Thursday, September 29, 2005

Murder and the desert

My article on The Center Players' production of Rehearsal for Murder was published in the Jackson Free Press this week. It looks to be a fun little show. I read the script, and I couldn't predict who the murderer was. You can read the article here.

Too bad I'll miss the show, because I'LL BE GOING TO ARIZONA!!! WOO-HOO! I fly out on Saturday morning, and I am so excited! I booked a ride over the Grand Canyon in a bi-plane this morning. It's a little risky, I know, but I can't resist sailing over one of the natural wonders of the world. I also made an appointment for a massage in Sedona. Mmmmmmmmm. I have such a good feeling about this trip! I promise a full report on my return!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Have you heard . . . ?

Well, there were rumors circulating around town last week, but now it's official. Malcolm White is the new Executive Director of the Mississippi Arts Commission. I hope this doesn't mean that Hal and Mal's will close . . . ? (I love their red beans and rice AND their blue plate lunches.) Or that the St. Paddy's Day Parade will peter out . . . ? (The Sweet Potato Queens looked so great last year!)

I guess what I'm saying is, the Executive Director of the Mississippi Arts Commission is a full-time job, and I'm already depending on Mal for food and entertainment. Here's hoping that Mal can keep all of the balls in the air!! Don't let me down, dude!

Chilly waters

Last week, I went with my 2 1/2-year-old nephew to see Disney on Ice's Finding Nemo. Now, I'm not going to lie to you. When I heard about this show, I was skeptical. Fish on ice sounded more like the makings of a lunch special than an evening of entertainment. On top of that, I'd dressed for an evening out with the girls that night (my babysitting adventure was a tad unexpected), not for a night of stepping between stadium cups of sugary soda and hopping over seats at the coliseum.

But, on Thursday night, I found myself in the long line of cars Nemo-bound. Our seats were actually very good, quite close to the ice. I'd packed a small blanket in case we got cold, but the temperatures in the coliseum were perfectly comfortable. The lights dimmed, the movie soundtrack began playing, and the show was off.

I take back anything bad that I ever said about fish on ice. The costumes were amazing, extremely inventive. With filmy, diaphonous fins that rippled in the wind as the skaters moved. And when they were hit with the black/blue lights, they glowed through the bluish haze. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. When skaters move, they glide, so the fish really did appear to be swimming. No bouncy movements, just smooth, gentle gliding.

I was so impressed with the set pieces. Because the rink is basically a thrust theatre, no large set pieces that might block sight lines can be used. With a few very minimal but very evocative set pieces, the designers of this show created a fish tank, the deep blue sea, a human-sized scuba diver, and more. What creative thinking!

And my nephew was totally enthralled. Did he want to talk? No. Did he want to leave the rink at intermission, even to go to the bathroom? No. He just kept staring out at the rink, waiting for the performers to come back. When I'd lean over to him during the performance to point something out, he didn't even hear me. He was too busy focusing intently on everything that was happening out on the ice.

All in all, it was a wonderful evening. I'm glad I went. Even this old dog can learn a few new tricks now and then!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Out and about

This week, I went to see New Stage's Noises Off with a group of friends. Noises Off is one of my favorite plays of all time, and I saw a smokin' production of it at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival a season or two ago. The plot revolves around a traveling stage production of a (made-up) play called Nothing On. The audience follows the production's performers and director through the final dress rehearsal and two performances on the road.

New Stage assembled a great cast for their production; they hired some very talented performers. Stand-outs included Ray McFarland as Selsdon, Jo Ann Robinson as Dotty, and John Howell as Tim. The set, which contains something like eight doors, was beautifully done. I thought that in Act I, the pace was rather slow. Because the show is a farce, keeping the pace quick can mean the difference between belly laughs and just general smiles from the audience. Also, I thought that "director" Lloyd Dallas wasn't nearly desperate enough in Act I. The act opens in the wee hours of the morning before opening night, and EVERYTHING is going wrong. I just felt that, personally, if I were directing that show, I would have been WAY more anxious. It would have raised the stakes for everyone, I think, in Act I.

Act II, with its "silent" backstage humor, was great. The actors did a wonderful job with the physical comedy of the act, and the audience I attended with was very much on board. The only change I would have made would have been to have mics on the upstage side of the set. (In Act II, the set for the production of Nothing On rotates, and audience members are treated to a peek at what goes on back stage during the production.) Many of the things that are going on backstage naturally affect what's happening on stage, where the performance is going horribly, horribly wrong. The only problem was that the audience couldn't hear what was going on "on stage," and therefore didn't get some of the great jokes that are written into the script.

Act III was fabulous. Great performances, wonderful general hijinks, and all in all, a hilarious act. How fun! Get on over to New Stage for this production! It runs through this weekend (Sept. 25), and tickets are $18 for seniors/students and $22 for general admission. Call 601-948-3531 for tickets.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Southern story

I watched The Ladykillers, co-directed by Joel and Ethan Cohen, this week. I liked it even better than O Brother, Where Art Thou? In the film, the elderly Marva Munson, a church-going widow who donates regularly to Bob Jones University, rents her spare room to the talkative professor Goldwaith Higginson Dorr (played by Tom Hanks). Unbeknownst to Munson, Dorr has ulterior reasons for wanting to take up residence in her home. Her gracious Southern house practically abuts the underground vault of the nearby Bandit Queen Casino. Not only that, Munson's house has a convenient root cellar from which the cunning Dorr plans to tunnel into the vault.

To gain uninterrupted access to the root cellar, Dorr tells the gullible widow that he needs a rehearsal space for his medieval musical group. (Knowing she is a religious woman, Dorr notes that most of his group's works were "commissioned by the Holy See!" What a hoot!) Of course, Dorr's "musicians" are nothing more than conspirators to his plan. What ensues is an engaging criminal caper movie featuring some of the most interesting characters I've seen on the modern screen.

Tough-talking Gawain (Marlon Wayans) works on the casino's janitorial staff; Pancake (J.K. Simmons) is a camera prop-man with explosives expertise; the tight-lipped General (Tzi Ma) is valuable to the team due to his tunneling abilities; and vacuous Lump is the brawn behind the enterprise. Of course, the poetry-reciting Dorr is the mastermind behind the entire plan. While the bumbling team of thieves is successful in stealing the money, their erstwhile landlord caught on to the crime. When Dorr tries to convince her to take a share of the money in return for her silence, she refuses, insisting that the money be returned and the whole gang attend church with her the following Sunday.

After a brief conference, the criminals decide that someone has to kill the old lady.

I thought this was a fabulous film. I wouldn't call it belly-laugh funny, but it will definitely keep you smiling throughout. Hanks is superb as Dorr, playing a character unlike any I've seen him play before. Irma P. Hall, who plays the squeaky-clean Marva Munson, is also a highlight. The ironic ending, and particularly the final destination of the pilfered money, were both clever surprises.

Friday, September 09, 2005

N'awlins on my mind.

I made a donation to the relief effort this week. Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson (on Old Canton Road) is serving as a distribution center for items. They particularly need water, non-perishable foods, and baby items. They weren't accepting any more clothing or toys this week; they said that they had plenty of both for now, and that they needed the space for other essentials. The Jackson coliseum is still housing about 300 evacuees; I was told by a Red Cross employee there that most other evacuees have been moved to churches and other shelters. The coliseum is now serving as a staging ground to ship supplies to the Gulf coast.

I've been thinking about New Orleans this week. I took my little sister down there last Christmas, just for fun. We stayed in a tony room at the Royal Sonesta on Bourbon Street. (You would have never known you were in the middle of the French Quarter. Our room was so quiet at night, save for the drunken revelers stumbling back to the adjoining room.) We also ate a wonderful dinner at Arnaud's; we chose the pre-fixed menu, enjoying shrimp and stuffed mushrooms, crisp salads, sauteed fish, and strawberries Romanoff, all for a bargain price. We went to see the Christmas lights display in the city park, voting for the running dinosaur as our favorite display. (He wasn't very Christmasy, but he sure was cool.) We also visited the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel, which was decorated lavishly for the holiday season with lit trees, fake snow, a life-sized gingerbread house, and Santa's sleigh. We ate oysters at Felix's, strolled Magazine Street, and visited the Cabildo. We even had puffy, sugary beignets at Cafe du Monde. My little sister was only 20 on our last visit, so we couldn't get into alot of the bars in the quarter. I had promised her that we'd go back this year, so she could enjoy some of the live music and taste a few of the city's hallmark liquid concoctions.

When my husband and I visited New Orleans, we usually ended up at the Aquarium of the Americas. We were both fascinated by the place, and we especially loved the plexiglass tunnel that took visitors inside one of the huge tanks there. Although the building itself did not sustain major damage from Hurricane Katrina, I've learned that most of the fish in the aquarium didn't make it. I can't tell you how sad I am about that. I've resolved to make a donation to help the aquarium recover from their losses.

I am probably like many of the other people who loved to visit New Orleans. Once I determined that all of the people I knew in the city were safely evacuated, I began to think things like, "Did at least one of the Madeline's make it? What about HerbSaint? How did the zoo fare?" There are places in New Orleans that I savor each time I visit. They are like old friends to me, and I hope that they survived. Then there are the places that I hadn't been able to visit yet, things I had not yet done. I want to tour the D-Day Museum. As hokey as it sounds, I still want to take one of those guided walks through a New Orleans cemetery. And I want to listen to jazz at Preservation Hall. (The line is always so long when I visit. I've never once gotten in!)

I've heard much talk about rebuilding New Orleans, and the politicos on television have debated whether it's wise to rebuild a city that sits below sea level. I'm aware that most of the "tourist" area of New Orleans sits above sea level, and that residential areas around that are what seem to be sinking further into the Louisiana wetlands with each passing year. Some engineers have even suggested rebuilding residential areas in different areas, where they would be more secure, and establishing an efficient public transportation system to ferry people back and forth each day. Others want to reconstruct the city just as it was, with reinforced levees.

Either way, when New Orleans is open for business again, I will be waiting. I still owe my sister a return trip.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Glued to the tube

I watched two movies this weekend - 13 Going on 30 and The Station Agent.

First, The Station Agent. There's really not much of a plot to this movie. The primary character is Finn, a dwarf who works in a model train store. When the store's owner dies, Finn discovers that the man (quite possibly his only friend) willed him a small train depot. Finn moves to the depot, most likely planning to live the life of a hermit and grieve the death of his friend. Two new friends - the lonely Olivia (struggling with the death of her son and the dissolution of her marriage) and goofy Joe (who runs a hotdog stand near the depot and seems desperate for companionship) - seem to have other plans. It doesn't sound like much to hang a movie on, but I thought this was a great character-driven film. The performances turned in by all of the primary actors - Peter Dinklage as Finn, Patricia Clarkson as Olivia, and Bobby Cannavale as Joe - were exceptional. At first, I had a hard time warming up to Finn. However, the viewer quickly realizes that Finn has developed a tough hide in order to better endure the cruelties of being a dwarf. By the end of the movie, Dinklage allowed the character to soften a bit, and he ended up winning me over. Cannavale had some masterful scenes. He does such a good job of playing the well-meaning but somewhat annoying sidekick that it is difficult not to fall in love with him immediately. Clarkson, who seems at first a ditzy artist, quickly turns such pigeonholing on its ear, displaying remarkable depth when discussing her dead son and her failing marriage.

All in all, this is a great movie about what it is to be someone who both craves isolation and companionship.

13 Going on 30 is a super-sweet Big for girls. After a particularly awful 13th birthday party, Jenna (played by Jennifer Gardner) wishes she could skip her teenage years and go directly to the "thirty, flirty, and thriving" that she reads about in Poise magazine. When Jenna wakes up, she's just that - thirty years old, with a killer apartment in New York and a job as a top editor at Poise. However, the more she discovers who she's become in search of her ideal life, the less she recognizes herself. Jenna looks up an old elementary school friend, Matt (played by Mark Ruffalo), and she realizes that she made some serious mistakes in her life. Naturally, Jenna is given the chance to go back and correct any errors when she's returned to her true age - 13 - and allowed to live the life she was meant to live.

Ok, so the premise of this story is far-fetched. And it's almost saccharine in its sweetness. But between Gardner and Ruffalo, 13 Going on 30 pulls it all off. Gardner, in a true comedic role, shines. Her goofy enthusiasm and wide-eyed innocence are pitch-perfect for this film. Ruffalo's open-hearted devotion to Jenna, as well as his reluctance to break his fiancee's heart, are also well-played. While this was a movie that I wasn't sure I would enjoy, enjoy it I did. It's a great family film. You can check your intellect at the door and just relax into this feel-good movie.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Movies and books.

Well, to pass the time, I've been watching alot of movies and reading alot of books. I just finished watching Before Sunset, with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. While I didn't find the movie earth-shattering or anything, I thought Delpy turned in a GREAT performance. She had a veryatural style of delivery in this film. I wonder how much of the dialogue was scripted and how much was ad-libbed . . . ? It was a short movie, which I also thought was a good choice. There's only so much of characters chit chatting while they leg it around Europe that one can take. I liked how the end of the movie was left ambiguous, but not in an annoying way. Any thinking viewer can guess what happens next, but the movie doesn't hit you over the head with it.

I also read Shem Creek, a novel by Dorothea Benton Frank. I thought it was great! In Shem Creek, Linda, a single mother, decides to move her family from New Jersey to South Carolina, where she grew up. She lands a job in a local restaurant, and Frank thrills the reader with descriptions of fluffy biscuits, mouth-watering pound cakes, and seafood in all its glorious paramutations. (I love how Southern novels - and often, plays - seem to incorporate food as such a basic part of their stories. In the South, food is very central to culture. ) As a result of her move, Linda rekindles her relationship with her sister, strengthens her bonds with her daughters, and finds true love. Now, who wouldn't like reading about that? It had a happy ending, which was something I was desperately needing, given all of the grim news coverage these days.

As for my Labor Day plans, they subsist of staying at home and trying not to use any gas. So, I'll be movie-watching and, perhaps, book-reading. Next up - 13 Going on 30 and The LadyKillers.

God bless.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Still here.

We have been so blessed. I now have electricity! We cleaned out the fridge and cleaned up the front yard. Yesterday, I went to the grocery store to re-stock. This is going to sound crazy, but I was really reassured by all of the neat rows of food. It didn't look as though they were running out of anything at Brookshire's. I talked to one of the employees there, and he told me they'd had to throw away two 18-wheelers of spoiled food.

This whole disaster has got me thinking. In America, the upper and middle classes are not acquainted with the idea of shortage. We have taken it for granted that there was always plenty of everything we needed, wanted, as long as we could pay for it. So the idea that a store might be out of, say, eggs or ground beef or bottled water or whatever is totally foreign to us. It makes us extremely uncomfortable. That's where we are with the gas situation right now. We know that supplies are limited. People are panicking, lining up at pumps to top off, etc. It makes us all nervous. And because we are a culture based on the automobile, many of us live a good ways from where we work. Since we want to be able to continue our "normal" lives (and perhaps because we are such a work-obsessed culture), we want to continue to go to work, even though gas is scarce. (Waits in line for gas seem to average around five hours, if you can even find a station that's pumping.) It's just an odd situation, and much of it seems to play into our identity as Americans.

I've made contact with my friends and family from the Coast and New Orleans. Thank God, they are all still alive, though most of them lost everything. Now, they are trying to decide what to do next. My husband's brother-in-law is back on the Coast, trying to begin the clean-up and rebuilding process. Other friends are in Montgomery, Baton Rouge, and other cities, staying with friends and family.

I was reading back on my earlier post about staying on the Coast at the Beau Rivage. It's eerie to me, when I think of the fact that I was just there, and now the area is so changed. I have a guidebook on New Orleans. I took my little sister there last Christmas, and I was thinking we might go again this year. I had highlighted all the restaurants that I wanted to try. I think I''ll keep the book. There's no way of knowing what will happen in this world.

I was also thinking about the reputation of the South in this country. We may be the butt of alot of jokes about stupidity and backwardness, but the aftermath of this hurricane shows the proof of our value to the United States. The whole nation has been thrown into a fuel crisis because the Gulf is a producer of oil for America and New Orleans is a major port city, with pipelines running north. I've read several articles about the price of fresh produce, and how it's about to go up, because Southern farms have been devastated by Hurricane Katrina. I still haven't heard the status of the Stennis Space Center yet. Let's hope it's still there.

Anyway, I guess the long and short of it is, when you're sitting around without power, or if you're stuck at home without gas to go anywhere, you have ample time to ruminate. Please forgive my ramblings.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

What to write . . .

The world has changed since my last post. Hurricane Katrina swept the gulf coast, obliterating Gulfport, Biloxi, and New Orleans, among other cities. The population of Jackson has swelled to accommodate refugees, and lines for gas, ice, and other supplies are springing up all over the metro area.

Many residents in metro Jackson have been without power since Monday, although more and more people I speak with are having their power restored everyday. Some were without water, although that is now improving, too. Phone service is spotty, particularly cellular service.

We lost some shingles from our roof, and we had tons of tree limbs in our yard. We lost power, but we never lost water service. (Thank you, Pearl River Valley Water Supply District.) Tonight, we'll head home, try to cover the roof, and empty out the fridge. I've heard that power has now been restored in my home (We'll find out tonight.), but even if it hasn't been, I'm still one of the lucky ones.

Troy, my husband's brother-in-law, rode out the storm on the coast with his parents, his aunt and uncle, and his brother's extended family. Miraculously, they all survived. Troy's house is even intact. They have been spending the last few days clearing roads in their neighborhood, ripping ruined carpet and furniture out of homes, and trying to stay alive. He drove up to Clinton last night, and we tried to help him stock up on water, ice, food, and gas. He headed back down there this morning. What a nightmare. God bless them and keep them.