Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Peak Performances and their Awkward Sexual Moments: Albert Herring

Albert Herring-May 2011-Alexander Kasser Theater

Okay so here we are at the final show of the Spring 2011 semester, and it just so happens to be an opera. The story is set in England at the beginning of the 20th century and surrounds a group of people who are suggested to be Catholic because of their search for a female virgin to be this year's "Queen of the May" for their May Day festival. To me, this seems to be connected to what us Roman Catholics celebrate as a May Crowning, which is a ceremony when we honor the Virgin Mary by crowning a statue of her. This takes place in May, which is the month of Mary, and ironically enough the opera played at Kasser on May 2 and 3.

If you want a visual of what I am talking about, click here. This is a video of this year's May Crowning at my parish, Holy Family. I took it special for this post.

This is a slideshow I found of the performance on May 2. I saw the May 3 performance, which was different cast, but the video still gives you a good idea of what the opera looked like.

Now that you know some brief religious background I have noticed in Albert Herring, here are it's Awkward Sexual Moments.

"The Female Sex is Soiled": After the council discusses every female in town who is in the running to be "Queen of the May," only to discover that every single one has already been deflowered, they lose hope in the female race. Therefore, they begin to sing "The female sex is soiled" repetitively in a very droll manner. Both my mother and I were in the audience and this part offended us, but in two very different and interesting ways.

Because all of these girls aren't virgins, their final resort is the only male virgin in town, Albert Herring. My mother finds this concept offensive because she feels that the female sex is portrayed in a very degrading manner here. "Not one girl was a virgin out of all of them so they had to a retreat to a guy? That's a disgrace to women." It suggests that the female sex as a whole isn't very virtuous, or, I guess, sexually honorable, which doesn't say much about women back during the time Albert Herring takes place.

However, though I do agree with my mother's point, I see the degrading of the female sex in this scene in a different way. The opera makes the women's sexualities out to be a tragedy. They make it seem so dark and depressing that women have sex instead of celebrating the expression of female sexuality. This part is so satirically dramatic, as if it's completely horrible that women have their own sex lives and that it is shameful, that I found myself actually laughing as I watched it, questioning why it is such a big deal.

"Bounce me High, Bounce me Low": There are these three adolescent kids in the opera who play this game in which they stand in a circle and bounce a ball to each other and chant these very words: "Bounce me high, bounce me low, bounce me up to Jericho. Bounce me slow, bounce me quick, bounce me to Arithmetic." Then they rhythmically clap their hands and rotate their circle. 

I know it's not intended to be, but this chant sounds kind of sexual. It's kind of funny to think about. Read it again and you'll see what I mean.

Okay...announcement time. 

This might be my very last "Peak Performances and their Awkward Sexual Moments" post. Notice how I say "might." If I am inspired enough I will write them again. I don't really want to stop something with which I have been consistent. 

The thing is, they're not interesting me as much as they used to. When I wrote the originals, I was on winter break and wrote them to be productive and was excited to write them. Even though I enjoyed writing them this summer as well, they felt kind of forced this time. I was working on articles this summer and plus I came up with other post ideas so I couldn't really place my full focus on them. I felt obligated to complete them because I promised them, so I kind of made them an unnecessary task that I brought on myself.

Like I said, I might continue it, but I just want to warn you to be prepared that this may be the last one. I just want to move on to other things. Thank you so much for reading them and I am so glad that I wrote them for you!

However, on a happier note, I am looking forward to the 2011/2012 season of Peak Performances at MSU! :)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Peak Performances and their Awkward Sexual Moments: New Works Initiative: The Agee/Evans Project

New Works Initiative: The Agee/Evans Project-April 2011-L. Howard Fox Theatre

The New Works Initiative is exactly that: a new work in the process. The Agee/Evans Project was not a complete piece when it was performed in Fox. For example, some actors still had to use their scripts. Before the show began, one of the theater professors announced that this was a new form of theater we have not experienced before. It certainly was.

Unfortunately, I didn't like it as much.

Nothing against the plot or the playwright, for I am a playwright as well so I can relate to what one goes through when writing plays, but this play leads something to be desired for me. The premise is that a writer, James Agee, and his photographer friend, Walker Evans, are doing a story about this sharecropper family who lives in this house in rural Alabama and the two men study them from their porch, which is where the entire play takes place. As the play goes on we can see that Agee becomes more and more passionate about the story than Evans. However, this isn't the only thread in the play. We meet members of the family, who each have their own issues and storylines, and then there is also a chorus over to the other side of the stage that provides the sound effects with either their voices or certain objects, such as rocks.

Though like all Peak Performances it was very well done, I didn't quite understand it much. It is one of those odd forms of theater that isn't a chronological story but rather poetry scattered all around. What I didn't like the most though is when the story with Agee and Evans, the family running around, and the chorus combine at once. I get how this is supposed to be a theatrical tactic to make the piece more intricate and artsy, but after a while it gets to be too much at once happening on the stage, making it hard to focus on what is going on.

Now that I have said all this I might as well admit to the fact that the day I saw this play wasn't necessarily one of my best. It was the final day of "Hell Week," which means a bunch of papers due all in one week at the end of the semester, so I was stressed and tired. And, I was also dealing with a female-related issue, so I wasn't feeling well. Maybe if I wasn't enduring these circumstances my enjoyment of the play wouldn't have been as tainted. Then again, it is also a piece in the works, so it's reasonable that it's not going to be perfect just yet.

Now for the Awkward Sexual Moments of The Agee/Evans Project.

Evans and Agee Discuss the Possibility of Agee Leaving His Wife: That's it. In one little itty bitty scene, Agee and Evans discuss the possibility of Agee leaving his wife, possibly for another woman. This idea is never revisited or, from what I see, have anything to do with the plot, so I feel like it was pointless to include in the first place. Now, it would make more sense if Agee decided to leave his wife for one of the family members they were studying, but I cannot remember if this is the case or not. I don't think it is the case only because I feel like something like that would stand out well enough for one to remember.

Now here is another episode of “Bonus Random Moments That I Really Need to Talk About.”

The Girl with the Blanket: Like The Grapes of Wrath, The Agee/Evans Project also has a bonus random moment about a girl with a blanket. As Agee becomes so engrossed with this family, all of a sudden the members start shouting that "Something is coming," to which Agee responds, "Can I stop it?" I begin to wonder what exactly "it" is. First I think literally, perhaps it is a tornado of sorts, for they all seem to look out into the distance. Then Agee grabs one of the girls and holds her, and she eventually goes lifeless in his arms, so then I think "it" metaphorically refers to death. This explanation would make more sense in this play because there seems to be a lot of symbolism. One thing about this play is that, to me, nothing is straight and to the point.

So the audience is lead to believe that this girl had died. She kneels and crouches over in the middle of the stage and they place a blanket over her, hiding her from view, thus suggesting a burial. The family members each walk back slowly to their post (for throughout the play when they aren't in a scene they sit in chairs located towards the back of the stage, their backs facing the audience) and both Agee and Evans sit on either side of the girl in silence and look at her. One of the girls in the chorus then has a solo harmonizing session as this all happens.

The problem I have with this scene is that sure it is interesting when it first begins, but then it begins to drag on when it isn't necessary. The girl does not stop harmonizing when the family members finally all return to their seats and Agee and Evans continue to look on. It just gets boring after a while. To me, the scene is around ten to fifteen minutes long, but then again maybe my mood this day made it seem longer. It could be shorter than what it is. Every time you expect the scene to finish, it continues for no reason. Nothing is happening because everything is still so I begin to wonder when they are going to move on to the next part of the play.

The only explanation for this longer than usual scene is that they are trying to make it sink in to the audience that the characters are in a mourning period, which is actually understandable if the girl ACTUALLY DIED!

After this scene finally comes to a close, the girl exits her house onto her porch and begins to talk to Agee, as if nothing happened! This really irritates me because it left me with so many unanswered questions! Did she come back from the dead? Is this a flashback? Did she even die at all? If none of this is true, then what is the point of that lengthy scene? What point are they trying to make then making that one girl a focus for such a long time only to have nothing result from it?

Previously: dis connect
Next...and final... Albert Herring (Brace yourselves, people. This one's an opera :P)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Peak Performances and their Awkward Sexual Moments: dis connect

dis connect-April 2011-L. Howard Fox Theatre

dis connect, if you remember, was written and produced by the Class of 2011 Theatre Studies majors for their final BA project. The play discusses the over-indulgence of technology and that there is a time and place for such technology to be used. Interestingly, I've noticed that unlike my other contributions to this series, I don't analyze much here but rather summarize. I think it's because the awkward sexual moments in this play speak for themselves and are more relatable to the kind of events that take place today, so therefore there are emotional connections. In my other segments, I normally take the time to explain why I think certain moments are sexually awkward. Here, the moments don't necessarily need any explanation but are rather obvious.

*Beware of Spoilers*

Josh Wilde: I would like to take this time to thank the BA Theatre Studies Class of 2011 for providing me with a video that will from now on until further notice be the video mascot of “Peak Performances and their Awkward Sexual Moments.” Watch the video before you read what I have to say about it.

Josh Wilde is one of the first characters we meet in dis connect, and is also one of the funniest. He is a juvenile delinquent who is doing community service for an old temperamental woman named Betty. In the first scene we see him, he is bringing Betty groceries but then ends up telling her in slang about hooking up with a girl in a dressing room. Very random story to tell an old woman and a very spontaneous time to do so at that. Right when he is about to be released from his duties with Betty, Josh decides to cause a riot by dancing and stripping right outside her house, which is the scene you see in the clip. The scene performed on the stage is interesting because you see him stripping and dancing with a bunch of spectators filming him with cameras as the overheard screen that overlooks the stage projects the YouTube video. One of the guys filming says at the end of the scene, “This is going on YouTube,” which is exactly where it ends up in real life. Throughout the play he matures but also continues to become more awkward because he discovers that the girl he talks about in his first scene is actually Alice, Betty’s granddaughter and one of the prominent characters of the play! How does he find this out? Betty, who has no knowledge of them knowing each other, sets them up on a blind date. This blind date is their only scene together and all is revealed then. However, the story of Josh Wilde ends well as he gives Alice a bouquet of flowers and the two walk off together quite possibly kindling a relationship, after some awkwardness of trying to get away from each other, and reminiscing about his YouTube phenomenon.

Tyler’s Coming Out Experience: Unfortunately, the humorous awkward sexual moments end with Josh Wilde and the rest are pretty morbid. For example, Tyler DeChristopher is a gay man who is best friends with Alice and struggles with his sexuality. He corresponds with a man via online chat and until now has kept his sexuality a secret. He reveals it to the man online and the two share a bond, the man persuading him to finally accept who he is and reveal it to Alice, giving him inspiring advice. Tyler finds himself falling for the man and wishes to see his face. The man refuses to do so, causing Tyler to interrogate him. After some very intense dialogue, the man reveals himself to be a woman, revealed to the audience as Cassie, another prominent character in the play who is just as lonely as Tyler because technology has caused a rift in her family. After this revelation, heartbroken, Tyler plans to hang himself. Right as he is about to do the deed, Alice walks in and stops him. He tells Alice that he is gay and the two agree to help each other with their struggles. Tyler’s story is a really important addition because it hits home with current events regarding homosexuality.

The Tragedy of Jenny: Jenny's story represents the worst-case scenario when it comes to technology. Jennifer “Jenny” Maloney is a thirteen-year-old girl who has an estranged relationship with her mother Erika. Her father has died while fighting in the armed forces, which has contributed to Jenny’s rebellious behavior. Jenny is constantly on her cell phone on which she corresponds with a man she has met on the Internet and has not yet met in person, but plans to. At this point you know that the outcome of this story is not going to be a good one. Erika is oblivious to this, but takes away Jenny’s cell to punish her for texting during her father’s memorial. Erika’s plan backfires because once she does this Jenny runs off to meet the man, gets assaulted, and is unable to call her mother for help due to lack of phone, causing Erika to blame herself for her daughter’s coma. This scenario also causes the rest of the characters to think about the positives and negatives of technology. Finally, while Jenny is laying down onstage in her coma, she shows up on the overhead screen and has a monologue, which is suggested to be her inner thoughts. She ultimately decides that she would rather die than face her mother again, so she peacefully passes. The only thing I don’t understand about Jenny’s story is that in her final monologue before she passes, she states that her mother will never understand why she resents her father. Why does she resent him exactly? They never really give a clear explanation from what I can see.

For The Montclarion article about dis connect, click here.

Previously: The Grapes of Wrath
Next up: The Agee/Evans Project :)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Peak Performances and their Awkward Sexual Moments: The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath-March 2011-Alexander Kasser Theater

The Grapes of Wrath, based on the classic novel of the same name by John Steinbeck, had a lot of epic moments involving the Joad family’s journey to California and it was very well done, one of the best shows I’ve seen at MSU so far. What’s interesting about Grapes is that it brings up elements of theater that I wish to discuss more in-depth.

*Beware of Spoilers*

Al and Al’s Girl: Al Joad is a young teenage male who loves the ladies. Oftentimes we hear him speak about his sexual escapades, but we never actual see him with any girl, until we meet Al’s Girl. Al’s Girl has no name, mainly because she has no specific purpose but to help show just how much of a player Al is. Their scene together takes up a whopping five minutes, during which she discusses with him their future “marriage.” Ha! She obviously doesn’t know him like we do. Al dismisses this idea by hesitantly agreeing just to shut her up and make out with her. It’s awkward but it’s understandable because we know the character of Al. But then something else happens later on that is really odd. AL GETS ENGAGED! What? All of a sudden now Al is mature and is committing himself to one woman? When did this happen? Not much time passes between the Al’s Girl scenes and the final scene when we discover he is engaged, so where did this transition take place? What makes it even weirder is that Al’s Girl isn’t the girl he is engaged to. It’s a totally different woman we haven’t met before until now. Who is she? When did he meet her? Where did she come from? What the heck is her name? (*Checks program.) Apparently her name is Aggie Wainwright. Her name is appropriately placed at the end of the list, for the cast list is listed “in order of appearance.” In this scene with “Aggie,” Al takes on this totally different persona than what he had throughout the show. It would have been nice if we saw his progression because I don’t think we do. All of a sudden his personality switches with no clear transition. 

Nudity: Now here’s an element on which I want to place a majority of my focus. During the length of the play, we see two characters get naked. One is Al (Surprised? I didn’t think so.) and Rose of Sharon, the eldest and pregnant daughter. With Al, the nudity is very unexpected in the context of the scene. The family finds a watering hole where they all decide to bathe and suddenly Al strips down to his birthday suit. Yes, there are moments when you see his penis and buttock crack in full light. For me, the scene wasn’t too bad because I consider the human body as nothing to be ashamed of and I thought it was an interesting theatrical addition to the play. The human body is art in itself. However, there could have been people in the audience who were greatly uncomfortable that this occurred.

Then there is the final scene between Rose of Sharon and the Man in Barn. In the scene prior, Rose of Sharon gives birth to a stillborn child. Seeking refuge from the rain, the Joad family escapes into a barn where they find a man dying of starvation, at which point Rose of Sharon decides to breastfeed him. Now this scene is not what I would call sexual, but it is very beautiful, one of the most powerful scenes I’ve ever seen on a stage. We see Rose of Sharon’s breast, but very briefly. She and the man then form this nurturing embrace, which closes the play. I found myself in a trance, not even realizing that the play had ended because I expected more after that. It truly had a “wow” factor. People were quiet in the audience. It took them a moment to start clapping because the scene was so mesmerizing.

What I would like to know is what people think about scenes like these. Is nudity an theatrical element that you feel that theater should use more? I would especially like an actor’s point of view for he or she is the one who would be enacting the task.

*Now you are in for a special treat. I am going to do something a little bit different in this blog post. In addition to these awkward sexual moments, I’ve also noticed some other random moments in Grapes that bothered me that I need to get off my chest. I may develop these into a whole other series, but for now I will keep them in here and call them “Bonus Random Moments That I Really Need to Talk About.” (Yeah, I think I should work on a better title than that too.) 

The Girl with the Blanket: At one point the Joad family assembles onto the stage along with other extra characters to show how they all are gathered together at this one camp to make it seem more realistic. One of the characters that shows up is this little woman who folds the same blanket over and over again in a different way than how people normally fold blankets. She stands in place, bouncing as she stands, while also giving these odd facial expressions. Her actions are peculiar, suggesting that maybe she is a danger for the Joad family. She stands towards the front of the stage while everybody else remains in the background, thus suggesting that she is a significant character for this scene and that we will hear from her very soon. So then we wait. Tom Joad, the lead man and eldest Joad son, walks towards the front of the stage with another male lead character (I can’t remember who) and the two stroll back and forth onstage in the midst of a lengthy discussion. Every time they were to walk towards the direction of the girl with the blanket, she would run the other way. So here we have some brief interaction, suggesting that they are building up her big moment to start some trouble. Tom and the other guy continue their conversation, and then we see Tom actually look at the girl suspiciously. Now we know that Tom definitely notices her like the rest of us and that he will soon start talking to her. Right? 

Wrong! He NEVER speaks to her! She never even gets her own lines. The extent of her dangerous qualities is that she briefly touches Rose of Sharon (God forbid), at which point the whole family rushes to her rescue. That could’ve happened in background like the other random actions that took place throughout the play. Why was she front and center? This odd placement of her totally deceived me and made me think that she was more important than what she was and it totally did not deliver.

Living on Fishing: There’s this one son in the Joad family and it is suggested that he is not all mentally stable. In the bathing scene, he confides in Tom that he is not going to continue the journey with the rest of the family but is rather going to live on the river and fish for survival. Tom tries to stop him, but to no avail. The family catches wind of this news, and though at first they are all concerned, they then continue without him after Pa Joad says “He’ll catch up.” Really? You mean to tell me that Ma Joad agrees to continue to California without her son, her mentally unstable son at that? If that were any other family they wouldn’t go anywhere until they found their lost child. Other characters leave too, including Connie, Rose of Sharon’s husband, which annoys me considering his wife is almost due, but yet they move on without him and say that he’ll catch up. What is it with these people thinking that their lost family members will catch up with them on foot when they are travelling in this gigantic truck? Also, I know this play takes place during the Depression and that they need jobs, food, and shelter, but is it really that imperative that they go without the rest of their clan? We never hear from these characters again nor do the other characters mention them. Was the absence of these characters not of a big deal to them?

The Narrators: Long story short, the addition of these narrators made the play seem like a musical when in reality it wasn’t. Basically, they show up out of nowhere and sing about what is currently happening in the play. Now, this isn’t a bad thing. It is actually a theatrical tactic that was unexpected but an interesting addition. The only problem I have with it is that these narrators would sing very joyfully at the most morbid times. For example, Tom and Pa could be having a very serious conversation, the lights go down, and then all of a sudden the narrators would brighten the mood with a happy song and dance. There is a time and place for happy singing and dancing, and for certain scenes in Grapes, it is just not appropriate.

Previously: Sweet Charity
Next: dis connect :)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Heartwarming Animal Stories: A Chimp Feeds Baby Tigers Bottles of Milk at a Zoo in Thailand

You know, I was thinking about posting a piece today for my "The Intelligent News on AOL.com" series about how Ashton Kutcher is getting cozy in his new surroundings on the set of "Two and a Half Men"...

But who cares about them? What we really want to read about is how a chimpanzee feeds baby tigers bottles of milk! According to this article, at a zoo in Thailand a chimpanzee named Do Do grew fond of the baby tigers so the trainers decided to teach him how to give them their milk bottles!

That's the story! Now, isn't that refreshing compared to the other forms of news we constantly hear about? The only downside to this story is that the tigers grow up, so they have to be moved to another facility and can no longer be fed by Do Do.
Who cares?! This is so cute that you don't even notice that one bad side! And the bad side isn't even bad! It's just apart of life. The tigers have to grow up sometime and Do Do must let them "leave the nest." If you watch the video, you can actually feel yourself at peace. It's so happy, which is such a rarity nowadays. Even the people in the video and the guy narrating it look and sound cheerful. It's such a simple, positive story, making it so enjoyable for everyone. It certainly has the "Aww!" Factor.

Isn't it kind of ironic how the ONE story in the news that DOESN'T have a negative connotation does NOT involve the human race?

Heh, funny.

Animal stories are always so heartwarming. They just make life better. :)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Peak Performances and their Awkward Sexual Moments: Sweet Charity

Sweet Charity-February 2011-L. Howard Fox Theatre 

Sweet Charity was one of the more heartwarming shows I’ve seen on campus so far. Because it is such a well-known show, it is no wonder why it sold out very quickly. It was also very tame, so the awkward sexual moments were very subtle and quite possibly unnoticeable. It was one of those shows you could watch with the whole family. However, the sexual moments were there. I am proud to kick off the Spring 2011 Semester of “Peak Performances and their Awkward Sexual Moments” with Sweet Charity.

*Beware of Spoilers*

Charlie: The main goal of heroine Charity Hope Valentine is to find love, and it is suggested in the opening song that she has found love in a man named Charlie. Throughout the show we meet three of Charity’s love interests, Charlie being the first. Well, actually, we don’t exactly “meet” him. That’s what makes him awkward. He doesn’t have any lines. Throughout the entire number his back is toward the audience as he smokes a cigarette. He just stands there as Charity hangs all over him and sings to him about the glamorous life they will lead together. Just by his suspicious actions, we know there is something off with this guy and that he is not altogether “good.” Our assumptions are proven correct when he robs Charity, causing her to fall into a lake, and we never see him again.

“Big Spender”: Charity and the rest of her friends work at the Fandango Hall as dance hall hostesses. These same women deliver that famous musical number "Big Spender." Now, from what I saw, this Fandango Hall isn’t entirely a bad place. A guy comes in, chooses one of the girls, and then dances and spends time with her. However, Charity makes it a point throughout the play to state just how bad this place is. Are we supposed to assume that it is the equivalent of a gentleman’s club then? I ask this because even though there is no reference to actual sexual action when it comes to the Fandango Hall, Charity makes it seem like there is by how she talks about the place. The women just dance with the men who enter the hall. And it’s not even any dirty dancing or lap dancing either. They would just slow dance. Is it really that bad? I mean, I realize that the place can be sexist and I got offended with how each customer summoned a girl, but I guess what I’m saying is it could be worse. Charity’s third and final love interest and fiance, Oscar Lindquist, gets all upset when he discovers that Charity works there, for Charity was hesitant in telling him and he found out by accident. When he does finally “accept” it, he finds that he can’t go through with their wedding because he finds it uncomfortable to think about. He originally thought that Charity was virginal and pure, but after he saw her laughing and smiling with another man, his view of her completely changed. Well, we haven’t really established if Charity is a virgin or not, so perhaps Oscar is kind of overreacting here. Just because she dances with men she is no longer pure in Oscar eyes? That’s kind of offensive, isn’t it? However, I do understand though where he does not want his girl involved with any other man. Are we supposed to assume then that these women have sex with the men they dance with? Now that’s a totally different story and Oscar's feelings are pretty plausible. This is what I mean when I say sexual moments in Sweet Charity are very unnoticeable at first. We are never given the full picture and a lot of questions are left unanswered.

Vittorio Vidal: Vittorio Vidal is love interest number two and also a sexy Italian movie star whom Charity admires. She runs into him when he is fighting with his girlfriend Ursula and is invited to a party with him instead to spite Ursula. However, by the end of the night, Ursula returns full of apologies and horniness, so the two makes sweet passionate love in Vittorio’s apartment while Charity spends the night in his closet, initiating one of the more hilarious scenes of the play. The following morning Vittorio releases her from his closet. Before she leaves, Charity compliments his sexual talents, saying that he is good in the movies, but is better in real life, suggesting that she was watching.

What is the point of this character? He serves absolutely nothing to the plot. A good portion of the middle of the show is dedicated to him, and yet nothing stems from the “relationship” between he and Charity. From what I can think of, his presence serves as comic relief and an opportunity for a song (Charity sings the famous “If My Friends Could See Me Now” during one of these scenes). It just seems like his scenes are completely random and unnecessary. I guess he is needed to make you think that something would develop between he and Charity, but if the story cut him out and we jumped from Charlie to Oscar, nothing against Vittorio, but it wouldn’t have been much of a loss. The story would have been complete without him.

For The Montclarion article about Sweet Charity, click here.