"...Everyone Is Entitled To My Opinion." ~Madonna

Thursday, May 26, 2011

THEATER: Epic Proportions

State College Community Theatre has picked the perfect play to open Boal Barn Playhouse for the summer. Epic Proportions is clever, witty, and gives the actors a chance to be a little outrageous.

The time is the 1930’s and D. W. DeWitt is filming Exeunt Omnes, which translates loosely “Everybody Out”, in the wastelands of Arizona. This movie should be bigger than Exodus, The Ten Commandments, and Ben Hurr combined. If it gets finished.

Brothers Phil and Benny start out as crowd filling actors, or as Assistant Director Louise Goldman calls them, “atmosphere personnel”.  Not only do the brothers fall into bigger parts in the movie, they also fall for the vivacious Louise.

Katie Kensinger as Louise is on stage most of the evening and is often responsible for getting the audience involved in the action. Sometimes the funniest scenes are when the actor is playing her part straight while everyone around her is a bit zany. Ms. Kensinger was in charge of the movie and her character at all times.

Jason Poorman as Benny had the right amount of serious dedication to be an actor in this epic movie. His bewilderment at getting the worst of the action, including the plagues, made us all feel a little sad for him.

Playing Benny’s brother Phil, Gordon Robinson gets the chance to grow from the reluctant “atmosphere personnel” to the dictatorial man in charge. Robinson was convincing all the way.

The fun parts were played by Lyn J. Freymiller, Chris Gallagher, Matt Greer, and Sarah A. Shaw. That means that they played most of the other parts. All of them seemed to be having fun with their various roles, but Ms. Shaw had the flashy parts. Her Queen of Egypt was more Jersey girl than Egyptian and delightful; as the lesbian costume director she was more Edith Head than butch and that worked well.

Gert Aron was the great man, D. W. DeWitt himself. Mr. Aron knows that small parts can be scene stealers. Although not on stage long, Mr. Aron makes good use of his time.

The evening went very quickly thanks to a well paced show with actors who were having fun. The show continues at Boal Barn until May the 28th. Go, you will have an enjoyable evening.

Up next at the Barn will be No Sex Please, We’re British!  This show will run from June 7 to June 18. This also sounds as if it will be a good evening.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Sing You Home

In all modesty, I would like to take credit for Jodie Picoult’s recent fame; I have been telling people about her for years. This past month her SING YOU HOME was on the bestsellers list and I feel maybe I had a small part in her success.

Once again, Ms Picoult has taken a controversial news story and turned it into a riveting novel. She has the ability to put a very human face on very somber subjects.

Zoe Baxter and her husband Max have not been successful in their attempts to start a family, and after years of disappointments, Max has filed for a divorce.

Zoe is a music therapist, a person who helps to relieve the pain of the ill and the dying. After the death of her unborn child and the divorce of her husband, she throws herself in to her job. While trying to help a troubled teenager, she becomes friends with Vanessa, the school counselor. Their friendship develops into love, marriage, and a legal battle over the frozen fertilized eggs that Max and Zoe jointly owned.

As per Ms. Picoult's usual style, the book is written in the voices of each main character: Zoe, Max, and Vanessa. Just when you start thinking that one of the characters is the heavy, his or her story is told. This gives the reader a chance to connect with all three people.

Max is a sympathetic character. He is a recovering alcoholic and it is easy to root for him. His new church and its pastor really do help him to get his life back together.

Zoe has her music and her mother for support. Her relationships with her patients make for some of the most interesting parts of the book.

The book does lack a sense of balance on the subject of frozen embryos and the legality of same sex marriages. The contrast between the lawyers is a good example. Zoe’s lawyer is a young woman full of righteous zeal; Max’s is a little slimy.

The witnesses also were almost stereotyped. Max’s church becomes a big part of his defense. They organize pickets, use the local media to stir up hate, etc. Zoe’s friends are shown as sensible people who are under attack. The book could have used a moderate view along the way. All church members are not part of the far right and all educated people are not liberals.

The book includes a CD to be played at given points in the story. An interesting idea, but I do not know if it was needed.

Ms Picoult is known for her surprise endings--the ones that make you think that there might be more to the story. This ending was pretty much what I expected. All in all, SING YOU HOME was not my favorite Picoult, but still it was an interesting read.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: An Irish Country Doctor

If it were not for dear friends, I would probably get caught up on the books stacked all over our house. It seems that is not about to happen. Several of these well-meaning people gave a copy of AN IRISH COUNTRY DOCTOR by Patrick Taylor to me and here we go again.

If you need a warm, witty, literate read, AN IRISH COUNTRY DOCTOR is the best medicine I can recommend. This book could stand alone, but when I found out that there are sequels, I bought two more.

The plot is easy. Barry Laverty is fresh out of medical school and has taken a job in Ballybucklebo in Northern Ireland as an assistant to Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly. Even finding Ballybuckebo on the map is difficult and the one person that he finds to ask directions, runs away when Dr. O’ Reilly’s name is mentioned.

When he finally finds the right address, he is just in time to see Dr’ O’Reilly kick a patient out the front door into the hedges. This starts Barry’s education as a rural doctor with a man who sometimes has his own way of dealing with his colorful clientele.

The fun of this novel is getting to know these town inhabitants along with Barry. In the last chapter, we are invited to a bash in the O’Reilly’s back yard. By this time we feel that we have bought our own home in Ballybuckebo and moved in among some of the most delightful characters in literature.

Dr. O’Reilly’s housekeeper, Mrs. Kincaid has provided the Afterword to the book. This includes a short collection of basic Ulster recipes. I am sorry to say that she did not put in her recipe for blood pudding. The Doctor says that the smell would gag a maggot. She does, however, give us her recipe for Irish Soda Bread and Chicken Liver Pate.

Following Mrs. Kincaid’s Afterword is a glossary of Ulster dialect. Those of us who live in Central Pennsylvania will be surprised by how many expressions are already in our vocabulary.

Patrick Taylor is a medical doctor who now divides his time between Canada and Ireland. He wrote humor articles for a medical magazine and those articles gave birth to Dr. O’Reilly. If this book is any indication of how he must have practiced medicine, being one his patients must have been a treat.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: Water For Elephants

Movies based on a favorite book always scare me. Too often Hollywood seems to miss the author’s point and feels obligated to add sex scenes, whether or not the scenes were in the original book.

Therefore, it was with a slightly closed mind that I allowed myself to be talked into seeing the movie version of Sara Gruen’s WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. The result is that I have to share my opinion of this production.

Cristoph Waltz and Reese Witherspoon play August and Marlena, the owner of a 1930’s circus, and his wife who, along with her performing horses, is the star act of the show. Robert Pattinson is Jacob Jankowski, the almost veterinarian who hops a freight car and finds that he has joined the circus. If you have read the book you know that the tension builds not only through the love story between Jacob and Marlena, but also through August’s cruel treatment of the animals, as well as his relationship with the people working for him.

Marlena’s feelings for the two men in her life were complex. Reese Witherspoon did an excellent job of showing the strength of being married to a volatile man, the softness of caring for her beloved horses, and the vulnerability of falling in love.

To me Christoph Waltz was the surprise of the movie. He was terrific as the sadistic August. He played the part on so many levels: ambitious for his circus, jealous of his wife, remorse after particularly cruel actions. I found myself watching his reactions no matter who else was in the scene.

The reason that I found the movie to be a little flat may have been the casting of Robert Pattinson as Jacob. Ironically, his scenes with Rosie, the elephant, seemed warmer than his scenes with Marlena. I know that he is very popular with the young girls, so maybe I am missing something, but he and Witherspoon did not strike sparks for me and that was important to the outcome of the movie.

Hal Holbrook as the 90 year old Jacob telling his story was perfect, as was Rosie, the elephant. The sets, costuming, and cinematography captured the mood of the Depression exceptionally well. I am not sure if there is an Academy Award for elephants, but everything in this paragraph is worthy of their consideration.

I know that a movie has to condense a book to fit the time constrictions, but I missed the colorful characters that made up the 1930’s circus in the book. I would love to hear from people who saw the movie, but did not read the book. It is not that I did not enjoy the movie, but I really loved the book.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: I Am The Messenger

Markus Zusak is a brilliant author. His books are “fresh, engrossing, well conceived, and touching” to quote his many reviews. I have to add my own opinion; Markus Zusak may be categorized as a Young Adult author, but he is one of my favorites. (To be perfectly honest, I do not qualify as a young adult.)

I AM THE MESSENGER is Ed Kennedy’s story. Ed is hardly the type to find himself the hero of anything, let alone a full length book. He is an underage cabdriver, a pathetic card player, his best friends are losers, and he is completely devoted to his dog, Doorman, who has body odor issues.

After Ed earns some brief fame for capturing a very incompetent bank robber, he receives an ace of diamonds in the mail with three addresses written on it. As he visits each house, he slowly becomes aware of what he is expected to do. One house has a husband who comes home each night to beat and rape his wife. One home has a lonely, elderly woman and in another home is a young girl who gets up each morning to train for a track event.

The result of figuring out what he is to do to help these people brings more cards, more address, and more confusion as to who is making him the messenger and why. Each assignment brings him a little closer to the people he cares the most about. He learns things about his mother and why their relationship is so cold. He also gets involved with his friends troubles in ways that surprise him, as well as the reader. Who is responsible for the cards becomes secondary to how each life story will play out, with Ed's help.

It is not giving too much information to tell you the point of the book is that everyone, no matter how ordinary he sees himself, can change lives. This is a message for all of us; no matter what our age is.

Although this is listed as a young person’s book, I would recommend it for the more mature reader. The language is typical for the characters and some of the scenes a little violent; so be aware.

Markus Zusak is also the author of my favorite book of the year, THE BOOK THIEF.  Zusak is brilliant at character development, creates witty and touching dialogue, and can invoke honest emotions in his readers. He is writing books with more substance than most of the best sellers written for an adult audience. Some books may be wasted on the young. It takes a bit of life to appreciate life.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Body and Soul

Thinking that I was picking up a Pat Conroy novel, I accidentally bought Frank Conroy’s BODY AND SOUL. All mistakes should turn out so well.

Six-year-old Claude Rawlings spends his days locked in an apartment in a run-down section of New York City while his mother, Emma, drives her taxi to make a living for them. Between her job and her drinking, Emma has very little time for her young son. He is as much alone when his mother is home as he is while she is working.

In his tiny room, under stacks of accumulated junk, he discovers an old white piano. He finds that he can pick out the music that he hears on his radio and his world becomes a little less lonely.

Later, when he goes to school, he makes friends with Mr. Weisfeld, the owner of a music store. Claude’s passion for music has finally found an outlet. With the help of Mr. Weisfeld and some of his surprising friends, Claude’s passion turns him into a highly regarded musician.

Starting in the slums of New York City during the 1940’s and following Claude through his school years in the 1950’s to his first big success in London in the 1970’s, this is not just a “rags to riches” story nor is it just a coming of age novel. It is an engrossing tale of a person’s dedication to something he loves, and in the process, the book becomes a love story to the art of music.

I have to admit that the technical language of music was beyond my understanding many times; Frank Conroy was a jazz musician who won a Grammy Award in 1986. It would take a reader more experienced with the theory of composition and orchestration than I am to criticize those parts of the book.

Conroy’s talent as an author had me so involved with Claude’s story that I felt that I understood the technical information. I did understand and appreciate the style and passion of this author. BODY AND SOUL should be on every musician or want-to-be-musician’s reading list.