the further adventures of

Mike Pirnat

a leaf on the wind

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Ann Arbor/RSC Recap

There is next-to-nothing happening at work right now, so...

Saturday

Lunch

Once we got all of us cleaned up and dressed, Andy, Liz, and I joined up with Lauren to have lunch at Amer's, a deli place off of State. I had a moment of deja vu as I realized I'd been there before, in a time that now seems ages ago. After much consternation with their menu of too-many-choices, I ended up getting a club sandwich and a mango smoothie. Both were quite tasty, though the smoothie was much easier to consume, as my sandwich was far more massive than any of us had expected -- besides generous portions of ham, turkey, and tasty bacon, this club sported a middle layer of the same thick, highly dense, whole-wheat bread that provided the foundations of this mighty sandwich. It was huge, and heavy. It felt dangerous in my hands. All were suitably impressed that I was able to eat the whole thing.

Coriolanus

From there, Liz and I headed off to Coriolanus, which was playing at the Power Center (a weird pseudo-industrial building that looks sort of like it should be a power station, except that it's an auditorium), while Lauren and Andy headed off to kill time before dinner. We were shown to our seats and started getting comfortable, then we were shown to our real seats when the ushers discovered they'd put us one row behind where we should be. So we settled in again, eager to see what the Royal Shakespeare Company would do with this lesser-known, not often performed tragedy.

And then three and a half hours passed, during which time I grew progressively less eager. Now I understand why Coriolanus is only rarely performed.

First, the good points:

  • Excellent costumes. The play itself is set ca. 500 BC, when Rome is just one of several warring city-state tribes. To costume the play, a feudal Japanese look was chosen, with lovely kimonos for the manipulative ladies of Rome, elegant robes for the politicians, and samurai-styled garb (complete with katana) for Caius Martius Coriolanus and the other soldiers. The costuming really, really worked for me.
  • Sword fights. Could have been better, but definitely could have been far, far worse.
  • Blood. When Caius Martius is sacking the Volscian city all by himself, he gets to run around bare-chested, sword in hand, and covered in blood from head to waist. Damn, that looked cool on stage. Later, when he is assassinated, his buddy Aufidius cuts out Caius Martius' heart. Also kind of cool.
  • Menenius, a patrician of Rome. The only performance that I could latch onto, the only character for whom I felt any sympathy, the only reminder of Shakespeare's usual linguistic beauty.
  • The servants at Aufidius' residence who try to prevent Caius Martius' entrance. Their goofy, comic performances injected some much-needed life into the play (though I don't usually expect that the best thing about a tragedy will be a brief bit of comedy).

Unfortunately, talking about what was good inevitably means talking about what was bad. And there was an awful, awful lot of that.

  • The performances. Save for Menenius, the good-natured patrician, no one gave a performance that I felt was terribly engaging. Whether they raced through the dialogue as if it get it out of the way, or shuffled about like automata, most seemed too flat, or just "off". It seemed like no one had their heart in it.
  • The music. To accompany the samurai motif, we were presented with what presumed to be traditional Japanese music, the kind of stuff that sounds exactly like someone who doesn't understand the music trying too hard to be authentic. It came off like a combination of the bad horror movie which uses music to shock the audience and a bad samurai film. Long minutes of excruciatingly spartan dialogue, and worse, silences, would drag on and on, punctuated by a SUDDEN! LOUD! DIN! during scene changes. I suppose the intent was to do something musically to keep things interesting, ratchet up the tension, etc., but I felt that it failed, and failed badly.
  • The language. It is completely without lyrical feeling, bereft of lilt and life. There is no balcony speech, no "to be or not to be", no "sound and fury". Nothing that grabs you and smacks you upside with how wonderful the English language can be.
  • The play. Coriolanus is supposed to be a tragedy. In order for a tragedy to be successful, the playwright needs to establish sympathy between the audience and the character(s) who will meet an unfortante end. Unfortunately, Shakespeare does none of this. Caius Martius is nigh devoid of redeeming qualities that we as an audience might want to latch onto. He claims to love his mother, wife, and son, but spends the majority of his time being a stubborn, stuck-up, spitefully proud dimwit. He alienates the other characters -- and the audience! -- at every opportunity. He is not clever or funny. He just whines a lot, and gets angry. When Aufidius cuts out his heart, I nearly lept to my feet to yell, "THANK YOU!" for ending my suffering. This thing is just plain rotten. You may as well read the summary of the play, because it packs all of the salient details into a more engaging narrative than Shakespeare's hours of torment do; you will also have a lot more time to enjoy your afternoon.

Whew! I'm glad I got that off my chest.

Dinner, and After

After the ordeal was over, we joined Andy and Lauren at Gratzi, a lovely Italian restaurant on Main Street, for dinner. And dinner oh-so-completely made up for the play! I had quail for the first time (tasty, similar to turkey), and we split a most marvelous bottle of Chianti! It was a '97 Riserva (two great things that go great together -- 1997 is the best year for Chianti in recorded history, and they only make the Riservas in the best years, and only from the best grapes) that was surprisingly affordable given its quality. It had cellared wonderfully, and was as smooth as silk to drink. Faaaaaabulous!

We had a fun conversation -- it's great to be able to see Lauren when she's not sick, or a post-call zombie -- and grabbed dessert at the attached dessert place next door. Yum! Then it was time for Andy and Lauren to dash away to see The Merry Wives of Windsor, which they tell us was tremendously good. They obviously chose the correct play.

After dessert, Liz and I went back to Andy and Lauren's place, where we attempted to figure out how to get Andy's laptop to play DVD's on the TV. Due to a lack of useful places to pump the audio, and not terribly interested in having the sound come out of something other than what was showing the movie, we decided to watch their rental DVD of The Road Home on Liz's PowerBook. That worked fine for about 10 minutes, at which point her laptop decided the disc was too scratchy and smudgy to get any more data from. So instead we ended up watching the preview DVD's that accompany issues 1 and 2 of the American NewType anime magazine. Each one has several trailers, followed by the first 30 minute episode of a particular series. The first one featured episode 1 of "Noir", which seems really cool, and has great music; the second had "Wild Arms", which seems like it would be a fun little romp of a series, if only I never had to hear it in English. After that we surfed for a bit, talked with [info]sam16 over AIM, and Liz worked on her knitting.

Sunday

On Sunday, we slept in. And that was a good, good thing.

Had brunch at a place called Zanzibar, quite tasty. I need to go back and try more of their menu (as well as Gratzi). Stopped briefly at Wizzywig Collectibles, the local anime store, and picked up a couple of limited-edition DVD sets (".hack//SIGN", "Chobits", and "Noir") that came with extra goodies.

Then it was time to hit the road. The only item worthy of mention was the amount of snow between Ann Arbor and Toledo, and then again around Sandusky, none of which had shown up in the forecasts or radar earlier that morning.

Pixel cussed us out for being gone, but quickly was glad to have us back again. We had a nice, restful evening, sullied only by the fact that Monday was soon approaching.

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