Red Herring

Last night, Kish and I joined Dr. Science and the GV Jogger for a night at the theater.  We ventured out into the ongoing snowstorm — without water, mind you — to head over to Franklinton for dinner and then a play presented by Red Herring Productions at the Franklinton Playhouse.

Red Herring Productions is a little theater company with big ambitions.  It seeks to add a significant local resident professional theater company to the mix of Columbus art and entertainment options, and its efforts toward reaching that goal are equally ambitious:  for its 2019 season it is putting on 10 plays at the Franklinton Playhouse.  The Playhouse is located on Rich Street a few blocks west of the Scioto River, in the heart of the renovation and building efforts that are changing the face of Franklinton.  The Playhouse looks to be a commercial building with large, high-ceilinged interior spaces that has been refurbished to serve as a theater.  It’s a small venue — as configured for the play last night, I’d guess it could seat about 40 or 50 people on three sides of the stage — and it provides a very intimate theater experience.  The photo of the set accompanying this post was taken from our seats, which were directly next to the stage, so close that the actors brushed past our crossed legs during their performance.

The play we attended last night, The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, & Count Leo Tolstoy:  Discord, by Scott Carter, was the first play in the 2019 series.  In the performance, Jefferson, Dickens, and Tolstoy each go through a door immediately after their deaths, and find themselves in a spartan, gray room, equipped only with a metal table and three metal chairs.  They arrive within instants of each other, even though their deaths were almost 100 years apart.  After trying unsuccessfully to leave, they have to figure out who they are and why they are in the room together.  Eventually they realize that during their lives they each developed their own version of the Christian gospels, and in the play the characters, guided by a drawer in the table that mysteriously opens and closes, debate their significantly differing views on who Jesus was and what his actual message and teachings.  I won’t spoil the play for those who might be going, but let’s just say the discussion, and their ultimate confessions about how they didn’t live up to the ideals their different gospels espoused, is related to their ability to finally leave the room and presumably get on with their after lives.

It was an interesting play, with lots of laughs as well as thought-provoking discussion, and was well performed by the actors who played the three characters.  (We particularly liked David Allen Vargo, who portrayed a very flamboyant and conceited Charles Dickens.)  And sitting within inches of the stage gives an immediacy and decided punch to the experience.  As anyone who has seen ancient Greek and Roman theaters knows, you don’t need lots of gilt and fancy trappings — just a few seats, a few actors, and an interesting story will do just fine.

We enjoyed our snowy exposure to Red Herring Productions, and a look at the 2019 season shows there are some other intriguing offerings coming up.  We’ll be back.

 

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Living In A Van (But Not Down By The River)

The Hollywood Reporter has an interesting story about people living in vans in the Los Angeles area.  Unlike Chris Farley’s Matt Foley character, they aren’t motivational speakers — they’re just everyday entertainment workers who happen to live in their cars.

thr_mobile_la_thr_joe_4547_hirez_splashAccording to the article, the number of Angelenos who live in their vehicles has spiked.  In 2017, 600 vehicles were being used as homes; now the number is up to 9,117.  There’s even an organization called Safe Parking L.A. that operates secret, guarded lots where people living in cars can sleep with some security.

Why do so many people in southern California live in their vehicles?  The high cost of housing factors into the decision-making of virtually everyone interviewed in the article.  Some people simply can’t pay the exorbitant rents; others could afford the cost but object to doing so and live in their cars because it allows them to move more quickly toward their financial goals.  But living in your car obviously comes at a cost, too.  You have to strip down your possessions to a minimum and configure your vehicle to allow it, you need to develop a strategy for taking care of basic bodily functions, you’ve got to figure out where to park your car at night, and there are obvious, ongoing security concerns — which is why an organization like Safe Parking L.A. exists.

And there are other issues that people who don’t make their vehicle their home would never consider — like the need to drive very carefully through those crowded southern California highways and byways, because if you get into an accident and your car goes into the shop, you’ve just lost your housing until the repairs are completed.

Humans are highly adaptable creatures, and you have to admire the grit of people who have figured out how to live in vans.  But I also wonder:  is living in L.A. and being part of the entertainment industry really worth it if it means living in a van?

At The Blue Hill Fair

Yesterday we ventured over to the Blue Hill Fair in Blue Hill, Maine.  It’s a big deal locally, and we paid a visit to get our taste of small town America.  The Blue Hill Fair has everything you’d expect to see in a local fair, from livestock and quilting and produce contests — like the impressive array of bright green vegetables shown above — as well as the kind of vomit-inducing rides that you remember from the fairs you went to in your childhood.  Who doesn’t recall their first ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl?  (And for that matter, isn’t it hard to believe that Tilt-A-Whirls are still out there, motoring away and causing people to go careening from one side of the ride to the other?)  The Scrambler was there, too, but no sign of the notorious Rotor.

We also watched a fine performance by the Red Trouser Show, put on by two long-time friends who now make their living traveling the circuit and performing at fairs and functions across the globe.  These guys were great, both in terms of their juggling, tumbling, and acrobatic efforts and in their witty banter and ability to get the crowd into the show.  It was a great reminder of America’s vaudeville past and how a simple performance by two people equipped with flaming torches and a ladder can create a memorable experience.

In addition to the elements of your basic small town fair, however, the Blue Hill Fair has something extra.  Because author E.B. White spent a lot of time in this part of Maine, the local lore is that the fair that is a key part of the story of Wilbur the pig in Charlotte’s Web is based on the Blue Hill Fair.  As a result, near the livestock exhibitions you can find a little pen with a dozing pig — two of them, in fact — sporting a blue ribbon because they are “some pig.”  No sign of Charlotte or her web, however.

And those of you who remember the story in Charlotte’s Web will recall that the wily Charlotte enticed Templeton, the rat, to accompany Charlotte and Wilbur to the fair by promising him gluttony beyond compare due to the food available along the midway.  If Templeton had been at this year’s Blue Hill Fair, he would have been a happy camper — you could find every imaginable kind of fair food there, from fried dough to funnel cakes to cotton candy, caramel apples, and bacon-wrapped hot dogs.

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In Praise Of Bingeing Technology

You can argue about the value of some technological advancements that we have seen in our lifetimes.  Is the invention of Roomba vacuuming robots, for example, really a good thing?  However, the significance of one development is indisputable:

The ability to engage in TV and movie binge-watching during the cold Midwestern winter months is one of the greatest leaps forward for the human species since the ancient Egyptians developed papyrus.

tmp_uirc5w_4f3814e036213fed_harry_potter_photoConsider this week in Columbus, Ohio.  It has been so absurdly cold, with ambient temperatures hovering, with leaden immobility, in the single digits and wind chill factors below zero, that there is absolutely no incentive to go outside voluntarily.  Unless you’ve got to go to work or to an appointment, there is no rational reason whatsoever to venture into the frigidity.  So, you’re stuck inside.  What to do?  Well, you could read a book, of course . . . or, you could be intellectually lazy and binge-watch TV, thanks to options like Netflix and Amazon TV and cable channels that offer premium options.  The last few days Kish and I have curled up on the couch at nights and begun watching the entire Harry Potter movie series — thanks, HBO and AT&T Uverse! — and it’s been a lot of fun.

You don’t have to watch the Harry Potter movies, of course — you could watch The Wire, or Deadwood, or Lost from start to finish, or a whole season of 24, or the John Wayne westerns in sequence, or the Thin Man films from beginning to end, or every movie in the Shirley Temple collection.  With the amount of new content being produced these days, and the amount of old TV shows and movies that remain available for casual viewing, your binge-watching options are virtually infinite.  And whatever you choose, you’re going to be entertained . . . and out of the cold.

I’m not suggesting that binge-watching TV is something that people should do constantly, week-in and week-out — but when the cold fronts plant themselves in your neighborhood and going outside becomes a bleak, frigid experience, binge-watching is a wonderful option to have.  As I said, it’s right up there with papyrus.

Grand Old Opera House

One cool feature of Stonington is the Opera House.  It’s one of Stonington’s most prominent buildings, with its large green facade facing the bay and its old-fashioned lettering, complete with a period at the end.  Kish and I went to a screening of Stephen King’s It there on Friday night.  I can attest that going to watch a creepy movie about Maine written by Maine’s most celebrated writer in an old building in Maine, and then walking home in pitch darkness trying to steer clear of sewers, definitely increases the flesh-crawling quotient of the film.

The Stonington Opera House has an interesting back story that tells you something about how the commitment of individual people can make a difference to a town.  The current structure was built in 1912 and housed opera, vaudeville, plays, and movies, but fell into disuse.  (You can read about the building’s history here.)  According to locals, it was abandoned and in danger of being torn down before a group of people formed the Opera House Arts, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, specifically to renovate and operate the building.  The project received donations and support, recently a new wing was added, and the Opera House now features year-round entertainment and cultural offerings.  Kish and I are looking forward to attending a live performance there one of these days.

Imagine what a loss it would have been if this iconic historic building had been demolished!  But because some far-sighted folks were willing to take a chance and invest their time and effort into a project, the building was saved and the lives of the people of Stonington and its surroundings are a little bit richer as a result.  It sure beats the swing of the wrecking ball.

Trigger Warnings And The Bard

We’ve reached a milestone of sorts:  students at Cambridge University in England have been given “trigger warnings” about studying the plays of William Shakespeare.  According to reports, undergraduates in English Literature at the school — which is located just north of the Bard of Avon’s old stomping grounds in London — were cautioned that a lecture focusing on Titus Andronicus and The Comedy of Errors would include “discussions of sexual violence” and “sexual assault.”

william-shakespeare-the-life-of-the-bardThe decision has provoked a useful debate about the “trigger warnings” that more and more schools seem to be using in their academic curricula.  Advocates of such warnings say they serve to advise students about discussion of topics that might be upsetting because, for example, they might remind students of a traumatic personal experience.  Detractors of trigger warnings say it infringes upon academic freedom, because teachers will self-edit to avoid discussing difficult topics, and that it gives students a distorted perspective by leading them to believe that they can simply avoid learning about the ugly realities addressed in history and literature.

I’m in the latter camp.  And I think that, once “trigger warnings” become accepted in any context, the debate inevitably will shift to whether even more trigger warnings are needed, and how exactly they should be worded, and what students should be permitted to do to avoid the potentially upsetting topics.  The slippery slope seems pretty slippery and pretty steep.  It’s hard to think of any play by Shakespeare, for example, that couldn’t plausibly be the subject of a “trigger warning” because of violence, incest, insanity, sexual misconduct, bawdy humor, or depictions of characters on the basis of gender, race, or religion.  And what history course wouldn’t be riddled with trigger warnings about wars, plagues, racism, sexism, and general human misery?  How could students possibly get a real, meaningful education if they were allowed to skip courses that addressed topics they might find personally upsetting?

I think the use of trigger warnings, while well intentioned, does a real disservice to our young people.  It indicates that they are viewed as so brittle and weak that they need to be protected from mere words and knowledge, and it also gives them a distorted view of what life is going to be like.  The real world doesn’t give trigger warnings to allow people to avoid confronting upsetting topics or situations, and you have to wonder what kind of hyper-delicate, head-in-the-sand adults are going to be produced by school systems and colleges that employ trigger warnings.

As Shakespeare himself wrote in Marc Antony’s great soliloquy in Julius Caesar:  “Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.”

Tubing It

Today we took an inner tube float trip on a segment of the Medina River in the Hill Country of Texas.  The river drifted lazily beneath a canopy of shady trees, the cool, crystal clear water felt good against the keister, and the ice-cold beers went down easy along the way.  There may be a more relaxing way to spend a Friday afternoon, but if so I don’t know what it is.

The wise river tuber carefully ties up to the cooler tube, by the way.