Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Word Made Flesh is Sylvia

And tremblingly, we’ve all partook.
The only question’s whether
we’re cannibals or communicants.
Either way, we eat her

grave cave crisp papery skin,
we suck her red homunculus
right off our own chapped lips.
We do it again and again.

The only way to know
if, instead of gruesome, all is holy,
(but all is both), is when we’re done,
we can’t be, she can’t be,
not one single living word can be
diminished. None.

So, once again, I agree with Chuck Rybak. We do suck Sylvia. 🙂

APT’s Hamlet is Awesome. Go See It.

Q: How’s Hamlet?


The short answer, for American Players Theatre’s 2013 production is that it’s terrific and I’m still processing how terrific it is.

It took me to my APT happy place numerous times on Sunday night (a very muggy-buggy night), by which I mean I forgot I was watching a play, forgot I knew the actor playing the part, forgot I was anywhere but in the moment on the stage.

Part of me wants to stop there–to say, simply, it was great. Everyone who can get here should get here and see it.

Except this Hamlet was so freakingly brilliant–I thought about it for hours after I got home, and I’ve thought about it all day.

So at the risk of revealing my theatrical and Shakespearean ignorance (the vastness of which undiscovered country has not been mapped), here are some of those thoughts.

I really think John Langs, the director, is brilliant. I know a theater production is a collaborative process, so my appreciation of the unnerving, stark, gorgeous, imposing, spare set goes to Takeshi Kata and Andrew Boyce. And the way the lighting shows two Hamlets–his posture saying one thing, his face saying another?  Credit for that goes to Michael A. Peterson.

The shadow seems much surer of itself here.

The shadow seems much surer of itself here.

But over and over, each component worked with every other component. The costumes worked with the set. And the set worked with the lighting. And the lighting emphasized the performances. And the performances were awesome. That’s to the director’s credit.

And having James Pickering–a really well-known Milwaukee actor who’s never appeared on the APT stage before–play the ghost and the player who plays the king parts and the gravedigger–that’s not just a casting idea. That’s an interpretive idea.

It made it seem like the ghost was showing up ALL THE TIME.

The child longing for the nuclear family that no longer exists.

The child longing for the nuclear family that no longer exists.

I know directors pluck from other performances (and there are a lot of Shakespeare casting traditions that would be utterly lost on me–I mean, I know about Cordelia/the fool, but that’s about it), and I know Langs directed Darragh Kennan in Hamlet in Seattle pretty recently, so I don’t know if this is the FIRST Hamlet to do that with the ghost/player/gravedigger, and I don’t know if the ghost has shown up other times when he doesn’t have lines, as he does in this performance (I won’t say where-all, because at least one of them seemed like a big risk with a big payoff), but it all went beyond “interpretive idea,” actually. It felt like vision. Genuine artistic vision.

What a counterpoint to Bassanio and Antonio from Merchant of Venice.

What a counterpoint to Bassanio and Antonio from Merchant of Venice.

Casting at APT is a complicated thing–eight plays done in repertory, core company and guest artist needs and contributions considered (who had a huge part last year, who had only supporting roles, who has one huge role this year and needs other supporting roles, who has reliable chemistry with who else)–so I can’t attribute the genius casting of this production of Hamlet to John Langs alone. Whoever had a hand in it, though–bravo.

If I’d been asked, prior to seeing this performance, to list Shakespeare’s really nasty kings, I’d have said Richard and Richard and then changed the subject, since I don’t know the histories as well as I ought. I might not have thought of Claudius at all. It’s not what I would typically think of as a meaty part.

But in Jim DeVita’s hands? Well, I hear Jim’s a fine cook, so I could say it’s like carving a chicken and understanding there’s good meat to be found places other than the drumstick and breast. Anyway, he found the meat. And chewed it up.

I mean, wow. When he says, of Fortinbras, “Holding a weak supposal of our worth,/ Or thinking by our late dear brother’s death / Our state to be disjoint and out of frame,” the delivery was so powerful I found myself wondering if Langs had somehow let Claudius deliver one of Hamlet’s speeches. (He didn’t. At least that one’s not Hamlet’s.)

“I like him not,” he says of Hamlet. And you think, “uh oh.”

I don’t mean Jim was upstaging or scene-stealing or anything bad. He just made it so clear how powerful Claudius was. How mean.

And unlike some productions, which maybe emphasize the Oedipal-incestuous-icky embraces between Hamlet and his Mom because no one can possibly imagine her really being turned on by whatever Claudius they’ve cast (the pompous guy in the Slings and Arrows production comes to mind, Season Two, Episode One, not the first season’s Claudius), De Vita and Staples have awesome onstage chemistry. One review found it “puzzling” why they were “hanging all over each other.” It didn’t puzzle me at all. Wouldn’t you, on him, were you she? And wouldn’t you, her, were you he? I, me, we would, methinks.

Gert and Claud

Gert and Claud

And then of course there’s Hamlet his own self.

Bravo, Matt Schwader. Bravo.

Mike Fischer’s review gets it right, that Matt’s “intensity adds bite and even menace to Hamlet’s encounters.” He calls him “white-hot,” and says he “handles Shakespeare’s verse as well as anyone at APT.” Yes, and yes, and yes.

I am enjoying reading and re-reading about Matt’s Hamlet process in his blog, “Bounded in a Nutshell.”

(He’s not just pretty. He’s also thinky.)

Matt’s explanation of his process helps explain one of the things that amazed me last night: the BIG ASS SPEECHES melded into the play so smoothly. They weren’t under-played, and not muted, but at no point did the production feel like this:

Druuuuuuuuummmmmmmroll: SOLILOQUY. (more stuff, more stuff, more stuff) and then
Druuuuuuummmmmroll: SOLILOQUY.

For example, leading up to the most famous of the BIG ASS SPEECHES, the “to be or not to be” one, because David Daniel’s Polonius is so strong, and Jim De Vita’s Claudius is so strong, and Christina Panfilio’s Ophelia is so strong, I found myself focused on what THEY were doing. Especially Ophelia. (I’ve never felt so pissed at Shakespeare for killing someone off as this Ophelia. She had spunk, damn it.)

Lou Grant to Mary Richards: "You've got spunk. I hate spunk."

Lou Grant to Mary Richards: “You’ve got spunk. I hate spunk.”

So when Matt came onstage and began speaking, to the audience, it took me a beat or two to realize that what he was saying was one of those speeches, even though I’d known what was coming.

In terms of speaking to the audience, as he was, part of the time, in this speech, Matt has this to say, “I’ve found that it is simply much more dramatic and engaging to watch an actor speak with another person (or group of persons, as is the case with direct address), than to be muttering to his or herself. Tremendous drama lives in the unexpected. What unexpected thing can happen to a person talking to his or her self? Not much. On the other hand, talking with an audience opens a flood of possibilities as to what might happen.”

The unexpected here is that Ophelia is listening, and she startles Hamlet, which was startling. In a good way. Because then the “get thee to a nunnery” lines seem startling, even though I knew they were coming.

Hamlet and Ophelia.

Hamlet and Ophelia.


Matt did a fantastic job, which wasn’t startling. Anyone who’s watched him the last few years knew this was coming, that he’d earned it & that he could do it.

But what was startling overall was how his performance seemed utterly in service of the play.

I don’t mean I expected Matt to be selfish or show boaty. I’m just used to thinking of Hamlet as a vehicle for Hamlet (the character and the actor who plays him). This didn’t feel vehicular at all.

What a great play.

Another fantastic shot from Carissa Dixon

Another fantastic shot from Carissa Dixon

(All these awesome images of the production are used with permission from the awesome Carissa Dixon.)

My Last Transition Metal for a While

The end of this month, I’ll turn 48. Inspired by Oliver Sacks, I looked up 48 on my Periodic Table of Elements place mat and found that Cadmium is element 48. It is a Transition Metal, the last I’ll experience for a while. Next up is Indium, which is grouped under “Other Metals,” (so no telling what that’ll be like), and then a couple of Nonmetals, and then, at age 54, a noble gas! Xenon. That’s something to look forward to.

More about Cadmium, from a lovely blog called GrrlScientist, which has an “element of the week” feature:

  • It’s highly toxic.
  • Used in nuclear reactors.

Cadmium also “adds fatigue resistance to many solders,” which I mis-read first as “adds fatigue resistance to many soldiers.” In any case, fatigue-resistance sounds lovely. Just what I need.

It can make strong batteries and then pollute the environment.

It makes pretty colors.

This post on cadmium yellow says that “Claude Monet (1840-1926) liked to use cadmium yellow for outdoor settings in paintings such as Autumn at Argenteuil, as he believed it would better guarantee the survival of his art. For this reason he abandoned chrome yellow pigments (with the exception of zinc chromate yellow) in the latter part of his career.”

Cadmium green, meanwhile, shows up online as all the shades of green I’ve been obsessed with lately. I may have to go to an art store soon just to get a tube of Winsor & Newton:


So, other than being toxic and all, 48 should be an interesting year.

If you haven’t yet, you should read “The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding.)” in which Oliver Sacks points out that his upcoming birthday, 80, is Mercury on the Periodic Table (I don’t know if he has the table on a place mat or not). It’s a lovely piece, with several notable moments. My favorite is this:

“At nearly 80, with a scattering of medical and surgical problems, none disabling, I feel glad to be alive — ‘I’m glad I’m not dead!’ sometimes bursts out of me when the weather is perfect. (This is in contrast to a story I heard from a friend who, walking with Samuel Beckett in Paris on a perfect spring morning, said to him, ‘Doesn’t a day like this make you glad to be alive?’ to which Beckett answered, ‘I wouldn’t go as far as that.’)”

I have elements of both those sentiments. Sometimes I do feel “every day is a gift,” but some days, I admit, the gift feels like a total white elephant.

Here’s hoping 48 is more Sacks than Beckett. In most ways.

The Thinger for the Clutter Contained

Having declared repeatedly in public that my home was “half a matchbook collection away from being an episode of Hoarders” (saying this I am exaggerating, but not by as much as I would prefer), I have been plunging this summer, over and over, into our accumulated everything.

This is not easy.

One becomes a pack rat through a combo pack of habits, issues, and inept strategies.

For me, nearly every bit of sorting, cleaning, pitching, packing, reorganizing, moving, shifting, recycling, re-gifting, tagging for yard sales, and donating involves a commensurate inner activity.

Ideally, the inner activity means reflecting on and evaluating all the habits and strategies mentioned previously, and also gently, gently nudging apart the layers of issues involved that led me to the place in the first place.

Sometimes the inner activity is limited to “Ack!” or “oh my god” or “sheesh.”

But I keep at it.

I can be very persistent.

Some of this is deeply satisfying, the emptying of a container of stuff I no longer want, thus making it available to contain other stuff I do want.

And fairly often when I say or even think the word “container,” I think of James Thurber, and “Here Lies Miss Groby” (the first paragraph of which is available even to non-subscribers of the New Yorker, which fortunately contains the quote I was remembering).

“He remembers staying awake nights saying over and over ‘The thinger for the thing contained’ or thinking of an example of the Thing Contained for the Container. If a woman were to grab a bottle of Grade A and say to her husband, ‘Get away from me, or I’ll hit you with the milk’, that would be a Thing Contained for the Container.”

This is a way of talking about metonymy. I wonder if the act of blogging about metonymy will help me remember its definition in contrast to synecdoche. Probably not. But I would like to stake a claim here: I began saying “Schenectady” in place of “synecdoche” years and years before Charlie Kaufman made a movie called Synecdoche, New York, which I still haven’t seen.

All this is a way of procrastinating, by the way.

One last bit of reverie, before I head once more unto the breach, my friends:

I called my blog “marniere” because I’m fascinated by sinkholes. Fascinated and horrified by the idea of a chasm opening up where there previously was none. A chasm with ample space.

If you pitched your clutter in a sinkhole, you wouldn’t be able to access any of it easily. But you would be able to pitch and keep pitching for the longest time.

(I need to write part 2 for this a reminiscence of my childhhood entitled, “The Ravine Where We Threw Trash.” But for now, it’s once more unto the breach I’ve made in the wall of accumulated everything.)