A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream

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I expected a traditional production of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, but instead the Chicago Shakespeare Company went Victorian with a tip of the hat to Freud. And while a lot of updates and creative takes don’t work, this one did. I loved the set and the costumes. All the main characters wore various lavender hues, though each had a distinct outfit. The result was beautiful. I wasn’t crazy about the costumes of the forest nymphs, striped pajamas and fantastic headdresses with say 100 butterflies or 100 flowers sticking up. I get that they should be otherworldly, but this choice fell flat for me. Even worse was the kind of the faeries, Oberon, who was decked out in a puffy orange skirt and he had a wig of long black hair that reminded me of Heian era Japan.

While this is one of Shakespeare’s lightest plays, it still has the Bard’s imprint and the language is just wonderful to take in. Yes, it’s a ultra-light, but it’s nice to see Shakespeare can have such fun. It’s a perfect play to show we should all “get over ourselves.”

The acting is wonderful and the idea of bring Freud in to this dream was cheeky but not over powerful.

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Funny Girl

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Cover of Funny Girl

One of the films I watched on my flight to China was Funny Girl, which I haven’t seen in ages. This story of a talented ugly duckling, Barbara Streisand as Fanny Brice stills entertains. So many great songs – Second Hand Rose (which keeps replaying in my head) People, I’d Rather be Blue Thinking of You, Don’t Rain on My Parade. Barbra sings them all so well.

The movie hits all the right notes showing a Jewish girl from Henry Street make it big despite not fitting the image of the WASPish beauty most Ziegfeld girls did. Of course, you wish her chutzpah extended to the wisdom to know that all that glitters isn’t gold and that debonair gambler Nick Arnstein wasn’t all he seemed cracked up to be. I suppose part of the plot’s momentum is watching the impending wreck we see coming before Fanny does.

As much as I liked Funny Girl and appreciated the dark theme of “be careful what you wish for, ” I’d like to see a new movie about Fanny Brice, something more realistic that reveals more about the relationship between Fanny and Nick, showing whether Fanny ever saw her insecurity as her Achilles’ heel.

Checking out Wikipedia’s entry on Brice makes for interesting reading. Evidently, she came from a well-off family and Arnstein was her second husband. He was a mooch and not as honorable as the play or film make out. While the truth might not have gone over with a 1964 or ’68 audience, I think contemporary audiences could go for the realism.

Despite the poor food and scandalous baggage fees, I will applaud United Airlines for its improved entertainment selections. Between the recent movies, classics and TV offerings it’s easy to while away the 12+ hours from Chicago to Beijing.

Poldark Returns!

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Drama lovers, history buffs and anglophiles, Poldark has returned to Sunday nights for its third season. Sunday brought what in the UK would be episode 3, but here is episode 2. Demelza and Ross are still in love, but Ross’ headstrong ways still make life hard for Demelza. I’m glad to see she’s got the strength to carry on no matter how obstinate Ross gets. And I’m thankful that at least occasionally, Ross tells her that he’s over Elizabeth and praises Demelza as she’s due.

George Warleggan has grown more prosperous and more pompous as he now is a Justice of the Peace. Woe, to the poor person brought before his court. Unless you’re rich, you don’t stand a chance at justice.

Elizabeth has had a new child, Valentine, whom George believes is his, but Elizabeth knows is Ross’ from another instance of Ross’ foolishness at the end of last season. Elizabeth staged a premature birth by pretending to fall down a staircase. At first she doesn’t want to bond with the baby, but as she comes to align herself more with George  she also accepts Valentine.

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Drake, Morwenna, and Sam

We’ve got a few new characters already. Elizabeth’s young cousin Morwenna is brought to the house to mind Geoffrey Charles, who’s probably about 10 and has gotten quite perceptive and witty in a way George doesn’t appreciate. If George has his way Geoffrey will soon be off to boarding school.

Also after Demelza’s father dies, her two brothers Sam and Drake come to town. Drake soon develops feelings for Morwenna, who at first is tentative because Drake is clearly low born. Sam’s a very pious Methodist and that causes trouble. George insists that Sam and his followers are kicked out of the nearby church. How Christian of you, George! Soon Demelza finds an unused farm building and since Ross is away lets Sam use it for his church.

Where is Ross? He’s gone to France to look for Dwight who’s ship has been captured or lost, no one knows at first. France is in the throws of Jacobin violence. As Caroline and Dwight eloped as her uncle lay on his death bed, Caroline is, of course, beside herself with worry all the while worrying about her love. Rightly so, as in France, they’re killing first and asking questions . . . well, never.

The drama has been true to the original book series and offers romance and drama with complex characters and exquisite scenery and costumes. I do miss Jud’s whinging ways, but with three new characters and more to come, I understand.

 

 

 

 

 

Victoria, Episode 4

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Jenna Coleman continues to win me over in Masterpiece’s (and ITV’s) Victoria. This week the main problem was poor Albert’s search for a role in the U.K. Naturally, he wants to be more than Mr. Victoria. The queen is aware of the problem, but at first missteps by calling him in for a project. He perks up but when he learns that he won’t be signing documents, just blotting them as any clerk could, he is disappointed.

Victoria’s worry is getting pregnant right away. She’d rather not, though she wants children in time. It’s a natural preference, but in those days not easily done. She receives some wrong advice about jumping up and down ten times after having sex. She does this for a while before Albert finds her and tells her it won’t work.

The big social issue of the episode is American slavery. English abolitionists appeal to Victoria to lend her support, but she wisely passes this off to Albert, who though gawky and nervous about his accent and his English agrees to give a speech against slavery. When that goes over, Albert gets some dignity.

I like this couple that often disagree, but always do with respect. It’s a complex relationship because of their cultural differences and Victoria’s position as a monarch, while Albert has no title, until the Queen figures out how to confer one without ruffling her uncle’s feathers. The Queen is certainly politically astute for such a young woman, which is fascinating.

If find I’m losing patience with the subplot with the ladies’ maid who’s supporting a woman and child. What irks me is that the information about her connection to them comes out so slowly. The mystery is too drawn out. I’d like to see that story speed up.

Victoria

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Masterpiece’s new drama, Victoria, stars Jenna Coleman as the famed British queen. Beginning when Victoria’s uncle dies and she changes her name from Alexandrina to use Victoria, her middle name, and she becomes the monarch.

From the start Jenna Coleman’s Victoria stands up for herself opposing the manipulative Sir John and her plotting uncle.

After two episodes, I’m drawn in and eager to see how Victoria handles her power and how she and Albert finally end up together. In episode two the focus is on the question of whom Victoria will marry. Her heart, she believes, belongs to Lord Melbourne, her prime minister whose wife ran off with Lord Byron, the poet. In the drama, he lets Victoria know that they can never be together.

The first episodes feature sumptuous costumes and settings. The story moves along nicely. There’s a B story focused on a maid, who’s hiding her past working in a bordello. I’m not sure where that’s going. The maid is elusive and stand offish with the cook, who tries to get to know her. That story hasn’t grabbed me, but perhaps in time, I’ll develop more of an interest.

Victoria has a different feel and tone than Downton Abbey or Poldark, so it shouldn’t be judged on their terms. In its own right it’s a fine drama.

 

 

Downton Abbey, Season 6, Ep. 6

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My reactions to the sixth episode of the final season of Downton Abbey. I’d say this was my favourite episode of the season due to all the humour.

  • As is true for the whole season, I find the clothing sumptuous and it made me want to work on my triceps.
  • Robert is out of the hospital and on the mend, but confined to bed all week.
  • This week the hoi poloi was allowed to trample through the Abbey to make money for the Hospital Trust. What a situation ripe for dissension and humour! Of course, Violet, Carson and Robert believed this was the end of civilisation and they did have a point. Even Edith (I think) later said having them come through made her feel like there was something strange so that people were willing to pay to gape at them so that their home was a bit like a zoo. What was most funny was how when Cora, Mary and Edith gave their tours they knew so little about the house’s history. It makes sense because they’ve grown so used to it. It’s just home. Still since they fight to keep it you’d expect them to know more.
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Don’t you just love these clothes?

  • Daisy continues to get on my nerves. Lately, Mr. Mason is growing sweet on Mrs. Patmore, who seems to return his feelings. Daisy does whatever she can to keep them apart. In this episode she throws a letter to Mrs. Patmore from Mr. Mason in the trash. Luckily, Mrs. Patmore finds it, but Daisy’s acting so oddly and there’s no reason for it–especially since Daisy hasn’t taken up Mr. Mason’s offer for her to live in his house, which would be a lot more more comfortable and pretty than the servants’ quarters. She’d still be able to work at the Abbey.
  • The storyline with the hospital progressed. The York Royal Hospital will take over the local hospital. What’s worse was that they’ve made Cora president of the hospital, and they’re sidelining Violet. Everyone kept that a secret from Violet till she discovered the truth via the grapevine. She was livid! The climax was Violet storming into the Abbey during the charity tour and blowing off steam with the acerbic wit we love her for.
  • Mary’s love life is moving along. With Tom as an escort, she met Henry Talbot at a dinner party in London. Afterwards, Tom disappeared and Henry and Mary got caught in the rain and shared a romantic kiss. She’s still concerned about his lack of status and his car racing, which reminds her of Matthew’s death.
  • Edith invited Bertie, the man who helped her get the magazine out in one night, for dinner at the Abbey. She even showed him her “ward” Marigold. Finally Mary is on to the truth that Marigold is Edith’s daughter. Rather than directly asking Edith, which she really can’t go since she’s got such a rotten relationship with her sister or asking her parents, she’s trying to get the truth out of Anna and Tom. I really applaud their loyalty to Edith as neither spilled the beans.
  • Poor Thomas. He’s teaching Andy, who’s illiterate, to read. Yet Mrs. Patmore and Carson have seen Andy coming out of Thomas’ room so they’ve reached the conclusion that Thomas is corrupting Andy. Well, Thomas has been cold and conniving so people don’t expect him to be kind so in part, you reap what you sow, but it’s still too bad. He’s being pushed out the door. It’s understandable because the family has to make cut backs, but now it seems, that he’s getting pushed out because  Thomas has been misunderstood. He promised Andy he’d keep his illiteracy a secret so out of honour he can’t tell. What a dilemma.
  • Mr Carson continues to nitpick his new bride Mrs Hughes over her cleaning and cooking skills. She must have known how to make a bed to have progressed in her early career, yet it’s not good enough for Mr Carson, who has no tact. Unfortunately, rather than raising the issue, Mrs Hughes has been stewing. I predict she’ll explode next week. We’ll see.
  • Dexter, who deserves to be out of a job at the Dowager’s, coerced Spratt into pleading her case with Violet. He succeeded, but as is the case with blackmail, he’s still on the hook. Dexter will tell the world that he hid his nephew, who was fleeing the law. Yes, Spratt broke the law, but Dexter is so manipulative it’s dangerous.

Downton Abbey, S6-Ep. 3 &4

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I’m a bit behind in my musings on Downton Abbey.  The major events in episode 3 were Carson & Mrs. Hughes’ wedding. After a kerfluffle over what the ever-practical Mrs. Hughes would wear (she didn’t want to make a big deal about a dress and thus had no pretty, let alone elegant dresses), Elsie Hughes looked lovely in a coat that Cora wound up giving her. The trouble before the wedding reached its pinnacle when Cora, who had a headache from arguing with the dowager, discovered Anna, Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes all in her bedroom trying on one of her coats that Mary said she could wear. Cora through an out-of-character fit, but then Mary hadn’t explained or asked and it did look like a trespass over social boundaries. Soon Cora, true to form, apologised and wound up graciously giving Mrs. Hughes a gorgeous, embroidered coat that perfectly matched the plain dress Mrs. Patmore had ordered from a catalog. How lucky!

Edith took the reigns at the magazine. She sacked the complaining editor and worked all night to get the edition out. She lucked into meeting an attractive male acquaintance who asked her for drinks and then wound up staying up all night to help her with the magazine. How much cleaner than saving the pigs! Does that make it more or less romantic? What happened to Mary’s pig-beau?

Anna continued to have pains and fears of a miscarriage. The family elders continued to bicker over plans for the hospital and once again Thomas had a semi-comical, semi-sad Chekoves-que job interview at a big estate in decline. In the final scene I’m sure I wasn’t alone in rejoicing that Tom and Sybie have returned to Downton for good! (We could have guessed since Tom has been shown in promotional interviews and photos.)

Episode 4

Mr & Mrs. Carson were on their honeymoon for most of the episode. Several characters mentioned how hard it would be to call Mrs. Hughes Mrs. Carson. That little problem was solved at the end when everyone agreed that at the house she’d be Mrs. Hughes.

The squabbling over the hospital continued. Violet called in an aristocratic friend to assist her in her cause. Unfortunately, Lady Shackleton flip-flopped at the dinner party. Her main use proved to be that she brought her nephew, Henry, who is one of Mary’s suitors from last season.

Anna felt she was about to miscarry, so late at night Mary whisked her off to London via York, where the super Royal York Hospital with all it’s nifty skill and technology is. Hmm. Well, it worked out because Mary got to have cocktails with Henry and flirt a bit. Anna was okay and had a procedure that saved the baby. Still I wouldn’t want to take a train trip lasting I’d guess a few hours when I was miscarrying. Seems the last thing a woman would want to do would be to be on a train.

Daisy, who’s very eager to see that Mr. Mason get the house and farm that the Drewes have vacated since Mrs. Drewes kidnapped Edith’s daughter Marigold (what was she thinking?), almost sabotaged her job. She’s gotten to be quite a firebrand. She took Cora’s interest in Mr. Mason and a vague comment that Cora would see what she could do as a promise. When she hears a rumour that Mr. Mason won’t get the the land, Daisy works herself into a frenzy that culminates in her determination to tell off Cora. Every single servant urges her to calm down, to watch it, to wait and hope for the best, but Daisy obstinately ignores. At the pinnacle of her rage, Daisy storms upstairs. She’s willing to put her job on the line. Fortunately, before she can irrationally lash out against Cora, the Crawley’s tell her that they’ve decided that (although it’s not a great financial decision) they’re giving Mr. Mason the farmland. I doubt there was a luckier character on the show than Daisy at this time.

My favourite part of the show was when Gwen, who in the first season was a maid who with Sybil’s help became a secretary, showed up at Downton. She came with her husband, an aristocrat. When she arrived Thomas and Anna recognised her. The family members didn’t. Thomas, full of envy, blustered about how Gwen prospered, but he’s working in the same house in 1925 that he was in 1912 (or earlier). When serving, Thomas spilled the beans and got Gwen to reveal that she had been a kitchenmaid at Downton. While Thomas tried to embarrass her, Gwen regaled the family with stories of how dear Sybil helped her get the education and job that propelled her into the workforce and how that ties into her current association with a new woman’s college, Hillcroft. All the Crawley women now fully support this novel idea to educate women who need to work.

Baxter, Cora’s lady’s maid, is called upon to agree to testify against the man who urged her to steal from her previous employer. At first she was reluctant, but Mr. Mosley convinced her that if she didn’t other women would probably be tricked by him and would end up in jail or as prostitutes (that’s what has happened to some of women he’d conned).

Odds and Ends

  • Tom wants to do something more than just be the agent for the estate. He’s got an inkling that it may have to do with racing cars.
  • Mary and Henry met in London and romance may bud there, again.
  • Quite a few people–Anna, Robert, and Violet–experienced some kind of health worries or aliments. Will this mean that down the line the Crawley’s may actually need that new hospital with all it’s modern equipment and knowledge.
  • Violet made a good speech on how when government gets into an area, people lose power and autonomy. Typically, I don’t buy that line of thought, but Violet was quite convincing.
  • As usual the dresses were amazing.

 

 

The Heir Apparent

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Sunday I saw The Heir Apparent at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. It’s a fast-paced farce about a young man who connives to get his uncle to name him sole heir so he can marry his true love. The problem is his love has a shrewd guardian, an aunt, whose arranged for the young lady to marry the uncle. Woe is me!

So the conniving continues all done in verse. The couplets are clever and constant. Some include modern references to “soccer moms” and such so if you’re a purist, you won’t be thrilled. It’s a play to go to for a bit of fun.

Downton Abbey, 6.2

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I don’t know why I hope for a faster pace with Downton Abbey, but I often do. I should know by now that Julian Fellowes likes to draw things out; it’s his style.

I had hoped we’d see Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes’ wedding this week, but we didn’t. Instead we saw them discuss and plan, not always harmoniously, the wedding. Thankfully, only Lord Grantham thought decorating the servants’ hall would work as a reception venue.

Afraid that he’ll lose his job, Thomas has started job hunting. He’s finding it’s slim pickings and that he’s got it pretty good at the Abbey. His interview did not go well as he learned that at this estate he’d be “chief cook and bottle washer.” They expected him to do the work of 3 or 4. Thanks, but no thanks.

Edith’s editor is giving her more trouble. Then speak on the phone a lot and he won’t listen to her. I expect once she’s got the gumption, she’ll fire him. She certainly should. One dramatic moment came later in the show and dealt with Marigold. Mrs. Drewe, the farmer’s wife who took Marigold in, doesn’t realise Edith is Marigold’s mother. Thus she wants Marigold back. It’s odd, but she seems to care about Marigold more than she does her own children. We’re led to see Mrs. Drewe as unstable. At a village agricultural fair, Mrs. Drew kidnapped the girl. Everyone scrambled around trying to find her and in the end they did. This storyline was oddly placed and there wasn’t a minute when I didn’t think they’d soon find Marigold.

Anna confided in Mary about her fertility problems and Mary escorted Anna to a doctor, who examined her and told her that she just needs a simple operation when she gets pregnant again, and she should be able to have children. Anna’s on cloud nine. I bet she’ll have a child by the end of the series.

Mary proved herself to one of the local agricultural bureaucrats (i.e. the man who arranged the fair).

The issue with the hospital remains and Violet and Isobel exchanged barbs. I do wish it were over an issue that I cared about more. Then the quips would have more potency.

Daisy talked about taking some exams and Mr. Mosley encouraged her. The world’s changing as we’re constantly reminded (I could do with more “show, don’t tell” with this theme) so it’s wise to be prepared.

As usual . . .

The dresses were splendid. Cora didn’t get to do much, but neither did Robert. And yet the acting is strong enough to carry an okay story.

Downton Abbey, Season 6 Begins

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In the U.S. after months (maybe 10 months it seems) of promotions, Downton Abbey’s sixth season began on Sunday. My tradition has been to watch Downton with my aunt, who’s now living in an assisted living facility. I brought dinner for us and arrived early. Our problem was we couldn’t get PBS on Direct TV in her room. No one was able to help us. Ugh!

We had dinner and then I left to watch the show, feeling awful that my aunt wouldn’t be able to watch a show she loves.

I enjoyed this first episode, but feel that this review will echo what I said last season. I enjoyed seeing favourite characters and elegant costumes, but not all that much happened.

SPOILER ALERT

A chambermaid tried to blackmail Mary about her rendezvous with a Lord Whoever last season. We knew the chambermaid wouldn’t succeed and she doesn’t she’s just an annoyance. I’d expect a chambermaid in a nice hotel would have lots of opportunities for blackmail and that she’d be better at it than she was. It was odd how she had so much time and money to travel to the Abbey so frequently. By the end of the episode, Robert came to Mary’s rescue, showing his fatherly love, which made Mary realise how good a father he is. Still, I’d hoped that wily Mary would have outsmarted the chambermaid.

Violet has learned that a larger hospital would like to take over the village hospital. She shares her scuttlebutt at a board meeting and Isobel and Lord Merton, who seems to be trying to score points with her, oppose Violet and the local doctor, who doesn’t believe bigger is necessarily better. Cora’s caught in the middle and seems to be swayed more by Isobel’s views. I do hope Cora gets a decent storyline this year. Is that too much to ask? (The flirtation with the art critic last season was ho hum at best.)

Edith, as is often the case, didn’t get a lot to do. Her daughter is fully now part of the family. Edith handled an irate call with the editor of the paper she’s inherited. There was a nice scene with her aunt in which Edith considers moving to London to get out of Mary’s shadow, which would be best for her. Mary dominates Downton and there Edith will always play second fiddle.

I’ve wondered how the series will end and whether the Crawley’s will be able to keep their estate. In last night’s episode a nearby house went up for sale and the Crawley’s neighbours auctioned off most of their belongings. This sale obviously makes us all wonder what will happen to the Crawley’s who’re unable to replace staff and are now considering lowering wages.  The elegiac mood of the end of a beloved era hung more heavily last night and probably will throughout the series.

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At the auction, Daisy had an outburst. She’s very upset that her father-in-law will probably be kicked off his farm. When she saw the new owners, surrounded by her employers and all the people milling about shopping for antiques and what-not, Daisy let loose her feelings of the injustice of Mr. Mason. Though she had a point, she didn’t help Mason at all and just got herself in hot water. As Mr. Carson points out this was a “dismissible offence.” Yet the Crawley’s were merciful and Robert just scolded her.

Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes are engaged, but Mrs. Hughes was worried about the “terms of the marriage.” There was a bit of comedy as she had Mrs. Patmore run back and forth to find out how intimate Mr. Carson expected her to be. In the end, Mr. Carson convinced Mrs. Hughes that he wanted a real marriage and that his love for her was strong and real. I wonder whether Mrs. Patmore will have to continue to play the messenger/marriage counsellor between these two people who’ve known each other for decades?

With a flourish of deux ex machina, Julian Fellows tied up the storyline of  Anna being suspected of murdering her rapist. Another woman confessed to the crime. She must have been a female Jean Valjean since Anna was the prime suspect and there was no clear reason why the woman confessed, but it’s lucky for Anna that she did.

Favorite Violet lines

  • Does it get cold on the moral high ground?
  • If you were talking in Urdu, I couldn’t understand you less.

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