First Day at the Fringe, an Unusual Chinese Restaurant and how About that Norman Rockwell? (5 cents)

The Capital Fringe Festival opened its three week run on Thursday. We saw two shows last night, both adaptations and abridgments. First, Medea, performed by a company from Indianapolis. Second, Macbeth, performed by a new, local company. While neither performance was a block-buster, each was more than adequate and quite professional.

Medea is a tough, dark story. Having forsaken her own family to assist Jason, her true love, obtain and return to Corinth with the Golden Fleece, and having given birth to two children with Jason, Medea finds herself on the outside, after Jason returns to Corinth and decides to abandon Medea and marry the daughter of the king.

Revenge becomes the order of the day, and Medea determines to kill not only her husband’s new bride-to-be, but also her two children, both of whom she professes to love, in order to get back on Jason.

High drama here. And important issues. What rights do a scorned woman have? And where do those rights end? And does it make a difference that the scorned woman’s past is none too clean herself?

I sensed a strong feminist slant in this production. That is OK, to a point, and the concept of Medea being left high and dry, driven from the city, with no where to go gives rise to a lot of empathy. But did anyone deserve to die because Jason decided to abandon her? And particularly, did her children deserve what they got?

Silly question, you ask, but even today, 2500 years after Euripides wrote the play, child murder goes on. Young women are killed in India, it appears. There is selective abortion in certain parts of the world. And what about all of those Islamic mothers, proud to have their children martyred as suicide bombers? Is any of this that different from the sad case of Medea?

Macbeth is equally dark for other reasons. Macbeth and his lady are quite ambitious, hoping that the death of King Duncan of Scotland will lead to his accession to the throne of that country. So, he kills the visiting Duncan, but becomes unglued, captive to his guilt, to the continuing pressure from his less guilt-ridden wife, and to the prophesies of three strange witches, who say that Banquo will have children who will obtain the throne, but that Macbeth has little to worry about until Birnam Woods approach his castle.

Both Medea and Macbeth played their roles well. Medea, if anything, was overstated and a bit too frenetic at times, but Macbeth could have used a little more fire, but they did a good job. Kudos also to the chorus in Medea, cretins that they were, and to the fighting scenes in Macbeth, which on a small floor-level stage, endangered the individual sitting closest to the soldier’s entrance (that would be me).

In between the two shows, we went to the American Art Museum to see the exhibit of Norman Rockwell paintings from the collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. This is an exciting exhibition that will be at the museum for the remainder of 2010, and should be seen by all. The detail of Rockwell’s figures, his fine draftsmanship, the bright colors, the facial expressions, and the compositions themselves – remarkable.

In his absurd questioning of Elena Kagan, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, made it clear to her that any right thinking American would realize that we were a much better and freer country thirty years or so ago than we are today. (Others reminded him of, for example, the relative position of women, blacks, Hispanics and gays thirty years ago.) Perhaps, Coburn was thinking of Norman Rockwell when he made that statement, because clearly Rockwell’s America is a special and very positive place (even the pictures of sadness and melancholy portray stories that you somehow know will turn out well in the end).

Maybe we need a Rockwell today, to paint today as he did during the middle of the last century. Wide-eyed children, proud parents, beautiful but innocent women and their admirers, old folks enjoying their friendships during their sunset years. We still do have these folks around, and perhaps the art world needs to put them in the center of things now and then.

We had dinner at a fairly new Chinese dim sum restaurant called Ping Pong. OK, weird name. And weird restaurant. No chicken lo mein, or shrimp fried rice here – just Chinese tapas, three to an order. A wide assortment, yet somehow not enough. And if there are restaurants like this in China, they must be as new as this one. As in tapas or mezze restaurants generally, it is a little hard to know what to do the first time.

Now, without going into detail, I will say that I thought almost everything we ordered was excellent, and I would definitely return. My companion (who wishes to remain anonymous, but is also known as my wife) felt just the opposite. If I do go back again, it clearly won’t be with her.

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