Tuesday, October 4, 2016

"Tony and Susan"

I am slightly ashamed to admit the only reason I read Austin Wright's "Tony and Susan" is because it's the source material for Tom Ford's newest movie, "Nocturnal Animals." What can I say? I like Amy Adams.

"Tony and Susan" is a sneaky novel. In it, the Susan of the title receives a manuscript from Edward, the husband she divorced 20 years ago. As she reads it, gnawing fears and half-formed memories reawaken, leaving her to wonder whether the violent manuscript is directed at her.

Much of "Tony and Susan," particularly Edward's novel-in-a-novel, felt simply unremarkable, but Susan, as character, is engrossing. Psychologically complex and not entirely trustworthy, she's an unusual and intriguing lens for the reader.

To borrow a technique from Blahler: Fulll review here.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

All About Elinor

Let me begin by saying I'm biased. I like Elinor, the cool and well-governed co-heroine of "Sense and Sensibility," much more than I like Marianne, her flighty and impassioned younger sister.

Even with that disclaimed, I think Jolly Abraham's show-carrying performance as Elinor in the Guthrie's inventively staged ongoing production is enough to make even the most ardent Marianne fan consider changing allegiances.

Abraham has an exceptionally clear, bell-like voice and crisp, excellent diction. Her every line was pleasant to listen to. She's also able to carry herself and use body language - a stiffening of her posture, a downward glance - to communicate what she's feeling, and that's necessary for a character who leaves much unsaid.

Abraham is so good she nearly overshadows everyone else on stage. That may not have been hard to do in the case of Alejandra Escalante as Marianne, who simply fails to make any kind of impression whatsoever. As a sister-in-law who's fairytale-level evil, Kimiye Corwin comes closest to grabbing some of the spotlight. She delivers her lines in an icy hiss and opts for being insidious, rather than blatantly malicious. It's a wicked and fine performance, but not enough to call into question who's the real star here.

A small, last critique: the Guthrie should really consider mixing up whom it casts in supporting roles. Suzanne Warmanen, Kris L. Nelson and Robert Dorfman are all good character actors, but their performances are never all that different from one another, so it seems like we're seeing them (again) instead of the characters they're playing. John Catron gets to display a little more range and versatility, but he's so frequently cast his presence feels like a given.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Owning An Old House, Writ Small

Isn't this light switch gross? It needs to be replaced. But how?

I know! I will educate myself on how to replace a light switch using The Internets!

The first step is to buy a new one at the hardware store. Hmmm, this one says "Lighted Switch." I guess that's because it is cheap and was made overseas. I am sure it will do.

Damn it. It is a "lighted switch," like one of those ones old people have in their bathrooms. I hate this. I guess I have to undo it it all, take it back to the hardware store and buy a normal one.

Okay I did all that and now...

...I screwed it in too tightly and cracked the light switch plate.

If you need me, I am going to go lie down in a darkened room for awhile and think about why my life is the way it is.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Update From A Late-Summer Garden

You guys, I grew these. All of them! Really!

You've missed my garden updates, haven't you? (Say you have! Say you have!)

Now that it's August, a lot of spring annuals are history and summer perennials are starting to fade. Zinnia and dahlia season is still ahead, but even so, I think it's time for an update of what has worked well and what hasn't.

Rudbeckia: I bought several of these at Ace Hardware because...I don't remember why, actually. I think I was just on a plant-buying spree and wanted to keep going. They turned out to be some of the best purchases I made. Black-Eyed Susans need almost no attention, produce all kinds of blossoms and keep their flowers for weeks. That's my kind of plant.

Echinacea: The only reason I like these less than rudbeckia is that I see them everywhere in my neighborhood, so I feel like having them in your garden is sort of obligatory. They share quite a few characteristics with rudbeckia - low maintenance, profuse and long-lasting. I planted white, red, orange, yellow and several shades of pink (which, to me, looked like they were all the same color - pink).

Dianthus: I think if I had expected less of these stalwart little plants, I would have been more pleased with them. I was impressed by how deadheading only made them come back stronger, but none of them actually grew, as in got wider or bigger. They seemed to stay the same size all spring and summer. I like these - I just think I should have planted them somewhere where they would have been less likely to get shown up by other flowers.

Asiatic Lilies: When these are in bloom, they're beautiful, The downside is they last under a week, and then are just a stalk for months and months. I planted several of these and I have a hunch I might remove a few next summer. A small garden doesn't leave a lot of room for underperformers.

Coreopsis "Sun Up": This is the only flower I planted and didn't like. I should be grateful to it, because it bloomed early in the season and spread and grew and made the garden look a little less bare, but I just didn't like the color. I think it might be what you'd call"chrome yellow" - sort of a muddy orange-yellow. Blegh.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


Am I being fair for not liking "Disgraced"? I'm afraid to pose that question to myself because I worry the answer might be "no."

Praised as a "searing" and "controversial" racial drama, "Disgraced" is a 90-minute one act play centered around  Amir Kapoor, a high-profile Pakistani-American attorney whose carefully concealed past comes to light, much to his chagrin. As his career and life begin a tailspin, Amir's white wife, Emily, begins to irritate him with her high-minded and privileged views of race and social justice. Things come to head at a fateful dinner party Amir and Emily host for Isaac (Emily's former boyfriend) and his present girlfriend Jory, who now works at Amir's law firm.

Part of my problem with "Disgraced" is that it didn't feel specific enough to the Pakistani-American or Muslim-American experience. Elements of its felt fairly generic. I don't know if that's a fair criticism, though, because I can't come up with ways for it to have been more focused, and there are many genres (murder mysteries and romantic comedies, for example) where originality and freshness isn't the point.

Another reaction I had was that the script seemed to call for Adit Dileep, who played Amir, to hit the gas pedal too hard. His performance began at 60 mph; the audience wasn't really eased into it and didn't get to know him as much of anything other than a panicky nervous wreck. For a lot of the play, Caroline Kaplan's Emily really irritated me as an impossibly beautiful, impossibly benevolent artist. Luckily, that only lasted for about half the play. When Kaplan actually got something to do besides sit around and be a decorative object, I enjoyed her much more. The real standout here was Austene Van as Jory, Amir's law firm friend-turned-rival. The statuesque Van is a commanding presence in a tasteful but pointedly dramatic costume, and her delivery and presence commanded the stage. I found myself wishing she had appeared earlier than the play's two-thirds mark,

Monday, August 8, 2016

Goodbye Is Never Easy

I don't know how your memory works, but mine is a haphazard patchwork with some pieces more vivid than others. In the swirling darkness, some stars burn more brightly, impervious to time and distance.. Real or only real to me, some recollections just won't fade.

I heard this song recently. It reminded me of the scene below, because it was playing when we were in the store. I used to not mind this song. Now, I can hardly stand it.


My boyfriend and I had flown to San Francisco. My ticket was round-trip, his was one-way.

I was happy for and proud of him. He was excited about his new job and looking forward to life in a new city.

Inside, though, I was aching.

We had begun dating only a few months prior, after a long stretch in which I had pined for him. Something I had wanted for so long was mine, but would be so only briefly before it would be taken away. That pain, of being outwardly supportive and encouraging so the move would be easier for him, but really wincing on the inside, was piercing in a newly agonizing way.

My boyfriend had moved in to his apartment and we had some time to kill before my flight back, so we were in a store. We weren't really looking for anything, just idly flipping through things and pretending the moment where I'd take a train back to the airport and he wouldn't wasn't coming.

A sales clerk came up to us. He was cute, with blond hair and an elfin face. As if I weren't standing there, he smiled coyly at my boyfriend. He put out his hand "My name's Tyler, by the way." My boyfriend smiled and said it was nice to meet Tyler. I did not get introduced to me.

I remember the feeling of him slipping away. I remember the feeling that I was clinging harder than he was. I remember the feeling that the writing was on the wall and I was just refusing to read it.

That boyfriend and I didn't last too long. Six months after he moved, I think. He has since moved again and has been dating someone else for a long time. I don't think about him much, but this scene still does flicker across my mind - not often, but more often than I'd like it to.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

"South Pacific"

I always say "I don't like musicals," and then go see the Guthrie Theater's annual Big Summer Musical, usually more than once.

This year, I saw "South Pacific" three times. Yup, three. That's more because several different friends asked me to go and less because I was that excited about it, but let's put it this way -- even by the third time around, I wasn't dragging my feet on my way into the theater.

"South Pacific" debuted as a Broadway musical in 1949. Some of its themes of racial understanding were pretty controversial at the time. (That felt a little hard to believe when there was a Tonkinese character on stage chattering in pidgin English, but...)

Since its message seems to have faded with the passage of 67 years, I felt free to concentrate on whether "South Pacific" was bright, colorful and pleasant - and it was. The Guthrie usually goes all out on its summer musical and the lavish set proved "South Pacific" would be no different. Rodgers and Hammerstein's songs for this play are an equally measured collection of haunting "(Bali Ha'i"), hard to forget ("I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair") and comical ("Bloody Mary").

As for the acting. there were times when Nellie Forbush (Erin Mackey) got a little shrill for my ears, but her rendition of "I'm In Love With A Wonderful Guy" dispelled any doubts about whether she has talent.

All in all, I don't think I needed to see "South Pacific" three times, but I would have gone to see it twice with no complaints.