Category Archives: Spring Green

Allure

Before the play I watched her sit, posed, on a rock,
one knee bent up, near her chin. She was covered just so
modestly with what can only be called a frock,
one bright red shoe dangling from a pedicured toe.
Let me say more about her fabulous dress
which I got to observe going down the hill after
the play. Sheer and sleeveless, white, a mess
of summer flowers painted on the skirt.
Everything looked expensive and just exactly right.
I haven’t mentioned yet how old she was.
Seventy-something I’m guessing, which is why
it wasn’t a surprise to see her favoring her knees
as we made our way to the parking lot and why
I can’t get the way I saw her first out of my mind.

______

 

331436_399295833471623_1073524040_o1.jpg

These are my red shoes. Not hers. Still.

 

______
I saw her before and after seeing The Unexpected Man at the Touchstone @ American Players Theatre (which is wonderful and which you should go see and which I will write about more if I can think of anything to say other than “perfect”) so of course I couldn’t possibly say anything to this woman about any of this.

The Drawn Line

Excitement at breakfast: a house centipede
dropped from the ceiling (the ceiling fan?)
onto the kitchen table and skittered
(that is their word; almost nothing else
so purely skitters as they) through the clutter
on the table and onto the floor.
My husband rushed in responding
to the hollering and the laughing.
We don’t kill house centipedes at our house.
We gather them up and move them outside.
All of us do that, but this time my husband did
because my son and I were still laughing
and hollering. I kept saying how
I thought it was a mouse. I must have said
“corner of my eye” a dozen times.

The gentle gathering and removing is the mode
for spiders too, for my husband and son. It isn’t mine.
I blithely kill spiders inside. I don’t even apologize.
We all smush ants, every spring
in the seasonal onslaught of ants
which recedes by the middle of June
whether or not we clean obsessively
or put out syrupy poisons, so lately
we do nothing but annihilate them on sight.

And once again I’m fascinated by that line
we draw and where we draw it,
what we kill and what we eat
and what all we’re willing to tolerate.

What makes us say “oh well,”
what makes us say “enough,”
what makes us say nothing at all
because we didn’t see it skittering,
not even from the corner of our eye.

_____

Here’s a great blog post about house centipedes, which advocates for not killing them. I concur. But I’m less open to any blog about live and let live modes for spiders. Or ants.

House_centipede.jpeg

Consolation for the Coming Dark

1
Call it what you want–global weirding,
climate change–it’s just flat-out wrong
to hit 80 degrees in mid-October, in Wisconsin,
mosquitoes swarming like it’s June.
Humid muck and sweat, it makes me long for snow,
reconciles me to the dimming of the light.

2
The third trimester has to be ungodly
uncomfortable, the backaches, the chafing,
the raw, red stretch marks. The pain
that’s coming seems at that point,
if not nothing, then at least something
bearable, something, anything, better
than lumbering around. Just get it out.

3
The love that died,
the job that changed,
the tree that lost its leaves.
Rusted muffler,
curdled milk,
worn out shoes.
The show that jumped the shark,
the friend who wouldn’t go home,
the skirt that fell out of style.
Insufficient postage
on the Star Wars stamp
you found in your desk.

4
What’s next and what’s enough and when
will all of this seem clear and would a funeral help?
To signal things are different now,
I know it’s different now,
the past is done, I know it’s done,
I’m ready to move on?
Tomorrow’s wonderful and awful
and so’s today and is tomorrow’s sunrise,
possibly orange and pink and lovely,
any kind of consolation for the coming dark?
__________

I’ve been enjoying Rob Bell’s podcast lately. He had Peter Rollins on a couple times (always blows my mind) and then a great one on Seasons, which made me think maybe we should have a funeral at my workplace, for the way things used to be.

See, budget cuts have made this a very different place to work. In the classroom it’s much the same (wonderful as always, I tell people, and it’s true), but outside class–really different. We’re functioning, for the most part, doing our best, but it’s really, really different.

Then I decided, no, we shouldn’t have a funeral, because there are already enough people worried my sweet little campus will close.  I don’t think it will close, and having a funeral wouldn’t have meant that I was thinking it would close, but I could imagine someone seeing it that way.

Having a funeral would have meant I understand the past is gone.   Whatever was, isn’t now.  Having a funeral would have meant I could feel what I’m feeling, really give it full vent, and then move on.  Look around and see things with clearer eyes.

So, no funeral.  But I might write down a couple things I particularly miss, and light them on fire in my backyard, and tell them goodbye.  I might sing a little song.  I might read this out loud, from Ecclesiastes 3:

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

And then just because the changes at work come from budget cuts of which I don’t approve, I might also read this one from Ecclesiastes 9:11:

“the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to those with understanding, nor yet favour to those with skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

And then I think I might feel better. Or maybe not.

 

 

 

Somewhere in Eastern Montana on a Train

The rocks rise up just like Jehovah scat,
vast droppings from the great mad God above.
The train won’t stop. I don’t know where I’m at.

I might be lost. I might have been kidnapped.
The train’s so cold I’m wearing gloves.
The rocks rise up just like Jehovah scat,

but they’re not visible on my little map.
The lounge car is the only home I have
because the train won’t stop. Where I’m at

is a deeply pleasing dizzy place, perhaps
because I’m reading The Sheltering Sky, which I love.
The rocks rise up just like Jehovah scat

on these Great Plains! Foothills! The snow, like sand,
obscures the tracks. How do we even move?
The train won’t stop. I don’t know where I am

with all my wonder wander wonder shit.
I’ll be home for Christmas soon enough.
The rocks rise up like Jehovah scat.
The train won’t stop. I don’t know where I’m at.

____________

Christmas 1989  I rode the Empire Builder train from Whitefish, Montana to Chicago and then the train they call the City of New Orleans on down into Southern Illinois. It was a miserable trip. There was a lot of snow and it was very cold (in North Dakota? Who could have expected that?) and the bathrooms kept freezing up. We stopped at every station, trashed the bathrooms, and by the time I got to St. Louis, the train was more than 24 hours late. You can keep your romantic train travel visions to yourself, thank you very much.

Unless you’re Laura Gibson, in which case I feel so lucky to have caught your show at The Shitty Barn.  (Sometimes I can’t stand how lucky I am to live in Spring Green.  The barn’s just a short walk from my house.)

Her new album is called Empire Builder, and as she sang the title track, I was reminded that I’d tried and tried to write a poem that captured the weirdness of that train trip.  Given my track record of poems about that trip (#27yearsoftrying), I may still not have done it.  But I got inspired whilst Laura was singing and wrote it all, there (almost all–revised some when I got home).

So thanks to the Shitty Barn & thanks to Laura Gibson for a great night and a little fit of inspiration. Have a listen to her song “The Cause”  and see if you get inspired your own self.

CiyLLOQWUAI0PdM

Oh, how I love thee, Shitty Barn.

 

 

The Year of Buffalo Pokey

An embarrassment of entertainment riches, really.

In less than a week, all within a few minutes of my house, I’ve seen two great plays and one great concert.

20140702-230914.jpg

Pokey LaFarge and his horn section.

All that greatness is dizzying, apparently.

In a dizzy moment, I asked the usher to help me figure out where I was sitting for David Mamet’s American Buffalo last night.  She looked at the ticket, here:

20140702-230628.jpg

“You’re in Aisle 2,” she said (which was actually the only thing I was confused about–still not quite familiar enough with the aisles in the wonderful Touchstone to know for sure where to go). “Row E, Seat 204,” she said.

Well, all of us looking at the ticket now can clearly see it was Row F.

Imagine if I were sitting near Teach or Donny from American Buffalo.

“Fucking usher,” Teach would’ve said (not taking any responsibility for looking closely at his own ticket).

“Sorry, sorry,” Bobby would’ve said, when the correct inhabitants pointed out they wanted the seat they paid for.

“No shame in a simple mistake,” Donny might have said to himself later in the evening, after moving from Row E, Seat 204, to Row D, Seat 204.

But then what would Teach say, when he realized, after the house manager pointed it out later, that Row D, Seat 204 also belonged to someone else?  And what would he have said when he pulled out the ticket to show the house manager who gently pointed out, “That’s the wrong date.  And the wrong play,” thus:

20140702-230726.jpg

Teach would’ve had a manic meltdown; I just felt flustered (the house manager was just trying to figure out what the issue was; she’d found seats for the other people already). I said I’m sorry a bunch & I’ll say it again, to whomever I displaced, “I’m sorry.”

Last night, the second half of American Buffalo almost immediately distracted me from my flustered state.

What a play.

I’m so, so pleased American Players Theatre decided to do Mamet.  And this play.  With these actors, because, of course–Brian Mani is perfect as Donny, put-upon, and too generous, and forgiving in such a complex way we feel equal parts pity and admiration for how he navigates his little world.

And oh, what frightening fun to watch Jim Ridge as Teach.

Part of the pleasure of going to APT year after year is seeing the actors in different roles. As I was driving home last night I was remembering Ridge as Tartuffe–serpentine and frightening and clever.  I think Teach thinks he’s serpentine and frightening and clever, but what’s frightening is how wrong he is about everything, how worked up he is about how right he thinks he is.  Poor Teach–he’s in a play by Mamet, not Moliere.

Awfully nice work, too, by Brendan Meyer, as Bobby.  And once again, I love plays directed by Kenneth Albers.

If you haven’t gone yet, you should go.  Or, to put in Mamet terms, you should fucking get there already. Lots of shows available from now through October.

You should also go see The Year of Magical Thinking.

Aaron Conklin has a fine review that I concur with, on every point.

In my head, I routinely mis-label Didion’s amazing piece as The Year of Living Dangerously, and that’s not entirely wrong. It’s a dangerous place Didion goes to, narrating her harrowing time when she lost her husband and child. It strikes me as dangerous for APT to have chosen the play, given the difficult subject matter. Sarah Day plunges into the danger of the subject matter, of course–courage has to be in the top five features of her mode as an actor.

And it is a dangerous journey for an audience, but it’s not unrelenting awfulness.  It really did feel like a journey, a necessary one.  There is humor and insight, too, but most importantly, I felt different when I left.  As though I had traveled somewhere I needed to go, and that I could now move on.  Kind of like a gentler, prettier Charon taking me partway across the river Styx and back to the land of the living.  A three-hour tour (well, actually two).

Pretty amazing. Lots of tickets available from now until October.

There are no more tickets for Pokey LaFarge, that show is done.  There are plenty of tickets left for other shows at The Sh*tty Barn, however, and if you’re kicking yourself for missing Pokey, you might get yourself a ticket for Nick Brown on July 30. In the venn diagram of Barn Sessions, there’s some overlap between Pokey and Nick in the area of Gentlemen Country/Western Swing styles–a genre I hadn’t realized I was craving until Nick’s show last summer.

I knew I was going to enjoy Pokey’s music, but I was a little nervous it was going to be hipster country, given the theatricality of the photos.  When I told people about him I’d been saying he looked like k.d. lang and Pee Wee Herman had a love child, and I’m not taking that back because it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever come up with.

But I was happy to find out that k.d. lang was a good call–musically, it was a rich night, and the theatricality was not so much camp as just big, big fun.

The horn section was great:

20140702-230836.jpg

20140702-231006.jpg

20140702-231035.jpg

20140702-231104.jpg

And once again, one of the many extreme pleasures of the Barn is how close you are to the performers.  I zoomed in a little, but not much to get this shot of Pokey his own self:

20140702-231236.jpg

Everyone should come see great stuff in Spring Green. All summer long.

Gentlemen in the Rain, Women in the Sun

How fitting that a play highlighting Proteus
would play on a day with various weathers,
rainy and warm then steamy and warm then pouring and warm
then breezy and cool then cool and calm then warm and calm
with the sun changing clouds into haze and then,
when Sylvia crossed the threshold from backstage,
that moment, I would swear it, did the sun
come out, full on,  and turn her blonde hair into blazing
waves of light. I still can’t see, can’t comprehend
why Valentine forgives his awful friend,
why Sylvia forgives her Valentine
for giving her to an inconstant man.
The woman seeming pitiful I get.
The man offending everyone I get.
I choose to see the Bard as having gaps,
not my heart not my brain with this big lapse.

_____

 

Every Thursday this semester I’m trying to do at least one big thing that reminds me I’m teaching only two courses, and have been allowed the grace and space to spend 20 hours a week on my creativity research.

 

Waiting for Two Gentlemen of Verona to start this morning, I was able to touch base with one of the many wonderful folks at APT who do their work offstage—at some point this fall, I’ll be doing some interviews about creativity (and especially, ironically, when they try NOT to be creative).

 

But it was the play itself I was most focused on today.

 

After all—why research creativity without enjoying the fruits of creativity that my fine little town has to offer?

 

Nice job, everyone—very nice to see Marcus Truschinski in another leading role, and Travis Knight right there with him (and very fun watching the high school girls at the matinee get all swoony).  I think no one does fragility mixed with strength the way Susan Shunk does—it’s like glass and steel all curving around each other. Nice job, Steve Haggard as Launce, and Will Mobley as Speed, using their terrific comic timing to sharpen the focus of the students who were, for the MOST part, dealing admirably with the distractions of rain and wind and then bright sun and heat.

 

And I swear, the sun really did come out right at the moment Abbey Siegworth stepped onstage in her tower.

 

This isn’t my favorite Shakespeare play by any stretch, but I’ve seen APT do it well two times now, and seeing it today gave me fond and bittersweet memories of the last time.  Then, it seemed to me and my friend Lee (may she rest in peace), the director emphasized every possible bit of homo-eroticism in the play (which made Valentine’s actions a little more understandable, if he’s as in love with Proteus as Julia is)

“That was hot,” Lee said to me when we chatted in the aisle right after a performance one night. As I remember it, I could only nod yes.

*

 

APT’s Hamlet is Awesome. Go See It.

Q: How’s Hamlet?

rgbackdrop

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.)