Saturday, 26 April 2008

A Little Compassion, People

I don't know the full details of the case, but I see an awful lot of people jumping on the dumping Wesley Snipes bandwagon. For those of you not in the Hollywood know, Wesley Snipes has been sentenced to three years in a Federal Prison for not paying his taxes. Around the web, I hear that he is going to a Club med, that he got off easy and that he should have been convicted of a felony. All I can say, is that when looking at the details, it seems rather complicated to me.

According to the things I have been reading, Snipes may have become involved with some very slick scam lawyers who go around cheating the rich and famous by claiming they know legal tax loopholes. (I seriously doubt Snipes files his own tax returns or handles those financial.)

FOX news says "Snipes read aloud from a prepared apology, calling his actions "costly mistakes" but never mentioning the word "taxes." He said he was the victim of crooked advisers, a liability of wealth and celebrity that attract "wolves and jackals like flies are attracted to meat."

Snipes was convicted of only misdemeanors by a JURY while Kahn and Roslie, the two men that led him to his actions received the felony convictions. Of them, Fox news notes, "Kahn was the founder of American Rights Litigators, and a successor group, Guiding Light of God Ministries, that purported to help members legally avoid paying taxes. Snipes was a dues-paying member of the organization, and Rosile, a de-licensed accountant, prepared Snipes' paperwork."

Snipes brought three checks that equaled 5 million dollars as a down payment for his back taxes. Fox reports that to be roughly 1/3 of what is owed (with penalties.) The government claims Snipes was trying to defraud them of $41million.

(Photo from LATimes)

The judge gave Snipes the MAXIMUM sentence for the misdemeanors. U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges said Snipes exhibited a "history of contempt over a period of time," notes CBS news.

Seems like there are a variety of ways to view this situation to me.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Sew what

I've been working on a new dance costume. I found this real cool, funky material on sale for 2$ a yard, so I had to buy it. Here are the bloomers I made out of it. I have a top to, but will have to find a way to model the set together, but in the mean time, here is what I have been working on.

My husband calls it deco and it turns out it is kind of brittle, maybe it has been around that long, but I really like it!

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Guthrie Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream

Last night I had the opportunity to visit the updated version of an old Guthrie favorite, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Please note this was the first PREVIEW performance, so things I refer to could very well change somewhat. In general I have to say that I was quite impressed. Get tickets. Get tickets now. This is one not to miss.

I have a history with this play - and all I can say is it isn't pretty. When talking to my sister on the phone about the play, she remarked she had never seen a version of this play she didn't enjoy. For me it is the opposite. I have seen so many amateur and amateurish versions of this one that I shudder whenever I think about seeing a new one. I don't know if it is the built in apology for the actors at the end, or the fact that it s a magical fantasy with fairies, but everyone seems to think that this is the easiest of Shakespeare's plays to perform. It isn't. Comedy takes timing and it is tricky keeping an audience engaged in iambic pentameter. On a personal note, I also have to confess that I was less than inspired by the Guthrie's previous version of the play some eleven years ago. I don't like quaint and I don't like sentimental and this predisposes me to disliking anything with fairies - from Peter Pan to Sleeping Beauty.

What a relief then to find that the fairies in this production were Maori inspired punk rockers who flew in on the wings of a metal song.


Even from the first moments I was amused and entranced when amazing actor Namir Smallwood enters as Puck and is reprimanded for not wearing his clothes - he is then placed into formal attire to take on his role of Philostrate in the kingdom of Theseus. What a wonderful beginning for a play that centers on the confinements of social strictures versus the silly nakedness of humans in their natural state. The motif of clothing is beautifully maintained in the play all the way to the raucous finale with Pyramis and Thisbe.

This is an adaptation that plays fast and loose with the words, but I believe it is in full keeping with the spirit of Shakespeare's play. A woman in the seat behind me complained that she wasn't too fond of it, because she like the poetry and felt it was getting lost in all the updating. Au contraire, Madame, for the first time in a long time the words that Shakespeare wrote lived - they lived in a modern context and they lived because of very gifted young actors who clearly understood the implications of what they were saying while they were saying it. I can not tell you how many times I have seen a Theseus or a Hermia who mouthed the syllables in a monotone, giving no indication of having any idea what the scene was about. While not all of the words were there and some new ones were added, the ones that came from Shakespeare (as well as the others) were beautifully delivered and actors like Valeri Mudek and Kathryn Lawrey embodied the silly tragi-comedy of youthful seriousness about love. I have no doubt that these two women will go far in the world of the theater. Likewise their male counterparts William Sturdivant and Jonas Goslow.

The rest of the cast is also amazing. The regulars do their usual excellent job and the casting of Emily Swallow as Titania was marvelous - she swoons deliciously over a nicely disgusting Nick Bottom and plays the unimpressed Hippolyta with reserve and proper solemnity. Nic Few as Oberon is grand as the powerful director of this magical dream, although he could be a trifle more lordly as the Athenian duke. Special recognition however must be given to Erin Cherry as the "First Fairy"

She struts her fairy moves like no other I have ever seen. Her body is an amazing instrument full of graceful wildness and electric motion. She has the best voice in the show and is a joy to watch on stage. Trust me, you'll see her again and in the national spotlight.

This version of the play is not just Shakespeare, but a musical as well, complete with doo wop, love songs, and a variety of other postmodern nods to musical styles. Some of the songs are well written and thus work better than others which are not. The more serious selections in the second half do not work for me as well as the earlier ones. It is hard to combine farce and emotional love songs and the re-included refrain of Titania's love song simply has the wrong tone for a play that is about the silliness of lovers' behaviors. The choreography is fun and spirited and the use of wires and the full range of the stage is exciting. I love the flying and energy of the scenes with the fairies. A long stairway to somewhere (that probably isn't heaven) is used well as both a divided platform for the pairs of lovers and as a place for the puppet master (Oberon) to stand and oversee the action.

The costumes in, my opinion, are a bit uneven but successful in the places where they count. Oberon's man/beast hairy leather and one-armed Mad-Max outfit is stunning and sets off his long white-haired tresses beautifully. The fairies with their red raccoon masked faces and fright wigs or mohawks of feathers are inspired. The knee pads and coiled circles around first fairy's legs are genius and set off her bright fiery deriere plumage of feathers and flounces beautifully. Theseus' court was less striking than 11 years ago in terms of costumes and the use of military fatigues instead of something more historical and glitzy may have been appropriate given the motif of civilization as restrictive, but just was not terribly pleasing visually. The use of the riding habit for Hippolyta worked just as well and was more appealing than the green fatigues. (Since green is the color of nature, perhaps darker colors would have been better.) The choice of putting the young lovers in their white underwear for the majority of the performance lent a certain Brad and Janet atmosphere (of Rocky Horror Picture Show fame)- a motif that actually adds to the depth and nuance of the play. The gowns for the royal wedding were lovely in terms of color, but very fifties cinched waist ball-gowns. It was a pleasing palette of yellows and blues, but begs the question of what the characters have learned and what the costumes suggest in this regard. I am not a fan of Titania's costumes - I loved the body suit with jewels that allowed her to be a bare breasted Amazon, but thought the garland of blue flowers that held her flowing azure robe was tacky and unsuitable for such an imperious character. Her final costume - diaphanous and butterfly-like is of beautiful fabric - but the cut could have been better somehow. I think she needed something as stunning as the feather collar worn by Oberon.

So the acting was fantastic, the set amazing, the costumes entrancing, the direction excellent - the lighting (by the way)was magnificent - but I still do have a little problem with the production. At 3 and half hours it flies by until the very end. Granted the play is unusual in its structure. The bulk of the play takes place and then just when there should be an ending, there is a farce of a play inserted. One wonders what caused Shakespeare to include this portion here - is it a sop to the groundlings, a rousing finale, a response to an issue he just had to get off his chest? In the previous Guthrie production the group of working "men" who convened to do a play were portrayed as Lake Wobegon Minnesotans out in the woods. Having been fairly new to Minnesota at that time eleven years ago, I confess I was a bit mystified and not terribly amused. The current avatar is much improved in my mind. While some of the old beats are still there and the in-jokes including a boy scout costume, a brick covered cheese-head hat, and a beer/cola? drinking football fan are all reminders of the previous fun, I like the broader characterizations of the characters and universal appeal this time around.

The Guthrie uses its regulars to great advantage here for this play within a play. Unfortunately the romp is simply too long and it ultimately detracts from the rest of the play. Stephen Pelinski, who is a riot in the earlier parts of the play, is completely out of control and while to a large extent that is called for in this character eventually he crosses the line into genuine excess. Jim Lichtscheidl does a marvelous director in Peter Quince and Sally Wingert shines as the cantankerous moon and if anything, we see too little of the hilarious Richard Iglewski as Wall/Snout and Stephen Yoakum as the thick but enthusiastic Lion/Snug. Kudos go to Randy Reyes, who kept me rolling in the aisles with the cleverly staged costume changes and his uncanny ability to impersonate characters as diverse as Madame Butterfly and a precocious school girl in his roll as Thisbe.

Still, the fact is that there can be too much of a good thing and this section needs to be pared back a little. The scene is unquestionably important. This section which interrogates the importance of fantasy and acting in the lives of all us normal people gives the play depth and philosophical weight, for theater is the place where the wilder, uncivilized side can have a voice despite the strictures of public propriety. The criticism evinced by Theseus' court shows the reign of reason and control, and gives the audience a reminder of its own relationship to the actual play that it is watching. Finally it ushers in the famous ending monologue by Puck in which he compares theater to a dream.

And a dream it is, a fast paced, fantasy-laden, thrill of a dream. Or perhaps a better analogy is to one of those haute cuisine incredibly fancy, fantasy desserts. Dowling has done a beautiful job of whipping us up a frothy, satisfying Sundae of a production, full of nuts and colors and wild flavors. Occasionally the syrup flows over the edges, or the cherries are little too sweet, but all in all it is a sumptuous feast of a dessert, layered and nuanced, that despite being over-filling, is so luxurious and fantastic that it leaves one longing for a chance to do it again.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Three Random Images

This first one represents a monumental waste of time, but also proof that Spider isn't that hard a solitaire game after all. Perhaps I will now retire on my laurels. Gosh I hope so. That will leave more time for the next pictured activity

Okay, they are not so random, they represent things I have been doing for good or bad.

This is the knitting I am currently working on. When I block it, I hope the lacy holes will show up better. As it is, I'm not sure if I like it or not, but I couldn't stretch it any further because it would have come off of the needles. I think I will have to add some black borders to it, because I don't have enough of the red variegated yarn.

Finally, guess what!? It is still snowing. My final expenditure of time will be in appreciating the beauty of winter. I might as well accentuate the positive, there is no escaping it(winter). They are promising fifties (Fahrenheit) by the end of the week.

I am SO ready! We are off to the Guthrie tonight to see Midsummer's Night Dream - hope the weather doesn't make the drive too hard!

Friday, 11 April 2008

S'No(w) Good Day

Work got canceled because of the big blizzard. I'm still trying to figure out how I can live in a place like this and really the pictures say it all. We got ten inches of snow and it is still falling.

It is hard to believe that there was no snow just a day ago!

Thursday, 3 April 2008

The Joys of the Jury

Well, what a hectic day yesterday was!! I've been calling the court everyday after 5:00PM and everyday it was the same message: "There are no trials for tomorrow , Day, date" etc. Well, Tueday night, of course I forgot to call.

At bathroom break time around 5:00 AM my brain started reminding me that I had forgotten something important, but I couldn't remember what -- and then it dawned on me! Now upright in bed, I realized I had forgotten to call to find out if I had been summoned to duty! I bolted to the phone, jury group number in hand and listened as they read out a long litany of numbers. Yes, mine was there and I was due at the courthouse by 8:00 AM that very morning.

Why on this day? I asked myself - it was the day that I had my own Japanese class immediatley followed by two back to back classes to teach - and then of course also my 2 1/2 hour evening class that only meets once a week! I rapidly sent out emails arranged for tests, sent notes to student workers and department honchos. By 7:35 I was in my car with a cute little lunch packed by my supportive husband on the way (destined to be 3 minutes late) but content that someone would take care of each and everyone of my classes, their tests, their discussions, their homework, their needs.

There were 63 of us in the waiting room and three trials scheduled. (At 18 per panel - the odds were pretty certain that I would be impanelled and be there all day.) I checked with one of the Jury attendants. He kindly checked and noted that he did indeed have my name listed for a panel on a criminal trial. I called the people of import to tell them I would not make it in to work, to implement plans B, C and D and then sat down with the group to wait.

What a very depressive group of people. There were two very young men who were mortified that anyone would know they might have to serve on a jury. They were busy making up ridiculous stories so they woule not have to serve. If they had looked around and talked to their neighbors, perhaps they would not wasted their time with fanciful stories about a supposed mother with a bad case of ebola or a kidney transplant that they would be involved in that afternoon. I met one woman whose brother married a woman with three teen sons, who shortly thereafter got involved in a murder. One destroyed the evidence by washing the knife that another had used to protect himself during an attack. He had $65,000 in legal fees already. Another man's infant child had just died in the hospital and the funeral was to be that evening. Yet another person told me about having to leave her 85 year old father at home attached to a mechanical breathing device. He would be okay, but you could see the strain in her face. Her mother had recently died of a cancer that had attacked the outside of her colon. At this point I decided to stop talking to people, so I sat down and graded some papers.

A short time later, a judge came into the room and anounced that the trial would not take place and we were dismissed. I had exactly 45 minutes to get to school and sit in on my Japanese class. I got to go to all my classes and collapsed exhausted into bed at 9:30 when I finally got home from school. It had been a long, hard day - but it had all turned out all right. My head was filled with one single thought. Thank goodness, only two more days on call for jury duty and "There are no trials for Thursday, April third." Just one more day on call!

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Ohhhhh Nooooooo!

Jury duty today! RATS!
I thought I was going to escape, but they called my group number today!