A Tale of Two Musicals

The production at the lyric opera was technically brilliant and full of beautiful scenery and those memorable songs. The female cast, specifically Mikaela Bennett as Maria and Amanda Castro as Anita, stole the show, and fully inhabited their parts in a way that male leads failed to do. The jets came off as beefy straining for squeaky.

Maybe I’m just a sucker for proximity and being in the second row of a storefront show gave me the intimacy I was missing from West Side Story. What was missing was a comprehensible story. The wackier elements of the book never landed for me because I was too busy trying to piece together from the spoken scenes who the main character was and why she wanted to be abducted so badly. The show is definitely not lacking a worldview, the world it paints is thick with pseudoscience, corporate greed and absurd, broken institutions. I got a good sense of what the playwright thinks about our current predicament, I never got much of a sense how the main character felt about her world, and without that, the absurdity and facetious humor fell mostly flat. That’s not to say the actors didn’t perform admirably, just that they were given a lot to do without a clear sense of why they were doing it. Musicals are founded on breaking out into song for almost any reason, but the lack of character motivation left me earthbound.


On a Lonely Island with Netflix Money

Andy Sandberg and the other two fellas in the Lonely Islands created a half hour long comedy special entitled The Lonely Island’s Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience. The premise is that late eighties baseball stars and teammates Jose Conseco and Mark McGwire recorded a rap album that has only now been discovered.

The lyrics are here, and have always been, juvenile and joke-dense, so the visuals and budget afforded by a Netflix special help bring them to zany life as the songs chug along. It was by watching this comedy special that I realized the celebratory forearm smash that I do with my team mates on Monday nights (Trouble) in bowling league is in fact the bash brothers move. Lonely island are best appreciated in small doses, and having ten songs back to back highlights their similarities. 

The special is called a “visual poem,” and that aspect of the project mostly involves parodies of Terrence Malick Tree of Life-style wandering around nature and whispering cosmic questions via voiceover, with some of the self mythologizing of Beyonce’s Lemonade thrown in for good measure. Amusing at first but there’s not enough of a story to make it worth sticking around until the end.


Friends: Too Late to Turn Back Now

I was so happy to be done with Friends. Two thirds the way through the ninth season, I thought I was a few episodes away from watching the entire thing, that I would soon be free to move on. Netflix autostarts new episodes and bookmarks, it’s quite easy to not look at what came before and what comes ahead. I pushed aside the impression they weren’t tying things up, but eventually denial feel away and I acknowledged there is indeed a tenth season. 

The only real upside to the second half of the run of the show as far as I can tell is that Lisa Kudrow gets to shine. Once her triplets storyline is complete, she is the freest of the main cast, not confined by the melodrama that paints most of the cast into narrative corners. Kudrow applies her signature oddball spin to every line and scene, creating goofball energy that brightens the show as it lurches through its seventh, eighth and ninth seasons. 

I avoided Friends when it was first on, I was into sci fi and gritty cop shows, plus it was far too popular. It’s one of Netflix’s prized properties, but one, like the Scranton version of the Office, that’s always under threat of being taken off the platform so the company that owns those shows can stream them themselves elsewhere. Both offer (mostly) white worlds to slip into during for hour/day/month/year long periods. The Office started edgy, poking fun at white male mediocrity, office culture, and micro and macro aggressions that occur there. Friends never aimed to be that smart, it’s edge was often in homo and transphobia, gender policing and sexual references that seem quaint today. I tick off these faults as I watch one episode after the next.

By the way, the way Papa John got himself fired from his own company played out like a Michael Scott cosplay routine that got out of hand. It was a frequent Office plot line that Scott would disrupt PR trainings of various kinds with the exact behavior the training was meant to avoid. Enter John Shnatter, who went off script during a PR conference call with the management of the pizza company he founded, to use the n-word during a discussion about avoid racist speech at work. By the end of its run, the Office was way past anything that raw and troubling, it was busy bubble wrapping it’s characters in happy endings.

After this discovery that I have twenty one episodes of Friends left, not a handful, I think I need a break. I’ll take Paul Rudd’s departure (how does he look older fifteen years ago than he does now?) as a cue to give Phoebe and co. some room. Friends aren’t going anywhere, the only question now is when I’m going to finish them off.

Chicago's Comeback Kids

I don’t want Derrick Rose to return to play for Chicago. I was as smitten with Rose when he was the hometown hero, and believed in him when his injuries sidelined him and many fans soured on him. Then there was a civil lawsuit against him for gang raping an ex-girlfriend. A jury found him not guilty, but I found the woman’s story believable and disturbing. Rose has been playing better of late, and there’s talk in some corners of the sports fandom in Chicago that the Bulls could do worse than sign him. A redemption narrative waiting to write itself, ready to fly as high as his performance on the court could take him.

Addison Russell had his post-suspension debut a few nights ago, to boos at Wrigley Field. I threw away the shirt I’d bought with his name across the back, it was now as linked to his history of domestic abuse as his defense. The allegations against Patrick Kane a few years ago disappeared as quickly as they popped up. The detail of the survivor’s tampered rape kit showing up on her mother’s doorstep is hard to forget. When they winning Stanley Cups, that story kept me from feeling much joy or hometown pride from their accomplishments.

If Russell is truly remorseful, I don’t see why he shouldn’t be allowed to continue to make a living playing baseball. Those who face punishment and acknowledge their transgressions should be allowed back into the tribe. To shun all would place even greater pressure to hide and deny abuse. But to look outside Chicago for a moment, the continued relevance and acceptance of figures like Kobe Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger show that with enough on-field success, the denial of the humanity of women can be reduced to “adversity.”

The River Runs Through It

What’s with you and rivers, TT said. I asked her what she meant and she pointed out the book I was reading, Once Upon A River by Bonnie Jo Campbell, and the daydream I had told her about, the one I perform when trying to fall asleep. I imagine I’m on a raft like the children in Night of the Hunter, floating slowly down a dark waterway flanked by benign creatures of nature.

Campbell’s book is fairly recent, while Night of the Hunter is an old movie from 1955. In both, children escape violent, predatory men by setting themselves down the river by boat. The movie is most famous for Robert Mitchum’s chilling portrayal of a vile preacher, but it's the image of John and Pearl floating down the river, observed by rabbits and frogs, that has stuck with me. Imaging I am such a child on such a boat soothes me and the imagined pull of the river can sometimes push my mind into unconsciousness.

In Campbell’s fine book, Margo, the child, is a little bit older than John and Pearl, she sets off with a boat and a rifle to escape a home situation in which she is at best unwanted, and at worst in danger of continual violence. She ends up surviving on the river, and the book becomes an old fashioned adventure of self preservation in the wild, hunting, foraging, and fending off the dual threats of loneliness and men who want to turn her into something she’s not (a “nymph”, a “river princess”).

Both book and film show male sexuality as confused and controlling. The preacher woos Willa, John and Pearl’s mother, and then after stoking her romantic interest, he shames her for her desires. This is the same man who hates himself for his own desires, he scowls at the burlesque dancer, his switchblade cutting through his trousers. In Once Upon a River, Margo finds herself taking up with men like ports in a storm, often surprised by the logic of her desires. More often that not, however, as soon as she’s out of the elements, the precariousness of each of these arrangements reveals itself. There’s a reason she always carries a rifle. Margo carries her own gun, but like in the Hunter, it’s an old soul who ultimately provides guidance and physical and emotional shelter.

I’m safe enough if my life that I’m not looking to the river for escape. I’m certainly not resourceful enough to live off of it like Margo does. My vantage point is more passive. The rain is finally letting up in Chicago after a wet and dreary week. I’ll take the hound out for him to do his business, and then we’ll walk the mile to the river, and see what’s floating by.