Thursday, April 23, 2009

A village. It takes one.

So, two stories:

The Renaissance Woman was on her lunch break the other day and walking out on the Big Main Street. (She works a few blocks from our house and from MG's school.) She was stopped at a street light and happened to see a bunch of kids with their teacher, out on a walk or outing from the local high school, the one that mysteriously has a terrible reputation as the place for Bad Kids even though it is in this relatively ritzy corner of Nearby Suburb.

Anyway, she knew these kids were from the Bad Kid High School because she recognized one of them from last year, when he had been in the oldest grade at MG's elementary school (which goes up to Grade 7), and had starred in the Christmas Play. He's very memorable: charismatic, a good actor. Also he looks a little like Barack Obama.

So while she's watching, and while the teacher is focused on a few of the kids in her charge, a loud car playing loud music pulls up with a bunch of guys in it, and Tall Charismatic Kid, assuming that no one's watching him, saunters over and gets right into the loud car, which zooms off into the distance.

The teacher emerges from her discussion and, perhaps feeling a bit defensive on account of Bad Kid High School's reputation, catches RW's eye, nods after the disappeared loud car, and says, "Those aren't our kids."

"Well," says RW, "one of them was."

"What?!?" says the teacher.

RW explains how she'd seen this kid get into the car, and how she'd known who he was from last year's Christmas play at Neighborhood Elementary, and describes him: "Tall, looks kind of like Barack Obama?"

"Oh! Robert*?" The teacher says, and RW, recognizing the name from the play program, confirms it.

"Thank you!!" the teacher says fervently. And off she goes, with what's left of her class, preparing no doubt to make a report to whoever needs reporting to. RW was pretty amused to think about how surprised ObamaBoy would be, to be busted by someone he didn't even know but who remembered him from last December when he played The Santa Show's MC.

I was sitting in on a volunteer training for some teens this afternoon at the suburban library where I work (a different one from the one where RW works), and on the short break, one of them--a very charming kid who showed up on a scooter--whipped out her cell phone and then said, "Oh! Rats!" and then explained: "I couldn't find my key this morning, so I borrowed my brother's key, but then I remembered I had to go to this training and he wasn't home yet, so I left the key in the mailbox with a note with his name on it, PETER* in big letters in bright orange highlighter, to make sure he'd be able to find it, but just now I got a text message that he's coming over here to get his key so he won't be late for his violin lesson!"

Sure enough, about fifteen minutes later, a kid shows up in the computer area, an amiable-looking boy, about ten years old; he hones in on the volunteer in question, and starts right in with, "and you took my scooter, too?!?"

"Hi, Peter," said the library student doing the training.

"And where's my key?!?" Peter demanded of his sister.

"I left it right in the mailbox!" she said. "With your name on it!"

"In orange highlighter," I added.

"Great," he said. "Okay, fine," and he turned for the stairs.

"Better get going," said the other librarian observing the training. "You don't want to be late for your violin lesson."

Peter turned around and gave his sister one last glare and said, "so did you just tell everyone about my WHOLE LIFE?"

Yep. Life in the village. It has its points.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Iolanthe, with Various Digressions

There is no good word for a cousin by marriage--that is, one's cousin's spouse or spouse's cousin--and there really should be. If my brother's wife is my sister-in-law, I guess my cousin's wife is my cousin-in-law, but that doesn't sound right somehow. Well, I'm declaring it a word anyway. So there.

Which is not what this post meant to be about. Here, let me start again:

My cousin-in-law, Delia, has been posting on her livejournal personal reviews of various performances she's seen, and they're wonderful reading, not least because Delia lives in Manhattan and has an array of exciting and buzz-generating shows from which to choose. (Also she is a fantastic writer.) It was on the strength of one of these reviews--and the enthusiastic comments it prompted--that I went to see Next to Normal when I was in New York a couple weeks ago, and was blown away, and look! so was the New York Times, when it opened a few days ago!

But that's not what I started out wanting to write about either, exactly. What I wanted to say was that, inspired by Delia, I thought I'd write about a performance I saw last night, Iolanthe, put on by the North Shore Light Opera Society. Not a review, exactly, or not a formal one; just some stuff about it.

I like Gilbert and Sullivan well enough, but I'm not an obsessive fan, so I'd never seen Iolanthe or even heard most of the songs. I went with RW and MG and RW's mom, and all of us enjoyed ourselves mightily. The fairies were a kick, Iolanthe was suitably dippy, there was lots of very funny mugging and very game dancing, and the story! So excellent! So silly! What's not to like about a show about fairies and politics? It was hard to wrap my mind around the indisputible fact that this show was written over 120 years ago. It seemed so contemporary.

This could have been partly because this production is set in the present, with female Peers as well as males (filched from the cast of fairies, with different costumes) all dressed in suits and looking suitably stuffy. When the young hero, Strephon, becomes a Member of Parliament, he is symbolically awarded a jacket, a tie, and a BlackBerry, and he and his girlfriend (who is all pissed off at him because she saw him hugging and kissing his mother, Iolanthe, who looks like a 17-year-old on account of her being a fairy) immediately commence to frantic texting as the rest of the cast sings the first-act finale.

Another update: Private Willis, a Guard/soldier in the original is, in this production, Brock Willis, a journalist for BBC-TV, and there's some very nice business with a live video feed and a burly bald cameraman. When the Lord High Chancellor sings his patter song about lying awake with a dismal headache (a song I knew already. How did I know it?? No idea), he's standing in front of the plain wooden backdrop that serves as the screen, and the camera, filming him, projects his image and then the projected image and then the image of the projected image, etc. and it's very appropriately surreal and nightmarish.

It was community theater, and RW says the musicians were having some problems with pitch and timing, and even I noticed that sometimes the singers got ahead of the instruments. But all the cast members were charming and funny and excellent singers, and the staging was very clever, and overall, it was swell. Also, we had great seats, right up front. And MG was totally starstruck by the fairies in particular and waited around in the lobby afterward to get a few autographs, which they were happy to provide.

I've been turning it over in my mind, and thinking about the advantages of seeing something Big and new and buzzy like Next to Normal, and something small and charming and local and off the map like this performance. RW used to do sound design for theater companies in Seattle, and I saw a lot of mediocre and even bad performances of local theater there. But I also saw some that knocked my socks off, one or two in particular by a playwright/songwriter named
Chris Jeffries who is a real, true genius, and who I can only imagine decided for reasons of his own to express himself through small local venues rather than taking his brilliance Eastward. Because really, he is that good.

And on the one hand, it's kind of cool and exciting and club-like that his shows "The Glory Booty Club" and "I See London, I See France," will never be reviewed in the New York Times, and most people will never hear of them, and I got to see them; but then, it's also sad. Because they were freaking incredible shows, and live performance lives in the moment. (We actually do have VHS tapes of those two, but it's not the same.) Selfishly, I'd like to see them sometime in revival, when they've been reviewed and produced to death and RW has read the scripts in her drama class in college, and some director who's now in elementary school has the challenge of making them fresh again. But of course that's not going to happen.

Hmm. How did I get here? All I wanted to write about was Iolanthe from last night, and how cute the title character looked in the big dorky glasses she wore to "disguise" herself, and the ingenious use of rubber duckies on the set, and how MG, clever child, figured out even before the second act who Strephon's father was. And just how excellent it is to see live theater, wherever it is, when it's done well and passionately.

Friday, April 17, 2009

There Followed a Dark and Gloomy Time

No, well, first there followed the rest of the trip. Which was really, truly, excellent beyond excellent, aside from a cold which sidelined me for a day or two. And the need to keep harping about MG about math homework.

But really! We racked up three seders, many subway and taxi rides, much yummy street food, a circus show (not Barnum & Bailey but a lovely gentle European family circus which was just the right speed for someone recovering from a cold), a stop at Central Park, and visits of varying lengths with three different sets of relatives besides my dad & stepmom. The sun didn't shine every day, but it shone enough. I had some wonderful, sustaining conversations about books and life, and MG enjoyed herself mightily.

But beyond that, every time I got off the subway and came up onto Broadway and Somewhere Above 86th Street, I was happy like a kid holding their baby blanket: that's the neighborhood I was born into and lived in for my first five years, and it feels like home the way no place else in the world does. Every time the #7 train rose up from underground and took that swerve around the corner to reveal a shining view of the skyline across the East River, I felt like I could reach across the past few decades and wave to 17-year-old me, riding home of an evening from her summer job before college, and all the versions of me between then and now who have ridden that train and watched for that view. Heck, every time I visited the basement toilet at my dad's house, I got a hit off all the accumulated family history that old row house holds, right down to the Doonesbury and Sylvia and Kliban cartoon books that have been sitting in that exact spot ever since someone--maybe me--left them there sometime back in the '80's.

So the dark time was after I came back. For a few days. It's better now, though, and I remember again why I like it here too.

Remind me to tell you about the Amerikan Grrl store. It was a story in itself.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Dinner and a Show

Two days back in New York (and it will always be BACK in New York, to me), and I've done six iconic things. I guess I really am a tourist in the city now. Tourism is exhausting! I am wiped & ready for a home day, which is what today will be.

Last night I went to a Broadway show. But not a feel-good, oh-I'll-take-something-in-while-I'm-in-the-city show. I saw Next to Normal, which is still in previews, but based on last night I'd say they're ready for opening. My theatregoing companion, a friend from college, called it "a smart-choice sandwich"--smart choices on top of smart choices. It was also disturbing and sad and emotionally rocking, and resistant of easy pat resolution. But not depressing, partly because it was thrilling to see something SO GOOD. Wow. Week after week I read theatre reviews in the New Yorker and think, oh, well, maybe it'll go on tour. But this one I got to see.

I want to write about it, but Delia covered much of what I'd say, and the rest is spoilers. But if you can see it, I'd recommend this (for grownups, not kids) over a big snazzy revival any day.

And for me it was all the more vivid because I got to go with this particular college friend, who was one of my two or three friends in the city the year I lived in Brooklyn after graduation. (Two or three friends wasn't nearly enough for me back then, which is one reason I left. But she was a good one to have.) We walked to the subway together after the show, talking and talking about what we'd just seen. We spent so many evenings walking back to the subway after seeing things. I don't want to say it was like the last nineteen years never happened--part of what we talked about, and some of what the show was about, was this strange phenomenon of being middle-aged. We hadn't seen each other for some years, and it was nice to be grownups together, to compare the somewhat-parallel tracks our lives have taken. So no, not like the years never happened, but familiar, a touchstone to my past self, and to that alternate ghost self who stayed in the city instead of lighting out for the west coast almost twenty years ago. Chances are, that self would also be meeting up with this friend every once in a while to go see some show or other, and walking through the dark to the subway together, talking and talking, and then swiping our MetroCards and going to wait on our separate platforms.

I meant to write about all six things: that show, plus the Chinese sesame noodles and the Empire State Building and Katz's and the central library and the Amerikan Grrl store. Oh, and the hot dog with mustard and sauerkraut, which makes seven. But this seems like enough for now, I think.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

In Which I Reappear, Briefly

I didn't mean to be gone so long. I NEVER mean to be gone so long. But jeez, March was nuts. I figure if you average out November and March it combines to make a decent average rate of posts, but for those two or three people out there clicking forlornly (or am I the only person who hasn't gone to a feed-reader?) that doesn't really help, does it.

In any case: Back now! With the birds and the sunshine! My job today is to pack, get the Mermaid Girl packed, do some work (yes! on a Sunday, right before I get on a red-eye! see above re: March, nuts), find several mysterious tax documents so RW can work on taxes while we are away (just the thing for those relaxing evenings alone), and then get on a plane.

Has anyone else besides me become more plane-claustrophobic with age? No? Maybe? Maybe it's just those teeny tiny seats we get now.

Also, MG has to do homework. Either today, or on the trip, or both. She is not thrilled at the prospect and I don't blame her. On the other hand, she's missing a week of school in order to do command performances of the Four Questions and eat street-vendor hot dogs, so I'd say she's coming out ahead.

Mainly, she has to do some math and build a simple machine. I know nothing about simple machines but apparently it is standard Grade 3 curriculum all over Canada. So chances are the average Canadian 9-year-old is much more knowledgeable about the ways of levers, pulleys, and springs than I am. Maybe I should find one and ask her over for the afternoon to help MG with her project.

Here are some haiku, generated by this application from previous blog entries:

when people of our
age and class were living and
studying in a few

x tulchinsky book
for example the one who
looked over at

want my maaaamaaaa me
yeah i know but i'm the one
who's here so there we

career paths i could
sing the songs by heart even
the sevens even

one that's very
different from what i've been
doing they'd have charts

productive in the
last two days last week at a
gas station tried to

we know what to say
that the car guys that and they
said it was moisture

from india to
canada where she continues
to feel baffled by

and would be so much
they asked her to change the
songs by heart even

But this one is my very favorite:

so what do you need
to eat something and maybe
even a bonus

Yes, indeed.
More from Old Country. I'll eat a knish for you.