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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Coriolanus @ STC

This year Shakespeare Theatre Company made the interesting choice to pair two military plays simultaneously --- Coriolanus and Wallenstein (Friedrich Schiller). My season tickets are so that I saw Coriolanus now and Wallenstein in a couple of weeks. Some of the casts overlap, which must be difficult.

I like this production of Coriolanus significantly less than the movie version released last year, primarily because Patrick Page's performance did not work as well as Ralph Fiennes in the movie. (I have learned not to automatically favor the Brits in any Shakespearean production, but in this case the Brit is better.) Coriolanus is hard to play --- not a character to easily inspire sympathy, perhaps even more unlikable to female and/or American audience.

The play makes me wonder whether Shakespeare favored democracy. Of course democracy is not a modern phenomenon, but in Shakespeare's time it was hardly the absolute ideal it is regarded today. He made "the people" and their "liberty" seem so stupid and frivolous that today's audience is bound to be disturbed. I wonder whether Coriolanus appeared more heroic and less troubling to audience living in monarchy.

It's about 1) machismo (not in the way Greek mythology does it but in an ironic way), 2) democracy and politics, and 3) family.

Ah, family. Shakespeare is always about family, about parent-child relationships. Is there one relationship in his plays that even approaches the ideal father like Ned Stark? I can't name one. Not that I know of. Each of Willie's parent-child relationship is pain and suffering, so real and so common. Volumnia and Casius Matius are a more typical study of the Oedipus complex than Hamlet.

Even early in Act 1, Shakespeare has a character observe "[He] did it for his mother." A similar point was repeated at the end. If I were the director, I would have Coriolanus deliver the climactic passage "O mother, mother!" in a whisper, with a sob and a sigh, instead of hysterical crying out in both productions. I think it should be done with a kind of resignation and exhaustion, after a lifetime of making sacrifices to Volumnia's wishes. Whom do you think his scars are for?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Zookeeper

Chris is 36, but looks no more than 28, with pink cheeks that couldn't be aged by a two-day stubble and grey eyes are prone to open wide with innocent surprise. After a couple of routine exchanges, he mentioned he worked as a zookeeper for 3 years after he dropped out of college.

"It was so much fun, it was great." He said fondly. "Giving tours to kids. Putting on shows. It was a party all the time."

"How was the pay?" His cruel boss, who constantly ordered him around for menial tasks, asked with a malicious grin.

"Aw, that's the thing," he ran a hand over his short sandy hair. "It paid hardly anything. All my coworkers either lived with four roommates or with their parents, or had a couple of other jobs. Nobody can live on the wage." 

"There's a price to pay for fun." I mused. "What was your favorite animal?"

"Pigs," he replied right away.

"Why?" I didn't expect the response.

"I don't know. They're just so ... smart, fun, and totally happy."

"So you enjoyed rolling around in the mud with them?"

"Yeah! Although they are kind of disgusting," he made a face. "They would eat anything."

"What animals didn't you like?" A colleague sitting next to me, a soft-spoken statistician with a Chinese accent with a round face, asked. We were all engrossed by the zoo stories and temporarily forgot our kebabs and roasted lamb and hummus.

"Monkeys. I thought I'd enjoy them, but it turned out to be the opposite."

"Why? Aren't they smart?"

Chris scratched his chin and reflected for a moment. "Well, yeah, they're smart all right. They are sort of like really evil and perverted humans."

"Are they that bad?" We all chuckled.

"Really. I can't even tell you the stuff they did ..." He shook his head. "Too disturbing."

"My grandfather had a monkey," the statistician said with deadpan seriousness. "He peed on me when I was four. It was totally intentional."

Chris slapped the table laughing. "Yeah, that sounds totally like the kind of things they would do. He was probably jealous of you."

"I'm sure of it," the statistician agreed.

"They can hold a grudge, too, and take it out later. Yuck." Chris said. 

"I guess it's more disturbing because they are so like us," I commented. "Do you miss it, the zoo?"

He shrugged. "I also like money ..."

Bob Greene

Last Saturday's Hot Jazz Saturday Night played a couple of songs from "Bob Greene, Bobby Gordon, Howard Alden Trio: All I Ask is Love" album from 2010. Whoa, it was so lovely! In an old fashioned way. (You have one week to listen to last week's program via Web streaming, and these songs begin at about 64 minutes into it.)

Unfortunately the album is on CD only and no MP3 for immediate download. There goes my instant gratification. (So spoiled.)

Meanwhile, I found a video of Bob Greene playing Mamie's Blues on YT. Again I was struck by how old fashioned his approach is to the melody. No fancy postmodern stuff. But the rhythm, OMG the rhythm! The slight delay in syncopation tickles me so bad --- I mean so good --- that I shiver with delight. I can listen to this all day...

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Tyrant

There is a reason he is loved and hated by many. He's 87 and runs 8 companies, flying around the world in his private jet. He is the worst kind of workaholic. Power has accentuated his temper. Tell him something he does not want to hear, and watch his face turns the color of raw pork liver. He is prone to angry rants made scarier than it really is had he not been rich and powerful.

His wife is 35 years his junior, just young enough to barely keep up with his manic tendencies. He had married half and dozen times, being easily bored and distracted. His moods can shift rapidly. He is able to pat someone on the back minutes after yelling at them. Many find his charisma and dominence irrisistible.

He struck up with a driver and car service owner who happened to pick him up one day at a hotel. The man's humility and workaholic spirit touched him. He gave the driver buisness, referred his rich friends to the service, and even gave gifts to the driver's kids around holidays. Charity is one of his many jobs, as he enjoyed the sense of power and superiority it brings.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Gamble

The R&D business is like gambling. People invest their lives in the drugs they work on. Such attachment occurs even in large pharma where teams are not directly rewarded by the molecules they work on. Still they feel like the drugs are their "babies" and find it difficult to kill a project after developing it for years. The emotional investment grows exponentially if there is the promise of great financial reward. Never underestimate the things people are willing to do for a promise of grandiosity.

I have met some people who chase an FDA approval year after year. Encouraged by the expectation of massive reward (ie, hitting the lottery) once a drug is approved, they sacrifice much in life, particularly choices, to ride the roller coaster. One day, everything looks great and approval is imminent (or seems so). The next, all hope is dashed and investors pull the rug from under your feet. Then suddenly a VC or big buyer sweeps in to the rescue. Success is always just a few steps away yet remains unattainable. Finally, miraculously, the drug is approved and all the past sweat and tears are about to pay off, but the market gives you the cold shoulder. Ah the cruel fate.

Along the way, a necessary ingredient is one or more charismatic leaders with faith and conviction that drive others along in the pursuit. Their belief spreads to others and douses the doubt, binding people with hope and greed, carrying them down a path that could lead to glory or defeat. Hope can lead people to a place they never think they can go --- which may be heaven or hell, or just stuck in a place where they cannot extricate themselves.

Yet it feels so lovely when hope blooms, leading people forward and onward, pursuing not the bird in hand but the ones in the bush. After all, happiness is all in the head, rather than in the bodily comfort and material satisfaction.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Story: The Short-Legged Deer

Once upon a time there was a baby deer who was born with legs half as long as other deer of the same age. She often wondered why her own legs were so short that she always had to trail behind her friends all the time. Her dad told her it was just a phase and, by the time she reached five years old, her legs would grow to the normal length, just like everyone else's legs, and she would be able to run around as fast as her friends, and nobody would remember she had had short legs.

The deer believed her dad and waited patiently for her legs to grow longer. Meanwhile, she shuffled around in her short little legs, making the best of what she had. All the time she had doubts about whether her legs would truly grow out, but hope dies hard. An old deer laughed at her and noted that he had lost an eye in an accident when he had been as young as she, and he never grew a new eye. What was so special about her that her deformed legs would lengthen and make her whole? She agreed that she had never seen such miracles with her own eyes, but then people still talk about miracles and stuff so they must happen sometimes to some people.

Some days, she thought her legs itched and did seem to grow some. Other days her legs looked as short as ever and left her in despair. But days go by nevertheless, never slowing down for her speculations. By the time she was four years and eleven months, the glimmer of hope was re-kindled, and she was really looking forward to the birthday. It was looking less and less likely, as her legs grew some over the years but were still short. She was able to live a fairly normal life and cope with the deficiency. But still, she often dreamed about strutting around with four long, strong legs as beautiful as anyone's. What if? As her fifth birthday approached she could barely contain her nervous anticipation and could sleep only half as much as she usually did.

The day finally arrived. She was awake all night waiting for the miracle to happen. By midnight nothing happened. She waited till sunrise. Nothing happened. Her legs were as stubby as ever. She was crushed and enraged. She kicked tree stumps and rocks and dirt like a mad deer, weeping and wailing at the injustice of the universe, yelling at anyone she knew with envy and hate.

Finally, exhausted, she lay down on the grass and sobbed asleep. When she woke up, it was the day after her fifth birthday. The legs were as short as they had always been. The sun still rose. She was still herself. And the world had not changed for her or anyone else. With short stubby legs and no justice in the world, she stood up and walked on like she had done all her life.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Iron Sky

  

很芬兰的幽默感,大量的讥笑讽刺美国,不知道美国观众有没有看出此片将后布什时代的美国比做纳粹德国的寓意。Timo Vuorensola 用很少的钱 --- 很大一部分来自 crowd funding --- 拍出了不俗的视觉效果和电脑动画。引用很多科幻影片经典,连“元首的愤怒”都放进去了,月亮上的纳粹余孽据说来自 Robert Heinlein 的小说。结尾笔锋一转,由传统动作喜剧转成暗黑系。

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pigs

Recent news again: hundreds of dead pigs floated down the Suzhou River into Shanghai, causing a panic about the quality of drinking water among the city dwellers. Of course, the official story was that the upstream farmers were too lazy to bury the pigs, all died of natural causes, according to usual protocol. However, Chinese have always raised millions or billions of pigs, but such phenomenon of floating pigs by the droves is news.

Association: China is the biggest breeding ground of various strains of influenza virus, which is shared between human and pigs. It is a place where high density of humans, pigs, and poultry live in close proximity. It's a hotbed for natural selection of fresh new strains every year, which are then spread throughout the world via global travelers.

Mental image: In another nine to ten months, dead humans begin to float down the Suzhou River ...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The bed that swallows

Heard news on the radio: A Florida man was swallowed up, bed and all, by a sink hole beneath his house. He was never found.

Associations: The bedsheets sometimes have a few blood stains here and there. It took me some investigation to find out where the blood came from (not from me). At first it seems a bit gruesome.

There might be enough here for a short horror story or something, with bed, sleep, and dreams/nightmare.

Petyr Baelish of Sichuan: Echoes of the 3 Kingdoms

Sometimes my mind makes unexpected associations. A few days ago I was talking to a couple of friends, who are of Sichuan (or Szechuan) ances...

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