Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Book Review John Le Carre Agent Running in the Field

Le Carre. John.  Agent Running in the Field

John Le Carre’s latest work is typical for him. It avoids the violence and mad chases and escapes that stoke traditional spy thrillers.  Le Carre’s action is generally more internal than external and his main character, Nat,  simply seems to be looking back on his long and apparently successful career at “The Office” where he has faithfully addressed the continuing threats of hostility between the post World War II powers.   

As the book opens, Nat has  apparently retired from the service and returned to London where he  has been assigned to a make-work supervisory role for a moribund local station.

This works well until a man named Ed appears on the scene. Ed is, like Nat, a badminton lover and appears to want to test his mettle on the court with Nat. Nat, who currently holds his club’s singles championship, feels he must accept.  The matches are hard fought and both men retire to the bar for a replenishing pint after each competition. 

In the course of their apres-match conversations, Ed reveals strong opinions about Putin, Brexit, Donald Trump and the current politics of Germany, Russia, and the USA. Ned, the professional spook, somehow ignores the warning signals that would perhaps have been quite obvious to him if he were still in a foreign appointment. When a local operation exposes Ed’s non badminton intersections with Ned’s life and the intersections with the entirety of Her Majesty’s intelligence services you have a muddle that fuels the reminder of the book. Along the way Le Carre has a good go at explaining plenty of tradecraft and exposing the internecine squabbling within the upper echelons of the government. 

I felt the ending was a bit flat and abrupt.  It seemed more like a setup for the next novel than a tying up of this one .  What we do know at the end is that you can put an old pro out to seed, but he can still run an exfiltration with the best of them.   It’s a fine cerebral  read.



Friday, February 14, 2020

It's Heating Up in Sabino Canyon

It seems as though each day gives us a slightly different view of what is happening in nature all around us. The sunrise each morning always seems to have just a little different cast and it changes by the minute.  

As it gets higher the eastern sky clears and stronger rays find the northern  still cloudy peaks of the Santa Catalinas.

A definite first in the four years we have been looking out of our window each morning was a large  red tail hawk taking the early rays on the back condo fence.

We headed out to the canyon several times and caught a second sighting of our ground squirrel peeking out from his burrow.

 The rain early in the week left a lot of puddles on the trail.

They make for nice reflections of people

 and cactus

 The unusual water also attracted this white crowned sparrow for a drink and a bath.

As far as I could tell the Roadrunners stuck to the brush.

 And finally the most definite signs of a new year coming were with the tiny yellow flowers of the Fiddle-Neck. They are so new that they have not yet bent down to the curve that gives them their name. They are indeed small. the flower is around an eighth of an inch across. 

 Just a few more shots from the week past.  




Review THE WOLVES by Sarah Delappe

THE WOLVES by Sarah Delappe

The set features two mesh walls with a central exercise area and the audience arrayed on the other two sides.  Some productions have ringed the entire playing area with mesh or screens. I prefer this solution as it gives you a clear unimpeded view of the actors.

The Wolves by Sarah Delappe  is ostensibly a simple show with a simple set. Nine members of a girl’s club soccer team in an unnamed American city go through practice warmups and a string of personal conversations about everything from menstrual blood to the Khmer Rouge.  It has been one of the most produced plays of the past year and this production was by the U. of Arizona’s Repertory Theatre (ART) and features students in their School of Theatre.  

The girls in the cast prance in like prize polo ponies and start their pre-game warmups amid a vocal mashup of voices.  There is some Irony here as the last show I saw in the Tournabene Theatre was Top Girls and Caryl Churchill is probably the modern master of overlapping dialogue.

Luckily your ear soon becomes accustomed to this real and sophisticated form of natural speech.  That enables you to see how these adolescents are revealing their individuality and rank within the boundaries of the Pack (Remember the title is The Wolves.)  All the while each girl is also working on attaining or retaining their acceptance within the pack or team.   The metaphor is potent. The girls are also facing the universal trial of integrating into the world of adulthood, which is represented by the invisible coach, college scouts, their parents, the fans who watch the games, and the audience in the theatre.

The actors are identified only by their shirt numbers and in the group spirit of the show I will not highlight any of them. They are all game, talented, and well suited for their roles. It is only fair to keep them equal as they are all ultimately fighting the same fight.

But that does not stop me from putting together a profile of each of them by virtue of behavior and comments. I was particularly conscious of categorizing them to keep them apart while they were trying to do the same thing within their group. Here the work does begin to look a bit like a typical war movie. Common  types jump out. First there is the division by position (stryker, goalie, forward, etc,) then there are behavior types like leader, sidekick, bad girl, bright one, bulimic, and of course there must be a newcomer. In this show she has the additional difficulty of living in a yurt that the girls all call a “yogurt.”  It is intriguing, however, that when they do jog off in formation for the playing field they do submerge their individual trials for the team. They focus off stage not on each other and metamorphose into a machine that exists to play and win.   

As the team moves through the season, complications like an abortion, an anxiety attack, or a disabling injury arise.  A problem here is that these small crises don’t impact every team member at the same time or with the same intensity. The playwright finally does have to resort to an outside tragedy (a literal deus ex machina) in order to move us to the finish. In spite of this expected “let’s all pull this out” ending, the play still does put its fingers on the pulse of young girls growing up and trying to figure out who they are and how they going to deal with the world and its attitudes toward women. It remains an inventive and compelling evening for the audience and a challenging outing for a director and young actresses.  And now It’s time to go out and score some goals.

Jim De Young 2/2020

Monday, February 10, 2020

UFTA Here Comes the Norwegians

UFTA—Here comes the Norwegians!

Having spent parts of several years in Minneapolis working on a degree at the University of Minnesota, I have heard most of the jokes tossed around in the wild and wacky production of The Norwegians at the tiny Live Theatre Workshop in Tucson.  C. Denly-Swansen’s ninety minute intermissionless work moves rapidly, but ultimately succumbs to its origination as a ten minute play that has been extended beyond the capacity of its core idea.

The fun of the setup is all in the first forty minutes or so.  A woman from Texas (with none of the popular Texas attributes of old cowgirl, ranch life, hosses, six guns, blond tresses, etc.) travels all the way up I35 to hire two Minnie-Sotan Norweigian hit men to dispense with her ex-boyfriend.   While the dour northerners interview her before accepting the contract, the woman (Avis Judd as Olive) meets a sleek blond with a fowl mouth and a vicious twisted sneer in a bar.  It turns out that she also has put out a contract on her ex and as she is from Kentucky and has had a horse, she is ready and waiting to round off on the Norwegian punch lines. Her name is Betty; she is played with monstrous gusto by Samantha Courmier and she has a couple of roof raising monologues that skewer Minnee-soda winters, Norwegian foods, sex practices, and philosophy.  She is just plain delightfully over the top and scary at the same time. 

The two hit men make a kind of Martin and Lewis pair.  Steven Frankenfield’s Gus is the unsteady action guy who apparently wields the Twins baseball bat that has lines on it for the kills. He has had a previous unfaithful wife and now wants some real action, but doesn’t have much to offer personality wise (but then what Norwegian does?}  His partner is the philosopher king and manager.  His tag as he claims Norwegian invention of all philosophies and even baseball is “We’re Norwegians.”  They stand alone and imperious master of all things.  Keith Wick as Tor (named for the Norse God of Thunder)  has mastered the dialect with that first phrase or syllable emphasis and is pretty much hilarious every time he opens his mouth. 

As director Roberto Guajardo says in his brief playbill notes “You probably won’t come away from this production with any new insights,” but it should put a smile on your face. I agree there were smiles aplenty, yet there just didn’t seem to be an end.  The show just stopped as if the author had finally run out of ammunition.   In the final minutes there are a number of suspenseful blackouts and on about the third of them the lights came up and the actors started taking their bows. The guy sitting next to me said out loud “Is that it?”  I was as surprised as he was.