Thursday, November 21, 2013

My Experience with Romeo and Juliet

So last night, I went to see the Folger Theatre's production of Romeo and Juliet, the start of their 2013-2014 season (as a side not, I have actually seen their season opener show every year for the past three years, thanks to the marvelous UMBC Honors College!). Now, before, as Dr. Spitz would say "daily life presses in and the magic of the theater is gone", I thought I'd spit out my thoughts on the production, for whatever members of the public care to read it. This assumes you are familiar with Romeo and Juliet, but not with this production of it (Show details and spoilers contained below so look out). This is the third time I've seen Romeo and Juliet (I saw it in the summer, with the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, during "Shakespeare in the Ruins" and I saw it as a high school production with Granite Classical Tutorials).

The Good:
Some scenes were absolutely amazing. I'd been told beforehand (by the lovely Michelle Osherow, an actress in this particular show, the Folger's resident dramaturg, and by far one of my favorite UMBC professors) to look for the scene with Juliet's stuffed animal, so I did, and I really liked how that played out. It's the traditional balcony scene, but in it, Juliet appears to be consulting with her stuffed bunny about her feelings for Romeo. When she realizes he has been listening, she throws away her bunny and runs to talk to him. That, as Dr. Osherow points out, lets us "say much about Juliet's coming of age in the story--the transition from child to adult and the vulnerability signified by the object".

Following this transition, Juliet changes into a much more womanly character - both figuratively and literally, in that she changes costumes. Note that she was the only character to completely change costume - which I found to be an extremely interesting choice. What started as a slightly scruffy little girl costume (short gray dress, hipster glasses) transitioned to a more sexy woman's costume (very sheer white lace dress, black fishnet stockings), and ultimately just a black bra and pajama pants (when she and Romeo are sharing their final farewells). There were some other costumes, but those where the most notable for me. Juliet was definitely the star in terms of character development, and the actress played that out well, demonstrating the innocence of the child up to the resolve of the woman who ultimately kills herself over her husband's dead body. My hat is off to the actress who played Juliet.

Connected to my affinity for Juliet, I found one scene, where Lord Capulet is abusing his wife and daughter, to be absolutely horrific. He is yelling at Juliet for not marrying Paris, and Lady Capulet gets in between him and her daughter and gets slapped. I know I audibly gasped when he 'slapped' Lady Capulet. There's a particular part of the show where he is pacing up and down the middle aisle while Juliet, Lady Capulet and her Nurse are all hugging each other in the corner, and I was filled with outrage at this scene. I remember thinking "He's being a drunk abusive father!" (Lord Capulet is seen holding a glass with some kind of alcohol in 90% of his scenes in the show if not more). It was such a contrast to the happy father that we'd seen before, so all in all a very powerful scene.

In fact, the entire Capulet family in this production was really admirable. Juliet and her father I have already discussed, so I'll touch briefly on the rest - Lady Capulet had what I feel like is the appropriate steely resolve for a woman who is stuck in an abusive marriage (and at that time had no way to get out), and she did actually look like the actress who played Juliet, so they had a believable chemistry as a mother-daughter pair. The woman who played Juliet's Nurse played it much as the Nurse is always played - a slightly comic character who sympathizes with Juliet - but she played it well, upping the comedic elements. I also really liked the actor who played Tybalt - I've never seen him as a sympathetic character, but always as a villain. In this production, his indignation at Romeo attending the Capulet's party seemed more justified, and his fighting more "for the honor of my family" than "I'm a hot blood who just likes fighting".

The Bad:
One choice the director of this show made was to have multiple scenes playing on stage at the same time. It's a bit tough to explain if you don't see it, but essentially, when things are happening at the same time but in different places, they are on stage at the same time, saying their lines alternately with each other. It makes some artistic sense, to express that these are concurrent events, but I found it hard to follow and improbable (i.e. when Juliet is standing in front of Romeo, even though I realize they're supposed to be in different scenes, it frustrates me that they don't talk and just resolve the problems).

The way they chose to do Friar Lawrence was not my favorite. I've seen very religious Friars, I've seen Vegas Friars (Leonardo DiCaprio movie, if you're wondering), but I've never seen one before where they focused on the drug-dealer kind of personality the Friar has with his non-poison for Juliet. This Friar opened his scene with a flower and some humorous comments about the power of plants, particularly weeds, which got a few chuckles. It's an interpretive choice, and the actor played it well, but I didn't like it all that much.

I also found this interpretation of Mercutio to be a bit too bawdy for my taste. The Mercutio I was expecting is usually a friend of Romeo's trying to bring him out of his funk - this interpretation had him, in my opinion, being more selfish, looking for his drinking buddy to return and mocking Romeo. I feel like the famous Queen Mab speech (which doesn't make much sense, I agree, but which can be very engaging) fell a little flat, and that, for a dying man, he was yelling awfully loud about a plague on both their houses. What I liked about the interpretation of Tybalt (i.e. rather than being a villain, her was provoked) came from what I didn't like about this Mercutio (rather than defending his friend, he was selfishly looking for some fun). Similar comments apply to Benvolio's character.

Now, in all the productions of Romeo and Juliet that I've seen, I have never really like Romeo - I mean, the guy is just a flake. "Oh I love Rosalind" "Oh forget Rosalind I've seen a new beauty" "Oh Tybalt, you're my cousin I won't kill you" "Oh Tybalt, you slew my friend, death to you" - he can't really make up his mind about anything. That being said, this particular Romeo actor didn't do a bad job, he just got stuck playing what I perceive to be an annoying character.

The Ugly: (or the miscellaneous, as I wouldn't say it's ugly, just things that didn't fit anywhere else)

The Montague parents didn't get a lot of stage time, which is probably good because, since Dr. Osherow was playing Lady Montague, and I had a hard time trying to separate out my beloved professor from Romeo's mother when I saw her on stage - although she was an excellent actress, especially in her chilling suicide scene. One thing I did observe was that Lady Capulet looks a lot younger than either of the Montague parents or of her husband, which was unusual.

Benvolio carries a flashlight lantern that got shined in my eyes several times based on my seat in the theatre. Annoying, but not the fault of the actor, as he's just holding a prop and trying to say his lines at the same time.

Final Note:
My favorite production so far of Romeo and Juliet is still the GCT high school one (even though this one was good). There's just something different about seeing Romeo and Juliet being acted out by actual teenagers, not adults pretending to be teenagers. Also, since the show at GCT included a range of actors from ages 13-18, the show had much more innocence and was really about teenage puppy love rather than about the sex, drugs, rebellion etc. that adult shows make it. However, I love the Folger and will keep seeing shows there and really do want to applaud the 13 cast members of Romeo and Juliet for their performance (and to thank Brian Dykstra, who plays Lord Capulet, for his interesting and insightful actor blog posts on the Folger's Production Blog!)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

BLOGWriMo: My NaNoWriMo story

While browsing my old blog posts trying to discover what ideas I had already covered and weather or not I should keep going with my monthly blogging, I found this old post from last July.

In this post, I introduced a bunch of characters from a Sleeping Beauty retelling that I wrote. It's not a bad beginning, so perhaps I'll finish writing that story. Since I'm several words behind NaNoWriMo, I'm going to make it a short story instead of a full on novel, but I AM going to do it (and I'll post updates when I have them). One thing I need to figure out though is when do I think the original sleeping beauty story was set? Unless I change it to sleeping for 1000 years, my Mary is likely not going to be in the present day (which is why steam punk could be fun).

To get to the purpose of this blogging every day this month (live journal-ing, aka documenting my life) - today was Crystal's Birthday (she's a staff member in my scholars program) so Alec and I bought her a cake and sparking cider and surprised her which was SO MUCH FUN (Alec and I spent 45 minutes just wandering around Giant waiting for cake decoration and hanging out). And then I spent a good hour after class just hanging out with my best friend Christina (she was applying for jobs so I read her cover letter draft and we chatted about life in general). So I still have the big network security project hanging over my head (by the way, being a girl in CS, all my male classmates are more than willing to help out and it's awesome. I am gonna miss those guys when I graduate. We're not friends, exactly, but I see some of them everyday and we do have relationships built up) but overall today I picked friends over academics and it paid off. I might end up working late tonight, but that's OK by me.

Monday, November 4, 2013

BLOGWriMo: The Surface Pro commercial

Hopefully you've seen the commercial I'm about to discuss. Here's what happens in the commercial:
1. There's a scene on an airplane
2. There's a photo shoot scene
3. There's a camping sequence

I hope you recognize it. I can't seem to find it on YouTube. But I alternately love, hate, and get confused by this commercial, and I wanted to explain why.

So, the first scene is some kind of business woman on a flight, opening her tablet to get some work done. A cute little girl looks over the seat at the tablet, the lady looks up, smiles, and turns her tablet (with her work on it) so that the little girl can see.

Why I love it: first, it depicts a working woman who's successful. Not enough of those in the world. Second, it shows her sharing her knowledge with a littler girl, inspiring her. I absolutely am in favor of that.

Second scene is some kind of modeling shoot. They're talking photos of a stunning brunette, and a guy loads the photos on to his tablet and starts drawing on the model.

Why I hate it: We have a lot of beauty issues in this day and age. This guy feeling the need to draw on and edit the already stunning model? Not helping.

Third scene is a woman in the wilderness, camping in the dark. She uses the tablet to open a stargazing app.

Why I get confused: What's the point of going to the wilderness if you're taking technology with you? And while I'm all for women in the wilderness, I'm a little concerned about her safety, being all alone.

Overall, this commercial doesn't make me excited about the surface Pro.

BLOGWriMo - Failing at blogging

So. Today is the fourth. And that means I didn't blog yesterday. So I missed the goal of writing on my blog everyday this month. Which...I don't know, might mean I don't even try to keep going? I'm much less motivated now. I did write yesterday, but I wrote two articles for The Retriever Weekly, not blog-worthy stuff (it was 1000+ words though!). So maybe I won't discount myself just yet. We'll see. Maybe I just use blogging as an excuse to not do homework?

Now, what homework might I be avoiding? Well, we have a project in Network Security that is rather vague. I understand the purpose of the vagueness is to get us to explore, experiment, and ultimately learn, I think it's tough that this exploration has to occur in an out-of-class assignment. I'd much rather the exploration be in a lab, or some place that we can ask for assistance, rather than getting caught in frustrations working all alone. Especially as a teaching aide myself, I have lots of opinions about educational pedagogy and this is not something I find at all helpful. However, this is a graduate level course, and the open-ended nature is, I think, defined by my level of expertise and education. If only I were still a freshman.

Well anyways I am going to go do my assignment instead of ignoring it and I will definitely not be hitting 50K words this month so you may or may not hear from me tomorrow.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


Yikes. I didn't expect to have to write a post that was titled "I don't know" until much later in the month. Also, I am quite short of the required word count if I really want to get to 50 thousand words. But as this is not a novel, it's just my unfiltered thoughts, I'm not as concerned about hitting the word total. I'm just subbing in for the fact that I didn't do BEDA (Blog Every Day in April) this year. If I'm really ambitious, next year I'll get both BEDA and my NaNoWriMo substitute written - wouldn't that be an accomplishment! Anyways, so what shall I write about today...Podcasts?

Saturdays are my Podcast days. I listen to Rhett and Link's EarBiscuits interview show, Tom Merritt and Veronica Belmont's Sword and Laser book club, NPR's TED Radio Hour, the Adventures in Odyssey podcast, and The Skit Guys podcast. I really love podcasts, because it's like a radio show that I decide when it airs. I like podcasts because I can listen to them while I'm doing laundry/dishes or cooking or blogging (I'm listening to Sword and Laser right now. By the way, they have a Kickstarter going right now for their video show - you should check it out). I also listen to podcasts as white noise before I go to bed.

Back in...I think it was September? I tried to listen to "The Curse of Challion" on audiobook from Audible using my free book from the Sword and Laser podcast. It was a great book, read by an excellent reader, but my problem was that I would either fall asleep or somehow stop paying attention or...well, you get the idea. For the podcasts, I can fade out and then pop back in and listen and still know what the hosts are talking about, mostly. With a fiction book, I can't really do that because I miss super crucial plot points.

As I am still listening to a podcast while I write this, they are talking about NaNoWriMo and apparently there is a short story writing alternative to the full on there is something I would like to do! Perhaps I will need to think long and hard about what to write a short story on. The problem that I have almost always run into when I attempt to write fiction is that I don't actually enjoy dreaming up characters in a world of my own. I love reading about them, but why would I live in a fantasy world when the world that I actually live in demands so much of my time and attention? There are things out there that need capturing in the world. Unless I model my fiction after the lives of my friends (which I really think would be a dangerous activity - just look at what happens in "the Help" when they did that) I can't come up with anything original!

Speaking of novels, one of my fellow bloggers who I tend to mention a lot, Kati Woronka, has a great novel, "Dreams in the Medina" available for download. I promised her sometime ago that I would write a review, but never actually sat down to do it (to my shame). However, I did get it reviewed in my school newspaper and really enjoyed reading it. It tells the story of a female university student in Syria, and if you have time, I'd totally recommend it.

Well. I am falling well short of the requisite number of words. However, I have to write this week's staff editorial for the Retriever Weekly, so I'm gonna go do that now, and then do the project for Network Security that has been released for about a week and that I have hardly looked at (it's due in two weeks but it's a lot of work) and take a shower and do the other things that a 21-year-old who doesn't go out to bars and stuff on the weekend does with her life. However, just so you all don't think I'm a complete recluse, I did go see the new Ender's Game movie last night (very true to the book but managed to not leave out those who have not read the book, I really liked it) and I spent a good three hours hanging out with my friend Christina today. I promise, I'm not a hermit. And on that wonderful note I'm going to sign off for today.