Monthly Archives: July 2013

Vanya and Sasha and The Assembled Parties and The Explorer’s Club

So the better-half and I have been seeing plays this summer. (Thank you TKTS.) We have to do something while waiting for opera season.

I already wrote about Macbeth. The following week we saw Vanya and Sonya and Marsha and Spike. This before Sigourney Weaver left the cast. It was sit-com, and it wasn’t even great sit-com. David Hyde Pierce’s timing was precise. Kristine Nielsen managed to actually give a moving performance, no small feat when the script undermined her character by always going for punchline over feeling. We found Shalita Grant grating and her character bordered on some loyal servant/magical Negro stereotype. Billy Magnussen was over the top. Sigourney Weaver is greatly in need of a new action franchise. And whatshername who played whatshername was kind of forgettable.

What was most annoying was all the ways the play pandered to the audience and avoided challenging any of its expectations. First, if you get the Chekov references you get to feel smug, but if you don’t, you still get to enjoy the show as (too) much is explained. Second, there are cringy-knowing references including a line about the half-price ticket line. Third, there’s a rant about technology separating us spoken by a late middle-aged character. (It was soooo 2002) Get off Vanya’s lawn!

Our next dramatic excursion was to The Assembled Parties, which I wanted to see because of the participation of Tony award winner, Dame Judith Light, who I’ve admired since her days as doctor’s wife/belle de jour Karen Wollack. Light has made a career out of realistic portrayals of over-the-top characters including real-life husband and child poisoner, Marie Hilly in the made for TV classic, Wife, Mother, Murderer. But hers was not the stand-out performance. Jessica Hecht in the lead role was a revelation. We were surprised to read that Remy Auberjonois had only recently stepped into the role of Jeff as he not only played well with others, but seemed to own the part. Of course all the actors were upstaged by the 14-room Central Park West apartment in which the action is set. The play already closed, so if you missed it, you missed it, but if it comes back in some form, bring a hankie.

Last night we saw The Explorer’s Club at City Center. It was a very well done farce. What’s not to like? Nothing. Most critics have already written about the drinks being thrown around the stage and expertly caught. How do they do it? Who knows? Don’t go home and try it with your spouse. Don’t ask me how I know. The play wasn’t only written funny. It was played funny, and expertly. It’s hard to pick standouts when the entire cast shined. Tickets are cheap(er than Broadway), but if you go to the TKTS booth, bring CASH. Show closes August 4th.

Side note: I had never heard of David Furr before but after seeing his performance in the above, I came across his youtube series, Jersey Shore Gone Wilde, in which he and Santino Fantana recite dialogue from Jersey Shore in the style (and period costumes) of Oscar Wilde. Off-topic, but here’s a clip of that.

Next post will be on TKTS line a how-to primer, along with info on its particular annoyances and delights.

(Hey maybe you enjoyed this post. Or maybe you think I’m a snot-nosed know-it-all. In either case, the best way to say “thank you” or “screw you” would be by reading and then writing a customer review of one of my books.)

Your Saturday Book Review — The Scottish Movie

There are a gazillion “books” uploaded to Amazon by their authors every year. Ok, I just made the number up because I couldn’t find it on the interwebs, but when anyone can upload anything it’s probably at least a million. I don’t know how much of that is fiction, but let’s say there are 500,000 novels uploaded, and 2% of them are readable, not bad, or even better than not bad. On the one hand that’s still a lot of books – 10,000. More than even the most avid reader could get through in a year, unless she was running some kind of book review scam. On the other hand, readers would have to find those good ones amongst a lot of dreck. You could begin to filter by breaking it down into genres you like, but the proportion probably remains at 2%. So when you do come across one of the good ones, it’s worth giving a shout-out.

Paul Collis’s The Scottish Movie, is a nicely polished gem. It opens with a novel-within-the-novel — the story of a young aspiring actor in Elizabethan England, Henry, whose idea for a play about a murderous usurper gets pilfered by Shakespeare. Henry though powerless wants his revenge and develops a plan to get it. He and his friends will become involved in the production of the play, now called Macbeth, and do their best or worst to see that the show doesn’t go on.

I will confess that this was my favorite chapter. The well researched historical novel that begins the book was superb. (If Collis decided to write the rest of The Scottish Play the novel-within, I’d be happy to read it.) Next we jump to the present and get life-imitating-art when young aspiring actor Harry’s novel is stolen by a slimy producer (no Shakespeare he) in present-day Hollywood. Life imitates art when he overhears young Harry discuss the work with friends, mentioning that it’s uploaded to a “safe” website where it can be read by registered producer-types. Instead of optioning the novel, our villain decides that if he changes things just a wee bit, he’d be on safe legal ground and free to steal.

The concept could get tricky, especially in how closely life might imitate art, but Collis pulls it off which takes considerable skill.

While the premise goes back to the superstitions that have grown around Macbeth, you don’t have to have prior knowledge of the Scottish play or the legends surrounding it. Collis manages to tell the story in a way that makes it enjoyable to those already familiar with some of the history, and accessible to those who aren’t. He also offers a very entertaining “insider” view of the less glamorous side of Hollywood — working and struggling actors, set designers, directors, etc. While some are “types,” none are stereotypes. The pacing is good and there’s even a bit of suspense, and just enough sense of danger (Could Harry’s plans go horribly wrong?) to keep you turning the page.

Possibly another reason for the story’s appeal is that while it reminds us that plagiarism has always been an issue, it also deals with the contemporary fear that putting your ideas, writing, photos, pets’ names or anything else out in the digital world is a risky endeavor.

To be clear, this is an entertainment, not literary fiction. While some readers might have hoped for more play between the 16th century and the 21st, this is not John Fowles. (That may come as a relief to a few of you.) However, it is the type of book that if you are reading it on a plane and the flight attendant comes around to remind you to turn off your electronic reading device because you’re about to land, you might just hide the Kindle between the covers of a magazine (much to chagrin of your better-half) and keep reading.

And by the way, it’s only $2.99 on Kindle.

Angela and Rick 4-Evah!

Could I state out loud and explicitly that I not only don’t think the state of Florida brought its A-game to the prosecution of Zimmerman, I think they purposely didn’t bring their A-game because of concerns that a guilty verdict would have threatened gun laws, stand your ground, and police procedures while also leading to some angry Republican voters staying home next election if there had been a conviction? And maybe THAT’s what the DOJ should be looking into as well?

The above scenario would not require much of a conspiracy either, just a prosecutor who is made to understand by the medicaid-fraudster governor, the implications of a vigorous prosecution, but not asked explicitly to do anything.

Maybe it went something like this:

Governor Scott: Now, of course if you decide to prosecute this case, I hope it’s because you want to do the right thing and not because we don’t want the jack-booted Federales in the DOJ breathing down our necks, and energizing the Dems.

Corey: Of course, Governor. If we find enough evidence we’ll go ahead with it.

Governor: Good. And if you go ahead with it, I want to see you prosecute vigorously, even if it means making our police look like racist-idiots for not arresting the guy in the first place, or even knocking on doors to see if the kid belonged to anyone. Not to mention how it’s going to stir up more b.s. over conceal and carry, and stand your ground — both of which are supported by the Koch brothers — major contributors to our party — who would not be happy if that were to happen…

Corey: I understand completely sir. We won’t let any political considerations stop us although a victory still won’t get us votes from the African Americans, and could lose us some of our base, especially if certain issues, such as you brought up, are raised. We must do our best to get a conviction, no matter the cost.(She looks around the room as though aware of cameras and microphones, and then places a finger by her eye and winks.)

Governor:(He looks at Ms. Corey and then around the room) Ms. Corey do you have something in your eye?

Corey: Of course, Governor. What else could it be?

Governor: So have you thought about a strategy if the state goes forward?

Corey: Well, as a matter of fact, Governor, I have been thinking about. If we do prosecute, the best strategy going forward is to avoid all that race talk. And it’s not about gun laws. Guns don’t kill people after all, so bringing that into it would just be counterproductive as would disrespecting our police force in any way. I was just thinking that any defense lawyer would do everything he or she could to keep minorities off the jury, especially African Americans. I say we let them. Could you imagine how much more legitimate it would be if we got a conviction, which I’m sure we will due to our vigorous prosecution, with an all-white jury?

Governor: (Looks confused, but notices Corey seems to be nodding her head slightly) Well, I leave it to your judgement. I wouldn’t want anyone to think you were anything but independent, whatever your political ambitions in the future might be.

Corey: Thank you for your faith in me, Governor. I hope you’ll always be able to count on me… to uphold the highest standards. I’ll be working with the prosecutors very closely on this one.

Governor: I’m sure you will. Thank you, Ms. Corey.

Corey: You very welcome, Governor. And oh, do you have something in your eye?

Governor: Yes. What else could it be?

Here’s a clip of Corey looking strangely relieved after the verdict. No second guessing, here.

(Hey, like Marion’s Blog? Why not check out some of her other stuff here?)

Dexter, Season 8 — Is a Happy Ending the Endgame?

(Warning: While everything I say is speculative, the first two episodes of Season 8 may be discussed, so there are going to be spoilers for those who haven’t seen them yet.)

Some things that happened in Episode II – Every Silver Lining:

Dexter learns more of his origin story, specifically that Harry came to Dr. Vogel (with whom he may or may not have been sleeping — the dog) with his concerns about Dexter, and she came up with the framework of the code.

Vogel shows Dexter the slice of brain she says was left on her doorstep by the brain-surgeon killer, and speculates that the killer is one of her patients. She asks Dexter’s help in bringing him down and doesn’t want the police involved because her “unorthodox” methods may come to light. Then it turns out that the killer of the last victim was coerced – forced at gunpoint to kill. We learn this based on a DVD left in Vogel’s house, presumably by the person who coerced him and later killed him.

Meantime in Deb-land – She goes to a storage locker and finds the jewels. El Sapo who has been following her, grabs them and beats her up, but he doesn’t kill her. He tells her he only kills people he’s paid to kill, and leaves her writhing in pain on the floor of the locker. Bad choice. Before he has a chance to drive away, Deb somehow ambushes him in his car, grabs back her gun (conveniently left by him on the passenger seat) and kills him, leaving evidence that Dex will have to clean up.

My assessment: My nose has that twitchy feeling every time I see Dr. Vogel.

Anybody else notice that everything she’s telling Dexter about the slice-of-brains that keep landing on her doorstep could be a lie? Anybody else notice that there was no sign of anyone else’s having been at her house when the DVD was “left” on her laptop?

Vogel may or may not be the brain surgeon. She may be manipulating someone else, but whatever is going on, she’s not in danger and no one is leaving her surprise packages. If she’s lying about that, she could be lying about anything.

I still believe (as I said last week) that Matthews knows about the code. She implied that only Harry and she did, but she’s unreliable. I’m not a 100% sure she knows that Matthews knows. He could have found out at Harry’s deathbed, but I stand by the idea that Matthews brought her in because of his concerns surrounding LaGuerta’s death, and whether the code was breaking down.

Vogel is an evil-genius, and certainly more sociopathic than Dexter ever was. She’s manipulating him in every way possible. By making it seem like she’s in danger, she’s appealing to his “sense of justice” and need to kill killers and protect the innocent. She’s teasing him with more hints about Harry and his past, and when all else fails, she reaching out to him in a way that’s quasi-maternal and little creepy.

Dexter did not become a sociopath or serial killer based on his being in the shipping container. He was a disturbed kid, probably suffering from PTSD, and acting out, especially when his adoptive mother became sick. While killing animals is certainly a sign of sociopathy, not all kids who kill animals become sociopaths and most sociopaths aren’t serial killers.

Vogel may or may not have known that her diagnosis was a crock. She seems genuinely surprised that Dex has real feelings for Harry, and Deb, but that may be because she thought her handiwork was so complete in “creating” him as a non-feeling monster.

(It’s even possible,that she may have manipulated the more damaged Brian Moser, who we know grew up in an institution. She may have viewed both boys as the perfect lab rats. Let’s wait and see if there are later reveals about a Brian connection.)

So if Vogel is a sociopath, interested in finding out if her pathology can be created and harnessed, and Dexter was her tabla rosa, what does she want now?

I’m not sure, but I think I have a guess about the writers’ endgame.

We want Dexter to get away with it. We like him. This does not make us monsters. After all Dexter only kills bad people (most of the time), and it’s just a silly television show, usually a dark comedy. Nevertheless, we would all feel better about Dexter getting away – or worse about his getting caught – if none of this was his fault.

What if Dexter was programmed to kill, and could be deprogrammed?

I don’t think Vogel is there to deprogram him. I don’t believe she’s going to say, “I did you a great wrong, so now let’s make it right.”

But I do think stuff will happen that will lead to his being “cured.” Deb’s being in danger will be a big part of the stuff. Yeah, we sort of went there with Brian back in season one, so I doubt it will play out the same way, but by the penultimate episode, Dex will realize Vogel meets the code, and she’ll wind up on his table, and she’ll be his final kill.

(Marion knows no one will ever pay for her opinions when she gives them away free on her blog, but you can show your appreciation by sampling one of her cheapie novellas or her novel here.)

Your Saturday Book Review: Pagan Babies — Not the Band

I am now 14% (per my Kindle) done reading A Naked Singularity.

I so want to love this book — a self-published long-shot by a first time novelist that became an authentic underground hit — but so far it’s mostly working as a soporiphic. The sound of it is brilliant. De La Cava doesn’t just have an ear, he is an ear. The characters are colorful, and while many are from the lower-depths, none feel stock. The protagonist a likeable enough sort. But so far I’m not compelled by the narrative itself. I keep waiting for it to start….

So meantime because I promised (myself) to write about a book every week, this week will be another that I’ve read some time ago – Elmore Leonard’s Pagan Babies.

I can hear the groans now. Elmore Leonard??? Really? Isn’t he a little low-brow, and not low-brow in a high-brow way like Patricia Highsmith or Cornell Woolrich?

The fact is that Leonard, even in his weakest books (and a couple read like he was just riffing for an hour while someone typed) is still unmistakeably Leonard. He may rehash characters (sometimes with different names) and similar schemes come up again and again, but the man has skills. He knows how to “leave out the parts that people skip.” The prose is always in motion, and however thin the plot, it is always in plain sight, propelling the action.

If you’ve never actually read Elmore Leonard’s work, but have already decided you won’t like it, just because, think again, and if you don’t start with Get Shorty, Out of Sight or Rum Punch, all of which were made into fine motion pictures, than you might start with Pagan Babies, Leonard’s sort of foray into Robert Stone territory.

The babies in the title are Rwandan orphans and the book gives a quick and accurate account of the genocide, which takes place prior to the events in the novel. Terry Dunn is a priest in a village, having taken over from his uncle the previous priest who died. Like many Catholic priests in the developing world, he lives with a woman, and drinks. He heads to America to raise some money for the orphans, and also because it might be a good idea for him to get out of town, and finds himself drawn into a scheme involving a lot of types particular to the Leonard-verse.

It’s an entertaining, quick read (even at 334 pages) and the only book by Leonard I know of which takes on anything as serious as Rwanda, even though most of the action takes place stateside, and is not in any way serious.

(Marion has more book reviews on this blog, and you can check out her fiction here.)