Sunday, September 30, 2007

The "Weird Romance" of theater

I know I promised books, but I just had a wonderful experience and wanted to share :).

I grew up around theater with a father who loves to act, a little sister who is now part of the management team of an acting troupe, and a mother and older sister who like seeing plays as much as I do.

I recently moved, putting me out of reach of my parents and sisters, and in a whole new climate with no one to introduce me to the theater scene. At $7-$12 a ticket, most community and college theaters are well within my reach, but going to plays on my own is just no fun. My husband does not love plays the way I do, and has a dislike for musicals (or so he says but his love of Les Miserables and some others disputes that ;)).

So last year my oldest started with his high school drama program, which gave me the opening to drag him to some plays with me. I was impressed by the quality of the high school plays, but there weren't enough to satisfy me :D.

And now I have a solution.

I went to Back to School night only to find that the drama teacher and teacher of two of my eldest's classes was absent...for the best of all reasons. I managed to get the information about his play from a small poster on the board in the corridor I don't normally use for the theater (it's the student class entrance not the visitor one) and asked my family who would come with me. Even if they'd all turned me down, I had a knife to twist in my older son because going would count for his drama classes.

The best news of all is that I didn't have to cajole or anything. When I brought it up, he said Freshman Seminar (don't ask) melted his brain so that by the time he got home he forgot to ask if he could go. So now I have my theater buddy, a designation supported by the amazing quality of the two one-act plays we got to see...and I get to be a good mom by helping him with his homework :D.

So thanks to his teacher, Rod Hearn, I have discovered a quality local theater :). I've been to many community and college theaters, as well as Broadway and off Broadway shows. Frankly, the quality of the performances vary significantly, making it hard to push for trying out new theaters. But that we knew someone in the cast? Perfect.

(Note: The last day of this run is today, so I'm not going to worry about spoilers for once :)).

Anyway, the two one-act plays made up a single performance called Weird Romance: The Musical! Oh, and I forgot to mention that they were also speculative fiction, so right up my alley in more ways than expected. My oldest knew about that part, but he didn't pass the info on to me and I'd missed it in the Back to School night rush.

The first play was based on a James Tiptree, Jr. short story and told the tale of corporate planning gone a step too far because of the elimination of advertising. The corporation creates a mindless body that can be controlled through personality transference, if only they can find the perfect candidate who will not reject this body.

That candidate is found in a recently mugged homeless woman whose greatest desire is for a door with a lock, two locks even.

The story progresses through the "mad scientist" falling for the homeless woman in her real form, and the president's son falling for the host form but seeing through to the truth in her eyes. She is unaware of the scientist and torn about the president's son because what he sees as honesty, she knows is a complete lie. When she tries to explain, the president triggers some implants in the host body and ends up killing the homeless woman, but not before his son realizes his love had nothing to do with the form she wore. The scientist learns he has no self esteem because he continues to do the president's bidding despite having fought him over triggering the pain implants that ultimately killed the woman he loved.

His son disowns the president, but that doesn't stop the corporate engine. The host body returns in six months with a new controller and his son goes to see her. The host body retains enough memory to recognize him, but the woman inside has nothing to do with his love, proving his love had told the truth and that it is truly all over.

I walked out of this play (at the intermission) stunned and amazed at the quality of the performances and the singing voices. The actual play bordered on going over the top with sexual and gay imagery, but everything worked as a whole and I wouldn't have removed a single element :). Both women playing the homeless woman and the host had incredible singing voices, the mad scientist, the son, and well, let's just say that not a single one disappointed me. Even the band and sound work was well done, balancing out the volume so that we could hear the lyrics when necessary. I had a minor quibble with the lighting when one of the spots swept the audience instead of the stage and blinded me, but overall there were a lot of fun things done with lights and a spare, functional set design. I thought nothing could top this performance...until the second play.

The second play, based on an original work by the playwright Alan Brennert, was a complete turnaround. Instead of the overblown corporate environment that speculative fiction often warns of, this play focused on an innovative scientist who has lost the pleasure in his work and in his life. His experiment takes an unexpected turn into the paranormal and he wants to shut it down, not willing to let the rigors of science become polluted with the possibility of paranormal activity.

His assistant fights back with a rousing musical plea to the heart of research that had the audience laughing and touched the place inside me that wants to go concoct an experiment and see what I can learn. The scientist himself is reluctantly affected and starts to interview the person who was born and is rapidly growing within his image machine. While his assistant goes searching down any information regarding the young woman who has invaded their machine, the scientist gives up everything to spend each moment trying to understand why this spirit chose to come back, denying his wife all affection and the hope of a child. He's obsessive and comes to wonder if he doesn't love his wife but rather this woman whose life he has re-experienced through her growth process.

His assistant returns in time to see the scientist struggling to help this image through the trauma of a miscarriage. She turns herself off, needing some time on her own and leaving him devastated. The assistant points out that at her current rate of aging, she'll soon be dead anyway, something that harms his boss even more.

The obsession grows to the point that the scientist moves out of his home into the lab, leaving his wife upset and unsure whether he'll ever come back.

The assistant discovers the woman actually died of that miscarriage and that her husband at the time had never recovered.

The spirit reveals herself to the scientist as his wife in a former life. She's come back to him to bring him through his grief so he can learn to live and love again. While he was asleep, she had called his wife and, using his voice, asked her to come. She tells him he has to let go, but he doesn't want to at first, seeing this as a second abandonment now that she's just been restored to him. Instead, she tells him to look to his new love and the child they both want.

The spirit fades in time for the wife to arrive and she and the scientist are reconciled with a much more hopeful future.

This play was humorous in moments, poignant, traumatic, and just wonderful. Again, every single singer and actor gave an excellent performance. This play was more powerful for me because of its emotional content, both in the moment of connection over research and the tears that came to my eyes as the scientist struggles with his love for his current wife and for his past one.

The only element that didn't work for me...and which I deemed unnecessary so it didn't make it into the summary...was the wife's friend who made sexual advances despite them going almost completely unnoticed by the wife. Though the friend was also a woman, that's not my issue. Had it been man instead, still the intrusion on the rest of the tale, possibly for humorous intent, was only an annoyance to me and went against my nature in that if the friend had been a friend, whether or not she felt attracted to the wife, she wouldn't have pushed when the wife was vulnerable.

And again the band, sound, lighting, use of set design, all blended together to make for an excellent performance. The trick to make what appeared to be a holographic projector was fabulous and successful in that the image did seem to be interacting directly with the characters.

In case you hadn't guessed it, I was quite impressed. I'm willing to be forgiving to enjoy the theater I love, but there was so little to forgive in this. Just pure enjoyment.

Anyway, this has gone on much longer than I had planned, a testament to how wonderful these plays really were. Maybe my descriptions will pique your interest and send you to check out your local theaters. This performance was at the Truckee Meadows Community College, put on by the Performing Arts Department though the talent came from many sources as shown by my son's teacher playing leading roles in both plays. While I can't expect every performance to be this wonderful (though who knows :)), I've signed up for their mailing list and you better bet I'm going back.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Update and an Opportunity to Choose What I Read Next

Here I go waiting almost a month before posting again. Sorry folks. It's not that my life isn't interesting, but rather the reverse. Those of you who come here from Forward Motion already know that since September 1st, I (with help) have moved, patched, and moved again the Forward Motion site thanks to issues with not one but two hosting companies. I'm happy where we are now (joined my personal site, Left Brain/Right Brian) at TigerTech and hope it will be a long, problem-free engagement :).

Also in the same timeframe, though stretching back to August 31st, I started a new novel. This is my first urban fantasy and an amazing run. This novel came into being on the 17th or 18th of August with absolutely no warning, shoved aside a psychological/philosophical science fiction novel I was planning to outline, and raced to the starting line for the Labor of Love writing challenge on Forward Motion. The first draft is estimated (by my handy dandy plotting spreadsheet ;)) to be about 74,000 words. That's a little short for the market, but it'll grow in the editing phases at least 5,000 to 80,000 (all counts done in MS Word). As of this morning, I was showing less than 20,000 words to go. Not counting the 10,000 I added on the 31st, apparently September has been my own personal National Novel Writing Month (NaNo), though I'll probably come in short of 50,000. However, writing has kept me sane when I couldn't find the energy to work on anything else. And I love this story :D. If you're interested in more about the novel, check the Lifespan of a Novel link in the left-hand sidebar. The link will take you to my writing blog, which I update somewhat more frequently under normal circumstances.

So there you have it. The left and right brain of Margaret McGaffey Fisk. I did not succeed in making much progress on critiquing, editing, or planning for NaNo, but on top of the site stuff, I had some health issues to work through. Overall I think I'm doing fine :). And you didn't really expect more than a monthly update here anyway, did you?

So, enough about me; let's talk about books, as in what I've been buying and sneaking a read.

My plan (putting it out here officially to push myself to do it) is to post at least one book review/comment post each week through October, and ongoing if it goes well. These posts may be short, and they certainly won't be fancy, but I hope they'll offer some input and raise some interest because I haven't found a bad novel on my shelf yet :). Just lucky I guess, but amazingly most of them are by people whom I consider at least acquaintances if not friends, and I know some pretty darn good writers if I must say so myself.

Part of this plan is to make sure I set time aside to read the things on my shelf. Buying sprees are pretty darn worthless if you don't get the books read, right?

So here's what I've done. I just updated my Books Read/Waiting list here: I am currently reading, and enjoying, Dark Thirst by Sara Reinke. She and I will be presenting a week-long class on editing techniques together for the Muse Online Conference in October, so I thought I should check out her writing style since I've already been to a presentation by Sara. I'm almost at the end and I won't spoil the eventual comment by saying more than that I've found it hard to put down.

And since I'm almost at the end, here's what I'd like you all to do. Please follow the link above or click the link in the left-hand sidebar to see what I've got (well, the portion I've keyed in). On the right-hand side of the table is a column indicating what date I've read the book. If the date is blank, I haven't read it yet.

In the comments, list your top three picks in order of preference for what I should read next. You can even toss in a comment of why for the fun of it. As I said, I'm almost done with Sara's book and sometimes the sheer variety of things to read can stall me into hanging out with the Atlantic Monthly and Scientific American for a couple weeks. Save me from a pure non-fiction binge and set your vote :D. I look forward to seeing what you think.