15 10 2007

When Assassins, the Stephen Sondheim musical, opened off-Broadway in 1990, I was intrigued. How could it work? Would audiences really respond to a musical in which the principal characters were presidential assassins (or would-be assassins)? What would these characters have to say? How could the show not be perverse and macabre?

There were a lot of other skeptics, of course, and that iteration of the show didn’t make it to Broadway. I did purchase the cast recording, though, and I fell for it. The music—propelled by a sort of carnival theme—stayed with me. And just as importantly, I suppose, I decided that the characters had quite a bit to say. About disenchantment and loss. About social ills. About what America looks like from a very particular, skewed point of view.

When a new production 0f Assassins finally made it to Broadway in 2004, I really wanted to be there. Neil Patrick Harris (née Doogie Howser, M.D.) played Lee Harvey Oswald! But I just never got my act together, and soon Assassins was gone. I’ll be kicking myself for that for a long time…. Once again, though, I picked up the cast recording. The music still worked for me. (For what it’s worth, I prefer the recording of the 1991 Off-Broadway cast to the recording of the 2004 Broadway revival cast. On either, check out the bizarre “Ballad of Guiteau,” with its infectious refrain of “I am going to the Lordy.”)

So when the Arden Theatre, one of Philly’s best companies, announced that it was going to open its 2007-08 season with Assassins, I was psyched. And on Thursday night, two friends and I caught a performance. If you’re in Philly, I highly recommend the show. I’m sure the cast—with an exception or two—wasn’t quite Broadway-level, but I smiled, enjoyed the music, and found myself experiencing the peculiar, startling brand of Americana championed by Assassins.

Two of the actors really appealed to me. Mary Martello ably provided comic relief with her ditzy Sara Jane Moore (one of two would-be assassins of Gerald Ford). But it was Scott Greer as Sam Byck—the angry, Santa-suited would-be assassin of Richard Nixon—that I’ll best remember. In one of the best scenes in the musical, Byck tape records a message to Leonard Bernstein, telling the musical giant that what the world really needs is more love songs. Greer’s Byck is just a regular fella, sort of(!), but one who is profoundly and palpably both angry and vulnerable. What the world really needs is more actors like Scott Greer.

Assassins is edgy and wonderful, and I’m glad I—finally—had a chance to experience it.


Is it wrong to celebrate Labor Day with a Jaguar?

3 09 2007

Jaguar Car
I rented a car this weekend—so I wouldn’t have to spend the long weekend holed up in my apartment, pondering my lack of a love social life. When I got to the rental car dealership on Saturday morning, though, it was all out of “standard”-sized cars. My free upgrade was a Jaguar! (This is actually the second time this has happened. That’s the kind of neighborhood I live in [and can’t really afford]: You’re free to carry your toy poodle in your purse at the local Staples, and the Enterprise dealer carries more Jags than Ford Fusions.)

Anyway—whew, am I the master of the digression or what?—to celebrate my possession of the Jag, I headed out west on Sunday to Amish country. It was a warm, sunny end-of-summer day. I saw several horse-drawn buggies, and the green hills and tasseled-out corn were beautiful.

My primary destination was the Long’s Park Art & Craft Festival in Lancaster. The Ex and I hit this festival a couple of times, and I have an Alan Klug photograph to show for it. I intended to get to the park by 3 p.m. or so, but I just couldn’t get my act together at home. And then, when it looked like I’d get there before 4 p.m., anyway, I made a wrong turn and ended up taking an unscheduled tour of the area. Since the show closed at 6 p.m., I found myself in a little bit of a panic. Ack!

Gosh, is that my second digression in this single post? I must focus. I did manage to find my way to the show, and the 90 minutes I had at the park was just enough to scope out all the booths—and spend more money than I’d planned. I came away with two things:

  • I purchased a piece of free-form-ish pottery by Hiroshi Nakayama. Nakayama creates stoneware that somehow looks like beautiful, worn rock. I already owned two Nakayama pieces, a log-shaped vase that’s a little bit like this and and, er, a “water rock” reminiscent of this. My new piece is much darker, and it’s shaped a bit like a small, rectangular pillow. It’s going to the office with me on Tuesday.
  • I also purchased a photograph by Joel Anderson of a pier. (The Klug photograph, linked above, that I purchased at this show a few years ago was also of a sort of pier. Why am I drawn to piers? Hmm.) The pier is near Cancún; the worn wooden planks jut out over a breathtakingly blue-green Caribbean. I had a hard time choosing between this pier and a different Mexican pier, which was photographed by Anderson on a cloudy day. The water in the other photograph was almost murky, and the shot seemed, perhaps, to convey a sort of indolence. An empty boat in the shot added to the feeling. Although naturally drawn to all things indolent(!), I couldn’t—in the end—resist the Caribbean colors in the first pier. (Perhaps I should’ve bought both photos and created a wall of piers in my apartment….)

As I write this, I have one more day with the Jag. I need to think of some unexpected place to visit next….


18 05 2007

Continuing one of the most active (yet dateless!) weeks of my life, I caught a performance of Doubt tonight. I saw the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play on Broadway nearly two years ago, and I was really taken with it. As you probably know, John Patrick Shanley’s story involves suspicions by a 1960s-era nun that a priest may have done something (the obvious something) improper. Doubt, of course, is the theme. There are the doubts that the priest did anything wrong. Just as interestingly, the priest himself admits to some theological doubts. The audience wonders if that’s why the nun, a hardliner, is suspicious. But we know she just might be right, too.

When I saw Doubt on Broadway, it still starred Cherry Jones and Brían F. O’Byrne. Jones had just won the Tony for her performance, and deservedly so, and it was mystifying to me that O’Byrne hadn’t won for his strong performance. The touring Doubt also stars Jones, and she was as good as I remembered. O’Byrne is gone, replaced by Chris McGarry—who is good but not quite as inspiring as O’Byrne. O’Byrne’s sermons, especially the opening one built around the idea that doubt can be the actual bond of a community, were riveting.

The last time I saw Doubt, it was with the Soulmate-Who-Got-Away (SWGA)—during the weekend he confessed to having some, well, doubts about us as a couple. A part of me, I suppose, will always associate Doubt with SWGA’s damn doubts. I hoped seeing the play again would help me disassociate the two very different things; only in time, I guess, will I know whether my strategy was successful. Regardless, I know that Doubt is a helluva play, and it was a real pleasure seeing Cherry Jones play the leading role again.

The Spoon

13 05 2007

Boxwood Twig Spoon
As I’ve indicated before, I’m a fan of high-end (i.e., no crocheting and needlework [hey, just kidding, Mom!]) craft shows. Last month, I had to miss the Smithsonian Craft Show, but I couldn’t resist bidding in the online auction. This week, my prize—a wooden spoon carved by Norm Sartorius—arrived. It’s headed off to work with me tomorrow. I’ve got the perfect place for it in my office.

I’ve been a fan of Sartorius and his woodworking for a long time. I’m not sure if I first saw him at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show or the Smithsonian’s show or somewhere else, but I was hooked. That first time, I could afford only a fancy letter opener [Yikes, I suddenly can’t remember what kind of wood it is! Dogwood, maybe? Magnolia?]. But I promised myself that I’d get a spoon someday.

My spoon is made of boxwood, and it’s simple and rustic and beautiful. I’m pretty sure it’s not the last Sartorius piece I’ll own. Now I want something even more intricate.

Please hide my checkbook from me, ok?

Update (5/14/07): With a little sleep in me, I now remember that my letter opener is dogwood.

Yes, I’ve been quiet this week.

14 03 2007

I have nothing to say

and I am saying it
and that is poetry

as I needed it.
John Cage

I’m planning a visit to San Diego. Maybe.

27 01 2007

California Globe
I’ve never been to San Diego, but I’m thinking about visiting for the Museum of Contemporary Art‘s upcoming Morris Louis exhibit, which runs from February 17 through May 6. If I make the trip, it’ll probably for a long-ish weekend. What else should I think about doing while I’m there? I’m open as to the timing of the visit. Is there some reason I should travel in February or March or April? Any and all advice would be much appreciated.

I intended, by the way, to catch the Morris Louis exhibition while it was at Atlanta’s High Museum, but the timing—in and around the holidays—wasn’t right for me. Getting to Atlanta from Philly for a long weekend would certainly have been a much easier production, but maybe sunny San Diego is what I need, anyway. If I don’t catch the exhibit in San Diego, I’ll have to wait until September, when the exhibition moves to D.C.’s Hirshhorn Museum. The Hirshhorn is my favorite museum on the planet (sorry, MoMA, you’re just too crowded), but I can visit D.C. anytime I want….