I realized the other day that I hadn’t blogged for a while, and though I normally don’t like to post a lot of real-life stuff in here, it’s been quite a busy November for me. Mostly in a good way. I managed to get a lot of work done in time for Thanksgiving, a break I needed more than anything. I was too overworked and stressed to read, basically. But on Tuesday, after teaching, I flew from Madison to Charlotte to Philadelphia, and was picked up by my parents for a ride down through Delaware to Ocean City. This is the fourth year in a row we’ve done Thanksgiving here at the beach. I’ve spent most of the past few days sleeping at odd intervals and dreading going back home; I leave tomorrow evening, but at least it’s a nonstop flight from Philly back to Madison. Once there, it’s back to the grind, but only for another 2 weeks. Due to Thanksgiving being late, we only have 8 more days left in the semester.
Not too much else to share; I have finished some books, and I’m hoping to get back to writing book and play reviews, as well as some personal writing projects of my own.
I opened my box from my parents this morning, and uncovered some chapstick, coupons, a Reader’s Digest, two crisp one-dollar bills, among some cookies and candy, most of which were promptly eaten. I managed to get to the post office and a not-too-terrible parking spot despite insane campus traffic. I shared my birthday cookies with my office floor mates before class. After class, I had sushi on the terrace and shared a cupcake and chat with Rini. 3 out of 4 students showed up for meetings today, and I got to see my APO brothers at meeting and go to dance class. Just found a geocache and now I’m at home, in bed, where I belong. Only a little more lesson planning to do before tomorrow, then off to bed.
Happy birthday to me 🙂
And yes, I did watch my favorite YouTube videos, and sang the Maude theme.
At the moment of my birth tomorrow, I will be sitting in class. Not teaching, but at least I’ll be surrounded by…uh…people who’ve known me for all of seven weeks. Maybe I’ll sneak some champagne in my coffee cup.
After five months (finally!), I finished the book that I checked out of the library to fulfill the Reading My Way Across America challenge, stop #2 as determined by Siri: the 7th state to join the Union, my home state of Maryland.
The options were numerous, but I narrowed it down to two, one book about towns on the Chesapeake Bay, and one about Jewish Baltimore, which is also exactly where I grew up, as did both of my parents (in fact, I later found out that both of them had indeed read the book despite it being relatively recent). I read a book about Smith Island earlier this year, so I decided that the Western side of the bay deserved a shot, so Jewish Baltimore it is. It was quite the trip down memory lane and beyond, and interesting to learn about Jewish life in Baltimore before my family showed up in 1939.
On Middle Ground: A History of the Jews of Baltimorewas written by Eric L. Goldstein and Deborah R. Weiner. It was published only last year, so it’s pretty up to date. My dad found it to be a little dense on history and less focused on narrative, to which I agree; the first half of the book was kind of a snoozefest with the occasional interesting tidbit or photograph thrown in. On the whole, the book talked about the different waves of Jewish migration and settlement in and around Baltimore, first downtown, then gradually toward East Baltimore and finally into suburban Baltimore County, where I grew up. The first Jewish settlers in the area were recorded as early as the 1770s, before Maryland even became a state, so it’s pretty clear that the Chosen People of Baltimore are truly among the OGs along with the Anglicans (Note: There were probably Native Americans in the area, but on the whole, the central part of Maryland has never had much of a Native American presence. Even today, Maryland is one of the few states without an Indian reservation or any recognized tribal groups.)
A lot of the book focused on the relationships that Jews had with their neighbors, both the white, Christian community, and the large (and historically, relatively affluent) African-American community of Baltimore. The theme of “middle ground” really hit home and reverberated the most when placing the Jewish community in between the other two. Maryland has historically been an even-Steven kind of place, neutral in the Civil War, geographically south of the Mason-Dixon line but culturally closer to the northern states. Baltimore was, for quite some time, host to both the Democratic and Republican national conventions. Interestingly enough, back in the 1920s, the Jews of Baltimore were more closely affiliated with the Republican party, as the Democratic side leaned more towards the “know-nothings” and white Christians who wanted nothing to do with the Jews. This prompted both the growth of independent Jewish institutions as substitutes for areas exclusively reserved for white Christians, as well as the community’s turn towards an alliance with the similarly disenfranchised black community.
Speaking of the connections between the Jewish and African-American communities, there were quite a few which surprised me ,beyond the obvious demise of The Buddy Deane Show post-integration as chronicled in John Waters’ Hairspray. In 1927, a Jewish female doctor opened Baltimore’s first birth control clinic, which led to the 1938 founding of Northwest Maternal Health Center, the first hospital in the nation where black and white doctors worked side by side. Hot off the heels of Brown vs. Board of Education, the large Jewish presence on the county school board pushed for and ultimately achieved public school desegregation, one of the first districts south of the Mason-Dixon line to do so. And a year later, in 1961, Sinai Hospital (where I was born) became the only hospital in Baltimore to accept African-American interns among its staff, aside from the all-black Provident Hospital.
Of course, the Jewish contributions to life in Baltimore did not go unnoticed. Jews founded Baltimore’s earliest department stores, and had a hand in cultural institutions from the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall to Center Stage to the Baltimore Museum of Art. On the religious side, Baltimore’s first bat mitzvah occurred in 1936, only a matter or months after the first ever bat mitzvah took place in New York City. By 1951, Park Heights Avenue was known as “Rue de la Shul” (plausible although I’ve never heard anyone call it that, but then again we also have the so-called ‘Gucci’ Giant, the history of which is beyond me), and yeah, it’s still full o’shuls. And Ner Israel, Baltimore’s notable yeshiva, was the first institute in America to offer a doctorate degree in Talmudic law.
Probably the most interesting parts of the book were the details of Baltimore’s Jewish community during the civil rights movement, where private schools and even country clubs were restricted to white, Christian members only. A particularly interesting photograph of Meadowbrook Country Club’s sign warning against blacks and Jews intrigued me. Towards the end of the book, names of people and places became more and more familiar, and on page 223, there was even a picture taken in a classroom at my high school; obviously, a decade after I graduated, but still very recognizable and very…odd to see in a history book. And who knew about Jewish boxing? There could have been way more information about that in the book.
So anyway, upon finishing, I asked for a number 1-50 from Siri, and she picked 39, so North Dakota, here I come! I have already picked out a few books; hopefully it will not take me another five months to read and recap a book from that state.
Body Politic premiered on 21 May 2016 at Buddies in Bad Time Theatre in Toronto, Canada. It closed on 12 June 2016, hours after the shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Phillip – gay man in his 60s. Member of the Body Politic collective in his youth.
Deb – young lesbian activist in her 20s. Member of the Body Politic collective.
Steven – gay man in his 20s. Original member of the Body Politic collective who leaves quickly.
Calvin – gay man in his early 20s. Member of the collective.
Victor – gay man in his late 20s. Member of the collective, latecomer who joins with Brian. Played by the same actor who plays Steven.
Brian – gay man in his late 20s. Member of the collective, latecomer who joins with Victor.
Josh – gay man in his 20s. A barista at the Starbucks where Phillip goes every day, in the present-day storyline.
Present day and 1970s, Toronto, Canada. There are two simultaneous storylines. In the present day, Josh goes over to Phillip’s apartment after encountering him on the Grindr app, where they have sex and argue about the differences between gay men in their respective generations before a revelation by Josh. In the 1970s storyline, Phillip, Deb, and the others start a gay-themed newspaper entitled Body Politic, and in their attempts to express their views, they encounter resistance from within and without, leading up to a major raid on Toronto bathhouses and a demonstration which changes everything, including the breakup of Body Politic and the relationships between its former members and allies.
Really disliking these blocks on WordPress. They just make everything so clunky and hard to edit. I found time this week to read at least part of a script. It was quite interesting, especially since its playwright didn’t live to see its completion.
That’s So Jacob Presents: Flip the Script Friday
Episode #45: Lorraine Hansberry, Les Blancs
Les Blancs premiered on 15 November 2007 at Broadway’s Longacre Theatre. It was produced by Konrad Matthaei. The final text was finished from Hansberry’s notes by Robert Nemiroff. Notable actors in the premiere production included James Earl Jones as Tshembe and Earle Hyman as Abioseh.
Dr. Marta Gotterling – young doctor, white, of Scandinavian origin
Peter – young African servant
Charlie Morris – young reporter from America
Dr. Willy DeKoven – older doctor, from the Netherlands
Major George Rice – older man, American, major in the US Army
Madame Neilsen – elderly woman of Scandinavian origin, wife of the unseen Reverend Neilsen
Eric – young African man who works at the compound
Tshembe Matoseh – brother of Eric who has just returned from studying in Europe and America
Abioseh Matoseh – brother of Eric and Tshembe who is more traditional.
Other minor characters including Drummers, The Woman, African Child, Soldier, Prisoner, African villagers.
“Yesterday/today/tomorrow – but not very long after that.” A mission compound and a tribal hut in an unnamed African country. An extensive opening sequence leads us to the compound, where reporter Charlie Morris arrives just as Dr. Marta Gotterling is finishing with a patient. Charlie then meets the rest of the staff and residents of the compound – DeKoven, Rice, and Madame Neilsen, as well as Eric, a servant. Upon hearing drumming, DeKoven and Rice bring up terrorism, but Madame Neilsen determines that it is just ritual funerary drumming. We learn this to be true, as the father of the Matoseh brothers – Eric, Tshembe (recently returned from a trip around the world where he has become a Christian) and Abioseh (who is more into traditional tribal beliefs). Despite a curfew, Tshembe shows up at the compound to check in with Madame Neilsen and the rest, only to be admonished and castigated publicly by Rice for not observing the curfew. This is followed by a conversation between Charlie and Tshembe, each trying to figure out the real story of the other.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind?
I know that the description was
borderline confusing, but the play was borderline confusing. A lot of key
details are only referred to and not seen onstage. This includes Kevin being
beat up by Merv and his gang and the wedding of Jamie and Krista. I suppose
this adds to the element of mystery and is due to the fact that we can’t
include literally everything that happens to these characters onstage, but I
felt like the details pertaining to who exactly Merv is (other than, as they
refer to him once or twice “Merv the perv”) and what his deal is with Jamie and
Kevin, why they’re enemies. We also don’t see too much of Chicky’s backstory.
She’s a badass who has dealt with a lot, from unwanted advances from basically
every male except Jamie, which includes her father, Clarence, and Kevin, who
may or may not be related to her, as we find out. Instead, we hear a lot about
it, and at times it feels like Chicky’s giving us a lot more than we are
seeing, and we have to just hope that she is reliable in what she is saying. The
scene between her and Clarence attests to the fact that she is probably telling
the truth, but it’s almost as if she reveals too much information as there’s
not as much visual context.
This brings me to my next point, which
is the obvious presence of absent characters. Some are ostensibly absent, like
Travis, who is dead, and Chicky’s mother, who has abandoned the family. However,
we also don’t see Earl, the boss, or the infamous Merv. Most notably, we hear a
lot about a certain character who never shows up but clearly has quite an
impact on one of the onstage characters; Reg, an older, married man, who employs
Robby and has been involved with Chicky ever since her early teens, almost as
young as Lissa. Chicky is so headstrong, and despite teasing Jamie, is his
mother figure, and is protective of the younger and more vulnerable characters,
showing sisterhood to Krista (even when she is being a bridezilla), civility
and attention to Robby, and being a safety guard for the young and
impressionable Lissa. Chicky can be a smart-aleck but she seems to know more
than anyone else, and is the most down-to-earth and practical…yet her dreams
and aspirations are viewed as a joke by everyone else. This is exacerbated at
the not one, but two scenes where she is waiting for Reg, who of course,
does not show up. Her fatal flaw is that she is attracted to a man who, despite
what he says about his marriage, is not going to leave his wife and be with her.
Unlike all the other characters, she does not know that waiting for him is
useless because he will never show up.
I Guess This is Growing Up
My final major theme is that of
growing up, or lack thereof. It’s obvious that Chicky has been thrust into the
role of parent, basically raising her younger half-brother Jamie, and that
Krista, who dreams of being Jamie’s wife, is more into playing at being an
adult than actually being one, leaving Jamie somewhere in between. With his desire
to clone Travis and somehow eliminate the future “new Travis’s” brain tumor,
Clarence is holding on to a memory and acting like the very child he lost and
is obsessed with. Lissa, the youngest character in the play, is entranced by
adulthood in two ways: by Krista, only three years older than her but already a
bride, and by Kevin, who makes romantic advances on her. Even though Kevin
stops before he does anything immoral or regretful, getting up off of Lissa and
sending her home before they do anything, Lissa is smitten with him, which she
shows in the monologue section of the photo session scene, with her monologue
that is basically all of her thoughts about sex. When Jamie and Chicky piece
together what Clarence has been doing, they confront him, telling him to grow
up and act like the father he should be, and on the flip side, Chicky emphasizes
to Kevin that Lissa is still a child, and even though she and Reg have had a
physical relationship since her early teens, that Lissa, being “slow,” is way
more vulnerable than she was, and warns him not to engage with her, at the risk
of giving her signals she does not understand which could lead Lissa to a
As much as parts of it confused me –
for instance, the scene where Jamie and Kevin are putting on dresses and makeup
for a stag party, and the sexual aspects of Merv and his “gang” – I kept
reading just to see how this gritty Gothic tale would turn out. I kept thinking
of a combination of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and Naomi Wallace’s The
Trestle at Pope Lick Creek; the former, because of a main character living
in his own world, contemplating moving across the country, and the chopping
down of trees, and the latter, with the country aesthetics and father/son
relationships, as well as the railroad which dominates the landscape. Also, my
current read is John Green’s Looking for Alaska, and though I’m only
about a quarter of the way through, I am picturing the gang in that book as
similar to the unseen Merv and his gang.
How I’d Flip It
Much like the cover of the book, I’m
seeing some sort of tree design, maybe with moveable flats in front of a backdrop
that looks like the sun in the sky, but is really the eye of an eagle, symbolizing
both endangerment of the environment, and the eagle Jamie nurses back to health
and releases into the wild. A lot of what I saw in various production photos
included wood or faux-wood logs and stumps as furniture. I’m not sure I would
make it super “campfire” but I would definitely accent everything in wood.
For costumes/appearance, I’m
thinking a lot of earth tones in sepia and tan, and navy blue. Much of the
colors are described by Banks in the text, but one thing I would definitely avoid
would be camo; just too stereotypical. I picture Clarence and possibly Jamie in
plaid; Chicky in typical “woodsy girl” attire with a t-shirt and jeans; and Krista
in some kind of short-sleeve baseball tee with cutoffs. For Kevin, I picture a
lot of solid navy blue, and for Robby, a slightly more formal outfit in forest
green. Lissa is harder to pin down; in various production photos, she was in a
dress and pigtails, but I see her in something a little less frilly, like denim
overalls and a pink short, with glasses. The women’s hairstyles are really
clear in my mind. I see Chicky with a bleached blond, sculptured buzz cut;
Krista in long brown curls, with an updo for the wedding scene; and Lissa with
a short bob, almost making a mullet at her ears.
For the wedding scene, obviously
the men’s outfits and Krista’s wedding dress are what they are. However, I would
see a change for the other two women. The playwright indicates that their
dresses are fuchsia, but I would incorporate a different style for each. For
Lissa, I would give her more of a little girl look, with a flouncy skirt and a
little jacket, as if she is playing dress up, and for Chicky, I see her in an
uncharacteristically feminine outfit that is an extreme contrast to her normal
attire, with a sweetheart neckline and a structured bodice, but a length that
is short enough for her to rock some black biker-y boots. Something to accentuate
the fact that even though she is rough, she isn’t one of the guys and is
feminine in more than a motherly way.
And finally, as I was reading, the
song “Gives You Hell” by All-American Rejects was reverberating in my head, possibly
for a video teaser or to appear somewhere in the production.