In the past twelve months, I’ve seen a lot of takes on the Scottish Play. There was Greasy Joan & Co.’s Macbeth set in a minimalist, frigid Putinesque Russia-like country in the spring. Then there was The Living Canvass’ Unsex Me Here, which was a unique pastiche of naked actors, a “greatest hits” collection of the play’s dramatic speeches, and train-stopping, eye-catching video projections in the summer. Then, in the late fall, at the Court Theater, there was Anne Bogart and the SITI Company’s Radio Macbeth, a version of the play set in an abandoned warehouse during the 1940s with sound design as the key differentiating element. Plus, of course there’s the real-life telenovela that is Illinois politics, much stranger and resonant than any stage production could be, but let’s not even go there. So I was curious to see what director Barbara Gaines and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater would do on their Macbeth, their first production of the play in twenty years or so. To give Chicago Shakes a lot of credit, this contemporary-set Macbeth is flashy, daring, sexy, multi-tasking, it’s a play that should successfully bring in non-traditional audiences (read, younger and hipper) into one of the traditional bastions of conservative, greying, “we-like-it-straight-up” theater-going in the city. But it’s also a Macbeth that I have to recommend to friends and fellow theater aficionados with reservations. First of all, there’s so many showy gimmicks, gadgets, and devices in this staging, that sometimes I felt like I was watching Shakespeare as done by JJ Abrams. There is a reason why Shakespeare tragedies are considered timeless; there’s a lot of profound themes and beautiful language in them that should be clearly heard; unfortunately in this production, these are sometimes obscured or buried under all that strutting and showboating. More problematic for me though is my sense that the artistic choices (nudity, video projections, electronica, etc.) were made not because they came out intrinsically or organically, from some incisive, expansive theatrical vision of the text, but because someone thought, in a theoretical, distanced, non-pragmatic way, that they would bring into the theater the coveted Twitter generation. Some parts of this staging ultimately feels forced and disingenuous. My reaction to seeing this production of Macbeth is akin to my reaction when one of my friends’ moms sends me a Friend Request on Facebook – grateful and amazed that they’re embracing of-the-moment technology, but also awkward, somewhat embarrassed, quite mystified as to why, at their age, they would want to read my wall posts and status updates.
Despite all the reading up I did prior to going to see the Wooster Group‘s much-talked about take on Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones, the explosive initial production of the Goodman’s O’Neill Festival, I still wasn’t prepared for that first glimpse of the great actress Kate Valk in blackface as Brutus Jones, the titular lead character. I was stunned. I was infuriated. I felt highly uncomfortable. But then, as director Elizabeth LeCompte’s brilliantly, savagely, provocatively conjured world, a world greater than the intentions of the text, took shape and grabbed hold, I moved beyond that initial reaction. Some people didn’t and froze at that first view of a Caucasian actress in blackface playing a black man, as was evident during the emotion-laden talkback after the Friday evening performance I attended, and I couldn’t blame them. I think the audience response to this particular production could only be a highly individual one, refracted through the person’s experience and world view. I ultimately felt, as the show progressed, that blackface, or minstrelsy, was one of the theatrical devices (which also included elements of the Japanese Noh theater, video projections, and electronically synthesized sound and musical scores) that the Wooster Group and LeCompte used to construct a production that challenged the audience’s preconceptions about race and gender, yes, but also our views on colonizer and colonized, oppressor and oppressed, survivor and non-survivor, civilized and primitive. The production was jarring, thought-provoking, distressing, highly unforgettable; theater, not as entertainment or spectacle, but as a charged debate between the practitioner and his or her audience members. It was theater at the highest level, which cultural-savvy Chicagoans were very fortunate to experience, despite the limited five night performance schedule.
The film awards season is already in full swing, with the Golden Globe Awards, the playoffs to the cinematic Super Bowl that is the Oscars, already scheduled to rock the world (sometimes not in a good way) of us avid Oscar prognosticators this Sunday evening. The divine Ms. Jennifer M, who my blog readers know from our collaborative Oscar predictions and recap blogposts last year, has already de-camped to the far flung spaces of Orange County in order to be closer to the action, but she and I had a very giddy conference call this morning to discuss plans for this year’s Oscar notes collaborations (which shall all be fabulously novel, since we’ll have more tricks up our couture sleeves than Penn and Teller, so stay tuned!). I’ve been on the ball with my movie-watching of possible Oscar nominees and winners, to head off a repeat of snide criticisms from various blog readers (you know who you are!) on my predictions (ok, so I saw Ruby Dee’s nominated blink-and-you’ll-miss-it performance on a YouTube compilation video, but you know what, whether it’s seven minutes on YouTube or it’s American Gangster‘s full-length two hours and thirty seven minutes running time, her performance was still insubstantial and undeserving of a best supporting actress nomination!). Here, then, are my thoughts on three of the films being buzzed-about as potential Oscar contenders.
In the midst of compiling New Year’s resolutions that I’ll most likely not be able to follow through on (do thirty sit-ups a day, eat more fruits, stop flirting with straight boys even if they offer to buy me a sidecar, finally break my vow never to see a Renee Zellweger movie again), I’ve been browsing the action-packed January calendars of the various arts and culture institutions in Chicago. After the cultural wasteland that is the month of December (really, how many Ghosts of Christmas Pasts and Snow Queens can you stomach outside of the Boystown Halloween parade?), the beginning of the year is offering quite frankly, and wonderfully, an embarrassment of artistic riches.
The best dishes are ultimately about taste and the balance of flavors, to a certain extent it’s also about presentation, aroma, texture. For me, the appreciation of food is also heavily influenced by memory: the evocation of childhood scents and experiences, of friendships kindled and strengthened, of places and people revisited. My most memorable dining experiences this year revolved around taste and flavor, for sure, but many of them also conjured up memories full of warm glows, happy times, and deeply-missed people. Here, then, is the second annual From the Ledge best dining experiences of the year (and the photo at left is of memorable dining experience #4, the farm dinner): Read the rest of this entry »