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!