Potpourri ($1.14)

THEATER

1. Eugene O’Neill’s “Hughie” at the Shakespeare Theatre. The most universal emotion when “Hughie” ended last night was surprise. “That’s it?”, the audience was muttering after the full price, one act play ended in slightly less than an hour. O’Neill wrote a number of one act plays early in his career (some known as the “sea plays”), and decided to write another series of plays late in his career, but only completed one of them, “Hughie”. A two actor play, set in a downtrodden hotel in Manhattan, “Hughie” is a conversation between a newly hired hotel night clerk and a regular resident of the hotel, an inveterate gambler named Erie (from his home town) Smith. Or rather, it is a monologue by Smith, with the night clerk paying half attention and making comments now and then, some of which make little sense, since he has not really been listening to his guest. Smith is clearly a lost soul, whose only real contact seems to be with the hotel night clerks, starting with the recently deceased Hughie. Erie Smith is wonderfully played by actor Richard Schiff. In spite of its short length, I’d recommend you seeing the show.

2. Stephen Adly Guirgis’ “The Motherfucker With the Hat” at the Studio Theatre. A few years ago, I saw Guirgis’ “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” (twice) at Forum Theatre, and I realized that Guirgis was a master of dialogue. And, in his newest play, he once again shows his talent. But the play itself has neither the strength nor the imagination of his earlier one. Jackie, recently released from prison, would like to go straight, and relies heavily on his sponsor, Ralph. Jackie is thrilled to be back with his girlfriend Veronica, and is thrilled that he has found a full time job, but then he sees the hat, sitting on the floor of the apartment he is sharing with Veronica, and he goes berserk, convinced that Veronica is having an affair with the man downstairs (the man that always wears a hat). In the meantime, Ralph is having trouble getting along with his wife Victoria (a little too close to Veronica – I have trouble keeping the names, and therefore the identities, apart), and is also have conflicts with Jackie. Jackie relies more and more on his cousin Julio to advise him. There’s a lot of hit pitched conversation, vulgarity, misunderstandings, and so on. As I said, the dialogue flows beautifully, but frankly, I just did not need the story line, which seemed a bit trite. But that is not to say that it is not good theater, and worth watching. The cast is very strong.

3. “Hello, Dolly” at Har Shalom. And congratulations to Michelle for her usual superb performance with the Har Shalom Players yesterday as Irene Malloy in “Hello, Dolly”. According to her program notes, this was her SIXTH production at Har Shalom. Holy Cabooses.

MUSIC

1. The Epiphany Church Tuesday Concert Series outdid itself last week, with pianist Jeremy Filsell (who also runs the music program at the church) playing Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. And playing it extremely well.

But, how do you play a piano concerto in a church, where you don’t have a symphony orchestra to accompany you? The answer is that you have Nigel Potts playing the orchestral work on the organ. I am not certain who did the transcription, or when, or whether or how often this version has been performed, and it is true that an organ is not a symphony orchestra, but it comes fairly close, and it certainly does not take from the piano virtuosity.

The program also included a few short Rachmaninoff pieces transcribed for solo piano and solo organ, all excellently performed.

2. At last Wednesday’s Happenings at the Harman (part of Shakespeare Theatre), a local two woman group, The Sweater Set, performed their own compositions. These are two talented musicians (together, they play guitar, banjo, ukelele, accordion, and flute) both instrumentally and vocally, and they certainly perform well together. On the other hand, many of their songs sound very much the same, and I had a difficult time following (and making sense of) much of the lyrics. My conclusion is that the Sweater Set has a nice future ahead of them, but that I am probably not their target audience.

LECTURE

1. Only one author talk at Politics and Prose. University of Chicago Professor David Nirenberg spoke about his new book, “Anti-Judaism”, a book that does not deal with instances of anti-Semitism per so, but is more of an intellectual history of the role and place of anti-Jewish sentiment in the history of western thought. Nirenberg makes a very persuasive case that the minds of those of us who live in western civilizations (and he considers Islam as a form of western civilization) have been so filled with the idea of anti-Jewish feelings (whether we are Jewish or not) that it helps to form our way of thinking in an essential manner; i.e., that it is central to our way of thought that we cannot escape it, that it has been ingrained since Egyptian times (he talks about the reaction to the Jewish community at Elephantine Island in biblical days), that it carried through Greece and Rome, and obviously continues to this day. That it is not specifically based in theology, or in the particular activities of Jews (in fact, there can be a significant amount of anti-Jewish thought when and where there are no Jews present, as in, for example, Shakespearean times).

I think he makes a very important point. Unfortunately, I believe that he has researched and written on this point with such detail, using so many literary and historical and philosophical allusions, that his long book scares me. I think if I read it, it would take me years and years, and that because so many of those whom he quotes and to whom he refers are unknown to me, I would know no more than I have already written in these two brief paragraphs.

BOOKS

Very briefly.

1. Eudora Welty’s short novel(ette), “The Optimist’s Daughter”. This book won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize, and I can’t for the life of me understand why. A respected Mississippi judge dies at 71 after a simple operation for a detached retina, his daughter (a Chicago artist, and war widow) and his second wife (a flashy woman from a poor Texas hardscrabble background (and who is a little younger than his daughter) do not get along at all, and their bickering (you have to be on the side of the daughter) respecting the funeral and its aftermath (where all of the townspeople, and her extended Texas family have come together) pretty much destroys the sanctity of the funeral. It’s a short book; I will say that in its favor, but it sure did not seem very deep to me. Maybe 40 years ago, it would have?

2. Arthur Hertzberg’s, “The Fate of Zionism”. Hertzberg, well known rabbi and scholar, wrote this book only a few years before he passed away in 2006. I would recommend it for its highly comprehensible and balanced account of the history of Jewish-Arab relations in Palestine/Israel over the last 140 years or so. Also for his analysis of why peace is so difficult, and how the continuing building of West Bank settlements have complicated the process. He concludes that the Israeli Jews and their Arab neighbors and citizens will never (at least in the close future) be able to solve there own problems, in part because there really is insufficient common ground (or, to put it another way, all the ground is too common, I guess), and that the United States needs to be heavily involved. And he has his own formula for what that involvement should be, which, it seems to me, is no more likely of success than any other formula that has been proposed. So I don’t recommend the book for its recommendations or conclusions. But for a good general overview of the problems, it is just right.

3. Richard Halliburton’s “The Flying Carpet”. A fascinating book by world traveler and adventurer Richard Halliburton, published in 1932, seven years before he was lost at sea at age 39. Halliburton purchased a single engine plane, hired a pilot, and decided to fly around the world, going to places that were hard to get to and therefore rarely visited. How anyone has the nerve to do this is one thing that I don’t understand (although they met someone else doing the same thing, a young German girl named Elly Beinhorn, who was only 25 and flying her small plane around the world solo. (Beinhorn was never lost at sea; in fact, she lived to be 100.)

Timbuktu, various desert fortresses of the French Foreign Legion, Fez, the Alps and the Matterhorn, Venice, Istanbul, Tiberias, Jerusalem, Cairo, Petra, Baghdad, Isfahan, Teheran, Agra, Mount Everest, and the Sarawak, Borneo and the Philippines. Each described in an enjoyable chapter or two, the concentration being not as much on the sites (although they are certainly pointed out), but on their adventures.

One really strange note. In Timbuktu, where they were staying for a couple of weeks (none of their visits were overnights), they decided that they needed some help warding off the bats in the caravanserai and doing the dishes, so they went to a Tuareg village outside of town and (illegally) purchased two ten year olds as slaves for $2.50 each. Halliburton said that, although slave trade was illegal in the various French colonies, it none the less existed and that slaves were easy to find. He didn’t mind. His two grandfathers in pre-Civil War Tennessee had each been slaveholders, and “I had been brought up believing in the sanctity of the institution”. How times have changed.

Well, the slaves didn’t work out (as Halliburton describes it, the slaves became the masters and he and his pilot, Moye Stephens, became slaves to the slaves. And of course, the transaction was not a legal one, so no actual ownership changed hands, so I am not sure what really happened. All I know is that when they decided that these slaves did not perform as expected, and they decided to return them, the village leader refused to return their money, or to take them back without giving them their money back, and Halliburton and Stephens had to pay them to take the kids back.

Forgetting the morality issues, the book, as all of Halliburton’s best sellers were, is completely enjoyable.

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