Tag Archives: The University of Alabama

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: “The Freese Collection” Collaboration

Sometimes, sadly, there are showings of the arts that occur in Tuscaloosa that go without much notification or notice, particularly in the local media. Fortunately, I’ve caught wind (and sight) of one such artistic collaboration, and want to let you know about it.

“The Freese Collection” Collaboration is a collaboration between the University of Alabama Department of Theatre and Dance, specifically dance, and the art department. Held at Moody Music Concert Hall today and Friday (with the opening night being on Wednesday), the collaboration is a collection of artistic works called the Nall Art Show outside the concert hall, with the dance show starting at 7:30 p.m., utilizing members of the Alabama Repertory Dance Theatre.

“The Freese Collection” in particular is a world premiere of a solo organ performance by Faythe Freese, professor of organ at UA. The show is about an hour in length and features choreography from Cornelius Carter, Sarah Barry and Rita Snyder.

It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a show utilizing the large organ in the Moody Concert Hall, and the first dance show I’ve seen in some time. I strongly suggest you go see the show to not only support the arts but also to enjoy the talent and hard work of the dancers who do an absolutely fantastic job.

One note I will make: This is in Moody Music Hall. Not Morgan Auditorium. I made that mistake. It is NOT fun trying to get from Morgan to Moody in 15 minutes.

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Roll Tide, Crimson Pride

Well, the University of Alabama Crimson Tide took home its third national championship in four years by beating the snot out of Notre Dame. That gives head coach Nick Saban four national championships, those three plus one with LSU, and ties him with Wallace Wade for the number of Alabama championships won. He’ll need three more to get up to Paul “Bear” Bryant’s level, who won six championships despite losing two bowl games. Declaring winners back in those days was far less clear, to be certain. (Interesting note, Saban will need 11 more SEC championships to tie Bryant, but with two SEC championship wins, he’s only behind three other coaches in Alabama history.)

The game was won 42-14, the same score/drubbing given to Auburn in 2011 that convinced BCS rankings voters to grant Alabama the number 2 spot and a chance at the national championship despite a late season loss to LSU. Despite the absolute ease with which Alabama rolled over Notre Dame, there are still some conspiracy theorists that think the referees handed UA the game. Which seems pretty ridiculous, especially if you’re someone that actually watched the game. It was brutal. Notre Dame had the ball for 15 minutes in the entire game. Different calls would not have changed the outcome much, if at all.

Anyway, I could do like the announcers were doing by the middle of the second quarter and start talking about Alabama’s chances next year, or I could analyze and hypothesize about what the potential losses of several key Crimson Tide players will do to the team, or blah blah blah. I’m not a sports writer. Never was, never will be. I never even liked football when I first came to UA. Hated it. People down here treat it almost religiously. I thought (and still think) that soccer is a way better sport.

But going to UA… it grows on you a bit. I’ve still never been to a game, never set foot inside the stadium. Only stadium I’ve been in is Legion Field in Birmingham. But, still, it grows. Though many of my friends, as in all of the ones currently going to UA, don’t have to remember being at school during the years of Mike Schula, the years when Leigh Tiffin was an absolutely horrendous kicker and not our top scorer… though they get to remember the glory days of Saban winning three national championships, I grew up with some of the tough patches. And, really, I grew up with them. Even though I was 18, 19, 20 years old, I grew into football with the rough spots. Before, I couldn’t have named a single player. Now? …well, I know a handful.

I’m not going to get religious about football. And I’m still not crazy about my school or state, as both have some MAJOR problems that need fixing… But every once in a while, it feels nice to be part of a community that takes pride in some extraordinary accomplishments. And I’m okay with that.

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Cancer Is The Worst

Yesterday, I learned that one of my friends died of cancer.

He was a grad student at the University of Alabama, getting his MFA in directing. I didn’t know him as well as many in the department, didn’t hang out with him or work with him as often as many others, but I did know him and saw him most every day I was in the theatre building during his years there. Whenever I saw him, he always had a smile and would always, happily, greet me with a “Hey, Sean!” And the shows he directed were fantastic. In particular, “Flora, The Red Menace” became one of my favorite shows at UA, and had some of my favorite cast stories to go with it, such as him shouting “Macbeth” every time he walked onstage. Even when actors got sick, that didn’t stop him or make him put any stock in the nonsensical superstitions so many have in theatre.

He also gave me one of my favorite wall posts for my birthday on Facebook. Last year, he wrote: “‘Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.’ ~Dr. Seuss” and included a happy birthday at the end. It’s an encouraging quote, particularly for me as a writer and for me as someone lacking confidence most days of my life. The biggest regrets I have about him is not spending time with him or getting to work with him… and taking my birthday down from Facebook this year and missing another great quote I know he would have put on my wall.

He was immensely talented, extremely good humored, a constant beam of positive feelings and happiness. If I can positively affect even a hundredth of the people I know he’s given a single moment of uplifting to, I will feel like I have achieved something wonderful.

Heaven has called another angel home. Your friends left behind will miss you dearly, Matthew Burkholder.

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Breaking The Leg – “Godspell” By Theatre Tuscaloosa

I’d like to think that I’m selective with what shows move me to tears. To the best of my remembrance, I’ve only cried during three shows: the University of Alabama’s “Saint Joan” and “Hair,” and now, Theatre Tuscaloosa’s “Godspell.”

What’s interesting is how similar “Hair” and “Godspell” are. Neither has much of a plot, per se, being more of a shared experience between this family-esque group onstage and the audience, though story does crop up at times. Both shows that I saw share two actors, also. So they get the dubious honor of making me cry twice.

“Godspell,” which has four more shows before the end of the run, is a musical by Stephen Schwartz, who also wrote “Seussical” and “A Man of No Importance.” The show is based on the Gospel according to Matthew. As such, Christianity and, more importantly, the philosophies behind the religion are extremely heavily represented throughout the show. If you’ve grown up in church like I have most, if not all, of the stories will be familiar. Even those unfamiliar with Christianity will likely catch onto a few things here and there. But this show is nothing like your average sermon.

In one of the best, most purely ensemble shows I’ve ever seen (to be fair, I think “Hair” is the only other show that even fits that description), only two of the actors represent any characters outside of the prologue. In the prologue, eight of the 10 actors are onstage in school uniforms, sitting at desks. They each sing phrases from specific philosophers and great thinkers, setting the more philosophical tone of the show. After hearing Socrates, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Leonardo da Vinci, Edward Gibbon, Frederic Nietzsche, Jeal-Paul Sartre and Buckminster Fuller, John the Baptist (Gerard L. Jones, doubles as Judas) appears, singing “Prepare Ye (The Way of the Lord).” And the show begins in earnest.

The group becomes baptized by John the Baptist. He then talks of the one that will come after him and Jesus (Will Erwin) arrives to be baptized as well. After that’s done, the group returns wearing bright, haphazard colors and clothes, some having done crazy things to their hair, and the teachings of Christ start. The group, akin to the Disciples, acts out and clown around, playing with a huge slide on stage and one another, each one telling different parables while Jesus guides them through the journey, pointing out the lessons as needed.

Those Disciples, as I’ll call them, are played by a fabulously talented and extremely coherent group of young people. They are Eryn Davis, Alex Hawkins, Zacchaeus Kimbrell, Justin Barnett, Diva Clarithyea-LaShaun Hall, Natalie Riegel, Norquina “Q” Rieves and Craig First. They play themselves in the show with no real devotion to a specific named character. They are simply themselves, playing and portraying parables, interacting with one another.

After the fun and humor of the first act, however, the show slides into the emotional heavy hitter. As this does follow the Book of Matthew, I can go ahead and tell you it’s very similar in tone. The first half or two thirds is teaching and parables, education. The last portion is about Christ’s fall, Judas’ betrayal and the crucifixion. And the actors are so fully dedicated to what they grow to be during the show, a quirky family all lovingly devoted to Jesus, that the emotions run very powerfully. Even Judas, portrayed quite sympathetically in the show, truly loves Jesus and seems disgusted with himself for what happens.

The voices in this cast are incredible. They are all so powerful and good at what they do. I saw the matinee show today, which was their second show of the day having done a morning school show. On top of that, at least one or two of the actors has informed me that they’ve been fighting illness. Frankly, today’s performance made me wonder if they were lying to me, because everyone sang beautifully. In a show like this, it’s hard to pinpoint any specific individuals that were “better,” because they all do so well and most songs are heavily ensembled. However, several solos did stand out, including Davis’ “O, Bless the Lord, My Soul,” Hawkins’ “Learn Your Lessons Well,” Kimbrell’s “We Beseech Thee” and Riegel and Hall’s powerful, highly emotional duet “By My Side.” Also, pretty much any time Erwin or Jones had a solo was a fierce song to be heard. The finale, with Christ crucified and singing in a call and response to the Disciples about how he’s dying, was the killer that really hit me right in the feels. Not just because of the subject, but because of the openness and full devotion the actors had to what was happening on stage, and to the beauty of their voices combined.

The set is fantastic, a grafitti-covered concrete wall, broken down at parts, with stairs leading to a massive upper platform and a slide coming down. The set, combined with the lighting, is a powerful addition to the show, perfectly accentuating which parts are joyous and happy and which begin to see the falling into darkness. The designers, Erin C. Hisey for lights and Wheeler Kincaid for set, have done some of the best work I’ve seen of their for this show, I think. The costume designer Jeanette Waterman should be commended, too, for coming up with such wacky, playful and yet appropriate costumes to a show that could easily be adversely affected by the wrong choices of costume. But a big hand goes to the director and choreographer Abe Reybold. I was fortunate enough to experience his directing and choreography on the night of the auditions, and I really wish I had been able to experience more of it, because everything turned out fantastic and I know he was a treat to work with.

Theatre Tuscaloosa’s “Godspell” is in the Bean-Brown Theatre at Shelton State Community College. The show runs at 7:30 p.m. from Thursday to Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $22 for adults, $18 for seniors and military and $14 for students and children. I strongly, STRONGLY encourage you to go watch this show if you’re in Tuscaloosa. It is simply fantastic. A great time and an amazing theatrical experience.

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I Can’t Stand Modern “Art”

This is a bit of a rant I had recently, and one I’ve had over the years in various capacities… It’s probably the single issue I’m most close-minded about. I hate that I’m so close-minded about anything, but if there’s something to be close-minded about, I guess this is decently innocuous.

It starts with a rant about poetry. I cannot stand e. e. cummings. His total disregard for the standards of the English language itself denigrate the communicative purposes of the written word. But he isn’t even close to the worst offender in poetry, not in my mind.

Back when I was a freshman in college, I took a class called “Arts in Tuscaloosa.” It was an honors class that was supposed to cover my fine arts credit. We met twice a week, once in small groups of 10 or so, and once with the entire class of 50 to 100 kids. My roommate was in the large class with me. That class was very fond of modern art. We had to, as assignments, go and experience art, food, culture in different ways and turn in responses. Those responses could be written, but they had some really ridiculous requirement banning the use of adjectives, I believe, in those responses. They could also be creative. I went for creative and sketched. I’m not the best sketch artist, but I tried. I put effort into it, was clearly creative… still couldn’t get above a B- for my work. Meanwhile, my roommate decided to see how little effort he could put into a response. We saw a dance show together, “Dance! Alabama” in fall of 2006. He went to PowerPoint and created a slide with a light to dark blue gradient, the words “Dance! Alabama 2006” aligned right at the top, and three crappy ClipArt dancers at the bottom. He got an A+, and I refused to return to the class ever again.

Not so great for my grades, perhaps, but whatever. That class annoyed the crap out of me.

As you might guess, they were quite fond of modern art and modern poetry in there. In our large class lectures, we would listen to a guest speaker each week. The only one I remember was Hank Lazer. I remember because I hated his poetry. He told us in the class that, basically, poetry could be just random words you find on the street amalgamated together. As an example, he had a “poem” that had a random paragraph from the Alabama Code of Law every other stanza.

I hated that poetry and I hated the assertion that random words thrown haphazardly onto paper, words not even necessarily your own, could create poetry. That’s not poetry, that’s a word collage, and not even a well done one, not with his descriptions. He didn’t talk about why you used the random words, he talked like you just throw your hand into the hat and pull out something random.

Beyond poetry, modern art annoys me further still. Look at this thing about a piece called “Three Blank Canvases.” Just three canvases, painted white. Or three canvases with what looks like sections of a science textbook printed on them. If these things are defined as art, how does art have meaning and worth? Is this blog I’m writing art? Is a photograph I take of my cluttered work desk art? And what about performance art? If someone burns all their possessions on a street corner, is that art or someone that needs new stuff/therapy? Is it only art if we just call it art? Where’s the line drawn? If a guy rapes a woman in public, but calls it performance art, is it? What if it’s consensual sex, is it art then? Is self-immolation art if that’s what someone calls it?

Part of the problem is that art loses the artist’s meaning in the eyes of the viewer. The audience determines something’s artistic value and meaning. So, some people can find things beautiful and perhaps even “artistic” where I might rant and rail against it. But I think there needs to be a line, parameters drawn. You can find it beautiful or thought-provoking, but that doesn’t mean it’s art. Sitting at the piano doing nothing for four minutes and 33 seconds isn’t music, John Cage, it’s just silence and laziness. I swear, if anyone “performs” that piece near me, I’m jumping on stage to do my own song and dance, and they can’t stop me because I’m part of the “ambient noise” then.

It’s frustrating to me to think of the great artists like Pablo Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Vincent van Gogh, Rembrandt… I think of writers like William Shakespeare and Robert Browning and Edgar Allen Poe and Sylvia Plath and William Wordsworth… Musicians like Beethoven and Mozart and Bach… Many of these people, these artists, had struggles. Van Gogh suffered from depression that led to his suicide. Plath had the same problem. Michelangelo nearly went blind painting the Sistine Chapel. Mozart had various problems, some of which likely stemmed from his being bandied about at such a young age. Beethoven was deaf.

I’m not saying personal struggle is necessary for artists, but these artists struggled in their own lives and in their works. It took effort, caused pain, took time. Their art had purpose and true devotion poured in, whether you enjoy the final product or not. And that’s something I just don’t see too often with modern art. I know I’m a bit of a heretic among my artistic and culture-loving friends for saying this, but there is so much in modern art that just doesn’t seem like art to me. Maybe Plato was right and there is an objective form for beauty or art. Or maybe I’m just narrow-minded. After all, many of the artists I named were branded heretical for pushing the bounds in their days, going largely unnoticed or deemed unworthy to be considered artists.

But that’s my thoughts.

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Breaking The Leg – “Misalliance” By UATD

Did you ever watch “The Three Stooges” or “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” when you were young? Do you recall people being slapped in the face by fish, hammered by wrenches, poked in the eyes? Shows like those were a parade of physical slapstick humor that brought laughter and molded a brand of comedy.

Well, in George Bernard Shaw’s “Misalliance,” you’ll find none of that. What you do end up with, however, is what I like to call intellectual slapstick: A series of conversations each having their own punches, hair tugs and pratfalls brought about solely through words and expressions.

Directed by Ed Williams, The University of Alabama Department of Theatre and Dance’s production of “Misalliance” – with shows at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and a show at 2 p.m. on Sunday – is one that may not appeal to everyone’s sense of humor. After all, the subtler art of wit and pointed social commentary has been lost amid today’s comedy deluge of laugh tracks and the severe and extreme exploitation of physical comedy that would likely make Larry, Curly and Moe cringe. Beyond that, the set up is perhaps a bit slow. However, I like to think of it like a roller coaster coming to its first major hill. First, everyone must get into the cars, then the climb must upward go at an anticipatory pace until the apex is conquered and the thrills commence through natural forces like momentum and gravity.

“Misalliance” is a show about class, style and propriety, and the tendency to have a lack thereof in private company. Set in England, the play is centered on the house of the middle class businessman who rose to wealth by selling eponymous underwear, John Tarleton (Seth Panitch). His son Johnny (William Rowland) is a somewhat uneducated and dull man, believing everything must be proper, physicality is the epitome of manliness and books are really just not his style. His daughter Hypatia (Bridget Winder) is the proper daughter until alone with a man that holds her interest. While she is engaged to the brainy and completely spineless son of the aristocratic Lord Summerhays (Jeff Horger), one Bentley (John Paul Snead) by name, she still finds time to toy with the emotions and waning sexuality of Bentley’s father. Mrs. Tarleton (Rebecca Kling) is left trying to be the voice of propriety and order in her own household while Mr. Tarleton bandies about quotes from random literature and long winded, pseudo-philosophical rants.

And then, excitement and adventure drop in in the form of a crashed airplane carrying Bentley’s school friend Joseph Percival (Michael Witherell) and the intriguing, atypical and quite abnormal female Polish trapeze artist, Lina Szczepanowska (Amber Gibson). As the families are still reacting to their sudden visitors, the unseen arrival of a man with a revolver in hand (Samuel Hardy) sends the roller coaster over the hill.

There is much to be said about the commentary available in the script of “Misalliance.” I think that much of the meatier commentary, much like the meatier comedy, comes into play in the second act. While America may have fallen out of having an aristocracy, a rich working class and a lower class, we still have a distinguishable class system of the affluent and extravagant, the working class striving to reach affluence and the poor. Shaw delivers some rather pointed needles of wit at some of the issues of class and societal standards, and they are brought to light quite ably by a formidable cast.

The first act, slow though it may be, is stolen almost entirely by Panitch’s Tarleton. He reminded me often of Scrooge McDuck, were Scrooge’s interest not in gold coins but rather in libraries, knowledge and suggested reading material. He creates a youthful, frenetic energy trapped in an older man’s body, desperate to truly live. That energy is constantly leaking in jerky, haphazard motions and perhaps even more haphazard speech, making one wonder if he’s entirely sober or sane at times. Snead’s Bentley delivered some excellent laughs as the closest thing to slapstick in the play. The wimp that curls up in a ball and yelps in pain when people clasp his shoulder, Snead’s facial expressions were perhaps the most pitch-perfect part of the comedy. Hardy’s gunman brings some great laughs, particularly intellectual, as the lower class man with enough education to ramble on about socialism and revolution, but perhaps not quite enough education to really know what he’s talking about, and certainly not enough courage to do anything about it. Perhaps the most appropriate casting, though, was found with Gibson. Her character was meant to truly lob a grenade into the societal normalcy and decorum of the show, and it did. She played the confident, self-assured  woman very naturally, to no surprise. As her character says, “I am strong; I am skillful; I am brave; I am independent; I am unbought; I am all that a woman ought to be,” so too is Gibson in real life.

The costumes, designed by the immensely talented Tiffany Harris, were wonderful, very authentic-looking and appropriate. I particularly enjoyed Tarleton’s suit and, to be weirdly specific, Lina’s boots which looked to be custom-made for the show. The scenery was masterfully designed. I have a certain fondness for the traditional invisible fourth wall style of show, and the set designer, Brad Lee, created an elegant, believable and sensible scenery.

With only four shows remaining, I would say that “Misalliance” is one you should see if you like witty, intelligent humor and solid acting. If you don’t, well, maybe the show and you would be a bit of a misalliance.

Eh? Eh? See, it’s funny because- Oh, never mind. The show’s much funnier than I am.

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Tuscaloosa May Not Be Safe Today

I don’t know if you pay any attention to football… but here in the state of Alabama, it’s pretty much impossible to not hear something about college football. Here in Tuscaloosa, it’d take a very severe coma and being locked in a room 300 feet underground not to hear about it. Especially this year. The University of Alabama Crimson Tide was one of four ranked undefeated college football teams going into their game today.

And today, due to unfortunate faults in defense, crazily well-made plays by the opposing offense, turnovers and fouls (some of which were rather suspect in being called/not called), the No. 1 Crimson Tide lost 29-24 to No. 15 Texas A&M Aggies. It’s a rather crushing blow for fans of the Tide, who truly expected a repeat of three seasons ago, an undefeated season leading straight to the National Championship, which would be the third one in four years. Unfortunately, unless at least two of Notre Dame, Oregon and Kansas State lose a game, UA may find themselves going to the Sugar Bowl instead. They are likely to finish their last two games without defeats and be sent to the SEC championship against, most likely, Georgia, but the National Championship may be now out of reach with so few games left.

Football’s very important down here. I feel like writing about anything else would get me ignored/yelled at by the populous. So, I’m writing about this. Because, with the loss of Mitt Romney and the Crimson Tide in the same week, I feel that Tuscaloosa may not be the safest of places to live in at the moment. I might not leave my apartment tomorrow.

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Tabletopping It – Settlers Of Catan

Last night, it seems I missed my post due to too many game playings. I also missed the presidential debate. Whups. I’m going to backlog this and write my review on the debate later today.

Okay. So, instead of watching the first presidential debate (or presidential debate drinking game like my friends kept suggesting because apparently they hate me and want me to die of alcohol poisoning), I ended up going to ABXY’s Tabletop Night for the first time ever. I was, I admit, hoping to play Munchkin. We’ll see about doing that next week or something. Instead of Munchkin, I ended up playing a big (and screwed up, that is important) game of Settlers of Catan. And now, I’m here to tell you about it.

Settlers of Catan is, in summary, one of the most boring sounding games of all time. In actual playing, however, it’s super fun. It just doesn’t sound like it would be. Here’s the basics: You build settlements and cities across the board in strategic areas to obtain resources necessary to build roads, settlements and cities and get development cards. You can also trade those resources – wood, sheep, brick, ore and wheat – with other players on your turn. The goal is to eventually get 10 development points through the expansion of your civilization. First one to do that wins.

It’s kind of like Civilization: The Board Game, except you have no invading armies, no special projects or technologies, et cetera. Still, it’s a similar concept.

Now, there are other rules to the game. See, each hexagonal territory, which represents a resource, has a number placed on it at random (well, the territories are set up at random, the numbers are placed in a specific order, but the end result is a totally randomized board every time). There are two dice. On each player’s turn, they roll the dice. Whatever number comes up, any player with a settlement or city on the intersection (settlements are placed on the corners of three territories) of a territory with the number on the dice obtains the resource of that tile for that turn.

But there is another player, so to speak: The robber. If a seven is rolled, no one receives any resources. Instead, the player that rolled may move the robber to any tile. Wherever the robber is moved, that tile’s resources are blocked, and the player that moved him may steal a card from any player with a settlement adjacent to that tile.

Any player can crunch four of a resource to obtain one of a different resource, and there are ports along the shore where, if a settlement is placed there (meaning you only get two resources), the ratio of resource to crunch is lowered. There are 3:1 ports, which let you crunch any three resources for any other one, and 2:1 ports for specific resources, which let you crunch two of a particular resource into one of another.

…I feel like maybe I’m either making this sound complicated or boring or both. Not my intention. It’s really one of those games that you learn by playing a couple of rounds. It’s pretty easy to pick up and actually a load of fun.

Now, the reason I said it matters that we did it wrong is because, well, one, we did it wrong. We played with six people, which requires the expansion pack. The expansion pack adds tiles and expands the board. It also has its own set of numbers. Well, when unpacking, someone mixed the numbers from the original with the numbers from the expansion, which you’re not supposed to do. So, when we set up the game, our numbers distribution was off, and more people were getting resources on certain rolls than they were supposed to. I think there’s only supposed to be two of most of the numbers 2 through 12 (minus 7) on the board. Three of a few with the expansion, since that goes from A to Zc. And I only bring it up because I have never lost a game of Settlers (out of three I’ve played previously), except last night’s. And I refuse to count it. Because we did it wrong. So the streak continues!

But it was mostly for the fun learning experience, as we had several first time players. And Settlers really is a fun game, with several expansion packs and variations that certainly change the dynamics and strategy of the game. It’s definitely worth a play, perhaps even a purchase.

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Breaking The Leg – “Fools” By UATD

One day, I’ll start buying tickets to opening night so these posts aren’t “I got to see this show, and if you didn’t, too bad, suckers!” Though, to be fair, this show was sold out for a good while. I only barely got in myself.

Anyway.

The Fall 2012 University of Alabama Department of Theatre and Dance season started off last Monday with the premier of directed grad student John Nara’s first show at UA, “Fools” by Neil Simon. Simon, as a playwright, became extremely well known for his witty, often fast-paced comedies such as “Barefoot in the Park” and, perhaps his most famous play due to the eventual television series, “The Odd Couple.” Simon received more Tony and Oscar nominations than any other writer, as well as a Pulitzer prize for his complex “Lost in Yonkers,” though many feel he was underrated due to his continual comic works. It tends to be true that drama gets more respect than comedy on almost every level. Unfair, but true.

“Fools” is perhaps a bit more… shticky and slower than many of Simon’s other comedies. And “slower” can be applied in multiple ways. See, the plot of “Fools” is such: The sleepy little Russian town of Kulyenchikov has been under a curse for 200-plus years. The curse states that there can be no love in Kulyenchikov, and that everyone living there for more than 24 hours, and everyone born there, is made phenomenally stupid and unable to leave the village. The unaware school teacher Leon Tolchinsky (John Paul Snead) answers an ad for a teacher placed in another city’s newspaper and arrives… to a village of fools.

The characters of this town are colorful, and each memorable and hilarious. First, we meet the shepherd (Joey Gamble), who has lost his sheep and is wholly unable to understand how his horn works. Gamble’s shepherd was the perfect introduction to the abject ignorance and idiocy this town would provide throughout the show. Leon attempts to keep optimism and smiles throughout his stay in the town (the play takes place, pre-epilogue, over a slightly-more-than-24-hour time period), but his frustration begins to seep through the longer he stays and the more crunched for time he is. The other villagers – the butcher (Jordan DeWitt), the old lady peddler (Bess Houston) and the postman (Ben Mitchell) – test his patience. Perhaps the one that tests his patience most is the magistrate, played by Wen Powers in one of the most dedicated bits of physical humor I’ve seen in a long time. A crouched over old man, Powers moves at approximately half the speed of dead grass growing. His first entry onto the stage, in which he circles the outside of it, takes about three full minutes, or five minutes in the play.

Leon ends up crunched for time when he discovers that he has 24 hours to break the curse, leave town or be hit by the curse as well. Unfortunately for him, the option of leaving town is eliminated when he falls for the daughter of the doctor who placed the ad, Dr. Zubritsky (Tommy Walker) and his wife (Loui Clagett). Their daughter Sophia (usually played by Natalie Riegel, but played by understudy Esther Workman at the showing I went to) is especially problematic, having only just recently learned how to sit down properly. And worse, the only known way to break the curse is for a Zubritsky to marry a Yousekevitch (the family that created the curse), and so her hand is being constantly asked for by the last, and immensely cheesy and over-the-top very obvious bad guy, Yousekevitch, Gregor (Sam Hardy).

With physical humor and absurd word play and wit sometimes reminiscent of Monty Python, the play has quite a bit to offer in the ways of humor. Most of the audience was giggling for a large portion of the show when I saw it. With some special jokes thrown in to the theatre students of UA and other parts of UA’s culture (Gregor Yousekevitch invited the audience to his tailgate next Saturday), and just good acting all around, there were also some good moments for big guffaws of laughter.

There were also moments where Simon was perhaps attempting to be pointed and poignant, making sweeping statements about the ignorant masses or philosophical statements about knowledge and teaching, but I’m not so certain those hit the notes nearly as well as the comedy and meta-humor laced throughout the show did. Perhaps others enjoyed the mild social commentary, but I found the show to be quite enjoyable just as a witty, laughable comic routine. And the actors chosen for the show were amazing, and amazingly transformed through costume and makeup by the talented designers Alex Kosbab and Tiffany Harris. The set, though I didn’t get to experience it in all its glory due to my poor seat in the house, was whimsical and playful, designed by Brad Lee.

Ultimately, it was a great time, a very cute and quite entertaining show filled with stellar comic actors (who all understand physical comedy and timing quite well), and a great premier show for director Nara. It will be interesting to see his next step is and how that goes. (It’s either Noel Coward’s comic “Design for Living” or Helen Edmundson’s tale of ethnic cleansing in 17th century Ireland, “The Clearing.” …A bit of a difference there, either way.)

Next time, I’ll try to see the show early enough to get you all to buy tickets, too. Next UATD show is “Side Man” by Warren Leight. Should be interesting.

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