The Trouble With Portraying Sexuality

There’s something that’s been sitting on my mind for a while now, and I wasn’t really aware of the cognitive dissonance until I had a recent discussion with a friend of mine. In feminism, a movement apparently in its third wave according to academics, yet still struggling to find a unified front on many issues, there is a bit of an issue when it comes to the public perceptions of female sexuality.

Basically, it boils down to two views. First, you have the idea that sexuality should not be shameful. Sex isn’t something to shame people for having. Doing such can cause all sorts of psychological problems, first off. It’s a completely natural process that, unlike most animals in the world, is enjoyable for recreational purposes and is not solely a procreational action.

Unfortunately, when it comes to shame over sex, women get the worst rap. We all probably know the double standard by now… men who have multiple partners are conquerors. They’re virile. They’re manly. They can hold their tally like a trophy, the quantity of their conquests far outweighing their abilities (or inabilities) in the bed itself. Meanwhile, women are to keep their sexual lives quiet. Women with multiple partners are sluts. Shameful. Dirty. Broken. In a weird twist, sometimes people that want to help protect women from being sexual victims apply the term “victim” all over the place, even when sex is fully consensual… because it’s inconceivable for some people that a woman might seek out and desire sex. So, there’s the faction that wants to eliminate sex as a dirty word and deed, particularly for women. If a woman wants to be a stripper, let her. If she wants to be a prostitute/escort (when legal), why not? If she wants to dress provocatively, she should be allowed without being called names, or seen as “asking for sex.” Consent is different from how one dresses one’s self.

But then, there’s the other faction. The faction that says they’re tired of women being objectified and seen as sexual pleasure units. That’s tired of cleavage and boobs and butt on every single advertisement. That’s tired of having products directed at women (and men) because of their chromosomal makeup. Tired of the media using tired, false gender narratives and tropes, like the damsel in distress. But, mostly, tired of just being deemed as sexual, being boiled down to physical bodies and sexual performances. Tired of being “Hot Girl #3″ on the TV.

Now, some of these things are shared by both groups, like being tired of the tropes and the gendered products. But sometimes, even those things find fractions between the factions. Because, despite being feminists and desiring an equality between all genders and sexualities, there’s just too many problems and not enough solutions.

It is definitely a problem that women exploring their sexualities are seen as sluts and looked down on. It is also definitely a problem that society demands sexual performance from women. It’s a hypocrisy that continues to harm our social makeup where men expect sex from women, and women have the choice of either being degraded for complying or degraded for not complying. And then possibly being raped and blamed for it by society. It’s not exactly a kind world for women today (and the scary thing is that it seems like it might be kinder than it once was).

I’ll give an example of the disparity. In the BBC show “Sherlock,” a show I find to be quite fantastic, in season 2 we were introduced to what is perhaps Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most infamous female character, Irene Adler. Appearing in “A Scandal In Bohemia,” she is the one woman Sherlock Holmes has shown obvious affection and admiration for. To quote,

To Sherlock Holmes she is always THE woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. [...] And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.

In the BBC show’s re-imagining of the character, she was recreated as a dominatrix, using her wits and dominance in the bedroom to put powerful people in compromising positions and obtain information she hoped to use to her advantage. In her first meeting with Holmed, she introduced herself in the nude as an attempt to throw him off his game. It worked. …but this portrayal exemplifies exactly the difference in the factions.

On the one hand, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with a woman willingly working in the sex industry. (We’ll skip the discussions of abuse and slavery for now to make the discussion simpler, but I wouldn’t count anyone coerced or forced into that industry in any fashion as working in it willingly.) There shouldn’t be anything wrong with a woman using her body or sexuality for any (legal) reason, even to win a battle of wits against a certain private detective. However, some feel that being portrayed as a sex worker diminished the focus on Adler’s mental acuity and ability as written originally by Doyle. It felt like a cheap gimmick, a typical jump in today’s media to make the woman a sexual being, an object of pleasure.

This is, of course, not helped out at all by show-runner Steven Moffat’s rather well-documented casual sexism and poor treatment of female characters in his other show, “Doctor Who.”

Personally, I think the Adler character (unlike many of the women in “Doctor Who”) was well done. The sexuality wasn’t really a focus the way I saw it. It was never portrayed in a gaudy, ridiculous fashion. Rather, it was run as a counter to Sherlock’s discomfort with the sensual, as sensuality requires physical and emotional responses that he has spent years ridding himself of for the sake of logic and reason. Others, like my friend, disagree.

The sad thing is, there’s not really a way I can see out of this sort of conundrum. It seems perfectly obvious to me that both factions have absolutely correct and poignant points. Both of these hypocritical philosophies of our society (particularly American) are damaging. On their own, they’re bad enough. Combined, they are a maelstrom of harm and sexism. And that’s just for the women. It damages men, too, as does our portrayal of men in the media. So, should one aspect be focused on more than the other? Can both be fixed without a complete reset of social norms and ideals? Or is this something we will constantly be fighting against, one way or another?

I honestly have no idea what should be done about these problems, save this: We need to talk about them and realize they’re problems. While we may not agree on the solutions, as long as we agree something is wrong, we can start to work toward answers. And since the world is full of people smarter than me, maybe the answer is just waiting for someone to mention the problem to the right person.

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Writers: Play Some D&D

It’s been pretty well established by this point in my life that I am a nerd of many sorts. Theatre, sci-fi, fantasy, board games, video games, math, logic, philosophy, mythology, religion… there’s a lot of nerdy in me. So it shouldn’t come even remotely as a surprise that I have played a LOT of Dungeons & Dragons in my day.

My first introduction to the game, though it was ultimately not an accurate representation at all, was back in the summer after my 7th grade year when I was 12 years old. It was, I believe, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition… I don’t remember much of it at all, but again. Not very accurate. Still, somewhere in my room right now is the first character sheet I ever had.

Since then, I’ve played 3e, 3.5e, 4e and am currently in a group playing the D&D Next edition. I’ve been the Dungeon Master for two different (ultimately falling apart) 3.5 campaigns. I’ve played Pathfinder, Iron Kingdoms and even a d20 system a friend of mine created. I’ve done some role-playing online and have oodles and oodles of ridiculous stories to tell about the various campaigns.

Most people find the game to be instantly associated with the nerdiest of the nerdy. I suppose that’s a little fair… while high fantasy and the like have been becoming more and more acceptable over the years (just look at the successes of Peter Jackson’s interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” books, as well as HBO’s “Game of Thrones”), it’s more acceptable to observe fantasy, not attempt to live it out. D&D and other role-playing tabletop games are predicated on the notion that one designs a character with a story and interjects themselves, via that character, into a fantasy world. Granted, not every tabletop RPG is set in fantasy, but that’s where D&D began.

Even so, despite it being “super nerdy,” it has seeped into our culture just a bit. You have the people that seem to think D&D is something where people learn witchcraft and are members of the occult… As well as the people that know how laughable that is and like to point out how sessions of D&D usually go. Season 2 of the absolutely wonderful TV show “Community” has a fantastic, hilarious and kinda accurate episode titled “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” that is well worth the watch (you need Hulu Plus for that link, sadly).

The point is, though, whether you think it’s crazy nerdy and has some ridiculous stigma on it or not, if you’re a writer… I think you would do well to play this game.

I realized the other day, when writing the background for my character in the current campaign I’m playing, I’ve written more detailed character story and background for some of my D&D characters than I have for some of my characters in my stories and scripts. That’s not to say that I don’t have good backgrounds for the non-D&D characters… I just don’t tend to write them out and consider all the aspects of their previous lives. However, in D&D, I tend to tell very detailed stories about their pasts and how they came to where they are now.

It’s a really good writing exercise, especially when you limit yourself. As someone that tends to prefer the classics of poetry and art, where the product must conform to a certain style or limitation, I feel that talent, skill, creativity and thought are more thoroughly applied and utilized than in styles where slapping anything together counts. Anyone can buy three blank canvases and call it art or take random paragraphs from random books, tape them together on a page and call it poetry. But how many people can write something truly heartbreaking and moving with only 140 syllables in 14 lines of iambic pentameter and a rhyming scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG? I refer of course to the sonnet, of which some guy named Shakespeare wrote several.

It’s not easy to make something conform to limitations. But it is certainly an exercise worth trying, especially if you find your characters lack depth. Here’s my suggestion, as these are the ways I’ve found the most character work: Find some people to play D&D with. Find other writers or friends that know what they’re doing. You can do a preset campaign or let yourself/another writer write a story/world for you all to play in. But when you’re making your character, give yourself restrictions. In most versions of D&D, you can give your character flaws, which detriment your character but allow for extra benefits to balance it out. A lot of people will do this to make ridiculously powerful characters, but don’t focus on the game play so much as the character. People are flawed. How does that affect your character? Alternatively, ask your DM if you can bend certain rules, so long as you get a good story out of it.

For example, the current campaign I’m playing is in D&D Next, which is still basically in beta, so there’s a lot missing. My favorite class, the cleric, only has three domains to choose from at the moment… and none of the gods of Faerun in the domain I want to use have the right alignment for my character. I could have just changed my character’s alignment, but I decided to write a story behind it. Why would someone that disagrees with a certain deity’s way of life be a priest for that deity? And so, my story was written.

You don’t necessarily have to play D&D or any tabletop RPG to pull off this exercise. But I think D&D is a good template with a lot of creative options you may not consider… and playing the game will let you see how honest you can be to your character and keeping him or her consistent in certain situations. Plus… D&D with the right people can be LOADS of fun. :) Give it a try some day.

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Spice Up Your Life – Making Pasta

So, a while back, my parents got me this wonderful little pasta maker. It’s the Imperia CucinaPro Pasta Maker, and they are wonderful for getting me one. See, years ago in college, I tried to make a three cheese and buttered garlic popcorn shrimp herb ravioli. It was a delicious theory… but I’d never actually done it before.

Leave it to me to decide to make my first time out with a technique a ridiculously difficult version of it.

Anyway, all I had was this wooden rolling pin that wasn’t that great. It ended up that the pasta was a bit too thick and came out being more like dumplings than ravioli. It wasn’t an immense failure, per se… but it wasn’t a resounding success either. My mother ended up giving me a (I think) marble rolling pin… whatever it’s made of, it’s super heavy… and then, they gave me this fantastic pasta maker, along with a pasta rack and a ravioli press where you can fill in the raviolis and then cut a bunch at once.

Unfortunately, my counter space in my kitchen didn’t really allow for anywhere to place the pasta maker, clamp it down and still be able to turn the handle without it hitting the clamp. Until I got my new roommates, one of whom brought this little area for his coffee that has a big leaf and a lot of room for my pasta maker.

The fact that it took me this long to use it is the real travesty.

I followed the instructions left in the pasta maker’s manual as closely as I could… here’s what I learned from my experience.

1) MEASURE YOUR FLOUR CAREFULLY. It’s generally one cup, one egg, and that’s all the ingredients you need. The pasta maker’s manual said two cups, two eggs creates a bit more than a pound of pasta. I went with that. Now, the flour I used may not have been the finest flour ever, but I ran into trouble when I foolishly allowed for a bit of extra flour. The dough was not getting wet enough and mixing together at all. Plus, when I created the well in the flour and put the eggs in to whisk them, I got distracted and the well broke. It was messy. Fortunately, you can fix a mistake like too-dry pasta with some lukewarm water. You fix the egg spilling out by panicking and shoving it all back into the flour.

2) THERE WILL BE MESS. Holy crap will there be a mess. You want to mix your pasta dough by hand to make the best assurances for a smooth consistency… and it will be all over your hands. And everywhere else, really.

3) PUT IN EXTRAS BEFORE YOU MIX THE EGGS. I wanted to put some flair on and make the pasta Sriracha flavored. Because, again, I complicate things. Unfortunately, when the flour well broke, I panicked and completely forgot about the Sriracha until a little while into the process… I got some in, but not nearly enough to impart the flavor I was hoping for. Then again, it’s thoroughly possible that all the flavor of whatever you put in there will go away, which is why you don’t see too much flavored pasta in stores. Someone else probably knows better than me.

4) TWO CUPS OF FLOUR MAKES A WHOLE LOT OF PASTA. Like, holy MESS did I make a bunch of pasta. I was also foolishly not cutting the sections I was rolling out into smaller sizes… I ended up with a few sheets a couple feet long before I cut them. Definitely cut the sheets you roll out in half at LEAST once because they will get unmanageably long if you don’t. I only managed to succeed because I had a second person helping me.

Ultimately, though, the process was a success. Fresh pasta was made, boiled briefly and thrown into my pot of vegetarian chili for a much better version of chili mac or Cincinnati chili than the version I had last… The pasta was very thin and almost melted in your mouth, not distracting at all from the flavor of the chili itself.

Next time, I think I’ll either try for a slightly thicker pasta, maybe a spaghetti or maybe a ravioli again (gotta figure out how to make them not taste like water). Still, I think this ended up being a decent start to the new year and me trying out new techniques in the kitchen. I may try to bread and fry things next, but my lack of appropriate supplies may be a problem for that… My other dishes I’d love to work on are pad thai and ramen burgers.

Is there a specific type of dish you think I should try? Or a specific technique in the kitchen you suggest I should work on? As much as I love cooking, I’m still massively under-experienced in a lot of things… so I’d like to hear your input. It can be as simple or crazy as you’d like… And I’ll see about giving it a go.

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And We’re Back

Hello, all. I’m back.

So. It’s been a little while since I’ve written here, huh. Last time I wrote was March 12… and my last “real” post was Feb. 10. Almost an entire year…

…so it’s probably safe to say the “a post a day” experiment kinda fell through.

Still. Not too shabby. I made it an entire year and nearly a half with at least one post per day… that’s a lot of writing. If I had kept it up last year, I would have had SO MANY VIEWS. Even with basically 11 months of no writing, I somehow managed 13,948 views last year. Compare that to the year before’s 15,185. It makes me feel almost popular. Or, well, makes me feel like the lyrics to “Beauty and the Beat” are popular. But enough of that.

2013 was an interesting year. I got my first ever lead role, the opportunity to play Coriolanus in a staged reading of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus.” Less than a month later, I was cast in a TCF television pilot “Toss-Up,” again cast as the leading role. That opened up several other venues for me, such as a decently-sized part in a TCF short film produced by “Seinfeld” director Tom Cherones and a recurring role in the webseries “Alabama Ghostbusters.” Finally, in October, I was blessed/lucky/really really really super lucky enough to somehow manage to be cast as Jean Valjean in a local production of “Les Miserables,” my favorite musical and a dream role of mine for years.

I started out 2013 not talking to my best friend. Not because I was mad at her or something. No, rather because I’m the kind of person that can come to the conclusion (unfortunately often) that people are better off without me in their lives…  Around late February, I started dating a girl (my fourth girlfriend… possibly I only decided to date her beyond my attraction to her because I knew it would end when she went to grad school) that played my fiance in the TV pilot… and had we not dated, I wouldn’t have been asked to go to a wedding that my best friend was the maid-of-honor for, and I may still not be talking to her (as painful as that would be for me).

I haven’t managed to get “Camp Gethsemane” produced yet, sadly… I’m going to make a really big effort this year. It’s in the midst of yet another edit, a big edit that changes a few second act things and hopefully makes it all for the better… but a production would be amazing. I also haven’t managed to find a better job yet… though I did start hosting trivia at bars and restaurants around Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, and the extra income is pretty nice. Also, I seem to be decent at it. People like me well enough. (P.S. If you know any bars/restaurants that might like to host trivia, let me know!)

It’s been a year of changes, for sure. A year of opportunities… not my worst year… and hopefully, not my best to come, but a pretty decent one all-in-all.

Which brings me to 2014. The new year. And new years tend to bring new resolutions. Something that, usually, I duck out on because come on. Those are made with the intent of being broken, most of the time.

Still. I feel I should resolve a few things. So I’mma try.

First, I am going to lose weight. I wanted to for Les Mis, but Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas were right there and it is pretty much impossible to lose weight during those holidays. I plan to shed at LEAST 40 pounds and KEEP it off throughout the year. Maybe even work out and get some toning and muscle, not this semi-sentient fat I have at the moment.

Second, I’m going to get something I’ve written produced. Hopefully “Camp Gethsemane.” I will do it, damn it. I have screenplays and plays at the ready. Some need work, yes. But that can be done. I just want something to show for my work.

Third, I am going to write at least five more of the projects in my head. It’s a tall order. I may need help with some to keep me honest. I still have to edit and polish some of the things I’ve already written. But I also need to get new things done, too. I need to write, need to produce. I have two one-act mythology plays and two screenplays that need finishing. The fifth, I have many many ideas that could be the fifth… And the desire to write new things may help me finish my old things. If you’re a writer and want to help keep me honest, please let me know. No joke.

Fourth, I am resurrecting this blog. But it won’t be a once-a-day blog anymore. That just doesn’t seem feasible. With trivia taking up several of my nights, and all the acting I did last year, writing once per day became basically impossible. Les Mis is one reason “Camp Gethsemane” has been mid-edit since October. Still, I hope to write in this blog semi-regularly… and maybe add a new segment where I try new things in the kitchen, things I’ve never done before, like new techniques (like frying things) or foods (like fish). Which brings me to…

Fifth, I’m going to step out of my comfort zone. I’ve been getting there. Hosting trivia has REALLY helped me become a more social and sociable person. As has finally being on stage in a visible way. I’m going to audition for more things in town, of course… but beyond that, I want to just do things I don’t normally do. Talk to people more. Hang out with people more. Being a hermit really gets lonely, and I really hate the feeling sometimes. And maybe, just maybe, if I step out of my comfort zone, I can be more comfortable with who I am. It seems oxymoronic, but trust me. I’m not intensely comfortable even in my comfort zone.

All in all, I hope to move forward with life in 2014. Professionally, romantically, creatively… I need to stop being stagnant. I need to stop being jealous of other people’s romantic and professional successes and start making others jealous of mine. I’ll let you know how that goes as it moves along.

Oh, and expect more of my randomness on this blog, because there’s a lot I wanted to say last year that I never got to… If 2014 is as ridiculous as 2013 was, I’m sure I’ll have a bunch to gab on about.

It’s good to be back.

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A Quick Update

So, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog. I was already strongly considering dropping the “daily” feature of the blog due to life getting in the way and the blog taking up a decent chunk of time… It should be pretty obvious at this point that I’m not really doing this as a daily blog anymore.

Still, I do want to write more often than I have been. There are still many things to talk about. Movies, plays and restaurants to review, politics to discuss, subjects to ponder about… all sorts of things. And I plan to do so, just in a slightly irregular fashion.

To update about life, though: I finished the most recent version of my play “Camp Gethsemane” and have started in on three other plays now. After a few more people read this version of CG, I’ll go back to spruce it up again and then I may be at the place I need to be for a production.

I was also cast as the lead role in a TV pilot from the UA TCF department, which has designs to be shown at a festival in New York City. The show is called “Toss-Up,” and you can help out by donating some money to the IndieGoGo we have set up here. It’s a comedy about a high school history teacher/tennis coach basically forced by his boss into being the Quizbowl coach, despite knowing nothing about it. It doesn’t help that their team is pretty crappy. You can watch the brief teaser-trailer here to get a very tiny taste of the show.

I’m also no longer single… We’ll see how long she tolerates me. And I spent about a week and change being super deathly ill, like to the point where I couldn’t even eat or drink for a couple days without severe pain. It sucked and I still don’t know what I had, though I’ve got a good idea.

Also, for those curious, I got a record 50 percent of my Oscar guesses right, though I would’ve had more if I’d actually slowed down and paid attention to what some of the technicals are and what they mean. All I can say is that “Life of Pi” ruined me a bit.

Anyway, I do have an old review of “Othello” to put up, as well as a review of “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” which wasn’t as bad as I was afraid it might be, though I still found it lacking in certain areas. I’ll have a full review up sometime this week, I’m sure.

For now, my apologies on my lengthy silence. You’ll hear a bit from me from time to time. Just keep a lookout.

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Breaking The Leg – “Ain’t Misbehavin’” By Theatre Tuscaloosa

This is what happens when I let myself get super behind on posts. I thought I posted this on Sunday. Now I feel awful because I missed informing people about this show for two performances. Boo me. And my apologies.

“Ain’t Misbehavin’” ain’t exactly your standard musical fare.

Produced by Theatre Tuscaloosa, and directed by Tina F. Turley, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” is set up during what seems to be the Harlem Renaissance. Set up like a big band show, it’s less of a musical and more of what’s advertized (finally, truth in advertizement), a “musical show.” Specifically, it’s the “Fats Waller musical show,” Waller being a jazz musician in the early 1900s. The show is a musical revue that, unlike a jukebox musical, doesn’t try to tell a story. Instead, it’s simply two acts of swingin’ song and dance.

That’s not to say there’s no acting involved. This isn’t your “American Idol,” stand at the microphone and sing affair (though it happens a few times, often for comedic effect). The actors in the show, Erika Evans, Alyssa Grubbs, Myiesha J. Duff, Will Travis and Willie Williams, play no characters, instead coming out to sing and dance to Waller tunes. In those tunes, however, they often take on certain characteristics, acting out the lyrics, which often leads to the women being competitive divas and the men being your stereotypical tail chasers.

The set, designed by Jameson Sanford, is simple and effective, capable of glamor and setting the mood while leaving enough room for the actors to dance the intense and what looks to be sometimes quite difficult choreography by Nick Rashad Burroughs. All the actors make it look simple, though, floating through their songs with power, grace and ease.

Again, there’s no plot to describe, no characters to really judge… it’s simply a couple of hours of good, fun song and dance. From fast-stepping jazz to slower, somber emotional harmonies. If you like music and dance, I’d say it’s worth your while.

The show runs Wednesday and Sunday at 2 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Bean-Brown Theatre at Shelton State Community College. Go watch it and let yourself fall back into a time and place too many have forgotten through some very nice musical numbers.

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Spice Up Your Life – Tuscaloosa Chili Cookoff

I can’t believe I’ve lived in Tuscaloosa for nearly 7 years and didn’t know about the annual chili cookoff. Well, this year, I plan to make a big splash.

Today is the 12th annual Asses of Fire chili cookoff, sponsored by WellThat’ and hosted by Egan’s Bar, located on the Strip. Registration starts at 2 p.m. and ends at 3:45, with judging to begin at 4:15. Now, in my opinion, if you haven’t already made your chili, you’re a bit late for that… though I suppose you might have time to squeeze out a fresh pot before then. I like to let mine sit. I finished cooking my two chilies on Tuesday and am reheating them now to do final taste tests and manipulations. You can enter as many chilies as you like, but can only win once, and I think most that know how I cook chili know which two I’ll be entering… with some slight twists.

Anyway, even if you don’t have a chili to submit for the contest itself, you can still come and partake of the eating of it. Those that submit chili eat for free, but for only $5, you can have all the chili you can eat/all the chili that’s actually there, though chili is a thick, filling food so I don’t expect people to come back for fifths and sixths. Egan’s will also be running drink specials all day… which might be helpful for downing some of the more intensely spicy chilies.

If you’d like to try out some chili or have your own to throw in the pot, come to Egan’s. But be warned… I plan on my chilies doing rather well. Hopefully. …it’d certainly be nice, at least. And I plan on bringing some extra hot sauce if anyone really wants their tongues to be yowling in pain.

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Breaking The Leg – “Design For Living” By UATD

A threesome never really seemed like a British affair to me. I suppose after hearing about the love triangles of Shakespeare, both in real life and suggested in plays, I assumed they all would end in sadness, regret and very often violent death. But Noël Coward has another answer.

“Design for Living” is a three-act play written by Coward in his style of very witty and sharp dialogue and quick comedy… but it doesn’t start off that way. Instead of ending with the tragedy, Coward proposes to begin with it. The play, put on by the University of Alabama Department of Theatre and Dance at the Allen Bales Theatre in the Rowand-Johnson Building and directed by Jimmy Kontos, runs for two more showings: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $10.

The play starts with Gilda (Bridget Winder) at home in Paris, having a discussion with her art dealer friend Ernest (Jeff Horger). During their conversation, she tells Ernest that her partner Otto (Thaddeus Fitzpatrick) is asleep and not to be disturbed. He tells her that a former good friend of hers, and former lover of Otto, Leo (Adam Vanek) has come to Paris, riding on the coattails of success. Gilda’s tale unravels slightly when Otto walks in through the door. Ernest, adding things up, leaves Otto to discuss things with Gilda. When she convinces him to go and visit Leo at the Ritz, Leo exits from her bedroom and they discuss how they should break news of this affair to him, as they both love him. When he returns and the truth of the matter is laid out, Otto storms out in anger, denouncing both.

A year later, in London, a familiar scene plays out, but with different players. This time, Leo and Gilda are living together. Leo is quite successful writing plays, but the success is wearing on both of them somewhat. When Leo ends up going away for a weekend and Otto arrives unexpectedly, history decides to repeat itself, though with a slightly more amicable ending for Otto and Leo. Gilda, however, abandons them both, only to be found two years later married to Ernest and living in New York.

First, I’ll go ahead and warn that the play is a bit long. This is the first play that I can recall, particularly at UA, that has two intermissions. It runs, with the intermissions, at about 2 and a half hours. And it is perhaps a bit slow to warm up into the comedy, particularly. The first act is mostly quite dramatic, and a bit heartbreaking and sad if you let it be. But it sets up the second act well. The second act also sees the inclusion of a maid, Miss Hodge (Brittany Steelhammer), who quite easily steals most of the comedy for herself.

By the third act, however, the play has firmly settled into its comic elements. Not to say comedy was entirely absent before, it simply comes out full-force in the ending. And the casting certainly helps. Fitzpatrick is one of the most entertaining people I have ever seen on stage, and I mean that completely in earnest and without hyperbole. And the ease with which each of the three primary actors work together and against one another leads to some very good drama and some even better comedy, particularly when Fitzpatrick and Vanek are onstage by themselves.

It is, I think, a solid play with excellent performances all around and humorous details that are just as entertaining as the punchlines. (Benjamin Mitchell’s stint as the servant Matthew, for example, has a particularly wonderful moment when serving coffee.) And the reactions from Gilda’s company in the third act, Henry Carver (Jay Jurden), Helen Carver (Kelly Barberito) and Grace Torrence (Tara Lynn Steele) were fantastic and clearly not skimped over, which too many productions tend to do. The set by Ian Mangum was simple yet quite effective, and the costumes, designed by Randy Hozian, very clearly helped identify the successes and comforts of the characters.

If you have the time, and enjoy being worked from giggle to guffaw, go see the show. It’s quite worth it.

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Breaking The Leg – “Coriolanus” By Improbable Fictions

Theatre season in Tuscaloosa is kicking into high gear in February, with several shows opening quite close to one another. I’ll try to see and write about all the shows that I know of, but today, I’m just going to talk about one show I won’t be able to see. Mostly because I’m in it.

Improbable Fictions is putting on a free staged reading of one of Shakespeare’s perhaps lesser known plays, “Coriolanus.” The Facebook event can be found here, and tickets can be reserved on this website. We’re having people get tickets since seating is limited.

“Coriolanus” focuses on a Roman soldier, Caius Martius. Martius is very stubborn and proud, and strongly supports the order of governance: Nobility, via senators and consul, rule the commoners. After a victorious battle in the city of Corioli, won almost single-handedly by Martius, he is given the name Coriolanus to mark his victory. Still, as a soldier and a brash man that refuses to play politics or not speak his mind, Coriolanus finds himself with many enemies.

I like to think of this play as almost in complete opposite to “Hamlet.” In “Hamlet,” Prince Hamlet is fighting conflicts internally throughout the entire show, constantly soliloquizing to the audience and revealing his mind to them. Externally, he often commits to non-action. Coriolanus, on the other hand, very rarely speaks to the audience, closing his mind to them. He is a soldier and fights his wars physically, refusing to even do the sneaky underhanded shadowy games political success requires. He speaks his mind without filter, though the inner thoughts are often closed away.

I really like this play. Not just because I’ve been given the wonderful opportunity to play as Coriolanus, my first definitively leading role… I think the play has a surprising amount of emotion attached, surprising because you don’t expect it when it hits you. Politically, it has some interesting ideas presented as well.

Anyway, it’s a totally free show, and I think it’s good to support art when possible. If you’re in Tuscaloosa or Northport, come see us perform “Coriolanus” tonight and tomorrow night at the Kentuck Georgine Clarke Building at 7:30 both nights. Please don’t forget to reserve a ticket, too. I hope to see you there.

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Big Screen Ballyhoo – “The Pirates! Band Of Misfits”

As I continue to watch movies in my efforts to see at least 50 percent of the Oscars list, I suppose I was bound to eventually find a movie that was only just okay. Not bad, sorta fun, but nothing special.

This time, that movie is “The Pirates! Band of Misfits.” Nominated for Best Animated Film, this is one of the two films, along with “ParaNorman,” nominated for the Oscar that wasn’t also nominated for the equivalent Golden Globe. Take that as you will. The movie was directed by Peter Lord, which makes sense since he’s the co-founder of the production company, Aardman Animations, the company that brought you “Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” “Chicken Run” and “Flushed Away.”

The movie focuses on a ragtag group of misfit pirates lead by The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant). While they’re not really particularly good at pirating, the crew absolutely adores their captain. After being embarrassed by other more monetarily successful pirates when attempting to enter the Pirate of the Year competition, The Pirate Captain and his crew go on a frenzy of unfortunately unsuccessful attempt to raid ships for their gold. Just when he was about to lose hope, he raids the ship of none other than Charles Darwin (David Tennant). Darwin, rightly recognizing The Pirate Captain’s “parrot” Polly as a once extinct dodo bird, attempts to convince The Pirate Captain to let him present it at the Scientist of the Year award. The Pirate Captain, intent on doing it himself and using the rewards he believes a victory would bring him to win the Pirate of the Year award.

This brings The Pirate Captain and his crew sailing into Victorian London, something that is immensely risky for the pirates as Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) has a nearly irrational vicious hatred for pirates. The crew goes anyway, staying at Darwin’s place. Darwin continues attempting to steal Polly with his trained chimp Mr. Bobo, but finds himself unable to do so, and only The Pirate Captain’s second in command Number Two (Martin Freeman) seems to notice what Darwin was up to.

As you should probably be able to guess, there are hijinks and laughs and people being gotten the better of. It’s not really anything new or exciting for a film, animated or otherwise. The story is pretty standard, though some of the jokes included are humorous the first go ’round, such as The Pirate Captain’s thought that the monsters drawn on maps actually exist in those spots.

The animation is just like the animation this studio has always done, a bit of choppy claymation that’s not bad, but nothing to really write home about either. I still think “The Nightmare Before Christmas” had some of the best claymation I’ve ever seen in film. The movie does star several well known voices other than the ones I’ve already mentioned, including Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Brian Blessed, Al Roker and Anton Yelchin. It does have some good scenery and some well-done animation in the gags, but the story is kind of weak and predictable. Still, it’s great as a family or kids movie. You could definitely do a lot worse.

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