-August 23rd, 2010!

18 June 2010

I don't go to the movies very much anymore...

...and now I know why:

1) Before the film they show commercials. No, I'm not talking movie trailers; I'm talking commercials for TV shows, some of which I'm trying to escape (i.e., anything from HG TV --like Design Star)!

2) Every movie apparently, at least according to the previews, has to be 3D...although we saw the non-3D version of Toy Story III, and, y'know, I didn't miss the third dimension! (I think we're due for a Scarlet Letter remake...in glorious 3D!)

3) They're making a live-action version of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," even as the preview for it begins with more-than-a-minute's-worth of the producer and director talking about what a classic the Fantasia version was (and, all of which I took to be excellent arguments against any such a project). Don't they listen to themselves at all?

4) The Happy Feet people are making an owl movie, but the owls won't be tap dancing! What's the point of that?

Just saw "Toy Story Three"...

...and, while not the artistic accomplishment of TS II, it truly dazzled and entertained. The story worked well, and, even as it revisited earlier motifs and plot lines, made not a few memories of its own. For example, the bad guy's really bad, and I even believed at one point that none of the toys would survive (how great a stunnner would that have been!). Most importantly, it really drove home the truth that a boy and his toys are in many ways closer than a boy and his family could ever be, so bring a hanky just in case, gentlemen.

I did miss hearing a poignant Randy Newman song like "When She Loved Me" from II or "I Will Go Sailing No More" from the original, and I won't be surprised if there's some objection to, well, not so much the characterization of Ken as to the fairly cheap laughs the script has at his expense.

My big laughs: Barbie's rights of the governed speech, a nehru jacket, and the harmonica coming from the cell!

Go see it...a worthy denouement to a fine cinematic trilogy!

When is ESPN going to learn...

...that Chris "Boomer" Berman can't...well, maybe shouldn't broadcast a golf tournament? The annoying things that make him so appropriate for announcing football fail miserably in golf.

17 June 2010

You say it's the sound of...

...vuvuzelas making that persistent buzzing at all the World Cup matches, but I just can't shake the memory of the 1943 letter to FBI Director Hoover about the strange whistling on all those Sinatra radio broadcasts:

"Last night as I heard Lucky Strike produce more of this same hysteria I thought: how easy it would be for certain-minded manufacturers to create another Hitler here in America through the influence of mass-hysteria. I believe that those who are using that shrill whistling sound are aware that it is similar to that which produced Hitler. That they intend to get a Hitler in by first planting in the minds of the people that men like Frank Sinatra are OK therefore this future Hitler will be OK." (Kuntz and Kuntz, The Sinatra Files, 4)

So, just replace "Lucky Strike" with "ESPN," "shrill whistling" with "buzzing," and "Sinatra" with "soccer," and we've got ourselves a great conspiracy theory!

"Ava Gardner: Touches of Venus" mentioned in the Hartford Courant

Check out Carole Goldberg's "Write Stuff" here.

16 June 2010

Quick book takes

Read very recently:

Michele Monro's biography of her father, The Singer's Singer: The Life and Music of Matt Monro...a great singer whose record sales never equaled his talent, but whose career working with George Martin, while Martin was producing the Beatles, makes for a fascinating case study of cosmic timing, and whose life raise the question of how art can arise from the most unlikely of backgrounds

Mark Twain's The Tragedy of Puddnhead Wilson...a remarkable examination of race in America and a pretty swell mystery, too

The Pox and the Covenant: Mather, Franklin, and the Epidemic that Changed America's Destiny by Tony Williams... the best pro-Cotton-Mather book in recent memory and one that suggests the time is ripe for my next anthology idea: The Touch and Feel of Cotton (Mather)!

Just bought my tickets to the next Playhouse on Park production...

...The Last Five Years, and, given the ridiculously successful track record in drama of the first year of Playhouse on Park, I'm fully expecting this to be another great show. After all, in this blog I have given HUGE "thumbs up" for their previous productions of Collected Stories, Trapezium, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged), and was quite entertained by Lost in Yonkers, as well. (But, to be candid, I wasn't too fond of the "Mrs. Bob Cratchit" Xmas-time piece.)

I haven't posted since I went to see This is Our Youth earlier this month, which I admit I was not expecting to enjoy since I've never really known any cocaine-dealing slackers -- not even when I was young. (Indeed, when I first moved from Cincinnati to Washington DC, the then Murder/Drug/Drug Murder-Capital-of the US, to go to grad school in the mid-80s, I wondered why the news always reported various police raids on places not too far from the boarding house in which I was living as raids on "known crack houses." KNOWN BY WHOM? Not I! And, if the police knew about them, why were they just raiding them now?! )

Anyway, This is Our Youth was wonderfully acted (by Robert DaPonte, Zack Robidas, and Alison Barton) and directed (by Matt Pfeiffer) and, even as I was at first less-than-inclined to like any of the characters, the intelligent script by Kenneth Lonergan and believable performances made me care, and made me care a lot, about these young people adrift in Reagan's "Morning in America." It was suspenseful because I really was unsure how it would end for any of the three characters, and there was a second act soliloquy by "Dennis" (Robidas) that was truly a tour-de-force.

In short, I eagerly await our next visit to Playhouse on Park for The Last Five Years because, if their first year of work has told us anything, it's that the trip will be more than worth it.

See you there!

A friend of mine lent me the boxed set of the first season of ...

...the 1950's Walt Disney series Spin and Marty. Premiered in November 1955 on the Mickey Mouse Club, the series is about a couple of boys and their experiences at the Triple R Ranch.

One of the special features of the box set is the entire episode of the Mickey Mouse Club during which Spin and Marty was introduced. What fascinated me was trying to determine what the "parental guidance" rating of the MMC would be today with its

a) gun play (both live and animated);

b) sword play (both live and animated, including a very freewheeling fencing demonstration by one of the Mouseketeers and his brother ...with the rest of the Mousekegang running to get out of their way with squeals of laughter/fear!);

c) a drunk camel in the Mickey Mouse cartoon, "Mickey in Arabia," and, in the same cartoon;

d) Minnie Mouse getting kidnapped and assaulted by that ever-evil cat/bully who's trying to kiss her against her will!

Let's see, that's V D S: violence, drugs, and sex...

Ah, nothing but good after-school TV!

(It did, in addition, help my 11-year-old understand more fully the context of the "Woody's Round-up" plot from Toy Story II.****)

(****In case I haven't mentioned this before, TS II is one of the three greatest sequels ever along with Godfather II and The New Testament.)

The best analogy I've read in a LONG, LONG time...

...comes from a Julia Moskin article on New Orleans snow cones called "snoballs" (from yesterday's New York Times):

"A snoball is to a snow cone as Warren Beatty is to Shirley MacLaine: closely related, but prettier, smoother and infinitely cooler."

Let's see that on an SAT test REAL SOON!!!!