Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Monday, January 30, 2006

Weekend in CR

Visiting grandchildren is always fun and this weekend was no exception. TJ and Mikel and of course their mom and dad are always delightful. We did puzzles, read books, played Scrabble on the computer, and went to a movie. (Nanny McQuee) TJ also drew a nice picture and wanted it to be on the internet. So here it is. Well maybe not. It didn't like the picture format.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

January 27, 2006 Happy Birthday Big Grandpa!

Chester De Young was born just outside of Marshfield, WS on January 27, 1906. He would have been 100 years old today. Dad to me, Grandpa to Amy and David, and Big Grandpa to TJ and Mikel, Chet was showing all signs of making the century until the other big "C" caught up with him in May of 2002. He was 96 years young, walked without a cane, and was mentally alert. He paid his own bills, enjoyed golf on TV, and followed his Green Bay Packers faithfully. To say that we still miss him is an understatement of grand proportion. Happy Birthday Big Grandpa. God bless!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Drama, Music, Food, and Windy City Fun

What a Weekend!

Sometimes things just click. With a generous offer from friends for lodging, we boarded Amtrak in Galesburg for the ride into Chicago on Thursday morning. Senior rates make this pleasant three hour ride cheaper than driving and infinitely less stressful. Upon arrival we strolled down Adams to the Art Institute, checked our bags, and cuddled down in a seat in the Fullerton Lecture Hall for a noon presentation on Georgia O’Keefe. This was part of the Voices series and featured a short introduction by a curator and then an illustrated impersonation of O’Keefe by a Chicago actress.

Downstairs for a sandwich and then some gallery wandering mainly in a ceramics show called “For Hearth and Altar.” It featured African ceramics collected by a U. of Iowa artist. They were mainly large, fairly simple jars for holding liquids and grains, but impressively displayed on open raised platforms and disks.

We took a cab around 3:00 PM to Carolyn and Gordon Kirk’s apartment. After a little rest, we headed out toward the American Theatre Company’s venue at 1909 W. Byron St. Had a pleasant Mexican Dinner at a restaurant just down the street and returned to the theatre to see the Chicago Premiere of Matt Fotis’ The Van Gogh Exhibit and The Zebra Baby. Former students Matt, Jeanette Nielsen Fotis, Kyle Anderson, and Lana Raines were involved in the productions. Attendance on this Thur. night was sparse, but earlier in the week two positive reviews had appeared in the Chicago Reader and the Windy City Times and bookings were up for the weekend. Lots of hugs and chats after the show.

Friday saw us walking over to the Water Tower area. Did some shopping, picked up two half price tickets for the Goodman’s well reviewed Pericles , and then walked over to the Museum of Contemporary Art. A big show had just gone down and the one that was left was not too exciting. We didn’t stay overly long.

Back to the apartment for a stretch out and then back to the streets around 5:00 PM for dinner in the Loop. We stood in the rain for an hour and finally made it inside of the Berghoff for dinner. The historic restaurant will close in February and since we had had our first meal there on our honeymoon in 1959, we had a nostalgic stake in having one last schnitzel and stein of dark. This lovely eating spot will be sorely missed.

Finished dinner around 7:15 PM and walked the three blocks over to the new Goodman Theatre where we settled in to our half price restricted view box quite comfortably. There was room behind to spread out our damp coats and two comfy padded chairs with arms. With an easy lean out we could see everything but the left wall. For 17 bucks a seat a true bargain.

There may be some doubt as to how much or little of Shakespeare’s hand is in the script of Pericles, but Mary Zimmerman’s director’s mark is unmistakable throughout the production. The show is physically beautiful at every turn and the movement and choreography are stunning. The curtain rises on a great grey room punctured by massive side windows. The rear wall is dominated by a high open balcony on the right, a door center, and a smaller window left. Behind those windows projections and colors change frequently. The costumes, which range from ancient Mediterranean and Pirate chic to Guys and Dolls gangsters, are lush and colorful. Another Zimmerman signature is wafting billowing fabric. Blue silk strips get an intense workout during the several storms at sea that punctuate the action. Scene changes move like ballet figures as everyone from the supers to the stars take their turns to move the props. In one change an entire dinner table with banquet is moved on piecemeal in perfect symmetry. And then there is a field of sea grass that is borne in by at least twenty players. Each actor crosses the stage dropping off two little bundles as they process leaving behind a golden tan maze of little bunches of grass that function as the garden through which the virginal Marina is pursued by an assassin. It is a brilliant and beautiful conception.

I leave the story until last as it is stretched as thin as the gauze that floats around Thaisa’s head and shoulders in the marriage scene. You must simply give up your search for credible action or depth of theme and give in to the fairy tale fable of losses, epic journeys, miraculous cures, and deadly riddles. At one time or another there are echoes of Macbeth, TheWinters Tale, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, and The Merchant of Venice.

One of the more difficult devices in Pericles is the use of John Gower, an early English poet, as a chorus and narrator. Zimmerman diffuses this character by re-assigning the narration to a sequence of other characters in the play. This, along with some modern asides, seems to make chorus device a bit less creaky.

The actors all labor professionally. The speaking is clear; the energy mighty. Marguerite Stimpson as Marina comes off best amongst the principals. She makes an impressive shift from pig-tailed adolescence to a tamer of whoremongers and kings. Pericles, Thaisa, and Cleon seem to suffer from the lack of real character depth that Harold Bloom cites in his book, Shakespeare:The Invention of the Human. The leads have to play it straight and thus pale in comparison to the smaller but juicier character roles like Naomi Jacobson as the bawd, Michelle Shupe as Dionyza, Evan Zes as Leonine, and Jesse Perez as Boult.

All in all look, listen enough to hang onto the thread of the plot, and then just let the sights and sounds roll. You will have a lovely evening at the theatre.

While Pericles was engaged in his anguished search for his lost wife and daughter, the rain we had stood in over at the Berghoff had turned to a wet slushy snow. It was a squishy trudge to the Red Line on State Street.

Saturday was an equally pleasant day with more coffee and conversation. Later in the afternoon we walked all the way down to Miller’s Pub on Wabash for an early dinner of Roast Leg of Lamb with mint jelly and spinach pie. The already fine repast was made even better by a pint of Guinness that was not too warm and not too cold.

From Miller’s we walked to Orchestra Hall for a Chicago Symphony concert.
The evening began with forty-five minutes of the contemporary composer John Adams and his composition titled “Na├»ve and Sentimental Music.” Though many in the house and some in our group seemed to find it intriguing, I thought it might be better titled “Numbing and Grinding Music.” Only the second movement, which was softer and filled with some interesting sounds, really moved me. The first and third movements just seemed noisy and repetitious. So much for the modern. A Mozart Horn Concerto followed and it was sublime. The evening capped by an equally fine Fifth Symphony by Sibelius. It was bright and crisp and sharp. We took the 151 bus back to the apartment.

Sunday morning was spent gazing out at the Chicago skyline while sipping coffee and reading the Sunday Tribune and the Sunday New York Times. After a light lunch, we walked on down to the Esquire Theatre around noon to see Judi Dench in her latest movie titled “Mrs Henderson Presents.” This was a pleasant film that will not go down as a great moment in cinematic history. Like Pericles this is a slight romantic piece that is engagingly acted by Dench and Bob Hoskins but doesn’t really stand the test of any kind of deep evaluation. It simply demonstrates the adage that you don’t need to do much of anything as long as you do it well. It’s all velly English with its droll humor counterbalanced by the sound of air raid sirens and exploding German bombs. Skin is plentiful in this story of the famous Windmill Theatre’s “Revudville” frozen nudes during the Blitz, but the film is never erotic. Perhaps that’s why the boys in the audience are ever so well behaved. A pleasant diversion set against the background of wartime London.

And that was that. Back to the apartment to pick up our suitcases and then a cab to Union Station for the Illinois Zephyr back to Galesburg. Everything was on time and we got home to Monmouth around 9:00 PM. Pooped but grateful for the occasional forays to the big city.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

"Aggregators" on the Move

The Aggregation Congregation

Got a note from my son today about the “aggregation” phenomenon. As the following article in his blog indicates, he thinks it is the wave of the future. http://howwastheshow.blogspot.com/
If you want to see an aggregator in action, you can also click here for the latest Monmouth news.

Ben Franklin House in London

There will be some updating to my London Theatre Walks book as a result of a Chicago Tribune story this morning. Walk No. 4 “Strolling the Strand” had mentioned that Franklin had lived at #36 Craven Street but the building seemed deserted. It has now just opened as a museum and will certainly get a fuller entry in the 3rd edition, even though Franklin did not have any major theatrical impact. For the full story you can check out the online edition of the Chicago Tribune.

Pain Produces Gain
William Shatner , actor of Star Trek fame, has just brought “stoned” to a new level by selling his kidney stone to a gambling casino oddity museum for $25,000. It will apparently reside with other memorable items like a half eaten cheese sandwich that seems to contain an image of the Virgin Mary.

If that isn’t enough for one day I don’t know what is!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Bits and Pieces for a Sunday

Want the real story on Memoirs of a Geisha. Check out

Read about the Beloit International Film Festival. As a four year resident of Beloit during a quite pleasant college experience, I remarked to my wife (also a Beloit Grad) that I wasn't aware that there were eight locations in Beloit much less eight to show films.

Heard on CNN headline news that there would be no reason to fear the latest Alaskan volcanic eruption as it was taking place on an "unihibited island."

Today will tell whether the Chicago Bears will follow the Cubs or the White Sox.
Unfortunately panthers may be leaner, meaner, and faster. We'll see.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Old Python Spreads Too Much Gas

Here's one for the books. The London Times online reported today that Michael Palin, former Monty Python's Flying Circus cast member, has been accused of traveling too much. Because of his continuous globetrotting while making his popular travel documentaries he is creating more than his fair share of carbon dioxide byproducts while using various internal combustion vehicles from jetliners to dune buggies. Pointing to the uptick of interest in traveling to far off and exotic locales whenever one of his programs appears, Palin has also been criticized for encouraging hosts of others to travel as well, which compounds his nefarious impact on the world's environmental health.

It would appear that we now need to add travel and learning about other lands to the list of things formerly thought good that now appear to bad for us.

And that's the news today from Main Street in Monmouth where the folks stay home and love it.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Records Are Falling Everywhere

The Phantom of the Opera has just become the longest running Broadway musical ever, having just edged out Cats. The musical has run for 7,486 consecutive performances since 1988. The British composer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber created both the old and the new champion. That record pales along side of producer, Sir Cameron Mackintosh who now has produced all three of the longest running musicals on Broadway by also being the “money man” for Les Miserables. Nothing suceeds like success. Unless it is the announcement that Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code has just become the best selling fiction book of all time.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

With Apologies to Garrison Keillor

One of our garage door openers went on the blink last week. The experience of actually having to get out of the car and open the door manually reminded me of just how many “enabling” conveniences have entered the world of driving since I got my magic passport at the age of sixteen. I’m really not old enough to appreciate the replacement of the crank with the electric starter, but I did learn to drive using a manual transmission and our old Ford had a manual choke. I even remember when you used a handle to raise and lower the windows and actually had to turn a key to lock or unlock your vehicle. That sure was a lot of heavy pushing and pulling and rotating. Hard to see how we had enough energy to go anywhere after all that exercise. I suspect that Index Finger Arthritis will soon be joining Blackberry Thumb as a cachet affliction. From what I can gather even the button pressing finger and the twist of the wrist are showing signs of obsolescence. Keyless start has even made it unnecessary to start the motor manually. Automatic sensors now dim your lights automatically for approaching vehicles, tell you if you are low on gas, turn on your windshield wipers when it rains, engage your washers when your windshield becomes dirty, recognize you when you sit down, orally welcome you to the driving experience, and ask you where you are going and if you need directions. Meanwhile the computers are adjusting the driver’s seat to your preferred configuration, setting the climate system to your preferred temperature, and of course warning you if you start backing into an obstruction or are following another car too closely.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some conveniences this Luddite does not wish to disparage. I remember the cold rim of the chamber pot in the winter as well as any man. There is no desire to return to the so called golden days of yore, but I do wonder a bit what my grandchildren will tell their children about the hardships they had to put up with when they were young. Perhaps they’ll talk about a horrible day when their garage door opener failed.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Can you read this?

Olny srmat poelpe can raed tihs. I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in wahtoredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the fristand lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and youcan sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! if you can raed tihs psas it on !!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of Geisha

Went to see this film yesterday with high hopes and was mightily disappointed. In spite of the fact that the Geion District of Kyoto was determined to be too modern looking and was passed by for a reconstruction in California and that the three main female actresses were Chinese not Japanese, the film was still strikingly beautiful. Then the delight ended.

There was no doubt as to why the heroine was sold by her poor family, but from there on the motivations seemed opaque and the narrative jumpy and incomplete. The initial separation from her sister was a matter of “I’ll take this one and not that one. No visual persona or action jumps out that would make her and not her sister or fifty other dirty kids the choice for geishadom. This motivational insufficiency continues to haunt the screenplay. As our heroine ages, we get too little explanation for the infighting and backbiting that tries to drive the action and we get too little of her training struggle in comparison to others in training. How can we accept that she is the best there is unless she is shown to have exceeded others in the stable. And I do not choose the word "stable" lightly. The women are indeed treated as if they were in one though horses would probably not be treated as cruelly. In another narrative non-sequitar, a nasty fire is set by her nemesis in the house. As she spreads lamp fuel around the wood and paper house it would appear as if the characters, the house, indeed the whole district will go up in flames. Cut. One to another scene and we never know how anyone got out or survived.

Mostly the film seems to concentrate on how a Japanese woman survives a life that is defined by continued arbitrary removal of all that she loves or would seek to love. WW II arrives by air in a glorious surprising image that is always a part of the advertising trailers. It surprises because for the first two hours the film strives mightily to obscure any possible attachment to a historical event. The world of the geisha is or was one with no context whatsoever. The participants seem to have had no knowledge of anything outside of their own cocoon. We have no more intrusion by the invasion of Korea or China than we do of instruction in what will happen after your virginity has been auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Over-all the film is over-pretty, over-long, and under plotted. What did you think?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

OFTA Hears Esther White on Art of Storytelling

OFTA (Old Friends Talk Arts) opens its fourth year with a program titled “The Art of Storytelling” by Monmouth College Professor Emerita, Esther White on Wednesday, January 11th at 10:00 AM at the Buchanan Center for the Arts on the square in downtown Monmouth, IL.

Ms. White had a long and distinguished career in the public schools of Iowa. She then taught in the Education Department at Monmouth College from 1974 to 1988. One of her many retirement interests has been several consecutive years of attendance at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. The Festival, which was started in 1973, now attracts more than 100,000 visitors every October. Storytellers come from around the country and the world to share the local tales and ancient myths of their homelands. Visitors can wander through the festival tents and listen to everything from cowboy poetry to creation stories.

Ms. White will be developing a case for storytelling as an engrossing, entertaining, and serious art form for people of all ages. We invite you to come and listen to her experiences and hear a tale or two.

OFTA is a special “seniors” program of the Buchanan Center for the Arts, but its second Wednesday of the month meetings from 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM are open to all members of the public free of charge. Refreshments are served.

If you have an arts topic you would like to talk about or an arts event you would like to promote in 2006, contact Jim De Young at 734-5529 or e-mail him at jdeyoung@maplecity.com.

The Buchanan Center for the Arts is open weekdays from 9-5 and Saturdays from 10-2 and is partially supported by grants from the Illinois Arts Council, a state Agency. The upcoming gallery exhibit (January 7-February 4) will feature work by Galesburg photographer, Tom Foley.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Will Full Again

Two items linked by the Bard hit me today.

Last night on public TV an underadvertised special on Shakespeare showed us a first time director recruiting a multi-age and ethnic group of neophyte thespians from a north London suburb to produce Romeo and Juliet. The young director was given long distance assistance (and I assume financial support) from Baz Luhrmann glitzy director of his own rap and rock
R & J in 1996 that starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes.

All the PBS web site gives you is: "My Shakespeare: 'Romeo and Juliet' with Baz Lurhman TV> MARC> Middle / High SchoolSunday, January 1, 20069:30 - 11:00 pmTwenty non-actors from Harlesden, a predominantly Afro-Caribbean area of London, stage a production of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." The raw experience of the novice actors revitalizes an ancient classic and the enduring message of the play has strikingly unexpected resonance with the cast. (CC, Stereo)" This former director, who worked with inexperienced actors for over forty years, found it engrossing and instructive. I believe it will be available on DVD shortly.

Amanda Mabillard’s About.com Shakespeare site is a bit short on scholarship and long on advertising, but does have enough occasionally interesting tidbits to be worth a spot on your Favorites listing. This week’s issue focuses on the Shakespeare apocrypha and has a number of forward links that will enable you to get a handle on those maybe Shakespeare classics "Cardenio" or "Edward III". The photo that heads this entry is of the Shakespeare Memorial in Southwark Cathedral in London. For more information on it and other Shakespeare sites in London you can consult my London Theatre Walks.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Berghoff Bites the Dust

One of the aspects of aging is the sensing of the loss of permanence. The people, the places, the landmarks that have always been a part of your life begin to slowly disappear or evolve into forms no longer recognizable. In February the Berghoff, a Chicago restaurant and landmark will close. The Chicago Tribute can do a better job on the overall history, but our connection went unmentioned in the larger media story. Perhaps it was because we arrived late in historical terms for our first Berghoff meal. It was on Dec. 20, 1959. It may seem odd to be able to fix the date of a meal taken forty-six years ago, but we had been married on December 19th and worked our way into a snowy Chicago for our brief honeymoon on the morning of Dec. 20th. Tickets had been secured that evening for the touring New York production of West Side Story starring Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence at the Shubert Theatre. A dinner location was needed and not far away we discovered The Berghoff. Our own love affair has been intertwined with the restaurant ever since. Over the years we have made it a point to return to that gorgeous high ceilinged old world dining room on almost every visit to the Windy City. Draining a frosty mug of "dark" while nibbling on dark rye with real butter is a sense memory so strong that I can almost taste it now as I write this. it. The Berghoff cannot be planned. No reservations are taken, but table turnover is the name of the game. You'll get in fairly soon as long as the line doesn't twist outside the door too far. The white haired hostess at the door is imperious. The waiters, in black and white, are brusque but efficient. Your main course arrives speedily. Nothing truly exotic on the menu--some pork, some sauerbraten, some fish--good hearty German fare served hot and fast. Finish it off with a Black Forest Torte and a cup of hot coffee. There is no finer place for a meal in Chicago! I don't suspect that they will miss us, but we are sure going to miss them.