Tampa Ballet Theatre’s Dracula at Ruth Eckerd Hall

Dracula by Tampa Ballet Theatre

The weekend before Halloween my partner and I decided, quite last minute, to see the Tampa Ballet Theatre’s production of Dracula at Ruth Eckerd Hall. He happened to be teaching Dracula at the time (the original one, you know, the novel) and I had just been complaining that we hadn’t been to the theatre in ages. That, along with his son having never seen a professional ballet, and it was decided.

We made a mistake.

There were so, so many things wrong with the performance, which wasn’t even close to sold out, incidentally, and it’s always a little disconcerting to look around a venue and see 3/4ths of the seats open. You also have to go through a metal detector to get inside Ruth Eckerd Hall now, which is super classy.

The opening of the ballet seemed promising enough, even though the score was recorded and pieced together, it was moody. The title being projected on top of the curtains was a touch tacky, but the Dracula character slaughtering people in silhouette while a rather rather large white wolf danced beside him was intriguing. Then the lights came up. Twenty-five minutes into the ballet and there was an inexplicable twenty minute intermission. I looked at the playbill again and it said that the ballet was three acts, which seemed unnecessary, and I guess someone agreed with me because the second intermission never arrived. All told the entire ballet was about an hour, if you were wondering.

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Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I once heard an anecdote about a famous film critic who said that he wasn’t going to watch “The African Queen” until he was on his deathbed, because he wanted to save the best for last. Maybe that’s why I, a fan of classic literature and American literature both, have waited so long to read Fahrenheit 451. Of course, like so many people, my plans were foiled by a child, namely my step-son who wanted help with his 8th grade summer reading, and who could say no to that? Looking around the site you can see that I adore Ray Bradbury, so much so that I would venture to say that, were I ever able to get a PhD., I might just specialize in his works. I think he’s an overlooked genius, but at least, I thought, at least students read Fahrenheit 451. Then I read the novel … and it’s not very good. Also, everything after this point is spoilers, just FYI.

Compared to Bradbury’s corpus, Fahrenheit 451 should have been a footnote; flat characters, been-done plot (it’s basically Anthem), not-helpful observations about how technology is rotting minds. It’s almost the opposite of some of his works, specifically The Martian Chronicles collection, wherein machines are personified sympathetically. In Fahrenheit 451 it’s just “technology bad, people complacent” and the characters … I need to organize my thoughts because I cannot just ramble about my disappointment. All I’m saying is that, if that anecdote is true, I really hope that critic liked “The African Queen” because, for me, not liking Fahrenheit 451 was quite the bummer.

The novel opens with Guy Montag being thrilled with his work as a fireman, you know, the book burning kind. Then there’s a lonely walk down a moodily lit street. Enter: a dame. Clarisse McClellan is teenager and unusual, asking Montag all manner of questions as they find themselves walking side by side. This feels like a “meet cute,” where our two polar opposites meet, don’t agree, yet are drawn to each other. Montag is thirty and Clarisse is seventeen, to which my step-son said “eew!” but whatever, I’m much younger than my S.O. and it couldn’t bother me less. So I guess their age difference is supposed to establish them as platonic? Yet he looks for her every day, misses her, she leaves him little quirky manic pixie dream girl presents like acorns, and Montag thinks about her face, “really quite beautiful in memory: astonishing, in fact.” Clarisse asks him why he doesn’t read the books he burns and she asks if he’s happy before running off into the moonlight, she is the character that introduces these huge concepts to Montag … but then she’s unceremoniously killed off. For no reason.

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9 Reasons that The Shirley Temple Show’s Version of The Little Mermaid is a Good Adaptation

Shirley Temple The Little Mermaid

Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid” is a short story that I teach year after year, and in one class I show a number of adaptations of the story. The Shirley Temple Show version from 1961 is surprising, both because it takes place pre-Disney adaptation (and as such hasn’t been corrupted by the Disney machine) and because it updates the original story in some intriguing ways.

First of all, Temple’s made-for-TV version is absolutely kitsch through and through, the character actors in the episode are iconic in that time period, and the sea witch and her minions are camp to an extreme, not to mention how early 60’s the makeup and costumes are (I can’t with Temple’s wig, the bangs, I can’t). All of that needs to either be enjoyed or overlooked to understand the significance of the changes the show made to the original story. How ever “dated” the Temple version, I still strongly believe that some of the changes made to the story actually act to modernize it while retaining the integrity of Anderson’s original story. I started this as a long form article, but, as I worked on it, I decided that it needed to be a list, so I humbly submit to you 9 Reasons that The Shirley Temple Show’s Version of The Little Mermaid is a Good Adaptation.

#1 No Soul, No Problem

In Andersen’s 1837 version the core of the story is love, yes, but also the mermaid’s quest for an eternal soul. After she learns about it, the mermaid never mentions the prince without mentioning the soul. Why? Simply put: in Anderson’s world mermaids are animals, and, when they die, they cease to exist. This is something that is always left out of reinterpretations because of the colossal Christian controversy that would follow if it were left in. When the soul is taken out, you just have the love of a newly teen-aged girl to drive the plot forward, which is not enough to die over, but is enough to learn from. Even Anderson gave the mermaid a reprieve and had the Daughters of the Air rescue her and give her a chance to “earn” a soul. In Temple’s version, without any discussion of a soul, the mermaid is given a second chance at life as a mermaid by the god of a sea (note: not her father). I feel this is an appropriate change considering that the stakes have been lowered so much by removing the whole soul controversy.

#2 Sea Witch + Minions = Fun

In Anderson’s story the sea witch is not “evil” as one would expect, and neither is Temple’s (the mer-witch), though both are slightly malevolent. Anderson’s witch has a toad that eats sugar from her mouth and snakes that cuddle with her bosom (Flotsam and Jetsam anyone?), and these pets clearly influenced the introduction of minions. Andersen’s sea witch is slightly antagonistic to the mermaid, saying that even though the mermaid is foolish, the witch will help, but Temple’s minions (a lawyer stingray and a hateful octopus) allow the witch to become a more fully-realized character without fading into the background as Andersen’s character does. Andersen’s sea witch is mentioned at the end of the story, but never appears again, whereas the mer-witch gets more screen time and, while she doesn’t have any strong feelings about the mermaid, she does have an ethical compass that she follows. The mer-witch is also given a back story that involves the mermaid’s grandmother, which means more complex character motivations and a richer story. Continue reading

August Wilson’s Jitney by American Stage

August Wilson's Jitney by American Stage

The American Stage production of August Wilson’s Jitney is my first August Wilson experience and tickets to the production were my birthday gift to my partner this year. Both he and my father are huge August Wilson fans, however, so I heard a lot of praise before I went to the play itself, and I’m happy to say it stood up to the hype fairly well. Note: spoilers to follow.

As for the play itself: Jitney takes place in an illegal taxi cab office in 1977 Pittsburgh run by Becker, whose son Booster is about to be released from jail for murder. The drama surrounding and between the men in the office comes bubbling to the surface, including conflicts between Youngblood and Rena (the only woman on stage), Youngblood and Turnbo, Turnbo and everyone, Becker and Fielding, Becker and Booster, and everyone with women basically. It’s not a feminist play, I’m warning you. This includes arguments, a stand off with a gun, fisticuffs, and a lot of door slamming. In the end Becker’s sudden death (obvious from foreshadowing) gives Booster the chance to redeem himself, and Youngblood reconciles with Rena, bringing hope of a life outside their declining neighborhood.

There is some discussion of racial tensions in the play including the juxtaposition of two speeches: one by Becker about how the white man doesn’t care enough about you to oppress you as an individual, which is thrown into sharp relief against the fact that Booster’s white girlfriend accused him of rape when her father caught them together, so he shot her. Becker refuses to forgive Booster for throwing his life away, and Booster realizes his father is right too late to make a difference. As the play comes to a close no reconciliation has taken place between the two men, but Booster takes up the mantle of business owner, and it is implied he will try to be the same pillar of the community that his father was.

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