Come Watch with Me! (Jessica Jones, Netflix)

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Here is why I’m stoked about Netflix’s latest endeavor into the Marvel universe, Jessica Jones:

  • a unique take on the ever-popular crime drama, filled with slinky, jazzy nods to classic film noir styling of the 30’s and 40’s (think Humphrey Bogart with an extra shot of sass and snark),

and

  • an absolutely relevant theme that tackles one of the thornier social problems we face today.

Pretty freaking neat, if you ask me! For heaven’s sake, why not make thought-provoking and inspiring discourse look and feel cool?

The latter was something that really struck me from the very first episode on (throughout my ravenous binge-watch, lets be honest). The plot, centered around one sleuthing, snarky, super-strong heroine, pits her against a man with mind-control abilities who targets and emotionally tortures young women.

In Jessica‘s world, this man uses an uncanny knack for the power of suggestion to force people to perform different acts, often violent and sometimes fatal. One victim, a young woman, becomes the prime suspect in a murder and is thoroughly condemned by a furious public, who accuse her of spinning this crazy story to cover her own actions.

This whole concept, comic book-y as it appears, really speaks to contemporary culture, where it has now become popular to blame victims of rape for inciting their attackers with behavior or clothing. While there is a far cry between reality and the world of brain-control powers, it definitely gives me pause…

While many are content to blame a victim, what of the victims themselves? And, more significantly in the show, when do victims stop being victims, and start being heroes?

 

A Call for a Truce

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I’ll be first to admit that in the beginning, I was a little wary of NBC’s Elementary when it was first released a few years ago. Fiercely protective of the adherence to a classic Sherlock Holmes approach, my viewing reach only went so far as BBC’s modern deviation Sherlock. I recall my argument being something like “no matter when you set it, London is a character in this story, and you can’t break the rules that Conan Doyle set down regarding the setting and characters, darnit!” Goodness, I was prejudiced.

I gave the Americanized version, set in New York City, a shot, and I was so very pleasantly surprised. The show-runners and writers had managed to preserve the integrity of the relationships that made the classic Holmesian adventures so compelling. It didn’t matter an inch that London had been abandoned by the British import, now a recovering junkie fated to meet a powerhouse named Watson. It didn’t matter that this powerhouse just happened to be a woman. And it certainly didn’t matter that I still adored Sherlock just as much as ever.

As Elementary was introduced to the public, and as it took hold as a successful series, there seemed to open up a great big rift between the BBC acolytes and the NBC fandom. You were either one or the other. You were a hater either way.

While I hope I never became antagonistic, I knew once I began watching the show that I had joined a trend that created drama and issues where there was no need for any….

While its totally okay to be a purist, to prefer a classic to a new interpretation or vice versa, and to criticize that which you think needs it, I really feel that its also okay to simply let things be.

I, for one, now find myself embedded in both worlds, the BBC and the NBC. I love both Sherlocks and Watsons for different reasons! This whole experience got me thinking: is it really so important to be steadfastly against something new and creatively bold, just because you like something else to begin with? Maybe sometimes its more fun to have a taste of both, and see if you can’t make friends all around…

Hamlet {The Barbican, National Theater (Live)}

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Even the self-professed Shakespeare-loather might recognize a few lines from Hamlet…to be or not to be…and so on. The biggest role in the Bard’s canon is also his most famous (next to those famously ill-fated young lovers, of course). It’s even a Disney cartoon!

As a former student of theater, I think its safe to say I’m familiar with the great Dane. I’ve grown quite close to Hamlet, having analyzed his many trials and tribulations for nearly 6 years now. How cool is it that I can see the same play over and over, study it, perform it, and suddenly see one production and experience an entirely different twist?!

For decades, perhaps centuries, scholars and high school students alike have debated whether Hamlet’s lunacy is faked, as the character explains in an early act, or real, madness actualized as the traumatic events of the play unfold around him. Is he nuts, or is it all really a big act intended to fool his treacherous family?

I was always stubbornly on the side of fakery. I would point to Hamlet’s line about “an antic disposition” and say to my opponents “See! He tells everyone he’s going to act crazy”. However, after seeing the Barbican Theatre’s production, broadcast live through the amazing work of National Theatre Live, my mind has been prodded open to new ideas.

There were lots of nuances I was familiar with in this version. And I believe it was that familiarity that allowed me to see new touches and choices the company made. The way Hamlet’s experiences were dealt with was so unique to any other production I’d seen before.

In Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet, madness was not in his moments of “acting”, but in the moments in between, when his constantly fluctuating mood and overextended energies gave him an instability I had never seen in the character before. By the final act, I was convinced: this poor man had been driven insane by grief.

I was so thrilled to have my mind changed by a singular performance. To me, this just further proves how powerful storytelling can be in changing and stimulating the imagination. Theatrical possibilities are endless with this kind of thinking…

Lady’s Choice {My Fair Lady, Musical Theater West}

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*Spoiler Alert! Details of the plot of My Fair Lady are discussed here*

Often times, when people go to the theater, they see a show–a whole package. A culmination of everything the company collaborated to create. The end result of many minds’ efforts…

It’s really beautiful when those creative blends come out just right, and the different notes are harmonious. I witnessed one example of this over the weekend, when I saw Musical Theater West’s production of My Fair Lady. This version of the beloved musical adapted from Bernard-Shaw’s Pygmalion did something awesome here. Taking a widely praised classic, they managed to both celebrate the material, and deliver a very concise, and very contemporary, concept.

While I’ve always loved this musical, its liveliness, its gently satirical humor, I was always a bit confused by its ending. Why, I’ve always wondered, does Eliza go back to Higgins? After all of his abuse (and however based in humor it is, the heroine certainly isn’t laughing), why does she choose to return?

In this production, my question was finally answered. Because, through the teamwork apparent between director and ingenue, it was very clear that Eliza made a decision. The evolution of her character, from trod upon child to powerhouse sophisticate, was swept up in the play’s final moments.

As she began to break away from her hurricane of a mentor, it was clarified, through choices both the actress and director made, that this was the first time she’d ever chosen strictly for herself.

And in that, the whole concept of the production! Eliza finally learns that her life is hers and hers alone to control. It is only when she has reached this recognition, away from discipline, from outside opinion, that she finds she wants to go back, just for herself. What I saw in MTW’s production brought a new perspective to an old story, and to me, represented the best of what a strong collaboration between company players can create.

 

 

 

Why I’m Still Here {Law & Order: SVU, NBC}

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Given that Netflix recently released the latest season of NBC’s hit juggernaut and sub-titled it “The Thirteenth Year”, I think it’s an understatement to say that this show has endured.

Personally, I can remember watching everyone’s favorite hardcore justice-wielders for about half my life so far. At some point, during my high school years, I stopped. I’d begun having nightmares (okay, I had one once, lets not be over-dramatic), and decided a show about sex crimes and the people who fight them was too dark for me.

However, as I’ve grown up and acquired a thicker skin (and a shared Netflix account, thanks Mom!), I picked back up with the latest season recently. Perhaps it was the years in between, which I spent analyzing and appreciating the arts, or maybe just my own maturity…whatever the source, I found I had to figure out why this show, this edgy, intense, occasionally terrifying show, was still around.

I certainly can’t speak for the other viewers keeping NBC’s golden child on its feet, but to me, this show is all about hope. SVU is by no means unrealistic; terrible crimes are witnessed, and occasionally, victims are denied the amends they deserve. But the crux, the focus of each episode, its final moments, are not about what was lost or stolen, but about what was fought for.

Despite the horrors they face, the titular detectives continue to pursue truth, kindness, and integrity. In one memorable moment, SVU‘s heroine Olivia Benson tells a victim that “healing begins with witnessing”. That emblem of healing and reparation is what keeps this show relevant in today’s world. Among mass-shootings and senseless violence, it provides a comfort. These beloved and iconic characters focus on righting the wrongs, fighting tooth and nail for justice in what can often feel like an unjust world. That’s why I watch.

The New Old-Fashioned Way {Crimson Peak, Dir. Guillermo del Toro}

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*Spoiler Alert! This post reveals details of Crimson Peak’s plot* 

I confess. I am no horror film buff. At one point in my life, I actually swore off watching trailers for scary movies – they were enough to keep me up at night, neurotically tucking blankets around my scaredy-cat self.

However, like any good movie fanatic, I have kept a curious eye on all the new releases, even the scream fodder. I see the trailers, the billboards, the posters, and I notice a pattern: the majority of scare-fests released in the last 10 or so years involve a monster (spirit, demon, what have you) out to get the frantic heroine/hero. The found-footage phenomenon, in which the poor camera-person falls victim to an often unseen force, just keeps growing like the Blob.

Absolutely, this trend is good, creepy fun! But it’s interesting to observe the pattern of looking outside of ourselves to find monsters, blaming a spiritual or fantasy world as the source of our cinematic terrors and troubles.

To this, Guillermo del Toro, master of the dark and sweeping fantasy epic, steps in with an alternative. In Crimson Peak, glowing and seeping with visceral tangibility, del Toro gives audiences a gentle nudge in the other direction.

Through delicate touches, subtle twists in perception, and a slow but gripping revelation of the film’s mystery, Crimson invites us not to survive an onslaught of frightful spooks, but the far more horrifying psyches that created those ghosts. What’s more disturbing, the film asks: a ghastly force that we can’t understand, or the twists and warps of humanity that we can?

You see, these spirits may be the most terrifying images we see in the movie, but don’t mistake them for the monsters! Spectacular sound design, performances, and special effects will scare your pants off, but as the film progresses, the truth is revealed. These creepy, limping figures are only there to help, not to harm. What you really have to be afraid of as you follow the dogged sleuthing of the heroine are the people she calls friends…

While I mean no offense to the pop horror genre, filled with ghoulish blood-suckers and violent poltergeists, I really enjoyed the refreshing humanity of Crimson Peak. Sure, it’s a fantasy, no doubting that. But I found that the twist of the story, the villainy of its living characters, made it more about the personhood of its characters, even the un-dead ones.

Check out the trailer. 

 

 

The Power of TYA {The Legend(s) of Sleepy Hollow, Chance Theater}

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Most of you lovely readers will recognize the name Sleepy Hollow. Countless stage, screen, and literary adaptations have emerged since Washington Irving’s spooky short story first appeared in 1820. The classic tale of a gold-hearted schoolmaster and his fateful encounter with the Headless Horseman still keeps imaginations young and old ignited. Something to be said for a few pages notched into a nearly 200-year-old book.

This October, the residents of that tiny hamlet again spring to life at the Chance Theater, where this time they endure a drastic retelling of their tale in The Legend(s) of Sleepy Hollow. The production, the last in Chance’s 2015 TYA (that’s Theater for Young Audiences) series, explores Irving’s invention–as well as what really happened to Ichabod Crane according to his horse, Gunpowder.

Geared specifically towards children, the Halloween-y rendition is sprinkled with shadow-puppetry and imaginative use of set-pieces. As I watched the production myself, it occurred to me that playwright Jonathan Josephson has accomplished something terrific in distilling Sleepy Hollow for younger minds.

Effectively, this production, with tongue planted firmly in cheek and a bright sparkle of engaging enthusiasm, is bringing the old world of petticoats, valiant steeds, and gallant young men, to the youngest generations. True, its not the first to do so, but it bears saying nevertheless.

To me, this delivery, old to new, represents an even greater, and very important, point: that theater, the old world of entertainment, is still relevant, exciting, and stimulating to children. Video games, movies, television, all have their place and significance. But what the Chance and Josephson are creating here is a foothold for history. Reaching through time, the production takes a child’s mind and uplifts it, instilling hope that the past will continue to be celebrated for generations to come.

Common Culture {Sense8, Netflix Original Series}

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Netflix’s new brainchild is splashy as hell, sweeping across the internet like a color-soaked tidal wave. What can’t be determined for certain is what pulls people in to the Wachowski sibling’s extravagantly imaginative world. Is it the action-packed, unstoppable movement of the series? The unique premise? The absorbing characters? Whatever it is, this viewer feels gratified by the attention Sense8 is receiving. Now she’ll tell you why.

The concept is deceptively simple: empathy. Eight strangers, dotted around the globe, discover that for them, empathy takes on new meaning. These people literally share emotional and physical feelings, skills, visceral and intellectual experiences, and can even communicate on some primordial level.

In Sarah Hughes’ Independent.co.uk interview with co-creator J. Michael Straczynski, the inspiration behind this was identified as the idea “…that what binds us – the common coin of our shared humanity, our dreams and hopes, is stronger and more important than what divides us.” Thought its easy to get caught up in the novelty and excitement of the series, I think it’s that “shared humanity” that lies at the crux of what makes Sense8 important to the world.

Sense8poster

sensate: (adj.) perceiving or perceived through the senses

Spanning seven countries and eight languages, the show defies boundaries of “foreignness” by asking: what if we could communicate with something other than language…pure empathy? What results is a sharing of cultures that is open, not divided. There is no discrimination or fear when these different people discover each other — only a joy, a curiosity, a glee in connecting.

Add to that the expanse of race, gender, and social class the series covers. Admittedly, it fails to address differences in age, but we can hope for that development in the coming season. To me, the outstanding facet of the show’s construction is the lack of any center to Sense8‘s world; there is no indication that any one country or group is the lead or star here. Every group (as they are represented by each character) is equalized by the central concept of sharing.

Therein lies the beauty of this clever and challenging series. Despite the flash, pomp and circumstance of its presentation (a fun ride in itself), Sense8 is inescapably just about people discovering “the common coin of our shared humanity”.

Reflections on…Zealot {South Coast Repertory}

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I’ve been thinking about evolution recently, since reading all about the historical debates on the subject in a class textbook (now thankfully, the class–and my college career–is a thing of the past). I’ve observed that the evolutionary nature of life carries over into society and culture worldwide. Some countries adapt quicker than others, and certain establishments, like religion, sometimes struggle to keep up with the shifting tides.

Certainly, some faiths have begun to change along with society, such as many sects of Christianity that have moved toward the inclusion of LGBTQIA members. Other religious groups, however, have continued to adhere closely to their ancient roots.

Looking back on South Coast Repertory’s production of Theresa Rebeck’s play Zealot, my thoughts stirred into words on this subject. Without giving too much away, I can tell you the story concerns members of the American and British diplomatic government, who scramble for control– and justice– when a young woman of orthodox faith publicly challenges the customs of her religion.

This frank and poignant new work takes the time to address many different perspectives on such a bold move as her heroine’s. The play reads less as a preachy diatribe for religious reform and more as an exploration of the entangled principles that lead to the core conflict.

In Zealot, those principles center around the evolution of custom and gender roles. The orthodox believer, holding fast to her faith, pushes for a new relationship with her god, one she argues reflects the progression of society and women’s equality with men more than the ancient custom. The young woman’s opponents argue that the customs are traditional for a reason, that they preserve the sanctity, respect, and dignity of their faith.

Both sides have their respective pros and cons. Yet when one belief clashes violently with the other, as it happens in this story, where must you draw the line? Rebeck never answers this question, instead leaving the audience to ponder the place of tradition, and of change. As the world grows smaller, and unique groups more interconnected than ever, we’re left to wonder: can the two ever co-exist peacefully?