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"...and all the finches of the grove"

Last night I got to screen the insanely glorious 1982 production of The Critic for new friends.   What a joy!

I adore theatre about theatre, and films about theatre:  above all, about theatrical fiasco.  I so love The Critic (1982), which culimnates in a dementedly bad production of the tatters of a tissue of twaddle.  Unlike the producers in The Producers (1968), Mr. Puff is perfectly assured of his genius. So are the delusionals in Waiting for Guffman (1996).  That's hilarious, but ouch!  There's a strong scent of burning dreams about it, like a bonfire of plastic cups.  In the Bleak Midwinter (otherwise A Midwinter’s Tale, 1995) follows an ad hoc company of misfits, neurotics, and visionaries trying to put on Hamlet in a church at Christmas.  It's a slighter version of the wickedly brilliant Slings & Arrows (2003-2006).  And now we're getting close to the threshing floor, to the great mystery of how theatre happens.

Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?
Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Hugh Fennyman: How?
Philip Henslowe: I don't know. It's a mystery.

Never mind the romance in Shakespeare In Love (1998):  it's the company of players that I treasure.  They're all somewhat fantastical--brilliant caricatures of real figures mingled with imaginary ones--but that Romeo and Juliet they put on is a good production.  In Topsy-Turvy (1999), there 's a very real-seeming world of Victorians working to create an transcendently fantastical world on stage.  Both unreal, of course:  it's a film.  But they're all fully there, all these cranky, egotistical people in terribly hot clothes, from the rehearsal pianist and Miss Sixpence Please to Gilbert and Sullivan themselves.  (Mike Leigh does the best 19th century ever.  Can't wait to see Mr. Turner.)

Other films are about the unmaking of the mystery.  The Dresser (1983) follows a touring company during World War II, made up of Shakespeareans too old or too fragile to fight, who can only gallantly distract.  Their great tragedian, Sir, is off somewhere in the marches of dementia; his dresser, who loves him devotedly, tries hold him together, to get him through one more performance, and one more.

Stage Beauty (2004) is about the cisgendering of the theatre in the Restoration.  Edward Kynaston, the last of the boy players, whom Pepys called "the loveliest lady that ever I saw in my life," is about to be replaced by an actress. (Farewell!  Desdemona's occupation's gone.)  A woman playing a woman!  Where's the artistry in that?  This movie actually thinks, just a bit, about gender performance.  It also has that scene of Charles II with terrible wig hair, in bed with Nell Gwyn and about a zillion spaniels that cracks me up when I remember it.  Sadly, it also has the invention of method acting in the 1660's.  Sigh.

So what are your favorites films about the theatre?  I'd love to find new delights.



large tilesmall tile

The nice guys from Symmetry Tile Works were back at the corner crafts fair, so I treated myself to two more tiles in their Queen Anne's lace series.  The weeds come from a local horse farm.  The artists press them into the clay with a rolling pin--those are all real silhouettes--pick them out again, sprinkle the slab thickly with pulverized bottle glass, and fire at 2350º F.  If you like, you can bring them flowers from your own garden, and do your bathroom up in lost summers.  They also do sea-themes (shells, sea-horses), and animals--they joke that the pygmy elephants from off the coast of Madagascar put up a tremendous fight.




Tosci's (bless 'em) writes:  "We had an event at the store for fantasy superstar Greer Gilman, and her new book,"Exit Pursued by a Bear I love this photo because it looks like a renaissance painting of Aristotle explaining something. Puppeteer Dan Butterworth is seated at the left with one of his characters. Entirely wonderful evening."

It was!


Bear Party!

"...yet if the Puppets will please any body, they shall be entreated to come in."--Ben Jonson

This evening was a threefold celebration, of my birthday, of my dear friend B's birthday, and (belatedly) of the entrance on this world's stage of Exit, Pursued by a Bear.  It was fabulous!


We gathered at that Cambridge icon of ice cream, Toscanini's, where Gus and Adam had outdone themselves.  Among the flavors on offer were:  their signature Burnt Caramel, Belgian Chocolate, 60% Dark Chocolate, a dazzling new Citrus Chocolate (with Grand Marnier and lemon essence), a stunning Sour Cherry Sorbet, Basil, Hazelnut, Salty Caramel, Butter Chocolate Chip, Cherries and Chips--and that's just what I tasted.  I got a roll of red tickets for my friends, who could have as much of everything as they wished.  Dispensing them, I felt like the man on the merry-ground, with brass rings for all.  Let joy and waistbands be unconfined!

And we talked, talked, talked.  If heaven is anything like this, I am there.

Tosci's decorated for us, bless them.


And B, the great Mistress of Revels, had arranged the most glorious, hilarious, bewitching show for us.  On came a little baroque trumpeter, sleeves flapping, and played his heart out for himself.


He is the creation of B.'s childhood friend, the marvellous Dan Butterworth (whose father wrote the children's science fantasy classic, The Enormous Egg).  At the back of the picture is Gus, behind my Small Beer bear shirt.


Butterworth is the carver and choreographer of his little theatre, and an exquisite puller of strings.  This terrific blues harlequin danced next, moving like a serpent's tongue:  insinuating, louche, and light.


And third came a bit with a dog:  a ridiculously friendly pooch, a leaper on laps and a licker of ears.  As well as a piddler on shoes.

Hard to follow that act, but I read a little teaser--just four pages--from the next Ben story.  April in Paris, 1612:  Donne and Jonson on the Left Bank, on a book and boîte crawl.  They were both really truly in Paris in that spring, and I just had to do something with that.

I loved having so many dear and amazing friends around me, eating ice cream in the winter.  Bliss.

Now we are Nine Times Seven.



Happy birthday, papersky!  Here's to another annus mirabilis.


Dance, witch, dance

A lovely review of my old story "Down the Wall," reprinted in The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women.  Nina Allen has quoted from and briefly reviewed every last story in the book, starting here.  This looks to be an amazing anthology, and I'm thrilled to be among such brilliant, edgy, august, and dazzlingly diverse company.


Put a fork in it

Good gravy!  I am fascinated (and astonished) by this Thanksgiving bill of fare, listing each state's most-often Googled dishes, as compared to other states.  (Turkey is ubiquitous.)  The Times cautions, "You should not interpret the dishes here as the most iconic Thanksgiving recipes in each state, or even a state's favorite dish. It’s possible that some dishes are so central to a state’s culture that people there don’t need to search for them on the web, for instance."

There are dishes here undreamt-of in this snooty Eastern enclave.  I mean, ooey gooey bars! pig pickin cake! dirt pudding with gummy worms! frog eye salad!  That last came first in Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming, and third in Utah, where it was topped by funeral potatoes.  The Times demurely comments that their "Stylebook warns against overusing the word 'unique,' so we’ll just tell you that we’re not aware of any other salad that combines pasta, fruit, eggs, whipped cream and marshmallows."

Actually there's nothing that this country won't call salad:  there's pretzel salad, strawberry pretzel salad, pretzel jello salad, snicker salad, cookie salad.  All of them "whipped-cream delivery devices."

Some states have robuster palates:  West Virgina likes deer jerky, and Maryland, sauerkraut.  Some are staunchly tradtional:  good old Squashachusetts and the Nutmeg State are for gourds and creamed onions, and Alaska for cranberry relish.  Virginia votes collard greens.  Oregon is all about vegan.   Illinois craves velveeta.  (What?)  Tennesse does coca cola cake.  There are offerings I thought would rank higher--but no.  String bean casserole, apparently, is fading out.  Even jello isn't what it was--or maybe these are dishes everyone does in their sleep.

Ethnic goodies embrace lefse (not only in Minnesota but in Washington state).  Arizona favors turkey enchiladas.   Florida likes flans, coquito, pavochon.

What else looks good?  Persimmon bread, smoked salmon dip, corn pudding, crab dip, apple cobbler, cornbread dressing, chocolate chess pie.  Mmm, turducken.  Garlic mashed potatoes, mirliton casserole, maple glazed carrots, venison stew, creme caramel. ...

What are your Thanksgiving dishes?  What have you escaped?



So for ages now I've been promising myself a really pretty wooden jigsaw—talk about a frivolous indulgence!  I really like the look of Liberty Puzzles, both their choice of images and style of cut.  Just look what they've hidden in the Primavera!


And how they've made Europa out of Europe:



But oh, those Vermeers!

Liberty does cut custom images, and I've long wanted to send them this Jan Brueghel, The Allegory of Sight, which is a great favorite on my iPad.  My game is to do each part of it separately, as far as I can—the view through the window, the orrery, the blue and white vase with the flowers, every painting—and then put all the littler puzzles together into one big one.  But at that size, you can't see how absolutely stuffed it is with pretty things.  It took me a long while to notice that the monkey has spectacles.


And now there's this:

The Days of Creation (65 px)

I could see Liberty cutting out each cosmos individually, five spheres.  Sadly, this group falls into one of their categories, Stolen Art.  The Fourth Day is lost.

(The montage is mine.  Have I made the bars broad enough?)

What do you think?


A sail! A sail!

"Hieros Gamos," a Cloudish vignette, will appear in Rose Lemberg's An Alphabet of Embers.  This looks to be a lovely anthology.


By the pricking of my thumbs...

O my.  There are witch marks carved in the timbers at Knole:  scorched with a candle flame, and scored in a tangle of maze marks to entrap demonic spirits.  They are under the floorboards and round about the fireplace—chimneys are vulnerable—of the state rooms prepared for a visit by James I.  The oak was felled in 1606, within months of the Gunpowder Plot.

This makes me grin.