Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Last Hip Post

This will most likely be the last posting I make about The Tragically Hip, but I wanted a bit of a round-up.

I got home from our trip (still not documented - alas) and found that for whatever reason the PVR had not recorded the Aug. 20th Kingston show (the one watched by 11.7 million Canadians!).  I wondered if it had been some blackout on recording, but others had mentioned it worked, though it cut off the end of the concert, since they hadn't added an hour to the end of the official broadcast time.  We had planned ahead for that, but the recording never started in the first place.  Very frustrating.  One possibility is that we do get 2-3 minute power blackouts at least once a week, and that might have thrown things off.  (I grant you this is less serious than others dealing with daily brown-outs, but it still feels pretty unacceptable given the rates we pay Hydro.  Maybe too many squirrels and raccoons chewing on wires in Riverdale?)

I had said I would buy a DVD of the concert, and I still expect to do so, but in the meantime it wasn't all that hard to track down someone who had put the whole thing up on Youtube.  And with a bit of additional searching, I tracked down the August 12 and 14 concerts in Toronto.  I did like the 12th (featuring Fully Completely) just a bit more than the 14th, which went a bit deeper into Road Apples, but also featured Now for Plan A.  The second half of the Hamilton concert on the 16th featured World Container, so that was also worth streaming.  The final concert is a bit of a masterpiece, and the only thing I would have wanted to see was So Hard Done By, perhaps in place of Toronto #4.  I just don't see how they can top that, and almost any concert after this would be an anti-climax, though I am sure people would be understanding if Gord's cancer goes into remission and they do tour again.

I'm fairly sure at some point I owned Day for Night (which features So Hard Done By and several other classic cuts), but I couldn't locate it, and I gave in and ordered another copy.  It arrived last night, and I played it through.  I don't believe I've ever listened to the entire CD in order, which is kind of strange, so maybe I didn't own it after all.  Anyway, it will take quite a while for it to sink in, and I don't think it will ever replace Fully Completely, which is basically burned into my brain from repeated listening over the years.

I was talking with my friend about the Hip and this half celebration/half wake tour, and we agreed that it was the right way to go out.  In a way, it gives the fans more closure (again assuming that the band really does break up) certainly than they got for Prince or Michael Jackson.  David Bowie did manage to get out his last album (a dark mini-masterpiece that I'll probably always mentally pair with Man Machine Poem), so that helps a bit.  It's never easy to let one's musical heroes go, since it just reminds us of the "Inevitability of death," which is yet another song off Day for Night...

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

10th Canadian Challenge - 4th Review - The Book of Negroes

I wasn't sure I would actually get to Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes during the challenge this year, but I brought it on the trip to New York and Chicago, and I managed to read it in 3 or so days (aided by layovers in airports and so forth).  It is well-written and the plot moves along at a rapid pace.  I don't know if it was a mistake or not to start with the narrator, Aminata (or Meena as she is generally called), appearing before Parliament as an old woman, testifying against the slave trade.  It is somewhat difficult to remain in a state of suspense throughout the whole novel, when you know the main character survives all kinds of suffering.  I think that might have been a mistake, but that was the way Hill wanted it.

To cut to the chase, I thought this was an entertaining and solid book.  I don't think it is a great book for a variety of reasons.  Most fundamentally, while Aminata was somebody that you would root for throughout, she felt a lot to me like a person from our era thrown into the late eighteenth century.  She had a sense of her own worth and willingness to fight for her rights that frankly seemed very out of place for that time and era.  Interestingly, Hill sort of hints that she would have ultimately been very out of kilter in her village where societal pressures would have been unrelenting for her to conform and marry the local chief as his second or third wife.  While she is somewhat tempered in her thinking by the end of the book, she expects far too much out of people, particularly Lindo Abraham, and she generally refuses to accept compromises.  (It must be nice to live a life where one does not make compromises.  Perhaps ironically, the last time she spurns a chance to hash things out with Lindo* and perhaps see things from his perspective, she has been working for several months with the British, writing down the names of the free Blacks in the Book of Negroes, along with slaves and indentured servants that were going to Canada along with their British masters.  If she was going to be so self-righteous with Lindo, she should have looked in the mirror right about then, since she was just as much an enabler of the slave trade at that particular moment.  She does gain a bit more perspective after her return to Africa.)

More than anything, Aminata is basically a Mary Jane, that is a character that is so astoundingly perfect and exceptional in every way that it gradually gets a bit boring.  She can pick up languages amazingly quickly, by the age of 10 or so, she is an experienced midwife, she learns herbal medicine on a plantation in South Carolina (where she is also taught to read English -- she already knew a bit about reading the Qur'an, possibly in the original Arabic), and after she is sold to Lindo Abraham, he teaches her bookkeeping.  There is almost nothing she can't do, although as I already said she basically does not accept the complicity of average Southerners in the slave trade.  I'm not entirely sure what point Hill is trying to make when he focuses several times on the fact that slavery existed in Aminata's home village (and the chieftain's wife is actually most horrified that they are enslaving proper Muslims rather than that slavery exists at all).  This is actually a fairly daring subplot, as well as spending quite a bit of time late in the novel examining the actions of Africans who sold other Africans into slavery.  But it does make me question why Aminate is so particularly unforgiving towards Lindo when she was exposed to many of her kinsmen who engaged in slavery of one sort or another and that she herself facilitated the British bringing slaves to Canada.  The single weakness or flaw in her character comes when, despite having been warned several times, works out a deal to go with African slave traders in search of her home village (which she had even been told had been completely wiped off the map!).  Not too surprisingly, they eventually plan to sell her off as a slave yet again (quelle ironie!), but she figures out their plot (due to knowing yet another African language) and she miraculously escapes.  On the one hand, Hill may be trying to humanize her a bit and give her a flaw, but it just seemed a bit too unlikely that she would ever have trusted the slavers in the first place.  Of course, had I been in her place, I would never have thought it worth going back to Africa at all.

What I particularly liked about the novel was that it exposed me to a very under-reported aspect of history, namely that there was a small colony of free Blacks in Nova Scotia that was established in the aftermath of the American Revolution.  The Book of Negroes is an actual historical document, which kind of blew my mind.  (And there was a back to Africa movement many decades before Marcus Garvey.)  I also thought it was interesting how the British tried to stir up trouble by basically promising American slaves their freedom if they served on the British side.  (I wonder if Abe Lincoln knew about this aspect of history when he read out the Emancipation Proclamation, about which I will write more in my review of Father Comes Home from the Wars.  Abe was slightly better on the follow-through than the British, though at least some slaves got their freedom that way during the American Revolution.)  There were some very interesting debates in the novel about what it meant to stick up for the Americans and their "freedom," when it very quickly became obvious that this didn't apply to slaves.

There were quite a few characters that I relished reading about, whereas I was just sort of meant to admire Aminata on a pedestal as it were.  While Rosa Lindo is almost too good to be true herself, I still enjoyed the passages where she introduced Aminata to their home and far more genteel way of life.  If I recall, she actually had a bit of impishness about her and might have been the only white person that made Aminata laugh.  Certainly she and John Clarkson were about the only two whites she ever trusted or around whom she let down her guard.  I liked the passages with Daddy Moses and his ministering to his congregation in New York.  Finally, my favorite character was Georgia, who essentially becomes a second mother to Aminata when she is brought to the indigo plantation in South Carolina.  She struck me as someone who belonged in her own book, something along the lines of a Zora Neale Hurston novel.

I should add one final note of appreciation.  I thought it was rather profound how Hill discussed map making of that time and how the maps of Africa mostly showed a blank or a Terra incognita.  This frustrates Aminata to no end, since she hoped to learn a way back to her home village from these maps, but they are useless.   Towards the end of her time back in Africa, she decides that it isn't entirely the Europeans' fault but that Africans were also engaging in strategic withholding of information.  I particularly liked Aminata encountering this passage from Jonathan Swift's On Poetry, which seems particularly apt:

So geographers, in Afric maps, 
With savage pictures fill their gaps, 
And o'er unhabitable downs 
Place elephants for want of towns.

The entire poem can be found here.

On the whole this is an interesting and even important novel covering an obscured historical moment when Africans (free and enslaved) came to Canada.  It is a bit difficult to fully relate to the main character, who is a bit too perfect throughout, but there are several secondary characters that I enjoyed encountering.  It will certainly end up on my notable book list for 2016, though I am not expecting it to land in the top 5.

* I was checking out some other reviews, and it "triggered" my memory that the novel does entirely strain plausibility when Lindo shows up in the nick of time to prevent Aminata from being returned to her evil first master.  Not only does he just happen to be in New York and find out about the case, but he happened to be travelling around with her bill of sale.  Come on now...  And yet after this miraculous deliverance, she still can't bring herself to talk with him for more than a minute or two.

Missing paintings at the AGO - a poll

I decided that the last post was just too much of a downer and I wanted to put up something else, though it could be taken as a passive-aggressive attack on the AGO, which isn't precisely my point.

Most people realize that museums don't put all their paintings on display, but what isn't as commonly known is that it generally is only 5-10% of the collection that is actually on display.  Some museums are a bit more conservative in terms of what is on view and what is in storage.  The public basically expects to see key paintings and is going to be fairly disappointed if they are no longer on view.  Other museums rotate a bit more frequently.  My interpretation of the way the AGO works is that they have a few galleries that hardly ever change, esp. the one with all the paintings crammed together on the 2nd floor.  Since the remodeling, they seem to be pretty much stuck in leaving the model ships in the basement, as well as rotating within the Thomson collection on the 2nd floor.  Given that the 4th and 5th floors are given over to contemporary art, this leaves them with only a tiny area to actually change things up.  This article goes into the storage aspect and discusses the dilemma of taking popular works out of circulation.  I'm probably not quite as sympathetic as I should be, or I find what they have chosen to put on view doesn't really measure up (in some cases) to what is in storage.

Here are some paintings that I feel ought to be put back in circulation.  Most, but not all, are in the recent Highlights of the AGO book, and to my way of thinking, people will be somewhat disappointed if they can't see the paintings that the AGO itself claims are its highlights.  It is of course possible that one or two of these are actually on view, but I don't believe so, since I have visited only last weekend.  (Also, the AGO has perhaps the worst digital presence of any major museum I've come across.  You cannot search their collection on-line at least not in a straight-forward way, and obviously there is no way to tell which paintings are on view, which is increasingly common on museum websites.  I can only hope this is something they are working on, since it is a very major failing on their part.)

If I can manage it, I will put a poll in this post and at the end of summer, I will supply the results to the AGO management.

Here are the entries: 

James Tissot, The Shop Girl, 1885

Paul Cezanne, Interior of a Forest, 1885

Edouard Vuillard, The Widow's Visit, 1898

Marc Chagall, Over Vitebsk, 1914

Wassily Kandinsky, Grey Circle, 1923

Joan Miro, Untitled, 1926

Yves Tanguy, The Satin Pillow, 1929

Lawren Harris, Grounded Icebergs, ca. 1931

Henri Matisse, Ivy Branch, 1941

Franz Kline, Cupola, 1960

Mark Rothko, No. 1, White and Red, 1962

Mary Pratt, The Service Station, 1978

Jeff Wall, The Goat, 1989

Ta-daa the poll.  Please vote for your favorite (only one vote per visitor).  Or if it isn't actually your favorite, the painting (or photograph) you feel most ought to come out of storage and be displayed.

Some quick house-keeping.  The poll will only work in the web-version of the blog, not a mobile version, so you may have to switch over (if that is an option) if reading on your phone (sorry!).  Also, it takes a minute or so for the votes to be recorded, and then you have to refresh the page to see your vote.

Please note that I plan to close this poll down on August 29.

(Unfortunately, in order to pin this post and the poll, I have to monkey around with the post date.  It was actually posted July 14.  Sorry about that.)

Which paintings to display at AGO?

Monday, August 29, 2016

Theatre in Toronto (early Sept) and beyond

Just a short notice that Father Comes Home From the Wars has 4 shows added this week - Mon - Thurs (Sept. 1).  Tickets available here.  They may bring this back next season, but there is certainly no guarantee, so this is your last chance to see a moving exploration of how slavery distorted family bonds and other relationships.  I probably won't be able to get around to my extended review (which will be spoiler-heavy anyway) until the weekend, but I would recommend this for anyone interested in the African-American experience and how it is portrayed on stage.

I would recommend passing on High Park this year (All's Well That Ends Well and Hamlet), though if interested, it runs another week or so.

I just found out that Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie will be opening this week at the Theatre Centre and running for about two weeks (details here).  I expect I'll go, as I haven't seen this in years.  Maybe I can combine the show with a trip to the Stephen Bulger Gallery to see the Vivian Maier exhibit, which runs through Sept 10.  I've seen several exhibits of her work, and it is definitely worth checking out - and indeed, the unofficial pairing with The Glass Menagerie and its unfulfilled longings seems quite appropriate.

I've already written a bit about Tafelmusik, Tarragon and Soulpepper, which will kind of fill out the main artistic season for me.  I'll start getting tickets fairly soon.  I'm still debating Hart House where I really want to see Mouawad's Tideline and perhaps 7 Stories by Morris Panych, but I think I'd skip the rest of the season.

Anyway, let me jump to next summer, since both Stratford and Shaw have posted their upcoming seasons!  Stratford is here, and Shaw is here.  Per usual, Stratford interests me more, and I am just more likely to go out that way, since I hate trying to get to Niagara-on-the-Lake.  (I read that the outgoing director didn't like thinking about traffic and how to get out-of-towners to turn up, but it seems like a no brainer to me to try a shuttle bus, since it has been so successful for Stratford.)

At Stratford, I will definitely see Middleton's The Changeling (finally, though I did have the opportunity to see a modern take on it at the Storefront Theatre) and Sheridan's School for Scandal.  I will probably pass on Twelfth Night, just because I've seen it several times and I can't really justify Stratford prices for that.  I am sort of torn on Murphy's The Breathing Hole, which sounds sort of interesting, but at the same time might be a real incoherent mess.  I guess it depends just how much they are charging for it, and if I can come up with one weekend to see everything.  I very much doubt I would travel to Stratford just to see The Breathing Hole.  That pretty much covers it.  They did Romeo and Juliet just a few years back, so I won't go to that, and I clearly won't go to Tartuffe, since I hate the play so much.

Shaw is less interesting from the get-go.  There is a small chance I would see Saint Joan.  I don't really care for Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa.  I actually saw Eno's Middletown at Steppenwolf several years back and didn't think it was all that great.  I certainly wouldn't go a second time. Michael Healey's 1979 is a bit of a wild card.  It could be fairly clever, and no question if Video Cabaret was doing it, I would go.  But I would rather see it in Toronto (or even Ottawa in April 2017) rather than going down to Shaw, so I am leaning against.  That is kind of the way I feel about An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.  I'm pretty sure this is a play that would sort of enrage me (for good and bad reasons very much like The Shipment by Young Jean Lee) and I'd probably go if it gets transferred to Toronto, but I am not going to travel down there and then sort of stew about the play the whole drive home.  So I might go to Saint Joan, but even that is fairly questionable.  It is interesting that they appear to have cut things back to just one musical (no question that the musicals from the past two seasons were critically panned), but Shaw still isn't really my cup of tea.

What am I looking for (fiction edition)?

I've been struggling with my reading choices for a while.  Quite a few of them seem to end up as books that I should be reading (or I tell myself that I should be reading) rather than books I enjoy.  I think I am getting a bit more out of the non-fiction books, or at least the proportion of books that I feel actually merited my time is higher, and maybe I will just continue along that track.  Still, I have piles of unread books in the basement, and I would like to get through most of them by 2020...  I guess the one positive is that I am much less likely to hold onto marginal books than I used to be.  If I know I am not going to reread it and it isn't a stone-cold classic that the kids might need, then I have been donating the books as I go through them.  Six of the last 10 books I read have been donated.

In general, I am also trying to convince myself to give up on books sooner.  It is still a bit of a challenge for me, since I would rather read through to the end and then never bother with the book again, especially if the critical consensus is generally positive, than to wonder if I should give the book another go somewhere down the line.  However, for Naipaul's The Enigma of Arrival and Philip Roth's Sabbath's Theater, the impressions I had of each book by about the 1/3 mark never changed by the end, and in both cases, I probably would have been better off just stopping midstream and turn to something that I enjoyed more.  (I actually do have some thoughts on the Roth book, but I'll blog about that later in the week.)

I have taken that to heart with Taiye Selasi's Ghana Must Go.  It was certainly blown up in certain quarters, but in my opinion, it doesn't live up to the hype.  I thought pretty seriously about pushing on, but two things happened to change my mind.  First, she just started piling one thing after another onto this family (and she kind of over-egged the pudding with how the father lost his job to the point I found it unbelievable).  I get really weary of this sort of thing (and I probably should just discard my copy of Mistry's A Fine Balance, since I remember even at the time thinking when will this misery end, though it is a brilliantly-written book...).  Second, the folks at Goodreads have hinted that there is sort of a happy ending in sight but only when this non-traditional family bonds back in Africa, which feels both unbelievable given the circumstances and too much like a Lifetime special.  Maybe more to the point, I am just so sick of Ivy league MFA-types getting so much hype for these under-baked first novels.  (I found the exact same thing with Iman Verjee's In Between Dreams, which I also didn't finish.)  One minor advantage of the Toronto Star over the NY Times is that the focus of the book section is on Canadian authors and not these not quite ready for prime time Ivy league authors.

Anyway, it is probably not possible to completely distill what I am looking for in a novel or novella, but I am starting to come up with some main themes.  I want interesting characters, not ciphers.  I am willing to make some exceptions for very short stories or extremely clever postmodern fiction.  In particular, I want characters who are at least of average intelligence rather than silly moppets who make bad choices purely out of ignorance.  I prefer characters who have some common sense, though they can certainly be led astray (by their emotions typically) or can be placed in very unusual situations (Malamud's God's Grace or the Scorsese movie After Hours).  There are some rare cases where strong secondary characters can make up for dull or insipid or silly or simply unbelievable main characters.  The secondary characters are the only reason I have hung onto Bowen's The Death of the Heart and Taylor's A Game of Hide and Seek.

Most of all, I am one of those boring throwback readers who still wants plot.  Bad things can happen to the characters, but just piling on one thing after another is alienating and eventually boring. Maybe the single most important criterion is whether the characters have internal integrity.  If we think we know a character, then they can't all of a sudden act in a completely contrary manner, just to serve the plot.  That doesn't mean that they can't have hidden depths, but if they have these multiple layers, then they have to be earned, rather than just sprung on the reader.  It doesn't really seem that much to ask, does it?  But quite a few books I've read have not really passed this test, or I just wasn't interested for some other reason.  Perhaps I'll come back around to this at a later date.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Chicago theatre previews - Sept. 2016

On my recent whirlwind trip to Chicago, I managed to catch two plays that were in final previews.  Both should be opening this weekend and running for 3 or so weeks.  I enjoyed both, though they were quite different plays.

The first one I caught was Sister Cities by Colette Freedman.  It will run through Sept. 18.  It was a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe, but this is its Chicago premiere.  Some details here.  Apparently, it has also been filmed for the Lifetime channel, though it seems like some of the dialog was cut and it is a more visual piece.  The play is set entirely in the living room, whereas in the movie version, most of the rooms of the house are explored.

The set-up is that the four sisters (all with different fathers and named for the place of their birth) rush home to deal with the sudden death of their mother, who was clearly a bit of a free spirit.  I'd rather not reveal too much of the plot, but it isn't going to be too much of a surprise to find out that various family secrets get aired now that the four sisters are reunited.  The play moves along at a rapid clip, clocking in just under 90 minutes.  As I said, I did enjoy it, but it is worth knowing that it seems to draw a bit on TV tropes in the way that humor is frequently used to mask emotion (there is more witty repartee than one would expect given the circumstances), there are a few sudden reversals that are a bit too convenient and the ending is implausible to say the least.

However, I was pretty excited to find out that at the preview I attended, Freedman was in the audience and actually engaged in a talk back with the audience, and it was one of the more enlightening ones I've seen in a very long while.  She mentioned that writing for a specific group of actors can deepen parts (and even speed up the writing process a bit, since you are drawing on an actual person), though that can make it somewhat difficult when the role then goes to someone else in a remount.  She wrote the part of Austin for herself and she considers it the juiciest role, though I tended to relate the most to Carolina, the type A personality.  I asked about Dallas, who strives to be the perfect wife, but seems to be the only one who really had ambivalent feelings about their mother.  Freedman said that that was intentional -- she is the only one who really saw through to the selfishness of the mother (who always put her own needs first ahead of her children, though she wasn't a total monster).  In some ways, I think this could have been a deeper, more profound play, but it's certainly entertaining.

The other preview was a more esoteric play -- Fefu and Her Friends by María Irene Fornés.  This is rarely performed, and people interested in seeing a fine production of the play should make tracks to see Halcyon's production (running through Oct. 8 - details and tickets here).  It is really hard to summarize the play, particularly as there are 8 cast members and the audience gets a chance to listen in on different discussions they are having throughout the play.  (This piece talks in general terms about the play.)  In the second half of the first act, the audience actually gets split into 4 groups and goes to 4 different settings (the kitchen, the lawn, etc.) to see smaller groupings of the actors.  It's actually a bit clever how the conversations can be overheard from different settings, which is likely how things would play out in a real house.  Rest assured, the audience will eventually see all 4 scenes, so no essential information is withheld.  It's really too difficult to describe what happens in the play, but Fefu is a bit of a free spirit who has a certain magnetism.  She converts one new acquaintance from being appalled to being inspired by her philosophy of life.  But perhaps all is not well in this idyllic setting?  You'll have to watch to find out more.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

High Park - All's Well That Ends Well

I'm back from All's Well That Ends Well in High Park.  I guess my main feeling was they did an ok job of it, but overall they were trying to hard to be hip.  I definitely do not agree with the 4 star reviews that some people gave.  I tend to be a bit of a traditionalist, and I thought they did a bit too much genre bending.  Some of the choices were baffling.  Personally, I didn't see nearly as much homosexual bashing in the way that Parolles was "tortured," as several other reviewers did, though what did stand out (and was really an unnecessary and unpleasant twist) was to thrust a gay porno magazine at him (as revealing his true character?) and then when he accepts his role as a fool (rather than as a soldier full of braggadocio) he is given a dress to wear.  Pretty uncool if you ask me.

Unfortunately, we were not able to reserve seats for the evening, and got there just a bit late.  We ended up on the hill on the far left of the stage.  The sight lines were ok, though some of the blocking that was done made it hard to see what was going on when the entire ensemble was on stage.  I could hear reasonably well, though my companion felt she missed a lot of the dialogue, so she didn't enjoy the production at all.  My problem was the hill had an incredible slant to it, so I spent a lot of time sliding down the hill and pushing myself back up on the blanket.  My hip is still a bit sore, and I have a lot of dirt ground into my new shoes.

I knew I would be bothered by the 3 little speeches written by the director to move things along, and I certainly was, especially as they got an unbelievable amount of attention.  The clownish character, Lavatch, is a female in this production (and while she keeps talking about how she wants to be rewarded for her service to the Countess by being married off, this must have been one of the subplots that was completely cut).  She ends up speaking the new lines (by the director Ted Witzel) as a kind of torch song, just giving them so much undue prominence.

But this is a hard play to like.  It relies too much on the bed trick (though maybe it isn't quite as contrived as in Measure for Measure (another problematic play) as Helena (or Helen in this production) at least is officially married to her unwitting partner).  It features a smart woman falling hopelessly in love with an unworthy man, is abandoned by him, and tricks him into returning to her side.  In this production, Bertram is completely unmoved when he hears of her death (at least in some productions one sees a bit of remorse creep in at this point) and yet seems have genuine emotions for her once all the machinations are revealed.  I didn't feel this was earned at all (by the production), and I didn't believe it for a second.  The only thing I could plausibly believe is that Bertram remembered how good she was in the sack back in Florence.  I would have had more respect for this production if it had been more honest about the problematic ending instead of trying to make it an upbeat ending. In fact, I much preferred the Much Ado About Nothing production that added some ambiguity and melancholy to what is generally not seen as a problem play to this one trying to somehow smooth out the ending and pretend that Bertram is going to grow into a worthy partner for Helen and thus they live happily ever after.

There were two moments that I did enjoy, both of them having more to do with movement and staging than acting!  First, to set the scene for the Florence exploits, the men in their soldiers' garb, push these two large structures towards the middle of the stage, forcing all these chairs ahead of them like a snowplow pushes snow.  The chairs end up piled up a bit like the blockade that is a highlight of Les Mis.  They also come to a halt just a few feet away from Helen, who is discussing her plans to follow Bertram to Florence, adding just a hint of danger to the proceedings.

Then at the end, when Julia is slowly (far too slowly for my taste) revealing the traps that Helen has laid for Bertram, she and Bertram are circling the front of the stage, and the rest of the ensemble moves in block formation, following their discussion.  All of a sudden, the block opens up and Helen is there, back in her wedding dress, to confront Bertram.  That was fairly impressive.

Do two very elevated moments and a few sparks of interest here and there justify this production?  Probably not.  However, I will say it is hard to get anyone to pay any attention to this play (or Measure for Measure).  Still, I will be very wary of Witzel in the future, since I think he takes too many liberties with Shakespeare.  I can tell from this production and the reviews, that I would have absolutely hated his take on Hamlet, and I am definitely skipping it. So if you are on the fence, I would probably advise skipping Shakespeare in High Park this year.  I'm hoping that they come back a bit stronger next year, just as last year was fairly solid. 

(I'm still sort of on the fence about the gender bending that happens in Romeo and Juliet over in Withrow Park (reviews here and here), but I'm leaning against going.  I was going to take my son to see one of Shakespeare's best-known tragedies, but I just don't want his first experience to be one that is so non-traditional and frankly a bit confused and confusing (and Slotkin confirms this).  It would require more explanation than I really feel like going into at this point.  Will I go by myself, perhaps on the night they roast marshmallows?  Not likely, but perhaps if I feel I have caught up with everything else in my life...)