Review: Moby Dick

This past weekend, we saw Lookingglass Theater’s production of Moby Dick. I’ve seen three productions there including Alice in Wonderland and this production was my favorite of the three. Moby Dick has gotten great reviews and has sold out all the remaining shows. It ends this week.

Moby Dick  is one of these books I never thought I’d read or even be interested in. But after conducting an interview with cartoonist and designer, Marnie Galloway, earlier this summer, I’ve been quite curious. She told me about how funny the book is. Then my coworker told me about a podcast of the Big Read that goes chapter by chapter with a different actor. The first chapter is read by Tilda Swinton. Stephen Fry and even Benedict Cumberbatch read chapters. So since then I’ve listening to it chapter by chapter. I’m only at chapter 46 but I’ve been enjoying it. The characters are fun, the descriptions are gorgeous. It’s an interesting tale and yeah, there’s humor. It’s dry but I like dry humor. I’m sorry that I didn’t finish it before the play but that’s okay. When it came to the play, I had read ⅓ of it.

I love lines like this: “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

I dig it.

Lookingglass’ Moby Dick was great. It was engaging. While it was a longer play, 2.5 hours, I didn’t feel the time passing. I was always surprised when it was time for another intermission (there are two). They managed to combine circus and narrative in an excellent way. My fiance and I have talked about this problem. Most circus shows either try to be variety shows or have loose plots with circus intervals. That was my big issue with the two other shows at Lookingglass. I loved the Alice in Wonderland but it did feel a little disjointed. Here’s plot and now hula hoops! It was more pronounced with The Little Prince, which is one of my favorite books. It got rather tiresome at times, which is odd considering the theater’s desire to be whimsical and imaginative.

But Moby Dick managed the tension well. Characters frequently climbed up poles, hung from the rafters, etc. It worked well since the action mostly took place on a ship so naturally people climb on things. There was only one prolonged piece but it worked in the plot. I don’t want to reveal some of the inspired moments. You just have to experience them. Overall, I think they got a lot of the mood and setting right. They even managed to get in some of the asides that Ishmael takes the reader, which made me very happy. The acting was spot on; everyone was well cast. With this new mixture, I’m excited to see what Lookingglass has in mind for Treasure Island. Then again, it’s Mary Zimmerman’s production so it should be amazing.

So while Moby Dick is sold out, check out the free podcast. It’s pretty awesome.

http://www.mobydickbigread.com/

Review: Kurios

This past weekend, we checked out Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios at the United Center. I was super excited to see the show since I have enjoyed most of what I’ve seen from Cirque. I enjoyed Zarkana  in Vegas last year. With one major exception, namely the ill conceived Slapstick, their shows are always worth watching. The costumes are super fun, the sets are neat and they really do come up with some amazing visuals.

Kurios did not disappoint. It was a Steampunk theme to it. The subtitle was Cabinet of Curios so it had lots of strange creatures and jars filled with specimens. It did have a lovely bit where actors walked an invisible man on stage, with hat, shoes, and briefcase, which was simply lovely. There was a strange accordion man, a robotic woman, and a submarine man.

Mischief before the Show

The circus was the best part of the show, of course. I don’t want to give too much away but the best and most imaginative piece involved chair stacking. To give a hint, it was something out of Alice in Wonderland. It simply took our breathe away.

There was a really wondrous contortion act with three performers dancing on top of a giant brass colored hand (with a ring). I’m not a huge fan of contortion as a rule; I feel that most contortion acts are three poses and a lot of attitude. But this was beautiful and challenging. The three performers did amazing things with their bodies, sitting on themselves, basing their fellow performers on them in crazy poses. Very impressive.

We really enjoyed a wonderful trampoline act on a net with aquatic creatures. The net looked like the same netting that would be used for flying trapeze. Circus performers would bounce and spin in the air, or catch hanging clouds (yep, you read that right). They made it look so smooth and easy, which means that it is the result of 100 hours of practice (or more). One performer did an impressive job of acting like a fish out of water, wiggling in the air. So neat.

There was also a lovely strap act that started with Siamese twins. The twin part didn’t do a whole lot for me but the act itself was simply marvelous. There’s nothing quite like having someone soar in the air right above you! It gave the audience the feeling of flight!

The final act was also magnificent. It was a group acrobatics bit where the acrobats were flipping people up in the air and having them land on their arms. Or flip someone forward into someone else’s arms. There was so much that I had never seen before. My favorite bit was when they had a partial three high (there was a second base at the bottom – my fiance says it wasn’t a real three high), where they flipped a fourth person on top. So impressive!

There was also a puppet show, a improvised bicycle aerial act, and much more! That’s just a taste of Kurios. I would like to have had more circus and less atmospheric bits but it is worth checking out. I couldn’t help compare it with Cirque Mechanics from the Circus Festival. I think Cirque Mechanics was much more about circus while

That’s all for now!

Milwaukee County Zoo

This past weekend, we decided to take a little day trip up to Milwaukee, WI. It’s something that has become a tradition with my friends. We go up, usually to one cultural site, buy cheese, and then come home the same day. It’s a mini-vacation.

This time, we were going to check out the Milwaukee County Zoo. It’s a little outside of the city. I really liked it. There was a lot to see. It is definitely bigger than LPZ. I’m still deciding if I like Milwaukee Zoo better than Brookfield. One thing in its favor is the abundance of peacocks. Brookfield definitely has peacocks wandering around but Milwaukee had dozens. They’d lounge in exhibits of other animals, though they tended to stick to the vegetarian animals. They were shedding their feathers (mating season is over) so you can actually collect peacock feathers if you find them. Sadly, they were all claimed before we got there. But we got to see peachicks!!!

Peacocks!

And they have kangaroos. One had a joey in her pouch!!!

Kangaroos!

The animal houses are quite impressive. We really enjoyed the Ape house, which gave us a finer appreciation for these animals so like us. One bonobo baby was nursing at his mother. I’ve never seen that. There was an ape who had recently given birth. She kept her back to the glass, covering over her baby, protecting the wee one from our gaze. It was beautiful. Also, it appeared to be baby season at the zoo.

We also enjoyed the Small Animal House where we found a fennec fox licking a salt lick or something and all the lemurs. My friend and I disagree. Do lemurs look more like rodents or tiny dogs?

Fennec Fox

They had lots of bears. One habitat had several bears just hanging out. One hugged a giant tree and another laid on a hammock. It really felt like something out of a children’s cartoon.

Bear snuggle

One strange thing was that we saw a few habitats where carnivores were very close to prey. In other words, it didn’t look like there was much of a barrier between them. The polar bear was next to the sea lion habitat with very small walls between while there was a jaguar near the alpacas. We were a little confused at how that worked. Do they just keep the carnivores really well fed? Or is there something unseen keeping the one animal out of the other habitat? Curious.

There were also amusements like zip lining and sky lift chairs. We didn’t partake of them but they were available. I was also impressed that the food wasn’t terrible or crazy expensive. i got a sub that was comparable to Subway prices.

My only complaint is that adult admission is $14.50, not including parking. But you can park for free not too far away. I have come to realize how spoiled I am with free zoos. I always thought zoos were all free since I grew up near Lincoln Park Zoo. I am realizing how incredibly special that is.

Despite that, Milwaukee Zoo was a lot of fun. It was worth a trip.

Then we went to our tradition cheese place called the Wisconsin Cheese Market in downtown Milwaukee. We like it because it’s got lots of cheese and samples. That’s where I discovered the wonders of 5 year old cheddar. Nothing like it. So we went to town there and bought lots of cheese including cheese curds. Goodness, I love ‘em! I also got some fudge cheese, which is crazy. Tastes like fudge with some cheddar in it.

It was a fun trip. Can’t wait to go back for more mischief and cheese! Someday, I’ll make it to the Mars Cheese Castle. Someday.

That’s all for now!

Out of Site 2015

So it’s that time of the summer when one of my favorite events takes place: Out of Site. Out of Site or OoS is a series of public performance art in Wicker Park/West Town area founded by Carron Little. The Jury panel of Roberto Sifuentes, Kevin Sparrow and Carron Little curate the work. Artists come from all over the world to perform their work for Out of Site. It is in its 5th year; I’ve definitely talked about it previously. The catch phrase is perfect: “Do you believe in Wonder?” And yes, Out of Site delivers wonder.

Now the series is in the second week of 2015. The first series of performances took place in Wicker Park Fest, adding a little joy and art to the music/food festival on Milwaukee. Ballenarca, a group from Austin, TX, performed their amazing underwater puppet show. The main focus is a truck sized carnivorous whale whose eye ball and tongue feature as independent puppets. Eels, sharks, jellyfish and many other creatures float, interact, eat one another. And there’s a live band with a operatic singer. Because live music and art is amazing.  It’s quite lovely.

I actually saw the show twice: once at the festival and another rendition in the Julia de Burgos park next to the 606.  While they were the same fundamental shows, the different spaces and times of day impacted the meaning. The one at the Fest was in the middle of the afternoon with a predominantly older crowd while the other performance was in a playground with lots of kids and families at dusk. The darkness enhanced the performance, reinforcing that the show was taking place in the deep part of the ocean.

Ballenarca's puppet showBallernarca at night

There were several other pieces going on during the festival as well. Sheryl Oring’s  I Wish To Say was a lovely discourse about politics and participation. Five performers wore bright 1950s clothing in red, blue and white. Each had a typewriter set up in front. Members of the public were asked to dictate a letter to the president that the performers would type. At the end, you had the option to stamp and send it to the president. I really dug it. Yes, I dictated a letter to the president and mailed it. It was a great opportunity to think about what I wanted the president to know. It made me more of an active participant in our political society.

Sheryl Oring's This I Have to Say

The third piece was Duff Noris’ The Wisdom Box. He also performed it on the following Friday. It’s a one on one piece. The artist stood in the Polish Triangle with a box over his head with room for another head. The audience member would step up into the box. In this mirrored box, the artist would ask you a question and you would have a short but very pleasing conversation. It was a small moment of connection with a stranger. I really dug it.

Duff Noris' The Wisdom Box

The fourth piece that I saw was Jeremy Pauly’s “Composition in Decomposition.” The piece took place 7 to 9 in an outdoor space between two buildings on Milwaukee. There were several performers with reddish brown clay on their faces moving around the space. Some were against walls, others walked slowly, while others laid on the floor. One figure stood in a pool of wet clay. It was a piece that took time to draw you in as these figures lived out their silent movements. None appeared to react to one another. They each were alone in their world. Beautiful.

Jeremy Pauly’'s “Composition in Decomposition”

So that’s just what’s happened so far. We are in week 2 of Out of Site.

Check out the full schedule here: http://outofsitechicago.org/

Anthony Bourdain

Last week, I had the opportunity of seeing Anthony Bourdain live. I’ve been a fan of his since my parents randomly bought the audio version of A Cook’s Tour while driving me home from writing camp in Iowa. (Blessed memories). Since then I’ve read some of his books and watched some shows. I was keen to see him live.

My view of the stage

There’s a lot that can be said against him. He’s arrogant as well and often a jerk. I think if we knew each other personally, we’d hate each others guts. At the start of the live show, he spent the first half hour ranting against Guy Fieri and the Food Network, which wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. He then spent another 15 minutes railing against the Food Network. Blegh.

However, I can’t forget that he (along with my best woman) changed the way I looked at food. Before the dynamic duo, I was a bit cautious about food. There were a lot of things I had no interest in trying like new meats, vegetables as a whole, etc. But then I heard him talk about food in a way that I had never experienced. There was wonder and adventure in just putting things in your mouth (food things!). I was hooked. Food was connection. Food was conversation. People will open up to you if you open yourself to their table. It’s beautiful. He (and my best friend) made me want to try everything in the world. The best quotation from last night was “Curiosity is my only virtue.” But what a virtue! Plus, his description of haggis (from that long ago car ride) still haunts me. I still haven’t been able to find it but that will change on the honeymoon to Scotland.

So I was going to see him if I could at the Auditorium. After the 30+ minute rant, he started talking about his philosophy about food and life. While I sometimes disagreed with his commentary, it was interesting. He did do his usual rant against vegetarians, sniffed at gluten sensitivity…but he really came alive during the Q&A. That’s when he talked about his travels, the individual shows he did. He bemoaned the fact that he has managed to screw up the show in Sicily twice (with a tern year gap between them). He talked about how he lost it when he was supposed to hunt octopus like the locals.  When they got to the waters, it was an active beach so he was suspicious that anything would live there. But he went into the water with his spear. When he was in the water, something dropped near his head. It was a dead octopus. He emerged from the water to find that a boat was chucking frozen octopus into the water. He was not pleased and ended the filming right then and there.

Bourdain also talked about how he can only go to Russia every five years since he can’t keep up with the drinking. He explained (with hyperbole?) that usually he’d have to drink 3-5 shots of vodka at breakfast, 11-13 at lunch and 17-19 at dinner. Damn.

So the show eventually picked up. Yes, I’ll see him again if he comes back to Chicago. I still think he’s an asshole but I do enjoy how he talks about food and communication between strangers.

That’s all for now!

New Orleans: Part 4

Suddenly, it was our last day in New Orleans.  I had a few hours in the afternoon before our flight home to get in one last thing: a cemetery tour. As readers of this blog know, I can’t resist a good cemetery or a walking tour.

I decided to go with the tour group French Quarter Phantoms since the timing was right. The cemetery was the St. Louis Number 1 cemetery, which was nearby. We met at a little bar at the border of the French Quarter and I think Treme. While I waited for the tour to begin, I realized that Congo Square was across the street. I wandered over there to make homage to the birthplace of jazz. I tipped my hat and played “Tall Cotton” in honor of the place.

Our tour guide was great. I think his name was Robert. He started us off explaining the history of burials in New Orleans. I learned that the yellow fever was to New Orleans almost as bad as the plague was to Europe. About 5-20% of the entire population was killed from yellow fever each year when the area was first settled. They learned pretty quickly that underground burial was a bad idea. They experimented with a variety of burial practices until they decided on these above ground tombs where bodies were left to cook into just bones (great image, no?). With the combination of the hot and humid weather and bugs, a body would be stripped to bone in a year. Then it could be left with the other bones in the tomb basement and other bodies put in.

So the tombs were built as ovens. Little did I realize that this tour would take place on the hottest day on record all summer in New Orleans. It was 97 degrees with 108 heat index. Our tour guide did a tremendous job of trying to keep us safe. He had us cool off before the cemetery in an air conditioned visitor’s center next to the cemetery. He asked us to make sure we had water in the cemetery and even turned out a random tap in the cemetery to have us put water on our arms and faces. He also encouraged us to go back to the visitor’s center after the tour to cool down, which I actually did. While I’m happy I did the tour, I think I might have gotten a touch of heat exhaustion. Oh well.

The cemetery reminded me a bit of Buenos Aires’ famous Recoleta Cemetery, which is basically a city of mausoleums. This cemetery was not nearly as big (a city block only) nor as extravagant. Nor was it as well kept up. The tombs were much plainer over all though there were a few pyramids and larger structures. Nicholas Cage has his future tomb there and yes, it’s a giant pyramid with a Masonic saying in Latin on it. I’m not sure if our tour guide was kidding when he said people leave items to fend off against baldness, IRS, and other unfortunate things…

Nicholas Cage's future resting placeSt. Louis No. 1 Cemetery

The probable resting place of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau is there. It’s a very popular site for devotees. The family won’t say for certain if she’s there since I think they fear that people might disturb the tomb. But it was okay to leave offerings in front, like hair ties, since she had been a hairdresser.

I’m glad I did it. It was well worth it.

I can’t wait to go back to New Orleans. I think the city is fascinating with its history and lore. I wish I had time for Cajun music and exploration outside of the French Quarter. I feel that this is what Las Vegas strives to be but  it doesn’t have the history.

Until next time, that’s all!

New Orleans: Part 3

The following evening, we explored the nightlife a little more in New Orleans. No, not Bourbon Street. Instead, we checked out some classy bars and then Frenchmen Street. The day started a little interesting because we were notified by the hotel that there was a boil order, which meant we should not use tap water without boiling it first. You know it’s serious when they shut down the Starbucks! We had instructions on how to do laundry and shower. Craziness. But we decided to enjoy New Orleans despite this new development.

We started off at the Carousel Bar that is an actual working carousel. The bar itself revolves every 14 minutes. It’s a little faster than you’d expect. I could feel the movement in my stomach but it eventually subsided. I ordered a wonderful cocktail, I think the French 007. And it was superb. It was sweet enough for me but not sickeningly so. I was quite pleased. Then again, it’s hard to destroy champagne based drinks.

Carousel Bar

We decided to find a good seafood restaurant. My quest for fresh seafood had not ended. We ended up at Bourbon House. I ordered Alligator Boudin as an appetizer. I wanted to try alligator again and see if I did like it. It reminded me of the Sicilian dish of fried rice balls. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t love fried things. It wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m not sure I could recognize the taste of alligator but I don’t think I love the way it is prepared.

But I got my fresh seafood. I had oysters and homemade caviar as my entree. It was wondrous. They were fresh and untouched. It was everything I could have wanted. A touch of lemon was all that was needed!  Dessert was a peach cheesecake, which was okay.

And then it was time for some jazz. We walked to Frenchmen street, which was slightly out of the French Quarter. We knew we were in the right place when we found a brass band just playing on the street corner. It was wonderful. We headed to the Spotted Cat since that is where our tour guide recommended. NExt door, however, was a street market of artisans selling paintings, earrings, clothing and much more. The market was open until 1am!

After browsing and posing with the giant ART lights, we went into the jazz club. It was small, cramped, and hot. It was perfect. The first band was washboard, harmonica and percussion. It was quite bluesy, which was nice. Even though I love the blues and live in Chicago, I don’t seek it out much. This bar had a one drink minimum too but the prices were more reasonable. No $5 waters here! Then the next band, the Cotton Mouth Jazz Band, came on. They were everything I wanted. The instrumentation was trumpet, violin (!), tenor sax, double bass and percussion.  They played covers of classic jazz songs. I couldn’t stop by feet from tapping to the music. And I love the band’s character. During one solo for violin, the trumpet player and sax player started playing their instruments like violins!

The Cotton Mouth Jazz Club

Then we decided to see what else was in store for us on the street. Then we had a quandary. We wandered from club to club but all of them had rock, pop, or electronica. We wanted jazz, or even folk. Eventually, the doors swung open at BMC Music Club where two women, who may be Hyperphlyy according to the BMC Facebook page, were singing a series of pop/hip hop/rock melodies. Their music was infectious. We got waters, sat down as they did a 15 minute continuous song of popular 90s music. They were stupendous.

We decided to give it one more try to find a club with music we liked. We ended up settling on the initial brass band on the street. It wasn’t exactly jazz or blues but it was in the style we liked. They did a brassy cover of “Sexual Healing.” It was kinda crazy. People kept lining up in front of them into the street. I was getting concerned that I’d watch someone get hit by a car. Thankfully no one did. While I was standing on the sidewalk across the street, some guys started setting up a BBQ stand right next to me. What a wondrous place. I highly recommend Frenchmen Street. I just wish there were more jazz clubs there. But it’s definitely less gaudy than Bourbon Street.

That’s all for now!