The Best Sort of Theater

Make that “the best sort of ‘theatre’” because virtually every acting company in DC that has the-a-ter in its name uses the British spelling…

Friday evening, we headed downtown for Studio Theatre’s (see?) production of BELLEVILLE by Amy Herzog.  Why, yes, you might have noted we shifted our subscription to Saturday matinees.  Why, yes, you might have noted that a Friday night is not a Saturday matinee.  Why, yes, you might have noted that when the schedule arrived, we had a conflict for “our” Saturday — and for every other Saturday matinee the play was showing!

In any case, we headed downtown for the evening performance, and we hassled with parking, and with a less than stellar dinner, and with having extra time before the show, and, and, and…

And it was all worth it.

We saw another Herzog play last year — 4,000 MILES.  We knew that she could write realistic dialog spoken by people in crisis who are trying to conceal parts of their pasts to protect themselves in their presents.  But that didn’t prepare us for BELLEVILLE.

The play is set in Paris, in a neighborhood inhabited by many immigrants, including a young American couple who have moved their so that Zack can help children with AIDS.  His wife, Abby, has had trouble making the adjustment to her expat life.  The entire action of the play takes place over a 24-hour period, as the couple confronts each other about the problems in their relationship.

BELLEVILLE follows in a long line of “relationship” plays.  For me, it resonated most closely to WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF and AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY — Herzog’s play has the same vicious use of language, the same domineering thrusts and parries by people who aren’t afraid to fight with words.  About 15 minutes before the end of the play, I realized that I truly did not know how it was going to conclude — there were at least three very realistic, fully supported directions the play could have taken.

Despite my years as a litigator, I am not a Warrior of Words — I hate the type of brutal confrontation that takes front and center in BELLEVILLE.  But as a theater-goer, and a student of people, and a general admirer of beautiful words, I’m in awe of the play and its performance.

(One minor flaw — two supporting characters primarily speak French to each other in their dialog.  I understood what they said, but my theater-going companion felt that he missed almost all of a crucial late scene.)Perhaps my admiration for Herzog’s work is based, at least in part, on a scene in ALWAYS RIGHT — the first knock-down, drag out verbal fight I’ve ever truly written.  (Zingers, yeah, I’ve got those down.  But all out warfare?  That was a first for me…)Sigh…  Off to edit now!P.S. The rest of our weekend was relatively quiet, marked mostly by the death of the power of the baseball cap — the Nats finally lost a game while I wore it to the park.  Oh well.  Time to start a new streak!

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Is It Fanfic If It’s a Classic?

This post talks about Daphne du Maurier’s REBECCA and Charlotte Bronte’s JANE EYRE.  If you haven’t read both and you don’t want to be spoiled on the endings, then stop reading right now.  (But really.  They’ve both been around for long enough that if you don’t know the ending and worry about spoilerage, I really hope you’re fifteen or younger :-) )

So…  Last night, we watched the 1940 movie of REBECCA, which I’d never seen before.  I was amused to see how clearly I remembered the book — down to most of the dialog.  The first time I read the book was in ninth grade, but I know I re-read it at least twice in high school.  (As an aside, in an interesting mini-documentary after the film, I learned that Hitchcock originally adapted the novel to be very different from the book — he changed the story, created new scenes that emphasized the psychological dimensions of the events, and generally created a derivative work (in the copyright sense) — until David O Selznick told him, “We paid a lot for the book, and we’re going to use it, thank you very much.”)

Some time before I first read REBECCA, I first read JANE EYRE.  (We had to read WUTHERING HEIGHTS in eighth grade, and that set off a spate of Bronte-reading among my friends…)

So how is it that I didn’t realize REBECCA was the same story as JANE EYRE until last night?!?

Young girl, orphaned and alone.  Experienced man, sweeping her off her feet, taking her from obnoxious protector(s).  Spooky haunted house, with areas girl is not supposed to go.  Revelation of existence/nature of crazy (ex-)wife.  Fire destroying house (and naivete, and the old way of doing things, etc.)

I was an English major.  I’m supposed to parse these things in my sleep.  But I don’t remember anyone ever commenting that these stories are THE EXACT SAME STORIES.  I’m sure they did, and I just ignored them.  But wow.  Eyes now opened (and I can see, because, you know, Maxim wasn’t blinded.  Big difference in the stories there :-P )

::shaking head::

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Feeling a Little Wicked?

Amazingly enough, FROM LEFT FIELD wasn’t the only book released this past Tuesday!  I am absolutely thrilled to announce the publication of Deborah Blake’s first novel, WICKEDLY DANGEROUS!

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Deborah was one of my first editing clients, years back.  Over time, we’ve become good friends (we regularly write emails to each other that are longer than most novels!)  Deborah has a long career as a non-fiction writer, publishing a variety of pagan-related books with Llewellyn.  WICKEDLY DANGEROUS draws on that background in magic, but Deborah has added a marvelous unique touch, basing her story on Russian folklore.

Here’s the back of the book blurb:

Known as the wicked witch of Russian fairy tales, Baba Yaga is not one woman, but rather a title carried by a chosen few. They keep the balance of nature and guard the borders of our world, but don’t make the mistake of crossing one of them…

Older than she looks and powerful beyond measure, Barbara Yager no longer has much in common with the mortal life she left behind long ago. Posing as an herbalist and researcher, she travels the country with her faithful (mostly) dragon-turned-dog in an enchanted Airstream, fulfilling her duties as a Baba Yaga and avoiding any possibility of human attachment.

But when she is summoned to find a missing child, Barbara suddenly finds herself caught up in a web of deceit and an unexpected attraction to the charming but frustrating Sheriff Liam McClellan.
Now, as Barbara fights both human enemies and Otherworld creatures to save the lives of three innocent children, she discovers that her most difficult battle may be with her own heart…

When I read a draft of this book, I was blown away by the creativity and the *fun* of the story.  Deborah combines real-life environmental concerns with a fantastic take on the otherworldly.  And you can buy your copy today!  (Amazon | Penguin | B&N | Indiebound)

 

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Sad, Sad Truths

The Hobbit might be the most important book in my life.  It’s the book that introduced me to adult (more or less) fantasy fiction.  It opened the door to The Lord of the Rings.  It made me start my first novel (a horrible fanfic-y tangle of a book, started with my best friend in eighth grade, and the less said about that, the better.)

I recently re-read The Hobbit, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how well it held up.  I laughed at bits of humor (the dwarves’ staged approach to Beorn’s house, for example), and I enjoyed Bilbo’s clever solutions (shutting the dwarves up in the barrels that were destined for Laketown).  The book was a picaresque (well, except for the last few chapters), and those types of episodic adventure stories can be pure candy.

Alas, I wasn’t a fan of the first Hobbit movie.  I thought it was over-long and under-storied, even though it brought in vast swaths of story that had nothing to do with The Hobbit.  At the time that I watched it, I hadn’t read the book in over 20 years, so I assumed that I’d forgotten some of the diversions (but I was wrong — they just weren’t there in Tolkien’s book.)

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When The Desolation of Smaug came out, I decided to save my pennies and rent the movie when it was available.  When it became available through Netflix, I wanted to watch other things first, so I waited a few months before getting to Smaug.

And that brings us to last night.

Last night was a perfect night for Hobbit-watching.  We had an open swath of time, with no other commitments.  We had popcorn popped.  We were looking forward to the film.

And that enthusiasm lasted for about 10 minutes.  Where was the funny staged approach of the dwarves to Beorn’s house?  Where were the magical animals who waited on the weary travelers?  Where was the eccentric host who taught vegetarian dining to his guests well before vegetarian was a trend?

Okay, so the movie decided to elide Beorn.  There was a lot of story to be told.  Including a half-hour (I think — maybe it only felt that long) river escape from orcs.  And a dwarf-elf maybe-love story, featuring Kate from Lost (who’d clearly wandered in from another movie, because she sure as hell wasn’t in the book.)  And, and, and…

We turned off the movie when we got to the Master.  I didn’t care about dwarves getting hit with fish.  I really didn’t care about Laketown politics, involving characters I’d never really met.  (It was like George Lucas’s interminable Senate scenes, all over again.)

We actually fast-forwarded to two scenes with Smaug.  Great CGI.  Great voicing, by Mr. Cumberbatch.  Of course, those furnaces and that molten gold and all, those belonged to a different movie.

So, yeah.  With regret, we won’t be watching the last of the Hobbit movies.  I once joked that I wanted to see the Director’s Cut of this one — all nine hours cut down to a two-hour film based on the book.  But I don’t know if I’d even watch that.

Sigh.  I know that movies are different from books.  I understand that changes need to be made, to make things film-able, to capture a traditional screenplay structure, to feed the movie-making beast.  But those challenges are different from writing an entirely different film, from creating a fanfic movie that happens to take place somewhere that resembles Tolkien’s Middle Earth.  And that’s the sad, sad truth.

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Take Me Out to the … Theater

Well, no one can accuse us of being one-track, here in Klaskyville!  Our weekend spliced together a bunch of our favorite things, including:

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  • On Friday, dinner at Rustico, a restaurant that is just a few blocks from the house.  We split appetizers (including the killer “Risotto Tots”, which are pretty much the perfect adult answer to Ore-Ida), I enjoyed the trout on a bed of farro, and then we split the S’more Cheesecake.  Splitting the dessert was probably a good idea, because I could have eaten about half a dozen of them.  I might never have walked again, but I would have rolled out of there a very happy woman.
  • On Saturday, a ball game at Nationals Park.  After a 1.25-hour rain delay, they finally took to the field.  Jordan Zimmermann gave up two runs in the top of first, and we settled in for a loooooong afternoon/evening, but the team came right back in the bottom of the first, and handily won the game.  My baseball cap’s record goes unsullied.
  • On Sunday, an incredible production of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE at Studio Theater.  The tickets were expensive and parking was a pain when we got to the theater.  The ushers were oddly off-kilter (sending us to our seats by way of some unmarked back stairs, then nearly losing us in the pitch black of the theater as they didn’t quite lead us to our seats.)  Some of the audience members were … not used to theater (talking out loud for large parts of the show), and one guy in the back had a constant cough.  In other words, it should have been a disastrous day at the theater.  But it wasn’t.  It was magical.  The production was incredible, the performers were superb, and I found myself getting really emotional at the end of the second act (which is all about the cost of being an artist, of creating a foundation to support an artistic career, and of having the courage to change artistic directions.)  So, it was worth it — all the hassles.  And then some.

In between, there was reading, and knitting and televisioning and scritching kitties.  So, really a lovely weekend.  Which makes it just that much harder to settle down and write today.

But write, I must.  I’m drafting the penultimate chapter of ALWAYS RIGHT!  Onwards!

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