It’s not too late anymore…

…for you to read Matt Bell’s The Collectectors, which is now available free via Issu in a special extended version.

Bell’s prose chapbook tells the story of two very strange brothers whose home becomes both a sanctuary of beloved objects and a repository of needless things over the course of their lives. Bell’s short, lyric sections alternate between lists and inventories and brief narrative passages with confidence and ease, braiding the tale page by page.

It was a fun, interesting, and compelling read–and, I hope, a preview of what’s in store when Bell releases his first short story collection in the near future…

The Bitch of Living

Last night I caught the opening night of the traveling version of Spring Awakening. Based on an 1896 German play about teenagers “waking up” to the changes in their bodies and their emotions, it tells the story of a group of school kids wrestling with adolescent woes, centered around lovers Malchior and Wendla (pictured above in the original Broadway production).

I’m a tough musical theatre audience member to please. What got me interested in the show was Duncan Sheik’s contribution to the music. Although he’s now considered somewhat of a one-hit wonder for his 90s radio earworm “Barely Breathing,” that first album of his was one of the major soundtracks of my life during college. (The rest of the album really transcends a lot of the pop wizardly of that particular single.)

The show is, overall, really great. The music is rocking, fun, powerful, and well-written both musically and lyrically, and the set design and lighting were unique and fascinating (audience members can sit on the sides of the stage while all the action takes place in a central area, which is so cool). The acting in this touring show was also great. The lead roles were very compellingly rendered, and the supporting players offered a good balance of archetype and individuality to be memorable and unique. The actors also interacted a lot with the on-stage band, with a few characters sitting at the piano and playing along, both diegetically and non-diegetically.

Of course, my favorite part of the show is its use of anachronism. The costumes, much of the dialogue, and the subject matter of the play are all very Victorian in nature, but the set featured bright neon lights. The actors often sang with handheld microphones, or sometimes stood behind microphones on stands like rock stars or American Idol contestants. And the content of the songs themselves, such as the loud, punk-inspired “The Bitch of Living” and “Totally “F***ed” keep the show contemporary. The overall message suggests that perhaps some Victorian values about sexuality and morality are not as outmoded as we like to think.

My only beef with the show was in the brief treatment of a very minor gay subplot. While the heterosexual characters’ loves are treated with operatic seriousness, there’s a brief sequence in which two of the schoolboys connect romantically, with one even professing he loves the other “more than I’ve ever loved anything.” And yet, the exchange is played comedically–with joy, but still for comedy. It felt a little awkward to sit side-by-side with straight people who laughed riotously at this, and I wondered if the kind of exchange is only okay if it’s comedy, or if it’s inherently funny, or if they would reject it if it were treated with the same level of seriousness as the rest of the play. Or, I’m being sensitive.

Beau and I are thinking of seeing it again, but sitting on the stage next time!

Digging Up Bones

While Beau’s been here, I’ve not been blogging as much because I’ve been taking some vacation time…and watching season 1 of Bones with him.

Beau likes watching shows about forensic scientists, so I thought he’d like this. I watched Bones when it first came on because, you know, the David Boreanaz thing (see also Buffy), but somehow my DVR misbehaved during season 2 and we lost touch.

Bones, set in DC, follows the teamwork of the FBI’s Special Agent Seeley Booth and “Jeffersonian” Institution’s forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. Booth and Brennan collaborate on murder investigations where bodies have been torn, spindled, or otherwise mutilated beyond recognition or identification, or sometimes just when cause of death is nearly impossible to determine. Like Moonlighting meets CSI, the show tends to work because of the banter/chemistry between the leads. I also enjoy the supporting cast of Brennan’s Jeffersonian scientists, who realistic representation of life in the workplace includes frequent discussions of who’s-dating-who and other titillating types of gossip.

Watching Bones with nearly a year of DC under my belt has been interesting. Although Medium was set in Phoenix, it never even featured shots of Phoenix, so it wasn’t interesting on that level. Bones tries hard to capture DC life, namedropping neighborhoods, restaurants, streets, suburbs, and organizations. I see familiar shots of the landscape and cityscape, and I fill Beau in on what it means when someone lives in Chevy Chase versus Anacostia.

What I really love about this show? Booth’s ties! They are beautiful. I want to know where the costume designer shops. Booth has this hip, Dragnety clothing vibe, and his ties all feature asymmetrical or non-patterned designs on them. They tend to be on the thin side, too, which I like, because it makes you look a little broader-shouldered. Plus, he’s not so bad to look at. Right?

Jesus Christ! (Superstar)

In a move that shows you’re never too old to play Jesus, Ted Neeley showed up in DC this week starring as Jesus in the touring version of Jesus Christ Superstar. I caught last night’s show–my first time seeing it on stage, since I love the film version so much. I didn’t outright love it, although Beau kind of did.

One of the best parts about the film is that it uses anachronism to comment on today/yesterday through the lens of the passion. Guns in the temple, hippies celebrating free love, etc, are all integral parts of the film. The stage version is much more Bible-y: traditional dress even as Jesus’ followers are chanting “What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s a-happening!”

In the touring show, the stand out was Herod, whose role affords him the most latitude in performance. This show’s Herod sang a Calypso version of his solo, with four Carmen Miranda-like back up singers. My only reservation is that the actor played Herod as a kind of mincing bitchy queen–and the last thing the gays need right now is to be connected to the crucifixion of Jesus, if you ask me. But he was funny, and he incorporated the most anachronism into his brief moment on stage, combining a divaness with the kind of critcal rancor usually reserved for restaurant reviews and NPR film reviews.

The letdown was Judas. But how can anyone live up to Carl Anderson’s portrayal in the film? It’s amazing, impassionated, and truly demonstrates the conflict between loving Jesus and wanting to do “what’s right”–one of the most important commentaries the show makes about contemporary society. The stage Judas sounded frequently off-key, had difficulty conveying passion that wasn’t mechanical and premeditated. He did turn it out for his Vegas-style final number, though.

The other standout was Mary, who had a gorgeous voice, although her entire performance was pretty understated, kind of as it should be.

Ted Neeley’s getting a little too old to play Jesus. I think one of the interesting aspects of this show is that Jesus is a rock star, a young, handsome, charismatic rock star who collects groupies and takes them to Jerusalem. The film is 36 years old now, and Neeley’s performance then was excellent (if a little stiff). The stiffness is mostly gone now, replaced with a holy arrogance, and his voice is blissfully unchanged. But he looked a little waxy under the lights. I’d like to see a younger, hotter Jesus next time around.

Insobriety Required

Because I am often slow to get to the movies lately, I just finally saw Twilight this weekend.

You may recall that I tried reading the book some months ago and found it annoying, poorly written, dull, and all-around ridiculous (even barring vampires). I only read half of it and then regifted it as a white elephant Christmas gift for a party I went to. Getting rid of it was more a gift for me.

So my movie expectations were low, but I did think it would be better than the book.

No.

Wrong.

So wrong.

It was at least as bad as the book if not worse. Mostly because it pulled dialogue directly from Stefenie Meyer’s awfully-rendered scenes and dropped them into the gorgeous Pacific Northwest landscape. The acting was, simply put, atrocious, except for Kristen Stewart, who showed occasional glimpses of brilliance/adolescent awkwardness. But any bright points were infrequent, often clouded by the awful, awful dialogue and ridiculous scenarios–for example, it takes Bella about 90 minutes to figure out Edward’s a vampire. She even has to read a book to be sure. It’s like, hello? If the dude is cold, pale, stays out of sunlight and has super strength and catlike reflexes, he’s a vamp. Duh. Turn on a TV now and then, or read some classic literature. Bella is supposed to be very gifted otherwise. Right.

One of my friends referred to the film as a “cinematic abortion,” while another claimed the film was causing him to “grow a vagina.” While harsh, my own opinion was not far off. I actually said out loud at various points, “REALLY?” and “You’re kidding me.” It is so amateurishly done, it’s like the studio went out and found people who’d never even watched a movie and then said, “Here’s the book and a camera–call us when it’s done!”

The upside was that we saw the film at Cinema Drafthouse in Arlington, where we got to scarf down greasy bar food and a pitcher of beer before and while we watched. It seemed a small price to pay to crane my neck around the waiter in exchange for yumsy beer and deep friend mac-n-cheese bites. I will definitely go back there, although from now on we’ve all solemnly agreed not to see another film as awful as Twilight–in case we vomit with disgust, thereby ruining an otherwise nice night out.