Saturday, February 14, 2009

Day 129/365 - You've Gotta Have Heart

Hurray, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training today! Go Nats!

You've gotta have heart
Miles and miles and miles of heart
When the odds are saying you'll never win
That's when the grin should start
You've gotta have heart

Oh yeah, and I think today may also be some sort of holiday for non-single people. Whatever.

(Taken with my Nikon D80)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Day 128/365 - Dante

I ventured over to the Rosslyn Spectrum tonight to see 'Dante' -- Synetic Theater Company's adaptation of Dante's Divine Comedy. Well, it's billed as an adaptation of the entire Divine Comedy but actually it's the Inferno with about five minutes of Purgatorio and Paradiso at the end. That's fine, though. The Inferno is the most interesting of the three parts anyhow.

It took me a bit of wandering around the byways of Rosslyn to find the Spectrum. It's one of the most unprepossessing performance spaces you're ever likely to encounter. It's a drab, concrete, underground auditorium with even less warmth and life than GW's Lisner Auditorium. Once the peformance begins though, none of that matters.

I've been wanting to catch one of Synetic Theater's productions for some time but I always seem to miss out. I wanted to make sure I saw this one, though. Given the source material, I had a feeling they would be able to do some amazing things with this production. I was right.

Synetic relies primarily on dance and motion and silent film style acting to advance the narrative of the works they perform. A few years back they did an entirely silent version of Hamlet that got rave reviews. 'Dante' features a fair amount of exposition, however. I believe this may be one of their most dialogue-heavy shows. That doesn't detract from it being a phenomenal thing to watch.

The set and costume design for 'Dante' are nothing short of brilliant. In fact, it's nearly worth the price of admission just to see the character and set skectches by production designer Anastasia Ryurikov Simes that hang in the Spectrum lobby as pictured above. It's a very visually arresting production. There are images and scenes that will stay with you long after the performance ends, particularly the sight of damned souls being dragged by demons to their torment in slow motion. Visually, the production holds echoes of the movies 'The Cell,' 'Escape From New York,' and 'The Road Warrior'; German expressionist cinema; and various Marilyn Manson videos. That sounds like an odd mix, but it works and works well.

The performances are outstanding, although I'm not entirely sold on the performer portraying Virgil. The score is adequate. It's difficult though to view the various aspects of the production in isolation. It's really a work that needs to be analyzed as a whole and as a whole it's excellent. It's immediately obvious that a great deal of effort and energy went into the production, all to great effect.

Synetic's 'Dante' is an amazing and memorable work of performance art. It's certainly not the sort of thing you'd expect to encounter in an underground auditorium on a sidestreet in Rosslyn. But no matter where this production was being staged, it would be worth going to see.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Day 127/365 - The Marriage of Figaro

So it turns out that 'The Marriage of Figaro' isn't just an opera by Mozart, it's also a late 18th century comedic play by French playwright Beaumarchais. The play was banned by King Louis XVI because of its proto-Revolutionary sentiment, chiefly the ideas that accidents of birth do not serve as a proxy for true worth and that in many ways a servant might be superior to a master.

Constellation Theatre Company is currently staging a production of Beaumarchais' 'The Marriage of Figaro' at the Source Theatre and tonight my friend Adriana and I went to see it. Before the show, I stopped in at Cafe St. Ex (it's nearly next door to the theater) to have dinner. I'd been wanting to try CSX for some time now, but after having done so I think it's probably a better place to go for drinks and appetizers than for dinner. I had the creamy tomato soup with cheese-coated croutons (really good), grilled rockfish with bacony brussel sprouts and cheese-stuffed figs (just okay, although the figs were yummy), and tangerine creme brulee (so-so). Adriana had to meet up with another friend of hers before the show so she couldn't make it for dinner, but she did swing by CSX in time to join me for dessert (she had the chai ice cream sundae, which was just okay). Then it was off to the theater.

Source is a somewhat unusual theater. The stage takes up more room than the audience seating area. There are only three rows of seats and each row is maybe 15-18 seats long. If you are unfamiliar with the plot of 'Figaro' it concerns a wily servant who is about to wed -- assuming he can stave off the love-starved predations of a thwarted spinster and keep his master the Count from seducing his fiancee, that is. Beaumarchais' play runs a bit long, particularly in the saggy second act. It could certainly stand with some trimming. The play had it's funny moments though, a few of which were unintentional -- as when Bazile's turban came unwound mid-speech and the Count's cape got snagged on a bench as he stormed offstage. In each case the actors responded to the physical miscues with admirable aplomb.

The peformances were largely adequate, with the actress playing Figaro's fiancee Suzanne being the strongest. Given the space and technical constrictions at Source, the set design was excellent. The costuming was also quite good with the possible exception of the drunken gardener, who would have been better appointed with a straw hat instead of an anachronistic stocking cap. Taking into account that we got our tickets for 10 bucks each through Goldstar, I think 'Figaro' was worth the price of admission. I'd likely have felt differently however if we'd had to pay full-price rather than half.

After the show Adriana was feeling a bit peckish from missing dinner so I introduced her to the myriad wonders of Ben's Chili Bowl, where she partook of her first ever half-smoke and we split an order of cheese fries. Now that she's had her baptism by chili, she's an official Washingtonian.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Day 126/365 - At the Dentist's Office

I was a big, brave boy and went to the dentist's office this morning for the first time in 14 years. And she didn't even yell at me! She did 'tut, tut' a bit, though. I think I picked a good dentist. I always try to go to women doctors and dentists because I think they are less likely to be egotistical jerks than are men. I realize that's more than a bit sexist and stereotypical -- I'm sure women doctors are just as capable of being egotistical and jerky as their male counterparts -- but it generally works out.

I picked my dentist (Dr. Sheila at the South Capitol Smile Center) because (a) she accepts my insurance, (b) she's Metro accessible, (c) she's a woman, and (d) her website said she was from the Midwest (and thus in my biased Midwestern opinion more likely to be nice). Her office is right across from Nationals Park so I got to walk by the ballpark this morning for the first time since the end of last season. It looked a bit sad sitting there all by its lonesome in the off-season.

The results of my exam were pretty good. Apart from the tooth that is falling apart (see Day 117 for details), I have a couple small spots of decay, some filings that need replacing (given that I got them when I was 8, they've held up pretty well), and some wear due to grinding or clenching my teeth (for which I will shortly get stuck with wearing a mouth guard at night). The dentist was amazed. When I told her how long it had been she was expecting a disaster.

Today was just the exam and cleaning. I have to go back early next month for the tune-up. Hopefully I'll be able to avoid a root canal on the falling apart tooth. Thank goodness for insurance. That covered my check-up and will knock two-thirds off the cost of my tune-up. Going to the dentist sure has changed. There's a flat screen monitor attached to the chair and your x-rays instantly show up on it, along with color photos of your teeth they take with this wand-like camera. It was kinda cool, actually.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Day 125/365 - The Dog in the Manger

"The Dog in the Manger" is a romantic, comedic play by celebrated Spanish playwright Lope de Vega. An English language version of the play is currently being staged by the Shakespeare Theatre Company at its Lansburgh Theatre and tonight I went to check it out. This is shaping up to be an overstuffed week for me in terms of performing arts outings. Tonight it was 'The Dog in the Manger,' tomorrow it's the Lenka concert at DC9, Thursday it's Source Theatre's 'The Marriage of Figaro,' and Friday it's Synetic Theater's all dance/no dialogue adaptation of Dante's Divine Comedy. Yeesh!

Plus there's still Round House's production of 'Eurydice,' the national touring company of 'Avenue Q' at Warner Theatre, 'The Heavens Hung in Black' at Ford's Theatre, and the upcoming Flamenco Festival. It's a great time to be a performing arts fan in the DC area right now, but a bad time if you have errands to run or sleep to catch up on. And thank goodness for half-price tickets from Ticketplace and Goldstar.

To keep with the Spanish theme, before the play tonight I went to Jaleo and had tapas for dinner. I didn't realize at the time though that the play is actually set in Naples rather than in Spain, so my attempt at synchronicity was a bit off. My favorite thing from Jaleo, the fried shark tapas with aioli, wasn't on the menu tonight unfortunately so I had to make do with the chicken croquettes, a leek, goat cheese, and almond salad, and broiled scallops with ham instead. Oh, and sangria of course. It was all yummy as usual.

I got a half-price ticket to the play from Ticketplace so it was pretty cheap. And it was very funny and entertaining. The title comes from one of Aesop's fables about a dog sitting in a manger of hay who couldn't eat the hay himself but nevertheless steadfastly refused to let any cows eat it. In this instance the 'dog' is Countess Diana, the 'hay' is her secretary Teodoro, and the 'cow' is her lady-in-waiting (and relative) Marcela.

As the play begins, Teodoro loves Marcela, Marcela loves Teodoro, Diana's servant Fabio loves Marcela, Dorotea (another lady-in-waiting) loves Fabio, a pair of buffoonish noble suitors love Diana, and Teodoro's servant Tristan loves money. Once Diana learns of the romance between Teodoro and Marcela she decides that she loves Teodoro and wants him for herself (despite the fact that she has promised him to Marcela in marriage and despite the further fact, because he is a commoner and she a noblewoman, it is impossible for them to ever marry and dangerous for them to even love each other).

Throughout the course of the play's two acts, the various characters thread their way through a host of schemes and plots to attain their desires and thwart their rivals and flit between idolizing and despising their alternating partners as though they were playing a game of romantic musical chairs. This all results in a play that is frequently and uproariously funny with marvelously rich dialogue that rivals that of any of Shakespeare's comedies.

While the performances are uniformly excellent and the costumes are terrific, the set design can be a bit anachronistically hit or miss and there is a strange interpretative dance number at the beginning of the second act that seems odd, unnecessary, and generally ill-advised. Additionally, although the play's ending is a bit too quick and neat, 'The Dog in the Manger' is a pleasant night's entertainment nonetheless.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Day 124/365 - Doppelganger

For this week's self-portrait we have my shadow. My, how I've grown. I have to be at least 7 feet tall in this photo. Guess I'll need to buy some longer pants.

As far as I know, my shadow has never gotten separated from me and needed to be sewn back on as did Peter Pan's. That's a good thing, because I don't know anyone named Wendy and I can't sew. Not so much as a single stitch.

I find that staples work fairly well for mending certain things that rip or tear. They don't work for clothes or buttons, unfortunately, but staples are pretty good for repairing other torn items like pillows. If something that can't be stapled back together tears, I generally either wait until my mom or one of my sisters comes to visit or I package it up and mail it off to them so they can fix it for me.

For the most part, I tend to be pretty self-sufficient. Not with sewing, though. That's one area where I am completely and utterly helpless. That and making small talk. It's hard to say at which I'm worse.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Twice on Sunday Bonus Photo - Scarlet Woman

This week's bonus photo from my archives is a shot I took of a statue of Eve at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC. I love that the walls in this room are red.

(Taken with my Nikon D80)

Day 123/365 - Coraline in 3D

I'd never heard of Neil Gaiman's book 'Coraline' before, but when Erin got all excited that they were making a movie about it and gave me a quick synopsis of the story, I figured I had to see it as well. I'm glad I did. And I'm even more glad that I saw it in 3D.

I think the first 3D movie I ever saw was the old black & white monster movie 'Creature from the Black Lagoon.' When I was a kid the high school my brother and sisters attended had a screening of it one weekend as a fundraiser. I still remember this arm sticking straight out of the screen and in my face.

The 3D they use in 'Coraline' is quite a bit different than the old school variety, as are the glasses. Instead of white cardboard frames with red and blue lenses, the new 3D (called Real 3D) glasses look sort of like Ray Ban wayfarer sunglasses. There don't seem to be as many gimmicky 'comin' right at ya' moments in the modern 3D movies either, although there was a scene with a sewing needle early in 'Coraline' that had me drawing back in my seat.

Watching a modern 3D movie such as 'Coraline' is a lot like watching one of those old Viewmaster Viewer paper discs that has been turned into a movie. The depth of field and illusion of distance are amazing. In particular, there is a recurring scene in 'Coraline' involving a secret tunnel that just seems to stretch on and on and on far beyond the wall of the movie theater.

'Coraline' strikes me as being more of an adult fable than a kid's story. Parts of it are quite creepy, nightmare-fuel and there is a mildly racy bit involving a buxom old burlesque/cabaret performer prancing about in pasties and a thong that I'm sure had some parents in the audience second-guessing themselves. The litle boys sitting behind me thought it was hilarious, though.

The story is captivating, as are the characters. Coraline and her negligent, 'please leave me alone/I'm busy' parents have just moved into a strange old house with strange old neighbors and it doesn't take long for our spunky young heroine to discover that the house contains a passage to an alternate world peopled with an 'other' mother and 'other' father (not to mention 'other' neighbors) that are attentive and indulgent.

It seems at first as though this alternate world holds everything Coraline could want and nothing she doesn't. If only they didn't have those creepy buttons for eyes. And therein hangs the tale. I really enjoyed the movie and now I want to get my hands on a copy of the book. I'm sure it will be even better than the movie, despite the fact that it's only in 2D.

(Taken with my Nikon Coolpix S200)