Monthly Archives: February 2007

The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?

In my current screening of plays for a potential spring production I recently re-read Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? What a fantastic play. Having always been a fan of Albee, I never cease to be amazed at his particular tone, clarity, and uncompromising perspective.

In general, I am a sucker for fiction that takes extraordinary situations and deals with them very realistically and rationally. This is one of the reasons I so appreciated the move Unbreakable. To take the notion of superhero-hood and couch it in such ordinary characters was a sort of fantastical drama that appealed to me. In the same way, Edward Albee’s play addresses the peculiar situation of a very prominent and respected man, who happens to fall in love with a goat. The events of the play concern his sharing this information with a friend, and how the unfolding of it unravels his family.

Now, with such am absurd premise, there is great temptation to devolve into baser comedy, but of course, Albee wouldn’t deign to cheapen his characters with gag humor. While the script is very funny, it is not base. It is the tense humor of very serious and rational people trying to comprehend and process their very irrational situation.

It is not that Martin (the protagonist; or perhaps his wife is the protagonist, it’s hard to be sure) is lustily engaging in rampant bestiality. Instead, he feels he has found a kindred soul in the goat, and what draws him in isn’t lust, but pure and unadulterated love, the same sort of love he feels for his wife. The issue that the play seeks to grapple with, quite explicitly in some of the later conversations, is the difference between sexual and non-sexual love, or perhaps the lack of difference. Albee almost seems to suggest that love, at its truest, is regardless of form, and it is the circumstances of our experience that circumscribe the limits of our relationships. Martin, in a moment of bucolic bliss, finds himself forgetting those circumstances and the play concerns the unfolding aftermath of society types who have stepped outside of the bounds of polite society.

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A Winter’s Tale… in feudal Japan

So lately a great deal of my time and energy has been taken up by a certain theatrical production here on the the Caltech campus. Today is the first day in a week that the largest part of my day hasn’t been spent at the theater rehearsing, building sets, performing, or just muddling about backstage brooding over my frustrations with the show. In this short respite from the storm of theatrical indulgence, my body and mind unwillingly decompressed, embracing their almost Brombdinagian fatigue.

But let me tell you about the show if only for the humor value. It is, after all, a comedy. The merits of the play itself (one of Shakespeare’s later and more experimental scripts) are debateable. The story concerns a irrationally jealous king who condemns his queen and orders their newborn daughter (whom he presumes was sired by his friend, king of another country) to be killed. The daughter is flitted away by a servant to the land of the other king where she is adopted by an old shepherd. Fast-forward 16 years. No joke, there is a short scene where Time is a character and comes out and says, in essence, fast-forward 16 years. The girl has now grown into a beautiful farmer’s daughter (it’s a type) and has fallen in love with the prince. Hyjinx ensue and in the end the queen comes back to life when a statue of her is magically reanimated, and everybody gets married (it’s a Shakespearean comedy, that’s how they all end). So, clearly there are some problems with the story.

My part in all of this craziness, since you asked, is the rogue who wanders about stealing purses, singing ballads, and generally having a good laugh at everyone elses expense.

The first major production choice, and the one from which all others stemed, was the decision to set the play in feudal Japan and incorporate visual elements of kibuke. To this end, there was an attempt to make the cast look somewhat homogeneic and a tad more eastern. Hair was died black, thick eyebrows were painted on. If it’s hard to see where I’m going with this, or why, it’s because I’m really not sure. This is not to say that setting the play in Japan doesn’t work, but having gone through the process and seen the result, I’m still not sure what it added to the play. The end product is Shakespeare in kimonos, nothing less and nothing more.

The second major choice, as I see it, was to play the largest parts of the work as a drama. Comedy is hard, no doubt, but the dramatic merits of the story outlined above are suspect at best. The comedy of the play is the sarcastic, obsurdist sort of wit that must be clean and quick and clever to work. While the language is often a barrier for audiences, that is the work of the performer, to be subtly expressive so that the semantic content of the speech is conveyed without regard to language and the words are left as a playground. Instead, the choice was made to seek comedy in melodrama.

more to come…

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Upside-Down Hot Fudge Sponge Pudding

This is a very very easy, no work, no fuss recipe that satisfies the need for a chocolate dessert without a lot of trouble. It came out of a book called Puddings A to Z. I believe this was the U for upside down. If I were to make it again, I think I would add a bit more chocolate though.

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup, light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
5 tablespoons cocoa

1 1/4 cups water or black coffee

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, 1 1/2 tbs cocoa, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk the 3/4 cup sugar, milk, melted butter, and vanilla. Gently fold the flour mixture into the wet mixture and then spread the batter in a baking dish (a pyrex pie pan works well).

Whisk together the brown sugar, 1/2 cup of white sugar, and 5 tbs cocoa and then sprinkle on top of the batter.

Gently pour the water or coffee over the top of the whole thing and put it in the oven for 35 minutes. The batter will rise, the liquid will sink and combine with the sprinkled sugar and cocoa to make fudge sauce, and you’ll be eating chocolate in no time.

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