Updated on July 21, 2016
Tonight we were happy to miss hearing Donald Trump make another speech, and instead, dove into a rich and emotional performance of a top notch play at New Century Theatre. From the opening moments when I saw the set of Time Stands Still I knew we were in for a treat. Set designer Daniel D. Rist adds touches of verisimilitude like running water, a real exterior door, even a hallway outside that looks like it belongs in a Williamsburg, Brooklyn apartment. It was all a prelude to a play written by a Pulitzer winning playwright, Donald Margulies, and a cast that matched the top notch script with their own poignant portrayals of life in a hard time.
It’s hard because Sarah Goodwin has just returned from a hospital in Germany, injured, after a tour of duty in Iraq. She is a war photographer, who, like so many soldiers, ran over an IED and almost lost her life. When that accident occurred, it not only injured her but it killed her “fixer,” Tariq, who features heavily into the narrative, as it is revealed that he was a bit more than a fixer, he was her lover in Iraq after her boyfriend James left the country with shell shock over what he witnessed. The pair are hardened war reporters and have tales to tell, though the darkness of their world isn’t appealing to everyone around them.
Sarah is a wreck, barely able to contain her anger over her inability to walk, and she lashes out at James, her partner of 8 years as he tries hard to make her comfortable in their tiny apartment. There is no where to escape to, except the tiny bathroom. “I just want a cup of f—g coffee!” she screams, tired of his worrying about her caffeine and so many other details like her meds and regimen of therapy and doctor’s appointments. Clearly she isn’t comfortable being comfortable–she yearns for her life in the battle zones, shooting images of dying children, weeping at one point as she recalls a woman who bloodied her camera lens when she kept shooting after a market is car-bombed. “There I was, a ghoul, shooting away. A life of the suffering of strangers.”
The play takes on a intriguing question about the role of war photographers…should they keep shooting as people are dying, don’t they owe the victims a chance to be saved? Shouldn’t these photographers be doing more to help than simply pushing the shutter over and over? And ultimately, what can we here in the comfortable US do to help those war victims? Nobody has the answer, and soon it comes to a head when company arrives at the apartment.
We get a break from these two journalists who have both spent years covering wars when Richard and Mandy show up. He’s her 50-something editor at the magazine, and Mandy (played by Alana Young) is his naive, pretty young girlfriend. When Mandy exits the stage to go to the bathroom, the knives come out against Richard’s choice of a partner. “You always wanted a little girl, Richard. There’s young and there’s embryonic,” she says with a sneer. But Richard won’t have it, remarking on his age-appropriate former mate Astrid. “I’m done with brilliant. I want something simple for a change.” He’s never been happier than in the arms of young Mandy. “It’s like going from black and white to color,” he says, “or when the Berlin wall came down.”
The play shows the characters evolving, and doing the things they all think will make them happy. Richard and Mandy have a child, delighting both of them, and James and Sarah marry, hey it’s been 8 1/2 years after all. But we can tell that the comfortable life that James relishes on the couch, watching old horror movies is exactly what Sarah never wanted. She still yearns for the smell of mortar rounds and the adrenaline of war photography duty.
But after a decade of sleeping on the ground, James realizes he just wants to be comfortable. “Why go back there?” he asks, as it becomes clear that Sarah once recovered will be going back. Despite their marriage, she’s wedded to the life she left, and they amicably split. But James explains, “I don’t want to be on a mission every time I get on a plane.” He wants to have children…and take them to Disneyworld.
James wrestles with life as a freelancer as his story about refugees becomes a victim of today’s media landscape. “Sorry, no room, it’s our Hollywood issue,” Richard says, trying to defend a decision made above him. Despite the terrible depravity of life as a refugee, no one has time to read about them, there is only room for one crisis per month in our minds and in the magazine.
Each of these actors wring the absolute most they can out of this great script–Sam Rush as Richard perfectly captures that editor’s dilemma, all too familiar, that tough balance between what needs to be published and what ultimately does get published. Alana Young as Mandy (in the New York production, Mandy was played by Alicia Silverstone) does a spot on job of showing how she evolves with motherhood, and her daffy comments at the play’s beginning contrast with the true wisdom about what’s really important in life…and the things we can’t do anything about.
Time Stands Still. New Century Theatre, Mendenhall Center for the Arts, Smith College. Friday-Sunday. Tickets: New Century Theatre 413-585-3220
Posted on July 19, 2016
On Sunday afternoon we took some relatives to Tanglewood for the first time. They have two daughters, ages 3 and 5. It could have been a cringefest but instead, the little cherubs enjoyed themselves very quietly with coloring books and some toys they brought, so narry an eyebrow was raised.
We had told our relatives about the bells…. one toll five minutes before then another and a final ring that means absolutely shut the heck up! They were ready.
This afternoon’s performance on July 17 had a highlight. A full performance of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, with the mesmerizing Yuja Wang on the grand piano. While the Ravel and Prokofiev works were wonderful, this was the one I was really excited about. I looked up what Gershwin said about the work and found this interesting quote, explaining how he came up with this unusual piece.
“It was on the train, with its steely rhythms, its rattle-ty bang, that is so often so stimulating to a composer – I frequently hear music in the very heart of the noise…. And there I suddenly heard, and even saw on paper – the complete construction of the Rhapsody, from beginning to end. No new themes came to me, but I worked on the thematic material already in my mind and tried to conceive the composition as a whole. I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness. By the time I reached Boston I had a definite plot of the piece, as distinguished from its actual substance.”
This was an unforgettable rendition, done absolutely to the letter, from the opening wailing clarinet glissanso to the plinking piano keys deep in the piece, the Boston Symphony conducted by Andris Nelsons never missed a beat. I can’t wait to come back to Tanglewood next Sunday with some other relatives–also T’wood Newbies–and share the wonder of the lawn. Tanglewood tickets: www.bso.org
Updated on July 14, 2016
I read about an innovative way to utilize the unused space inside restaurants that are only open at night on SpringWise.com a site based in London that tracks great ideas. There is a new outfit called Spacious that is organizing workers without offices who want a place besides their small apartments to gather and work. Voila, here is what they created.
I kept thinking of the many restaurants in the Valley that aren’t open during the day. Maybe they could use some extra revenue. Unfortunately, many of the restaurants that I can think of are actually closed for good, like Spoleto’s huge former space on Main St in Northampton and the former MRKT in South Deerfield that’s been shut for nearly a year. Maybe some of these landlords would benefit from an idea like this.
“Spacious finds large, upmarket restaurants in New York and repurposes them as office spaces during the hours when they are closed, usually from early morning until 5pm. Members, after a free trial day, can subscribe to Spacious locations for USD 95 per month, or USD 29 for a day pass. Guests can also be invited for free for an hour, and services include coffee and snacks and a text-based concierge. Restaurants, including L’Apicio in the East Village, operate the scheme on a profit share basis, and have reported that users often stay on to eat once the restaurant opens for the evening’s service.
These spaces would be especially useful for freelancers looking to take clients somewhere more upscale for important meetings. Could other spaces be co-opted in this way, such as schools or bars?”
Posted on July 11, 2016
Updated on June 29, 2016
Norwegian Air Shuttle has a few secrets. One of which is flying very new airplanes to the most in demand destinations and points on the market. I spoke with two Norwegian executives at the IPW show recently about how they do it. Their answer surprised me.
Posted on June 28, 2016
This is one of those short weeks where I have so much to do that I probably won’t get that much done. It’s all crashing down as a result of being gone last week and this week, leaving Friday for a week vacation with family in an undisclosed Pennsylvania location. I cherish that time, every July, where we gather the big family, from the littlest grandchild to my eldest sister Anne, to enjoy a week of mostly screen-free living. I’m looking forward to giving up on work for a week.
I am so aware of the presence of screens and its ubiquity depresses me some times. I wake up in my daughter’s house looking for little Sofie…there she is, nose inside the iPad, watching YouTube. Never ever let’s grandpa see what she’s watching, a trick she learned from her older brother Nathan. We’ve made a pact that during this trip, neither adults nor teens nor pre-teens will have their noses in the phones. We will bring out our books, bring our boardgames, bring out our rusty conversational skills and share some quality time catching up in our undisclosed location near a lake in western Pennsylvania.
I will reserve a little bit of time in the evenings for some email but nothing more…I gotta walk this walk, right?