Thursday, December 28, 2006

Reading, eating, napping

One of my co-workers had the absolute inspiration to give me a gift certificate to Lemuria, a local bookstore, for Christmas. Lemuria has long been a respite for thinkers in Jackson, and the store also supports Southern writers with lots of readings and signings. Needless to say, I rushed right over to pick out some holiday reading material.

First, I read Wicked, the fanciful novel by Gregory Maguire that tells the life story of Elphaba, better known as the Wicked Witch of the West. I loved it. Baum only told us Dorothy's side of the story in The Wizard of Oz. In Maguire's novel, the reader becomes enmeshed in the politics, philosophy, and world order of Oz. The novel hotly debates the topic of evil through various conversations and plot lines, showing us that everyone has a reason for their actions and that people often simply misunderstand one another. In addition, it explores themes of isolation (Elphaba, with her green skin, is different from her friends/neighbors, a thing to be scoffed at or perhaps feared), commitment to a cause (and what sacrifices that may entail), and love. The characters are richly imagined, and unfortunately for Elphaba, we all know how the story ends.

Secondly, I finished reading Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris. Another winner. I am so enjoying getting to know this writer. In this book, we learn a bit more about his family. His mother sounds like an absolutely fabulous woman, someone I probably would have gotten along with very well. (In the hilarious "Let it Snow" essay, she efficiently kicks the children out of her house during a snow day, desperate for some peace and quiet. And in "The Girl Next Door," she casually mocks her son's correction of her own Chinese menu interpretations. "Oh, he speaks Chinese now! Tell me, Charlie Chan, what's the word for six straight hours of vomiting and diarrhea?") The details of his siblings' lives are also recounted, and Sedaris guiltily acknowledges his own vulture-like tendencies to turn private family moments into public reading material. Funny, funny, funny.

Now, I'm reading Naked, also by Sedaris. I promise a full review once I finish it up.

Last night, we met friends for dinner at Pan Asia, a wonderful restaurant off County Line Road in Ridgeland. After two appetizers (lettuce wraps and crab and avocado spring rolls), I had the Tom Yum soup with shrimp. Tom Yum is a delicious clear soup, flavored with whole mushrooms, lime leaves, and lemongrass. For dessert, I indulged in the Thai Lime Tart, which I highly recommend. Even better than the delicious food and great service was the company. A friend and her boyfriend were visiting from New York, and I'd seen neither of them since the summer. It was fun to catch up. I'd so missed her.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Me thought funny it was.

I just finished reading David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day, and I am hooked. I will go out today to a book store and find some of his other titles for my holiday reading list. My affection for Sarah Vowell led me to Sedaris, as they both work with National Public Radio and write short, humorous essays. She had referenced him in one of her public appearances that I watched, and so I felt compelled to find out a bit more about his work.

Sedaris has a biting, morose writing style. He's fascinated with the macabre. He is gay. Although he grew up in North Carolina, he's spent a good deal of time living in France and New York City. He has a wonderful vocabulary. Taken together, these qualities make for hiliarious story-telling. His accounts of learning French while living overseas are particularly funny. (Note: do not drink milk while reading these sections. It will spew.) And because the book is essays, most of them 5 or so pages long, you can put it down and pick it back up at any time. (Although you will have a hard time putting it down. I read most of it in a day.)

Just go and read it. You'll thank me later.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

On the loose.

I watched How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days last week, and I thought it was a fun, endearing little romantic comedy. Premise: Andie (Kate Hudson), a writer for a frou-frou New York fashion magazine, is researching a story on all the little, almost unconscious things that women do to drive away the men they love. Ben (Matthew McConaughey), a competitive advertising executive, is trying to win a bet that he can get ANY woman to fall in love with him in order to secure a pitch for a huge diamond account. The timeline for both of our leads? Ten days. Of course, the two unwittingly fall for each other, which makes for some interesting fireworks once truths on both sides are eventually revealed.

Lighthearted and fun, McConaughey and Hudson make a beautiful couple with no small amount of onscreen chemistry. I hadn’t seen McConaughey in a role I liked him so well in since Contact. He displays plenty of confidence and cocky charm, and flashes his trademark smile often enough to keep you interested. The only scene that really didn’t work for me was near the end, at a swank dinner party, once both girl and boy discover one another’s true motivations. A particularly bad karaoke performance was not the tool I would have chosen for them to vent their frustrations. Other than that, though, it was both entertaining and endearing.

Speaking of Hudson and McConaughey, they will be paired again for Fool’s Gold, which is currently shooting in Australia. Also, there is a fabulous cover story on McConaughey in this week’s edition of Entertainment Weekly. What a cutie!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Dickens Down South.

On Sunday, hubby and I went to see New Stage Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol. We both really enjoyed it. The script that New Stage uses is an adaptation of Dickens' original story, created by Ivan Rider (a former artistic director of the theatre).

This year, Sam Sparks was directing, and we knew oodles of the cast members. It was really fun to watch. This production incorporated a lot more music than I recall from previous years, probably because the talented cast was able to sing as well as act.

The house was absolutely packed. (In fact, we’d tried to get tickets for a previous performance, but the theatre was sold out.) All the kids and parents in the audience really contributed to the holiday feel of the production.

We loved Turner Crumbley as Bob Cratchit, JoAnne Robinson as Belle/Mrs. Cratchit, Brian Folkis in a number of roles (his scene with Laura Hastings, who played the thieving maid that steals Scrooge’s bed sheets right out from under him, was one of my absolute favorites in the show), and (of course) Danny Dauphin as Fred and Anna Lise Jensen as Kate. (My buds!)

Well, now I’ve seen some version of The Nutcracker and enjoyed a production of The Christmas Carol. My tree is decorated, my gifts are bought and wrapped. Christmas is afoot!

Christmas Culture.

Over the weekend, I caught the Ballet Magnificat! Christmas performance, titled A Christmas Dream. If you are not aware, Ballet Magnificat! is a local dance company with a Christian focus. They perform both locally and throughout the world. This year, they presented a Christian adaptation of The Nutcracker. Set in the Old South. Now, I’ll admit that I was skeptical. I thought, “People at Christmas like tradition. They don’t like it when you fool around with what they have always done/seen/participated in at Christmas.” However, the performance was packed, and everyone seemed to walk away satisfied.

The dancing was amazing, and I did leave the theatre feeling very Christmasy. Rather than being belabored, the “Old South” setting seemed employed primarily so that company members could dance under the theatre lights in fabulous, flowing hoop skirts (which looked beautiful on stage). The dancers all did a wonderful job, and I thoroughly enjoyed the performance.

Only two caveats – at the top of each act, two individuals came on stage and basically read the synopsis (printed clearly in the program) of what we were about to see. Now, I don’t know why this was deemed necessary, but I thought it was too much. In addition, the individuals were supposed to be a married couple – an English gentleman and his Southern wife. Why on Earth this combination was chosen, I have no idea. I say if you are going to have a theme (like the Old South), COMMIT. Don’t try to salvage some Dickensian vestige by throwing someone from the other side of the pond into the mix. And the intros were awful. The two people presenting the material didn’t have much to work with, granted, but it was so overdone that it should have been deleted altogether. Similar agony ensued when, just before intermission, two young people came out on stage and proceeded to describe every item on the merchandise table in the lobby. Cruel, I tell you.

Secondly, there were a few parts of the adaptation that didn’t quite work for me. The company chose to substitute a Bible for the Nutcracker that Clara traditionally receives, and the scenes towards the end, where the primary character “weds” Jesus, didn’t gel.

Overall, though, I found it to be very enjoyable. Happy holidays!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Meaning.

I watched two movies this week, and both of them have really made me realize what kind of useless media I usually consume. I vow to set the bar a bit higher in the future.

First, I saw The Constant Gardener, with Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes. The movie tells the story of Justin (Fiennes), a rather passionless English diplomat living in Kenya, and his activist wife Tessa (Weisz). Unbeknownst to Justin, Tessa discovers a health-related scandal in Africa, and her detective work gets her killed. Justin begins a quest to retrace his wife's steps and discover the true story of her death. It was an interesting plot woven of world health issues, record profits for pharmaceutical companies, and international political intrigue.

First of all, the performance are wonderful. Weisz is luminous as Tessa. She is probably the true anchor of the film. Fiennes gives a nuanced performance as Justin, although I did find some plot-related motivations towards the end to be a little less than satisfying. Also, the environment of Africa is practically its own character in this film. Faces of Africa, landscapes, the hard truths of life there - it's arrestingly atmospheric.

Secondly, I finally got around to watching Brokeback Mountain. I know - I am probably one of the last people in American to see it. Shame on me, because I thought it was one of the most moving, life-changing movies I've ever seen. Unless you've been under a rock for the past year and a half, you know that Brokeback Mountain is the tale of two cowboys, Ennis and Jack, who ranch sheep together one summer in the 1960's. One cold night, the two men huddle together in a tent to keep warm, and an explosive physical relationship erupts. They both agree that the night was a "one-shot deal," but somehow the two men keep finding one another again, throughout the summer. After the ranching gig ends, both men nonchalantly tell each other goodbye, but the separation is painful for both. Cut to four years later - the men have gone their separate ways, married, had kids. But when they happen to see each other again, old feelings almost violently assert themselves, leading to a 20-year relationship that is by turns passionate, furtive, and tortured.

First of all, performances by Heath Ledger (Ennis) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Jack) are unbelievable. I cannot adequately describe the performance work in this film. Ledger, who I'd only seen in fairly superficial roles - teen movies, not-so-great romantic comedies - totally transforms himself for this role. Tight-lipped, sun-baked, and shamed, his Ennis provides the tension in the film that powers the plot through to its final, saddening conclusion. Gyllenhaal plays Jack, the more honest, self-accepting of the two men, with an emotion that is strong enough to be real but restrained enough to epitomize the tough guy image of a Western. Both lend a haunting quality to the various ways in which Ennis and Jack try to live their lives, denied of the one thing they truly want.

At the end of the day, Brokeback Mountain is a love story, the tale of two people who love each other but can't be together. This is not untrod territory in Hollywood. However, hanging this familiar storyline on a less-than-mainstream social topic for the movies - homosexuality - proves to be very powerful. The intensity of the two men's feelings for one another, and the delayed gratification that is the bedrock of their relationship, bring their experience into sharp focus for the viewer. Beautiful scenes of mountainous countryside and a strong, simple acoustic guitar accompaniment add to the poignancy. I just cannot recommend it highly enough. It will haunt you. It will make you think. It will move you.

Fair warning - there is one brief sex scene between the two primary characters. If you don't warm to that idea, I recommend getting the film on DVD and fast-forwarding through that part. It is not worth missing the movie over.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

In praise of products

In grad school, we used to talk about the mainstreaming of ideas/movements/products alot. The people who first bought new products, for example, were termed "early adopters." They represented an elite segment of society. They were usually monied, they had influence, etc. I have a confession to make. I am not an early adopter. In fact, for some reason I am one of the LAST people I know to make the change to some new, improved technology. And even then, it's usually my husband's idea. (I didn't even have an MP3 player until last Christmas. And it's not even something I asked for. Again, my husband's idea. Ditto with the digital camera. I had operated one at work for years before my husband finally got one for us.)

I'm not sure why I don't jump on the bandwagon. I guess I figure that the product might not work, or that it'll be too hard to get the hang of. Or whatever. But I am changing my ways. Recently, the discovery of several genius new products have caused me to think differently.

1.) I was shopping with a friend, and she noticed that I'd gotten some makeup on the collar of the shirt I was wearing. She whisked a "Tide to Go" pen out of her purse and dabbed the stain. Voila! It was gone within 5 minutes. I HAD NO IDEA!! I am one of the messiest people I know. This thing is made for me. I now carry a Tide to Go with me in my purse at all times, and I have another one in a drawer in my office.

2.) I was giving a party a while back, and I was trying to spiff up the house a bit. On a whim, I bought one of the Mr. Clean Magic Erasers at the store. I was sure it was a gimmick, but I thought, "What have I got to lose?" Well, that thing worked like a charm, taking scuffs off walls, the bottoms of doors, EVERYTHING. I currently have two packages of them under the sink for emergencies.

3.) Lastly, my most recent discovery - the Shed Ender. Now, I had seen this product on television, but I DO NOT order things off TV. But when it showed up in my local Wal-Greens, I picked it up. I have two cats - a short hair and a long hair - and anything that keeps the furball factor down is my friend. This thing worked WONDERS on my long-haired kitty. It removed copious amounts of hair, and she didn't even seem to mind it the way she minds the traditional brush. If you have a long-haired cat, YOU NEED this thing. It will amaze you how much hair comes off your little puffy friend.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Stuffed.

Ok, I'm awakening from my turkey-induced stupor to update you on a few things:

1.) I had a rockin' fall party last Monday. On the menu were hummus and appropriate dippers, crudites, sliced pork loin with rolls and a variety of spreads (this appetizer was gone, gone, gone!), chunked-up fruit with a de-lish dip (mascarpone cheese, heavy cream, sugar, vanilla, and rum - YUM), pork/ground beef meatballs in a tomato-garlic sauce, an unbelievable salmon spread with fun little crackers (thank you, Barefoot Contessa), chips and dip, assorted cookies, pecan tartlets, and mini carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. Oodles of people that I really like came, and I think it was nice to see everyone before the holiday craziness sets in. Whenever I have a party, I think, "Wow! That was so fun! We should entertain more often!" And then I don't have another party for months and months. I'm going to try to work on that.

2.) Thanksgiving was WONDERFUL! I made the turkey, cranberry relish, gravy, and appetizer plates. Turkey - everyone really seems to like my turkey, but it's really nothing special. Here's what I do: I rinse the turkey, pat it dry, and stuff the cavity with cut-up onions and garlic. I butter the outside like crazy and sprinkle it liberally with salt, pepper, and sage. I put it in a pan, and I put some chicken broth in the bottom of the pan to keep the bird moist. I bake it at 450 degrees for 30 minutes, uncovered. This cooks the outside of the bird and helps seal in the juices. Then, I tent the pan with aluminum foil and turn the heat down to 375 degrees or so. Bake the bird for the appropriate amount of time based on its weight. Yesterday, when I was baking a 14-pounder, this was about 2 hours or so at 375. I keep a small sauce pan on the stove filled with chicken broth, butter, salt, pepper, and sage. Every 30 minutes, I take the bird out, remove the foil, baste, put the foil back on, and put the bird back in the oven. Once the bird is almost finished, I baste one more time, remove the foil, and put the bird back in the oven with the heat kicked up to 450 degrees for about 25 minutes. This allows the bird to brown and makes the skin nice and crispy. I usually turn the pan around in the oven once during this process so the bird browns evenly. Once the bird is done, let it rest for 30 minutes to an hour. (Don't worry, it will retain its heat.) It was SO JUICY this year! Yum!

We also had some new side dishes, courtesey of my brilliant sister: balsamic-glazed brussel sprouts with proscioutto, maple-roasted squash, and a sausage and apple stuffing. After which, we laid around on the couch, talking and laughing. All in all, a FABULOUS Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

For the love of America.

Ok, so I'm walking down town last week, and I notice an older, well-dressed African-American man walking towards me. He is carrying a briefcase. He smiles at me, and I smile back. As I am walking past him, he stops, sets his briefcase down, and extends his hand. I take it. He then introduces himself and tells me that he has a card that he's created. He reaches in his vest pocket and takes out a small, black and white card printed on heavy stock. He opens it and begins reading. The card contains a rhyming verse, and he is really reading it with feeling. I mean, he has facial expressions and even some small hand gestures to emphasize how "when God created you, He broke the mold," and your love is "good for the mind, the body, and the soul." He's really proud of this card, and he means every word that he's printed inside. When he's finished reading the verses aloud, he tells me that the cards are for sale for $1 each and asks if I'd like to buy one. I say sure, we complete our transaction, and we part ways.

This whole exchange got me thinking that we live in one of the greatest countries in the world. I mean, a man can get up in the morning and have this idea. "Hey, I could make cards and sell them downtown! I could maybe make some money!" So he buys the paper, makes the cards, puts on his suit, grabs his briefacse, and hits the pavement. Talk about free enterprise in action. It doesn't get much more free than that, does it? I mean, he is not asking for a handout. He has something to OFFER. And he's proud of his little cards. And he should be.

What a great country. Geez. There's just nothing like it.

Busy town, busy woman.

A quick report on the Erma Bombeck show at New Stage. I thought it was good; Shirley Simpson is a wonderful actress, and she did a great job. I would absolutely love to see her in more productions, and I will make the effort to do so. The only thing I would have changed - the script is very self-referential. (The show is set up with the conceit that the "spirit" of Erma Bombeck has been allowed to return to Earth to do this special show. This set-up was mentioned and explained numerous times, and I thought it got a little thin.)

Hubby and I went to Natchez this weekend for a little time away. We stayed at a little B&B, shopped downtown, and generally enjoyed ourselves. We also ate a fabulous dinner at The Castle, the restaurant on the grounds of Dunleith. WOW. I had the duck with a roasted apple compote, served with sauteed spinach and wild rice. Brian and I split the crabcake appetizer, but it would be worth ordering your OWN. (Only love for him kept me from eating the whole thing myself.)

We also happened to stumble on an arts and crafts fair while we were there. I picked up some amazing pieces - hand-carved wooden hair clips, a gorgeous hand-made wooden salad bowl (polished to a high sheen - I have been lusting after these at the Craftsmen's Guild for years, but I could never afford them. Buying direct does have its privileges!), a copper ring. We also toured Monmouth, which was all right, but not very much of a tour. Mostly, we legged it around downtown and eyed real estate. (It's a weird thing - every time Brian and I go on a trip, we notice what's for sale and pick up those little real estate pamphlets. I think we have this weird idea that, some day, we'll own several homes and just jet between them, living the high life. How we'll pay for this fantasy existence, I have no idea.)

Oooh, we also stopped for a bite at the Pig Out Inn. We didn't throw caution to the wind (we opted to split a rib plate), but we did sample some of the best potato salad of my life. I talked with the staff and jotted down the ingredients. Now, Brian and I will test exhaustively until we get it just right.

I know. It's tough being me sometimes. :-)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

And it's . . . Christmas?

This week, sis and I went to Miseltoe Marketplace at the Trade Mart in Jackson. For those of you not familiar with the Jackson area, Miseltoe Marketplace is this huge shopping extravagana, which is put on by the Jackson Junior League and features merchants from all over the south. The buy-fest takes place once a year, and the proceeds benefit a charity of the Junior League's selection. They had TONS of great booths. I loved the purses and shoes that I saw there - artful little jeweled bags with matching mules, embroidered silk bags with handles featuring wood inlay, some really carefully-made pieces. I bought a couple of bags and a delicious-smelling garland made of oranges, bay leaves, and cinnamon. (It smells just like Christmas!) We dined at Bravo! before heading over to the market on Friday night; it was a great girls' night out.

These past few weekends, I've been getting my hands dirty. So far, I've planted tons of azaleas, hostas, gardenias, and camellias. Yesterday, I divided irises (is that the right plural?) at Mom's and then re-planted the extras at my house. (I think I ended up with about 50, and I didn't even put a dent in what she has! They multiply like rabbits!) I also put about 30 star-gazer lilies in the ground. Ever since college, it has been one of my favorite flowers. BUT I've never tried to grow it. Pray with me that I don't commit floricide.

Oooh - today I'm going to see a one-woman show at New Stage - Erma Bombeck - which is written by & starring Shirley Simpson. (I know she's on the New Stage board of directors, and she's a performer as well. Unfortunately, I've never seen her on stage. This is my chance!) I'm really looking forward to that, and afterwards, I'm going to try and get together with one of my old friends who is in town from New York. Yeesh! I'm a busy lady these days!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween happenings

What a great week! First, I went to Jacktober on Friday. It's a new street festival in Jackson (this is its first year) featuring bands, beers, and brats. We hung out there during lunch, enjoyed the weather and the music, and then moseyed back to work. (I also bought a Jacktober T-shirt. I love the logo - a stien whose lid looks like the capitol dome. It's designed by a local guy, an art director at an ad agency here.)

On Friday night, hubby and I went to a rockin' Halloween party. I was a flapper; he was a Viking. (The cutest Viking ever. He got second place in the costume contest. And he would have gotten first, too, if that chick hadn't shown up as an oompah loompah. Some people have no shame. ~sigh.~) But it was a seriously fun party. One of my best friends and her husband throw a pretty big shindig for Halloween every year. He is a personal trainer, so they usually have all of these buff people walking around their party, dressed quite convincingly as super-heroes. This year, we had a Super Man, a Wonder Woman, and a Bat Girl. It's enough to make a girl body-conscious. UNLESS you are a girl with a seriously awesome flapper costume, with tons of red fringe, a boa, and fishnet stockings. Even the super-heroes were telling me I looked good. Woo-hoo!

Last night, dinner (and way too much of it) at Nagoya. I'm becoming a huge dumpling fan - pork, beef, chicken, veal - almost to my own detriment. I must learn how to control this obsession. Fabulous edamame and shrimp tempura as well. I went with some of the cast members from New Stage's production of The Crucible. (I actually horned in on their dinner. Well, I can be like that sometimes.) But I did find them to be lovely people with some incredible over-dinner stories to tell.

Tonight - handing out candy by the boatload to any trick or treater that darkens my door. The cats are totally freaked out. (It's their first Halloween, so they are not used to such excitement!) They are alternately running around wildly and hiding, mouse-like, between the stuffed chair and the ottoman. Poor dears. I feel like telling them, "It could be worse. I could have dressed both of you in costumes." Mwah ha ha ha ha!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Alabama Shakes lineup

The Alabama Shakespeare Festival has released their season for 2006-2007, and it is good. Here's what's on tap:

Crowns by Regina Taylor - Oct. 13 - Nov. 5
Beauty and the Beast - Nov. 10 - Dec. 23
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl - Jan. 12 - Feb. 10
Gee's Bend by Elizabeth Gregory Wilder - Jan. 19 - Feb. 11
Henry VI (part A) by William Shakespeare - Feb. 23 - May 17
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller - March 2 - April 7
Henry VI (part B) by William Shakespeare - March 16 - June 8
Richard III by William Shakespeare - April 13 - June 10
Thinking of You by Peter Hicks - April 20 - May 20
Fair and Tender Ladies - June 1 - June 24
Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe - June 22 - June 30

While I think it is a wonderful lineup, I am disappointed with how the runs are scheduled. Look closely, and you'll notice that selections for a weekend in Montgomery are very limited. For example, I'd love to see Death of a Salesman, Richard III, or Doctor Faustus, but NONE of the runs of these shows allow any two of them to be seen in one trip. (Which seems stupid, since these are the shows with some of the most name recognition.) Similarly, you cannot see Henry IV parts A and B in the same weekend, because they only offer either one or the other each weekend. POOR PLANNING for those of us who want to make a trip to Montgomery to see shows! Usually, I come into town and see at least two shows before I leave. With the current scheduling, I'll probably stick to just one. It's not like ASF to make a mistake like this. Pooh on them.

Anyway, I'll probably be making the trek twice for Death of a Salesman and Richard III, since those are two of my favorites. But it irks me that I'll have to expend twice as much time (and gasoline) on what I'd normally make one trip for.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The witch hunt is on . . .

I just caught a matinee performance of The Crucible at New Stage Theatre. If you're not familiar with this Arthur Miller masterpiece, it is set in the late 1600's during the Salem witch trials. The script explores the mass hysteria and mob mentality that ruled the small community of Salem, Massachusetts, when several young girls started accusing local citizens of witchcraft.

I thought this was a great production. First, the set was really well done - spare (almost Puritan! Ha!) with a beautiful drop of backlit woods. The mere suggestion of walls and ceiling, rugged furnishings, and spot-on costumes provided all the environment that the audience needed to see the world of old Salem. Also, I love the pre-show and intermission music. Airy a capella voices, almost angelic. Wow.

Rus Blackwell as John Proctor was a revelation. He was fabulous. Fabulous. I believed every word he said, and he turned in such a layered performance that probably half of the women in the audience want to have his babies now. I just can't say enough how impressed I was with him in this production. It's a good thing, too, because Proctor carries the majority of the production's weight. You cannot have a good production of The Crucible without a good Proctor.

Other standouts for me: Turner Crumbley as Reverend Hale was spot on. His character also does a lot of heavy lifting in the script, and Crumbley's rendition of Hale as one of the lone voices of reason in Salem resonated. Rachel Dunigan as Tituba was strong as well, and Joseph Frost as Governor Danforth and Gary Gusick as Judge Hathorne were both imminently hatable. Lesley Sheblak, who played Mercy Lewis, should have been given a bigger part. She did so much with the lines she'd had that I wished I could have seen more of her during this production. Lastly, Larry Wells was wonderfully slimy as Reverend Parris. (Wells does a wonderful job playing slimy guys. I'm not sure why; he's a perfectly nice guy. I'd love to see him play something really off-type for him to see what he'd do with it.)

I thought a couple of layers were missing, though. First of all, I didn't feel that we saw Elizabeth Proctor crack. I mean, I know that she's the long-suffering wife, I know she's cold and repressed. And I went there with her in the early scenes and ate it up. But in the scene at the end, right before Proctor is to be hanged, I really wanted that facade to crack. I wanted her to break down, to realize that her husband would be dead within the hour and to accept some of the blame for his infidelity. To try to apologize and make up for the past several months of beating him up. To tell him that she loved him, and mean it. To understand that she was carrying a child that would never know its father. That last scene is Elizabeth's confession scene, but it felt as though she still had a wall around her heart. Maybe I'm a sucker for over-acting, but I kept waiting for big, heaving sobs that never came. (I mean, Danforth is right. If you don't cry at this point, when the hell do you cry? The woman really is made of stone, for God's sake. No wonder Proctor cheated on her.)

Also, the relationship between Proctor and Abigail was not the way I'd have played it. In my head, when I read The Crucible, I thought a long time about the relationship between Proctor and Abigail. I thought that they were both sort-of round pegs in square holes. The repression and hypocrisy of their society chafes at both of them. They are both individualists. In addition, Abigail is something of a wild creature. She is passionate, impulsive, charismatic. She is also capable of almost anything (i.e. you never know what she will do next). And I think these qualities attract Proctor to her like a magnet to polished steel. I think there needs to be immense physical attraction between Abigail and Proctor, even months after their affair has ended. You have to believe that Proctor found Abigail so intense and desired her so much that he would risk everything - his good name, his marriage - to have her. And he still desires her, somewhere in his heart. And the same with her. But they didn't play the sex in this production. Maybe I'm base, but I would have played it to the hilt. There is a scene where Abigail and Proctor meet in the woods, after she has accused his wife. It's late, and she shows up in her dressing gown. There's a point when she even lifts her gown to show him the marks on her leg, left by vengeful "spirits." (Women didn't go around hitching up their dressing gowns in the late 1600s. There is more than just showing bruises going on here.) I think even at this point, the two still feel strong physical desire for one another. Proctor is fighting it, but Abigail wants him to give in to it. It's destructive, and it's just plain wrong, but I think it has to still be there.

I can totally understand why they chose to produce this show now; it's very topical. Aside from the Halloween tie-in, the social issues of the play are particularly pertinent right now as well. (One line, spoken by Governor Danforth, smacked of President Bush's "you're either with us or with the terrorists" mantra.) It's perfect synergy. After all, stripping people of their rights is pretty spooky, no? Hopefully, this show will encourage a little debate in Jackson. I know we talked about it after we left.

The show runs through October 29, and I highly recommend it. Tickets are $22 and can be had by calling the box office at 601-948-3533.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Rambling.

I participated in the Over the River Run in Vicksburg over the weekend. Wow. Five gorgeous miles over the old Mississippi River bridge. The weather was clear and sunny, not too hot. The course was beautiful and (thank heaven) flat. There were ample water stops and course monitors, and it wasn't too crowded. And after running literally over the river and through the woods this year, this race is deifinitely on my calendar for next fall. After the run, there was a huge lunch (barbecued chicken, burgers, chips, potato salad, fruit, the works) and a live band. The goody bags were great, too (performance-fabric T-shirts! Yay!). The whole event was just really well planned, and the staffers were so helpful and friendly. Thank you, Ameristar!! I'll be bringing all my friends next year!

I finally finished reading Heart of Darkness. Now I know what I should have read in high school instead of Red Badge of Courage. Conrad has an amazing capacity for descriptive writing. I loved his passages about the environments that his characters lived in and traveled through, and his characters were so well delineated that it felt like they were standing in front of me. Even though I read this book very fitfully (I stopped and started alot; it was a very busy time for me.), I really enjoyed it.

I also saw Cinderella Man, and it was great. Synopsis: scrappy New Jersey heavyweight James J. Braddock begins a promising career, but due to injury and bad luck, his boxing star burns out rather quickly. During the Great Depression years later, thanks to his former manager, he has an opportunity to make an amazing comeback. Paul Giamatti was wonderful in this. He has a knack for embodying varied characters that continues to impress me. I never feel like he's putting me on. I remember reading a Stephen King article (he writes the back page in Entertainment Weekly) that remarked that Russell Crowe almost seemed able to change his face and the shape of his head according to what role he was playing. As odd as that sounds, it is very true of his performance in this film. While his personal behavior sometimes appalls me, there is no denying that Corwe is a very talented actor. Renee Zellweger is good in this, too, making the three primary performers all really strong. The fight scenes weren't too gory, and the ultimately uplifting message of the film made it a feel-good flick for me.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Fair game.

Yesterday, we went to the Mississippi State Fair! What fun! The weather was perfect, and we rode tons of rides. (Including the Mega-Drop. I managed to get out three expletives in the time it took us to drop from the top to the bottom.) I also always take a run down the huge yellow slide. (I know, I know, but I've been sliding down that slide every year since I was a girl. It's TRADITION! And, once you get bigger, you build some serious speed on that thing.) We ate fair food (I had a yummy biscuit filled with syrup, an all-beef hot dog, and a twisty ice cream cone! I'd advise bottled water, though. You never know about the fair . . . ) We admired all the gorgeous antique cars set up at the Trade-Mart, which we love to do. There are some really beautiful machines in there. We talk about which ones we'd look good in, and what kind of car we would restore if we had the chance (and knew anything, anything at all, about restoring cars).

I sang a song in I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change about a woman waiting in line for the restroom. Now, every time I find myself waiting in line for the ladies' room, I think of it. I think, "Hmmmm . . . I have a song for this!" So far, I haven't started singing yet, but maybe someday, if the line is REALLY long . . . we'll I can't be held responsible for my actions in a situation such as that.

After the fair, I freshened up at home before meeting one of my dearest friends for pedicures. What a fun little luxury! We chatted while our feet were massaged, then headed out for a little shopping. Geez, everything seemed to be on sale. (Isn't that the way?) We had a little dinner at Up the Creek before parting ways. It was so good to see her and talk with her again. I have many friends and even more acquaintances, but nothing ever seems to compare to someone who has known me since dirt. We've been friends since junior high, and in addition to the charming conversational shorthand we've developed over the years, she's just one of the best all-around people that I know. Thank God for the sanity she brings me.

Oh, I also saw Memoirs of a Geisha this week! I'd read the novel, and I was pleased to see that the movie followed the book very closely. The film was absolutely beautiful, with arresting shots of the geisha as they went about their daily tasks and beautiful pans of the gorgeous faces of the actresses. There were also a few nice shots of (what was supposed to be) the Japanese countryside. The film follws Chiyo (Sayuri), a young girl from the country who grows to become one of the most celebrated geishas in pre-war Japan. I know that there was a big stink when the film came out that some of the actresses cast were Chinese, rather than Japanese, but I say phooey on that. You cast an actor to play a role. I've seen plenty of straight actors turn in wonderfully nuanced performances of gay characters. I've seen plenty of older actors play roles that were younger than they were, and vice versa. So what? The director's job is to find the right actor for the role, and that actor may or may not be the exact nationality referred to in the script. The point is, does this performer tell the story?

And the performers in Memoirs of a Geisha definitely do. Ziyi Zhang (Chiyo/Sayuri), Li Gong (Hatsumomo), and Michelle Yeoh (Mameha) all give their characters a wonderful depth and subtext, and I really enjoyed them. I know that some critics also huffed about the movie being Westernized, with the actors all speaking English, etc. Wha . . . ? The movie is based on a book written by Arthur Golden, a middle-aged white guy from Tennessee. How can you get more Western than that? Anyway, I personally found the film to be a visual jewel with fabulous performances. I recommend it.

Friday, October 06, 2006

On an evening out.

I had so much fun yesterday! It was a great day, for several reasons:
1.) We got the air conditioner fixed!
2.) I went out with friends.
3.) I saw a show.

Here's the skinny:
Last night after work, I went out with a great group of folks to La Cazuela's. It started out as a quasi-business meeting, but we ended up staying there long after business was concluded, and it was a hoot. We are going to try and meet again without pretending that we are getting any work done. Oh, by the way, the sangria swirls at La Cazeula's are definitely worth a try.

After dinner, I went to the Millsaps production of Equus, and I'm glad I did. First, let me set the scene. The center platform, which serves as both the psychiatrist's office and the stable, was on a turntable, and the actors were all seated on stadium-style seating on both sides of the stage. I have no idea what budget the Millsaps Players had to create the set and costumes (particularly the horse costumes), but I thought that the production values were amazing. I was very impressed, also, with the lighting.

The standout performer of the evening was David Lind as Martin Dysart, the psychiatrist who tries to decipher why Alan Strang, a boy of 17, would blind five horses with a metal spike. Dysart's character is so important because he is the character that holds the play together. He serves as the voice of the playwright and puts many of the actions in the play into his own perspective. It's a pretty hefty role for a sophomore, and I thought Lind did a wonderful job with it.

I must say a word, however, about the audience at the show. There are some revealing scenes in Equus, and I imagine that they are difficult enough for the actors to present without having their friends sniggering in the audience. I was very disappointed by the immaturity of some of the audience members, and I imagine that I have no one but Millsaps students to blame. Shame on them. (And that's not something I usually say.)

Anyway, after the play, my friend and I headed to Cups to discuss the production and catch up with each other. We ended up closing the place down; we had a wonderful time talking and laughing and telling stories. (And my coffee was sooooo good.)

Next up - pedis and dinner on Saturday with one of my oldest and dearest friends!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Today's forecast: hot and humid.

News of terror: our air conditioning is on the fritz. So, we have to replace the heater. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but apparently the controls for the air conditioner run through the control panel of our heater, which is 10 years old and has given us no end of fits since we moved into our house. To replace the control panel on the heater, which I've been told is shot, would be in excess of $600. We can replace the entire heater for about $1200 (AND it would be under warranty for five years thereafter). Considering what a pain the heater has been, we are opting for replacing the heater. (Argh. We are hemorraging money.) In the meantime, as it is still quite warm in Mississippi, we are sitting around in our underwear alot, trying not to move.

Oh, I finally got to watch The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe this week! I had been wanting to see it for ages, but it was one of those things that I never got around to. I happily report that it was great! Casting of the four children, especially Georgie Henley as Lucy, was wonderful. They were very natural and honest, and they didn't seem to be using their youth as a crutch. I thought the special effects were fabulous. To be honest, it's one of the best Disney pictures I've seen in a long time. The only thing that left me wanting more was some of the editing at the end. I felt that, once the four children understood their role in Narnia's future, the story moved a little too quickly, without fleshing out some of the relationships and exchanges between the characters and Aslan. It made the latter part of the movie a bit truncated. Other than that, though, I can highly recommend the film.

Also, the Mississippi State Fair began in Jackson today and runs through Oc­tober 15 on the State Fairgrounds. On tap are concerts, rides, food, and exhibits. My faves include the antique car show at the Trademart, the free biscuits, and the rides that don't make me throw up. (I also take darn good Wild West photos, so if you need a saloon floozy or a Pony Express Rider to pose with, I'm your gal.) I haven't settled on a date yet, but I'll definitely be there! If you've never been, it's a fun place to go for an evening or even for lunch (as long as you don't have anything too strenuous to do for the rest of the day!). For more information about the fair, you can call (601) 961-4000.

Tomorrow night, I'm off for Mexican food and then to see Equus at Millsaps! Full report later.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Running here and there

WellsFest was great today! My nephew rode ponies, ate cotton candy, played fun games, and generally enjoyed himself this morning while my sister and I talked and perused the craft booths. They had some great live music, too. It was fun, and it only rained on us for about half a second. We had GREAT lunch from the Rainbow Whole Foods Tent; I am now a fan of, believe it or not, vegannaise.

I woke up at 5:30 a.m.-ish this morning and ran a good six miles with my running group. It felt great - cool and clear. We are signing up for The Over-the-River run, a 5-miler that will be held in Vicksburg on Oct. 14 at 8 a.m. I know the PR person at Ameristar (the casino is sponsoring the run), and she says that they are going ALL OUT with the eats and entertainment afterward. (YUM.) If you are interested, you can download an entry form from the MS Track club website.

Lastly, we just got back from seeing the Fondren Theatre Workshop's production of Sordid Lives. What a hoot! I really enjoyed it, and it was for a GREAT cause. They had some great performers, and the script is hilarious.

On tap for next week: The Millsaps Players production of Equus. The Peter Shaffer play, which will be directed by Sam Sparks, runs Oct. 5-7 at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on Oct. 8. In the production, Martin Dysart, a psychiatrist, is confronted with Alan Strang, a boy who has blinded six horses. To the owner of the horses the horror is simple: Alan is mentally unstable. To the boy's parents it is a hideous mystery; Alan has always adored horses and, although Dora Strang may be a slightly overindulgent mother and Frank Strang a slightly tetchy father, both parents love their son. To Dysart it is a psychological puzzle or, given his profession, that is what it ought to be. As it turns out, it is something far more complex and disturbing: a confrontation with himself as well as with Alan in which he comes to an inescapable view of man's need to worship and the distortions forced on that need by society. The play will be held in the Christian Center Auditorium, and tix are $10; $8 for seniors and students. We're planning on going on Oct. 5th. Hope to see you there!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Broadway and breezes

A group of friends and I got together last night for Symphony at Sunset, an open-air concert out at The Cedars in Fondren. It was great! I saw so many people that I knew there, and the music was a fabulous, casual backdrop for catching up with old friends. The symphony performed a selection of Broadway music, and we had a lovely little carpet picnic. I mention all of this because The Cedars was absolutely packed. People were pouring out of every little nook and cranny, and the lawn was covered with blankets, lawn chairs, and friends. It was a great event for the area, and it really demonstrates how Fondren is becoming a very tight-knit community. Fabulous! (And, incidentally, the symphony has lots of great programs on offer this year. To check them out, visit them online.)

Next up: WellsFest! WellsFest is a benefit hosted annually by Wells United Methodist Church, and they select a different charity to showcase each year. I first became aware of WellsFest when I interviewed their minister, Keith Tonkel, for a story I was writing. Later, the admission-free festival benefitted Magnolia Speech School, where two of my friends worked. Anyway, I have plans to go this year with my sister and sweet, precious nephew. (The event is great for families; they usually have fun activities set up for the kids.) Here's the skinny: Saturday, September 30; Jamie Fowler Boyll Park; no admission; 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. There's arts and crafts booths, live music, and food available for purchase. See you there!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Last night.

Another beautiful three miles. A long soak in a hot tub with the jets on. A little light reading. Wine and cheese. Some mindless television with the kitties in my lap.

I know, I know. Boring, right? But after rehearsing or performing each evening for five straight weeks, it's wondrous to me.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Back on the pavement and other minutia

I did a delicious three miles yesterday after I got home from work. The air was cool and breezy, and the sky was clear and sunny. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to run it, but I guess all that singing and dancing in the show has kept me in shape while I've been neglecting the asphalt. (I lost about 5 pounds during the rehearsal and run.) But it was absolutely beautiful, and I finished my stretches facing the water at the boat slip before walking the last tenth of a mile or so home. There's not much better than watching the sun set over the water while stretching after a good three miles. With great music on the MP3 player. Fabulous.

After that? Well, I spent some quality time with my sweet hubby, actually watched a little television, and started on the mountain of laundry that has accumulated over the past two weeks. (Where do all these towels come from?) It's actually very satisfying, though, to start attacking projects that have been nagging at me while I've been busy at the theatre. I've already got a few things lined up for tonight, and this weekend is booked solid.

Gail Pittman spoke to our Public Relations Association of Mississippi group today, and she was wonderful - warm, bright, entertaining, and also a great Mississippi success story. I didn't realize how big her company actually was until she explained it to us. She's done so many corporate projects for hotels and resorts, in addition to marketing her merchandise online and in specialty shops. She's created pieces for celebrities such as Gene Hackman, and she once helped Katie Couric design her kitchen. It's very impressive. Her advice to us? She talked alot about positioning yourself to say "yes" to opportunity when it knocks, and also about being flexible in business. She also does alot of charity work, which I really admire.

Bohemia on the screen

I had the chance to watch the film version of the stage musical Rent (directed by Chris Columbus) this week. I'd seen the stage version of the show on its national tour, and I have to admit that I wasn't hugely impressed by it. However, it was good enough live for me to give the movie a look.

Based loosely on Puccini's La Bohème, Rent is a rock opera that focuses on the year in the life of a group of friends in New York's East Village who live lives full of art, music, sex, and drugs. The show particularly spotlights the AIDS crisis and how it affects the characters. For the most part, the show made the stage to screen transition well. There were a few awkward moments with characters basically looking at each other and singing - moments that didn't seem to be supported by any subtextual motivations. And the film did allow for flashbacks and other backstory devices that aren't possible on stage. I'm aware that most of the cast members were plucked from the Broadway cast, and they were all really strong. Rosario Dawson, who was new to the effort, did a wonderful job as well.

For the most part, I thought this film was a good treatment of the stage show. The director clearly has a great love for the material, and I also got the feeling that the performers really understood the thematic message of the show. The movie (and the stage play) does contain some sensitive material, but nothing that couldn't inspire productive discussion. You'll get a little weepy at the end, so have some tissues handy!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Curtains.

Well, the show I've been performing in has closed. We finished our run yesterday with a solid performance. (I thought so, anyway.) Afterwards, we went to La Cazuela, drank margaritas, ate nachos, and got nostalgic. The end of a show always holds a sense of loss for me. On the one hand, I have my life back. My evenings and weekends are my own again. On the other hand, however, it's almost as if a little family is breaking up. Theatre requires so many man-hours. You spend so much of your time working with the cast, crew, director, etc. You quickly forge strong personal relationships with your co-workers. You spend additional time thinking about the show, going over your script, etc. So, when it's over, you have a feeling of not quite knowing what to do with yourself for a bit. Anyway, I will do whatever I can to keep in touch and hope for the very best.

As we walked off stage on Sunday, the director was there in the wings, crying. Which certainly didn't help my emotional stability. Then, when I walked into the women's dressing room, my fellow castmate was crying. Which almost pushed me over the edge. I guess we were all a little upset because the show was a really good experience, because we'd really enjoyed one another during the rehearsal and performance process, and because we actually like one another. It is sad that we won't see each other as much in the coming weeks. Everyone has their own projects, their own lives.

Anyway, I plan to keep in touch. Onward and upward.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Sundry tidbits.

For the past several days, it has been heaven here in Jackson. Cool-ish, sunny, beautiful. On those days, I like to walk around downtown a little bit at lunch as I weigh my dining options. Up and down Capitol Street, people are bustling, and the "bells" at St. Andrews are ringing. It makes one glad to be alive.

I do feel acutely aware of being alive lately. I don't know if it's all the change swirling around in my life (I start a new job in a couple of weeks, and the show is about to wrap.), or if I feel my place in the universe more now than I have before, or what. But I do feel a sense of ripe possibility. It's a little scary but also thrilling.

Oh, on another note, I have to take a drug test for my new job. I have to wonder whether my new employers realize the futility of such an endeavor. What a waste of time and effort. They clearly have no idea who they are dealing with. Anyway, come Monday morning, I will be giving blood samples and what not so they can confirm that I'm not on crack or . . . whatever.

Oooh, one other thing - Brian and I found some great patio furniture! Woo-hoo! I can be a bit picky about stuff like that, so I was really glad to find something I loved that was reasonbly priced. Check out the pic at left. NICE, huh? It will be delivered to the house today. YAY!

And, after the show closes on Sunday, I can PLANT! I have a $200 gift card to Home Depot that is absolutely burning a hole in my pocket. My plan is to plant the two beds I've already prepared in the front yard and then maybe add a few things to the foundation beds that are already existing. I have so missed my garden since we've been in the new house, but it's been murder to try and find the time to put a garden in while finishing up grad school, putting together big work projects, and now performing in a show. But, my time IS coming!

I love fall.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The day I wished the earth would open up.

So, a couple of days ago, I'm in a meeting with my executive director and a contract graphic designer. (A NEW designer, one who doesn't know me very well.) We are talking about branding and design and color and ideas. We are examining images, talking about cohesion, making progress.

Then, in the middle of the meeting, two of my crazy PR folks come to the door. No appointment, but that's usually no big deal. Oddly, they have a gift for me that they want to present. I thank them. They ask me to open the gift now. I look to my boss and the designer, not wanting to waste their time. PR friends insist. I open the gift, which is a huge martini glass with little palm trees on it. I comment that I will have to drink alot to use this glass. Smiling devilishly, they tell me that there's more in the gift bag. I reach in and pull out . . . a pink thong. In front of my boss. And an independent contractor that barely knows me.

Perhaps I should take this opportunity to address why two crazy PR people would show up at my office unannounced to give me unsolicited underwear. There is a drink at a bar that we have frequented called the "Pink Panty Pull Down." Now, I know that the name is ribald, but the drink is actually quite good. And I usually order it. Which provides my crazy PR friends with no small amount of enjoyment.

So, I stand there, holding the underwear, flustered. I'm sure that one of two things were happening. Either 1.) every bit of color was draining from my face or 2.) My cheeks were turning as rosy as the panties in my outstretched hand. I honestly did try to recover the situation. I tried to play it off. But, what on earth can you say in front of professional colleagues when friends drop by to give you intimate apparel in mixed company?

Needless to say, I am now searching my memory for everything remotely embarassing that I know about these two friends. I have plenty of ammunition; now, I only need to wait for the proper setting in which to exact my sweet revenge! Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Let's talk about sex.

I had TWO WHOLE nights off this week! YAY! They gave me the opportunity to watch Kinsey, a movie that I had TiVoed a loooong time ago, but one that I'd never found the time to see.

I knew a little bit about Kinsey beforehand. I took a course on human love and sexuality in college (which gave my college friends no end of hilarity. Apparently, my chaste reputation preceded me. But, hey, it fit in my schedule AND fulfilled a core requirement. What's a girl to do?!), and we talked quite a bit about his work as part of that curriculum. I thought a dramatization of this life and work would be fascinating.

Kinsey was a biologist who broke from studying gall wasps in the 1940s to focus on human sexuality. He'd noticed that there was no actual scientific research on the subject, and he was appalled at the misinformation (and moral stranglehold) on the subject in society. He conducted thousands of face-to-face interviews with subjects about their sex histories, and he published two volumes about sexual behavior (male and female). The Kinsey Institute (which studies sex, gender, and reproduction) still operates today at Indiana University.

I freely acknowledge that the film, at times, can be difficult to watch. Kinsey definitely contains nudity and sensitive subject matter. However, the grounding force of it all became Liam Neeson, in an inspired turn as the troubled scientist. He becomes the mouthpiece for many of Kinsey's actual complaints - how the subject of sex was closeted in American society, how difficult it was to find funding for sex research because of moral overtones, how we as a society could not begin to discuss sex with any certainty because we hadn't studied it, etc. Neeson played Kinsey with such sensitivity, such professionalism; he was the heart of the film.

I also appreciated how the film dealt with the personal issues/problems of the various characters, including Kinsey, his wife, and the members of his research staff. It illustrated how difficult it probably was for all of them to study sex, think about sex, talk about sex all the time without it affecting them in adverse ways. It showed how difficult it was for them to separate the sex act from the idea/feeling of love. (There was a wonderful premise introduced early in the film about how Kinsey decided that love couldn't be studied because it was impossible to measure. So Kinsey studied sex, the closest thing to love that he could study. I like that sentiment, for some reason.)

Anyway, if you are interested in Kinsey, his life, and his work, I think this film is a fairly accurate treatment of the man. Be prepared for nudity and adult issues, but most of all, be prepared to ask yourself questions and re-examine what you think about sex, love, and society.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A black comedy about white trash

Had to post a quick run-down about an upcoming show that I DO NOT PLAN TO MISS! I know oodles of people in it, and it looks like so much fun!

Fondren Theatre Workshop is Joining Mississippi HeARTS Against AIDS to present a benefit performance of "Sordid Lives." MS HeArts Against Aids, a non-profit organization, will present the full-length comedy by Del Shores as its next fund-raising event, September 21, 22, 23 and September 28, 29, 30 at 7:30 p.m. at Hal & Mal's in Jackson, MS.

The basic action of the play revolves around the funeral of the 65-year-old family matriarch, Peggy Ingram, who has died under less than seemly circumstances at a local motel. As three generations of her family gather in their small Texas town, we learn the hilarious, sad, trashy truth of each of their “sordid lives.” By turns both poignant and hilarious, the play reveals the family at both its worst and its best as they come to grips with their grief and with each other.

All but three of the 13 actors are FTW veterans, including Chris Roebuck, who plays G.W. Nethercott, a cheatin’ husband with two wooden legs; Bettye Edwards, playing the long-suffering aunt Sissy, who picked the wrong day to quit smoking; Jane Sanders and Karen Longo as Latrelle and Lavonda, two polar-opposite sisters who are feuding over their dead mother’s mink stole; Joanne Prichard Morris as Juanita, the perennial bar-fly; Alyssa Silberman as the barely-stable-herself psychiatrist Dr. Eve Bolinger; Ron Mills as Earl “Brother Boy” Ingram, the cross-dressing Tammy Wynette fanatic who’s spent 23 years at the state hospital for “dehomosexualization” therapy; J.C. Patterson and Richard Lawrence as bar-owning brothers Wardell and Odell Owens; and James Anderson, who’s playing preacher Barnes and providing musical direction. Making their acting debuts in the production are Neola Young as Noleta Nethercott, G.W.’s spurned wife who goes on her own “Thelma & Louise” rampage; Christine Liberto as local saloon singer Bitsy Mae Harling; and Josh Hailey as Ty Williamson, the grandson who moved as far away as possible to be an actor and who’s now struggling with whether to return home to face his family and his own demons.

The play contains some profanity and mature subject matter, and therefore is not recommended for those under the age of 17. Tickets will be $20.00 per person for this cabaret-style performance and are now on sale. Reservations are strongly encouraged (You know what I say about FTW; walk-in at your own peril.), and may be made by calling 601-856-7743.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Body Collector

I'm not sure why, but I found this article in today's New York Times really intriguing. (Free registration required.) It's about a body collector in Detroit and how he copes with his job. Interesting words of wisdom from the body collector include:

“You see,” he begins, “80 percent of people die naked and 70 percent die in the toilet. That means most people die naked in the toilet. I can’t explain it. It’s like Elvis. But as far as the afterlife goes, I believe through what I seen that those who commit horror and sin are doomed to repeat life, which is hell.”

***

“My theory?” Mr. Thomas offered. “White people kill themselves. Black people kill each other. Chinese people don’t die.”

It must be rather trying at times to collect dead bodies for a living. Although I would never want to earn my living that way, I imagine it could be fascinating at times. Seeing people as they were in their final moments. Seeing life reduced to a heap of loosely collected cells. It must make for rather unique ruminations.

Bottom Line for Kids Dinner

I thought I'd pass along a little information about an upcoming event I'm volunteering for. It's a great organization and a great cause.

Mississippi’s at-risk children and youth will benefit from this year’s Bottom Line for Kids dinner Sept. 21 at 6 p.m. at the Country Club of Jackson. The annual fundraiser supports the programs of Southern Christian Services for Children and Youth, Inc. (SCSCY). Dollars raised at the event will support the programs of the agency - which include adoption of children with special needs, therapeutic foster care, residential care, prevention services, transitional living and independent living preparation programs - to abused and neglected youth statewide. Services are offered free of charge. Headquartered in Jackson, SCSCY is a faith-based, non-profit organization whose mission is to serve and equip Mississippi’s vulnerable children and youth, assisting them in the process of becoming self-sufficient and contributing members of society. Tickets for the Bottom Line for Kids dinner are $100 per person and may be purchased by calling Kathie Haynes at SCSCY at 601-354-0983.

Friday, September 15, 2006

One writer's beginnings . . .

I finally got the chance to tour the Eudora Welty House last week. It was a delight! Our very informative tour was led by Ms. Karen Redhead, an old friend from my Millsaps days. Books, books, books, everywhere! I loved looking on Welty's shelves to see what volumes she kept within arm's reach. I also really enjoyed touring the garden behind the house, which is actually much larger than you'd think from the street. Welty and her mother worked together often in the garden, and plants and flowers figure heavily in many of the stories she wrote. Karen also showed a fabulous video before the tour that really laid the groundwork for what you were about to see. (Jeanne Luckett's company, Communication Arts, put it together. Another Millsaps grad made good.) Anyway, if you are in the Belhaven area, I highly suggest dropping by. You can schedule a tour, which costs $5, by calling 601-353-7762.

The National Endowment for the Arts recently made an announcement quite pertinent to my tour. Apparently, staffers at the Endowment had run across some 5 hours of color film of Miss Welty, shot in 1975. Footage shows Welty reading from and talking about her works, and the film is in near-pristine condition. The endowment has decided to donate the footage to the Eudora Welty House, and they are accompanying the gift with a fat check to aid in the preservation of the delicate film. You can learn more about it here.

Lastly, I had to write about a new eatery in the Jackson area that I have absolutely fallen in love with. Newk's Express Cafe (I know, I know - an unfortunate name, but stay with me here) offers crisp, fresh salads; toasted sandwiches; yummy pizzas; and rich desserts. I am a huge fan of their Ceasar salads and veggie clubs. YUM! It's quick, it's fairly inexpensive, and it is so good. The Clarion Ledger wrote an article when the business opened; check it out here. Pop in sometime!

Italian wine and song.

The Mississippi Symphony Orchestra has released its season! Their first concert is this Saturday, Sept. 16, at 7:30 p.m., and it's titled Bravo I: Roman Escape. Many of you may also know that locally-owned Bravo! restaurant partners with the symphony to offer discounts to symphony patrons. Each season, they provide symphony ticket holders with a 25% discount on their pre-performance meal. Just show up at BRAVO!, bring your tickets, show them to the waiter, and get 25% off your entire bill! The discount offer is good for dinner only, before the concert, the night of the concert; patrons will not receive the discount for lunch or for after-performance late seating. It is a pre-performance, evening-of-the-event only offer.

To buy tickets for the performance, which takes place at Thalia Mara Hall in Jackson, just call the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra at (601) 960-1565. Tickets range from $25 to $40, depending on seating section.

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Hitting our stride.

Ok, so we've been performing every night since Tuesday, and I'm beginning to actually feel like I belong up there on stage again. I have had so many people call me to tell me how much they enjoyed the show, folks that I didn't even know were planning to come, so we must be doing something right. (AND I have been lucky enough to make all my quick changes successfully, so no free peep shows thus far! Woo-hoo!)

Last night, I didn't feel ready to go home right after the performance, so a couple of friends and I went out. We started off with Ice Picks at Elixir. (You can either get an Ice Pick or the Mississippi Martini; they're basically the same. The Ice Pick, though, is served in a tall rocks glass, which I prefer.) The sweet bartender there had come to the show the night before, and he came by our table to tell us that he'd really loved it. (I so wanted a nice, thick steak, but, alas, the kitchen was already closed. Note to Elixir owner - have small plates that can be ordered after the kitchen is closed. At least a few slices of cheese, some bread, and a couple of grapes, for God's sake! Would it KILL you?)

After we'd hung out there a while (and gotten talked up by a man WAY too old to be hitting on us - ahem, he was bald. and the hair that he did have was gray. WHAT was he thinking?), we headed over to Fenian's. I hadn't been there in AGES. When I was a student at Millsaps, I spent alot of time there, but I've hardly stepped inside in about 5 years! It was a bit of a comfort to know that it hadn't changed much. I hung out there for a while before moseying home around one-ish to my sweet husband. (Who always waits up! What a doll!)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Yahoo!

Well, we had our preview audience for the show last night, and I think they really enjoyed the production! (We were at about half-house.) They laughed a TON, and they clapped alot during scenes and at the ends of all the songs. Yay!

Tonight is officially opening night, so we should have even more folks out there. (If the weather doesn't turn too nasty.) It's begun! Whoopee!

Oh, on Monday night, Brian and I began The New Blind Project. Here's the thing: every window in our house has cheap little venetian mini-blinds on it. The kind that you can get at Home Depot for like $5. So naturally, I had a desire to upgrade at least some of the blinds. Well, easier said than done. Our windows in the great room are not exactly standard-sized, so it took me a good long while to even find pre-made blinds that would fit them. (NO WAY was I paying literal hundreds of dollars to have blinds custom-made. Geez! It's even more of a racket than having things custom-framed!) So, I finally found some pre-made blinds that I liked at Linens N Things. Only one problem: there were only two of them left, and they looked as though they had both been opened and returned. With a little trepidation, I took them to the front. As I was checking out, I asked the LNT employee about the containers. I told her that it looked as though they'd been returned, and I wanted to make sure that all the pieces were still inside. I was assured that the tops sometimes pop off these containers, but that all merchandise is checked to make sure it's complete before it's shelved.

Ha ha. I toted the blinds home, only to find that not a single scrap of hardware was in either box. Back to the store it went. I was informed upon returning the merchandise that, since these blinds were being discontinued, they did not have any more of them on the premises. Sooo, I momentarily resigned myself to the cheap mini-blinds once again.

But last week, I realized (duh.) that Linens N Things has a website, where I found the blinds! (Ta da!!) So, I ordered them, and they were shipped to the house. Hubby and I had to do a ltitle wrestling (not that kind) to get them into place, but now they look WONDERFUL!! And the Bradshaws, working together, triumph once again!!!

Now, onto the bedroom windows. Sigh.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bologna Arts Center posts their new season!

The Bologna Performing Arts Center, located at Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss., has finally posted their upcoming season! Click here for the skinny.

On my must list:
Camelot
October 28, 2006 @ 7:30 pm;October 29, 2006 @ 3:00 pm
Mainstage Artists presents “Camelot,” a fabulous and thrilling comedy based on the everlastingly lovable and legend of King Arthur and his knights. This musicalization follows Arthur’s reign as king of Camelot and the challenges he must face as his leading knight, Sir Lancelot falls in love with his wife, Guenevere. “Camelot” is a story of love, friendship, and betrayal beautifully reflected through memorable songs and lavish scenery.

Man of la Mancha
January 21, 2006 @ 2:00 pm;January 21, 2006 @ 7:30 pm;January 22, 2006 @ 7:30 pm
A powerful blend of tragedy, romance, comedy, and adventure, Man of La Mancha is an inspiring musical tribute to Don Quixote’s romantic idealism. This five-time Tony Award winner is the epic story of knight-errant Don Quixote, his servant Sancho, and the woman of his dreams, the lovely Dulcinea. The tale is set during the Spanish Inquisition and tells the romantic and noble journey of a man who sets out to right all wrongs and win the heart of a good woman as he duels windmills along the way.

KODO
March 1, 2007 @ 7:30 pm
KODO is one of the elite taiko drumming groups today. Based in Sado Island, Japan, KODO drummers perform with taiko drumming and other traditional Japanese musical instruments such as fue and shamisen. Showcasing traditional dance and vocal arrangements based on the traditional rhythms of regional Japan, their energetic renditions will have you leaving the theater in awe and amazement.

Willy Wonka
March 27, 2007 @ 7:30 pm
The Kennedy Center presents, “Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka,” an unforgettable story of triumph and discovery. Come join Willy Wonka and his band of Oompa Loompas as they lead Charlie, the spoiled-rotten Veruca Salt, gluttonous Augustus Gloop, gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde, and television junkie Mike Teavee through a labyrinth of lemon drops, life lessons, and giggles galore. Featuring live actors, puppets, plenty of surprises.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Treading the boards.














This is the cast from "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change." AREN'T WE CUTE? (Left to right: Danny Dauphin, yours truly, Harlan Zackery Jr., Ray McFarland, and Annalise Jensen.)

Our show was written up in the Clarion Ledger this week! YAY! To check out the article (which includes art), just visit http://www.clarionledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060911/FEAT05/609110316. (There's another cast picture here that ran with the article. Note: That is NOT my real hair. That is my "Jewish Mom" wig. Art can sometimes be embarrassing, can't it?)

We open tomorrow!! Woo-hoo!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Food for thought.

Ok. So we are sitting in Keifer's eating lunch today, and I notice this older gentleman, in the corner of the restaurant, alone. He has no food in front of him. Rather he has a pitcher of beer and a stein. And slowly, he's working his way through the pitcher.

So we chat and eat our way through the lunch hour. As I'm spearing my last cottage fry on my fork, he gestures towards me and says, "Don't eat that tater." After a double-take, I ask why. He says, "You'll hate yourself." Not quite sure how to respond, I reply, "I like living on the edge." And then I stuff the fry in my mouth. He goes back to his beer.

About 10 minutes later, he rises to leave the restaurant. He stops next to me, saying, "Do you really like living on the edge? I got a pink slip today from a job I been working for 13 years. Now, I'm going to go find the meanest bar in Jackson and kick some ass. Do you want to come with me?"

Now, I cannot overemphasize how taken aback I was at this moment. An odd queasy-ness mixed with tinges of pity in my stomach. Holding out his hand to me, he says, "You said you liked living on the edge. Do you want to come with me?" I look at my dining companions, smile self-consciously, duck my head and say, "Not today."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Forget the flyswatter. Get the blowtorch.

I went to see the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science's exhibit "The World of Giant Insects" today. Wow. Think huge, animatronic insects, and you have it about right. From the museum website:
Five hugely magnified robotic insects will allow visitors to more clearly observe some of the behaviors and adaptations that have enabled these creatures to thrive. Each insect has between five and 20 moving parts, with movement achieved by hydraulics or electric motors. A 19-foot-long praying mantis shows threatening behavior, causing its prey to freeze, to avoid being eaten. A 13-foot-long locust spreads its wings. Two 11-foot-long rhinoceros beetles fight, each the size of a Volkswagen... um... beetle. A giant walking stick, over 21 feet long, displays its protective camouflage. And at 15 feet, a swallowtail butterfly caterpillar is the biggest wiggler you'll ever see. Also on display are three giant insect heads with mouthpieces the visitor can operate by pushing a button. See how a dragonfly magnified 80 times chews, and how a bee, 200 times life size, sucks nectar. Marvel at how a mosquito, 600 times its real size, draws its meals through its piercing mouthpieces.
Yikes! The exhibit wraps on September 10, so hurry over to the museum if you haven't seen it yet!

Also, I did finish watching When the Levees Broke: a Requiem in Four Acts. It was powerful, haunting, and meaningful. I urge you to see it as soon as possible.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A day of nothing.

Today, I have the day off! From both of my jobs! YAY! So far, I've been occupying myself with copious amounts of television, web surfing, and unread magazines.

One of the programs that I TiVo'ed that I'm now finally getting to is Spike Lee's documentary on New Orleans' experience of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath - When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. So far, I've only watched Acts I and II. I'm hoping to get to the rest sometime later. The first half has been riveting. I love the way that Spike Lee is letting the people involved in the event speak for themselves, instead of employing cheesy voice-overs. He has captured some really powerful statements from many of the major players, as well as heartbreaking stories from several survivors that he chose to focus on. (One, about a man whose aging mother died at the Superdome, almost made me lose it. I can't believe he held it together.) In the first half, there is also some footage of New Orleans after the hurricane that is very difficult to watch, but it helps you remember and understand the magnitude of what went on down there last year. On the film's website, there's also an interesting interview with Lee, where he discusses why he wanted to make the film and what his own experiences were, recording these stories.

Oh, the Millsaps Arts and Lecture Series recently released its season. They've got an interesting lineup of Southern songwriters, authors, scientists, and more scheduled for this year. You can check out the complete program in their online brochure (PDF). Millsaps has also announced its roster for the Southern Circuit Film Series. These are great events; the audience screens an independent film and then usually has a question/answer session with the filmmaker. They have what looks like a gripping schedule of films, including State of Fear by Pamela Yates and Interkosmos by Jim Finn. Check out the full season here.

Rehearsals are clipping along. Yesterday, we ran through the show, and I felt reasonably good about how it went. We have a week of rehearsals left, and then we'll open! It's getting exciting!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Mississippi Museum of Art update!

Thought I'd sign in with a quick update on the Mississippi Museum of Art. If you hadn't heard, they are renovating the Mississippi Arts Pavillion facility as their new space. In less than a year, museum will open at its new home. Once completed, the facility’s architectural makeover is hoped to reflect the Museum’s mission to become a “museum without walls”—an inviting public space that will offer relevant and meaningful cultural experiences to both the Jackson community and the state of Mississippi.

The Museum’s capital campaign is well underway, with major contributions already secured from Trustmark, Bancorp South, BankPlus, BlueCross BlueShield of Mississippi, The Gertrude C. Ford Foundation, the Phil Hardin Foundation, the State of Mississippi and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Construction of the new Museum has already begun! In recent weeks, interior demolition on the facility has been completed. Work now begins on the northwest corner of the building—what will be the Museum’s main entrance, with an elevated ceiling, front-facing glass walls, and a canopy that extends onto the green space of the Museum’s gardens. Once this exterior renovation is complete, construction will move back inside to create a café, galleries, interactive spaces, classrooms, and back-of-house operations.

You can check out more of what the museum has planned and look at the architectual renderings of the new space at their MMA Is Moving website.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

"Unframed" series begins

Wanted to give a quick shout-out regarding a new series at New Stage. On Saturday, September 2, New Stage will kick off the inaugural season of "Unframed" with an Open Mic Coffee House & Art Market from 7:30pm to 10pm in the Hewes Room at the theatre. Coffee will be provided by Hwy 61 Coffeehouse in Vicksburg at a cost of $1 a cup. You can also browse the cool, affordable art that's hanging in the space. (All art priced under $100.) Cover is $3, cash or check only at the door.

“Unframed,” a new performance series, was established to present thought-provoking, affordable, alternative space theatre to fresh audiences in the Jackson area.

Actors who can walk

The choreographer came to rehearsals last night. Now, I will be the first person to tell you I am not a dancer (I classify myself as "an actor who can walk"), and I spent most of the early part of rehearsal wondering how on earth I was going to remember all of the steps and still find time to "perform"! However, after working on it some more last night and this morning, I think it will be fine. Our choreographer was very encouraging, and she came up with some great moves. I'm always so appreciative of people who are trying to teach me how to dance. They've got their work cut out for them.

I'm working on some of my solos now, trying to make the vocal quality what I want it to be and give the director what she wants. There's one ballad that she suggested I attack more as a monologue than a song, analyzing my actions in each line to make sure that I tell the story of the character. (I'm also holding a prop in that song, and I need to figure out what in the heck I'm going to do with that.) Luckily, there is no dancing in that piece, so if I can get the sound and the character right, I'm home free. (Whew!)

The violinist came to rehearsals for the first time last night as well. It's wonderful to have her there, because you begin to get an idea of how the music will actually sound in performance. It's a great punctuation to some of the things we've been doing vocally and hearing on the piano this last week or so. It's hard to believe that we've only been rehearsing about a week and a half. We are pretty much off-book for Act I, and now I'm working to memorize gray areas in my lines and songs in Act II. Because we only have 3 weeks to rehearse this show, we have to work rather quickly.

I think the radio commercial went pretty well. They will edit the audio together to create a :30 spot or so, and I'm really looking forward to hearing it!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

So much going on!

I wish I'd been able to write more lately, but between work and rehearsals, I've found myself short of time.

Rehearsals are going well. We are all coming off book, and we've only been rehearsing about a week. Mississippi Public Broadcasting swung by one of our evening rehearsals last week and taped us singing the closing number. We are also supposed to meet at 5 p.m. today to lay down some audio for a radio commercial. Things are moving very quickly!

We are knee-deep in costume fittings now. Because each of us plays some 15-odd characters, there are lots of costume changes. And they are QUICK. Hopefully, we won't have any problems keeping up!

Things I've been thinking in rehearsals - there are so many opportunities to tie business to music in this show. I hope that I will be able to take advantage of most of them. I've been avoiding listening to the tape/CD of the show, because I didn't want to be haunted by what other performers did with the material. To choreograph some of these little gestures/moves, though, I might either need to re-visit the tape or have the music director make a piano recording for me.

We have a great cast. I am continually impressed with them. I just hope that I don't pale in comparison! Yikes!

Monday, August 21, 2006

One foot in front of the other.

So much to relate! Last week, I attended the Storyteller's Ball, a new annual fundraising event for the Greater Jackson Arts Council. The evening had a Casablanca theme, and it was held at Jackson's Old Capitol Inn. It was such fun! They had stands of bamboo set up everywhere, a Morroccan buffet, and a big band playing lots of old standards. Elixir had a martini bar set up outside, by the pool, and they also had a silent auction with lots of beautiful items to bid on. It was a wonderful event, and the place was packed! This will definitely become an annual "must" on my calendar.

I also had the opportunity to meet all my cast mates for the upcoming New Stage production "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change." We met to do a mini-rehearsal for the song that we sang at the Bright Lights, Belhaven Nights street fair, put on by the Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Association. We sang one song at the festival, three different times throughout the evening. We were lucky enough to have nice-sized groups come to each little performance, so hopefully they got a good preview of what we'll be doing in Setpember! In between singing, I roamed around outside to see what was on offer. There was a young rock band playing; several booths with original photography, glass, and pottery for sale; and various food carts. It was really nice, and you couldn't walk too far without bumping into someone you knew. It was a wonderful event.

Over the weekend, I logged 6 miles with my ladies' running group. It was one of the best runs I've done with them so far - the morning was cool and cloudy, and we seem to have finally found our pace. Although running was really difficult for me when I started out, it's become one of my favorite things to do for exercise. It's oddly meditative, and you don't need (much) special equipment to do it. You just put on your shoes and go!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Media today

I was reading a copy of AlwaysOn, a business-technology pub, this week, and I found myself nodding several times as I read editor Tony Perkins' intro letter. Here's an excerpt:
". . . In 1994 it became clear to me that the Internet was, in the words of Jim Clark, “the real information superhighway!” What wasn’t exactly clear was what the Internet’s distinguishing characteristic would be over the long run. AlwaysOn has seen the light, and the Internet’s true raison d’être can be summed up in two simple statistics. The first one: 62% of the content that the average member of the IM Generation reads online is produced by someone they know. Think about that for a moment (especially with your media-and-entertainment-executive hat on). The second stat: 72 million kids have joined the global MySpace community. The “to see and be seen on the Internet” genie is officially out of the bottle, and there is no turning back. I’ve never had as much fun in the media business as in the almost four years AO has been at this (or in my preceding years at Red Herring). We have truly entered an era of media participation—this is what the kids want, and this is what they’re going to get. Even Rupert Murdoch, king of Big Media, confessed that “young readers don’t want to rely on a godlike figure from above to tell them what is important, and they certainly do not want news presented as gospel. The media world can no longer lecture, it must become a place for conversation . . . ”
Perkins goes on to note that "Ironically, just when we thought that the media business was becoming concentrated in the hands of a few conglomerates, the world is instead exploding into millions of media brands." I remember having discussions in graduate school about how fewer companies were owning more and more media outlets, while the FCC just twiddled its thumbs. We worried about a dearth of unbiased content. But the Internet is serving as such a fail-safe for that, because so many people can instantly become their own publisher, their own brand. While I still have concerns about more outlets being concentrated in fewer hands, I'm also seeing the splintering that Perkins talks about, which shows that, no matter who is producing media, users still want to consume their own self-selected media in their own way.

Read the whole intro here. Interesting stuff.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Recreation in the River Town

I spent some of last weekend playing in Vicksburg, and it made for a relaxing day or so.

I toured the Cedar Grove Mansion Inn, an antebellum home that is not only a bed and breakfast and an historic building, but which also operates a fabulous restaurant on the premises. The home is furnished with many of the same pieces that the original owners, the wealthy Klein family, purchased for their home. The front door still shows damage it sustained during the Civil War, and there is a Union cannon ball still lodged in one of the front parlor walls. The tour I took was self-guided, although the front desk did give me a written tour to guide me through the home. In addition, any guest rooms that are not currently rented are open to tour as well, so the casual visitor gets a real idea of what it might be like to stay there. It looks divine.

I spent the day shopping Washington Street, which has a lovely array of fun little stores. I particularly love The Attic Gallery, which is a funky carefree space chock-a-block full of interesting art pieces; Twigs, a positively magical garden store selling wind chimes, rain chains, fountains, and decorative pots; and a collection of antiques stores that sorely tempted the bargain hunter in me. (I came so close to buying a cool dining table, but then I thought, "Where on Earth will I put this?" But I really wanted it! And it was SO reasonable!)

In the late afternoon/early evening, I headed over to the Vicksburg National Military Park. I hadn't been in years, and I enjoyed it so much. I used my handy pamphlet to guide me through the park, and I pulled over at most of the larger monuments to walk around and take photos. I got some great shots at the park, especially as the sun was going down. There was so much to be re-learned (and in some cases, learned for the first time) about the Civil War. It was just such an interesting and nostalgic experience for me, as I could remember visiting when I was a little girl.

I ended my day back at Cedar Grove, at the restaurant that the inn operates. I started with a delicious crisp salad with the house dressing, a honey mustard creole. It was delightfully spicy. For my entree, I chose the crab stuffed chicken, accompanied by creamy German potatoes. All was served with yummy warm bread, and a lemon sorbet was brought out in between courses to cleanse the palate. Delicious! On the inn's website, you can download their menu and see for yourself what's on offer. It's a little spendy for a small town, but I can highly recommend the food. The service was also superb.

I had a great time in Vicksburg, and I can't wait to go back again! (Driving there and back wtih the top down on the convertible didn't hurt the experience, either!)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

New wheels!


Ok, I've done a selfish thing. For about 6 years, I've driven a staid Ford Taurus. Four-door sedan, sensible vehicle, etc., etc. Well, it recently had a problem that would have almost cost more to fix than the worth of the car, so we decided it was time to go car shopping. Now, for many people, car shopping is a nightmare, and I myself concede that the last time I bought a vehicle, I spent the better part of a Saturday in the dealership, hemming and hawing with the salesman. Well, this time, it was totally different.

First of all, we did a ton of research. After our exhaustive foray into the world of car-buying, we determined that two cars were legitimate possibilites:
1.) A new 2006 or 2007 Toyota Corolla
2.) A slightly used Toyota Camry Solara convertible

Why? Both cars have received excellent ratings from Consumer Reports, they tend to hold their value well, and they get decent gas mileage. However, the convertible is about $10,000 more than the Corolla. As well, there aren't many used ones to be found in our market. So, I resigned myself to the Corolla. It was sensible, I told myself. A family car.

THEN I saw an ad in the paper for a 2005 Camry Solara convertible. Silver with a black top. Fingers trembling slightly, I dialed the dealership to find out more. Got the VIN, ran a CarFax check. Clean as a whistle. 26,000 miles or so. Great shape. He said they could be flexible with the price. (Of course he did. They'll say anything to get you out to the lot.)

Then, I did more research on this specific deal. What it was worth with the options and mileage it had. What type of financing I could qualify for. So, we went down to the dealership, drove it around. It was heaven. BUT I wasn't ready to love it. After all, it wasn't mine yet.

After a little negotiation, we came up with a deal we could both walk away happy from. So now, yes, she of the Ford Taurus has a shiny silver convertible! I can hardly believe it! We have already taken it out for several joy rides, and it purrs like a kitten. It's so much fun!

And, geez, I can see why middle aged men buy these cars. Just sitting in it makes you feel younger. Needless to say, I'm very pleased with this purchase. Now, I just need to plan a few road trips . . .

Monday, August 07, 2006

Eating, drinking, and other amusements

I just got back from the Natchez Food and Wine Festival! Our Mixology class on Saturday at Bowie's Tavern was a real treat. I learned a lot about mixing drinks, and the instructor gave us several recipies to try at home. We sampled about five different cocktails (small samples, mind you!), and I think my favorite was the twist on the mojito that he showed us. He served it with crushed raspberries and blueberries in the bottom, which was utterly refreshing and gave the drink a beautiful "sunrise" appearance in the glass. When I can lay hands on the recipe, I'll post it here.

After the class, we walked around (slightly slowly!) to shop in downtown Natchez. There were lots of precious little shops (some of which were closed - on a Saturday afternoon? I don't get it.), and we bought several unique items. I found a little hand-carved wooden bird that looks perfect perched on a high shelf in my den, as well as a gorgeous square wooden platter for serving cheese. I also found the perfect winter coat - red, wool, with a psychedelic print lining, and cut down to my lower thigh. I feel like Mary Tyler Moore in it, AND it has great lines. Antique shopping in Natchez is a dream come true. There are so many unique pieces available for sale, and so many of them are reasonably priced. I dearly wish I'd made a few trips down when we were furnishing our house and still in the market for things like tables, stuffed chairs, and art pieces.

We ate dinner that night in the Biscuits and Blues Cafe - what a delight! First of all, the biscuits are divine, served with a delicious, sweet, softened butter. Then we enjoyed dinner salads and an appetizer of crawfish beignets draped in a creamy sauce. For my entree, I ordered a chicken pasta - a grilled chicked breast over angel hair with a rich, slightly spicy sauce. YUM. Biscuits and Blues Cafe is one of the only live music establishments I've ever been to that got the volume right. You could definitely hear the music, but you could also hear well enough to converse with your dining companions. It's so rare that I thought it worth mentioning. We loved the vibe of this place.

That night, we bedded down at Linden Bed and Breakfast. It is a lovely home off Melrose Avenue, a mere hop and a skip from downtown Natchez. The bed in our room was an antique canopy marvel with a sunburst fabric pattern. The next morning, we enjoyed a full breakfast in the elegant dining room, which was furnished with a variety of antiques and conversation pieces. We ate, and ate, and ATE. Breakfast casserole, grits, hot coffee, biscuits, juice, fruit, the list goes on. After breakfast, we were given a tour of the house, which has been occupied by the same family for many generations. Our guide, who also owns and operates the bed and breakfast, imparted lots of little tidbits to us, both personal and historical.

After a brief retreat into the room to freshen up, we made our way to Longwood Plantation, one of the largest octagonal homes in the world. (I wish they had an official website, but they don't. Check out the impression Longwood made on another visitor by clicking here.) This is a stunning attraction in Natchez, and I highly recommend that you do not miss it if you are in town. Haller Nutt, an obscenely wealthy plantation owner, began construction of this 6-floor, mammoth octagonal home shortly before the Civil War. In the space of 18 months, a collection of craftsmen and slaves had completed the basic structure/facade of the home. However, when the war broke out, many of the craftsmen, who had traveled to Natchez from Philadelphia, left the job to go serve the North. They left their tools and supplies right where they dropped them. Most of them thought that the war would be a short one, and that they'd return to finish work on the house once the war was over.

However, Nutt lost his entire fortune during the Civil War, and he was left with an unfinished house. Using local labor, he finished the basement of the home, where he and his family lived until their deaths. It stayed in the family until 1970, when it was donated to the Natchez Pilgrimage Garden Club, which now maintains it and offers tours. The tour takes visitors through the basement of the house, which still contains all of the Nutts' original furnishings and art pieces. Then, visitors are allowed into the second floor, which is unfinished and offers a view up into the dramatic Oriental dome that tops the building. It is very stirring to see the abandoned tools and supplies, the old crate that the downstairs piano arrived in, etc.

The tour offers much food for thought as well. Haller Nutt died in his 40's, still a relatively young man. One wonders what his final years must have been like, living in the basement while his failed dream literally hung over his head. Longwood is a stark reminder of how war changes the economy, how it interrupts plans. The house was designed to be a fabulous, excessive show of wealth, and its incompletion seems somehow fitting. As it was being planned, the world that might allow such vanity was being pushed aside. The time would no longer support such extravagance. I've toured several historic homes in Natchez, but I don't think any have given me as much food for thought as Longwood. It is a complex, conflicting look at the antebellum way of life and the Civil War.

Natchez has made a name for itself in the tourism industry by peddling history, and it is the past that is much with the Natchez visitor. What came before is everywhere in this tiny town, almost tangible. While great food and surprisingly good shopping are certainly part of the Natchez experience, it is the story of time here that is most notable, running through Natchez as relentlessly as the river.