Review: Road Show

This weekend, I attended my final Sondheim show for the month: Road Show. It is playing at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. It’s a more recent musical based on the life of the Mizner brothers who try to find success in America.

The brothers are very different in temperament. Wilson is the con-man, full of verve and style while Addison is quiet, contemplative and tries to be kind. They both set off to make their fortunes and mark on history with varying success. However, Wilson Mizner was allegedly to have said, “Be nice to people on the way up because you’ll meet the same people on the way down” and “If you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism. If you copy from two, it’s research.” Addison was an architect who defined the architectural landscape of Florida and was the visionary behind Boca Raton.

I liked that the show touched on the rise of Florida as a place of wealth and opportunity. It is incredible to me that these places, Palm Beach, Boca Raton, and even Las Vegas, grew fairly recently even in American history. These places weren’t around 100 years ago and grew because somebody had a dream. Now they are establishments for better or for worse. Fascinating.

I also liked the fact that most of the actors, save the brothers, played instruments throughout the show. Tubas, violins, triangles, drums, and many more instruments made appearances throughout the show. It made me think of vaudeville, all of these acts in one show. The spirit of the play was very much in the spirit of vaudeville and even Gypsy; there is a can-do spirit that persists in spite of constant failure.

Also, it warms my heart the character of death was a man in a bowler hat.

I did have a qualm with the show. Addison travels the world; it’s critical for the plot. He goes to Hawaii, India, and China. However, it requires that the cast don costumes and stereotypical mannerisms to evoke each place. And yeah, it bothered me. I know that the play had to show him going to these places but I didn’t want it to fall into faded stereotypes of these foreign lands. I don’t feel that it was even aware of how awkward and tired these stereotypes were. I’m not sure how to show his travels to these places but this did not work for me.

Despite this qualm, I still enjoyed the show. I’m glad I went but it’s not my favorite Sondheim. Into the Woods takes the cake for this month of Sondheim.

That’s all.

Clara and Tiffany Lamps

Yesterday, I celebrated SWAN day learning about Clara Driscoll and her work for Tiffany glass at the Driehaus Museum in Streeterville. It’s a museum that I’ve been meaning to go for a while. It’s this beautiful house on Erie that has intrigued me for almost two years. It has magnificent Halloween decorations; they have an enormous spider and web outside. I learned today that it’s a fairly new museum. It opened in 2008 and it wasn’t full-time until recently. The Tiffany glass exhibition is really its first exhibition even though it has been open for five years.

But what did the trick was a combination of finishing Clara and Mr. Tiffany and an exhibition of Louis Comfort Tiffany glass from the Driehaus collection on display. Several months ago, I learned about the role that women have historically had in stained glass. It was well documented that Tiffany had a whole Women’s department that chose and cut glass. However, it was only recently that historians have discovered that some of the women actually designed some of the work. I learned that Clara Driscoll was responsible for many of the designs of lamps that were very popular in the Tiffany line. I started reading Clara and Mr. Tiffany, a historical novel about her and her working relationship with Tiffany. And I was hooked. I have always loved Tiffany glass but this was an added bonus.

This past month, theDriehaus museum has been running tours with actors as Clara Driscoll and Agnes Northrup this month.  I was hoping to attend one. Sadly, it was canceled. However, there will be more this summer. Fortunately, we went on another tour that talked about the exhibition and made special note of Clara Driscoll. We saw several of her lamps on display. It was extraordinary! There is wisteria themed one that is simply breath-taking. The skill, the effort, the end result are mind-blowing. There is another lamp with beautiful pink peonies. These are truly works of art. I’ve never felt that way about lamps before.

Peony Lamp designed by Clara Driscoll

Peony Lamp designed by Clara Driscoll

Wisteria Lamp designed By Clara Driscoll

Wisteria Lamp designed By Clara Driscoll

The other objects on display are fairly impressive. There are several Tiffany windows, which feel like painted landscapes. There is perspective in them through glass layering. The mottled glass, confetti glass, etc. mentioned in the book are evident. Also, there are the amazing flower vases, which weren’t actually supposed to be used as vases (you were supposed to collect them and they were to act like flowers year round). Also, we learned that there is a style of glass making called Favrile, which produces iridescent glass. Apparently, the man who developed it, died with the secret. People have tried to approximate it but no one has managed. It’s also very toxic.

The house itself is also a marvel. There is intricate woodwork, milky blue-green tiles, incredibly intricate chandeliers and much more. I think the owners were really influenced by Moorish Spain. The ground floor is exquisitely furnished; some of the Tiffany glass normally resides there. There is one room, a library, with green wallpaper. It has a magnificent fireplace with beautiful inlaid work and a Greek inspired statue in the middle. Overhead is an explosion of color in a dome. The room manages to convey a garden without having many plants. It’s a room that deserves champagne.

Fireplace at Driehaus Museum

Fireplace at Driehaus Museum

I can’t wait to go back and learn more about the house. I highly recommend it but I’d also take the tour. Also they will have an exhibit on art nouveau jewelry next year. There will be Lalique in Chicago!!

Happy SWAN day!

George’s Ice Cream and Sweets

So last night after the Jimmy Carter book signing, my friend and I checked out George’s Ice Cream and Sweets in Andersonville. It had been written up in that list of best hot chocolate places in Chicago for 2012. The author had talked a lot about their interesting flavors of hot chocolate, namely Nutella. So I was keen to try it, especially that we are moving away from hot chocolate season.

When I got there, I was amazed at the choices. There was Nutella, Raspberry, Pumpkin, Mint and more. I decided to go with Nutella since Nutella is happiness. However, my hot chocolate was not very good. It wasn’t very flavorful. There was a lot of foam and not a lot of taste. There were some small spoonfuls of liquid Nutella but the taste was fairly diluted. If I hadn’t ordered Nutella, I wouldn’t have really known it was. Alas.

So if you want hot chocolate, I’d stick with Katherine Anne Confections or Black Dog Gelato. If you are in Andersonville, I’m very fond of Kopi Café’s hot chocolate. They have some flavors too like Mexican Hot Chocolate or Mint. It’s not fancy or particularly thick but it does the trick when you are in need of some hot chocolate loving. Also, their food is great.

But I will say about George’s Ice Cream and Sweets is that the ice cream was amazing. I only got a few bites of my friend’s ice cream but it was wonderful. One was a mixture but it was the best peanut butter ice cream concoction that I’ve ever had. It’s from Wisconsin which is the land of tasty ice cream. I’m going to have go back for the ice cream. When it is ice cream weather. Like in August.

That’s all for now!

SWAN Day Part 2 and Reviews

I talked yesterday about the upcoming 7th annual International SWAN Day (Support Women Artists Now). I’m going to talk about my experiences with my first SWAN Day. This day is important to me since I really believe in the mission of WITASWAN. It’s important to try to support all viewpoints in the arts. I felt that my work with SWAN Day was the beginning of my own activism.

In 2009, I worked with WITASWAN founder Jan Huttner for the 5th annual Chicago SWAN Day and the 2nd annual International SWAN day.  (SWAN day started in Chicago before it became international). We brought Nancy Savoca, director of True Love and 24 Hour Woman, to come to Chicago.

We originally wanted to show 24 Hour Woman since it starred Rosie Perez. Moreover, the movie directly dealt with women’s experiences since it was about a woman trying to have a career, a family, and sanity. However, we couldn’t screen it because Nancy Savoca didn’t have a copy of her own film. No other copies of the reels could be found. It really spoke volumes about women in the film industry; a relatively recent film by a female director was not catalogued for future use. All we have is the VHS.

So we showed True Love instead. It was about a Italian American couple on the eve of their wedding. It was a story about the ordinary people dealing with maturity, love, and family. In an interview, Nancy Savoca “hopes that “the audience can experience those dilemmas and see themselves in the movie–no matter how different, on the surface, they may be from their own characters.” What a delightful film! People really responded to the film into the lives of these young people. We had a Q&A with Nancy Savoca afterwards, which was fun. It was really a splendid afternoon.

And that’s just the beginning.

So in the spirit of SWAN day, I’m going to recommend two films by female directors. You should go and see them ASAP because they are amazing.

The first is Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues. It’s one of my top ten favorite movies. It is an animated film based on the Hindu epic of the Ramayana. It is the story from the viewpoint of Sita. . The tagline for the film is “The Greatest Break-up Story Ever Told.” Nina Paley employs 4-5 different styles of animation. One of my favorite parts of the film are the constant songs of Annette Hanshaw, a delightful 1920s singer, who is featured throughout. Sadly, there was some issues with copyright so Nina Paley couldn’t make money off of her own film. So she has allowed people to watch it for free. You can see it here: http://www.sitasingstheblues.com/watch.html

Another amazing film from another part of the world is Maria Victoria Menis’ Camera Obscura. It’s a film about the Jewish community in rural Argentina. It’s about a woman who is ignored and forgotten by everyone including her own husband and children. However, she has an awakening when a photographer comes into town. Now, it’s not an Argentine version of The Bridges of Madison County. It’s more than that. It is a look at the rural Jewish community and has incredible surrealist animated sequences, which I think were a nod to Luis Buñuel.

So go and see these films. Or go and see other films by woman as recommended by Jan Huttner in her blog The Hot Pink Pen.

SWAN Day

This Saturday is the Seventh Annual SWAN day or Support Women Artists Now. SWAN day started as part of a collaboration between Chicago’s WITASWAN (Women Artists in the Audience Supporting Women Arts Now) led by my esteemed friend Jan Huttner and WomenArts. The initiative WITASWAN is a a conscious effort to support women in film. SWAN day arose out of it as a single day at the end of March to celebrate the work of women in the arts.

Read more here: http://www.womenarts.org/swan-day/swan2/history/

Women in the arts simply do not get the recognition as their male counterparts. If you look at just the Oscar statistics, female representation of nominees is dismal. I think that three women have been nominated for best director in the entire history.  Last year, novelist Kathryn Heyman took the London Review of Books to task for its “the stunning lack of female representation in its publication.” It has no female reviewers either. And it’s not because there aren’t good books or good movies written and/or directed by women. They just don’t get the attention they deserve. Books, movies etc by women shouldn’t be considered a niche genre; we represent slightly more than half of the population!

So it’s important for audiences to make conscious decisions about what they consume. Otherwise, nothing will change. Good filmmakers and writers of different viewpoints will fade away into obscurity.

So on Saturday, make the decision to see a film directed or written by a woman. Or maybe go to the bookstore and by a book by a woman. Check out local events in your town: http://www.womenarts.org/swan/

I’m going to learn about Clara Driscoll, a famous designer at the Louis Comfort Tiffany shop, and hopefully see Afternoon of a Faun at the Music Box. What are you going to do?

Review: Live Welcome to Night Vale

On Saturday, we had the pleasure to go see the Welcome to Night Vale live at the Athenaeum Theater. I have mentioned previously that Welcome to Night Vale is one of my favorite podcasts; it’s the only fictional podcast that I listen to. When I heard it was coming to Chicago, I was so excited that I marked my work calendar so I could buy tickets the second they were available. We ended up front and center, which was pretty great.

I can’t go into great detail about the show since they asked us not to. (The episode is neat). But I’ll talk about the experience. The best thing was to actually see Cecil Gershwin deliver his radio. We were about 10 feet from him so we got see all of his facial expressions, his hand movements, and other body language. It was marvelous. Unsurprisingly, he brought a lot of energy to the show. There was also wonderful back and forth with various special guests that he had on the show.  The musical guest was pretty cool too.

But as much as I am happy to have gone, I felt something was lacking. I haven’t seen a lot of live broadcasts of radio programs but I can’t help to compare it to live RadioLab at the Chicago Theater in 2012. Now, I enjoy RadioLab but it’s not part of regular podcast rotation. Not sure why, but it’s not. The show was brilliant because they really worked with visual aspect of the show. The creators acknowledged that there were 1000 people in the audience and worked to make it interesting for them to see and listen. The episode focused on the eye so they had some wonderful pieces around it. They walked us through the evolution of the eyeball using a giant model and light. And there was a dance of the eyeballs, which was splendid. At the beginning, the theatre handed out little lights to all the audience members. At a designated time in the show, they turned down the lights, and we all turned on our little lights. It was a theatre of stars. Unforgettable.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with sitting and listening to audio collectively as an audience (Listening Rooms are incredible) but I think I expected more from live Welcome to Night Vale. They did do a nice job of bringing the audience into the show but I think they could have worked on the visual aspect. I’m not asking for a lot but I think the creators could have made it more interactive. There were posters outside the theatre about the dog park, the mayoral campaign, and the Sheriff’s Secret Police, which was a great start. But I think they can push the live experience.

Maybe with actual throat spiders or something.

Anyway, I’m happy I went and I’ll go again if they come back. I just hope that it’s a little bit more complete of an experience.

Review: The Wind Rises

I don’t normally talk about recently released movies in this blog, but I’m going to make an exception for Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises. There are very few directors/writers that I will see pretty much anything they make. Miyazaki and now Joss Wheadon are the exceptions.

I’ve been a big fan of Hayao Miyazaki since Spirited Away, which remains one of my favorite movies of all time. There are scenes in that movie that are my favorite moments in all movies of all time. It’s not a perfect movie but the parts that work are so good that I can forgive its shortcomings.

The Wind Rises is an interesting tale of a young Japanese aeronautical designer named Jiro in his quest to move Japanese aviation into the big leagues. I rather enjoyed it. It’s not Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle but I love stories about people struggling to solve an intellectual problem; it’s simply a joy to see them work it out. It was wondrous when the movie would show his thought processes, his x-ray view of planes. There is a sweet love story in the movie, which was actually pitch perfect.

I also liked the historical aspect of the film; we saw Japan in the 1920s and 1930s, struggling to find its place in the world and deal with its economic troubles. It made me yearn to go back even though the Tokyo in the film is very different from the one in the movie.  It was interesting how the film tried to deal with the fact Jiro’s designs were effectively for war but I think it tried to take the stance that the artist and scientist design for love of the craft, not for the potential harmful uses of the craft. I think it could have been explored a little bit more.

The movie isn’t full of fantasy as other Miyazaki films, which I’m partial to in Spirited Away. But there was an element of the fantastical. There are dream sequences where Jiro meets a famous Italian aeronautical designer Caproni. They are a little jarring but Caproni is kinda of a fun character with his crazy giant planes.

One thing that really struck me in this film along with Miyazaki’s others is the role of transportation. While this movie is about airplanes, there is so much focus on other forms of travel: train, boat, and bus. Spirited Away has an incredible train sequence. I feel that it’s more than just a device to move characters from one place to another; as a writer and director, Miyazaki doesn’t have to show those in between scenes if he didn’t want. I think he’s making a comment about the beauty and loneliness of travel, how it’s such a pervasive aspect of modern life, even in 1910-1930s Japan. I have come to love his transportation sequences even more than his natural ones (which make me yearn for hiking!).

Anyway, now I have to watch all the Miyazaki films that I haven’t seen.