By Robin Abrahams
November 9, 2007 | 08:39 AM
Mr. Improbable and I saw Actors' Shakespeare Project's all-female production of "Macbeth" last night to mixed reviews. "Mixed" is pretty good when you're dealing with the Scots play--there's a reason people think it's cursed, you know. A few thoughts--
The all-female casting. It didn't seem gimmicky, nor did it radically transform the nature of the play. I saw an all-female version of "Taming of the Shrew" once, and having only women in that play really opened up what you could do with the script. It didn't have a similar effect for "Macbeth." But it was a solid and well-thought-out artistic choice that led to some interesting awareness of the extent to which gender is a social construct--in the world of Macbeth and our world, as well--and the extent to which it is not. It also brought home, which I'd never quite noticed, how constantly all the characters are asserting their masculinity, encouraging each other to "be a man," or insulting each other by suggesting that masculinity is lacking.
Jacqui Parker as Banquo. Oh my Lord she was good. She owned the language, the language didn't own her. Complete authority--as an actress and as the character--just radiated from her. Why she wasn't cast as Macbeth is a mystery to me.
The set & lighting. ASP work wonders, they do, especially considering that they are peripatetic and have to master the idiosyncrasies of many performance spaces. This production was to a large extent lit by table lamps of varying sizes scattered around the performance area and moved about by the actors. And the way they did Birnam Wood moving to Dunsinane was so clever, and effective, that spontaneous applause broke out.
What didn't work
The big "chair versus sponge" showdown. Okay, it wasn't as stupid as I just made it sound. ASP does violence well, and the way they portrayed killing in this play was to take a sponge soaked in stage blood and draw it quickly across the murdered actor's throat. Rather niftily done in the assassination of Lady Macduff and Baby Macduff, as was the horrifying suggestion that the throat-slitting was incompetently done and that as they lay moaning, their bodies were doused in gasoline and set aflame.
When he hears of this, Macduff gets his war on and goes after Macbeth with his own bloody sponge, and Macbeth tries to hit him with a chair. It just--lacked, somehow. Add one more household implement and you could rival rock-paper-scissors. Sponge washes chair, chair scuffs linoleum--oh, I don't know.
Bobbie Steinbach's clean armpits. Of course Bobbie Steinbach shaves her armpits, because she is a nice middle-aged, middle-class lady in the 21st century United States. But she is playing, among other roles, Witch #2, in a sleeveless gown, and the Weird Sisters do not shave their pits, I tell you what. "When shall we three meet again, in lightning, thunder, or in the hair-care products aisle of CVS?" The show's going on for a couple more weeks, Bobbie--let 'em grow. DeNiro gained 50 pounds to play Jake LaMotta, it's the least you can do for your art.
Lord & Lady Macbeth. I'm still on the fence about these two, which I don't think is a failure of the production, really. Maybe it's better to leave an audience a little disconcerted than to have them leave feeling that they know and understand everything about what they've just seen. So I'm not unhappy about this.
Anyone who's going to play Macbeth or Lady Macbeth has to deal with a lot of baggage that audiences bring in to the play--primarily, the notion that Macbeth is basically a nice guy who is driven to his bloody deeds by an insanely ambitious wife, which isn't the case. The Macbeths are equally ambitious, and share a remarkably intimate, egalitarian, and mature marriage. They like and respect each other. One of them gets a case of nerves, the other provides encouragement. They ask each other for advice, for emotional support. They help each other save face when situations get awkward with guests. Tony and Carmela should have a marriage so good.
Marya Lowry had charisma galore as Macbeth. He's not a nebbishy puppet of his wife, he's a warlord who took over a legitimate government--an interesting parallel to certain current events--and she played the role as such. And it is clear how far around the bend Macbeth has gone by the end of the play, when he is told that his Lady has died and barely takes a moment to mourn her. He has become a creature of pure war and madness. But one of the friends we saw the show with thought she was too one-note, and I'm not sure he's wrong. I'm also not sure it's a problem.
Paula Plum knocked it out of the park in Lady Macbeth's opening scene, in which she is reading her husband's letter telling of the prophecies of his future greatness, and also in the mad scene. In between, she was to my taste to uncomfortably domestic. Yes, the Macbeths are wonderfully intimate. But you know that exasperated yet affectionate tone women use when their husbands are ineptly performing some household task? ("That's not how you fold the--oh, I'll just do it myself.") I'm not sure that's the exact tone you should use when you're talking about assassinating people. "Oh, just give me the dagger! Honestly, men."
By Robin Abrahams
November 8, 2007 | 09:08 PM
A reader sends in this idea for the holiday season:
What about this for the holidays? I have a friend that always gave me gifts that were either "silly" or not appropriate to my lifestyle (for any holiday, not just Christmas). Before Christmas many years ago, I suggested that a friend of mine and I exchange Christmas (costume) jewelry and she liked the idea, so that tradition began for us and worked beautifully. One could use this mode of gift exchange with plates (I myself collect them) or a particular brand of cosmetics or hand cleanser, etc. This idea can be time-saving, mind-saving, and will guarantee that the recipient will be pleased with their gift. AND you can spend as little or as much as you both can afford.
The reader is my mother, and she sent the e-mail in to the "Miss Conduct" e-mail address, not my personal one. I mentioned this to my editor Susanne (plucked me from obscurity, Malcolm McLaren to my Sid Vicious, etc.), who commented, "She uses the formal channels instead of her inside connection? Your mother is so restrained!"
Both Susanne and my mother know I respect them, and thus I trust they will not be offended if I say this in response:
HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.
Seriously, Mom, good advice. Y'all lissen up to my ma, now, you hear?
By Robin Abrahams
November 7, 2007 | 02:59 PM
A reader writes:
This would be more accurately entitled "The 10 Most Self-Congratulatory and Self-Promoting Things I love about Cambridge/Somerville and My Life. Plus the Public Garden."
By Robin Abrahams
November 7, 2007 | 11:55 AM
Regular readers of Miss Conduct know that I love a good engineering solution for an etiquette problem. If you agree with me, then please stop everything right now and watch this video of two eight-year-old inventors being interviewed on Fox News. What did they invent, you ask? Wedgie-proof underwear! And they are adorable.
What are you still doing here? Click that link!
UPDATE: Another young inventor solves a common problem. From the article: "'My mom was getting mad at me for forgetting to put the toilet seat down and she was falling in,' said Jake, a fourth-grader at Odebolt-Arthur Elementary School."
By Robin Abrahams
November 7, 2007 | 06:42 AM
I've mentioned blogger Rabbi without a Cause here before. He's a super observer of the oddities and dynamics of social life, especially organizational politics. He's like what I would be if I were an Orthodox rabbi, which I could not be because I am a woman, which is why in a nutshell I am not Orthodox.
Today he has an extremely amusing post about dealing with the crazy people in one's life, a relevant topic for all of us, especially those in the public eye or helping professions. If you're not Jewish you won't get all the references on his blog, but it doesn't matter--the underlying themes are universal. (If you're reading "The Rabbi's Nuts," though, it might help to know that Rashi and Rambam are rabbis who wrote commentary on the Torah, and they have been dead for centuries--many centuries--and everyone, I mean everyone, knows this. It's like knowing Lincoln is dead, mmkay? Now go read.)
By Robin Abrahams
November 6, 2007 | 08:25 PM
A couple of good letters came in suggesting that J.G. of San Juan can continue speaking Spanish even when someone responds in English:
Another reader writes:
During our honeymoon in Israel, we were somewhat surprised to hear our Jewish Israeli guide speaking to an Arab shopkeeper in Arabic, while the shopkeeper responded in Hebrew. Although the motivation for this asymmetry, demonstrating mutual respect, was different than that of JG, it did show the possibility.
These are great anecdotes. With people J.G. isn't familiar with, however, it might be good to follow their lead on what language they want to speak, just to avoid giving any possible offense. And speaking of giving offense in other countries, another reader writes (in response to this "My Word"):
Well, yes. Even in the U.S., you make the "OK" sign under the table, or mentally, because who wants to admit that despite being a grown person they still can't remember which water glass they're supposed to drink from? And you NEVER make hand gestures in a foreign country. Ever. Except for that universally understood writing-on-the-air accompanied-by-quizzical-look that means, "Check, please."
By Robin Abrahams
November 6, 2007 | 10:11 AM
The list, for those who want it in its entirety--
1. The Caesar salad at Veggie Planet
By Robin Abrahams
November 6, 2007 | 08:22 AM
I'll be chatting tomorrow from noon to 1 on the new & improved boston.com, so please join me! It's like talk radio, but with typos.
And speaking of talk radio, I'll be on the Peter Blute show this Friday morning at 9:35, on WCRN 830 AM. Also--'cause I am becoming the queen of WCRN--on the Dining Out Metrowest show on Saturday morning, at 8:40. I normally don't work on Saturdays, but ... um, I forgot, and said yes. So tune in for this one-time-only appearance! (And I will probably be blogging about that not working on Saturdays thing at some point in the future, too. It's sort of hard to define what "work" is in the modern world, sometimes, isn't it?)
By Robin Abrahams
November 5, 2007 | 09:00 AM
10. My friend Verena*
You know how in movies, the heroine often has a Wacky Friend? The one who's just more "out there," who transforms herself radically from scene to scene while our heroine plods along, taking her life changes slowly and carefully?
Well, in the movie of my life (in which I am played by Rachel Griffith), Verena (played by Claire Danes) would by the Wacky Friend. Which is really saying something, because for all my other friends, I'm the Wacky Friend.
Verena spent a month on an ashram. She quit her job as a bookstore clerk, and became a software engineer, and then bummed around India for a while, and now she is a farmer. She does T'ai Chi. She owns a loom and knows how to use it. She went to culinary school. She can build a house out of mud. She spent one winter volunteering at a wolf sanctuary. She's done nothing but meditate for 10 days straight. For several years she was technically homeless, swinging from housesitting gig to housesitting gig like Tarzan from a vine. You know how, when women break up with their boyfriends, they cut their hair short? Verena shaved her entire head.
And yet she is one of the least wacky people I know. The movie version of the Wacky Friend is usually a de-centered, narcissistic bag of unresolved issues. Verena's not--she's calm and happy, and if you want to hear all about India or wolves or what aspects of GM crops are good and which are scary, she'll tell you, but if you just want to watch a movie or talk about your own, invariably more pedestrian life, she'll do that too.
We met back in those early days in Boston. I was a grad student when she was a bookstore clerk, and she's one of my oldest friends in this city. We've both been through a lot of changes, and so has our friendship, which has been at times a rocky one. We've both been the bad version of the Wacky Friend at times.
We've grown up a lot in the past 12 years. We've figured out a lot about what we want from work and love. We've got a lot of figuring left to do, life being what it is. And I know, for me at least, that figuring will go a lot better if I can continue to laugh, and share, and argue, and play, with Verena, my oh-so-non-wacky Wacky Friend.
*Verena is not last on the list because she ranks below a salad. She's 10th because she knew I was writing this, and is currently trying to wean herself off the internet, and this was my sneaky way of making sure she kept reading my blog for as long as possible.
By Robin Abrahams
November 4, 2007 | 09:37 AM
Most awesome Unitarian blogger PeaceBang wrote a fabulous and thoughtful post in response to the responses to my response to the person who wrote in annoyed that a born-again co-worker says "I'll pray for you." The B.A.C.W. isn't praying for the letter-writer to be saved, you understand--according to the letter, she only says this "any time she hears I'm having a problem."
Which just isn't a big deal, which is what I said. If she were praying for conversion, that would be a different matter, and Rev. PeaceBang pulls out her theological chops quite nicely on that issue:
By all means, tell those who are praying for you to "find Jesus" that you don't appreciate those sentiments, and that you hope they will grow in faith enough to stop praying in public like the hypocrites Jesus derided in Matthew 6:5.
But praying for your sprained ankle to get better? Who's that hurting? As one of my friends, who himself is a fairly militant atheist of the Dawkins variety, put it, "If someone says they'll pray for you every time you complain to them about something, stop whining to them! It's a win-win all around."
Many of the negative letters I received were far less civil than those printed in the Globe. A number of them referred to the B.A.C.W.'s activity as "religious harassment," suggesting an extreme lack of perspective and ignorance of history. Several suggested that the letter-writer should take the case to the company's human-resources department, an action that has all the maturity of "Mom! Make him quit looking at me!" to it. And my all-time favorite, from a man who referred to religion as a "superstitious and hateful activity" (unlike his own reasoned and compassionate attitude, presumably), wrote this (spelling and punctuation corrected from the original):
May every Mormon mercenary out to earn his angel wings team up with every Moonie passing out flowers, every Muslim looking to convert Christians, every Jehovah's Witness looking to stuff a Watchtower down your throat, converge on your home for a good old-fashioned religious save-Robin-Abrahams's-[expletive] revival.
Clearly, this man knows nothing of the psychology of writers. There's not a religious system in the world that I find so noxious that I wouldn't welcome the chance to discuss it as a distraction from working.