By Robin Abrahams
October 26, 2007 | 09:36 AM
9. Actors' Shakespeare Project
Moving to Boston from Kansas City wasn't always easy. The economics of it were pretty brutal--I'd gone from being a relatively well-paid theater publicist in one of the country's least costly cities to an impecunious graduate student in one of the most expensive. I'd never really had to think strategically about parking before; in the Midwest, parking spaces are cheap and plentiful, and roam the prairies in large herds. And the freakish geography and layout of the area continues to baffle me--finding my way around remains a challenge to this day. One of the lesser, but still important, inconveniences was that in KC I worked in theater, and knew the local arts scene well--changing careers as well as cities meant that I was suddenly shut out of the theater world in which I had spent most of my adult life. Suddenly--horrors!--I actually had to read reviews to find out what might be good, rather than just knowing, and then there was this annoying thing where I was expected to pay for tickets, like a civilian.
But now I know what is good--Actors' Shakespeare Project--and I don't mind paying, because they are so, so worth it. ASP is a company of fairly recent vintage, and they perform in a variety of spaces around the city--I've seen them at BU (including their current production of Macbeth), and some various Central Square locations, and often at the Garage in Harvard Square.
They deliberately tackle Shakespeare's hardest plays--the ones where the plots don't make sense, where the lead characters aren't likable, where nasty technical difficulties are buried. And over and over and over again they pull it off. They did "King Lear" with Lear not as a raging lion in winter, but as a sad, vulnerable, nearly senile old man--you wanted to rush the stage and wrap him in a blanket and take him home in time for "Jeopardy." They enacted that bizarre, inexplicable "Exit, chased by a bear" stage direction in "Winter's Tale" with a beautiful composite of dance, sound and light. John Kuntz's astonishing Bertram in "All's Well" in that made me realize for the first time that the character was not merely a shallow playboy, but a victim, sold against his will into a loveless marriage--someone I would have instinctively sympathized with had he been a woman, but my prejudices had blinded me. That's the kind of self-examination art is supposed to bring us to, but so rarely does.
They did "Titus Andronicus" using nothing but rope, stones, and pitchers of water for props. They did a six-person production of "Love's Labours Lost" that created an onstage world so hectic and life-filled that during the curtain call Mr. Improbable and I kept looking around for the rest of the cast--we couldn't believe we'd seen only six people at a time, ever. Their characters are real and vivid and often unlike any other interpretation you've seen; their stage effects are miracles of economy, reminding you that it's not necessary to land a helicopter onstage to create real theater magic; and most unusually of all, they get Shakespeare's music right, and don't do that godawful "Hey nonny nonny ho" jumping around in circles while the audience writhes in vicarious embarrassment.
By Robin Abrahams
October 24, 2007 | 09:52 AM
Just got off the Peter Blute show on WCRN 830--what a fun gang! Peter's a really great radio host. Though that "50,000 watts of truth" tagline continues to amuse me. Who knew truth was measured in watts? And what is etiquette measured in? Ergs, perhaps--as in "Erg, I've got to write those thank-you notes!"
I'm going to be doing regular biweekly appearances on the show, so stay tuned here for more details!
Also, a reminder that I'm still looking for medical questions for an upcoming issue. Got 'em? Send 'em! And I'm sure many of you will have holiday-related questions (the season's a minefield of potential etiquette disasters!)--if you do, you'll want to send them in early. There won't be an edition of the magazine on December 23, and we usually work pretty far in advance. So if the holidays are already on your mind, it's not at all too soon to share. Questions as always can be sent to email@example.com.
By Robin Abrahams
October 24, 2007 | 07:39 AM
Happy Gotcha Day, little man.
Two years ago tonight you were dropped off at our house, shaking all over with excitement and fear. You were wearing a studded Harley Davidson collar that someone at the clinic had found for you. They also gave us half a bag of Science Diet and a crate for you to sleep in that could have housed a small pony.
You weren't sure about us, and I was not sure about you, by a long shot. You were on probation--if you didn't work out, I could take you back to the clinic any time and they'd try again to find a home for you.
Your first home hadn't worked out too well. I never found out much about it, but I know you grew up in a suburban backyard, without many friends, and that once you were old enough you got bored and lit out for something more. (I could identify, but I wasn't going to tell you that, not yet.) You didn't know about the dangers of fast cars, or starvation, or the dogfighting gangs that would have used a little guy like you as bait to train pit bulls. You lucked out and wound up at a clinic where they cleaned you up, and fixed you, and put you up for adoption.
And then you wound up with us.
I thought having a dog would help me to get out of my head and live in the moment. But you don't live in the moment. You live in some hypothetical future in which there is chicken. When I take you to the park on a beautiful autumn morning you don't frolic and revel in the glorious present with me. You stare at the gate and wait for your doggy friends to come. And wait. And whine. And wait. And refuse to play catch with me, even though you desperately want to play.
I thought that as a purely physical being, you could help me learn to inhabit my body more gracefully, to resolve the mind-body split that plagues us knowledge workers of the Western world. But whenever you take a hard poop you believe that your own butt has attacked you, and depending on your mood you either launch a counterstrike, or try to run away from it.
You have no Buddha nature, little man. None at all. You are made of desire. You are as neurotic and conflicted as Woody Allen, and you have better comic timing, too. You have failed utterly to teach me what I hoped a dog could teach, and have instead taught me things I didn't even realize I needed to know. Sometimes, even, things I thought I knew but didn't.
It's been a great two years, little man, and I hope for many more.
Happy Gotcha Day, beloved Milo. Please don't eat the flowers.
By Robin Abrahams
October 23, 2007 | 06:50 PM
Her name was Peg Bracken, and she was best known for three books: The I Hate to Cook Book, The I Hate to Housekeep Book, and I Try to Behave Myself. She died on Saturday, at the age of 89.
She wrote those books in the 1960s, and they are just as fresh and helpful and entertaining today as they were back then. Even--especially--the etiquette one. A good friend of mine had a copy, once, that she quite literally read to death. It disintegrated. Mine is well on its way to that honorable fate, and seeing as how it is out of print, I will probably buy up as many used copies as I can find floating around Amazon.com.
If you're reading this blog, I can assume that you like me, that you find Miss Conduct worth reading for wit and perspective. I'm here to tell you I would be nothing without Peg. It was reading her books, at the age of 16 or so, that made me realize that the social world could be navigated, that sense could be made of things. That life wasn't about memorizing rules but about developing one's own intuition and common sense and humor, and then trying one's damnedest not to let those qualities get shaken out by the stresses of the moment. It's her sensibility I hark to when I'm faced with a question--or a situation in my own life--that leaves me flummoxed. I think even the word "flummoxed" I might have picked up from her. She's all the way through me, like bay leaf in beef stew.
Here are some of her quotes, pulled more or less at random from a quick flip-through of I Try to Behave Myself:
Good etiquette, for a man, is whatever makes a woman feel more like a woman, without making her feel weak-minded.
Oh, Peg. Oh, oh, Peg.
By Robin Abrahams
October 23, 2007 | 03:05 PM
I'll be on WCRN (830 AM) tomorrow at 9:35 a.m. (STATION is 830 AM, TIME is 9:35 a.m.) to discuss Halloween etiquette and whatever else they throw at me! Hope you can tune in.
In the afternoon, Mr. Improbable and I depart for Italy, where he will be speaking at the Genoa Science Festival (so blogging will be light for the next week). The Festival offers speakers the choice of being put up in a hotel or staying with an Italian family. Mr. Improbable chose the latter. These are the reactions I got from two friends when I told them about this:
Friend 1 (face lights up): That's so cool! So you can see the inside of a real Italian house and make friends!
Friend 2 (looks at me as though I have gone suddenly and spectacularly insane): Why are you doing this? Why do you want to have forced social interaction with people whom you may not even like?
Friend 2 isn't a misanthrope by any means. Both men are two of the friendliest, kindest, most open-hearted and generous people I know. And their reactions would be utterly incomprehensible to each other. I love it.
Diversity. It's more than skin deep.
By Robin Abrahams
October 23, 2007 | 09:46 AM
A reader writes:
In your October 14 column you passed on the excellent idea of providing clean socks for guests if one wanted them to remove their shoes to protect wooden floors. Another way, much more convenient for guests, is to provide something to slip over their shoes.
Very interesting! I must confess to a bit of inner discord regarding the shoes-off-indoors policy, when applied to guests. I do see the logic of it, yet it invariably irritates me. Despite the fact that I don't like wearing shoes and don't wear them in my own home. And despite the fact that getting everyone out of their fancy shoes and into something rather silly-looking can have the effect of jump-starting a party--kind of like those getting-to-know you games are supposed to do, but not as annoying. Maybe I just don't like being told what to do.
Would these Pantoffeln go on over high heels, I wonder? They don't look as though they would. So they're good for some guests but not others.
By Robin Abrahams
October 23, 2007 | 07:30 AM
Hey, everyone, this is the 100th post on this blog! It's been lots of fun so far ... thanks to all of you who read, and especially to those of you who write.
There are a lot of articles in today's New York Times health section about sleep and the importance of same for healthy brain functioning, and one on Yahoo.com about how sleep-deprived people tend to overreact emotionally to all sorts of things.
Which makes me wonder, as I have for some time now, about that bit of marital advice people like to give about not going to bed angry. Why not? If you're mad at your spouse, you're not going to get any less mad as you deprive yourself of needed rest. And your ability to think through the conflict logically and compassionately is going to go down considerably.
A little while back Mr. Improbable and I got into an argument before bed, and once it became clear that we weren't going to resolve it, decided to get some sleep. The next morning we awoke rested, apologized sincerely for the part we had each played, and had a nice cup of tea out on the roof. What seemed like a big problem when we were tired didn't seem that way at all in the morning.
So why and where did this idea about never going to bed angry get such traction? Maybe instead of saying "don't go to bed angry," we should start saying "don't fight when you're tired."
By Robin Abrahams
October 22, 2007 | 01:24 PM
Charles Pierce, a Globe colleague who knows infinitely more than I about baseball, has a terrific article in Slate today about Manny Ramirez's infamous statement that losing the ACLS "wouldn't be the end of the world." Mr. Pierce backs up my initial intuition, which is that Manny's statement had considerable psychological acumen behind it. From the article:
[I]t was impossible to watch the Red Sox over these last three games and not see Ramirez's words in vivid action. Boston did not play an inning of baseball in which the team was not cool, and loose, and utterly in command of the circumstances ... This was team that realized that losing wasn't the end of the world, and therefore, losing was nothing of which to be afraid. Manny saw that first and brought the rest of them along.
Manny Ramirez's underwhelmed calm was astute, helpful, and well within the bounds of good manners. Acknowledging that a game is, indeed, only a game and is played much better by those who keep such a perspective in mind is wise.
On the other hand, if one has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, one need not flutter and faint, but one might do well to come up with a more gracious response than, "Damn kids, get off my lawn!"