Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Part One: Rated Poorly

Here's some "fun with expectations" to be enjoyed in three parts.

Stuff that turned out worse than was expected:
  • "A Christmas Carol" performed by Trinity Reperatory Company in Providence, RI: Every year, my family buys tickets to see this annually produced show, and Trinity Rep. reliably creates a new perspective or interpretation to keep the many-times/many-ways seen show interesting. However, "interesting" this year bordered on the bizarre. My first indication that this would be the case was a commercial I saw on a local TV channel about the show by the director. The director, "so honored to be able to do Trinity's play," in as few words a possible, convinced me that he apparently thought he had come up with THE new, modern, artsy way to do the show. Therefore, I wasn't so much "shocked" as I was disappointed to have been correct. The guy had a thing for puppets--perhaps wishing to shed some much needed employment upon his rarely spotlighted puppeteering friends--but he didn't quite carry through his ideas. There was one of Scrooge himself, which disappeared about mid-way through the play without ceremony and consequently, with a loss as to audience interpretation of the puppet's meaning. The most "striking" was the Ghost of Christmas Future, which rose out from a curtain on the stage in the form of a Phantom of the Opera mask-like face, accompanied by one "pointing" and one "non-pointing" hand. In other news, the set was "minimalist" to a severe degree--cups and tables in scenes weren't even "real", but were instead cardboard cut outs (unconvincing when they had to be "used" by the cast as if they retained that third dimension they were missing). The background sets, wheeled in and out by stage hands (and this was the first production I actually "saw" the stage people "working" on the stage--other times they were strategically well hidden) could have been sketched by, and were perhaps on loan from, a local third grade class attempting a similar production. Even the cast was minimalist--a chorus of girls between about 8 and 12 years old made up for the lack of "company" in song or in bustling, "busy" street scenes.

The Bottom Line: The reason why this production is being judged rather harshly is because first, Trinity has done amazing versions of this story that have wowed and truly affected its audience. If they couldn't do so, families like my own wouldn't make the yearly pilgrimage to see A Christmas Carol. Since it is such a popular play, enough so that they have to have two casts to perform it, you would think they would take that in hand and mind when they choose an "interpretive style" or perhaps even a director in the future.

  • "The Crimson Petal and the White"--a novel by Michael Faber: When this book came out, I was working at Borders, and Mr. Faber was celebrated as "a twenty-first century Charles Dickens." However, simply setting a novel in the 19th-Century Victorian London, including some less-than-reputable characters and throwing in a slum or two to remind the reader of the "hard times" experienced by the masses does not qualify comparison to a literary paragon. The book is over eight hundred pages long but it does not at any point inspire the reader to the "unable to put the book down" level. In fact, the characters are so poorly developed and two-dimensional that the reader rather doesn't care what happens to them "next" as chapter after chapter passes by. In order to "make" his characters interesting, he gives them some peculiar mannerism--one of the main characters is a "fop" with an "innocent, sickly" wife, and another, a captivating whore. Faber is so preoccupied with preserving his mystique and setting the scene (or one can only suppose those are his motives) that he includes long interactions between characters that even he in the omnipresent "author's voice admits are irrelevant to the story the reader ultimately skips through to get back to some significant action. At first, the reader may be fooled into thinking these scenes and interactions are somehow symbolic; however, after perusing through many of them, it becomes abundantly clear that the reader will never be left in a position where he or she will have to backtrack in the novel to pick up that one piece of information or one detail missed in these scenes. Because of his minutea, one actually comes to expect the sex and the murder, etc., which destroys the surprise at these elements so well woven by far more skilled authors.

The Bottom Line: I think invoking Dickens as a comparison to any unproven author is rather strong. I should have taken the hint when I found the book at a local used book store in hardcover form for about five dollars. Then again, I was told once that any book that is five dollars or less is worth getting. I think this is the only case to which that statement does not apply.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The "Christmas Spirit"

A friend of mine gave me a copy of a book called The Four Agreements for Christmas this year--it was very kind of him to think of me, let alone share with me something that is very much a part of his own philosophy of life. The basic premise of these four agreements is not only to raise personal awareness, but to raise awareness for those around you and what that means. At this time of year, I have to say that I was most struck with the "second agreement," which discusses the reasons why people do certain things.

Simply stated, the author (Don Miguel Ruiz) says:

Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world. (page 48)

I think most people can agree that this is an important point. However, I find that agreement may come easily while practice does not.

Say you're sitting in a park on a bench on a nice day by yourself. You're watching the world around you, and you focus in on one or two people in particular that you see either walking by or talking to someone or playing a game, perhaps. For one minute, do you ever wonder what kind of a life that person has had--what brings them from black and white to color or from the two to the three dimensional?

Yes, it's true, we all get wrapped up in our own little worlds at times--especially if something goes wrong or if we are nervous about something potentially going wrong. However, in those moments especially, it is essential to step outside and see the "big picture" to regain perspective.

Case in point--the "Christmas rush."

I hate it, and I'll be the first to admit it. I have to wait in line everywhere. What I want has to be completely out of stock when I get there. The guy in front of me is taking absolutely forever to pay with that credit card. I am in a line of ten cars to park in the garage, and in a line of triple that to get out. No matter where I am walking, there are people I have to walk around to keep my own pace up. I am constantly thinking of the next task I have to accomplish and how I can get that done as painlessly as possible.

And that is completely wrong. Absolutely none of that applies one fleeting thought to anyone else other than myself. I forgot to consider the fact that everyone else who is a part of that "Christmas rush" is on his or her own mission and is subsequently in his or her own world. Since this is the case, the so called "Christmas spirit" may be an extension of the second agreement--not just that we have to buy the "perfect gift" for Uncle Joe and Sister Janet, but that we have to remember that everyone around us is doing the same thing. Instead of tapping the toe of our boot on the linoleum while a thirty extra seconds are taken by the guy at the head of the line to complete his purchase or whizzing by the "slower drivers" who are just "in our way," we should take a deep breath, realize what is going on in the minds of the people around us. Why worry--for countless Christmases past, we were all able to get everything done we wanted to. And, since the point of the season is to think about someone other than ourselves, perhaps the challenge isn't to donate money to the "faceless needy," which most of us do without thinking about why that is important, but it is to see beyond our own little worlds when the tasks on our list seem to close us into our own minds.

So, what ARE they talking about?

The honest answer to this question is B. I was standing on the half deck at the time, slightly behind and above the subjects, so I have no idea what they were really talking about. I can assume, from prior experience, that A is the most likely choice, given those are the three most popular questions to pose to interpreters of all kinds. The fourth most common question has to do with a piece of equiptment called the capstan. The reason that inquiries about the capstan are so memorable has to do with the "guesses" visitors come up with to explain it.

The capstan, to clear up any confusion, is a large, black, round piece of wood that is right behind the main mast extending from the main deck down through the orlap deck, the deck below. It has metal fittings around it and two square holes bored through the diameter of it on opposite sides. Yes, it does look odd. If we're interpreting on the main deck, we answer "what is that? (point at capstan)" most often. However, we have also had some folks "interpret" what it is for us. These interpretations include anything from "it steers the ship" (at least that somewhat makes sense) to it grinds corn (yes, that was certainly feasible on a moving ship), it is a furnace (a one-time-only-use furnace apparently given it is made of wood) and finally, that it "holds the telescope" somehow.

I very much enjoyed comments made by Captain Picard--always an honor, sir, when you come by, and the Mr. Anonymous who posted this time, whether or not he/she may be the same one who visited before.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What is the most likely dialogue between these people?
A) One of these questions are being answered: "How many passengers were there?", "How long was the journey?", or "What did you eat on board?"
B) How would I know? I was taking this picture on the half deck clearly from above them.
C) Costumed guy: "No, I think the one in the yellow tank top has the nicest ass."
D) Visitor: "Is that your dingy over there?" Costumed guy: "No, my pinnace is much bigger than that."

What is Beth doing in this picture?

The answer is: A.

On a rather stormy and miserable day at the Mayflower II, as you can imagine, there isn't much to do. We are allowed to leave the site, given we have no heating and are almost entirely exposed to the weather out there, only if there are no visitors on board. Of course, the result of this plan is that we'll get a couple or a family of four that come on in so well timed a fashion that we'll all have to stay on the ship while they tour the whole thing, and, just as one of these groups finishes, ah, yes, another comes on board. Therefore, you end up spending most of the day dressed head to toe in rain gear (for those not in costume) or in varying degrees of wet wool (for those in costume).

In this picture, Beth, after one of those smaller sets proceeded down to the below-deck area, tied the bits and pieces of a malkin--a mop--together and hung the line off the side, attaching a piece of ship's biscut to the end of it. Unfortunately, this resulted in the biscut getting caught on something close to the waterline, and the line breaking apart, leaving the ship's biscut hanging off of the ship until we finally figured out where it was and could bring it back up. The biscut, hard-tack-like as it is, having been rained on and left exposed for days, was entirely intact, proving by experiementation that even seventeenth century methods of preserving foods are effective.

Monday, December 04, 2006

What is Beth doing in this picture?
A) Fishing off the side of the Mayflower with line from a malkin (mop) attached to a piece of ship's biscut (unseen).
B) Escaping, later to be heard yelling "YO-HO, YO-HO, A pirate's life for me!" from the shallop (boat tied off of the side).
C) Taking the depth of Plymouth Harbor to impress the hot harbormaster motoring by.
D) Rescuing our manager after a run-in with an unsatisfied guest.