Monday, July 31, 2006

Sold out.

Well, we all knew it was going to happen. Pandora.com has gone commercial. The new minimized player function has ads in it (no problem for me, I assure you). However, what bugs me is that their new licensing agreement with funders prohibits users from skipping more than a few songs per hour. WHAT?! I guess the reason this doesn't make sense to me is that certain songs will be played, whether I want to hear them or not. Which kinda defeats the whole purpose of Pandora to start with - i.e. connecting you with artists they think you will like. All of a sudden, they don't care as much what artists you like anymore. Rather, it's a pay-to-play deal. Ick.

Logged a good 18 miles last week. I didn't run as much at the beginning of this week. One of my feet had some weird cramp in it, so I spent time on the bike at the gym rather than pounding it out on the asphalt. My 5-miler on Saturday went well; I'm able to run more and more of it. Right now, it's only the hills that are killing me!

Oooh - I finally got a decent recipe for a DELISH goat cheese salad that I had years ago at a little French resturant in Edinburgh, Scotland. (I know. Weird, isn't it?) The restaurant was called Cafe Rouge, and this salad is a pretty close approximation of what I had there. The recipe is courtesy of Barefoot Contessa. (Ina Garten NEVER lets me down!):

Salad with Warm Goat Cheese
Yield: 6 servings

1 (11-ounce) log plain or herbed Montrachet
2 extra-large egg whites, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Fresh white bread crumbs
Enough mixed salad greens for 6 servings
Olive oil and unsalted butter, for frying

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons good cider vinegar
2 tablespoons good Champagne vinegar
Pinch sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 extra-large egg yolk
1 cup good olive oil

Slice the Montrachet into 12 (1/2-inch-thick) slices. (The easiest way to slice goat cheese is to use a length of dental floss.) Dip each slice into the beaten egg whites, then the bread crumbs, being sure the cheese is thoroughly coated. Place the slices on a rack and chill them for at least 15 minutes.

For the dressing, place the vinegars, sugar, salt, pepper, and egg yolk in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and blend for 1 minute. With the motor running, slowly pour the olive oil through the feed tube until the vinaigrette is thickened. Season, to taste.

Toss the salad greens with enough dressing to moisten, then divide them among 6 plates.
Melt 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a saute pan over medium-high heat until just under smoking. Cook the goat cheese rounds quickly on both sides until browned on the outside but not melted inside. Top each salad with 2 warm rounds and serve.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Woman on the run.

FYI - Had to check in with my miles this morning. I logged 3 miles on Monday morning and 3 miles on Tuesday night. I also spent 30 minutes this morning on the elliptical at the YMCA.

I'd really like to get up to a base mile run of 5 miles. At a 10-minute mile, I could cover this in an hour (including stretching before and after), and feel like I'd gotten in a really good workout. Right now, I'm running 2 minutes and walking 1 minute, so it's taking me about 35-40 minutes to go 3 miles.

So my new goal is to be able to run 5 miles non-stop. (Believe it or not, there was a time when I could actually do this.) If I can get myself there, I'll reward my own efforts with a new pair of running shoes. (My old ones are close to retirement, anyway!)

Adding up the evidence

I saw Proof, with Anthony Hopkins, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jake Gyllenhaal, this week. I'd seen it previously as a live stage production (written by David Auburn) at a regional theatre, and I was interested to see what treatment film director John Madden gave the material. In a word, I thought it was great.

The film stayed very true to the stage play, telling the tale of a young woman named Catherine (Paltrow), who dropped out of college to care for Robert, her mentally ill father (Hopkins) who also happens to be a famous mathematician. After Robert passes away, Catherine (already a little socially awkward), is lost, rambling around his old house by herself. Graduate student Hal requests her permission to sift through the copious notebooks that Robert produced during his decline, hoping to find the next mathematical breakthrough in their pages. Catherine assents, and the two begin a tentative relationship. When Catherine points Hal to a locked drawer in her father's study, he is thrilled to discover a very important, groundbreaking proof that he immediately attributes to her father. When Catherine divulges that she herself wrote it, both Hal and her estranged sister Claire (Hope Davis), who has flown from New York to Chicago to attend the funeral, doubt her assertion. Catherine already fears that, with her father's talent for math, she has also inherited his tendency towards madness. She reacts strongly to the betrayal, and Hal must try to prove that he does have faith in her.

What's interesting about the script is that the audience doesn't know until the end just which of the characters to believe. Did Catherine write the proof, or did she steal it from her ailing father? Did her father still have possession of his faculties in his decline, or was he incapable of writing the proof? Is Hal sticking around because he really likes Catherine, or does he want her to let her guard down just enough to allow him to make off with the mathematical prize he's looking for? This tension makes the film (and the play) work. The material's no slouch. Auburn won both a Pulitzer and a Tony for the play this film is based on.

All the performances in this film were very strong. Paltrow particularly shined, rendering Catherine as shy, awkward, and afraid of her own potential talent/madness. I thought her treatment of the character was very original; I haven't seen her perform in a role like this before. She played this same role to stellar reviews on Broadway, and her reprisal of Catherine in the film is delicate and layered. I really enjoyed her.

I recommend this film for a rainy afternoon of reflection.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Rose-colored glasses

Inspired by The Devil Wears Prada, I'm in the market for a new pair of sunglasses. (Some of the sunglasses Meryl Streep wears are insanely fashionable. I've been wearing the same Wal-Mart pair for about two years. It's time for an upgrade.) I was wondering how to best choose the right pair to fit my face. I did a little digging online, and here are two of the most helpful links I found. I particularly like the first one, because it's helpful to have a visual example of, say, a square face, or an oval face, to help you judge what shape YOUR face is.
1. What shape of face do you have?
2. How to choose flattering frames.

Now, I'm truckin' over to ebay to see what I can find!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Fear. The great motivator.

Yikes! It's happened! I've been cast in a comedic musical review at New Stage Theatre. The show, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, opens on September 12. I picked up the script and music last week, and it's going to be so much fun! The show is all about the relationship process - finding the right person, falling in love, getting married, nurturing love with one's spouse, growing old together, etc. I'm really looking forward to the rehearsal process, and I hope to be a more mindful artist now than I was during college.

Another thing this means: well, I quickly realized that I was 15 pounds lighter the last time I was on stage. Fear is a great motivator, and I am running scared! I logged 3 miles yesterday, and 6 miles today. I have until September 12 (opening night) to look like something. (Good lord! I'm too old for this!) However, this new-found dedication does have its rewards. I spent my 6 miler this morning with a fabulous group of ladies that meet at our local YMCA to run/walk on Saturday mornings. I really enjoyed the experience, and I met some great people. I think I'll make that jog a standing appointment on my calendar.

Friday, July 21, 2006

A toast to Meryl

I went to see The Devil Wears Prada last night with some girlfriends. I'd heard it veritably panned by some critics, and I've never read the book it was based on. However, I went to see it because Meryl Streep is in it and, basically, I trust her.

While the movie is many things that critics have called it (predictable, pat, etc.), it is still worth watching because of Streep's elegant performance. Quick set up: Andy (played by Anne Hathaway), a smart journalism grad trying to make her way in the big city, is jobless and luckless. In desperation, she goes on an interview to Runway magazine, a fashion publication she's barely heard of. Editor-in-Chief Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), a dragonlady workaholic with a penchant for steaks and Starbucks, hires the unlikely girl as her second assistant. The movie then follows Andy and Miranda as their professional relationship continues.

Director David Frankel had better be glad that Miranda is such a primary character in this script, because Streep elevated the material (as she always does). Many other actresses might have played Miranda as a screamer, driven by anger and a perverse pleasure in others' misery. However, Streep makes her real. She is ambitious; she works like a dog; she is exacting; and she expects no less from those who work for her. Because, time and again, the viewer sees how hard Miranda works, it's difficult to write her off as a hate-able character. After all, she doesn't ask her employees to work any harder than she's working herself. As well, I loved the calm, the feeling of business-as-usual that Streep exuded as Miranda. She never raised her voice. She rarely seemed to get emotionally involved in her business decisions. She just did her job. It's a very interesting protrait of a woman at the top in her chosen profession. I can see why Streep made many of the choices she made, and I think she was wonderful in the role.

To boot, there are other, less noble reasons to go see The Devil Wears Prada. First, the clothes and how each character wears them make for fascinating study. Secondly, I heard some of the best movies lines that I'd heard in a while at this screening. ("I'm one stomach flu away from my goal weight," mentions one character. "She's a sadist . . . and not in the good way," opines another. And, I think, my favorite - "Something told me, hire the smart . . . fat girl.") I think it's best viewed with a group of girl friends, after imbibing something fruity and pink.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

This year at the Orpheum

Coming up this year at Memphis' Orpheum Theatre:
Beauty and the Beast - Aug. 25-27
The Tribute to to Frank, Sammy, Joey, and Dean - Sept. 26 - Oct. 1
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat - Oct. 24-29
Annie - Nov. 14-19
Wonderful Town - Dec. 5-10

They also show vintage movies and host other events at the theatre. To learn more about what they have planned for the coming season, visit their online schedule!

Unfortunately, the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans is still repairing damage from Hurricane Katrina. They have not announced a season for next year, and it is currently unclear what their plans are. If I hear any news about a 2007-2007 lineup, I will post it here.

Man and Superman

I went to see Superman Returns last night, and it's left me with quite a few questions. I think that the movie was cast pretty well. Newcomer Brandon Routh was very convincing as the Man of Steel. He certainly looks the part, and I thought he was as believable as a caped, flying, invincible man could be. Kate Bosworth was inoffensive but unremarkable as Lois Lane. Kevin Spacey and Parker Posey turned in solid performances as Lex Luthor and Kitty Kowalski. James Marsden again plays "the man the leading lady doesn't love" as Richard White. (It's getting to be a habit with him - The Notebook, X-Men - he plays the nice, cute guy that doesn't really get the girl. Will somebody please stop typecasting this dude? James Marsden deserves love, too!! I'm tired of seeing him disappointed on the big screen!) The CGI effects were great, with scenes of Superman in space, saving airplanes, etc., being particularly visually arresting.

I think that I had a few problems with the script, though. First of all, the movie is VERY slow to start. The first twenty minutes are awfully choppy, with WAY too much exposition. Basically, I wanted to get into the theatre and see Brandon Routh in the Superman suit, to see if this new guy was going to give us a Superman we could believe. Well, I did, and he is, but the movie took far too long to get us there.

Secondly, I think that Superman did a few things in this movie that are very contrary to the general public's idea of what Superman should be doing. First of all, it behooves me to set this up: In Superman Returns, Lois Lane is engaged to another man, and she has a son. Superman, under the cover of night, flies to her house (which she shares with her little family) and uses his X-ray vision and super-hearing to spy on a private conversation she's having in the kitchen. WHAT? Superman is NOT a peeping tom, for crying out loud! According to the iconography of the Superman myth, the story we've been telling and listening to about Superman for 50 years, this is really incompatible. Also, later, Superman visits Lois Lane on the roof of the Daily Planet building. Even though he knows she's engaged to someone else, he moves to kiss her, and she stops him. I don't think the Superman I know would be kissing on someone who is already engaged to another man. I don't know, I just felt that, in many ways, this movie tried to dismantle parts of the shiny clean image of Superman. It was incongruent, and I'm not sure I liked it.

I think the whole point of these scenes may have been to make Superman look more human, more falliable. For example, in a scene where Superman has been weakened by Kryptonite, we see him get worked over by a few worthless henchmen. And not just a few jabs to the stomach. I mean, we see Superman crawling through dirty water, running away from these two-bit thugs. It was a very disturbing image, because the American public doesn't think of Superman that way. Director Bryan Singer really took some chances, playing with such an iconic brand like this.

Anyway, I definitely think the movie is worth seeing on the big screen, although not a slam dunk. I will bar any final judgements about this new endeavor to resurrect the Superman franchise until I see how future movies play out.

Any thoughts from you out there in cyber-land?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The audition.

Well, I have a confession to make. While I blithely attend and critique theatre productions quite a bit, I have not actually performed in a theatre production in about six years. That's right, six years. Between marriage, traveling (some of) the world, and finishing graduate school, I haven't exactly been able to plan my life around local productions that looked interesting to me.

However, I'm out of grad school now, and I've just finished a major project at work, leaving me with the wherewithal in the evenings to consider actually doing some acting again. I must admit, I'm approaching this with more than a little trepidation. I mean, lurking in the back of my mind is the old saying, "Use it or lose it." I haven't performed in such a long time; what if I've lost my knack for the craft?

Anyway, a local theatre is holding auditions in the next few weeks, and I've signed up for an audition appointment. I've even scheduled some studio time to get a new headshot. Now, I just need to freshen my performing resume, find a monologue, and hit the boards.

It's odd - for so long I've lived my life without really putting myself out there in the way that a professional actor does every day. I haven't asked for approval or validation in a while. I've become very comfortable calling the shots in my life. But I've noticed that a creative spark has been lacking. I miss it. Not like my breath, my soul, and my very reason for being, but I miss it.

So, I'm going to give it another go (in my old age!).

Wish me luck!

(Yikes.)

Eat, drink, and be merry!

Some friends and I are tossing around the idea of going down for the Natchez Food and Wine Festival August 4-5. It looks like so much fun! While some of the more attractive events (like Great Chefs in Great Houses) are already sold out, there appear to be tickets available for the majority of the other events.

Where to stay? I'm checking out the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau web site for ideas! I'll let you know how it works out!

Also planning on swinging by Elixir, a hip little bar and restaurant in Jackson, for drinks and dinner tonight. If you haven't tried it, I highly recommend the Ice Pick and/or the Mississippi Martini. Basically sweet tea with lemon and mint, spiked with vodka. YUM. Their appetizers are divine (great cheese plate, great tapas selection, great chocolate/strawberry/pound cake fondue, etc.), and, while spendy, dinner entrees are delicious.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The thrill/exhaustion of living

I was talking with my sister the other night, and she mentioned that she's beginning to think she might like to go to medical school. To illuminate: she's already an elementary-level educator, and she just spent a significant amount of time and money taking boards so that she could command a higher salary. Her new yen got me to thinking - we as people are constantly changing. And what we want is constantly changing. So we have to constantly re-evaluate who we are and what it is that we want. And then we have to worry about what we're going to do about it. While thrilling, it is also exhausting. There's no chance to rest on our laurels, to sigh with the knowledge that we are complete. We are always searching and reaching. It's like two sides of an oddly evil coin.

Oh, I had the chance to eat dinner at Del Sol, a fairly new Jackson restaurant, last week. DIVINE!! We started with the calamari, doused lightly in a garlic-saffron aioli (heaven). We moved on to a light herb salad, accompanied by bread served with butter and olive tapenade. As an entree, I had the delicious pecan-crusted trout (a generous serving accompanied by roasted vegetables), and my dining companion enjoyed four succulent lamb chops, done to a turn and served with a side of cucumber and tomato couscous. For dessert, we feasted on the delectably creamy mascarpone cheese cake (crustless - I heartily endorse it) and a rich chocolate mousse. We washed it all down with a delicious wine I'd never tried before, a rich red called Goat Roti. Prices are a little spendy, but worth it. Service was excellent, and our well-behaved child was welcomed with open arms.

Upcoming theatre events

New Stage Theatre has released its season for next year! Click here to see what they have planned! My musts include I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change; The Crucible (their Halloween show - I WILL NOT miss this); and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

Kessler Productions has also announced their new season, and almost every show looks to be a winner. While I usually pick and choose what Kessler shows to go see, this may be a season-ticket year! Check it out - Hairspray, The Producers, AIDA, Wonderful Town, and Man of la Mancha. Get your tickets now!!

Lastly, Alabama Shakespeare Festival's rep season is winding down. You still have a week or so to catch productions of To Kill a Mockingbird, Twelfth Night, and The Trojan Women. I missed most of the rep season this year (my job kept me in town), and I am just sick about it. If you miss these shows, you still have all of August to look forward to. They are presenting Three Sisters and The Honky Tonk Angels over the summer. I may trot over to Montgomery and catch both of them.

A lovers' tiff?

I watched Mr. and Mrs. Smith, directed by Doug Liman, yesterday. What fun! The premise of the film is this: John and Jane Smith, after six years of rather lackluster marriage, visit a marriage counselor for a "tune-up." During their session, they admit to keeping "little secrets" from one another. We later learn that they are both assassins for hire, maintaining a secret life apart from one another. Their professional worlds collide, however, when they are both assigned to the same hit.

In the ensuing scenes, the couple realizes the duplicity of their marriage as both are assigned to kill each other. A few rollicking shoot outs later, the two decide that perhaps their union is worth saving after all, and they decide to flaunt their employers and fight for one another.

Aside from the physical perfection of both Angelina Jolie (Jane Smith) and Brad Pitt (John Smith), their on-screen chemistry is great. In addition to great physical work in this movie, they both flex their comedic muscles to great effect. (I loved lines like, "You still alive down there, baby?" What a hoot!) And while the story line follows a very familiar path, it is still fully enjoyable. While violent, the carnage is this movie is not particularly graphic; it lives up to its PG13 rating. As no heavy mental lifting is required, it's great, indulgent entertainment. I would recommend this film for both couples and families with older children.

Crawling out . . .

. . . from underneath my job, which has buried me for the past month, I've had the opportunity to see a movie this week that I really liked.

I thought that We Don't Live Here Anymore - starring Laura Dern, Naomi Watts, Mark Ruffalo, and Peter Krause - was an amazing film. Directed by John J. Curran, the film is based on two short stories (by Andre Dubus) that chronicle infidielities committed by two married couples. Ruffalo plays the role of Jack, a college professor in an unhappy marriage with Terry (Dern), a rather slovenly houswife who, nonethless, loves her husband (and often yells at him) passionately. Bookending their tumultuous relationship are Edith (Watts), an ultra-neat, quiet beauty married to Hank (Krause), another college professor who has a rather fluid definition of faithfulness.

Jack and Edith secretly nurse an affection for each other, which they indulge. Edith knows they will get caught, but doesn't think her husband will mind. Jack, on the other hand, struggles with the idea that he may not love Terry at all anymore. Wracked with guilt, Jack practically sets Terry and Hank up on a date, then is by turns pleased (because he then feels his own infidelity is more justifiable) and horrified (because maybe part of him still loves Terry) when the two of them go to bed together.

Performances in this film are of the highest quality. The arguments between Jack and Terry are cutting and often cruel, underscoring the messy nature of their relationship. Conversely, Edith and Hank seem to feel so sterilized towards each other that passion doesn't enter into the equation for them, making the ending of the film predictable but somehow "right." Bedroom scenes of the two married couples emphasize how, even in the act of lovemaking, oceans of distance can separate people. We Don't Live Here Anymore is an interesting, and often heartbreaking, examination of marriage and infidelity.