Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Spiderman: No Way Home - SPOILERS

I went to see a movie today - and that was weird, because I haven't really done that much in the last two years, what with the pandemic raging on and on. But for the sake of Marvel (and my husband's sanity), we strapped on our N95s and sat far away from everyone else for 2 1/2 hours of Marvel-tude that people have been crowing all over facebook is one of the best Marvel movies of all time and, well... 

Meh.

Oh, by the way, from here on out, there be spoilers. So allow me to post this picture of my cat if you need time/space to escape from the spoiler-palooza below.

Tilly judges me for all the spoilers I am about to lay down.

Okay - here we go with the spoiler-rich content:

No really. This is ALL SPOILERS.



Don't say I didn't warn you.



I started off more or less on board with this movie. We joined the action immediately where the previous movie left off and were thrown headlong into the forced celebrity of the now-outed Peter Parker. The stakes were high and clear, and particularly hard on a 17-year-old boy, which it is always easy to forget that he is. He enlists the help of a fairly selfish and sometimes sophomoric wizard in the form of Dr. Strange, and of course the spell goes wrong. So far, so good. Bad guys from alternate spider-verses start to turn up and wreak havoc, but we have the means to collect them and send them back to their timelines. It all makes sense (even if, like me, you skipped all the Andrew Garfield movies). But when they realize that all of these baddies were taken just before they died, and sending them back will surely sentence them to that very same death, Peter Parker balks. He can't just send them back to die! He can fix them! And why does he believe this? Because Aunt May tells him that it is his responsibility to fix them.

So, let's imagine that, at that point, everything goes exactly as he plans (which, of course, it won't, but for the sake of argument, let's just follow this out). He would have all these baddies, make them goodies, and send them back to the moment before their deaths... fighting with a Spiderman who doesn't know that they have been instantaneously re-good-ified. So, either they still die, now making their respective Spidermen outright murderers, OR they go back all fixed, magically survive, and completely rupture their extant timelines!

But, May insists, keeping these uber-evil baddies in Happy's apartment and playing mad doctor with them is totally the right thing to do. And we're supposed to just accept that because she still says it while standing in the rubble of said apartment and bleeding out from wounds inflicted by the Green Goblin... WHO NEVER BELONGED HERE IN THE FIRST PLACE.

This bizarre, forced, intractable morality espoused by Aunt May is a deeply flawed and, frankly, selfish version of selflessness. May was arguing for the complete destruction of numerous timelines with no sense of the possible implications of that, because... "we help people." And this oversimplified insistence on finite "death bad/help good" morality gave us a May who was, not to mince words, stupid. It was unfair to her as a character to make her so myopic and childish that she refuses (or is unable) to even consider the larger ramifications of altering multiple universes, even as Peter attempts to make that case to her along the way. In fact, though he tells her that they aren't really his responsibility, I would argue that it really is his responsibility, and it turns out that the most responsible thing to do - for everyone in all of these universes - was just to put everyone back where they came from. Imposing an external morality onto a bunch of people from realities they can't possibly understand just because Aunt May is really nice seems... well... dumb.

So, while the movie certainly had its moments, and it was fun to see the three Spidermen playing together (though I still have no idea how Andrew Garfield is supposed to keep all that hair flat under his mask - do they cover that in his movies?), the fundamental conflict was so corrupted by the violence done to May as a thinking, intelligent person, that the rest of the movie became fruits of a poisonous tree for me.

The previous phases of the MCU were a huge undertaking - highs and lows to be sure - all leading up to a truly satisfying Endgame. As we shift into this new phase, there are bound to be growing pains, and I will try to chalk this movie up to that. But if I am going to avoid what would be very understandable Marvel fatigue over the course of the next 20-some-odd projects they have and haven't announced, I'm going to need them to treat their characters (and surprise - particularly their women characters) with a little more nuance and respect.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

A Doll's House, Part 2

It has been 3 years since I posted one of these... so many plays I have read in that time, that I know I wish I had a zippy little paragraph about to reference. Ah well - here we go again!

Play #137 

A Doll's House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath

I haven't had much time to read plays these days - everything is moving at some absurd, breakneck pace, and my ability to focus on much beyond the task in front of me has definitely been hindered. That said, a week or two ago, when I was discussing A Doll's House with an independent study student I'm working with this term, we started talking about Lucas Hnath's sequel, and it suddenly bothered me that I hadn't read it. So, in a fit of focus that I really must find a way to find more regularly, I sat down and read it in an afternoon. And I am really glad I did!

The play takes place 15 years after the end of Ibsen's story, with Nora coming home to ask her husband to make their divorce official - something he failed to do in her absence, and that is now potentially creating significant legal difficulties for her. In her time away from her family, Nora has created a successful life for herself as a revolutionary feminist writer, and a man whose wife was inspired by Nora's writing to leave him has threatened to undo everything she has achieved. On her return, she has to reckon with Torvald, of course, but she also comes to terms with how her departure and return affected her nursemaid Anne-Marie, and her daughter Emmy - who is now grown and engaged. I found the humanization of Torvald welcome and still complex enough to turn it into a story about a man who was wronged. Nora saw herself in her daughter and was willing to make some real sacrifices to keep Emmy from treading a path that Nora knew all too well. It felt stylistically in tune with Ibsen's original, while also managing to feel contemporary. It complicates Nora's actions without taking the wind out of her strength. I found it an interesting intellectual exercise with the potential - in the hands of the right actors and director - for genuine emotional insight. And I'll just say it: I want to play Nora, like, right this instant. 

Also - there are some pretty good monologues in here, so a play of many applications!

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Felt Fragile

Here's an uncharacteristically emotionally candid post from me, posted on my blog where it's unlikely that anyone other than a stray bot will read it. So, wandering code beast, if you're not up for wallowing in the misery of planning for classes in a Covid world, feel free to drop your awesome offer on Ray-Bans or ED medications in the comments and skip on by. Don't worry - I'm sure I'll post a cat picture on my instagram in a few minutes and the algorithms will right themselves once more.

For this fall, I'm prepping a class that I last taught during Spring 2020. Going back through my daily class notes, I have just arrived at Mar 9, 2020 - the day when we started having conversations with our students about how things might change if the situation got bad. "This is all out of an abundance of caution," my notes copied from the faculty emails said, and we were so hopeful that none of these contingencies would end up being necessary. A week later, we sent all our students home.

Here we are a year and a half later, with almost less certainty than we had back then. We have vaccines, but we have variants. And how long until the hateful, willfully ignorant hordes incubate for us a fancy new variant that skirts the few defenses that we have? How many people will be sacrificed to the egos of our stubborn politicians and our myopic neighbors?

What will classes look like? What do we do for the students who are forced to miss class due to a 2 week quarantine? (In a lecture based class this is one thing - but I'm teaching Improv!) What do we do if WE are forced to miss class due to a 2 week quarantine? What of the plays we've already started designing? What of the students who are looking to a theatre industry whose position is so precarious that it's hard to conceive of what world we are preparing them for?

My natural cynicism already has me believing that things are going to get worse before they get better... but how much worse?

I'm angry. I am so so angry right now, and I don't know what to do with all of that anger (aside from my daily ritual of shaking it up in the cocktail mixer of my psyche, along with my festering anxiety, and a little fear zest as a garnish).

So... that's a little text-based selfie from me. What's the instagram lingo? Felt fragile. Might delete later. IDK. I really DK.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Eat and You Belong to Us

Play #136

Eat and You Belong to Us by MJ Kaufman

I honestly can't quite say what I thought of this play. I tried to explain it to my husband, and found that any sort of summary was woefully inadequate. The play centers around the family of wives Karen and Sally. Their teenage child Jamie is genderqueer and prefers that they alternate her pronouns between she and xe, as an expression of how much "she" Jamie actually is. The "she" part of Jamie's identity, xe insists, is part of xer connection to Joan of Arc, who xe suspects xe may have have some relation to. The final element of the family is Grands - Karen's parent (formerly her mother) - who, in xer 80s, has decided to undergo "gender affirmative" surgery (a term I have never heard, but one that I think is deeply important). Karen is having a hard time following all of these changes - calling her mother "Grands" or her parent instead of "Mom," and learning her daughter's preferred pronouns - but Sally is pushing Karen to try to find her way into accepting her family members as they ask to be. After a particularly frustrating argument, Jamie runs out to the field outside the family home where she is surrounded by a handful of Joan of Arcs who whisk her away to a battlefield in 15th Century France. There, like these other Joans before her, Jamie must take on the role of Joan - leading the army, facing up to patriarchal forces that surround her, and eventually even being burned at the stake. What starts out as a great adventure eventually gives way to the painful realities of the battlefield when a frightened young soldier she had comforted ends up being killed in battle. While Jamie is back in France, Karen and Sally fret for days about their missing daughter, while also starting to get to know the gay male couple from next door, Ted and Joe. Eventually, Grands and Jamie share their Joan of Arc moment and are able to return home.

The play deals with a lot of layers of identity, which is interesting and even a little confusing on the page, but I think that it would become a great deal clearer in performance. It asks a lot of complicated questions, and has a lot of fun with how we deal with expectations and ideals when they don't quite live up to what we had hoped. An interesting play that I probably need to read a few more times before I really have a strong grasp of it, but I would venture to say that it's probably worth the additional reads.

Hey Brother

Play #135

Hey Brother by Bekah Brunstetter

I was kind of bummed out by this play, because I generally like the playwright's work a lot, but I did not enjoy this play. At the center of the play we have brothers Ben and Isaac who are living together in Ben's oceanside home in North Carolina. Isaac is a grad student who, it seems, is benefiting from his brother's wealth and stability, but that isn't really all there is to it. Ben goes out drinking... a lot... and Isaac is often left to pick up after him. It seems that Ben is not dealing well with the recent end of a long term relationship. As we go along, we also meet Kris, who is a young, Asian-American woman working on becoming a playwright. Her attempts at a historical drama often feel stilted as we encounter readings of it in her class (as performed by the same actors who play the main brothers). But when she meets Isaac online, her relationship with both brothers begins to influence her play as well as her personal behavior. The conflict between the two brothers is stirred up over time as Kris becomes infatuated with both of them, and eventually Ben throws himself in the sea in a gesture that may or may not have been some sort of poetic suicide attempt.

I didn't really feel any emotional connection to these characters; I found them cold and selfish in a lot of ways, and wasn't really particularly interested in them. So I couldn't quite figure out why they were all so swept up in each other, because I wasn't. There might actually be some decent scene material in here, but in general, it was not a play that leaped up off the page and begged to be seen, in my opinion.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Love/Sick

Play #134

Love/Sick by John Cariani

From the playwright who created the magical, charming, loopy little world of Almost, Maine, Love/Sick is another collection of short, related-but-unrelated vignettes about - you guessed it - love. This collection is less magical and uplifting than his previous piece, but I still found it really thoughtful and charming. All the scenes ostensibly happen on the same night, at the same time, in the same town, but they are all about different people. And we meet these different people at different stages within a relationship - from first attraction to first heartbreak to wedding day to just another day in a long marriage to exes meeting up long after their end... and other endings as well. There is still a degree of the weirdness that makes Almost, Maine so much fun, but this piece feels less optimistic. There is an inevitability to disappointment in this play, so that even as we chuckle at the "Obsessive Impulsive" characters or the wife digging around in the garage for a child's toy... and for "me," the chuckles cannot detach themselves from the melancholy present in each scene. I think that, on the surface, I don't enjoy this play as much as Almost,Maine, but there is something really wonderful and perhaps more mature about Love/Sick that I found really compelling. The scenes are clever, concise, and intelligent. And there is always a minus with a plus, a down with an up, a sick with a love. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Photograph 51

Play #133

Photograph 51 by Anna Ziegler

This is a play about scientist Rosalind Franklin, whose work in crystallography helped to unlock the structure of DNA. Unfortunately, due to a combination of being a woman, not making it to publication first, and dying quite young of ovarian cancer (which was likely a byproduct of the equipment she used in imaging the genome), her name has largely been forgotten. This play feels like a cousin to Lauren Gunderson's play Silent Sky, but with one major difference: Rosalind's story is told almost entirely from the point of view of the men who surrounded her.

There is her unwilling partner, Maurice Wilkins; her assistant, Ray Gosling; a competing scientist duo of James Watson and Francis Crick; and a graduate student/love interest, Don Caspar. Science was (and still is) dominated by men, and there is even reference to the fact that, were she in America, she likely wouldn't even have access to the buildings where work like this was being done, let alone find herself leading it. But the play is structured as a memory play, and since Rosalind dies so young, all that seems to be left of her is the impressions that she made on the men around her. Franklin is a fascinating woman whose story is absolutely deserving of a play, but I never really felt much life to this particular telling. Perhaps I'm jaded by the beauty of Gunderson's play that I read so recently. There's nothing inherently wrong with this script, but there's nothing that really stands out about it either. And though Ziegler does manage to create some complexity for the woman whose memory these men regale us with, I think I would have found the play much more interesting if I felt I were seeing it from her point of view rather than from theirs.