03 December 2012

Anna Karenina (the movie)

Victor and I went to see this movie last weekend.  We have both been taking a wonderful class about the book at the Newberry Library.The movie on the whole is continuously beautiful to look at: sets, costumes, framing. But is it entirely successful as an adaptation of the great novel?  I think not.  Anna Karenina is of course a long book--even people who haven't read it know that--with more than a hundred characters, alive with plots and subplots. Too much to include in a film, or even a miniseries, probably. This movie, like most adaptations, chooses to focus on the Anna/adultery theme almost entirely, but it neither tells the original story properly nor makes the story entirely its own (though, by the end, it seems to be trying to).

It would be hard, I think, to tell the original story properly outside of a novel today because it relies on a concept of female honor that we don't really have anymore. Anna has a passionate affair with Count Vronsky and can't reconcile her love with the betrayal of her marriage vows. Even within the novel, Anna is almost unique in how her conscience makes her suffer (perhaps Levin has as sharp a conscience, but he is without great sins, so his suffering is accordingly less tormenting). Ultimately, this conflict--not real or fancied infidelity on the part of her lover Vronsky, or the loss of custody of her beloved son Seryozha, or even social condemnation--drives her to suicide. 

In the novel, Tolstoy establishes the conflict by describing Vronsky after he has made Anna his mistress: he "felt what a murderer must feel when he looks at the body he has deprived of life." (In the film, Anna, in the midst of their first lovemaking, calls Vronsky a murderer repeatedly--it becomes an endearment.It's an interesting transposition, but to a viewer unfamiliar with the book it must seem merely perverse.) Anna's shame is the principal subject of the short chapter describing Vronsky's conquest. Her shame drives all of her subsequent behavior; how can a 21st century movie portray this? (The only example I can think of is Kenneth Lonergan's excellent Margaret, starring Anna Pacquin, but the context of the shame is quite different.)

Instead, Joe Wright's movie (using Tom Stoppard's script) tells a relatively simple and conventional romantic story. Two people meet and are consumed by their passionate attraction. On one side, a marriage is destroyed; on the other, a career. Society scorns the woman who defies convention, and the woman, plagued by insecurities, is driven to suicide. So much is left out that when scenes from the novel do appear in the film, they don't have the same meaning. Fully half of Anna Karenina, the novel, is devoted to Levin's soul searching. In the movie, Levin's few scenes mainly involve his romance with Kitty. When a peasant enlightens him about the right way to live, it can hardly resonate with the audience; nothing in the film so far has led us to this point. It is hard to imagine anyone who hasn't read the book understanding the movie at all. It moves at lightning speed until the last half hour or so, quickly transitioning from scene to scene.

The transitions themselves are unusual, because the action of this film largely takes place in a theater that varies in size from enormous, to really enormous, to as-big-as-the-whole-outdoors. The camera follows characters backstage as a scene ends; before you know it, another scene begins among the curtain machinery. This conceit makes you acutely aware you are watching the retelling of a very familiar story and is cleverly and quite beautifully achieved. Even the "outdoor" scenes are framed in such a way that you feel you haven't really left the theater. You can relate this to the themes of Anna Karenina on at least a simplistic level: the main characters of the novel, Anna and Levin, continually strive to escape or pierce social constraints. They fail, Anna unhappily and Levin happily: society's eye is constantly upon them.

Casting notes: In general, everyone seems too young. But this is Hollywood. Keira Knightley (Anna) looks great as a brunette.  Her Anna has its moments but in general Knightley is better at portraying charm and joy than suffering. Jude Law, a fine actor, inhabits Karenin with almost too much humanity--we should not like Karenin so much, but Law gives us nothing to bristle against. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Vronsky) is adequate in a not terribly interesting role. A handsome cipher. Levin is played by Domhnall Gleeson, also adequate, and also not in an interesting role. Alicia Viskander (Kitty) is called on to be little more than charming, and manages that very well. While Matthew MacFadyen is a terrific Oblonsky (I never noticed his resemblance to Kevin Kline before), he is not given a great deal to do in this movie. Kelly Macdonald is excellent as Dolly; in fact, the whole opening of the movie, a series of stylized set-pieces conveying the Oblonsky household first harmonious and then in complete disarray, is quite splendid. Ruth Wilson is just right as Princess Betsy: knowing and poisonous.

This movie offers many pleasures for an audience familiar with the novel.  The staging of the ball scene, in which Anna first dances with Vronsky, while untrue to the book in several ways, is quite compelling. Also different from the book but nicely done is the scene in which Levin proposes to Kitty for the second time. In the movie, Levin and Kitty use alphabet blocks to communicate instead of a slate with chalk--excellent choice. And did I mention the costumes are gorgeous? For a literary movie, Anna Karenina is a visual feast.

The movie ends with Anna and Karenin's son Seryozha playing outdoors with Anna and Vronsky's daughter Anya while Karenin looks benignly on.  The scene has nothing to do with the book but offers an intriguing glimpse of a movie that might have been made--inspired by the novel but not bound by it.  What we have instead is a movie that takes a few leaps in that direction but mainly sticks to an impoverished subset of the text.

20 November 2012

Comparison Shopping: Extended Warranty Programs

I used the American Express extended warranty program for the first time when our milk frother (how yuppie are we?) stopped working a couple months after its warranty expired. I called the service number, provided the name of the product, described the problem, gave the date of purchase, cost, length of original warranty, the total amount on the receipt, and within 48 hours the purchase price had been refunded to our account.

Couldn't have been simpler.  Previously I'd been a credit card agnostic, but this experience made me an AMEX convert.  My husband and I resolved to use our AMEX card for most of our purchases--especially for stuff that might break--and we bragged about AMEX's great customer service to anybody who would listen (we had a similarly good experience with AMEX's auto CDW coverage a few months later).

Recently my iPhone's battery case (a Mophie Juicepack Air) stopped working properly.  I checked to see when it had been purchased and found the warranty expired in September.  So I called American Express and gave them the required information: product name, problem, purchase date, warranty length, purchase price, total amount on receipt....  DARN!  While I was on the phone with the representative I saw that the purchase had been made with our Visa card, not our AMEX.  So I apologized to the rep and hung up.

Then called Visa.  Which offers a similar program.  But not the same.  Because after providing Visa's representative with similar information to that which I'd provided AMEX, she emailed me a FORM (from the sender "Enhancement Services"--do they WANT you to delete their email as spam?). In addition to signing the form, I have to provide the original receipt, the Visa statement containing that charge, and a receipt for the replacement product.

The form and accompanying documentation can be faxed or mailed.

So I have a couple of issues with this.  First, I was able to execute a claim solely on the phone with AMEX; why does Visa require a form?  Second, why does Visa need me to give them a receipt and a statement--this "proof of purchase" requirement would take a person in their office a moment (querying with our account number and the purchase date that I provided). Instead I have to hunt around and print things; presumably this would be even more trouble for less organized people. Visa recommends that you avoid this trouble by registering everything you buy with its Warranty Manager service, but that seems unnecessarily onerous.  Again, since you bought the product with your Visa card, Visa HAS this information already.  And then, why on earth don't they let you submit the documentation electronically?

Conclusion: even when credit cards seem to provide the same service, they really don't. Which you probably already knew, but I didn't (I suspected it).  The documentation will be mailed to Visa today; I'll update this post when it's been resolved one way or another.

Update (12 August 2015): Well, I guess I forgot to update. We did get compensated by Visa, about a month later, by check.  All in all, a much clunkier process.

To Insure or not to Insure (in Mexico)?

We were recently in Cabo San Lucas for Victor's stepbrother's wedding. We rented a car because rates were so cheap, but after we arrived we were obliged to pay for liability insurance that doubled the cost of our rental.  We are returning to Mexico for our winter vacation, so I set out to discover whether we really should have paid for that liability insurance or if we were already covered.

Short answer: we were smart to pay.  Long answer: the collision damage waiver (CDW) coverage offered by many credit cards is not the same as liability insurance.  But even if you knew that (we did), it turns out that liability insurance you already have (bundled with your car insurance or--as in our case--homeowner's insurance) may not be of much help in Mexico.  I called our insurance agent and she confirmed that, Yes, we were covered, but she still advised us to buy the rental company's liability coverage. "They make their own rules over there," she said.  She explained that they tend to go after you in court rather than deal with a U.S. insurance company.

Or something like that.  If you Google the issue, there's quite a bit of chatter, but it comes down to this: buy the Mexican liability insurance.

30 October 2012

Life without Refined Grains

A few months ago, Victor came home from a business trip committed to a higher-protein, lower- carbohydrate diet.  Partly this was because he'd noticed a colleague of his had become significantly trimmer in the past year, and his colleague attributed his long-term weight loss to a higher-protein diet.

We did not want to omit vegetables of any kind, but we have found Michael Pollan's arguments against processed foods and over-consumption of grains persuasive (see In Defense of Food, for example) and so we decided to avoid refined grains, and try not to automatically "replace" with whole-grain versions, but really to change our eating habits (sashimi instead of brown rice maki). We used to eat all the bread in the breadbasket at restaurants--now we ask them not to bring the bread, even if the rolls are "whole-grain."  This means we deny ourselves some of our favorite foods, so once a week we allow an "exception." But practically speaking, we avoid bread, pasta, and rice.

It's a challenge, especially on-the-go, since sandwiches are out.  Nuts and fruit are a frequent fallback.  This morning I was at a big meeting, catered with "continental breakfast" that was mainly pastries and fruit.  So I ate the fruit. At mid-morning the food table was refreshed with cookies and--happily--granola bars. Oats--rarely if ever refined--are permitted. 

While we have been limiting refined grains, we have been increasing protein, in the form of animal products (eggs, milk, cheese) as well as meat, at the same time trying to maintain or increase the amount of vegetables that we consume. We eat saucy Asian dishes (stir-fries or curries) without accompaniment or over simple vegetables like steamed cabbage.

And we learn new things.  Today's lesson: buckwheat is not a grain.  Grain is only associated with cereals, which are grasses.  Grain is "botanically, a type of fruit" composed of endosperm, germ, and bran. Buckwheat, on the other hand, is the seed of a broadleaf plant related to rhubarb. It's called a pseudocereal because it's used as a cereal grain  but the name is as close as it gets to being grain. 

Why does it matter? It means we can eat buckwheat crepes!  And soba noodles! Yay!

What everyone wants to know is if we've lost weight.  Only a tiny bit.  But we seem to have at least halted the upward-sloping trajectory. And we've eliminated much of the "filler" from our diet--the useless stuff--which feels good.

08 October 2012

Woyczek on the Highveld by Handspring Puppet Company and artist William Kentridge

While I'm not a fan of Georg Buchner's unfinished Woyczek, I was anxious to see this production a couple of Sundays ago at MCA Chicago when I learned that the South African artist William Kentridge was associated with it. I first encountered Kentridge's work at an MCA Chicago exhibit in 2008-2009, and was enthralled by it.

This production was a remounting of a show that Kentridge first directed in 1992. The artist's dreamlike animations are the backdrop for the Handspring Puppet Company's remarkable constructions. The story, about a poor German soldier oppressed by the military and medical establishments to the extent that he loses his sanity and murders his common-law wife, is transformed in this South African retelling. Woyczek is now a black migrant worker.

Buchner's play doesn't need to be changed much to make Woyczek at home in South Africa.  Handspring's puppets and Kentridge's drawing make the story's new location seem so fitting that it's hard to imagine the play taking place anywhere else.  The performers carrying and speaking for the puppets are astonishingly good--their movements complement the puppets beautifully.  And Kentridge's animations are utterly haunting.

While I'm still not a big fan of Woyczek, Woyczek on the Highveld convinced me that Buchner set his play in the wrong country. And I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to see this production.

Note: While this show has come and gone at the MCA, you can find snippets of Woyczek on the Highveld on Youtube.

The Iron Stag King at the House Theatre of Chicago

Victor and I went to see this show a couple of Saturdays ago and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  To us it felt like a return to what we like most about The House Theatre: inventive staging of plays that are unapologetically couched in genres that you don't usually find in the theater. Specifically, science fiction/fantasy plays.  The Iron Stag King is straight fantasy: a hero's journey in a re-imagined universe, envisioned as the first part of a trilogy.

While the story is solid, it is not strikingly original. It would be pretty straightforward to trace aspects of the tale to other hero's journey stories we all know.  What's particularly striking about this production are the beautiful visuals--puppets, costumes, and props--and the conviction the strong cast invests in their multiple roles.

We're eagerly looking forward to the subsequent installments of this new trilogy.

27 September 2012

My Library, My Kindle, My Library

Most people would say I have a lot of books, though I have seen larger personal libraries.  One living room wall--about 18 feet--is book-lined, and our guest room is also lined with bookshelves. About 3,000 volumes, last estimate.

The sight of these books almost always prompts visitors to ask whether we have read them all.  The answer is No, not all.  Probably a majority, but not all.

Many people are not sure how to take this.  Isn't the purpose of books to be read?  To have so many books that are unread--what does that mean?

Regardless of how much I read--there is always more I wish to have read.  I may have read War and Peace and Team of Rivals, but I still haven't read Freud's Totem and Taboo or Frank Sulloway's tome on birth order, Born to Rebel (a New York Times Notable Book in 1997). When a book sounds or looks interesting--if I can imagine myself enjoying it or learning something from it--I have generally bought it (especially if it was on sale or remaindered). Gazing at such books on my shelf is satisfying because I can see I still have plenty to read (not having anything to read is a big fear).  Gazing at  the books I have  read is also satisfying--there's a special feeling of connection to these.

A library of my own has been a goal since my 10th grade social studies teacher casually referred to his.  Mr. Marienhoff probably said something like, "I looked through my library upstairs and found..."  This appealed to me because bookshelves at home were overflowing, even at the age of 15.  It was hard for me to get rid of anything.  Books I had read became my friends--impossible to betray them by giving them away. Books I had not read were like promises I had yet to keep. I was already having trouble with public libraries.  I loved being in them, but returning books was difficult.I fantasized about a room completely filled with books that were all mine.  Multiple rooms, maybe. An infinity of books to read and refer to...at home.

My books have long been my pride and my burden. When I left school, my collection was large and my housing budget was small. My books spent months in storage while I sought living space for both me and my library at a reasonable price.  Finally I moved into a loft with three housemates and a giant wall--the deal was sealed when one of the housemates offered to build me a bookcase along that wall. 

I moved from that apartment into another with the man who is now my husband. Then, and every time we have moved since, we have had to include my library in our considerations: is there enough wall space for the books? We tried to make sure there was even more room for books than there had been in the last place, because--after all--there were more books now.There were always more.

In 2010, I bought my first Kindle. I was especially excited about using the Kindle on vacation--I'd been accustomed to carrying an extra bag for my holiday reading--but I started using the Kindle for reading at home also.  People ask if I don't miss books.  A strange question.  I am still reading books. 

But I no longer find myself purchasing books I wish to have read.  Instead, I download samples of those books.  This satisfies my persistent fear of running out of things to read while avoiding purchases of books I'll never get through (there are many such volumes on my physical shelves).

Over time, I expect the size of my physical library to decline (via periodic pruning) while my virtual library grows.  The growth, though, will almost entirely be in books I have read.

My relationship to physical books is starting to feel anachronistic.

21 September 2012

Bonuses for Poor Performance

Like a lot of people, my reading of political news gets increasingly voracious as Election Day nears.  This morning I was struck by this article from the New York Times, which discusses the surprising fact that the Romney campaign is hurting for money.

This is surprising because for a long time we've been hearing about how Republican supporters have been pouring money into this campaign, particularly the very rich.  But PAC money is not campaign money, and the fact that most of Romney's money comes from the wealthy turns out to be a bit of a problem--only a fraction of their contributions become campaign funds; the rest goes to the Republican National Committee.

What particularly struck me, though, was where some of Romney's campaign money has gone: bonuses.

The day after accepting the Republican nomination, Mr. Romney gave what appeared to be $192,440 in bonuses to senior campaign staff members. At least nine aides received payments...
I am not sure whether such bonuses are common practice for campaigns, but I suspect not, since the reporter notes that they are "likely to draw grumbles from Mr. Romney’s allies."  Even if bonuses for outstanding performance are common, what performance is being rewarded in this case?  Making it through a terrific convention? Really?  Does anybody remember anything about it except the Clint Eastwood weirdness?

No.  So these folks are getting bonuses in spite of poor performance, and in an organization that's hurting for cash.

Really? That's what the "businessman candidate" does?

I can't say I'm surprised; that's how a lot of financial companies do it, as we all learned during the last crash. We also learned how well that worked: rewarding risk-takers for losing bets, even rewarding them for winning some bets when most of the organization's bets are being lost--it's not a strategy for stability, growth, or even survival.

It's a strategy for fail.

19 September 2012

Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon

It has been a long time since I've read such a satisfying espionage novel--which is saying a lot because I read Alan Furst's latest not too long ago. Along with the usual trope of dropping an ordinary guy in a spy scenario and watching him run, this novel zeroes in on ethics and morality. All protagonist Leon Bauer wants is to be one of the good guys, but he's finding that increasingly complicated.The second world war is over so the sharp black and white of things is gone: our enemies today were our friends yesterday, and today's friends are yesterday's fiends.

Nothing is what it seems, Bauer finds, which is no surprise to an experienced reader of spy thrillers, but still, Istanbul Passage was full of suspense and a pleasure to read.

Equivocation, at the Victory Gardens Theatre

Equivocation, by Bill Cain, is nothing if not intellectually meaty: it wrestles with Shakespeare, Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot, torture, ethics, politics, art, religion, and--as if that weren't enough--the typical stuff of drama: personal relationships. A struggling playwright named Shagspeare is commissioned by the King to write a "true history" of the Gunpowder Plot--a propaganda play. In spite of his misgivings ("we don't do current events"), Shagspeare is strongarmed into it by the King's aide, Robert Cecil, and his own troupe, who see dollar (or pound) signs, and besides--they're sick of rehearsing King Lear.

Bill Cain's often witty script makes us laugh at how contemporaries might have viewed Shakespeare's plays, but its more serious subject matter is how we can be true to ourselves while subject to a power that does not want us to be ourselves. The play's title refers to a pamphlet by a Jesuit priest, Henry Garnet, arguing that you can save your life and not lose your soul (through lying) by determining the real question you are being asked and answering that.

For example: someone comes to the door who clearly wants to kill the king, who is hiding upstairs.  He asks, Is the king here?  If you say yes, the king dies.  If you say no, you're lying and you could go to hell.  Or are you?  Garnet suggests that you're really being asked to give your tacit permission for the king's murder; so if you say no, you are simply refusing permission, not lying. Equivocating.

The play takes us through Shagspeare's research into the plot, his rehearsals and arguments with Cecil and his troupe, and his interviews with alleged conspirators. The play he's writing evolves as he learns more until it becomes something that would get the whole troupe arrested were it performed.  In the end, Shagspeare's daughter suggests that perhaps a reworking of the discarded "Scottish play" would fit the bill, in effect an equivocation satisfies the Scottish king while allowing the Shagspeare to keep his integrity (and his skin).

Director Sean Graney, at the Victory Gardens Theatre, shapes this dense material into a compelling production, and the cast does a great job in multiple roles (and roles within roles), but the play could have used an editor. There's a wonderful sense of profusion in the first hour or so, as multiple threads of plot unwind, but in the last fifteen minutes so many loose ends are tied up that it's hard to keep track.  One of the weakest threads is that of Shagspeare's relationship with his daughter, and unfortunately that is the one with which Cain chooses to frame the story, rendering the end not quite satisfying.

Still, it's a thought-provoking play with many fine moments. 

10 September 2012

The Fall of the House of Usher, at The Hypocrites

I'm not an Edgar Allan Poe fan, so--although I am a fan of The Hypocrites--I was not expecting to be excited by this production. I quickly reread the source story before going to see the play: the narrator visits an old friend, Roderick Usher, the scion of a gloomy house (in both the literal and figurative sense); much the (physically and spiritually) worse since the narrator last saw him, and caring for a sister who is apparently dying. The narrator spends his time trying to cheer Roderick up, with poor results.  Gloom, gloom, gloom.  Roderick surprises the narrator with a request to help inter his sister, who has died.  Narrator notes that the sister's mysterious illness has left a bloom in her cheek.  Days pass, with the narrator continuing to try to cheer Roderick, now by reading Arthurian tales aloud. Strange sounds are heard. Terror.  The sister appears, escaped from her tomb (having been buried prematurely). She attacks Roderick, and somehow simultaneously kills Roderick, dies, and brings down the (literal) house of Usher, which crumbles. (The narrator, improbably, gets away unscathed.)

Sean Graney's adaptation entertainingly sends up this campy nonsense.  He takes Poe's overheated prose and puts it into the mouths of three major characters: the erstwhile narrator, here a formerly intimate female friend of Usher, Usher himself, and a maid, who serves as a narrative foil for the female friend when Usher is out of the room. Poe's prose as dialogue is typically ridiculous, and Graney amps up the absurdity by casting three female actors in the play's four roles (Usher's rarely seen sister is the fourth), and having the actors switch roles, sometimes at an astonishing rate.The "horror" atmosphere invoked by Poe's prose is continuously mocked--the word terror is winkingly repeated in stage-whispered asides. When a new character enters the set, everyone screams. And every time someone says the phrase "The House of Usher," howling is heard and the characters cower.  Toward the end of the play, the house starts to leak, another effect played for laughs.

There is plenty to make this show funny, and yet Graney's The Fall of the House of Usher is plenty creepy, too. The set is ingenious and gorgeous: an enclosed dark wood space with multiple doorways and scattered piles of old books that effectively conveys a decaying and deeply uncomfortable mansion.  There's something very creepy about the narrator's persistent attraction to Usher even after she sees his obviously pregnant sister float by (no question, really, about who the father is). There's also something creepy about her persistent cough, though its purported treatment, gin and lemons, is a source of repeated laughs. And everything about Usher is creepy, regardless of the actor who plays him.

Maybe all mysteries are creepy. By the end of the play, things we previously laughed at (the actors' quick changes, the dripping ceiling) are part and parcel of the horror Poe (and Graney) want us to feel--Madeline appears in a bloody nightgown (at this point all of the characters are wearing white nightgowns, and it's a credit to the production that you see nothing odd about Roderick Usher in a nightgown) and water is streaming down over the whole stage.

And nobody's laughing. Actors Tien Doman, Halena Kays, and Christine Stulik do a tremendous job bringing conviction to their multiple roles while balancing humor and horror to create astonished pleasure.

Idomeneus, by Sideshow Theatre

This world-premiere production of German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig's drama about what happened to the Cretan king who joined his forces with Agamemnon, Menelaus, and Odysseus in the Trojan War, is a surprisingly engaging meditation on what-might-have-been.

Homer has nothing too remarkable to say about Idomeneus. He was a doughty warrior, and even held his own against Hector, but the Iliad ends before he gets home. Later writers, including the fourth century Italian Maurus Servius Honoratus and the French 17th century writer François Fénelon took up the tale: Idomeneus, returning from Troy with 80 ships, is caught in a violent storm that destroys 79 of them, and threatens to destroy his own.  Desperate to save his life, he promises Poseidon, the sea god, to sacrifice the first creature he encounters when he reaches land.

Are warning bells going off?  A middling familiarity with mythology teaches us, Never make bargains with gods. Having never learned that lesson, Idomeneus arrives home, and the first creature he encounters is his own son, grown to manhood in his father's 10-year-absence.  Oath-bound to kill his son, he does so, avoiding the wrath of Poseidon, but incurring the wrath of the other gods. His country suffers from a mysterious plague, which the populace eventually connects with the king's return, and banishes him. 

Or he does not kill his son.  In another version of the story, Poseidon excuses him from this murder in exchange for abdication. A related story has Idomeneus' wife, Meda, seduced and murdered by Leucus, who takes the throne and chases Idomeneus away when he arrives. (In this story, Leucus seduced Meda on behalf of Nauplius, who bore a grudge against Idomeneus, Agamemnon, and Odysseus over the death of his son; Nauplius' revenge was to arrange for the three kings' wives to betray their husbands).

In any case, that something very, very bad happened to Idomeneus after he came home from the Trojan war feels very true and very Greek.

Why is that?  As my husband put it (and as Schimmelpfennig makes Idomeneus whine in his play), "It's not fair." The poor man spent 10 years at war, finally won (almost miraculously keeping his army and its followers intact), and--days from home or even nearer--is nearly overcome by a storm.  But since when are Greek gods fair?  Throughout the Trojan war, the gods also battled, under the banners of Aphrodite or Athena. We know, from Homer's Odyssey, how Odysseus suffered after the war. And we know, both from the Odyssey, and, vividly, from Aeschylus' Oresteia, how the gods on the Trojan side avenged themselves on Agamemnon. It would be surprising if Idomeneus came to a good end.

But the diversity of stories and sources, and their relative lack of authority (after all, Homer is silent on Idomeneus' return home) provide a terrific opportunity for Schimmelpfennig to offer his own vision. Rather than dramatize a single narrative, his Idomeneus uses the incantations of a Greek chorus to spin out multiple permutations of the Cretan king's story.  Individual and dual performers weave in and out of the chorus as they represent individual characters, who play, and replay, scenes from different perspectives. The production manages to strike a balance between emotional distance and commitment.  Contributing to distance are the refusal to stick with a particular version of the story, the mostly third-person storytelling, and occasional humor. Contributing to commitment are simple yet spectacular set (featuring a tidal wave made of wood that forms the backdrop of the production, and a sandbox in the foreground, representing the beach where Idomeneus lands), generally excellent acting, provocative and often moving gestures, and the emotional impact of the writing/translation itself.

The Sideshow Theatre has mounted an excellent production of an intriguing play.

11 July 2012

What's So Great about Google Art Project?

Google Art Project is one of my favorite things. You can virtually visit more than 150 museums around the world, although you are just looking at a subset of each museum's artworks. All together, though, there are more than 30,000 works of art to discover, and many of them are in super-high-def (gigapixel) format.  In other words, they are really beautiful. Also, via Google Street View technology, you can virtually "walk" through many of the galleries, so you can get a feeling for the setting of the artworks.  Of course some of the museums, like the Palace of Versailles, are arguably more interesting for their architecture and interior design than for the artworks they contain.

Endeavors like this put us on the path to an idealized future, where all the world's knowledge and cultural capital is freely available and accessible online.  We can't all travel everywhere we would like to visit. Google Art Project offers the opportunity for really rich encounters with art and the institutions that house it.