This and that

The temperatures have been so unlike-August that we decided to give the bikes a rest this weekend and head to a new-to-us conservation area for a hike and a geocaching adventure. What a terrific morning! We logged our seventeenth cache (the seventh of fifteen required for a challenge in which we’re participating).

Earlier this week, we celebrated Herman Melville’s 198th birthday by seeing Moby Dick at the Lookingglass. We first saw this gorgeous production in 2015, when Christopher Donahue dazzled as Ahab. Jamie Abelson offers a more restrained portrayal of the monomaniac, but we appreciated his interpretation. Moby Dick runs through September 3. If possible, do not miss this one.

Speaking of missing theatrical events, only one other patron joined us for the National Theatre Live broadcast of Angels in America Part One: Millennium on July 20; we had the theater all to ourselves a week later for Part Two: Perestroika. Sure, the length of these productions — approximately eight hours including intervals over two evenings — is wildly indulgent, and the Fandango tickets were outrageously priced. But wow. What terrific performances, particularly Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter and Denise Gough as Harper Pitt. If Angels is rebroadcast, consider it a good use of your time and treasure.

Other items in the “recently seen” category: I finally saw the last episode and a half of The Handmaid’s Tale. Brilliant. This is one of those rare occasions on which I will assert that the screen adaptation is as good as, if not better than, the book. I also saw and enjoyed Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and 10 Cloverfield Lane, fun, summer-evening films.

Bookish bits next time.

Notes from the last few weeks

Baltimore Oriole.

The orioles arrived before May concluded, but we have not yet espied the indigo buntings — in the yards or on the bike trail. And now it is June. In fact, it is fiercely June: The rains abruptly concluded about ten days ago, and the grass, which has assumed a slightly o’ercooked tan-green hue, sighs, “More water, please,” as it crunches underfoot.

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We have enjoyed some terrific theater since I last wrote: Not about Nightingales at the Raven, Pass Over at Steppenwolf, and Great Expectations, a Remy Bumppo and Silk Road Rising collaboration.

We had not been to the Raven since All My Sons in 2014. The excellent performances in Nightingales, an early and uneven Tennessee Williams work, ensured that we will make returning a priority.

Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Pass Over (which features ensemble member Jon Michael Hill — popularly recognizable for his Elementary gig) leans heavily but effectively on the structure of its chief influence, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and its leads, Hill and Julian Parker, deliver compelling, get-out-your-chair-and-applaud performances. (Added bonus: Hill and Parker are Illini!) If you’re in the area, you should see this one.

You should also see the collaboration of Remy Bumppo Theatre Company and Silk Road Rising, in which Pip’s “great expectations” take him from his small Indian village to colonized Calcutta. (More information here; review here.)

We also saw the National Theatre Live broadcast of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, featuring Daniel Radcliffe. Catch a rebroadcast, if you can.

Do you listen to podcasts? Our drive in and out of Chicago yesterday was punctuated by the first three episodes of S-Town. Fans of both seasons of Serial, we all agree Brian Reed’s narrative style outstrips that of Sarah Koenig: Hers were great stories adequately told; his is a good story well told.

That said, the spoiler-ish “Was the Art of S-Town Worth the Pain?” (The Atlantic, April 9) has made. me. think.

Evaluate the moral price of producing good art and what damage it might cause to those involved when their secrets are instantly available for the entertainment consumption of thousands or millions of listeners. ­­S-Town may be a groundbreaking new kind of podcast; it also, like many poems, memoirs, and articles before it, confesses other people’s pain in a public—and at times questionable—way.

Speaking of episodes, my husband and I must catch up on 8 and 9 of The Handmaid’s Tale before the finale this week. (I hope you’re all watching.)

When I’m not watching (or backyard birding or biking or writing or…), I am, of course, reading, and my participation in the “Shakespeare in a Year” project is going particularly well. In fact, finishing The Rape of Lucrece early last month put me ahead of schedule. My remarks on the poem:

Last year, I read Cymbeline in anticipation of seeing a Shakespeare Project of Chicago production; and more recently, I stumbled on a film that imagines Cymbeline as a conflict between a motorcycle gang and corrupt police. As I read The Rape of Lucrece, then, I was immediately reminded of the Posthumus, Iachimo, and Imogen storyline.

Fundamentally, the similarity between Imogen’s story and Lucrece’s, the origins of both of which are ancient, is that their husbands publicly rhapsodize on their beauty and chastity — and thus, embolden their listeners. The husbands’ lack of circumspection leads to the violation of their wives. What a theme, eh? The listener in Cymbeline is Iachimo, who spends an uncomfortable amount of time ogling Imogen as she sleeps before stealing a trinket. He later lies about enjoying her bed. In The Rape of Lucrece, the listener is Tarquin, who also leers at the slumbering wife before violating her.

On hearing Iachimo’s false claims, a jealous Posthumus arranges for Imogen’s death. Of course, when the duplicity is uncovered at the conclusion of the play, Posthumus and Imogen are reunited. Yes, I am aware that we are readers “out of time,” so to speak, but I remain as horrified by their rekindled relationship as I am by that of Hero and Claudio in Much Ado. (Would that Benedict had killed Claudio, but, then, that’s not a comedy, is it?) How does the idea that one’s partner wished her dead inform the union?

Shudder.

Unlike Imogen, who is initially unaware of the attack on her reputation, the raped Lucrece determines to tell her story and name her attacker. That she sees death as the only release from her shame resonates in this, a month in which many are talking about a television show that depicts the rape and suicide of a high school student who, with her recorded note, tells her story and names her attacker. Shame transcends time, apparently, as do jealousy, lechery, and sexual violence.

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In one of those moments of serendipity / synthesis / synchronicity, we visited the Art Institute not long after I had finished the poem and posted to the “Shakespeare in a Year” group. Now Tintoretto’s Tarquin and Lucretia, always unsettling, is forever stitched to my reading.

More soon.

“Until nostalgia has smothered my fury.”

The 2016/17 season of Project FeederWatch opened Saturday. Monday and Tuesday are my usual count days, and one of this weekend’s to-do items was to build a better checklist, one that mirrors my typical sightings but leaves room for infrequent backyard visitors (like the Eastern Wild Turkey or the Hermit Thrush). Once I was satisfied with the new design, I pulled out my clipboard, to which last season’s checklists were still attached. In the margin of one was scrawled, “Until nostalgia has smothered my fury.”

I could not recall the origin of this wonderfully apt quote, but a quick search led to a declaration by Maggie Smith’s character in Downton Abbey. You know, I was all in for the first two seasons of DA, but by the third, I had grown a bit bored. I did catch much of the final season, though, even if with only one eye and mostly for the moments Smith was onscreen. If this checklist marginalia was my takeaway, then it was certainly time well spent, as I can think of at least two inquiries to which this is the perfect response.

Ahem.

In addition to the nearly seventy hours I served as an election judge during early voting, I put in 15.5 hours on Election Day. The remainder of last week was devoted to focused music practice, phone time with my daughters, paperwork, and reading. By Friday morning, I was back to my daily walk, and over the weekend, we finished winterizing the forever home between walks, talks, and errands. Can the month be half-over already? We will soon enjoy a nine-day autumn break, then, during which we will see Electra at the Court, visit a museum (or two), spend a day at the zoo (maybe), hike in the woods, and play a number of games (including the expansion pack for Exploding Kittens).

Before the break, though, I will move on from Haydn’s “Serenade” and accept my next solo piece, and I will finish reading Life Reimagined (Barbara Bradley Haggerty), I Hunt Killers (Barry Lyga), The Couple Next Door (Shari Lapena), and Plutona (Jeff Lemire). Cara Hoffman’s Running, an ARC, is being nibbled until those four are done.

Reading and watching

This month, I finished seventeen books —

seven novels:

Where They Found Her (Kimberly McCreight; 2015. Fiction.)
The Hidden Child (Camilla Läckberg; 2014. Fiction.)
Wonder (RJ Palacio; 2012. Fiction.)
The Easter Parade (Richard Yates; 1976. Fiction.)
The Elementals (Michael McDowell; 1981. Fiction.)
I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Iain Reid; 2016. Fiction.)

one play:

The Merchant of Venice (William Shakespeare; 1599. Drama.)

one collection of short stories:

Dubliners (James Joyce; 1914. Fiction.)

two non-fiction titles:

The Curse of the Good Girl (Rachel Simmons; 2009. Non-fiction.)
Lab Girl (Hope Jahren; 2016. Non-fiction.)

and six works of graphic fiction:

Huck, Volume 1 (Mark Millar; 2016. Graphic fiction.)
Kill Shakespeare, Volume 3: The Tide of Blood (Conor McCreery Millar; 2013. Graphic fiction.)
Fell, Volume 1, Feral City (Warren Ellis; 2007. Graphic fiction.)
Injection, Volume 1 (Warren Ellis; 2015. Graphic fiction.)
Trees, Volume 1 (Warren Ellis; 2015. Graphic fiction.)
Skim (Mariko Tomaki; 2008. Graphic fiction.)

Right now, I’m in more of a watching mood than a reading mood, though. Does that ever happen to you? This afternoon, I’ve been watching the birds in our yards. We’ve had a lot of success with our latest food and feeder configuration: hummingbirds, orioles, and goldfinches, oh, my! Many of the regular visitors have been by, too — jays, cardinals, mourning doves, robins, cowbirds, house finches, black-capped chickadees, red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, and a few grackles, starlings, and house sparrows. And, of course, the Cooper’s hawks. So busy out there!

Now I am toying with watching Episode 4 of Mr. Robot. Gosh, is that a terrific show! Earlier this weekend, my daughters and I watched The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino as Shylock. It was my second time, and it was just as excellent as the first. We will see the Shakespeare’s Globe production with Jonathan Pryce as Shylock at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater soon, and I so enjoy comparing various interpretations. The three of us are also watching The X Files. We’ve made it to Episode 9 of Season 9, and we think we will finish before they move to their university residence. That said, all of us agree that the show’s reputation outstrips its content, which how we also felt about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Shrug. Not every program can be Slings & Arrows or LOST, though, right?

Speaking of watching things for a second time, I saw The Dead again this week. The closing paragraph of Joyce’s story is one of my favorites in all of literature, so it was with much scoffing that I first approached Huston’s film nearly thirty years ago. Of course the book will be better, I maintained. How could I have known that it would actually render the story a permanent part of my imagination? Both faithful to its source material and a work of its own many merits, the film draws much of its strength from flawless performances from the entire cast. It also benefits from meticulous attention to period detail and a score that is a character itself. Rewatching the film, I was reminded of its perfection, particularly the emotionally shattering redefinition of the Conroy marriage that occurs in the final scene.

Before I settle in with Mr. Robot I think I will assemble my proposed TBR stack for August. I already own a few of the books on the Man Booker Prize long list, and Lab Girl (which was good, really, but does anyone else wish that all of that imagination and talent had been mixed with less angst and whine?) made me pine for an upbeat if not stoic science memoir, and the Abbott book arrived last Tuesday… I’m off to assemble my pile.

“I want to believe.”

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Neither the family calendar nor the family disposition permits what folks now routinely describe as “binge-watching,” but my group has enjoyed watching several series the way one might read a long novel — a chapter or two at a time. We’re currently on Episode 17 of Season 6 of The X Files, and, no question, the Smoking Man is one of the most compelling characters. Here are the series we’ve particularly enjoyed:

Lost
■ Sherlock Holmes
(The Complete Granada Television Series, featuring Jeremy Brett)
■ Veronica Mars
■ Planet Earth
■ Slings and Arrows
■ Buffy the Vampire Slayer
■ Sherlock
■ Elementary
■ The West Wing
■ Colony
■ The X Files

On the subject of “binge-watching,” a recent scholars’ luncheon whet our appetites for Tug of War: Foreign Fire, and the reviews are good: WSJ, Trib, Sun-Times. Six-plus hours of Shakespeare!