Celebrity Death Watch: The most prominent celebrity death of note was, of course, Margaret Thatcher’s. I’d say more, but I prefer not to speak ill of the dead. (Actually, I would speak ill of the dead, but what I was trying to find is the lyrics to a folk song of that era called “Don’t Call Maggie a Cat” and I was entirely unsuccessful at finding any reference to it at all. I thought it was possible that it might have been a cow and not a cat, but that failed too. So I will pretend to be polite.)
Other prominent deaths to mention are fashionista Lilly Pulitzer, Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, and comedian Jonathan Winters. Of more personal significance, Carmine Infantino was a DC comics artist and editor. Peter Workmman founded an interesting publishing company. And Maria Tallchief was my favorite ballerina when I was growing up.
The most interesting obituary I read recently, by the way, was that of Patricia McCormick, the first North American woman to become a professional bullfighter.
American Utopias: Mike Daisey was performing his most recent monologue at Woolly Mammoth Theatre. He uses three subjects – Burning Man, Disneyworld, and Occupy Wall Street – to talk about public / private partnerships and their implications for community. It’s a screamingly funny piece and definitely provocative, but it is also over 2 hours long without an intermission. And it finishes outside on the street corner, which might be fine at times, but it was bloody cold the night I went. Admittedly, all three of his subjects also involve a level of physical discomfort, so maybe that is part of the point, but it took away a half star or so from my mental review.
Our Hank: This was a program at the DC Jewish Community Center to celebrate the 80th anniversary of baseball’s “Hebrew Hammer.” There was an intro by an ESPN reporter (whose name I have forgotten ), followed by two speakers. John Rosengren (who is not Jewish) wrote a recent biography titled Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes. He talked a little about Greenberg’s significance and read an excerpt which explained the overblown title. He was followed by filmmaker Aviva Kempner who is, of course, well known for her documentary The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg. There’s a new DVD of the film out and she showed some of the material added for it. The most amusing of those excerpts involved her brother and his friends debating who the best Jewish baseball players of all time were, by position – a subject that is the entire premise of The Baseball Talmud by Howard Megdal. It was an interesting enough evening, but I can’t say I learned anything I didn’t already know. I did not buy the DVD, by the way, since I have the original one and don’t see the point in paying again for some added features.
Portland, Maine: Then I went to Portland, Maine for Sharing the Fire (a storytelling conference). That deserves its own entry. And I think I will throw the rest of that trip in with the conference entry.
American Ballet Theatre: Continuing my year of going to a lot of ballet, I went to a mixed repertory show by ABT at the Kennedy Center. The first of the three pieces was Balanchine’s choreography to Bizet’s Symphony in C. The music was lovely and I do appreciate the skill of the dancers. But masses of ballerinas in white tutus can be a bit visually monotonous, so I didn’t find this particularly exciting. It was followed by Jose Limon’s choreography to The Moor’s Pavane by Purcell. I absolutely hated this. I understand that Limon was trying to work with Renaissance court dance to tell the story that is not quite Othello. But the movements were too artificial for my taste. The final piece, Symphony #9 by Shostakovich had choreography by Alexei Ratmansky. In this case, I loved the dance, which was visually exciting and fit the music well. It’s not a piece of music I care much for, but I’m likely to seek out other works choreographed by Ratmansky in the future.
I should also note that I felt the intermissions were excessive. The first ballet was maybe 35-40 minutes long and followed by a 20 minute intermission. The second was barely 20 minutes long and had a 15 minute intermission. It’s not like there was extensive scenery to adjust either. Or maybe I was just grumpy because I was tired.
Ping Pong Dim Sum: This is apparently a London-based chain and I had dinner (and frequent flyer conversation) with a few friends there. We had a nice sampler of dim sum, thanks to a very reasonable prix fixe menu. Consensus was that the best of the dishes was a beef and cumin dumpling. I am also making an attempt to be less boringly predictable in drink choices and tried a pineapple, basil and pistachio cocktail (with pisco). It was okay, but not significantly different than pineapple juice. There was next to no pistachio flavor. So far I have to admit to not having tasted anything that is likely to wean me away from drinking gin and tonic on these occasions.
As for the conversation, this is the group of friends amongst whom “I just spent the weekend in Lisbon” brings no astonishment. The statement (by a different person, obviously) that he had not been on an airplane since November, however, elicits concern and questions about withdrawal symptoms.
Speaking of travel: I have all my arrangements set up for my May vacation. It might be useful for some people to know that Marriott now lets you redeem the electronic Category 1-4 certificates on-line.
Story Swap: Our regular story swap was Saturday night. It was fun, as always. I have decided that I am way too self-satisfied with my holiday story, but I still enjoy telling it. There were young’uns present, so I refrained from using the f-word.
Taxes: It took me forever to find a couple of pieces of paper, but I still finished everything well before the last minute. I have made my usual vow to keep my records better organized. We’ll see how long that lasts.
The Last Five Years: My Signature Theatre subscription continued with this two character musical by Jason Robert Brown. The plot involves a couple who are splitting up. Jamie Wellerstein (played by James Gardiner) tells their story forwards, while Cathy Hiatt (played by Erin Weaver) tells it backwards, with the two versions meeting at their wedding. That’s less confusing than it sounds, mostly since the whole piece is pretty much a song cycle, rather than a musical play. At any rate, I particularly enjoyed the two of Jamie’s songs that had the most Jewish flavor. “Shiksa Goddess” is very funny and “The Shmuel Song” is catchy, while telling a story that sounds like an actual folktale. Cathy gets to be funny, too, in “A Summer in Ohio,” which describes the dubious joys of doing summer stock, including sharing a house with a former stripper and her snake. The basic issue in the relationship is his early success as a writer and her lack of similar success as an actress and that feels like a pretty realistic situation. While I wouldn’t say this is an essential show, it was definitely worth the 90 minutes or so it lasts.
Hello, Dolly: This production at Ford’s Theatre was also part of my Signature subscription. I have always suspected that Jerry Herman is perfectly capable of writing great music and made a deliberate decision to focus on blockbuster songs that people leave the theatre humming. This show is an excellent example of that. Everyone knows the title song, which is lyrically monotonous and doesn’t do much to advance the plot. “Before the Parade Passes By” is better, especially in this production because it was one of the few songs that Nancy Opel (who is, alas, no Carol Channing) seemed to have her heart in. But the perfectly lovely “Ribbons Down My Back,” sung here by the excellent Tracy Lynn Olivera as Irene Molloy is barely known. (I do have a quibble with the costume design. The song says the ribbons are blue and green, but the ones on the hat in this production appeared to be a dull taupe from where I was sitting.) The biggest issue I had with this production is that a cast of 16 is just not enough to create the sense of New York bustle and grandeur the show demands. It wasn’t a terrible production, but it just felt thin and not entirely adequate.
Work related item #1: Only a man would schedule a 4 hour meeting with no breaks.
Work related item #2” In the “my workplace is not like yours” department, that lengthy meeting was in a conference room with several digital clocks on the wall. The largest showed the Zulu time (i.e. GMT). The clock for Kabul time was larger than the one for local time, however.
Ten Minute Plays: Short short plays are not particularly my thing, but supporting friends is. So I went to the Kennedy Center on Wednesday night to see Milbre Burch’s play, which was part of the American College Theatre Festival. Hers was actually the last play of the event. The first piece involved two excerpts from a full length play, A Second Birth by Ariel Mitchell. The story involved an Afghani girl who has been living as a boy. Now, her father wants her to go back to being a girl – and has arranged her marriage to her best friend. It’s an intriguing situation and I’d love to see the whole thing to find out how it turns out.
Then came Like Pigeons by Nate Harpel. This involved two old men sitting on a park bench and, while it was funny, it was more or less a character sketch of two, not very different, characters. That was followed by Disconnect by Caity Shea Violette, which involved the conflict between a mother and her daughter’s lesbian lover over whether or not to continue life support for the daughter. It was well enough written, but I didn’t think it offered any particularly original insight into that painful situation. After that was Tattoo You by Lisa Kenner Grissom, which dealt with a confrontation between two women in the ladies’ room before a high school reunion. I thought this did a good job of dealing with the (not uncommon) situation in which the power imbalance between people changes from school to their later lives.
I’m pleased to say that Milbre’s play, Washing Up was the most original of the evening, possibly because she’s a graduate student in my age range, not a 20 something with limited life experience. Her play involved two young women trying to figure out how to honor their dead mother’s heritage.
Ancora: After the plays, I went out with Milbre and four of her other friends. We ended up at Ancora, Bob Kincaid’s new restaurant in the Watergate. I started with an asparagus salad that tasted like springtime. For the main course, I had brioche-crusted fluke with asparagus sauce, which was very tasty. We shared two desserts – a molten chocolate cake and an absolutely amazing berry tiramusu. The service was a bit sluggish at the start and the waiter auctioned off dishes (i.e. he did not remember who had ordered what), so they have a little ways to go in that area. By the way, Kincaid himself stopped by our table, which is a rare occurrence for me at celebrity chef restaurants. At any rate, it is a place well worth knowing about and I expect the service glitches will be ironed out in time.
Hong Kong Reception: Finally, I went to an MIT Club event last night at the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office. The food was particularly interesting with both Eastern and Western offering. The Eastern table had dimsum, spring rolls, fried rice, and sushi, while the Western table had beef, salmon, crab cakes, various dips, and (to my immense surprise and amusement) dolmades. There were also chocolate-dipped strawberries and three types of truffles for dessert. The speech was interesting enough, but the room was sweltering hot and the set-up had everyone standing. Still, the food boded well for my upcoming visit.
Still to Come: I still need to write about Sharing the Fire. And about dating. And some recent books. And I have a bunch of things to do in the next week or so. Oh, and I also have opinions on everything which I have a burning need to inflict on the world at large. But, for the moment, I will declare victory on catching up.