what I’m reading this month: A Need So Beautiful by Suzanne Young

My friends keep writing books that make me cry.

Bitches.

This month’s culprit is Suzanne Young, with her new novel A NEED SO BEAUTIFUL. Here’s the blurb:

We all want to be remembered. Charlotte’s destiny is to be Forgotten…

Charlotte’s best friend thinks Charlotte might be psychic. Her boyfriend thinks she’s cheating on him. But Charlotte knows what’s really wrong: She is one of the Forgotten, a kind of angel on earth, who feels the Need—a powerful, uncontrollable draw to help someone, usually a stranger.

But Charlotte never wanted this responsibility. What she wants is to help her best friend, whose life is spiraling out of control. She wants to lie in her boyfriend’s arms forever. But as the Need grows stronger, it begins to take a dangerous toll on Charlotte. And who she was, is, and will become–her mark on this earth, her very existence–is in jeopardy of disappearing completely.

Charlotte will be forced to choose: Should she embrace her fate as a Forgotten, a fate that promises to rip her from the lives of those she loves forever? Or is she willing to fight against her destiny–no matter how dark the consequences?

I can say without any spoilers that it is an extremely touching story that left me blubbery. Suzanne makes you truly feel and understand the characters, and Charlotte’s relationships with her BFF, her boyfriend, and her family are beautifully and believably portrayed. I felt like I was reading about real people.

So check it out! A NEED SO BEAUTIFUL is simply a wonderful, wonderful book, and I cannot wait for the sequel.

on “boy fiction” and ignorance

I’ve never read Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, and I’m not particularly interested in the upcoming series on HBO. Which, apparently, isn’t surprising because… I’m a girl. And girls don’t like fantasy.

No really, I read it on the internet. In the New York Times, to be precise, in a review by Ginia Bellafante. The review is kind of full of itself and overly flowery, even for the New York Times, but let’s cut right to the chase. Here’s the paragraph that’s causing all the trouble:

The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.

The first thing I think of is the famous alleged Pauline Kael quote about not understanding why Nixon had won as she didn’t know anyone who had voted for him. Just because you don’t know any women who would rather read The Hobbit than… whoever Lorrie Moore is, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. In large numbers. It also makes me suspect that you aren’t necessarily the best person to be reviewing this show. Surely there’s someone at the New York Times who is even slightly interested in fantasy?

I do think I understand part of what Bellafante is trying to say. There are a lot of movies that are straight up actiony and explodey and then wtf here is a love story that seems to be thrown in just so guys can convince their girlfriends to go see it with them. This strikes me as more of a problem with the perception filmmakers have of their audience than with the audience itself. (I personally go to see actiony explodey movies in spite of the awkwardly patched-in love story, not because of it.) But to follow that observation up with the assumption that women aren’t interested in fantasy except for the beefcakes in loinclothes or the tragic romance verges on ignorant. I hesitate to use that word for someone writing for the New York Times, but it really shows a lack of knowledge about the genre or the people who consume it.

Mostly I just think the review is a poor one. Whether or not the show is any good, I simply don’t trust a review by someone who is obviously the completely wrong audience for the story. I’m also slightly offended by the ending:

If you are not averse to the Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic, the series might be worth the effort. If you are nearly anyone else, you will hunger for HBO to get back to the business of languages for which we already have a dictionary.

So Bellafante is equating the show with ALL of the fantasy genre. No. A show or story is good or bad irrelevant of its genre. Not everyone who is into a particular genre likes every aspect of that genre. Not everyone who reads fantasy plays D&D. (Hi!) This black-and-white assumption just drives home that Bellafante might know television, but she doesn’t know fantasy. It’s possible to review a genre you don’t normally enjoy, but you shouldn’t make grand sweeping statements about the genre. And since Bellafante never showed any indication that I should trust what she says about “Game of Thrones,” I still don’t know if I want to watch it.

So basically, I think we should all just feel free to ignore this. The review and the offending paragraph are making the rounds of the internet, and I obviously cared enough to write about it, but really—what’s the use in arguing with someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about?

review: The Blue Flower

The A.R.T.’s The Blue Flower is pretentious. Let’s just get that out of the way at the start. The lyrics are pretentious, the music is pretentious, the style is pretentious, even the concept is kinda pretentious. That said, it’s a pretty good show, and it contains one of the finest monologues I’ve seen in years (more on that later).

The experience starts even before you enter the theater. The lobby has been set up with lots of tables and a bratwurst cart and feels very much like an early-20th-century train station. You then enter the theater directly onto the stage, which again is set basically to feel like a train station. You’re brought into the show before the show even starts.

The story centers around Max, an artist who eventually retreats into his own manufactured language to escape his past. At first,  Max and his friends lead a very Bohemian lifestyle in Berlin; at times I was strongly reminded of Rent and therefore its predecessor La Boheme. (Hannah reminded me slightly too much of Maureen from Rent, actually.) The first act is a rich depiction of this Bohemian life, filled with vigor and joy which is soon torn horribly apart by World War I.

The story is a little disjointed at the beginning, but after the straight-up narration of Max’s life begins it settles down a little bit. There is a strong dose of surrealism and at times the production veers a little too close to Dadaism for my liking, but my date thought it was brilliant. To each his own, I guess. My only complaint about the narrative itself was that it needed probably one more pass with a scalpel, especially near the end. Just a bit too long for the material.

I adored the show’s use of mixed media. Sometimes this sort of thing can be awkward, but here it was seamless and totally fit the show. There are videos playing behind the actors for what seemed like half the show, usually with subtitles. Light and shadow are used beautifully and are almost characters in the show. Blue petals sprinkle over the audience at one point, and if you’re in the wrong place you’ll also get covered in newspaper. All these complexities ran like clockwork. The show has a very high production value.

Also a very high talent level. Hannah and Max especially (Meghan McGeary and Daniel Jenkins) could tell entire stories just by moving a few muscles in their faces, it was quite breathtaking to watch. Even the two-man chorus gave their various parts a lot of character while barely saying a word. The only actor I really had a problem believing in was Tom Nelis as the “Fairytale Man,” but that is probably more due to the character itself (who annoyed me). Mostly, though, every single person on stage was obviously giving their all. You can tell sometimes when a cast is pouring 100% into a show they love, and The Blue Flower is one of those shows.

Unfortunately, what I consider one of the most important parts of any musical—the music—was… perfectly adequate, but not particularly exciting. The songs were all slightly too similar for anything to stand out. The “Sturm n’ Twang” style of the music was an interesting idea but didn’t seem to gel particularly well with the story. One character loved cowboy movies, but that wasn’t enough a part of the story to influence the entire show’s musical identity. And the lyrics, as I mentioned before, were pretentious. Don’t get me wrong, I generally liked them. There were some lines that I wanted to write down because they were so clever, and pretentious lyrics aren’t out of place in a pretentious show. But again, they seemed simply adequate. The songs just weren’t remarkable. There was nothing that you left the theater humming, nothing that was particularly memorable. It was all performed by very talented people, but it just didn’t grab me.

Even with that one glaring problem, though, I do recommend The Blue Flower. It’s an experience as much as a play, and it really is an important piece of art. It’s not my usual cup of tea but I am extremely glad I went.

And finally, that monologue.

At some point, Max addresses the Daughters of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (or some such group). He speaks in a language that is just straight-up “Romance”—sometimes it sounds Italian, sometimes French, sometimes nothing at all. Subtitles and images run behind him while he tells the story of Prince Rudolf’s death. It is absolutely brilliant. Yes, my favorite monologue of the past year isn’t actually in any language. But it is a beautiful piece of acting and production and when it ended I sat back and thought, “well, that was worth the price of admission, doesn’t really matter what they do now.

Which of course isn’t true, so it’s a good thing the rest of the show held up. :)

Disclaimer: I received press tickets from the A.R.T. to attend this show.

 

not a theater review

Last night I went and saw the A.R.T.‘s production of Cabaret, starring everyone’s favorite punk-cabaret goddess Amanda Palmer as the Emcee.

It was a gorgeous show. Fucking gorgeous. So well styled and put together and beautiful and nghh. And you felt like you were actually in the Kit Kat club. The Kit Kat boys and girls were all over and in and around the audience, making asides, dancing, flirting, laughing. I got to wear one of their hats for a while. It was pretty much fantastic. They were pretty much fantastic.

Aside: I desire every pair of shoes in that picture.

I have some quibbles about some of the directorial choices and some of the performances, but eh. I’m not in the mood, and the show’s almost over/sold out so it doesn’t really matter what I say. Overall it was excellent and I highly recommend it if you can get your hands on a ticket. Palmer usually pipes up on twitter if something comes available.

The one thing I’ll say is the thing that was said to me by multiple people before I went to the show and turned out to be totally true. Basically, a lot of people are going to this show because of Amanda Palmer.* And the consensus is that Amanda Palmer is fantastic, but the rest of the show is even better. Which, yeah. So true. I wish she’d sung more in her own range and not gone deeper for most of the songs, but so true. AFP was fantastic but wasn’t actually the best part of the show. So. If that tells you anything. I’ll let that be my review.

One final picture. Here is AFP looking amazing.

*Frankly, much as I love Palmer, I’m mostly glad she was in this show because I don’t know that I would have heard of it otherwise and Cabaret is one of my favorite ever musicals. And, you know, she chose the show and stuff. So. Thanks AFP!

Evelyn Evelyn was Amazing Amazing

So. You may remember that Amanda Fucking Palmer gave me a ticket (I’m still pretending that it was a personal gift) to the world premiere show of her new project, Evelyn Eveyln. So it only seems fair to repay her kindness by telling you all how AWESOME the show was.

And it was pretty awesome.

(Quick aside: if you don’t know what Evelyn Evelyn is, they are conjoined twins from Kansas who play music. Any resemblance they have to Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley in a big dress is purely coincidental.)

the elusive twins

The show was at Club Oberon in Cambridge, Mass, where I had never been. I really like the venue, though, it’s small and seems casual, though that may have just been the crowd. Since I get most of my musical experiences at the House of Blues, I really liked the coziness of Oberon. And a brief word on the crowd: I have never seen such a diverse band of misfits as I have at that show. It was spectacular. There were young people, old people, fathers and daughters, people in corsets and people in jeans. Two girls came dressed as Evelyn and Evelyn. I’ve never felt so completely at home in a crowd.

Jason Webley opened the show, and he is a fanfuckingtastic performer. He got the crowd going immediately (“I need you to pretend I just did something awesome so I can get you to help me with the next song… good! good!”) and by the end of his short set had the entire crowd spinning in circles with their fingers in the air. I honestly couldn’t tell you whether I liked his music (I think I did) because he is such a good show. Loved it.

And with the crowd ramped up from spinning and singing, Amanda Palmer made her entrance.

Let’s be honest, Evelyn Evelyn wouldn’t be able to go on tour if Amanda Fucking Palmer weren’t Amanda Fucking Palmer. Someone proposed marriage to her as she sat at her piano. I thought about it (hey, we’re in Massachusetts). She’s an amazing human being and an amazing performer and an amazing performance. I always forget that there are people who don’t know who she is, because she is such an important artist in my sphere.

But sometimes I get caught up in the excitement of Amanda Fucking Palmer being Amanda Fucking Palmer, and I forget how truly stunning her voice is. Watching her sing, especially from like 5 feet away, is entrancing. Perhaps she sold her soul to the devil to get that voice—I really don’t know. But I’d be okay with that explanation. And the woman knows how to work a crowd.

AFP was then joined by Jason and the third performer of the evening, a man named Sxip Shirey. (It will be easier if you pretend it’s spelled “skip.”) They played “Electric Blanket” (accompanied by Sxip on some random bell contraption) and then AFP and Jason disappeared and it was time for Sxip to perform.

Sxip Shirey was the surprise of my evening. I’d never heard of him and had no idea what to expect, but now I’m in love. He’s part circus, part musician, part storyteller, part hair, and all awesome. He’s one of those “makes music with random stuff” guys, and his tools included bells, a train whistle, a police siren, a harmonica (on which he appeared to be beatboxing) and some foot-pedal-thing that did strange and amazing things to his microphone.

This is not the greatest video, but it’s my favorite song that he played:

His new CD went on sale yesterday. BUY IT!

So then after a brief break the twins came on.

The twins are pretty amazing.

It’s really kind of difficult to describe the show. It was part story/play (Sxip was the ringmaster-type, blatantly exploiting the twins), part cabaret, part puppet show. Each twin played one half of an instrument—they each played one hand of a piano, or one hand of the guitar, or ukulele, or accordion. (The accordion may have actually been all Jason the Left Twin, I wasn’t at a great angle.) It’s been years since I’ve played music, but that seems really difficult. The music is the sort of oddball thing you would expect from people who are pretending to be conjoined twins a band discovered by Amanda F. Palmer and Jason Webley. Each song is really a different genre, but it all seems to tie together pretty well. And the show is great. It feels very circus-freaky: “come into my tent and see this great freak of nature!”

There were a lot of little things that made the show even more genius. For instance, the “waiting for the show to start” music consisted of lots of songs about sisters (that Eurythmics song) and being close and being apart—and at least one song that was by Evelyn Evelyn. (I only remember Happy Birthday, but I think there might have been more.) It was brilliant.

Some things didn’t go quite so well, of course, since it was the first time this show had ever been performed. Jason seemed to have some trouble remembering some of the Evelyn Evelyn lyrics, and AFP kept almost cracking up, but as she said during her set, “anything that goes wrong tonight we can just call ‘charming.'” (That is a very rough paraphrase.) The show seemed to end slightly too mellow (this was pointed out by a couple of people in the Q&A session at the end) especially because they’d teased us by playing the opening to “Poker Face.” And there were a few tech issues. But everything was just opening-night kinks, which will probably be fixed over the course of the next few performances.

But still.

The entire thing was amazing.

I’m pretty sure the show is sold out, like, everywhere, but I hereby give you permission to find someone with a ticket and murder and/or maim him/her. Sometimes art is worth it.

AND

SHE ANNOUNCED AT THE END

They’re ending their tour HERE in BOSTON in JUNE at my favorite venue the House of Blues! Tickets aren’t on sale yet, but stay tuned. They’ve promised that it will be total extravaganza and that they’ll have perfected the show (possibly making it entirely different) and I am super super excited.

SO

There is my very very long review of the first ever show by Evelyn Evelyn. Thanks again, AFP.