Sunday, March 29, 2015

Work of the Devil

 If you’ve been cooling your heels here in the new Canaan waiting for a cinema screening of the Old Vic production of The Crucible to show up at the local art house, you can now jump the queue via Digital Theatre. Yay, those guys! Last year, director Yael Farber took a minimal in-the-round set and a tight ensemble cast and put together an intense, sinuous three hours, which the folks at Digital Theatre then made into something of a master class in how to film live performance.

There was a time – it may still be going on, I’m not in a position to know anymore – when American high school students were routinely frog-marched through the Arthur Miller canon.  I remember some handout involved on the Aristotelian theory of tragedy, which was supposed to be the alpha to Miller’s omega thesis (Death of a Salesman, A View from the Bridge) that The Common Man ™ was just as capable of generating tragedy as the King of Thebes or the Prince of Denmark or any other imaginary 1 percenter of the days of yore. But I think very few of us quite bought (or cared about) that argument at the time, and anyway we weren’t all that interested in plays that resembled things that had gone on in our grandparents' living rooms.

Which may be why The Crucible is the one that sticks with us – it was enough not about us to make it interesting, and enough about us to make it interesting. It was unsubtle in its politics, and we could talk about it, as we did then talk about it, in the post-Nixon era, in the long shadow cast by HUAC. Plus it had that sexy Witches vs Puritans vibe which is fun in a cartoon kinda way. In fact, if we ever get past the Halloween version so familiar to anyone who’s ever been in a Salem tchotchke shop in tourist season, The Crucible is pretty much our stand-in for knowing anything about what happened there…or not quite there but near there, as the case may be. It nicely caps a telescoped historical episode where the Pilgrims arrive fresh from England, starve a bit, invent Thanksgiving, then get all enthusiastic about paranoia and witch persecution. (In S1E2 they get shirty about taxes and dump tea in Boston Harbor.)

All of which is prelude to saying it’s really interesting what the reviews have made of this production, or rather of the “relevance” of the play. The unifying theme seems to be that yes, Miller wrote it about McCarthyism, but in this day and age it’s really about religious extremism.


Because religiosity in the play is never much more than a veneer. Scratch the surface, not very hard, and you see religion is a pretty thin coat of paint over a dense interior core of money. Or rather of property, whether it’s cows or acres or people. The play was in some measure designed as a way to call out the kind of weedy opportunism that could flourish in a political environment made of equal parts paranoia and propaganda. As a critique, in other words, of how power engenders and manipulates paranoia for its own profit. Religion is just a very useful tool in the toolbox, as any faith-based reality would be, whether the ostensible Enemy is Satan or Communism or some other religion which is entirely incidentally camped out on top of vast oil reserves.

There was a time when the headline should have read “I saw Goody Proctor buying yellow-cake uranium!”, and then we all might have known the just and righteous thing to do. Or at any rate the just and righteous thing not to do.

Meantime, it’s a production more than worth your time and the few bucks they charge to rent it. Go check it out.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

As a friend wrote this morning, with undimmed optimism: "Yay! First snow of Spring!" Or maybe it was sarcasm, tough to tell on the Internet. I could post snow pix, but wouldn't you rather just look at cat pix? Of course you would.

"On the other hand," said Nomi, "Spring means sun in West Thirdflooria."

"Perhaps this will make the minions less pale..."

Friday, March 27, 2015

John Renbourn 1944 -2015

John Renbourn owned a lot of real estate in my teenage record collection, whether as a soloist, as half of a duo with Stefan Grossman or Bert Jansch, or as a member of Pentangle or the John Renbourn Group or Ship of Fools. I liked a guitar player who could find his way from Robert Johnson to Robert Johnson.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

an idea whose time has

Me: Just saw branagh's cinderella flick. It's like trollope, only disney LOL

ETF: I don't know if I can see Branagh as Cinderella. When do we get Trollope World tho?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"Scotland is not for the squeamish": La Donna del Lago Encore at OperaMall Millionplex

So, let me get this straight:

There's the first guy, a complete stranger whom she invites hame tae her wee croft cuz she's leal like that, and he proceeds to get all up in her personal space the whole time he's there except when her chica Albina is ostentatiously waving a wedding veil and then resorting to the Death Ray (both utterly ineffectual due to his self-evident density supernatural yet unseen Jacobean aura).*

Then there's the second guy, her main squeeze as it happens, who finds the lady not at home, but whose default mode when she's not there is apparently to raid the liquor cabinet...question mark mark mark

Then there's the third guy, who has weird, hairy friends who like to gather on hilltops at night to tub-thump and, uh, burn crosses, yeah... I can understand her being least enthusiastic about that one. With a subset that is evidently into shrooms, interpretive dance, and woad. (Not as cool as it sounds.)

Okay, go with the second guy if you have to, at least he has the benefit of being a girl, but I have to say, given these options, the obvious choice is to blow town with chica Albina and go start a B&B in the Hebrides.

*Can we just point out that if this were another Walter Scott-based gig, say Heart of Midlothian: the Opera, her girlfriends would already be making up scurrilous traditional songs about her around the fulling table by the next scene.

You all know by now the singing was brilliant, of course it was. And since that's really all this opera is about, everything else, even King Giacomo's soulful disquisition on love in the presence of heads on pikes, is just gravy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Monday, March 16, 2015

imps of counter-programming at work

You'd think, with the all wonders of communication technology we have to hand, and all the days available in the week, and what with the Sumerians obligingly inventing the calendar to avoid this kind of thing, that Carnegie Hall would manage not to schedule their JDD / Lawrence Brownlee / Laura Claycomb* concert at the exact same time as the La Donna del Lago HD encore, but here we are.

The aforementioned Carnegie Hall gig will be webcast here at 8pm ET on Wednesday. I'll be at the Millionplex. On the off chance they won't be archiving it, I trust you all know what to do :-)

PS: Many thanks to Lotus Eater for posting the headsup.

*replacing Nicole Cabell

Sunday, March 15, 2015


One of the UK's great songwriters, Steve Tilston, gets an interview in the NYT, if only to talk about someone else's work. Oh well. Some days we're really glad life isn't a movie where your favorite people are mutated into some dude played by Al Pacino.

The things Steve Tilston gets up to here and here.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

mmmm, tasty shoes

Your random #tbt Don Carlos trailer for the week, courtesy of Schauspielhaus Graz

Why we totally want to get in the Wayback Machine and go see this:

Elisabeth and Posa moving past the Nicely Domestic Mutual Esteem thing and into Things You Can't Do in the Opera Because They Cut Those Scenes Goddammit! territory.

Carl's Gryffindor scarf. My dark intertextual heart is laughing its suffix off.